Tell Me Your Story: Of a Weight Lifted

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.43.46 AMLynne didn’t know her life story until she was 53. And when she finally found out, the details were unbelievable.

Born in St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1943, Lynn’s birth parents were not together. In fact, they were both married to someone else. It was during World War II, and while her husband was off in the war, Lynne’s mother, Minnie, had a one time affair  that resulted in a pregnancy. Minnie was scared. Her husband would eventually return, and she had two other children at home. In addition, the father of her growing baby also had his own two children to raise. In a different time, a much different outcome might be possible, but this was the 1940s.

In another small Canadian city, a woman struggled with her infertility. Anges received a call from a friend about a woman who was having a baby, but couldn’t keep it. Would she be interested? Agnes said yes, and Lynne was adopted. She was picked up from the hospital at a week old. The terms of the adoption were set, and the adoptive family could not be within 100 miles of Minnie and her family. Records were changed, and Lynne received a new last name. Adoption papers were sealed, and for most of her life, Lynne would be kept in the dark about her family history.

Lynne grew up thinking that  her adoptive parents were the only ones she had. After Lynne was adopted, Agnes had been able to have three more children, making Lynne the oldest of four. Growing up, her siblings didn’t find out that Lynne was adopted until much later on, but Lynne found out at the age of eight. Getting into an argument with neighborhood kids resulted with one of offenders yelling,“You don’t even count, anyway. You’re adopted.” Lynne was stunned, but hid her shock. Later, she worked up the nerve to ask her mother. Her mother quietly explained that yes, she was adopted and was told to say, if ever asked, that she was chosen.

But that’s where the conversation ended. There was no further explanation of Lynne’s background before the adoption. After that, Lynne felt she didn’t have the right to know her past.  She wondered who her mother was. Why was she relinquished? Who was her father? Every woman she passed in the grocery store or on the street could be her mother. But Lynne didn’t want to upset her parents, so she wondered in silence.

When Lynne looks back on those years, it’s with hurt and confusion. She says she sometimes felt like an outsider in her family, although she admits she does have fond memories of her childhood. She describes her childhood overall as “happy, and loving, but disjointed.”  For over fifty years, Lynne was kept in the dark about her past. Too scared to rock the boat, she accepted that her life before adoption would remain a mystery.

Until her mother’s passing in 1996. Before Agnes passed away at the age of 80,  she told Lynne who her birth mother was. Lynne was given her birthmother’s name, a key that would unlock so many secrets. Lynne wrote a letter to Minnie explaining who she was, and asked if they could talk. Shortly after, Minnie phoned, and mother and daughter had a long conversation. Lynne found out that Minnie’s husband had passed and had never found out about his wife’s secret daughter. Lynne was unable to make contact with her birth father, who also passed away.

But looking back on the events of her life, Lynne says she knew God had a hand in it all. Minnie’s husband returned from the war a hard man, and life would have been very difficult for Lynne had her mother tried to keep her. Today Lynne is in contact with some of her half siblings, but has since said goodbye to her birth mother who passed in 2003. For a long time, she didn’t discuss her adoption story, still concerned that she would upset her family. At 71 years old, the telling of this story is a turning point for Lynne and proof that she is not defined by her circumstances.

It took a lot for Lynne to get to this place of self acceptance, and she only has one piece of advice for adoptive parents: “Please tell your children they are adopted, and explain way. Be very open and truthful.”  She is no longer carrying the burden of family secrets, but embracing the freedom that comes with knowing and speaking the truth. With the telling of this story, Lynne says she feels a weight that has been on her shoulders for years has been lifted, and she is finally free.

Ladybug Love

ladybug-love-kat-lamons-trish-digginsLadybug Love is a collection of adoption day stories from Trish Diggings and Kat LaMons. The book introduces readers to a hundred different families and captures the moment each family was matched. Like each of the families, no two stories are alike, and it becomes evident that adoption is rarely a simple process. The book is an encouragement for waiting families, and it also serves as a guide for families who are just getting started with the adoption process in China.

