Guest Post: A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

I have chosen to include this guest post in an attempt to communicate my desire to fully support Mariette.  The incident she describes underscores my commitment to empowering adoptees to tell their story in the way that feels most true to them.

The piece that Mariette is referencing throughout her post can be found HERE.

~Angela

Mariette

A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

By Mariette Williams

On Friday, November 27th, I woke up to a barrage of twitter notifications. I had been waiting for a few days for Ben Fox, the Associated Press journalist, to post the story of my reunion with my family in Haiti. He had said it would be posted during the Thanksgiving weekend. When I clicked on the link to read the story for the first time, I was stunned.

I retweeted the story a few times, but I wasn’t sure how to explain in 140 characters that I wasn’t comfortable with the story, that it had missed the mark. On Friday afternoon, Ben texted me and asked if I was okay. I said I thought 85% of the article was good, but there were some situations that were inaccurate. I didn’t go into too much detail, and I decided to try and put it out of my mind. But it kept bothering me. I didn’t sleep well on Friday or Saturday night. I had to explain myself before I could let it go. On Sunday afternoon, I sat down and wrote Ben this email:

Hi Ben,

I’ve been thinking about this story all weekend, and I can’t let it go until I address some things that you wrote. Like I texted you on Saturday, I think 85% of the story is good and accurate. But there are some things that are bothering me, and I’ll address them below.

“Four days later, Sandra gave her side in a letter to Mariette. Sandra noted that her adopted daughter could have ended up with some other family, or might not have survived in Haiti at all. She said she had always prayed Mariette would return to her country to meet her family. “I feel we have all been victims of deception, but I also believe God is ultimately in charge,” she wrote. For almost two months afterward, Mariette didn’t speak to Sandra. She was furious.”

I actually asked you not to write about this letter. I asked my mom for space while I was figuring things out. I was not “furious.” Hurt? Yes. Confused? Yes. Shocked to find out my mother in Haiti had not consented? Yes. This was a private, personal letter, and I am surprised that you used it.

“She decided to go to Haiti to celebrate her mother’s 70th birthday. Sandra gave her a necklace and earrings as gifts for Colas. Mariette seethed. She left them behind.”

I showed you the card and the necklace. I explained to you that I would not bring them because I didn’t think it was an appropriate gift. The card said “Thank you for sharing your daughter with us.” Given the circumstances, I didn’t think that was the right message. Should I have brought the earrings? Maybe. If you wanted to include this, you should have given the context of the card. “Seething” is an inaccurate description.

Up to this point, I think the story is okay. When we get to Haiti, everything kind of falls apart.

“She was surprised, and a little annoyed, that her Haitian relatives weren’t at the airport.”

Nope, not true. I had arranged to have a driver from the guesthouse pick me up. My family was supposed to meet me at the guesthouse. You saw yourself that we landed at the airport and there was a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. I rolled my bags into his van, and you followed us to the guesthouse in your own vehicle.

“Over the coming days, Mariette could get little more from her mother. She cursed herself for not learning Creole.”

I said my biggest regret was not learning Creole. I said that if I could change one thing, it would have been to learn more Creole. I did not curse myself.

“She had planned to spend the night at the house. Instead, she traveled two more hours to the one hotel in Pestel.”

Again, not true. It was never the plan for us, or me to stay at my mother’s house. You had brought it up the day before that you would like to travel to Deron. I agreed that it would be good to see the house where my mother lived. When we arrived, we spent a few hours there talking and taking pictures. As we were getting ready to leave, you asked me, “Are you going to stay here tonight?’ And I looked at you like you were crazy and I said, “No, I’m coming with you guys.” I had no cell phone reception and no way to getting in contact with you. It was never my plan to stay there.

“The next day, Junette said she would like to either move their mother to the capital or fix up her home, where two or three of her children and their families stay at any given time. The implication was clear: Mariette would pay.”

When was this? Junette met us back at the guesthouse after that long and crazy ride back to Delmas. We ate cake, you took some pictures, and then you went back to the AP house. When was this conversation?

“Her brothers walked through the home with two barefoot contractors. Mariette ended up with a rough estimate of around $5,000 — far more than she could afford.”

We both know that the $5,000 number was inflated, and it is not “far more than what I can afford.” I was sitting in front of my mother’s house with Evens, who was helping me translate. I asked my mother how I could help her. She told me I could help her with the house. At that point, my brothers called the neighbors to get an estimate for the work that could be done. I brought it up, and I am more than happy to help my mother with her home.

“Her family saw her as the rich American relative. Her youngest sister and a niece hinted that they could go to nursing school, if they could only come up with the tuition. Colas wanted to prepare a meal, but didn’t have money to buy a chicken. Mariette paid.”

