A Year of Stories

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 12.44.43 PMA year ago today, I clicked “publish” on my first blog post. As I’ve told others, I started the blog as a New Year’s goal. For the past few years, I’ve always put “publish my writing” as a goal, but I would never get around to doing anything about it. Work kept me busy. My two kids kept me even busier. I kept making excuses, but at the end of December in 2013, I just decided to go for it. I had been kicking around the idea of a blog about adoption for years, and I don’t know if there was any single thing that made me do it, but for some reason I decided I was ready.

My first post was an interview I did with my sister about her time spent with Invisible Children and the connection she felt with being adopted and giving back. After that first post, I didn’t really have a plan for my next post. Looking back, I realize how crazy that sounds. The week after I published the first story, I started reaching out to people on social media, and so many responded, eager to share their story.

Without a doubt, I am a different person today than I was a year ago when I started. I wasn’t really active in the online adoption community, and the only adoption stories I knew of were my own, my siblings, and a few other Haitian adoptees that we grew up with. My views of adoption were pretty limited, and this year I was able to meet people who broadened my view. I met adoptive moms who opened up their hearts and homes to foster children. I interviewed book authors, filmmakers, and vloggers. And I wrote about adoptees, who like me, struggled with the loss of their birth families.

These conversations helped with one of my hardest posts, the Mother’s Day post.  For years, Mother’s Day has always been difficult for me. I didn’t talk about it or share it, but I knew I had a platform to help someone else who might be hurting like I was. So I sat down and wrote a draft. And deleted it. And cried. And wrote another draft. I was shaking when I finally clicked “publish”. It was a turning point for me. For the first time, I made myself completely vulnerable and let my heart bleed. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders when it was finally published. And something in me shifted too. I started to actively seek out other adoptees online and communicate with them. And guess what? I wasn’t alone.

Over the next few months, I shared my hesitation to search for my family, but I received so much support that I decided to finally go for it.  With the help of so many people, something that I had never thought was possible came to life. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that starting this blog would lead me to my mother. As I’ve shared before, it was nothing short of a miracle, and I owe it all to the generosity of strangers.

I knew going into it that this blog would be a short term project. It has helped me focus on what I want to do next. 2014 was a big year, but I am even more excited for the year ahead. God willing, I will meet my family in Haiti. In addition, I’ll be writing for a few publications. You can keep up with all my happenings at www.mariettewilliams.com. I also started a group for Haitian Adoptees on Facebook, and we welcome all Haitian adoptees to join the growing group. I hope that it will grow into a community of adoptees who support each other and the next generation of adoptees.

I have a lot of “thank yous” for everyone who made this blog possible. My dear husband was a silent partner in all of this. He would often take the kids to the park for a few hours so I could send emails, watch documentaries, and write blog posts. Another big thank you goes to everyone who let me share their story. Each person was so gracious in my request for more information, accurate dates, and personal pictures. My understanding of adoption and of myself has deepened over this past year, and I will take each one of these stories with me for the rest of my life. I cannot end without giving thanks to God for giving me the vision and ability to write. And finally, thank you dear reader for taking this journey with me. Thank you to everyone who supported me from day one.

And if you’re here for the first time, I hope you take some time to read these special stories. There are 29 of them in total from birth moms, adoptive moms and dads, adoptees, and adoptee siblings. Hopefully each story will help you understand both the beauty and heartbreak of adoption. You know I love a good quote, so I’ll end with this:

“Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet. When we lose stories, our understanding of the world is less rich, less true…after nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Tell Me Your Story: Of Reunion

A typical family reunion is filled with joy and laughter, but for adoptees and their birth parents, a reunion is anything but typical. It’s complicated. Adoptees can feel stuck between embracing their birth families and not hurting their adoptive families. There may also be feelings of rejection and long buried anger and bitterness towards their birth families. And what is the mother’s role in her child’s life now? She nurtured and bonded with her child during pregnancy, but now she is a stranger. For many adoptees, reuniting with their birth families is a dream come true, but for others, it brings on another set of problems they are not ready to face. Because of the deep emotions involved, reunions are rarely easy, but with time it is possible to forge a new and different relationship. In her own words, Kimberly shares how she reunited with her son, and how they are trying to move forward despite many obstacles.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 8.47.35 PMI relinquished my son to adoption in 1990.  It was a semi-open adoption. For us, that meant his adoptive parents sent a letter and pictures every year until he turned 18 years old.  They honored this agreement until his 18th birthday.

