The following is a guest post written by Elizabeth, a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill.
I am the oldest of six children.
I have wrestled toddlers into car seats, changed hundreds of diapers, and become an expert at making Kraft Mac n’ Cheese.
When my parents informed me that our family was adopting a baby, I was about five years old and already had three younger siblings. There wasn’t really any doubt or fear in my mind that he or she wouldn’t feel like my sibling, mostly due to the way my parents talked about adoption. They both wanted a big family and were passionate about adoption before they even met each other, so it was something that my family discussed often, long before my brother Beau, who is adopted from Ethiopia, was matched with our family or even born.
Our adoption process took about three and a half years. We were matched with Beau when I was eight years old, and about six months later, my dad and a dear family friend traveled to Ethiopia to finish the process and bring Beau home. (My mom, who had always dreamed of going to Africa, was seven months pregnant with my youngest sister Annie and couldn’t go)
When we brought Beau home, he was six months old. My sister Annie was born two months later. I was nine, my sister Jane Murry was eight, my brother Heyward was six, and my other sister Millie was three. Our family had two infants and six children under the age of ten. When I look back on the first several years of Beau’s life, one thing that strikes me is how blurry they are in my memory. A constant cycle of bottles and naps and diapers.
My sister Jane Murry and I assumed a lot of responsibility really quickly. We changed diapers, made bottles, broke up countless fights, shoved chubby toddler feet into Velcro shoes and helped with potty training and bath time. Our family was in survival mode for a few years and it was sometimes frustrating to feel like an unpaid babysitter as I dedicated a lot of time and energy at a relatively young age to making sure our family stayed afloat.
There were genuine moments of frustration and resentment towards my parents, who were simply doing their best to navigate the chaos and keep everyone alive and healthy. However, there are also countless memories during those first few years that I cherish with all my heart. Our family doted on Beau (and we still do). No matter how chaotic or difficult those first few years may have been, it always felt like Beau belonged in our family, which I am realizing more and more is something that I often took for granted and is a gift that not every adoptive family or adopted child receives.
Survival mode allowed our family to do a better job of understanding what was important and what wasn’t. We had to let go of a lot. We had to ask for help more than was comfortable. We often showed up late with unbrushed hair and mismatched shoes, but we showed up.
Our adoption process forced us even deeper into our community – all the friends that brought meals, drove carpool, sat with us and cried with us and laughed with us became more like family than friends. We have been blessed with people who have walked with us through the adoption process, not just at the beginning, but at every stage of Beau’s life.
Every once in a while I will be struck by the enormous impact adoption has had in my life. I will see a picture of an Ethiopian family and be reminded that Beau had biological parents and perhaps even an older sister like me. I don’t know who his biological family is or if they’re alive, but my heart aches for them to know that he’s okay. I would want them to know that he loves the ocean and hates avocados. I want them to know that he is safe and treasured and adored. I wish they could gaze into his beautiful brown eyes and be as captivated as I am.
Being Beau’s sister is a beautiful privilege. An honor that brings tears to my eyes when I least expect them. A baby boy left in a basket in Africa has become one of the people that I love the most in all the world. And that is a miracle that I am still comprehending and will continue to process for my entire life. I cannot imagine my life without him. I don’t want to.
Thank you to Elizabeth for writing her story and giving us a glimpse into her family's adoption journey. Adopting from Ethiopia has led Elizabeth's family to dive into learning more about Ethiopian culture. If you would like to learn about how adopting outside of your culture or race affects the adoption process, please consider joining us in November for our class Race, Culture, and Adoption.