Jill Mundle sits on the lawn in the warm spring sunshine holding her 15-month-old daughter, Mya, in her lap. How this scene came to be is more than just a matter of a few steps from the back door of the house on Fountain Road outside of Pugwash where Jill has lived for more than 15 years. The story spans a decade, 10,000 kilometres, two 13-hour flights, and one ocean of heartache and happiness.
More than three years ago, Jill, now 41, began the process of adopting a baby from Ethiopia, a country on the eastern side of Africa, once it became clear she and her partner of 16 years, Randy Weeks, could not overcome infertility.
“I waited for our referral forever and it didn’t bother me,” she says. “Because we were at the stage that if [having our own child] happened for us, it happened.”
Then, when she least expected it, in the midst of chaos...
“I lost my job two weeks before the referral came in,” Jill explains. “I was devastated by losing my job but in hindsight, it was a good thing.”
Once that referral arrived last November, providing Jill and Randy, who is 47, with the first details and photo of their daughter, the wait was agonizing.
“I couldn’t stand the fact she was at the orphanage,” she says of the three month wait for the adoption to be approved and a visa issued. “I would have my niece here and be doing her bedtime routine and I’d be thinking of my daughter by herself in the orphanage.”
Finally, on March 1, Jill received the call she’d been waiting for. The next day, she was on a plane for the long, overnight trip to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. What she and Randy had wanted for so long was about to happen: they were parents of a little girl. But, as with any adoption, the transition would be challenging and, at times, heart-wrenching.
“They had her all cleaned up in this beautiful little dress and they brought her out and shoved her in my arms,” says Jill. “They said, ‘Mama, there’s Mama. Say Love Mama’. She just freaked. She was scared and it just broke my heart.”
Mya had no possessions; not even that beautiful dress belonged to her. Jill had to change her out of the dress and leave it behind. As well, the orphanage had provided the wrong measurements for Mya and the shoes Jill had brought with her were too big.
“We stayed at the orphanage for awhile, fed her lunch and played with the other kids, before we went back to the hotel. When we left the orphanage, there was no looking back,”she says. “Mya held on so tight, that was it. The next day when we got up for breakfast, she was firmly attached to my chest and she stayed there for three weeks.”
Here are the facts about life in an orphanage: There is limited physical contact (no snuggles, no hugs or kisses) and there are little or no personal items (small children lose their toys quickly to the bigger kids). Children learn that not even crying gets them what they want. Mya faced an enormous change from life in the orphanage to life with Jill and Randy. In her first few weeks at home, no one could touch her but Jill and she would play only with whatever she could reach; where she sat was where she stayed even though she could walk.
“At the orphanage, the kids go outside for 30 minutes every day for Vitamin D but they don’t play; they just sit,” explains Jill. “If you had seen Mya when she first got home, she’s not the same child now. Now she plays like mad. Her favourite things are the swing outside, books and shoes.”
All the lovely things she didn’t possess until Randy and Jill became her parents.
“Randy and I have been together for a long time and his children are grown. The time for us to do this was ten years ago but at the same time, we’ve waited so long that I just feel...”
Jill stops talking as tears roll down her cheeks. A long moment passes until she can speak again.
“I feel like I waited my whole life for Mya,” she says through these tears of joy. “It doesn’t matter that she’s not our child biologically. She’s my little girl. Mya was meant to be our little girl.”
These tears, this joy reveals how Mya’s arrival has affected not just Jill and Randy as parents but also as a couple who has shared a life - one that included several of Randy’s children from a previous relationship - for more than 15 years.
“Mya wasn’t home a week when Randy came out of her bedroom after watching her sleep and said, ‘I love her. I really love her’. I knew he would be good to Mya but I never thought he would give out cigars, I never thought he’d bathe her, I never thought he would do all the things he does with her. And that makes me love Randy in a whole different way.”
It was Randy who encouraged the adoption from the beginning. Jill says he told her that if they didn’t do it, she’d regret it for the rest of her life.
“She’s good for us,” Jill says of her small, curly-haired daughter, her dream come true. “She’s changed our life. Every day I thank God for this little girl.”