Sunday, December 16, 2012

To Ethiopia and Back Again

Our first moments together (this time forever)
One year from the exact date our family first met Kibrom in Ethiopia, I landed on U.S. soil with him in my arms! It's hard to believe, but I am already back from my whirlwind trip to get him. It was a total surprise that we cleared the U.S. Embassy as fast as we did. Usually the process takes two to three months, but it took only two weeks for us. I found out our agency wrote a letter to the embassy staff asking that a handful of cases be expedited and ours was one of them. I just never expected that we would get clearance before January.

So this bit of good news put the Prager family in kind of a bind. The flights this time of the year are nearly sold out and extremely expensive because of upcoming holiday travel. After talking to the travel agent for the better part of a day, it became apparent that our choices were for one of us to go to Ethiopia right away or to wait until the week of January 9 to travel as a family. Tough choice! We had always planned to go altogether to welcome Kibrom into the family and the girls were both really excited. But reality set in. If we picked up Kibrom right now, he would be home with us adjusting and bonding over a nice, long winter break before starting school. Plus after leaving him in Ethiopia for a year now, it just didn't seem right for him to wait another month for us. So with bittersweet emotions, I boarded a plane last weekend to get him.

After spending last Monday with him at the care center, I was able to take him to the guest house I was staying with two other families from our agency. Then on Tuesday, after the good-bye party at the care center, we were taken to the embassy for our visa interview. Kibrom's final immigration paperwork and passport were then delivered to me on Thursday afternoon. Finally, everything was in place to bring him home on Friday night.

Let's just say I am a survivor! The week was eventful in many ways. Busy some days, bored the others. And there were a lot of ups and downs emotionally speaking. I managed to hold it together with just a few sad moments of my own along the way. Through it all, I remained pretty calm, all things considered. I am going to pat myself on the back for how I handled these circumstances:

  • A shell-shocked little boy whose world had just been rocked.
  •  A highly stimulated, emotional boy who had to say good-bye to his friends and nannies who he has been with for most of the last 18 months. 
  • A happy, excited boy who is very curious and already knows how to test me.
  • A very, very sad boy who was inconsolable on three different occasions for two hours straight each time (that was fun).
  • A boy who has a bad cold and congestion (and who gave it to me before the plane trip home).
  • A boy who got too excited swimming at the Hilton in Addis and threw up water and chunks in the pool. (There will be no swimming anytime soon).
  • 30 hours of travel with my boy including a 17 hour flight from Addis to D.C. - all with a huge motion sickness induced barf fest 20 minutes after take off (another great moment).
  • Not being able to share any of these memories with Steve, Lily, and Semira.

I know from experience though that the real work begins now that Kibrom is finally at home. There will be plenty of firsts and a lot of ups and downs as we adjust to life as a family of five.

Sweet boy
The other families who were also reunited with their kiddos this week
Kibrom showing me his bed
Leaving the care center on Monday with Kibrom
The going-away party at the care center - A very sad moment for Kibrom
Happy day - Eating lunch out at the Top View Restaurant
Happy boy!
Sleepy boy back at our guest house
At Bole Airport in Addis waiting on our flight home
Thank you Ethiopia for my son!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adoption Emotions Galore - Part 2

Steve with Kibrom. Our son will remain a photo mystery until we pick him up.

This is Part 2 of our story. Part 1 is here.

Our family spent three weeks looking at a set of new pictures and envisioning our lives with a new son and brother. Just as we were getting used to the idea, something totally unexpected happened. I got a call one day in September from our agency telling me they just received word from Ethiopia that the regional authorities signed the papers on Kibrom! You can imagine my surprise. I couldn't speak. I was in total shock. Now we had to make another difficult decision to make since we had two boys officially referred to us.

I suggested to Steve that we take both boys. He immediately called me insane - which is probably true. In the end, I was swayed back to reality. Three kiddos was our limit. So two days later, I called our agency to tell them we wanted Kibrom. After I made the official call, I pulled up the pictures from our December trip to Ethiopia to look at him. I hadn't done this in months because I didn't want to see pictures of our boy who might never come home. Then it hit me. I cried like a baby. All the months of emotion bottled up inside just came out.