I had expected to get a letter or phone call from him on his 18th birthday.  Two years passed (July 2010) until I received a phone call from my adoption caseworker stating my son wanted to send me a letter.  Of course I said yes and confirmed my address.

I received a letter from him in September 2010.  I remember feeling a thousand feelings just holding that envelope in my hand.  I was overwhelmed with memories of my past.  Memories of my relationship with his birth father, the fact I hid my pregnancy from my family (I finally told my parents and immediate family what I had done about 10 years later), visiting him at the foster home where he was cared for until the adoption was finalized (now I know I could’ve changed my mind during that two weeks), and saying good bye to him at the courthouse as I handed him over to his new family.

I think I held it for an hour until I had mustered the courage to open it.  It was addressed “Dear Kim.” The letter was short.  He wrote that he had a good life, he was happy, explained his current living situation, described his girlfriend, and he would like for me to write back and send some pictures if I wouldn’t mind.  He ended the letter “From your son” and signed his full proper name.

I grabbed my computer and ferociously wrote a four-page letter (my handwriting is horrible) and labeled about 50 pictures of my family.  He later told me when he received the letter and pictures, he just cried and cried feeling so overwhelmed by actually seeing current pictures of me and knowing about my current life.  I wanted him to know everything about my family, my past, and me.  Most important, I wanted him to know how much I loved him and will always love him. We exchanged a couple more letters over the next couple months (he’s not much of a writer). The last one he wrote included his phone number asking me to call him if I ever felt like it.

I waited until I had an afternoon off of work and my other two children were at school so I would have privacy to call him.  I held the phone in my hand staring at his phone number for what seemed to be a lifetime.  Again, memories of my past were scrolling through my mind.   Honestly, I prayed that he would answer and say he didn’t hate me, that he understood why I made the choice I did, that he will be able to forgive me and he wants to try this reunion thing.

I was incredibly nervous, excited, scared, and full of anticipation when I dialed his phone number.  When I heard his voice answer “Hello” I immediately felt so much love, it’s really indescribable.  I told him who I was, there was a long pause, and then it seemed we couldn’t talk fast enough.  I let him do most of the talking, just listening to my son’s voice for the first time. Relishing every moment, every second.

After close to three hours, knowing I would need some time alone to process all the emotions of this call, we set up a time to talk again.  It was funny because neither of us wanted to hang up. Even in that awkward silence, it was as if we were afraid of losing each other once that call was disconnected.  When we did finally hang up, I couldn’t stop crying.  I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I loved him, because he is my son.

I followed up with an email that night, just to make sure he was doing ok and to let him know I was doing ok.  He responded, “It felt so good to hear my mom’s real voice”.

We continued to call and email each other frequently the next month or so.  The question of when do we meet began to creep into our conversations.  We decided to set up some boundaries prior to meeting.  Unfortunately, neither of us had done any reading/research so we had no idea what kind of “rules” to put in place.  I took the lead and came up with a few: He decides where our relationship goes, parents (adoptive) first, and we will be open and honest with each other at all times.

Up to this point in my adult life I was orderly and efficient at any task. My to do list was always completed at the end of the day and as I worked full time as a registered nurse, had a home, two small children and a husband, and I attended school full time to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Nursing.  No easy feat, but for me, as controlled and determined as I was, I could do anything.  Complete Type A personality!

