May 23, 2012: Today was a big day – it was the day of our court hearing!
We awoke to a power outage, which wasn’t a big deal since we had plenty of daylight and little need for electricity, and apparently the kitchen must run on gas. Our agency had forewarned us that power outages are fairly common in Addis, as the grid simply can’t always meet up with the demand. And on this day, there were very strong winds, so we suspected that lines might have been blown down.
The babies were sleeping when we went to check on them around 9:30, so Craig and I joined another family in visiting their daughter at what is affectionately called “The Big Kids’ House.” While the building that is home to the infants is located immediately adjacent to the guest house, the big kids’ house is down the block. The family we went with had brought along punching balloons for all of the kids to play with, so we spent some time blowing them up and then bouncing them around with the children. The oldest child was a 12-year-old girl (who went home with her new family at the end of the week) and I’d guess the youngest children were 2-3 years old. I had a wonderful time playing with a red balloon with my friend’s daughter, A, who is 5-6 years old. [A has now been home for a couple of weeks!] The 12-year-old, who spoke some English, helped me tell A that I was her mom’s friend, and she beamed from ear to ear. So did I.
One of the kids took this photo of me on the other family’s camera. I guess I look like I was having fun, if nothing else!
After a while, Craig and I headed back to spend some time with Baby K. My stomach was bothering me a bit, so I rested for a bit, not wanting to be under the weather for our important hearing in the afternoon. Apparently, during this time, a couple of birth mothers arrived to visit with their babies. These birth mothers were likely in Addis for their Embassy appointments. It is so wonderful that our agency not only encourages but facilitates time for birth family with the children. They were given privacy and time to say goodbye, as it was likely the last opportunity they would have before the children would leave for the U.S. What an emotional time it must have been for them; I can’t even begin to imagine.
After lunch, we changed into our court clothes and that’s when I started to get a bit nervous! While I knew that there were a number of possible outcomes from our hearing, I was hoping, of course, that our adoption would be finalized on this day. However, since one of the families we traveled with had not passed court at their hearing a couple of days earlier (due to a paperwork glitch), the idea that things might not be finalized was certainly on my mind. I know I would have been immensely disappointed if things were not all in order.
Here we are, dressed and ready to go to court. We had been advised to dress in this kind of attire – long skirt for women, shirt and tie for men. I had to go out and buy a long skirt since this is not something that’s in my usual wardrobe (I think for good reason; it’s just not a flattering style on me). Note to self: Stand up straight, Kelly!
We went to court with another couple, and on our way out, our driver picked up another birth mother from the big kids’ house. She had her court hearing that day, too, and must have been visiting with her child(ren). The children do not come along to the court hearing, so it was just the adults.
The courthouse was a rather nondescript building situated on a fairly developed street (meaning it had curbs and decent sidewalks). We took an elevator up a couple of floors and entered a waiting room full of other people who were also there for adoption purposes. Perhaps there were 10 or 12 other families there along with their agency representatives. I think we probably waited about 20 minutes before we were called together with the other couple. We walked into a room that looked like any office might look. Two women sat behind two desks, and it was hard to know which one was the judge until she started speaking. We handed over our passports to verify our identities, and then we were asked a series of questions, together as a group. The questions included the following:
- Do you have any children?
- Have you adopted before?
- How long was your adoption process?
- Have you met the child?
- Do you know that this decision is final and binding and cannot be overturned?
- Do you know any Ethiopians at home in the U.S.?
- Did you take a course on caring for internationally adopted children?
- Will you work to incorporate Ethiopian culture in the child’s life?
That may not be a complete list, but I think that just about covers it. We were asked the questions as a group, so each question included Baby K’s name and the other child’s name, and each question had four voices responding to it. The whole hearing lasted maybe 3 minutes, so it was very brief.
Then the judge said that all of our paperwork was in order and the words we wanted to hear: “The adoption is now final, congratulations!”
Hearing those words, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I think until that moment I wasn’t aware of how nervous I’d actually been. Our adoption was final – Baby K was now legally our daughter!
We stepped out of the room and into the hallway, where we exchanged some celebratory hugs. (Nothing too celebratory, though – this was not an appropriate place for high fives and whooping it up.)
Our driver, M, took us to coffee shop a few doors down and we enjoyed some buna while waiting for the birth mother to have her hearing. I should note that I am not a coffee drinker, but whenever I was offered it in Ethiopia I made an effort to take at least a couple of sips. Frankly, I just don’t care for the taste, but when in Ethiopia…
When we got back to HH, we wanted to get a family photo with Baby K while we were dressed in our court clothes, but she was napping. The power was still out but again it was not an issue; my only concern was having power at nighttime for my beloved white noise app (that definitely helped me with drowning out the nighttime noises). After Baby K woke, we spent a couple of hours in the courtyard with the other family; they were leaving that night.
At dinner time, it was definitely starting to get dark, so the staff had lined up empty Coke bottles as candle holders down the center of the dinner table. As we were eating, though, the power came back on, so we never had to break out the little flashlights we’d been instructed to bring in case of power outages [although we just used them during a 48-hour power outage in Baltimore last weekend]. Our numbers were starting to dwindle at the guest house, as some families were leaving to go home and others were headed to travel to other sites in Ethiopia. Where we had had a total of 7 families at one point, I think we were down to 4 families this night.
While we had woken up that morning the same married couple that we’ve been for nearly 12 years, we went to bed as the parents to an amazing baby girl. It felt pretty wonderful to know that she was legally ours.