The courts were closed for the rainy season from mid August until October 8. In late September, we learned from our agency that we would have to wait until the courts reopened so that they could submit a written appeal to the judge to reopen our case. To my surprise within two days of filing the appeal, we were notified of a November 2 court date. I was incredibly excited, yet nervous at the same time. I still didn't think it was real. The emotional purgatory of the last year had taken its toll.

In the midst of the craziness of preparing for the trip, I found out a mere two days before we left for Ethiopia that we would need to update several important documents in our dossier as they had "expired" after two years. Not having them meant not passing court. Since I couldn't stand the idea of anymore delays to our case, I ran around like a crazy person to get the new documents before we left. I am so thankful we live in a small town where it is possible to get new medical and police letters plus a bunch of notaries in less than 24 hours.

With our new documents in hand, we arrived in Addis Ababa on October 31. Our agency immediately took them for translation and told us they would try to get our final letter of comment from the federal Ministry of Women's, Children's and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA) - the absolute last piece of paper needed to receive our final court decree.

On November 1, we finally saw Kibrom again. Aside from looking a bit more mature, he was the same little boy we met nearly a year ago. We wondered if he remembered us and the girls so we brought him pictures of the five of us together last year. I think he remembered. The next day we returned to say good-bye and to tell him that we will be back in a few months to take him home. I think he understood.

Prior to meeting with the judge, our agency's attorney told us that he still didn't have the MOWCYA letter needed to pass, but was 99% confident he would get it in the next few days. The judge issued a new court date of November 6 in hopes that she would receive the letter by then. We were free to leave Ethiopia and would be notified by our agency when we officially passed.

We found out exactly one week ago that we passed court. Kibrom is legally our son! It was an incredibly long and difficult 326 day journey to get to this point. Now I am asked when he will come home. The short answer is soon. It usually takes another 2 to 3 months to go through the necessary U.S. immigration procedures. As soon we receive word that the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is ready to schedule our visa interview, all four Pragers will be on a plane to get him! As I said in my Part 1 blog post, our story will have a happy ending. For that, I am eternally grateful!

Adoption Emotions Galore - Part 1

Kibrom's new care center in Addis Ababa
I began writing this post the last day of August then amended it in the middle of September and then in early October as our adoption journey took yet another strange turn. But I had no intentions of posting this until much, much later. It was not something I wanted to talk about at the time. Things were complicated and I wasn't over the hurt yet. But I thought it was important to write down my thoughts while they were still fresh. And many friends had been asking us for months if there was any news with our adoption. Now that we officially passed court in Ethiopia and I am confident our story will have a happy ending, I feel more free to share the details. So for all who are interested in the reading about our epic adoption adventure, here goes.

Over a year ago, we were referred a beautiful, four-year old boy from Ethiopia. His name is Kibrom and he was to be our son. Our family traveled to Ethiopia in December 2011 to meet him and to appear in court to become his legal parents. Unfortunately, while we were there, our court date was canceled because we were missing some newly required paperwork, a letter from the regional authorities stating that Kibrom was eligible for international adoption. We met Kibrom and he met us. At the time, we thought this was a hiccup along the way, albeit an annoying hiccup because it meant we would be delayed in bringing Kibrom home. Plus Steve and I would have to make an additional trip to Ethiopia. At the time, we thought we would be home by last spring at the latest.

We were told to be patient while the regional authorities worked out their new paperwork process. So we waited patiently. And then we waited and waited some more. After four months, we were still optimistic that it was just a matter of time before we received this very important piece of paper. But by the middle of summer, the situation changed. I won't go into all of the details because there are too many to recount and I would end up writing a book instead of a blog post. Let's just say I spent many hours and days communicating with our agency, other parents stuck in our same situation, and a third party investigator via telephone, email, and a private Facebook group trying to figure out what to do next. The emotional highs and lows during this time resulted in many nights of restless sleep to downright insomnia. I can't even begin to convey my personal pain and angst.