Since the first letter, I could feel myself slipping.  After the first phone call, I found myself thinking about him all the time, about nothing in particular, just “him”.  Then the “What if’s”? started coming.  What if I would have told my mother I was pregnant? What if I chose not to follow the “rules” and ran away with him after I made the adoption commitment? What would our lives have been like? And so on and so on and so on.  My husband and friends started to notice I wasn’t myself after that first year. I was crying all the time.  I would do an activity with my other two children and begin to cry because I missed out on that same milestone with him. I did choose to see a therapist.  She helped me see I was grieving! Grieving is something I hadn’t done 20 years ago.  I went through all the stages of grief and then back again.  The first couple years I was a complete mess!

Our first face-to-face meeting took place in November 2010.  He chose a bar and grill close to his home.  I think it was in order to make a quick getaway if needed.  I honestly don’t think I had ever been so full of anxiety, hope, anticipation, and love as I was when I saw him walk through the door.  We greeted each other with hugs, sat down and literally stared at each other for what seemed like forever.  Personally, I was taking in all that was his physical presence.  Did he look like me or more like his birth father? Are his mannerisms similar to mine, etc?  That first meeting was the beginning of an emotional roller coaster ride filled with happiness, sadness, regret, grief, and love that neither of us had been prepared for.

The first year we met at least a couple times a month.  Because he was living at home with his parents, and he didn’t feel he was ready to meet my husband and other two children, we often met for lunch or dinner.  I enjoyed listening to him talk about his trials and tribulations growing up.  He said right off the bat that he isn’t one to trust people easily.

I told him about my life growing up, how I ended up pregnant and alone at age 19.  He knew a little bit about the relationship between his birth father and me as I wrote a letter to him that was given to his parents and left for them to decide when he was ready to read it.  He said he read it when he was 16 and actually became quite angry when he found out his mother sent me pictures and a letter once a year. He knew I was a psychiatric nurse and said his friends warned him not to lie or cover up things because I’ll know. I found that funny.

During this first year, I learned that he was an addict, had no real relationship with his parents, and legal issues.  This added another dynamic to the already complicated issues with come along with reunion.   We developed a trusting and loving relationship, bonding quickly.

After that first year, a push/pull cycle began between us.  He would feel that we were getting to close and start to push me away.  I would feel him pulling away and do whatever I could to keep him.  The first two years this cycle was very intense for both of us.  He knew I would’ve done or said anything to make sure he didn’t leave my life.  Part of that was the “addict” manipulating me and me the “enabler” playing along.   The part of our story that includes addiction is a monster all it’s own.  One that had him cut off all communication with me since his DUI in January of this year.  As I write this, I haven’t spoke to him or seen him in almost 11 months.  This separation has rocked me to the core.  I know it’s not about ME, but it still hurt just the same.

The main struggle for us in the process of reunion has been other people interfering.  His adoptive parents, especially Mom, have expressed jealousy and insecurity throughout the past four years.  According to my son, he has been made to feel that he is abandoning his family when spending time with me.  His mom would tell him how her feelings would be hurt when she would see pictures on Facebook of us, know that we were going to dinner, or just hanging out.  He would lie to her at times about spending time with me. When she found out, she expressed to him that hurt her feelings even worse.

His adoptive mom and I “friended” each other on Facebook and started exchanging messages.  Over the years I’ve asked her many times to meet in person.  She has refused every time.  She has made comments to others that I have been selfish and not considered her feelings during my relationship with him.  I’ve had comments made to me by friends close to him that I have no right to have a relationship with him, I gave up that right 24 years ago when “I gave him away”.  “Ouch”! That one stabbed me right in the heart.  He knew it too.  After seeing what his friend texted me, he did show concern for me by talking with his friend and explaining how inappropriate those words were.  I felt validated and relief that he did really listen to the “Why’s” of the choice I made so long ago.

I will always feel that he has been put in an unfair position of having to choose sides.  He’s told me many times he feels like he’s from a divorced family.  This also breaks my heart.  He’s confided in me, felt safe with me, and truly feels a loving bond with me.  He shouldn’t have to choose.  If I were an aunt or a cousin, our relationship wouldn’t be put under the scrutiny it has.  I try very hard not to take this personally, as anyone who would be his birthmother would be treated the same way.