Trish Diggins has been writing her whole life. She started by writing column for her small town newspaper and has spent over decade writing for Corporate America. When Trish adopted her daughter from China, she started thinking about writing something other than press releases and newsletters. Trish also started thinking about her own adoption, something she really hadn’t given much thought to. She was encouraged by Kat Lamons (who is now her writing partner) to submit an article to a national adoption magazine, which led to the idea of collecting Chinese adoption stories together. Trish admits the project was hard work, but she loved interviewing  people and hearing their stories. She says that she is “humbled and grateful for the opportunity” to have been a part of the project. Read on for our interview!

As an adoptee and adoptive parent, what do you think is the most important thing for a prospective adoptive parent to know?

As an adopted person, besides love and support and all the other things you would do for any child, it’s critical that adoptive parents are as open and honest with their child about their adoption as possible. Of course, you have to use common sense and be age-appropriate and the like, but it’s a part of your child’s life that shouldn’t be hidden or treated like something to be ashamed of. It’s not! My parents raised me to know I was adopted before I even understood what it meant, which I feel is easier on kids than having a big “surprise – guess what!” talk. As an adoptive person and parent, I would love for prospective adoptive parents to really research the ins and outs of all the adoption options. When you choose the one that’s right for your family, you may get some negative reactions from friends, family, and co-workers. That’s okay. At the end of the day, how you choose to create your family is up to you. Adopting my daughter is truly the very best thing that I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of – I could not love another human being more. She’s changed my life, my soul, and my spirit in so many ways I can’t begin to count. I am beyond blessed to be a part of her life.

When it came time for you to adopt, why did you choose China?

I put my journalistic background to good use. I did tons of research about the process, interviewed families who had completed all kinds of adoptions – closed, open, foster, international, private, researched agencies. When it came down to it, all I can really say is that down deep, I just knew that’s where she was, and my husband felt the same way.

One of the couples in the book was told that the wait for a healthy child would be seven years. Another couple almost gave up because of the amount of paperwork required.  Did you face the same wait times or obstacles with your adoption?

Yes, we did. Stacks of paperwork. We filled out paperwork that got lost and had to be redone, we renewed paperwork, we visited Homeland Security so many times I can’t remember how long we spent in the waiting room, and our adoption worker stopped doing home studies. The wait time went from a year and a half or so to nearly five – which felt like an eternity! It left me WAY too much time to decorate and redecorate her room – that kid had hand-painted linen-washed walls when she came home (like she’d care)! Sometimes, I’d get so sad seeing the prepared room with the empty crib that I’d just cry and shut the door. But we made the most of the wait – we saved, traveled, went to concerts, visited friends – which all in all, turned out to be the best thing we could have done. When she finally arrived, we were seriously ready to nest for a few years. Looking back, every hurdle and obstacle was worth it, because I cannot imagine having any other child but the one we have. She’s absolutely a perfect fit for our family, and I’d go through it all again and more.

Do you have any contact with your daughter’s biological family? Do you plan to take your daughter back to China someday?

Sadly, there are absolutely no records or information about her biological family. I’ll share with her everything I do have, as her maturity allows. We’d love to take her back to China one day – both as a heritage trip for her and because we just fell in love with the people and culture ourselves. She should experience life in other countries and cultures – her homeland, as well as others. It makes for a much more well-rounded and appreciative life, don’t you think?

Yes, travel is important for any child. Have you found ways to incorporate her culture into your daily life?

Absolutely. We have artwork and items from China around our home and in her room. She loves checking the weather every morning on my iPhone for both our town and her birth city in China. She finds it quite exciting when the weather is the same there as here! We’re members of our local Families with Children from China group and we attend social, heritage and holiday celebrations with them throughout the year. Together, we look through her “China Books” every few months (our photo books from our adoption trip), and she gets a real kick out of seeing herself as a baby in China. We have some Chinese-related adoption books we read at bedtime, too. I do think it’s important to recognize and incorporate her birth culture in our lives. But most of the time, we’re just a normal family, and she’s just a normal kid, doing the same things everyone else does – although you have to take into account I’m admittedly wildly prejudiced, as I think she’s the cutest, sweetest and most adorable kid there is!

Your book, Ladybug Love, shares 100 stories of families on their match day. Why did you choose to focus on match day as opposed to homecomings or other important milestones?

