by Jennifer Johns
Both of our daughters lost their first mamas due to childbirth complications. We had the privilege of meeting their birth fathers when we traveled for court and were able to learn more about our girls’ biological mothers and the circumstances that led their birth fathers to place our girls for adoption.
It was obvious to us that both of these men loved their baby girls, but felt unable to care for them. One gave us his blessing and asked us to raise his little girl to know Jesus. The other told us how much he wanted his daughter to have both a mother and a father. We looked both of these men in the eye and promised we would love the girls as our own and would raise them to the best of our ability. We also told them we would keep them updated on how the girls are doing.
We were so grateful to learn that Joy was willing to travel to Gimbi and meet with our girls’ birth families on her recent trip to Ethiopia. We prepared photo books, an update on how the girls are doing, and some questions we hoped the birth fathers would be able to answer. It was an incredible blessing to receive pictures, answers to our questions, and video footage of Joy’s meeting with these men who will always hold a special place in our hearts. What I wasn’t fully prepared for, though, were the emotions that would be stirred up in my own heart. As beautiful as adoption is, it is also quite complicated.
Our girls are 6 and 4. We talk about Ethiopia often and we have shared with them the details of their stories that we feel are age appropriate. It had been a while since we had talked in detail about the circumstances that led them to join our family, so we used Joy’s recent update as a conversation starter. For a few days afterward, our older daughter asked me to tell her again about her Ethiopian father and her siblings that remain there. One night before bed, we were praying and her prayer was this, “God, please tell my birth mama that I am six years old and in first grade.” The floodgates broke at that point. How is a 6 year old supposed to reconcile the incredible losses that she experienced so early in her life?
It seems that even our four year old has some understanding of the complexities in her story. She was recently telling her brother about how she will be in Heaven with her birth mom someday. She immediately followed that comment by telling him how much she loves Daddy and Mommy. She will also say things like, “I never want to leave this family.” There is some part of her that intuitively knows that her situation is not the norm and she makes an effort to smooth things over for our sake.
While we are so grateful for the pictures and video that we received, they also serve as a vivid reminder of how challenging life is for our girls’ families in Ethiopia. As I watched them look through the book of pictures, I wondered what in the world must be going through their minds. I know they were happy to see that the girls are growing and thriving, but I know it must also be painful for them, too.
Our older daughter’s birth father and two birth sisters came to the meeting. I couldn’t help but notice on the video that the girls made some of the very same facial expressions that Sena makes. I watched them interact with one another and my heart just ached at the realization that they are missing a sister. One sister is just a few years older than Sena and it was almost as if we were looking into the future at Sena in a few years.
Our younger daughter’s birth father is very thin and shared with Joy that he is having some health issues. It is so hard for me to know that anytime I am sick, I can drive myself to the doctor and I will be treated while this man is suffering and does not have access to medical care. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Our hope is to take both girls to Ethiopia when they are older. I know that will present a whole new set of challenges, but we believe that they need to see and experience their beautiful country of origin. In the meantime, we will continue to navigate the complexities as they come. Ultimately, we trust in the sovereignty of God and know that He has a plan for our girls that is good. They are resilient and I look forward to seeing what He accomplishes through them as they grow.
Special thanks to Jennifer and all of our adoptive families who made this trip to Gimbi financially possible. Your photos and letters brought great joy, peace and amazement to the birth parents with whom they were shared.