His legal and addiction issues have complicated things this year as he is on house arrest (at his adoptive parents home) and must comply with the rules.  His release date is December 8th.

So I wait again, wondering if he’ll write to me, call me, or text me as I did when he turned 18.  I have written him short notes every couple months this year so he understands that I love him, he’s my family, and I’m not going anywhere. It’s taken me about seven months to adjust to him not being in my life.  We were getting to a place where he was comfortable in my home with our family.  I miss him dearly, I love him always, and I know this is not the final chapter in our story.

You Have His Eyes

You Have His Eyes is a gripping documentary from filmmaker Christopher Wilson. In the film, Chris, a transracial adoptee, documents his search for his father. Chris has already found and met his birth mother, but he is curious about his father’s identity and whereabouts. When he begins his search, all Chris has is a grainy passport picture of his father, a few stories from his birth mother, and a determination to find the man who shares his features.

The documentary begins in South Florida and ends in Jamaica, but it is the stops in between that reveal the complexity Chris’ family – something many of us can relate to. As Chris continues to search, he begins to unveil family secrets that bring him one step closer to his father. The footage is raw, and there are several scenes that will give you goosebumps. In the end, Chris finds answers to some of his questions, but he also understands that his identity is not based on the actions or choices of someone else.

Watch the trailer below and then read on for our interview!

What was the motivation for making a documentary? Did you have any filmmaking experience before you started this project?

 My motivation for everything stems from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Right before this project came to fruition, I was saved. God freed me up to pursue my dreams and find myself. So after I accepted him into my life, I decided to begin to chase my dreams, and one of them was to be a filmmaker. I love film but had very little experience behind the camera myself. I just felt I had an eye for it and enough passion to see a project through. We were searching for stories, going back in forth with an investor on the best possible story to document. Everyone we encountered kept saying, “You know there might be something with your own story, and the issue of adoption in general”. So then we thought, “What would be the angle? What are you most interested in telling or finding out about yourself?” “Well, I would love to know about my father,” I thought…so we said, “Let’s make a film that documents the search for him”.

We began with retracing our steps and turning the cameras on my family, myself, and my birth mother, whom I had just recently met and started a relationship with. As soon as we turned the cameras on my family…BOOM! All these very revealing stories started to boil to the surface.  All of sudden I realized I was literally pursuing my dream, a film career, and finding myself and my roots all in one project! God has a way of working everything out perfectly and sometimes all at once. Something He never let me lose sight of throughout this process. We realized right away we had a film about adoption, yes, a film about a search, yes..but in truth we had film about family. Which pleased me greatly. Because everyone can relate to a story about family.

From start to finish, how long did it take to complete the documentary?

 The film took 2.5 years from planning, to the start, to its finish. Most of that time was spent searching. The rest was spent comprising and editing the footage. This film was not documented in a typical way, we didn’t want to go in with a manufactured story or limit ourselves by filming only what we set out to capture, so we literally just shot everything and said we will deal with the footage at the end. So that was hard to narrow down a good cut of the film having shot so much footage. We wanted to give everyone a chance to tell their part of the story. I pray we were successful.

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When you met your birth mother, she said that she would not recommend adoption. How do you feel about adoption?

 My birthmother was speaking from the heart when she made that comment. She wasn’t saying that adoption was a bad thing, she was saying that adoption is a hard thing to go through. Gut wrenching. We need that kind of honesty when talking about adoption. Sometimes people are afraid of saying something bad, even when you are truly in favor of the process. She was also speaking to the fact that her own personal experience was not ideal, having been promised by the adoption agency that she was going to be able to remain in some sort of communication with me and my family. Then the agency was shut down for selling children illegally and all communication from that point abruptly stopped. After she made that comment she prefaced with saying it was for those reasons mostly she could not recommend it to anyone, while at the same time saying it was the BEST decision given to her at the time. Adoption like everything in life is not cut and dry, often times it is nuanced and falls into that gray area.  She is fully thankful to my family. My adoption gave two people the chance at a productive life, whereas together our outlook did not seem as promising.

