One of the things that has been really important to our five-year-old, Zinashi, as she’s grown has been hearing the story of her life. She wants to hear about what she was like before she came to our family, and she loves to hear the whole story of how we decided to adopt her and came to Ethiopia to make her part of our family. Many adoptive families make life books for their children, and I am working on those for both girls, but in the meantime, I just tell the story out loud. With Zinashi, I started telling her the story of her life in the first weeks we were together. She knows the different parts of the story, and she will ask for me to tell certain parts. I think that this is very helpful to her as she sorts out who she is and grows into a confident little person. It’s been so good for her that I want to make sure that we are just as intentional with telling Elvie her story so that she will have that comfort as she grows, too. I had every intention of telling her the story of her little life from the first moment we met, but when her medical needs were greater than we anticipated, the words I spoke to her were of comfort and encouragement, assuring her that we were there, finally, and she would be okay.
Now, though, she is doing beautifully, and it recently occurred to me that it was time to start telling her the story of her life and how she came to be in our family. I try to tell the story the same way every time, so it will be familiar to her, and I start at a different point in time than you might imagine.
Elvie’s story begins before she was born, in the middle of the month of May, 2011, when I felt inexplicably sad and felt that it was somehow connected to my next child. I knew there would be another child for us, but we were not in a position to begin the adoption process again. I didn’t know when we’d start. However, I did know that there was someone for us, and I felt a strange connection at that time to the child that would be our next daughter. Once we knew who Elvie was, and I researched when in pregnancy the difficulties that would lead to her diagnosis would occur, the dates that I felt that strange sadness and the approximate time that the defect would have occurred lined up.
You could call it coincidence or wishful thinking, but I will always begin Elvie’s story this way, because I want her to know that I thought of her long before she was born, that I was planning for her and dreaming of her and waiting for her. I want her to know that she was loved and wanted from the very beginning, even before she took her first breaths on earth.
Then I will tell her the rest of her story, the good parts and the hard parts, and the parts that will be confusing for awhile, until she is old enough to understand. I will tell her about where she was born and why she couldn’t stay there. I will tell her about the day we found out about her and the weeks that came after, when we were hoping so hard she could be our baby, but didn’t know yet if it would happen. I will tell her how brave and strong she was to hold on until we could get to her, and how brave and strong she remained as she flew home with us and began her journey to get better. I will tell her how she surprised us all by how well she grew and how healthy she became.
I know that Elvie can’t understand all that I am saying just yet, but I want her to have no memory of a time when she didn’t get to hear her story. I want to practice telling it so that by the time she is old enough to truly understand and ask questions, I can weave those seamlessly into the story as well. For now she just grins at me and babbles back, because she knows that I am talking just to her. I snuggle her in a little closer, and I whisper in her ear how special she is, and how lucky we are to be her family. I relax and grin right back at her, wondering what chapters we will add to her story as she grows bigger. It will be a good story, for sure. I feel incredibly grateful that I’m the one that gets to live it with her and tell it back to her every day.