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.”

American Seoul

Zeke Anders is a self described storyteller, filmmaker, director, and photographer. Zeke grew up in Detroit; his mother was a school teacher, his father owned his own casket distribution company. Growing up during the MTV music video era, Zeke was drawn to the high energy videos, and turned his attention to  filmmaking. While still in highschool, he  was recruited by Detroit Public Television to direct and produce segments and became “the youngest creative producer for the largest independent ad agency in the world.” Zeke later moved to LA and focused on writing and directing, winning numerous awards for his work, including top honors at Houston Worldfest, New York Festival, and the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Zeke’s story sounds like the American dream: a boy with humble beginnings works hard, moves to LA ,and becomes pretty successful. But Zeke’s journey to success is even more remarkable when you find out he was found in an alleyway in Korea and spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage. With all of his filmmaking and directing experience, Zeke finally decided to turn the camera on himself and tell his story. He started a vlog series on Youtube titled American Seoul in which he shares his personal experience growing up as a Korean American adoptee in Detroit. Zeke’s story is fascinating, and his vlogs are thoughtful and powerful. Watch the first episode of Zeke’s vlog below and read on for our interview!

You mentioned in your first vlog that you were found on the street with no name or no identifying information like a birth certificate. What is your official birthday and who chose it?

Tracing my lineage is next to impossible making my personal history unknown. I was found on the streets, an alley, by the local authorities and taken to a Catholic orphanage. Where and when exactly is unknown. It may have actually been in the city of Busan… but have no evidence to support that idea – just a hunch because as a child, I remember hearing my parents mentioning that name.  Assuming that the orphanage had a doctor, it was that person who gave me my “official” birthdate of December 4th.  It’s probably an accurate estimation… although feasibly a few weeks off.

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What is the story of your name? Were you named in the orphanage or did parents name you when you were adopted?

I came into the orphanage without a name and so they assigned me a name temporary name (just for paperwork, etc.). My Korean name was Soo Kim Chang. However, once adopted, my parents renamed me.

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Left to right: Zeke’s aunt, mother, grandfather and father

You revealed in one of your early vlogs that you grew up an only child and your parents have passed away. What is your family unit? Are you close with relatives?

I don’t know why my parents did not have any biological children… perhaps they were unable or maybe it was by choice. As a result, I really enjoyed growing up as an only child. For me, it taught me independence, assertiveness and creativity among other things. My extended family is small. Growing up I spent 99% of holidays, summer vacations, etc. with my mother’s side of the family… mostly her sister and their father. I would visit cousins and extended relatives on occasion but not very often.

My mother passed away when I was in High School and my father passed away six years ago. He and I had become close since it was just the two of us and am tremendously grateful that I had the time I had with him. I’ve really only stayed connected to my aunt who continues to live in Michigan.

Funny enough, I am married to an ‘only-child’ who also has a very small family. We have two adopted black shelter cats and we pretty much just keep to ourselves! lol

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Have you ever gone back to South Korea? If not, do you have plans to?

I have never been back to South Korea and would like to very much. One day for sure. I remember as a child, my parents talking about taking a trip to Korea after my high school graduation – it was going to be this big event. During my teen years I was fortunate enough to have started traveling to different countries like, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, etc.

My mother battled cancer through the majority of my childhood (Elementary through Jr. High) and finally passed away during the summer of entering my senior year. Obviously life took a different course. I absolutely love to travel and experiencing different cultures. S. Korea would definitely be a “homecoming” of sorts and I look forward to the day when that happens.

Do you think it’s easier to share details of your family life now that your parents are gone?

I don’t think sharing my story is any easier now that my parents are gone… in fact, it’s probably harder only because with my early history they would’ve been helpful filling in the details making the vlogs a little more complete.

I’m proud to share my story and family to you. They were wonderful, loving parents and honorable people who always put others before themselves. They always supported my interests… it was in High School where I got the bug to become a filmmaker and they were behind me 100%. Even after my mother passed, my father continued to support my career path and I know they would both be pleased with the vlog series and its success.

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Zeke and his mother

What was your motivation for sharing your adoption story and starting your vlog? What do you hope to accomplish?

I don’t even really remember giving this idea much thought, I just remember doing it. As a freelance director I was in-between jobs and never like sitting still so I thought what type of project can I do that is quick and simple? A vlog!

Throughout the years whenever people would discover I’m adopted, they were always amazed by my circumstances. So much so I would often joke about it. The idea for the vlog series just clicked. I set out to make the vlogs intimate and straightforward – no frills, no fancy editing. Black & White seemed like a great visual style while leaving all the archival photos/footage in color.

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Hard at work

What’s next for you? You are clearly a talented and accomplished filmmaker. Do you have any other adoption related projects in the works?

This is just the beginning! I’m developing a longer format television/doc series, of the same name [American Seoul] where I interview fellow Korean/American adoptees, their family/friends across the country and have them share their stories and experiences. I’ve realized by sharing mine and having so many people reach out to me that a lot of our stories are very similar and yet so different. It’s an interesting ‘character’ study on the effects of adoption and just how each of us have grown to become integrated in American society and yet, for some feel quite disconnected. Some feel they’re not Korean enough to be accepted as their own and yet, they’re not “American” because of their physical appearance. Another issue is the self-identity crisis every adoptee goes through… not only as a teen but even in adult life.