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Chris’ birthmother

 On your journey to find your father, you learned of family you never knew existed. You also learned of your mother’s sexual abuse by her father (your biological grandfather), as well as physical and mental disorders in your family. Do you ever regret finding out this information, or in other words, is ignorance sometimes bliss?

What happened to my biological parents allowed me to see them as strong individuals who persevered. It made me reflect and be truly grateful for my own life. As for myself…I was never concerned about what I found out…because I had God. My faith. I live under the understanding that my life has been laid out for me, and He has walked my steps. So whatever comes my way was intended. However, I am fully aware that most people do not see life through this prism. Especially some of the immediate family and friends around me. So I could feel them becoming very concerned for me as I dug deeper into the dormant truths within my family.

I love my biological Grandfather despite his shortcomings. I cannot judge anyone. I try not to. I just want to offer my love to everyone because that was all I received as a child, unconditional love. Mental disorders can often times be spurred by circumstances, and my life has been nothing but blissful. So I was never concerned for my own mental health either. What bothered me most is when I see or feel someone pity or feel worried on my behalf; it makes me feel for them. I don’t want them to be concerned over something I have no concern over myself.

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 Speaking of mental disorders, how did filming the documentary challenge your views of mental health?

 The issue of mental health shows up in our film in a very dramatic and intense way. I never anticipated anything like this. I really can’t speak to this issue by medical terms. I do not see things in that way. In today’s very financially driven medical field, almost everyone can be categorized with a mental disorder.  As we were investigating what happened to my biological father, very early on reports started to come in that he had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was given medication, was misdiagnosed by doctors, and this medication caused him to snap….and he abruptly disappeared.

 I think we need to evaluate how we treat individuals who have a different outlook and perspective on life. We are all unique and sometimes when society tries to change that in a person, the results can be negative and often detrimental. It takes a very special person to dedicate themselves to a craft so intensely that they become the best in a nation, as my birth father did with his track career. I am proud of him and his accomplishments.

 What is the best thing to come out of this experience? What advice do you have for any adoptee who is considering searching for their family?

 The best part of the whole experience was living my dream of being a filmmaker and exercising my faith into action and connecting with my extended family. It’s hard to speak on behalf or for other adoptees because each story is so unique. So I am only speaking for myself in this moment. My advice? Seek God. Seek him first and all the other pieces will fall right into place. That is a true statement for anything.  If you are searching for something from someone don’t search yet. No one owes anyone anything. I know that can seem like an insensitive statement. But it is a truth.

 Everything you need can be found within yourself. Any answer you want can be given to you by God. All you have to do is listen to Him.  I was blessed. I was very content with my family. I wasn’t looking for another. I remember friends being more interested in my biological parents then I was. But I did have the whispers of normal curiosity, “What do they look like?” “What career paths did they choose?”  Things like that. All I ever needed was provided from my adoptive family: unconditional love. So it was easy to be content with my life.

 What is the next step for you and the documentary? Where can people purchase or download the film?

 Right after finishing the film we received our first two official selections. Our film had a big premiere June 28th in Boston as part of Roxbury International Film Festival. As we seek distribution for the documentary, we will be touring festivals and screening all over the United States and International Markets. We can’t wait to release the film worldwide. We feel this story, which is about adoption, which is about a search, but ultimately it is a story about family, which is a story everyone can relate to. For now you can follow us on our Facebook page and on our official film website for the latest updates and screening listings.

At the time of publication, You Have His Eyes has won the Audience Award at the Kingston New York Film Festival, the Best Director of a Documentary and Best Documentary Feature at the Chain New York City Film Festival, and Best of Festival at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival.

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Christopher Wilson is a filmmaker, writer, actor, and model,  and he is currently working on a short film with his production compony, CTW Productions. He is also the CEO of 7one, an organization devoted to empowering people to follow their dreams. Wilson currently resides in South Florida.