Where our family story begins is hard to figure. There are dates we can point to as significant — a discussion on a coffee shop patio, our acceptance into an Ethiopian adoption program, the day we finished our paperwork and were put on the wait list officially. There was a dream I had that I am sure was connected to my daughter. And then there was the day we saw her face and knew that if we would be allowed to adopt her, we most certainly wanted to.

We knew before we got married that we wanted to adopt. We talked about having one child by pregnancy first and then adopting one or two more. Then I got pregnant, and miscarried shortly after I took the first positive pregnancy test. While some families might have mourned the loss deeply, I instead suddenly realized that I had never cared as much about being pregnant as I had about being a family to a child who needed one. It took a long time for my body to heal and return to normal, and in the end I felt that it just wasn’t important to me to try again. It was, however, deeply important to me to adopt. On a beautiful spring day, my husband and I discussed and decided that we would proceed with adopting our first child.

From there to the exciting part of our story, it was just a giant mess of paperwork for months on end, then a sigh of relief when it was finally all done right and submitted. We requested to be matched with a baby girl and stated that we were open to a variety of special needs. Because there are so many needs that we couldn’t possibly anticipate to add to our list, but which we would feel comfortable with, I kept a close eye on our agency’s waiting child list. At one point, we requested information on a baby, but another family had requested her information first, and so she became their daughter. For that, we are so grateful. Seeing a baby there whose needs fit what we felt prepared to handle made me vigilant at checking the list. And then, one Friday, there she was.

I was at work as a nanny, and the children were napping. I took a peek at the waiting child list and saw her face. I proceeded to text my husband about how cute this little girl was, and how I felt that our process for our second child might go quickly, as we knew we would be open to an older child the next time around. Of course this wasn’t our child because we were requesting a baby, and this little girl was three years old! But the more I looked at her and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I very much wanted her to be our daughter. I texted my husband a few more times, a little feverishly at the end. “Look at her!” I kept saying, but he was having a busy, frustrating day at work, so he never did. By the time he was home and venting about his terrible day, I was about to lose it. I waited a few minutes before blurting out, “Will you please just look at this little girl now?”

I expected him to say no to requesting more information about her. I expected him to remind me that our plan was to adopt a baby first and then adopt an older child later. But he didn’t say anything of the sort. He said, “Let’s see what happens.” And perhaps that right there was it, was the moment that our family story began. It wasn’t just me being a bleeding heart looney. It was both of us, in it together.

By the time we received her file the next Tuesday we had told far too many people about her and gotten our hopes up terribly high. We had no idea between requesting her file on Friday and receiving it on Tuesday that we would actually be allowed to view her information at all. Something just felt right about it. About her. Standing in Target on Saturday morning, I felt a strong urge to buy her coming home outfit. It flew in the face of logic, but I bought it. She wore it on our last flight home four and a half months later.

The wait between finding out who our daughter was and being able to go to her was the hardest time of my life. While we waited to receive a court date, we received photos from other families and descriptions of her personality. She was fragile, she was funny, she clearly did not want to remove her lollipop from her mouth to have her photo taken. She grew two inches and gained five pounds over the summer, and we received the update on our anniversary, then proceeded to cry over our fancy dinner. We mourned when we got a court date that was much later than we had hoped. We put together her room and packed our bags and finally boarded our flight to Ethiopia.

When we got to her at last, nearly sixteen weeks after we had first seen her face, it was pure magic. She was standing in the courtyard alone when our van pulled up, dressed the same dress she wore in the first photo we saw of her. When I knelt before her and said, “Selam, Zinash,” she looked up and away, as if to make it clear that she was ignoring me. And then I said, “Zinash, nay [come],” and she was there in my arms before I knew what was happening. I picked her up, and the back of her dress was wet. I knew I was her mom when I realized that I didn’t care if it was pee; she was my baby, and it just didn’t matter. She was three years old, and she was my baby, my very first baby.

I still look back with wonder and awe at the moment that she walked into my arms and let me pick her up. From then on, we never had to let her go. We had been told that we would possibly be able to see her from time to time if we stayed in country between the court date we had traveled for and the embassy date later, and so that is what I planned, while my husband planned to return to the US between our court and embassy dates to work. When we were told that we could have her with us, everything was upended. I changed my lodging arrangements to accommodate three people instead of one. We rescheduled Jarod’s flight to a date that would give us a reasonable amount of time to get through the embassy process yet still allow him to get home to work if it didn’t happen that fast. We found out later that we had unwittingly booked his return flight for one hour and forty-five minutes before his visa expired. When we received our embassy date, we were able to book seats on that same flight for Zinashi and me so we could all go home together. It was a series of miracles to be sure.

September 27 marks one year since the day she walked into my arms and we became a family. It has been a heartbreaking and beautiful year, and our hearts are full. It feels like this first year has flown while at the same time it feels like she has been with us forever. She is the delight of our lives, and I cannot wait to see what each new year with her will bring.

By Mary McBride of Finding Magnolia.

P.S. — Here’s a birth story in images.

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Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at gabrielle@designmom.com.