We first heard about our twins on August 11. Yes, that's right - a full two weeks before I posted anything. Was I so happy that I couldn't tear myself away from baby shopping to post? Um, no. Here's how it happened. I was sitting at our breakfast bar, eating (rather appropriately) my breakfast, doing the compulsive first-thing-in-the-morning email check that I started as soon as our papers arrived in Addis (which is when our 'window' opened). As always, I looked at my inbox, and scanned the 'from' list to see if there was anything from the orphanage. As always, no. As always, kicking disappointment. Okay, I thought, I'll read my other emails. There was one from a fellow UK adopter that I'd become friendly with - she had just returned from meeting her daughter for the first time in Addis. And: I hope I'm doing the right thing by telling you this ........ but the last day we were at the orphanage (Monday), twins came in. A little girl and boy. I spoke to [orphanage director] about them, and she is just settling them and having the HIV test done. You are next on the list for a twins match!!!! They are tiny and incredibly beautiful - I hope you hear from [orphanage director] very soon...... Let me know. We took photographs of them!
I read this, and the whole world turned upside down. In that one instant: joy. I got down from my chair, left the house (you know? Not really certain that I brushed my teeth that morning) and called J. TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! We could hardly breathe. We agreed that we wouldn't tell anybody at ALL at this point . In that moment, we were both sure that we would hear super-soon and then we could share our joy with the world. We hung up. A minute later, I felt compelled to call straight back - what would we CALL them, J? I swear, when I asked that, I heard a grown man giggle with happiness. I floated into work and beamed at everyone all day. I emailed my friend back to say - are you SURE we're next on the list? She emailed back to say YES! It's definitely you! Joy.
It took me a good few hours to get past the TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! bit of the email to the she is just settling them in and getting the HIV tests done bit. I mean, I read it first time around, but was mostly thinking 'oh, I hope the tests don't take very long because then we will hear really soon'. It wasn't until the initial endorphins wore off that I realised - hey there, slow down, they are getting these tests for a reason. They could come back positive.
They could come back positive.
And I know that HIV is a manageable condition, but it's not on our list of approved medical conditions (almost impossible in the UK), so it's not that we wouldn't have wanted to adopt them if they were HIV+, it's that we wouldn't have been allowed to. I know people fall in love with referral photos, but I had fallen in love with three sentences in an email, and suddenly I realised in way that I never, ever had before that our adopted babies don't spring into being after their medicals declare them adoptable, but that for all the children without parents, but are healthy and destined for a new family, others DO have HIV or something equally awful and while I know some people are able to adopt HIV+babies, most don't, and.... what? What happens to these babies? Would I ever even know? If it was good news, we would probably hear soon, but if it was bad news, what? I could feel two parallel futures spinning away from me. In one, the babies are healthy, we get an official referral and we become a family. In the other? Well, I guess we are referred a different child, but what about the babies?
I don't have anything like the words to explain what all of this realisation was like. I should have known this before, right? I mean, I'm not actually stupid. But knowing it and KNOWING it turned out to be two completely different things. And of course, I knew, and I know, that even if our own story had a happy ending, that didn't erase the reality of this. I remember thinking - how can I continue to live in a world where tiny babies are born with illnesses that they won't be able to get treatment for? How is this possible? And what kind of a God lets this happen? I found myself reading my bible with a fierce anger that I'd never really felt before. And I found what I already knew, but desperately needed reminding of - God is a God of passionate justice, and my anger at the suffering of the innocent is nothing - nothing - compared to his. Which is strangely comforting, but doesn't make the realities of this broken world magically go away. To the question - how can I continue to live in this world? the answer comes back - well, you don't have a choice. You can disengage, but you can't make this go away.
A week passed. I thought a lot about Schroedinger's cat, about how there was already a certain outcome, although I didn't know what it was. At this point, I lost all hope about our babies. This was the only way I could cope with not hearing anything. Time was passing, and all was silent. Surely, if all was well, we would have heard? Every time I stood up, I could feel the hope draining away from my body. It was leaking from the ends of my fingers and gushing from the soles of my feet - I was ankle deep in it, and still it kept draining away. Sometimes I would quietly whisper to myself TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! but always, echoing back was HIV tests. You would have heard by now if it was good news. And I began to build a fence around my heart, plank by spiky plank. I kept telling myself - these aren't our babies. We know about them, that's all. But nobody owes us any information about them.
At the end of the week, I called. I hesitatingly mentioned the babies, and the orphanage director said 'do you want to know if they are for you?' and I said YES and felt a little ripple of residual hope surging up, just in time to hear her say that she hadn't made a decision yet, about what would happen to them and that she would write to me soon if it was yes for us. And that was the end of the conversation.
Of course, I had no idea what she meant. Did she mean that she wasn't sure if they were healthy? Or she wasn't sure if they were for us?
I will spare you an account of the second week, except that it was very similar to the first. By this time, I was starting to crack a bit under the strain of the not-knowing, but we still hadn't told a single soul. To start with, it was because we wanted people to be surprised and pleased, but by this point it was because I couldn't make my fingers type the words that we had hoped to adopt two little babies who were probably, since we hadn't heard by now, HIV positive.
And then. We had agreed that, if we hadn't heard more in a week, we could call the orphanage again. We tried in the morning, but couldn't get through. We tried five more times. Eventually I had to go to work. I was trying to deal with the fact that it would be bad news, but that it would be better to know for sure. J tried again. He got through, but the director wasn't there. He spoke to me and we agreed that he should call her on her mobile, even though we knew the connection would be really bad. He tried. She didn't answer. We spoke again - I was sitting on a bench near the building where I work, pretty much trying not to throw up from all the stress. He agreed to try again. We hung up. The minutes ticked away - I watched them change on my phone. As more minutes passed, I realised that he had probably got a connection. And then he sent a text to say: Good news. I'm coming up to see you.
It happened early last week, and I still can't take in that the text said good news. I was so sure it was all over. I asked and asked him - are you SURE she said they are for us? Are you absolutely certain? Yes, yes, yes - I'm sure. And then she sent us a picture -and then their medical reports. And I am finally convinced, I think, that it's not all a mistake. But in the middle of the night, I'm still waking up sweating and sure that we'll find out it was. I guess I built that fence a little too high.
So, that's how it happened. Not what I expected at all.