Monday, July 16, 2012

First Mom

I have not known how to write this post....if I even should write this post.  However, I think it is necessary.  It is necessary for people who are highly critical of international adoption to see that many adoptive parents do not just take from the country but are highly invested in and care for the heritage of our children....necessary to share of one the most important days of my life.... necessary to truly be transparent. 

We landed in Ethiopia early in the morning on Saturday.  Exhausted, we spent the day playing soccer and Lego's and basketball with Chernet.  The next morning we hopped into an old land cruiser and took off.   It was going to be 8ish hours to the village where Tedi, our first son, was born.   We were in Ethiopia.  I had contact with someone who found his mother.  How could we NOT meet her if she was willing to meet us (which she was)? 

Stop for a moment.  Imagine the sheer sacrifice..... you have carried a child inside of you for nine months (something I have not yet experienced but can fathom is something truly special and ultimately connecting).  Then, because of the circumstances of cyclical poverty, death by preventable diseases, and not by lack of love, you must choose: keep your child and risk his death due to malaria or malnutrition and spare your soul the pain of his absence OR place him in the arms of another family knowing he will be cared for but just not by the arms that bore him.  Think of that sacrifice.  I can not imagine this.... Thus, we felt it no sacrifice at all to make the exhausting, costly trip to meet this woman for whom I more respect than most that walk this earth.

During the drive, we passed Sebeta, the town where Chernet was born.  The countryside was lush and green in the southwest part of Ethiopia.  We stopped midday for a delicious traditional Ethiopian lunch.  The food was fabulous and the cokes were too...We thought this was truly a halfway point.... FALSE.  We still had another 4.5 hours to the town nearest to Tedi's village. 

We were making this drive and a camera would not quite cut it.  I was trying make mental snapshots of each town, village, hillside. I was trying to saturate myself with the smells and sights and painted mud huts and 3 year olds with infants with their infant siblings tied to their backs.  I fear that some day I won't remember....these scenes will fade in the background of work, the menagerie of daily life.  But I want to remember.  I do....

We reached the town of Soddo...the town listed on all of Tedi's paperwork.  It was larger than I imagined....with a couple of "hotels" and restaurants and shanties mixed with large homes and an American hospital of all things.  A couple of kilometers and two turns and the road went from bumpy to, well, occasional pavement for about five miles or so.  We started asking random people walking around the directions to Yinefo village.  We made a left turn as it started raining and the skies darkened.  We eventually spoke to a man who said he knew Tedi's birth father, Chinesho, and could take us to the village.  He sat in the back seat and pointed us down a "road" to the right.  It was muddy from the drizzle that persisted...uneven from the lack of infrequent automobiles but more regular donkeys, goats and bare human feet.  At one point, we were stuck.  The tires would not move.  JT and I instantly tried to jump out and help push but were quickly forced back into the vehicle as were guests.  We laughed to one another realizing that these thin, fit men and children were trying to lift us plus a land cruiser out of the mud.

By this time, news had spread that foreigners were coming into the village.  Children began surrounding the vehicle.  While there is no comparison, my stomach began to churn like it did before important basketball games or as it still does before big tests..... I sat on the edge of my seat....waiting, which hut would be "the one." 
Tedi's Birth Home
As long as the trip had seemed, we were all of a sudden in front of her home.  We piled out of the car as our friend and guide introduced us to several adults in the village.  Tedi's mother was at a relatives home and one of his brothers ran to get her.  In the meantime, many of the other villagers welcomed us to her home as if it was their own.  They gave us a tour of her home, which was described to us as a very nice home in the village as she had a tin roof and three rooms.  It was, indeed, a nice home. We toured her living area, the room for the animals, and her kitchen.  We saw her coffee plants, banana trees, corn, avocado tree and mango tree.  It was green and lush and well maintained for a widow and mother of eight to manage alone.

Worknesh's Kitchen

Coffee Plants

Mango Tree

The children and villagers surrounded us the entire time, quizzically watching us, sneaking a touch of my hair.  Many of the children had never seen someone with white skin.  They watched videos of Tedi, who they yelled at and laughed and smiled calling him by his nickname "Japi"

The Children

Loved having their picture taken

We want him to know all of this.  His people.  We can not give him all of it living here in Louisville, but we can make the effort to connect him to his heritage, his DNA, to other family that loves him.

Watching videos of Japi

Then, she emerged through the opening in the hedges.... Worknesh Yaya, standing a good 4-5 inches above me, walked strongly right to me and embraced me in a hug.  Like me, this lady is not big on tears but we both had eyes glistening.... full of love for the same boy who connected us.  She then hugged JT and welcomed us to sit with her on her porch.  We chatted for about half an hour.  We explained how Tedi is quite shy until he trusts and knows people.... she explained that was a trait of her children.  She was gracious and welcoming.

We heard the story of Tedi's birth....her 42 weeks of pregnancy and only one hour of labor (it was her eighth child) that occurred in this very home and how she only recently learned of birth control and now educates younger women....we learned that Tedi was a fat, healthy, breast fed baby.  We learned of her deep love for him, her eighth and final child.  Her "favorite" according to her.  We watched her meticulously kiss each of the 157 albumed pictures we brought for her of Tedi from his time in the orphanage until the week we came to visit her, each dated.  I watched the love pour from her strong, stoic, quiet soul. 

My socially skilled husband filled the silences with loving words and emotions that I could not elicit because of the overwhelming lump in my throat that required my entire being to overcome.  The visit was over as fast as it began.  She gave us about 50 bananas for our drive home.  She gave hugs and stood for pictures with us and her three sons that still live in her home.  Looking in their eyes was as if I was looking into the eyes of my own son.  Her son.  One of her sons, the one below in the sweatshirt with headphones, his name is Cherinet.  Yes, The same name with different spelling of soon to be second son.  Coincidence.... I think not.   


Back: JT, Worknesh, Me
Front: Bereket, Tarekegne, Cherenet



I know these words and pictures can not completely capture our trip, our heart for Ethiopia, our desire to share Tedi's past with him and merge it into his future, our desire for his first mom to continue knowing him and watching him grow.  Many people ask if we are concerned that he will want to go back and live there.  Once he grows up, that is up to him.  We want him to know he is part of two worlds.  He HAS two families that love him.... two "best mommies ever", his first mommy who gave him life and this mommy who help him make the most of the life he has with me. 


  1. Thank you for sharing such an intimate story. You are right - many people do not understand how we parents adopting internationally feel love and compassion for our children's country and family. I appreciate you opening your heart and lives for us.

  2. Natalie, this is an absolutely beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. Wow! What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Ditto from me....i wish there was something like this i could share with Sam one day.

  6. I am in tears... What a precious story. I can only imagine the joy in her heart, the feeling of finally knowing how her son is doing. Such a beautiful thing has been done by you for Tedi and his birth family. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Oh, I know these emotions. Being with Tigist when we are in Ethiopia is always such a special time. Words just don't do it justice to sit with the woman who has sacrificed so much so that I can have so much. Unbelievable and completely life changing. Thank you for sharing!

  8. What a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I think of my children's birthfamilies every day....every single day! I will probably never (this side of heaven) know or meet my boy's birthfamily. But I am hoping that I am able to go to Havyn's birth town and see her first mom again. I really want her to know how Havyn is doing (she was her only child), and I want so much to have more for Havyn.