The moment that makes Match Day so special is that it’s the same miracle as it is for every parent – that first glance at your child’s face is unforgettable. For some, it’s love at first sight. For others, it’s a total and complete shock. For the rest – everything in between! There are so many emotions wrapped up in that one life changing moment, no matter how you become a parent. My writing partner, the brilliant, talented and hilarious Kat LaMons, had done a Ladybug Love book many years ago, and this book is the updated version. We loved the idea of growing the book and having it span more than a decade’s worth of stories. The adoption process has certainly changed over the years, but the magic of that special moment hasn’t.

What was the process like to collect 100 stories? Were your interviews done over the phone? Through email? What was the time frame?

We had a great start from the original book. We compiled the new stories through phone interviews, email interviews, Skype interviews, and in-person interviews. All in all, it took about a year and a half to put the final version of the book together. We’re incredibly appreciative and grateful to the families who contributed their stories, and truly hope they’re happy with the result. One family was so thrilled to be part of the book, they asked for two copies – one to read and share, and one to put in their safe deposit box! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that has anything to do with our writing – I think it has everything to do with showing how precious these stories are to the families. We’re honored to have had them be willing to open their hearts and share these amazing personal moments.

You and your writing partner Kat LaMons have another book titled “The Crunch-Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption.” Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why it would be helpful for prospective adoptive parents?

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Sure! Kat is still an adoption caseworker, working with families before and after they adopt. Last year, one family’s daughter came home crying. When I say crying, I mean CRYING. Bless her heart, she cried all the way through China. She cried on the plane home from China. She cried when they got home. She cried all morning, all afternoon, and almost all night. The desperate parents called Kat for help. Within four hours, the incessant crying had stopped, and they’d even gotten her to smile! How? Kat had spoken and sung to her in Chinese! She also taught the parents some phrases to use—writing everything out by hand. Kat soon found many other families with similar adjustment issues, so she continued to share words and phrases, and even a few songs. The kids seemed to adjust so much better when there was less of a language barrier. Over the past few years, there’s been a shift in Chinese adoptee demographics. For the most part, the children are at least toddler age at adoption, and parents are finding the language barrier more difficult than they had imagined. Seeing that this was a growing trend, Kat came to me wanting something beyond the sticky notes and bad copies she was giving her families. She had done the research and there just wasn’t anything out there that fit the bill. I used my design background to help make it all something neatly packaged in a colorful, user-friendly format. That’s how The Crunch Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption was born.

We surveyed adoptive parents for the words and phrases parents said were most desperately needed. We knew we had to include sections on family, feelings, health, safety, parent-to-child instructions, pottying, and more. My personal experience adopting from China helped too – I knew it had to be small so it could be tucked in a purse or backpack, really light, so it wouldn’t affect the baggage weight, and super-easy to use (especially when doing the new parent juggle). The best part is, each book contains a code that gives access to a website where parents can hear words, phrases, and even a couple songs. The individual files can then be downloaded to a phone or computer. For prospective adoptive parents, it means you can learn a few essentials in advance of meeting your child, but if you find yourself in a “crunch” as a new parent, you’ve got a quick, easy means of communicating. So far, we’ve gotten great feedback from parents, and we’re planning to release another Crunch-Time guide for another country later this year!

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Author, adopted person, mom, and professional designer Trish Diggins has worked in the corporate, television, web, film, and non-profit worlds creating communication and branding projects for clients across the country including New York, Chicago, Houston, and Jacksonville. She’s currently designing with Marton/Willis Creative and producing adoption-related books with Kat LaMons for Marcinson Press.

Read Trish’s blog about being an adoptee, adoptive parent, and designer at http://www.trishdiggins.com.

Find Ladybug Love at http://www.tinyurl.com/ladybuglovebook.

Find the Crunch-Time guide at http://www.tinyurl.com/crunchtimechin

Tell Me Your Story: Of a Boy Who Changed Your Life

Adopting with a partner is not easy, but adopting as a single parent is even harder. As a young social worker, Tia saw a need that needed to be filled, and at just 27 years old, she became the parent of a 13 year old boy. She quickly learned how difficult it was to provide structure to a child who had never been given any. She also realized how important it was for a boy to have a father figure. But through their difficult struggles, Tia was able to share moments with her son that they will both never forget. In her own words, Tia tells her story of a boy who changed her life.

My story is not a common adoption story.  I was a social worker for the Florida Department of Children and Families for 12 years.  It was during my tenure with the Department that I was introduced to a very lively and active 5-year old boy.  This child was not on my caseload, but he was in the office on a daily basis due to being kicked out of his biological relatives’ home for behavior issues.  My son’s story is all too common of a child born into the foster care system.

