a little and a lot

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The "Birth" Story

Comparing the adoption process to giving birth is just plain unfair to both groups.  (I say this light-heartedly, FYI.)  I had a mental tendency to relate EVERYTHING to labor..adoption paperwork was the equivalence of labor...waiting for a referral was the equivalence of labor...waiting to bring our child home was the equivalence of labor....  On one hand, the adoption process can be just plain tough!  And on the other hand, I have a feeling that none of those things is equivalent to labor.  Whatever journey one takes to motherhood, there is struggle involved.

Our plane ride home with a very busy 17-month-old:  In hindsight, it is my "labor experience."  I dreaded it.  I psyched myself up for it.  It was tough.  I wish I'd had an epidural.  I knew that it would be over (relatively) soon.  And I knew the whole thing was necessary to move forward with motherhood.  This is the closest it gets to my "birthing" experience!

One thing that became VERY worth it: we upgraded to business class.  It was a fraction of the cost of buying a business class ticket up front.  So many people were trying to fly from Addis to DC that particular day that Ethiopian Air added a second flight/plane at the last minute.  The great news was that instead of business class being the only available option (super expensive), we had the option of purchasing economy class tickets, which we then upgraded to business class (much less expensive).  The not so great news was that the second flight that was added was on an older plane.  So business class was a little less "shiny" and a little more old school.  A little disappointing, but no biggie.

In our old-school business class, I was so very thankful for:
Extra leg room (for our busy toddler to run among our seats)
MUCH better food (a bigger luxury than you'd initially think when you consider the flight was 19 hours long!)
Less people-to-restroom ratio (see above point)
Business class lounge in the Addis airport

Ethiopian Air requests that you arrive at least 3-4 hours in advance before take-off.  We arrived around 6pm for our 10pm flight.  A large portion of this time is spent waiting in lines...the line to put your luggage through the xray machine...the line for the ticket counter...the line for customs.  For anyone preparing for this type of trip, our Ergo baby carrier was ESSENTIAL for standing in all these lines with a toddler!  After the customs line, you entered the portion of the airport that had restaurants, gift shops, and the business class lounge...which...was...awesome.  A buffet of food, all types of drinks, nice restrooms, and tons of couches and chairs set up around televisions--all out of the way of the regular bustle of the airport.  (Already worth the upgrade!)

About an hour before our flight, we headed to our gate, which had its own separate security line--this is the one where we had to take out our liquids, take off our shoes & jackets, etc.  After getting through the long line, there was more waiting to board the plane.  

We were in the very front row of business class, which (thankfully) was not full.  I was super nervous about being in business class with a noisy child--I dreaded the eye-rolling and angry glares.  Aside from one or two snooty passengers, most people were actually quite gracious.  (Life lesson: Please, Lord, let me never forget this trip when I am the one feeling huffy about young children seated near me on airplanes!)  

To say Rhet was excited about being on an airplane would be an understatement.  And there was no way anyone was going to make her sit down.  Which was unfortunate, because the flight attendants required us to buckle her in one of our laps during take-off and landing.  That was definitely 15 minutes of torture right there, and that's all I'll say about that.

Taking off at 10pm played in our favor.  We had not given Rhet an afternoon nap that day, hoping that by the time we took off that evening she would be so exhausted she'd sleep for half the flight.  Rhet DID fall asleep.  For about 2 hours.  And then she woke up when we landed in Rome.  

The return flight required refueling in Rome for about an hour.  Passengers could get up and walk around, but we were not permitted to leave the airplane.  During this portion of time, Rhet became good and awake.

By the time we took off (causing yet another fit due to seatbelt restraints), Rhet was ready to PLAY.  Who cares if it was the middle of the night in Ethiopian time?  We were in a supercool room with tons to see and do!  What did we do for the remaining 15 hours of the flight?  It is a haze.  I know my brain is providing a mental block for my own sanity's sake.  :)

I remember:
Walking up and down the aisles from our row to the veeeeeeery back of the plane to the front again.  Up & down, up & down.  

Refilling Rhet's plastic cup of ice in the middle vestibule of the plane over & over again.

Occasionally, a sweet flight attendant would take Rhet with her and disappear for 20 minutes at a time. In normal occasions, this would stress me out.  In this occasion, it was a God-send.

And that's it.  Seriously.  The three of us (my mom, Nick, and I) took turns walking the length of the plane on each side with her for most of the trip.  It is probably one of the least fun things I have every done, and I would prefer to never think about it again!  (Sorry I'm being so dramatic, but it's the truth for me!)  

We landed in DC at 8am or something like that (US Eastern time).  After de-boarding the plane, we walked down some hallways to a people mover, which took us to another building, which housed customs.  We stood in line and when we reached the front, we presented the huge sealed packet of paperwork that we had received with Rhet's visa from the US Embassy in Addis.  The customs agent open the folder and briefly looked at the contents, then tossed the packet in a corner and waived us through.  

SO anti-climactic!  How about, "Congratulations on your US citizenship, little lady!" or "Wow--what a lot of paperwork--good job?"  Geez.  Whatever.