Beginning in late July, the tone of the conversations with our agency began to change. There was a good chance that Kibrom would never come home with us. The fact of the matter was the regional authorities didn't really want to write the letter. We were presented with a host of increasingly difficult options from which to choose from, none of which seemed fair or the right thing to do. We were truly stuck in a complex ethical, moral, and financial conundrum. We knew there were many risks to adopting internationally. We willingly signed on for them as we had done so once before. But to know something bad could happen and to have something bad actually happen are two entirely different things. And now something bad was happening to us.

Steve and I talked about our options. These were very difficult conversations. I found myself begging for a clear sign of what to do next. I just needed clarity as to which fork in the road to take. Then it happened. Unexpectedly, in the middle of our turmoil in late August when things looked bleak for us and Kibrom, our agency told us about another little boy who needed a family. He was from a different region of Ethiopia and his paperwork was already complete. We could continue our fight for Kibrom or accept a new referral. As you can imagine, this was a very difficult decision to make. We didn't want to give up on bringing Kibrom home. But we also didn't want to engage in a fight that could become extremely adversarial, confrontational, and expensive with no guarantee of the positive outcome we wanted. After a few days of thinking about our options, we decided to withdraw from our adoption of Kibrom and accept the new referral.

We sat down one night in early September with our girls to tell them this very sad news. They were absolutely crushed. They met Kibrom and had spent the last eight months waiting and waiting for their brother to come home. How can I ever explain something so complicated to my kids? They wanted to know why people made such stupid rules and what would happen to Kibrom if he wasn't going to be part of our family. We tried to explain, but it wasn't easy. Even we did not have the answers to these questions.

When I first wrote this, I was still trying to come to terms with our decision. Any decision we would have made just felt plain wrong. I describe it an awful "ick" that makes you sick to your stomach. I got weepy every time I would talk about our decision to close friends, but I was coming to terms with our new reality. Even though we made the ultimate decision to end our pursuit of Kibrom, rationally, I knew others had contributed to it. The country of Ethiopia had different plans for this child. I may not have agreed with them, but he was not my child legally and who was I to argue.

Up next, Part 2 of the story.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Back From Cruising

Our cruise ship in St. Thomas

A few days ago, we returned from 11 days in Puerto Rico. Well, Steve spent 11 days there. I was there for a few days on each end of our travels, but spent the majority of that time on a cruise with Lily, Semira, and my mother. As I mentioned in a previous post, this really was a spontaneous, last minute idea. I haven't been on a cruise in a long time; last one was in 2003, I believe. It was just something different and I figured the kids would probably love it (hint - they did). They had a blast, enjoying a week in a "paradise" that resembles a Las Vegas for kids. The week was not really relaxing (for me), but was instead filled with non-stop action. I know sympathy will be in short supply here, but I am back feeling like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation! Steve, on the other hand, is pretty mellow. He spent the week taking Spanish, doing CrossFit on the beach, learning to kite-board, working, and exploring the city of San Juan via foot and public transit.

People have been asking me why Steve didn't go with us. Well, that is never going to happen. In all likelihood, a cruise is his version of hell. I confirmed this sentiment in my head many times last week. The atmosphere is just too crowded (people at every turn), glutinous (people eating at every turn), cheesy (variety shows, casino, bingo, shopping, etc., at every turn), and boring (sitting at a beach or by the pool). He would crawl the ship walls and probably beg to be abandoned at sea (or at least one of the islands). Of course the kids missed him and now want him to go on another cruise with them sometime in the future. They came back reporting all the cool things he could do including being in the poolside "hairy chest" contest. Now that would be fun, and given his hirsute chest, maybe he could even be a contender!

Steve (left!) working out with Mike of CrossFit Fuerte in PR
On the other hand, I can acclimate to a little laziness and cheese now and again. The trick is to just roll with it. Our itinerary was packed with five of the seven days spent in port (St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Martin).  While there weren't too many hours of just sitting around, I did manage to relax by the pool and beach for a few hours each day, sometimes enjoying a glass of wine or two. Plus my mom and I managed to have a few dinners alone as Lily and Semira preferred to spend the evening at the free "Camp Carnival" for kids. At this stage in my life and given my kids' ages, the cruise really is a good fit for a vacation every now and again. Plus it's actually a pretty good vacation value. Who knows, maybe we will go again, assuming I can convince some family or friends to go with me :-).

