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?

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.

Bedtime Stories

One of my fondest memories growing up was storytime with my mother and younger sister because it was a ritual that brought us together at the end of the day. My mother would settle into the couch, one child on each side and open the book just enough so we would have to squeeze in a little closer to see the pictures. Once she opened the cover of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, we were in another world.

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In the story, two sisters, Manyara and Nyasha are poor village girls raised by a single father. When it is announced that a young king wants a wife, Mufaro sends both of his daughters on the long journey to the city. On the way, both girls face a series of tests. Manyara reacts with coldness to a young boy who cries out for food. She also scorns the wisdom of an old woman who tells her to hold her tongue when she passes a laughing grove of trees. Finally, she ignores the woman’s advice to be polite to a disfigured old man.

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On her way to the king, Nyasha, the kinder sister, is confronted by the hungry boy and gives him something to eat. And unlike Manyara, she heeds the old woman’s advice and thanks her with a pouch of sunflower seeds. In true fairy tale tradition, Nyasha finally meets the king who reveals that he was the young boy, the old woman, and the disfigured man in disguise. King Nyoka has seen Nyasha’s kindness and inner beauty and asks her to be his wife. Because of her selfishness, Manyara must be content to live as a servant in the royal kingdom.

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As my mother read each page, her voice gave life to each of the characters, bringing us along for the journey. Each time we read the book, my sister and I held our breaths, hearts racing, as King Nyoka revealed himself to the worthy sister. In those moments before bedtime there was nothing else and no one else. It was the three of us caught under a spell. I think my sister and I loved that book so much because the characters looked like us. I remember tracing my fingers over the beautiful brown faces and the braided hair adorned with gold. I needed those few minutes at the end of the day to look in a mirror and affirm my worth. As a little black girl living in a mostly white world, I needed that story to be part of my own.

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I don’t know when we stopped reading the book or even when we stopped having storytime. In the years that followed, I remembered those moments and that book with a fierce tenderness. It reminded me of a time when life seemed so simple, and the problems of the day could be temporarily suspended. Today, my sister and I have carried on the ritual of storytime with our own daughters and sitting on both of our shelves is a copy of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.