Ethiopia – meet the babies

    Keri (who sustained a couple of nasty bug bites on her face the night before) enjoys a playful moment with Mintesinot Solomon at the Danish guest house where we first stayed.

    It’s time to write about the babies. The beautiful, perfect, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-them babies. Let me introduce you.

    Mintesinot [min-TESS-uh-not] Solomon Brian deGuzman is 8½ months old. He is a happy boy with an infectious giggle and a smile that affects his whole wiry, wiggly body. When he’s awake, his bright eyes are constantly alert, always ready for the next delightful discovery.

    Minte and his dad outside the Christian World Adoption offices in Addis Ababa.

    He loves it when his mom and dad blow bubbles on his tummy. He loves the sound of his mother’s voice, the security of his father’s arms. He’s remarkably self-assured, completely comfortable and curiously wide-eyed in any environment.

    He’s teething, which has made him a bit cranky at times. Thankfully, his wise parents came to Ethiopia prepared with Orajel, baby Tylenol and an amazing teething toy that vibrates when you squeeze it.

    He has gorgeous, silky, dark-brown skin. (His parents affectionately describe it as “dark chocolate” while his lighter sister’s skin is “milk chocolate.”) He has big hands and feet. (“You’re playing for the Lakers when you grow up,” his parents tease.)

    He’s strong. He can sit unassisted. When placed on his tummy, he immediately raises up on his knees and begins rocking back and forth in practice mode for crawling. If you hold him by the hands or under the armpits he can stand for quite a while before he tires.

    When he’s hungry, his happy demeanor changes abruptly; his wails are piercing. Once he’s got a bottle, which he can hold almost by himself, he pacifies just as suddenly.

    Before we left Ethiopia, he learned how to cross the first two fingers on his left hand, which delighted his parents. Their response delighted him, creating a lovely, endless cycle of mutual infatuation.

    He’s “all boy,” his mother says. “He’s always happy, just like [2½-year-old older brother] Musse,” his father says.

    Before they met him, his parents planned to keep his full name but call him Solomon. When they realized he already is responding to “Minte,” the nickname used by caregivers at the Addis Ababa foster home where he and his sister lived for four months, they started to reconsider. Keri already has purchased items that say “Solomon” for the nursery back home in Paradise Valley. Older siblings Musse and 3½-year-old Jesmina have been talking about their brother Solomon and mentioning him in their prayers during the weeks leading up to his arrival.

    Last I heard, Brian remained adamant about “Mintesinot.” No matter what the ultimate decision, he says, “I’m calling him ‘Minte.'”

    Tesfanesh reaches for her brother's ear.

    Tesfanesh [tess-FAWN-esh] Brian deGuzman is a loveable doll baby with round, widely spaced eyes, plump limbs and a calm, quiet demeanor. She is an observer; perceptive and extremely sensitive to changes in her environment. (At no time was that more apparent than the night we showed up at the airport at Addis Ababa to fly home; though safely anchored to her dad in a Snugli baby carrier, she shrieked loudly when we walked into the bustling, brightly lit terminal.)

    She’s a binkie baby. Stephne Bowers, who runs the orphanage in Soddo, Ethiopia, where both children first entered the international adoption system, knew this. She used a ribbon to attach a pacifier to Tes’s sleeper when the child was transferred by bus to the foster home in Addis Ababa. (Such transfers are procedural and occur once a child has been referred to, and accepted by, an adoptive family.)

    Tesfanesh and Soddo orphanage director Stephne Bowers.

    Somewhere along the line, the intention — and probably the binkie, too — got lost. So every time sensitive Tes, who had already bonded tightly to Stephne in Soddo, would cry inconsolably, she was given a bottle. She wasn’t always hungry; sometimes she was sad. But her “emotional eating” left her a bit plumper than perhaps is best for a child of 7 months.

    Tes seemed a bit lethargic during her first few days with her parents. Keri, who worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse before becoming a mom, was concerned about that — and also about her daughter’s periodic, but chronic, wheezing. (She and Brian, a cardiac surgeon at St. Joesph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix, quickly put both children on antibiotics.)

    Before the week was up, Tes was responding dramatically to the benefits of regular (but reduced frequency) feedings, increased stimulation from and communication with her family and yes, that beloved binkie.

    Keri calls it her daughter’s “gastric bypass.” Tes just needed something to suck, something to help her self-soothe while she processed the changes and transitions in her life. With that security, she quickly leapfrogged past developmental milestones. She started smiling more and interacting with the people around her. She was awake for longer periods during the day. She showed signs of increasing strength in her legs and core.

    By the time we left Ethiopia, she was able to sit for several seconds at a time. (I was the first to witness this, which gave me a tremendous thrill and further cemented the emotional connection I know I will always have with this lovely child and her brother.)

    Tes seems wise beyond her years. She stares at you with the depth of the ages reflected in her dark brown eyes. “She was loved,” Keri says. “She was wanted.” Keri and Brian, more than anyone else on earth, know this to be true.