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.

 

 

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?

Searching

This past May, I wrote about my difficulty on Mother’s Day. Several people reached out to me and asked me if I wanted help with searching for my birthmother, and I was grateful for the genuine desire to help. So first and foremost, thank you! For anyone from the outside, the solution seems simple. If you are searching for something, go find it. But it’s not always that simple.

Although I’ve been thinking about searching for my birth family for many years, I haven’t. I attempted a search almost ten years ago. I was starting my first year of college. Away from home, the combination of curiosity and independence made me believe that it might be possible to find my family. So I asked my mother to mail me copies of all of my adoption papers. About a week later, I enthusiastically ran down to the mailroom and was handed a thick package. But when I sat down on my bed and spread everything out in front of me, the task seemed insurmountable. Doubt crept in. I had no idea where to start, who to contact, or what I wanted to find.

This was just before Myspace, and years before Facebook and Twitter. My online presence was limited to a few email addresses and MSN Messenger. I didn’t have the money to work with an agency, and I didn’t know who to contact in Haiti.  I just didn’t see how I was going to find them. I felt foolish, tucked the papers back into the manila envelope, and hid the envelope at the bottom of my desk drawer. The envelope stayed there all year, untouched, until I packed up my things to move back home for the summer.

Today there are few excuses, but I’m still hesitant for several reasons. First, I don’t know if I’ll like what I find. It’s easy to avoid reality and build up this idea of what someone is like. For now, my family can be whatever I want them to be. They can be good and kind and selfless. My birth mother is still alive, just waiting for me to “come back.” But once I begin searching, I can never go back to this fantasy in my head.

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photo credit: Ali Kay “God’s Children” Series

In addition, searching for a family member in Haiti is much different than searching for family in the United States or Canada. Haiti’s system of  recordkeeping is not reliable. It’s not a Google click away or as easy as searching for a name on Facebook. The orphanage I was adopted from no longer exists. My adoption papers stated that my birth parents cannot read or write, and today they may not have access to modern technology. But Haiti is a small country and does have a good system of word of mouth. I have been told that my best chances would be to actually go to Haiti and look for them.

In the last few months, I’ve watched three different documentaries about adoptees searching for their family members. Each story was so different, but I noticed one theme throughout: each adoptee was surrounded by family. It was not a solo search, but a team effort. Their adoptive families were there to walk with them, offer words of advice, and give emotional support. As I’ve shared before, I live in Florida, while my family still lives in Canada. As independent as I seem, a search for family would be better with my family.

So these are the excuses I’ve told myself over and over. These are the things that are holding me back. Or protecting me, depending on how you look at it. If I’m honest with myself,  I just want to meet my family members to let them know that I’m okay. I don’t know if a relationship with any of my family members is possible. There are linguistic and cultural barriers. And I am not the little girl they said goodbye to over 30 years ago.

Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said that “No man steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” Time did not stand still. Our lives have gone on without each other. But even with all these realities, the yearning remains. If and when I decide to search for my birth family, I know that it doesn’t change the past. It doesn’t change who I am. But I would like to someday meet my birthmother again and tell her I love her.

Tell Me Your Story: Of Adoption & Service

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When children are adopted from developing countries, they often grow up feeling they have an obligation to give back to their countries or at least help those who are less fortunate.  There is often a feeling of being “saved” from poverty or another equally dire situation and having an obligation to pay back a debt. For many adult adoptees this is seen as an unfair obligation, but for others like Magalie it is seen as a privilege.

Magalie didn’t have to look very far to find examples of service. She comes from a family who loves to serve others. She is one of eight children, including five children adopted from Haiti. She was introduced to the organization Invisible Children through her older sister who came home from college, passionate to share the message of rescuing child soldiers in Uganda abducted by Joseph Kony and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). After having watched one of Invisible Children’s first documentaries, Rough Cut, Magalie could not continue to be comfortable in her little bubble. She knew there was more to life, and she had to go out and find it.

After an intense interview process, Magalie landed her dream job of being a Roadie or a Regional Representative for Invisible Children. Over the next few months, she joined a group of three other girls on the road, and for ten weeks they traveled to Alaska, Montana and all over Western Canada to spread the message of bringing an end to the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the LRA. In six months, four girls organized 55 educational presentations. Four girls spoke to nearly ten thousand people. Four girls raised over $18,000 to bring awareness to the cause of Invisible Children. One of Magalie’s teammates was directly impacted by the LRA, and spoke to audiences about how her family had been destroyed. Audiences were moved by the girls’ candor and passion for a worthy cause.

Magalie’s internship concluded with an international summit in D.C. For weeks the team wrote letters, made phone calls, and petitioned global leaders from the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union to come together and strategize with the leaders of the African countries affected by Kony and the LRA. During the summit, thousands of people peacefully marched to show their support of Invisible Children and their Zero LRA campaign. That same weekend a bill to end the LRA was presented to President Obama who would later go on to sign it. To try and summarize Magalie’s six months with Invisible Children is nearly impossible. Each person on her team and each person the girls met had a different story as to why they felt led to join the fight against the LRA.

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Not surprising to many, Magalie would like to become a social worker. She’s not sure what area of social work she would like to concentrate on. At first, she wanted to become an adoption coordinator. The idea of bringing people together and creating families was appealing to her, but she has realized that she wants to broaden her options.Today, she is focused on going back to school to complete her social work degree.

We all define success differently. To many it is a luxury car parked in the garage of a four bedroom house in a gated community. To most it means a family of stick figures plastered on the back of a minivan. But to few it means living a life of service. Magalie recognizes that at 21, she is far from having it all figured out, but she wants a rewarding career that pushes the boundaries and takes her out of her comfort zone.

Does she credit her adoption for her sense of compassion and empathy? Absolutely. And she sees nothing wrong with that. In fact, with pride she states she has an obligation to help others. She believes that the reason she was adopted was to help others. It is also her relationship with Christ that compels her to serve. It is a choice she gladly makes: to help others regardless of where they are from.

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The question of adoptees born in developing countries feeling they must give back is sometimes complicated. But what if we reframed the question. Instead of “Why me?”, let’s ask “Why not me?” When Magalie’s adoptive parents made a decision to adopt her from Haiti 18 years ago, they probably had little clue that her words would reach over ten thousand people for the cause of Invisible Children. When you adopt, you are changing the course of one person’s life that could change a thousand more. For those adopted from a developing country, the charge of giving back to your country or anyone in need is not something to hide from, but a special mission to embrace. Indeed, if you ever doubt that you can make a difference, look what four young girls accomplished in six months.

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