My son and his biological brother bounced from one relatives’ home to the next until there were no more relatives willing or able to care for them.  Once this happened both boys were placed in foster homes.  The brothers would be separated due to the lack of available foster homes with two beds open to keep the boys placed together.  This is a sad reality of the system.  The children are first traumatized by the removal from the birth home/family, and then often despite the best efforts of caseworkers the siblings are placed in separate homes rarely, if ever, to be reunited.

Once my prospective adoptive son began going from foster home to foster home, his behavior continued to become increasingly difficult to manage.  He was scared, confused, hurt and myriad of other feelings that I will never be able to fully wrap my head around.  I was one of the only two social workers that was able to connect with him and to that end began a 6-year journey that would result in adoption.  You see I eventually worked with his case and got to know his biological mother.  I will not disclose the reasons why my son came into the system, but I will say that his entire biological family continue to battle the same issues that many of our inner city families are experiencing.

His biological mother loved her children but could not seem to overcome her circumstances in order to be a parent to her children.  I saw her struggle, and I personally made a promise to her ‘woman to woman’ that I would do my best to watch over her boys until they turned 18 or became adopted.  Did I mention that at this time I was a single woman and only 26 years old?  I really had no concept of what I was getting myself into, but I am a person of my word.  From that moment on I made sure that both boys were in good foster homes, and I would be sure to visit them on weekends to be sure that all was well.  My son’s brother was eventually placed with a foster family that committed to keep him until his 18th birthday.  My son was still not able to maintain in a stable foster home environment and was moved into a local group home facility.

At this point, I was taking him out every weekend for church and lunch.  It was one day after church that he asked me if I would adopt him.  I had never considered adoption.  So after careful prayer and discussions with my parents, I decided that it was something that I wanted to do.  I loved this young man, and I had become vested in his future.  The process was not easy because I had worked with him and his family on a professional level.  Since the time that I worked on his case I had been promoted and transferred into another division, but still careful consideration was taken before they would allow me to adopt.

As a single woman, adopting a teenage boy from foster care it was probably the most challenging thing that I have done.  The process of adopting from the foster care system is fairly painless because the need is so very great.  They prepare all prospective foster and adoptive parents in a lengthy training program, Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), that allows you to become familiar with the ins and outs of foster care and adoption.  However, just as most people will say to that first-time pregnant mother, nothing can really prepare you for bringing home your first child.

 My son first came to my home at the age of 13 years old.  He came with his clothes in one very small, dirty suitcase with the remainder of his belongings in a black garbage bag, and his defenses were up.  No matter how much he wanted to be adopted by me, his life experience told him that no home is permanent.  This would be my struggle for the next three years.  In retrospect, I feel that having a husband to share in the parenting would have made it easier for my son and me.

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photo credit: Weldon Ryan

I am sure that my next statement will be very controversial, but I must put it out there.  I firmly believe that there are aspects in raising a male child that can only be effectually addressed by a man/father figure.  I look back on a few parenting and disciplinary issues that arose during his teenage years knowing that if a man were in the house we could have avoided some major issues.  There is a certain energy that a dad brings to the equation that offers balance in the home.  Of course I am only referring to dads who are emotionally and physically present in the home.

As a social worker, I thought that I knew all that I needed to know.  I was certified to teach the MAPP courses to prepare families for fostering and adopting, I had worked with hundreds of foster kids and their families, and I knew my son since he was 5 years old.  I thought I had everything under control.  That could not have been further from the truth.  Yes, I knew my son’s background better that any other non-familial perspective adoptive parent of a foster child.  However, all of the training and working experiences with foster children could not prepare me for the daily reality of being a parent.  The first day that I brought my son home was nerve wrecking!  My son was already a preteen when he came to live me!  I think the honeymoon period was about a week, and then it was time for me to learn how to be a mom and prove to my son that I was not going to be another adult that let him down.

It was very important for me to have established my support system prior to making the decision to adopt.  I knew that adopting a teenage boy that had been in foster care for his entire life would be challenging and that I could not tackle it on my own. Thankfully, I had the support of my parents, prior foster parents and my neighbors.  We worked as a team for my son.

