On the way to meet her, holding Zeni in my lap, my mind was racing. Was this a huge mistake? Would it be so painful that I would never be able to put it out of my mind? Or what if I really didn't like my daughters birth mom or felt like she had ulterior motives - would I lie to Zeni about it when she got older? What if she said she wanted the baby back? This baby in my lap, to whom she gave life and nursed for two months, was now legally ours and yet I still felt like I was babysitting someone elses kid - waiting, at times wanting, to hand her back to whomever was responsible for her and get back to my real life.
She walked in and I handed Zeni to her. She held her with the familiar ease mothers have, looked into myher daughters eyes, held her close, and rocked her. We told her about our home, our son, the life we would do our best to give her daughter - our daughter. We gave her a cross on a necklace and asked her what she would like us to make sure Zeni learned ("where she comes from" - no problem, and "Jesus" - hummm... problem...) and then I asked why she had decided to make an adoption plan for her daughter.
"Because I could not afford to feed her"
And there it was. The crux of all the uneasiness that had been swirling around in my mind since our plane touched down in Addis. She could not afford to feed her. How much does it cost to sustain the life of a mother and child in Ethiopia? Not much. Definitely less than we paid for the adoption. If we could have given her the thousands of dollars we had paid to take her child, she never would have had to give her up.
And yes, I know the concerns about corruption. And yes, I know that money doesn't solve everything. But when you have none - when you have so little you cannot afford to hold on to the thing you love the most in the world, then money goes a long way. And yes we give money to MSF and Oxfam. And yes, it isn't a sustainable model of development to just go handing out tens of thousands of dollars to poor mothers. And yes, if international adoption did not exist we would not have our daughter. But her mother would.
Why am I railing against international adoption as my Ethiopian daughter naps upstairs? I'm not sure. I'm not against it, but I am against a world where it has to exist. A useless, ideological not actionable sentence, I realize. But hugging Zeni's mom, watching her hold her baby one last time, it did strengthen my resolve that the work that I do in this lifetime will hopefully make the tiniest dent in the suffering and poverty that goes on everywhere around the world - maybe if I can someday work to help one mother keep her child it will somehow balance out the cosmic (and karmic?) dent I left when I took my daughter home that afternoon.