After a short while, our driver happily returned, filled up our gas tank, and continued the drive to our hotel. When we reached our hotel, the staff quickly carried everything up to our room on the third floor. I'd like to point out that it's really the FIFTH floor. In 8000 feet elevation. I'm just saying. We spoke with Almaz on the phone who was so glad we finally made it to Addis and the hotel. She kept apologizing for everything and saying she'd make everything better when we met our son. All I wanted was a shower in our space craft futuristic shower. It had the potential to be awesome or crazy. When I saw the sign to not flush any toilet paper, I decided it was probably just going to be crazy. We did remember to plug in the water heater for that one. I showered and Justin changed clothes and we unpacked a bit and settled in. Almaz called again and said she was down stairs ready to take us to Hannah's Hope. WHAT?! I mean, I secretly hoped that's what she meant when she said earlier that she'd make everything better, but I had chalked it up to the difference in language and nobody ever gets to go early. In fact, when we talked with our case worker at AGCI about traveling early, she specifically said that even if we were there early, we would not be allowed to go to Hannah's Hope. But there was Almaz, patiently and apologetically escorting us up that rocky path.
And there it was. There we were. I remember telling Justin that I felt like such a cheater because we were breaking all the rules! He had absolutely no problem breaking those rules and walking right through that big gate. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. I might have hopped or skipped instead of walking, I'm not sure. Perhaps I was even floating or flying. I was in such shock and disbelief.
I'd like to interrupt the story at this point (because I'm mean like that) to tell you where we were and what we knew about our baby. We received our referral at the end of January, which is when the lockdown started about taking pictures of kids that did not belong to you. We actually knew a family who traveled the morning after we received our referral and they were not allowed to take any pictures or see him or anything. We went months without hearing anything. He was only three weeks at referral so they kept him in the little baby room, where most people were not permitted. We knew he was getting lots of love and care, but it was killing me to have a picture of a one week old baby who I just knew was growing and getting bigger and bigger by the minute.
One of the AGCI case workers traveled in March (6 weeks post referral) and sent us back three pictures. But he wasn't looking at the camera in any of them. I was so disappointed. Another six weeks passed before another family even saw him. She just happened to send me a picture of her son and I could see mine in the back corner of the blanket. My how he'd changed!!! Then, our dear friends The Hulls, whom we'd raced in the paperwork phase, traveled only two weeks before us and finally, I received photos and info on his little personality. This is the May baby they experienced:
I'm not sure if I can ever tell the Hulls how much we TRULY APPRECIATED the time they spent with our son, kissing on him and taking pictures of him and whispering things of his family -- those moments they shared with him were translated back to us in word and picture and prepared us more for the moment of meeting our son than anything else. If you have the opportunity to meet and spend time with the children of other adoptive parents, please make the most of it. If you've been there you know, and if you're waiting for your turn, prepare your hearts for some big blessings. Ok, enough of that. Back to the story. We walked into Hannah's Hope, up the stairs and into a room on the far right. With pink walls and butterflies. All the Special Mothers smiled at us and one reached out her arms and placed a baby into Justin's hands while I clicked away with our camera. I wasn't even upset that he got him first.
Almaz did finally snap me out of my daze and suggested I give the camera to someone else so I could hold him. Silly me. I'd been preparing for this moment for years and everything I'd prepared for just left me. I mean ... look at him!
Almaz escorted us downstairs to a quiet room with a sofa. We knew we only had a few minutes before his bottle and naptime, but bygolly, we were going to make the most of it. We spent the whole time just trying to get him to smile. And kissing him. And making him smile again. And more kisses. And hugs. And the necessary finger and toe counting. Immediately I knew we were hooked.
I remember thinking, "I want to hold him now!" and also, "Share with Justin. That's his baby, too." It was hard. I loved seeing the love of my life holding our son and laughing and playing ... but I wanted to hold our son and laugh and play, too. It was so hard!! But I did good. Just so you know. : )
We took turns feeding him and rocking him, and eventually he drifted off to sleep. We laid him back in his crib and looked at him as if we had to fill up our eyes and our minds and our hearts with that one glance.
And while I can't prove it, I'm pretty sure that we both just floated back to our hotel.