Before adopting I did not realize how much my parents did behind the scenes for me as a child.  My life suddenly became more about what I could do to reach my son.  However, in my situation I felt like I was in a race with time because I only had five short years to prepare him for adulthood.  He had missed out on so much parenting from birth to 13 years of age.  Simple things that those of us who grow up with the same caregivers take for granted became critical to impart.  My son basically did not know what it was like to be apart of a functioning family where people do things for one another because it benefits that household.

My advice to anyone interested in adopting an older child is to make sure you obtain and understand the child’s background.   Take an inventory on how you were raised and how that environment has shaped you as a person.  What expectations to you have on adoption?  Talk to your close friend and relatives and ask them how they feel you would be as an adoptive parent and if they are willing to be your support network.   Set up your support system, as well as your child’s support system, because they are not always the same people.  Lastly, don’t forget to have fun!!  Teenagers can be a lot of emotional work even in the best of situations, but they can also be a lot of fun.  You don’t have the luxury of time when you adopt an older child.  The best lessons are learned through laughter.

One of the best memories that I have with my son was when I took him to my childhood home in New Jersey for Christmas.  As a foster child he had never left the state of Florida.  He really had never left the tri-county area.  Taking him to the airport for the first time was magical for this 15-yr old boy.  The trip was marked with so many firsts for him.  He had never experienced freezing temperatures, and although there was only a dusting a snow on the ground he was just hypnotized by it all. He was just so happy and thankful that entire week that we spent at my grandmother’s home.  I think the best thing about the trip was that he got to experience the love of family that I had known my entire life.

Akin to the Truth

Unknown-2Akin to the Truth is a memoir written by Paige Adams Strickland after reconnecting with her birth family. Throughout Paige’s childhood, her adoption is never kept a secret, but there is little discussion of any details. When she does ask her parents about her adoption, they tell her to “have gratitude and not fuss so much” because out of all the kids they could have chosen, she was “the one they fell in love with and picked.”

Although Paige yearns to know more about her birth family, she feels powerless to do anything about it. Afraid of being labeled an outsider or a freak, Paige keeps her adoption a secret from almost everyone.Like most adolescents, she wants to just blend in, and but as much as she tries to hide her adoption on the outside, she can’t deny it on the inside. As Paige continues to experience important milestones, the identity of her birth parents, especially her birth mother, becomes more important.

Every summer Paige and her family vacation in Florida, which eventually prompts her parents to relocate the family from Cincinnati to Saratoga. Paige says goodbye to her high school sweetheart, Scott, and enrolls at Manatee Junior College. Eventually she transfers from the Junior College to Florida State University and graduates with a degree in Multi-lingual/Multi-Cultural Education. Paige makes her way back to Cincinnati and Scott where they eventually marry, and she begins her career as a high school Spanish teacher.

The newlyweds settle into married life, and Paige sees that many of her friends around her are having babies, which makes her think about her own family and her missing pieces. With Scott’s encouragement, Paige takes the first step to getting the answers she’s always wanted. She writes the state of Ohio for her official adoption papers and begins lifting the veil that had kept her in the dark for so long.

Paige’s story helps readers understand the experience of an adoptee from childhood to adulthood. Paige never stopped yearning for the truth of who she was. Although she is at first motivated by knowing the truth more than she is finding her family, Paige finally gets the answers she was looking for. At the end of her journey, she is finally “free to walk, work, fly, or be anywhere without obsessing about who was who ever again.”

Read on for our interview!

I can relate to your avoidance of talking about your adoption, and you pretty much kept it a secret outside of a few close friends. Growing up, you wanted to take “amnesiac” breaks from your thoughts of adoption. When did you get to a point where it became natural to discuss your adoption?

It became more natural after I found birth relatives.  Then I felt I had something meaningful with honest answers to talk about.  As I met new people, I felt more at ease discussing what happened.  However, with old friends, it was still difficult to talk about because I’d been in such a habit of covering up for so many years.

Your adoption was considered closed as you had no option to contact your birth family, and the unknown information was a source of frustration for you. What are your views on the more open adoptions today?

I think if the adoptive and birth parents agree to it, it’s the best plan out there.  It’s the most honest form of adoption there is.

