Imagine being pregnant for three years and never knowing when or if the baby is actually coming. That was my adoption process.
I’ve always known I would be a mum. Of course, like most women I assumed that meant a husband and pregnancy. I also thought I would adopt a child, but I never thought I would be doing it as a single parent, in my 40s. And yet, it seems like the most natural thing now. My daughter was born in Ethiopia from the tummy of another mummy, but she’s been in my heart for as long as I can remember. She is my imagination come to life.
Officially, I started the journey to adoption on December 1st 2014. That was the day I met with the psychologist to discuss all the steps to adoptive parenthood – psychological analysis, parenting classes, home study, and all the documents required, etc. As a Canadian ex-pat residing in a Muslim country adopting from Africa, there were many ministries in different countries that had to be involved – so the paperwork and politics were extensive and painfully prolonged. It took almost a year alone to get all my documents together. I referred to it as my ‘pregnancy of paperwork’, in part because it was such a time-consuming process to get all the stamps, signatures, non-objection letters, medical tests, police clearances and even family history documents prepared, but also because it felt like an emotional gestation for me to prepare for motherhood. My body didn’t go through the pregnancy but my heart and mind did. The process made me think in great detail about my family and our relationships, and every aspect of my upbringing from discipline to culture and education to parenting style. I submitted all my documents in December 2015 and then waited. It was a long and difficult year of not knowing what was going to happen – waiting for a call any day that could change my life, but also wondering if it was even meant to be. It took 11 months before I got the call. I really can’t explain the series of emotions over the coming days. It was a deeply personal moment. I didn’t tell anyone that I had been matched with a child, I just jumped on a flight to Ethiopia 48 hours later.
I arrived in Addis Ababa and went straight to the orphanage and when I first met her, I felt a simultaneous surge of panic and euphoria – in that moment the reality of taking care of another life was razor sharp, and yet the intense excitement to care for, protect and love this child was equally consuming. At five months old, she was oblivious to this pivotal moment and seemed unfazed by my emotional cooing. I held her for several hours, rubbing her back, kissing her cheeks, and whispering in her ear. I think I was hoping for her approval, but one of the first parenting lessons I learned was that there is no definitive answer, for anything. Every day, every parent is just doing what they think is best and that love and patience are paramount. In fact, both were put to the test on my journey.
When it comes to adoption, you have to expect the unexpected. Parents before me had completed their entire process in less than six months. I definitely had some extra hurdles to go through as a single woman, but Ethiopia also commenced the process of closing international adoptions while I was waiting to bring my child home. I flew to Addis Ababa every month for a year to visit her never knowing for sure if she was coming home with me. Actually I never admitted to myself that this was a possibility. The constant false hope of ‘next month’ and total frustration with the unpredictable system was brutal. There is an infuriating helplessness that comes with the adoption process, but I simply had to relinquish control and trust that every step and every minute of the wait would be worth it. As it turned out my journey was one of the longest, but every visit to Ethiopia while I waited was a nurturing and bonding experience with my daughter and confirmed my belief that this was indeed meant to be.
In January 2018, the court date I had been waiting for was finally set and I spent my 45th birthday in front of a judge confirming my legal status as a mother. On Valentine’s Day I received the final adoption document I needed to leave the country and on Feb 20 (which is Family Day in Canada), I left Ethiopia with my daughter and we finally came home to the UAE.
One of my favourite things about living in the UAE has always been diversity and now that I have diversity in my own family I’m grateful for the tolerance, acceptance and access to a variety of cultures to raise my daughter around. I’m also incredibly thankful to know other families here who have gone through the same adoption process and have a mixed family too - it’s a mutual understanding and support that is priceless. (A very special shout out to the Molsons and the Seeleys!!).
I think being a mum has really changed the way I look at the world. I feel grateful every day and relish seeing the world through her eyes, and doing everything I can to foster her healthy mental, emotional and physical well-being. Like all the best relationships in life, she makes me want to be a better person, to live a bigger life so that I can give her the best possible experiences and opportunities. I have given her the name Zahra Sitota Walsh. Zahra is both an Arabic and African name. In Arabic it means to shine brightly, while in Swahili, it mean blossoming flower. Sitota is the Amharic (Ethiopian language) word for precious gift. She is all of these things and more. At two years old, Zahra is joyful and brave, kind and independent, clever and funny, and I believe that fate brought this particular little girl into my life. It’s pure love and I feel so lucky.
Ex-pats Adopting from Ethiopia and Beyond is a Facebook group was originally for parents adopting from Ethiopia mostly based in Dubai and Singapore but when Ethiopia closed international adoption the ‘and beyond’ was added, as people are now adopting from Sierre Leone and Congo. But this is a useful resource for any inter country adoption as there are many topics addressed that relate to raising children well after the adoption is complete.