Steve getting ready to ditch us in Puerto Rico
The girls and me with my mom
Every evening excitement of chocolate and towel animals in our cabin
Enjoying the sail away festivities in San Juan
St Thomas
Coki Beach, St. Thomas
Sunset on they way to Barbados
"Elegant Night" in the dining room
Lily and Semira on the catamaran in Barbados
Snorkeling with sea turtles in Barbados
The Pitons in St. Lucia
Enjoying the mud baths in St. Lucia
St Lucia
The birthplace of Alexander Hamilton in Nevis (Who knew?)
The ferry from St. Kitts to Nevis
Old sugar mill on Nevis
St. Kitts (the Atlantic Ocean on the left, the Caribbean Sea on the right)
St. Kitts
St. Martin (the Dutch side of the island)
Orient Beach, St. Martin (the French side of the island)
Orient Beach
The girls with their new friends

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Have Nothing!

Lily and Semira with their cousins Jack and Emma in Lake Michigan
It's been forever since I updated this blog. I have several things I wanted to write about in my head, but I have lacked the motivation to actually do it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we have been waiting over six months now to get good news from our adoption agency that we have a new court date scheduled and we still haven't gotten it. To be honest, the last few months have been a mental roller coaster.

I won't bore people with all the details, but there is a significant slow down in adoptions from the region of Ethiopia where our son is from. The impasse has not relented and there has been little news indicating any sort of near-term resolution; I don't want to say much more because we have been advised not to by our agency. As a result, we are caught in a paperwork struggle that defies common sense. We will have a conference call with our agency next week to discuss the situation and figure out a game plan (if there is one). Never did I think I would be sitting here nine months after receiving our referral dealing with this adoption madness! Because of our limbo adoption status, it has been really difficult to plan anything more than a few weeks in advance. I have to say that I have been wrestling with a funky mood lately.

I am attempting not to feel sorry for myself for another minute. I am not going to fritter the summer away waiting. Because of my work schedule, summer is when I get some serious time off and I will be kicking myself if I stayed in Laramie the entire time. It's not that Laramie isn't nice this time of the year. The weather is actually perfect! It's just that I need to escape every three months to maintain my sanity. There is something mentally wearing for me about feeling trapped in the hinterland. Many of my Wyoming friends know what I mean by this!

So I took my girls to see their cousins in Chicago last week. We had planned to see the Chicago cousins over winter break in December, but we ended up in Ethiopia instead. A year and a half was far too long for cousins not to see each other. We had a great time! And a lake house in Wisconsin was a great change of scenery.

Now onto my wild hair plans. The other day I must have lost my mind because I booked a southern Carribean cruise in early July. It will be a girls vacation - me, my girls, and my mother since my husband will never set foot on a cruise ship. Ok, so this is either a brilliant idea or totally financially irresponsible (if we end up going to Ethiopia later this summer). But you know what? I don't really care. My kids are beyond excited! I remember the first time I went on a cruise when I was about Lily and Semira's age. It was magical and is something I vividly remember to this day. For those who know me well, I do like to travel and I would rather spend my money on experiences than on things. And I would rather live my life doing the things I feel are important for my family rather than looking back and thinking about what we could or should have done.

In addition to my upcoming travel, I want to start writing about some other interesting things I have been pondering lately. Perhaps the hottest topic is our ongoing food journey (Holy Cow - the Pragers have taken a hiatus from vegetarianism after two decades - look for more in a future blog post). Yup, we continue to obsesses about health related matters in our house. I also wanted to share my unhappy bone density results from a recent DEXA scan. Again, I need a few other distractions to stop obsessing about the status of our adoption.

Dealing with the uncertainty sucks. But hey, that is life! In the meantime, here are some pictures from our recent trip to Chicago and Crivitz, Wisconsin.

Lake Michigan
The kids getting ready to take a boat ride (in Crivitz)
Semira with Chad, our lake house host. The thrill seeker loved the lake toys.
Lily with Emma tubing (I am surprised Lily actually did it!)
Lily and Emma with my sister, Kristin
The thrill seeker with Jack
A failed family shot (at least one kid has to cry)
Lily enjoying her new hobby