I cringed when you were assigned the family tree project in 7th grade. You turned in a project that was not “scientifically factual”, because admitting your adoption “was a potentially deadly move, especially in junior high school.” You also wrote that during this time “adoption made you feel like an outsider or a freak.” What would you say to a young person who is struggling with their identity because of adoption?

At some point you will have to come clean about who you are and who you might be.  For example, I knew my future husband had to know.  I would never have wanted to lie to my own children either.  If you are struggling because you aren’t satisfied with who you are or because you only know a “fall-back story” and you want more facts, then go search as much as you can.  Learn everything you possibly can. I felt that finding out who I was may have been more important than meeting the birth family.  Getting enough facts about how I started out in life was my first goal.  Meeting relatives was like getting bonus points or the game-winning grand-slam.

Towards the end of the novel, you start searching for your family. You waited until you were married and completely independent of your parents before you started searching. Do you think the timing helped or hurt your search?

Timing overall helped.  I was still a kid and would never have had the power to find and meet my birth mother.  She died too early on.  Had I procrastinated my search by more than a year, my birth mother’s former (widowed) husband would have sold the house and moved out of state.  I had one address from her death certificate.  Had he moved out of there, my letter might have come back to me, and I wouldn’t have been able to connect with my sisters.  In my case, timing was everything.

Like many families, yours had its share of secrets and lies. Did you feel any apprehension about writing a book that included some very personal details about your adoptive parents? How is your relationship with them today?

I had a lot of apprehension about writing about my adoptive parents. My Adoptive dad passed away in 1996, so I didn’t have him to deal with.  I don’t think this book would be out to the public if he were still living.  It would have been impossible unless I were to write it secretly and just wait for some day.  As for my adoptive mom, she has mixed feelings, but I made the decision to publish it and hope she would have enough understanding, like she did when I conducted my actual search.   My dad’s situation is no longer a secret, and hopefully readers will see my mom as a woman who came into her own, grew stronger and more independent because of what happened in their marriage.

How does your experience as an adoptee shape your role as a mother today?

I do the best I can to not be a “helicopter mom”, but I think I have more fears than most parents about my kids’ safety and being unintentionally exposed to harm.  My biggest fear, when they were very small and unable to speak for themselves, was that somehow,  we would become separated from one another. That may have to do with not just being adopted but because that did happen to my birth mother when she died young. I have tried to instill in both my girls a deep appreciation for their heritage(s) and who is who in our family.  My daughters are over 21 now, but I’ll never stop wanting to find enriching experiences to teach them or ways to protect them from wrong-doings. Oh, and as a pet “mom”, I adore my animals and feel for all homeless fur-babies.  I’d have a barnyard and a kennel if I had the resources!  LOL

Do you have any future projects? Will there be a follow up book?

I am in the process of compiling reflections and stories about my 30+ years in education.  It won’t be adoption-related so much.  I have thought about writing a sequel to Akin to the Truth.  Many people have asked about that, and I left the story open for that possibility.  I have written an “epilogue” of sorts, which equates to about 10 book pages, so obviously I have more work to do if I go in that direction.  My other writing related projects involve writing adoption-themed essays and entries for anthologies, which will help to promote my book and my name as an author in the adoption community.

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Paige Adam Strickland is an educator and writer and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two daughters. You can find out more about Paige on her blog at www.akintothetruth.squarespace.com

Finding My Family

The events of the past few months have been surreal. There are no other words to describe it. This blog has done many things for me. It’s been a way to express myself and share my adoption journey. I’ve also been able to hear and share others’ adoption stories. But most importantly, it has helped me find my family.

At the end of June, I wrote a post about Searching. I had several people reach out to me, and each person kept offering their help to find my family. They knew someone who was in Haiti or they knew someone who could help me. I was still scared to start searching, but every time I was discouraged, I thought of the stranger who was sitting on their computer so moved by my story that they reached out to me to let me know they would help. So I started searching.

My family is from Pestel, Haiti, a small town outside of Jeremie. I went on Facebook and found a Facebook Page for Pestel. I sent a private message that I was searching for my family and I listed my name, birthdate, and my parents’ names. The administrator, Jean, reached out to me and kindly translated my message into Creole and French and shared it on the page. He also told me he was from New York, had family in Pestel, and would gladly share my information with them.

About two weeks later, I was on vacation with my husband and kids when I received a message from Jean on Facebook.

