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 Letting Go

Marlyse and her husband’s adoption story began when Marlyse faced the fact that she would not be able to carry a child due to her heart defect. When it came time to choose where they were going to adopt from, they started by looking into domestic infant adoption, but they were surprised at the astronomical fees. They then considered adopting from Haiti, and it made sense.  Marlyse is Haitian born, she still has family members who live there, and Haiti has always been close to her heart.

In Haiti, children are relinquished to orphanages although one or both parents may be living. Orphanages are often used as a type of foster home until parents can get back on their feet. But in the interim of parents trying to get stable, the children often suffer. They may be deprived of individual attention and miss the family bonds they need to flourish. Marlyse didn’t like the idea of group homes or orphanages, and she is an advocate for keeping families together when possible. But she also acknowledges there are some unhealthy family situations where children cannot thrive and adoption becomes a viable option.

So Marlyse and Monty started the process of adopting their two children in September of 2012.  Throughout the process, the couple was frustrated with several things, including the hidden costs involved with the adoption. To Marlyse, it seemed like someone was always trying to make a profit. She explained that the very people who should be protecting children were the same ones hurting them in the long run. But even with all those frustrations, the couple was determined to keep going.

As a first time mother, Marlyse was also dedicated to learning about the adoptee experience. As she waited for the adoptions to finalize, she stocked up on reading material. She read blogs, books, and articles, trying to understand the adoptee perspective. The adoption process “taught her things about a world she knew nothing about.”  Marlyse initially worried if her children would see her as their “real” mother. She was also concerned with how much contact her young children should have with their Haitian families, not wanting to confuse them.  But Marlyse is willing to do what is best for her children, no matter the inconvenience. She plans to raise her children knowing that they have two families and bring the children back to Haiti every three to four years. She also plans to speak Creole to them at home, so they don’t lose their language. They will also reap the benefits of a mother who will cook them Haitian cuisine. Marlyse is intent on having her children stay in touch with their relatives so they don’t have to do through the pain and heartache of not knowing who they are or where they come from.

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Marlyse and Monty with their two children in Haiti

Marlyse and Monty started the adoption process in 2012, and just finalized the adoptions of their now 3 year old daughter and 2 year old son in October of 2014. They spent more than four times the amount of money they had originally planned to spend. Marlyse recalls the day she walked through the airport in Port-au-Prince. It was a bittersweet moment not just because her children were now out of the orphanage, but because there was a time when she didn’t think the day would come. A long await dream finally became a reality. When the plane finally landed in Miami, Marlyse choked up, the tears a symbol of two years of struggle.

Marlyse invited me to meet her family in Miami, and I had the pleasure of meeting her and Monty, and her two beautiful children. I held her daughter, who was so quiet, taking in her brand new world. At one point, her son curled up in my arms and almost fell asleep. They reminded me so much of myself, so many years ago, beginning a new life with a new family. I later watched Marlyse lay the children on the hotel bed to take a nap. Their little bodies were exhausted, and both were asleep within minutes. The afternoon sun streamed into the  windows, carrying them into a sweet slumber. It seems like an odd thought, but as Marlyse begins her life with her children, she must learn to let them go. They may someday want to have their own relationship with their Haitian families, and the best thing for Marlyse to do as a mother is let them. Her children need the freedom to explore a relationship with both families, a safe place to discuss their feelings, and a mother who strong enough to let them go. And for that, they will one day be grateful.

 

 

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

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. 

Book Review: The Eye of Adoption

The Eye of Adoption by Jody Cantrell Dyer is a candid look at the process of open infant adoption. The book takes readers from the struggles of Jody and her husband to conceive to the finalization of their adoption, and the title is based on Jody’s experience that adoption is “a storm of faith, fear, paperwork, hurt, healing…devotion and hopefully, a delivery.”

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Jody tells her story in a way that seems down to earth and relatable. It feels at times that you are a friend sitting across the table from her at a coffee shop as she describes both the best and worst of the adoption process. The book begins with Jody’s description of the pregnancy and birth of her first child, Houston, and her struggle in the years that follow to conceive again. Jody is honest with how infertility strained her marriage, and how she and her husband arrived at adoption.

Jody explains how the MTV show Sixteen and Pregnant, among other programs, showed her that infant adoption was very much an option.  Inspired by Catelynn and Tyler’s open adoption from Season 1,  Jody watched and was “mesmerized and enlightened by the birthparents’ loving attitude toward the adoptive parents, and vice versa.” The show gave Jody hope, and gave a face to open adoptions.

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Brandon, Teresa, and baby Carly with birthparents Catelynn and Tyler from Sixteen and Pregnant

Throughout the book, Jody shares the tremendous loss felt when a match falls through, and her determination to have a baby. For anyone considering adoption, she lays out the specifics. There are detailed accounts of filling out endless paperwork, completing a home study with a social worker, and creating a family profile book.  And then there is the wait. In the waiting period, Jody and her husband have to deal with The Question (Have you heard anything yet?), and consider practical issues like when to set up a baby nursery.

Jody’s book is not just an adoptive mother’s account, but she also includes the story of her husband, Jeff, who was adopted in 1963 at 10 weeks old. Jeff’s story of adoption, which was shrouded in secrecy, contrasts the Dyer’s very open and transparent adoption today. There are also parts of the book that heartbreaking. The real and raw pain of a birthmother placing her son in adoption was difficult to read, but necessary in understanding the full scope of adoption.

Adoption is a family affair, and Jody also shares how Houston felt about welcoming a new member into their family, and how both sets of grandparents offered their support. Finally, Jody provides an interview at the end of the book with her son’s birthmother that gives readers an intimate look at the relationship between the two women. From start to finish, the The Eye of Adoption was engaging and informative, and it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about open adoption.