I’m currently writing a feature-length screenplay about a young Korean/American adoptee who travels back to Seoul to find his biological parents. While there, he befriends an older American tourist on a very different journey. Each discovers they need each other to find what they’re looking for.

I also just completed a TEDTalk-type lecture+curation for the Detroit Institute of Arts on the art of the vlog, truly the first of its kind.  My show, “Vlogzilla”, delves into defining a vlog, why people vlog and can it truly be an art form?  I curate more than 100 vlogs from around the world and finished the evening by screening “American Seoul”.  The presentation was a success!

I continue to freelance as a director/filmmaker working for ad agencies and corporations directing their branded content videos/commercials and ads.

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To see more of Zeke’s work, visit www.zekeanders.com

Tell Me Your Story: Of Open Adoption

Meet Ezra. He recently celebrated his first birthday, and on his birthday there were presents, birthday cake, laughter, and smiles. There were also, presumably, smiles shared between Sarah and her husband Joe, thankful for the important milestone they could share with their son because they both knew the journey that brought them to that day was not an easy one.

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In 2001, after a complicated pregnancy and 48 hour labor, Sarah gave birth to her older son, Isaac. Five years after Isaac was born, Sarah and her husband had grown apart and ended their marriage.  Sarah then met Joe who quickly swept her off her feet and proposed after a few months. Sarah and Joe tried for several years to concieve, but because of Joe’s health complications, they realized adoption would be the next step to expand their family.

The journey of adoption started with a failed match. Having a failed match can be a source of heartache, but the Bakers were not able to grieve privately because they were being filmed for the Oxygen reality television show, I’m Having Their Baby. Before filming, Sarah recalls that their prospective match seemed excited to share her story of choosing adoption over abortion, but as the months progressed, the relationship between the Bakers and their match began to break down and filming became incredibly difficult. Sarah and Joe knew this baby would not be theirs. Although producers and film crew were sympathetic to the Baker’s grief during filming, the experience was both heartbreaking and discouraging. Being on the reality show taught Sarah and Joe many lessons, but it didn’t deter them from trying to adopt again.

Aware of their failed match, one of Sarah’s longtime friends contacted them about her sister who was considering adoption. Sarah passed along her profile to the expectant mother who later called the Baker’s agency saying she thought it might be a match. The two families met, instantly hit it off over lunch, and agreed to move forward. In the next few months, Sarah was invited to doctor’s visits, listened to her Ezra’s heartbeat, and asked a thousand questions. Although Sarah and Joe were excited, there were still so many questions. Would it be a healthy pregnancy? Would the expectant mother change her mind after the baby was born? Would the families remain close after delivery?

Ezra arrived three weeks early, on January 10, and when Sarah and Joe brought him home, he fit right into their family. Sarah said it took Isaac, her older son, a while to come to terms with adoption. Isaac was around six when adoption was first brought up, and he feared that he would never see his adopted sibling as his “real” brother or sister. Sarah and Joe understood Isaac’s fears and walked him through the process. They allowed him to ask questions, read him information from their adoption classes, and gave him the time he needed to take everything in. Today, Isaac and Ezra are “best buddies”, and there is no better feeling than for Sarah to see her two boys laughing and playing together.

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The Bakers

Many prospective adoptive parents may shy away from an open adoption because they are unsure of how to proceed with the relationship with the birth mother or birth family. How many visits are appropriate? Will the child be confused? How much access should be given? Sarah advises that an open adoption must be something that prospective parents are comfortable with. From the beginning, boundaries must be set, and the success of the relationship is dependent on how well the two parties communicate. Sarah advises that parents must not “overpromise and underdeliver.” If the birth parents want 2-3 visits a year, that has to fit the adoptive parents’ expectations. Also, adoptive parents should not operate from a place of guilt or fear. The relationship between the two families must be based on love, compromise, and understanding.

For the Bakers, visits are usually centered around holidays: both families gather for Mother’s Day cookouts, Labor Day picnics, and Thanksgiving meals. On those occasions, Ezra is able to see his birth parents and two older biological siblings.  An open adoption can be difficult to navigate, but Sarah knows Ezra will now grow up knowing his birth family, have access to his medical history, and never have to question or search for his roots.

When asked how she thinks Ezra’s relationship with his mother will evolve as he grows up, Sarah is hopeful that he will view his biological parents as “those really special people in his life..almost like a favorite aunt or uncle.” She hopes that the open relationship between the two families will result in Ezra not resenting his birthparents for the adoption. It takes a village to raise a child, and someday Ezra will know his mother and birth mother did everything they could to provide a village of loving family members to raise him from a boy to a man.

To learn more about Sarah and Joe’s journey, visit Sarah’s personal blog at http://1grewinmyheart.wordpress.com