It’s the Heits famiversary this week! It was eight years ago that we met our two youngest daughters in Ethiopia. God has been faithful even though those beginning days were hard.
Here’s our 22 year old daughter’s recollections of our early experience.
Almost eight years ago, my parents, my little brother, and I traveled to Ethiopia to add two little girls to our family. I was 14 and in 8th grade at the time. While for my parents, the adoption journey began much before that, it really did not hit me until we met the girls for the first time. I can, of course, remember when my parents told me they had decided to adopt (I cried), and I can remember when we told the rest of my extended family (I cried again). I had always been the only girl so a tiny part of me felt like they were trying again with different girls. (Hey, I was in junior high. My brain was irrational!) Plus, I’ll admit it; I enjoyed the attention that came with being the only girl, and I thought I’d lose that. Other than those two moments, the journey just did not feel real until we saw the girls for the first time.
Megan was 10 months old. She was so sick. She was tiny and couldn’t crawl. Shega was 4 and full of energy. She was also sickly, but not in the heart-wrenching way Megan was. Both had next-to-no-hair, long arms and legs, and eyes wide with fear. Sometimes I think about my struggle, and I berate myself because I cannot even imagine how it was for them. Our time in Ethiopia was long and tiring. We were there for about two weeks. We went to the orphanage almost every day. One day we even got to meet the girls’ birth mother. That was the most difficult day for me. At 14, I was taller than her. I felt awful for this woman who, in many ways, was a good mother and had the skills to raise these two girls. She just did not have the money or support. I was sobbing and trying to hide around the corner when a nurse found me. In broken English, she asked me what was wrong. I was so full of emotions. I replied in equally broken English due to my sobbing, “It’s all just so sad.” She told me then something I’ll never forget. “This is not a sad day. This is a very happy day. These girls are lucky to have your family and you are lucky too.” I could have done better to remember that in the following months.
I should have enjoyed the once in a lifetime trip to Africa more, but when the time finally came to leave, I was excited to go home and have life go back to normal. That trip from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Boyden, Iowa lives in infamy in my memory. It’s amazing I ever travelled again. Megan pooped through every single one of her clothes; by the end, she merely had a sheet wrapped around her. On top of all the poop, Shega tried to run away in the Germany airport. When we finally landed in Omaha, a couple of cousins and my aunt and uncle were waiting for us. I was surprised that they came to meet us, and I swear I have never been more excited to see anyone in my entire life.
We got home in December so I had to go back to school for about a week. My teachers and classmates were very excited to hear about my trip. I was far less excited to talk about it. In a matter of two weeks, I was expected to have become an expert on all things Africa and African people. I gave a mini presentation of my trip where I showed my classmates pictures of my trip. I know they were trying to be nice, but the last thing I wanted to do was stand up in front of class and pretend to be happy with my new life when I was far less happy with it on the inside.
It was difficult for me at both school and home. Home was a constant battlefield. Megan cried all the time. She would not allow herself to be soothed, and Shega was not transitioning well. I’m sure she lived in constant terror. Her entire life had changed. The only familiar thing in her life was Megan, and she had to share her with everyone else. I resented both the girls for the stress they inflicted on our family and I resented my mother for, in my eyes, making my family go through with this change. To make matters worse, we had visitors pop in all the time to meet our new family members. School was almost worse. Every single day, people wanted an update on the girls. How was I supposed to say it was terrible? That when I imagined my new sisters, I had imagined giggles, painting nails, and doing their hair? (I grew up with three brothers; there was always more wrestling than nail painting in my family.) What I got instead was screaming, crying, and fighting.
Then Christmas break came, and we were all stuck at home 24/7. I immediately decided faking my way through the school day was immensely better. I can still remember when my dad took my little brother and me to a movie to get us out of the house. I was so happy to leave, even if it was only for two hours. In the next couple months, I constantly felt like I was in the background. I felt like Shega and Megan were priorities. Then, suddenly, I didn’t feel like that anymore. I’m not sure exactly when it got better, but it did. I’m sure it was a gradual process that my mother could tell you more about. All I know is that suddenly, Megan did not cry as much, and Shega let us love her. I became excited telling people that my sisters were from Ethiopia. I got excited to show them off. I began to stop cringing when people asked how I liked my new sisters. I had goofy stories of their antics, and I did get to paint nails now. I still love to brag about my sisters. I enjoy the confusion on my friend’s faces when they come to my apartment, see pictures of Shega and Megan on my fridge, and ask who they are. I love talking to them on the phone. The other day, when I was talking to Shega, I asked if she wanted to go to a movie with me when I got home, and she said. “Oh, I’m going with my friends.” That made me feel pretty lame. I love that Megan is reading The Boxcar Children, a series I read when I was her age.
I’m sure if I met 14-year-old Emma, I would not even recognize her. I would tell her to grow up and realize the world is not about her. I guess I would tell couples with children who are thinking about adopting that it is difficult. I know it’s hard for kids to be thrust from one family to another, and it’s hard to parent those kids, but it’s also hard to be a sibling to those kids. But trust me, in the end, once you get through that first bit, it’s completely worth it.