As for my younger sister and niece, they had been studying for the nursing exam, something that is very difficult to pass. On our first day, we sat around the table and they told me that they had passed the exam. Great. My mother praised God, and said that I was like “good luck” for them. They did not ask me to pay for their schooling.

Most importantly, my mother was not prepared to have me and a camera crew and a reporter show up to her home. She explained through a translator that she was embarrassed that she didn’t have anything to serve us. She was also embarrassed to have a camera crew in her home, taking pictures. It was very intrusive, and she never complained. She gracefully made us coffee and brought out chairs so we could sit around her yard. Before she arrived, the plan was for us to meet up in Delmas. Also, before I arrived in Haiti, she had told me that she didn’t want to give any interviews or to appear on camera. But any request we made, she complied. You asked her questions, took her picture, and she gave an on camera interview. I think she did more than her part. I gladly gave her $5 to buy dinner.

What about that interview I gave in front of my mother’s house? I said that I was grateful for my adoption, that everything I have I am thankful for. Why not include that? Or the conversations we had that I had a great childhood, growing up on a farm in British Columbia? Being able to attend a private school? If you weren’t pressed for length, why not include that?

Both my mom (Sandra) and I were disappointed in the tone of this article.  It didn’t feel like good journalism. You filled in the blanks in places, presenting a story that wasn’t accurate. I know you were trying to go for a narrative, but it didn’t work.  We had such an opportunity to tell a great story. Adoption is so complex, so beautiful and at the same time so heartbreaking, and you missed that. Although adoption gave me so much, it was still very important for me to know where I came from. I waited for four months for this story to come out.  Not for any personal gain, but to share my story and give hope to other adoptees still searching for their families. I am thankful for your friendship and your help navigating while we were in Haiti. I could not have done this trip alone. I don’t regret going or the new friendships I have with Chery or Evens. I am only sorry that my Haitian family was portrayed the way they were, and that you left out much of my positive comments about my adoption.

I wish you nothing but the best going forward,

Mariette

Ben and I have since talked and he has apologized, but the story cannot be undone. I still feel it necessary to explain my side of the story, to use my small platform to make things right.

I know that very few people who read the first story will read this, but I am at peace knowing that I shared my side. In all of this, I believe even more strongly than before in owning and sharing our own stories, which would not be possible without personal blogs, podcasts, and social media. It’s not just important to tell a good story, we are responsible to each other to tell the whole story.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

  1. I had the first AP article show up on my FB news feed a couple of times and as I read the article I had the feeling that there was “more” than what was written. I deeply appreciate your response to the article and your graciousness with the reporter who posted it. However, I want to validate your feelings that this reporter did not respect either one of your mothers or you in this article. Adoption is so multilayered but this article makes it one dimensional. Despite this AP writers extremely poor judgement in how he chose to twist your story, I could tell you have two mothers who love and adore you. Both are exceptional women and both have helped you become the woman you are today. I honor them and you for being open with the most vulnerable parts of your life and sharing your adoption story with the world. I’m glad I got to read your response.
    It is my opinion that the author of the AP article, Ben, needs to write an apology for how he portrayed both of your Canadian and Haitian families.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I, also, read both and am glad you shared this follow up. We have been following the Haitian missionary who shared it on fb since the earthquake. I had originally been drawn to the article because we have friends who are currently hoping to adopt a little boy who has been in a Hiatian orphanage for the last year (he’s about that old). After I read the article, it didn’t seem like it would be the encouragement to them that I’d hoped it would be. This has changed all that. I’m so glad you posted this~thank you~may you be most blessed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the explanation. The verbage in the news story was inflammatory. Reporters often write for sensationalism and it seemed obvious in the presentation. There have been several other people I know who have had news articles misrepresent experiences on other issues so this was not a surprise. Extracting the promise of being able to have a final review before publication, or writing the experiences oneself appear to be the best solution. I will keep this link handy and place it in comments when I see the story posted elsewhere.

    Thank you for sharing your families with us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What struck me watching Closure was Bryan’s sensitivity. To me, that was the backbone of the film. I noticed how open & honest your sister & Mom were, because they were being interviewed by Bryan, whom they trusted. How your birth mother trusted Bryan and was open & honest.

    After everything adoptees go through the last thing they, or anyone, needs is being misquoted & misunderstood.

    Having someone who loved you tell your story empowered everyone. I know you & Bryan will continue empowering souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Adoption is so complex, so beautiful and at the same time so heartbreaking, and you missed that. Although adoption gave me so much, it was still very important for me to know where I came from.” I like this statement

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read the original article, and now having read this, am even more grateful that there are adoptee likes Angela and Marietta working help more people understand how intriciate adoption is – that is had beautiful and terrible moments and every story is different.

    Thank you both, ladies.

    Liked by 1 person

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