Next came one of my favorite parts of both trips: the bathrooms in the customs baggage claim of Dulles airport.  They are so clean and awesome.  After spending a month in a third world country, I could've cried as I sat on my first American toilet.  I sound like a spoiled snobby brat, I know, but BOY do I love American toilets.  And the changing tables!  Nick and my mom picked our luggage off of the carousels while I took Rhet to get cleaned up in the bathrooms.  We emerged with a new dress on Rhet and a refreshed spirit in me.  (I'm telling you, those toilets are amazing.  Ok, I'll stop now.)

We entered another line to re-book our luggage and check in for our domestic flights.  Then we headed to our terminal.  Mom and the rest of us were only several gates apart, so we settled down and partook of our first "meal" on American soil: the Starbucks Frappuccino.  I had mocha coconut, Nick had double chocolate chip, and my mom had a chai latte.  Rhet loved my mom's and mine, and she turned her nose up at Nick's.  The girl LOVES coffee & tea.  :)

Our next flight wasn't for hours, so we let Rhet run around the airport and expend as much energy as possible.  Nick and my mom joyfully turned on their iPhones--alas, mine was still frozen from that very first flight four weeks earlier.  (Boohoo.  Poor spoiled me.)  

My mom left first for her flight to Atlanta.  Shortly thereafter, it was time for our next leg of the trip to Chicago.  After boarding, I remembered the mostly helpful toy I brought on our trip.  Ironically, I did not bring it from home--I "borrowed" it on a whim as we were leaving the guest house.  It was a stack of about 5 square Duplo Legos.  Rhet had taken an interest in the Legos in the last day or so before we left, and the little stack kept her occupied through liftoff for the flights to Chicago AND Memphis.  Praise. the. Lord.  Extra praise: by this time, it was the middle of the night in Ethiopia again and sleep deprivation finally caught up with Rhet.  She conked out for the entire flight to Chicago.

We had a several hour layover in Chicago.  Rhet ran around some more, played with Legos some more, and promptly spit out the first french fry she tried.  She did, however, drink a whole liter of milk.  Which caused a small fiasco when I took her to the restroom to change her diaper, they didn't have changing tables, and she wouldn't lay down on the sink counter, so I tried changing the diaper standing up, and she peed all over her leggings, socks, shoes, counter, and me.  Oops.  I stripped her down, changed her diaper, and took her back to the gate in just her diaper.  We dug the other dress (from the overseas flight) out of our carry-on, and just left her bare-legged and bare-footed.  My pants (fortunately) were quick-drying, and my v-neck cotton shirt by then had become a deeeep v-neck shirt. We laughed at ourselves and repeated our mantra: "This will all be over soon."  :)

After boarding the flight from Chicago to Memphis, I received a surprise.  Apparently I was not yet skilled in the art of putting a diaper on a vertical, wiggly toddler.  It was crooked on Rhet's little booty, and she peed right out the side and into my lap.  *Sigh/giggle*

(Dear North Face,
Your convertible outdoors pants/shorts are the best EVER.
A Peed-On Mom)

It was a crazy feeling, the closer and closer we got to Memphis.  I just couldn't believe we were really going to be home.  All three of us would walk through that front door, plop our bags down (to be unpacked several weeks later), and settle into our new/same-ole home with our...CHILD!

As our plane touched down in the land of the Delta blues (no rain), I was just filled with so much weary gratitude.  

When we exited the airport, the whoosh of the automatic doors blew 100+ degree air in our faces, and I put our sleeping baby in her car seat.  (Nick had forgotten to change the height of the straps on the seat, so we actually smooshed our baby into her car seat...haha.)  

(We had requested no friends/family meet us at the airport, for fear of overwhelming a very tired child.  Thankful we made that call, as she slept through the entire de-boarding, luggage retrieval, and ride home.)  

Three months later feels like three years later.  The transition has been fun, hard work, and a really sweet time for us.  

Thanks for stickin' with me as I tried to get all of my memories out into the blogosphere.  Adopting Rhet has been the most difficult/challenging and most rewarding/wonder-full experience I've (we've) gone through.  We're pretty much "back" to normal around here now--our new normal, that is, and I'm looking forward to getting back to the new normal on the ole' blog as well.  Expect some adoption/parent-centric posts along with my old familiar loves of food, running, Memphis, and pondering life.  :)

How do you end such a truly epic series that changed your life?  Like this.  Cya.  ;)


amanda said...

Hi Jessie its amanda from asheville nc. wow have i been enjoying reading your blog....our journey home from ethiopia with our 16month old medhanit is still something im processing and def something i sound very dramatic about when I recall...so so so intense! Rhett looks great I am so happy for you all. Love, Amanda

Jane said...

Wow. What an amazing journey. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have felt like to walk out of the airport in Memphis and be home! Wow! Rhet is a cutie and I can't wait to read more about the adventure of being her mom!

Adopting Rhet: Click on the timeline above to read more