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.

 

 

Tell Me Your Story: Of Coming Home

There are adoption milestones that parents never forget. For some, it’s the day they decided to adopt. For others it’s the day they first saw their child. And then there is the milestone all adoptive parents never forget – the day they brought their child home.

Paula clearly remembers the days leading up to her daughter’s homecoming. Paula and her husband Gregg flew to Romania to meet their daughter for the first time. At the time, Amanda, who was then known as Brindusa, was living in an orphanage. For a week, the couple visited the orphanage, bringing gifts each day. Separated by language, they tried to bring things Amanda would like. One day, it was a balloon. Another day, it was an orange. Each gift was an attempt to build a bridge between strangers who would soon be family.

By the end of the week, it was time to go home. The orphanage caretakers helped change Amanda into a purple sweat suit that Paula had brought for the trip. Amanda would be turning three in a month, but she was about to take the biggest trip of her life. Paula describes leaving the orphanage:

“Amanda walked out the door from the only place she had ever lived, away from the people that had cared for her. She had never been outside before, but to our surprise, she never looked back.She was very happy to go with us although we didn’t speak the same language; she seemed to know she was ours.”

The flight was long, but on December 18th, Amanda, Paula, and Gregg finally made it back home and were greeted at the airport by over 25 close friends and family members. Amanda suddenly had a new family, including two older brothers. As with any new situation, there was a period of adjustment. Amanda had never slept alone, and to make things easier, the entire family all slept in her room. As the nights went on, Amanda became more comfortable in her new room, and one by one each family member went back to his or her own bed.

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Paula & Amanda on Amanda’s last day of high school.

Acknowledging adoption anniversaries is important, and in the years that followed, Paula and her family celebrated Amanda’s special day by watching the DVD of her homecoming. The family would gather around the television and watch the small crowd who gathered to show their love and excitement to welcome Amanda into the family. As Amanda grew up, the family continued to recognize Amanda’s Homecoming Day, but naturally more attention was shifted to Amanda’s birthday. Today Amanda is 18, and she is getting ready to go to college in the fall. Although she is excited to go to college, she is aware of how difficult it will be to leave her parents.

“When I go to college I’ll definitely miss my parents, and I believe I will have a closer relationship. I went to sleep away camp for a few years when I was younger. I missed my mom and dad so much that I was actually excited to see them. It’ll be hard being apart months at a time. To this day I always sit back and recognize how lucky I was to be adopted by my family.”

As Paula gets ready to send her only daughter off to college, she is reminded of how they first met. As her daughter packs up her room, Paula will always remember her as the little girl in the purple sweat suit. As Amanda takes a leap into adulthood, her mother will remember how willingly Amanda took her hand and trusted her unconditionally. And although Amanda expresses how lucky she is to be adopted, Paula would probably say she is the lucky one.

On Mother’s Day

As this time of year approaches, I always start wrestling with my emotions about my birth mother. Growing up, my longing for a connection with her always intensified on Mother’s Day. It was a feeling that I tried to avoid the rest of the year, but on Mother’s Day, it was was inescapable.

marion-bolognesi4On Mother’s Day, my siblings and I would make cards, buy flowers, or offer up whatever art project we had made in school. I was happy to show my appreciation, but inside I felt much differently. The days leading up to Mother’s Day always filled me with an overwhelming  anxiety, and on Mother’s Day I always felt awkward and uncomfortable, despite my outward display of gratitude. I mostly hid my true feelings about my birth mother. She was the woman who thought she had given me up for a better life, and I felt there was no room for anything but gratitude.

On Mother’s Day, I was celebrating the mother I had, but I was pushing away feelings of hurt and anger for the mother I lost. To express these feelings meant admitting that I was missing something. That I wasn’t entirely satisfied when everyone around me had done their part to ensure my success. I had no idea how to verbalize my conflicting emotions. And so Mother’s Day would come, and I would grin and bear it. A week would pass, then a month, and the sharp pain became a dull ache for the rest of the year.

These are feelings that many will have on Mother’s Day, despite having loving families. I have many people in my life who love me including my adoptive parents, siblings, and extended family. I have a close group of loyal friends, and a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. And still that will never be enough to fulfill this longing.

We all have a different story, so there is a danger in saying that every adopted child feels this way, because some do not. I’m no expert, but I do think there is a certain healing effect when you can acknowledge the loss. Discuss it. Cry about it. And know that it doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful.  Some of us will find closure in this lifetime, while others will have to learn to accept the unknown. So this is for anyone suffering from the loss of a mother, any mother, on Mother’s Day. Today you are not alone.

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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