Mariette, hope all is ok. Please call Denise 011509********, she will be able to give you more info on your mom and dad. You can tell her Jean ——- gave you the number. Do you still speak creole?, if not I can always translate. I’m leaving for Pestel, Haiti next week.”

My heart was racing. “She will be able to give you more info on your mom and dad.” I don’t remember the next few minutes, but somehow I was able to get the words out to my husband. He was just as excited as I was because he knew how much it meant to me. I somehow got through dinner, and tried to call Denise when we got back to the hotel room. I was hoping Denise could speak enough English that we could communicate over the phone, but she didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak any Creole. I was frustrated and had to wait until I got home to find help.

When we finally got home, I messaged a long time friend who spoke Creole. I explained the situation and gave Denise’s number. Their phone call was much more productive. We found out that Denise knew my sister Ginette, and knew her phone number. She told us that I had seven siblings (five sisters and two brothers) all living in Haiti. Denise also told my friend that my mother was alive, but my father had passed away last year. The news that my mother was alive was shadowed by the fact that my father wasn’t. I felt guilty for several days. If I had only done this sooner, he could have seen me before he passed. I cried, but was consoled by the hope that I could still be reunited with my mother.

I thanked my friend for calling, but I was unsure of the next step. My emotions were all over the place, and I needed a few days to sort everything out. Over the summer I was working on several interviews for the blog, so I decided to email Marlyse, a woman who was in the process of adopting two children from Haiti, so I could get an update. She knew about my story, and asked me about my search. Wanting to be honest, I told her that there was a possibility that I found my sister in Haiti. I told her I had a number, but no way to communicate. Marlyse wrote back almost immediately. “Do you want to call her this week?”

Three days later, we had Ginette on the phone. I could understand little of what she said, but she was overjoyed to hear from me. Over the next 45 minutes, Marlyse translated as I asked her questions. Slowly, the blurred lines of my history came into focus. Ginette answered every question. She confirmed the information I knew, and filled in what I didn’t. Ginette knew the name of the Haitian woman who had ran the orphanage and given me up for adoption. I had not told anyone this information, and when I heard the name, I got goosebumps. I knew at that moment, this was my sister, my family.

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My sister Ginette

Ginette was in Port-au-Prince and promised to do her best to get our mother to Port-au-Prince from Pestel to speak to me. Within two weeks, I spoke to mother on the phone. She sounded like Ginette, but her Creole a little higher and softer. We told each other things that we had wanted to tell each other for so long, with Marlyse interpreting the entire conversation. I was sweating, my heart was pounding, but it was perfect.

Ginette told me she could send me a picture of my mother with the help of her neighbor. Ginette had a cell phone, but it didn’t have a camera. She was going to get her neighbor to take a picture and send it to my phone. We ended the conference call, and I waited. In the waiting time I tried to keep my hands busy. I kept thinking that I should be doing something special in the moments before seeing a picture of my mother for the first time. I couldn’t think of anything, so I just stared at my screen saver, trying to calm my racing heart.

My phone was beside me, and I heard it vibrate. I opened the email on my computer and clicked on the attachment. I had no words. I was by myself in front of the computer, and I just stared at the picture. I must have stared at it for a full five minutes before moving. And then I grabbed every single picture I had of myself on my computer and started comparing them. I finally called my husband into the room, and asked him “Do we look alike?” He answered my question with one look.

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My mother and I

My mother will be turning 70 on July 15th, and I would like to see her before that happens. A few days after we spoke, she took the long journey back to Pestel by bus. The bus ride was almost four hours, no easy feat for an older woman. When we spoke, she asked for nothing. Just to see me again. She had told me she had been praying every day, never giving up hope that we would see each other again.

So this journey that I’ve been on is no longer about me. It’s not about my wishes or unfulfilled desires. It’s about a woman who was separated from her daughter and never gave up hope that she would see her child again. And I owe this story to every single person who has encouraged me to search for my family. I especially thank Marlyse. She was a stranger who let God use her to reunite a mother and daughter. Marlyse helped give me closure, but what she did for my mother was nothing short of orchestrating a miracle, and I cannot thank her enough. To be honest, I was unsure if I would ever meet my mother on this side of heaven, but she never gave up on me. Isn’t that what mothers do?