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.

Sometimes Saying “My Birthmom Didn’t Want Me” Is an Adoptee’s Coping Mechanism

“When you’re adopted, at some level, your story is defined by a person who did not want you. Not wanting you may have been defined by wanting the best for you — in fact, most of the time it is.”

Genes Aren’t Destiny, & Other Things I’ve Learned From Being Adopted by Todd VanDerWerff

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Sometimes when I hear adoptees make a statement such as the one quoted above, it is a statement of protection. I know, firsthand how choosing to reunite or seek out your roots is quite a scary endeavor. Stating “she must not have wanted me,” is a great way to help your brain to make sense of such a formative abandonment and thus allows us adoptees an easier excuse when making a choice not to face the unknowns a reunion may bring. If this is your tactic, it’s good to know where the impetus lies. This statement often is not a truth coming directly from your birthparents mouth, but rather it’s a coping mechanism to help stave off scary and hard feelings. That is an understandable strategy.

When I was denied by my birthmother the first time I laid eyes on her, it did feel a bit like a second rejection, but this does not prove that she did want me. I know that there are far too many pieces to her story and the circumstances surrounding my birth  to boil it down to a statement like “she did not want me.” Having been in reunion now for a few years, I know that were I to continue to believe this, not only would I be lying to myself, but also it’d be a callous disrespect to my birthmom.

It is with such jubilation that I now know my birthmother, and that I’ve gotten the chance to hear her directly tell me that I was wanted! Being placed for adoption had absolutely nothing to do with her personal desires or want, but rather my placement in to foster care and ultimately being adopted, was the result of a host of other personal issues and systemic failures.

Give this article a read. The author is an adoptee, and has reunited with his birthparents. This blog post is not a reflection upon his life, as I’ve never met him in person. These are just my reflections on a sentiment I hear adoptees use quite often. I’m thankful to see this article in Vox as it is increasingly important to hear the point of view of courageous adoptees, whether we agree or disagree with what has been written.

I Am Listening, Natalie – and any other adoptees who have yet to speak out…

Angela and Natalie

This past weekend I taught a workshop to at Umoja, a camp in Wisconsin, a state that was recently tagged as the worst place to raise black kids (…and yes, I did wear a Dear White People T-shirt with a pencil skirt!). The workshop fostered great conversation, and “ah-ha!” moments amongst the group were plentiful. After finishing, I was ready to take a long shower and retreat back to the safety of my room, after publicly wading through the still murky waters of my own story, mixed with the current events and societal “post-racial” truths. However, before I made it out the door, up the hill and to my room in the lodge, I was approached by a beautiful 21 year old woman and her parents. She timidly asked that we take a photo together, then nervously handed me a sealed envelope. With a confident, rehearsed voice she stated; “I wrote you a letter. It’s okay if you don’t have time to read it right now.”

I did have time.

I receive numerous electronic messages after movie screenings, giving a keynote or presenting at a conference, but rarely do I receive letters with my name handwritten on the outside of the envelope. I am a sucker for old-fashioned letters, and will happily dole out my attention to a fellow adoptee. I found a private spot where I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted and began reading.

Natalie shared with me how she recently found her birthmother on Facebook, explaining that she was able to do this because,

“I had her full name, I thank God for that every day.”

Although Natalie viewed me as a public figure, I saw a woman not too dissimilar from me. Her words could’ve been mine;

“I was so used to feeling like an island, thinking that perhaps I’d never see myself in someone else, until I had children of my own. I carried my adoption with me every day. I thought about my biological mother for as long as I can remember. I wrote journals about her, who she might be, where she was, why I was put up for adoption, and of course I wondered what she looked like.”

Natalie is an adoptee with a beautiful [adoptive] familial base, who is entering adulthood and trying to learn what being an adoptee means for her identity.

This was confirmed when reading through her letter and learning that her “birth was kept a secret” and that although learning this information “…was hard, it was what [I} wanted to hear as well.”

Us adoptees are resilient creatures – we simply want to know our truth, however painful it may be.  Thank you for sharing with me how you “…go through ups and downs since finding [your] biological family…” I do too, Natalie.

She concluded the three page letter by thanking me for sharing my raw self with the world via Closure, and commending me for that, as she hadn’t heard many adoptees speak out. Natalie, your voice has now been shared too! Others will read these snippets of your letter and will feel the courage to bravely move forward in seeking their own truths as well.

Bravo, Natalie. Bravo!

 

*** This post was written with express written permission from Natalie ***

Are Adoptees Selfish For Wanting To Search?

Keep Calm

One of my birth sisters was placed for adoption just one year before I was born – I am hoping that someday I’ll get to meet her. Is my desire to find her being fueled by an attitude of entitlement? Since I was able to find all of my other birth relatives does that somehow mean that I should be able to find her too? When does it end? When should I draw the line? I have seven siblings in my immediate [adoptive] family, many nieces and nephews, parents, aunts, uncles and have had host of foster siblings over the years, yet I want more. I want so badly to meet my birth sister. Is this desire selfish?

This question has been posed to me many times over the past year during the Q&A’s after Closure screenings. Folks have asked this question in a myriad of ways:

Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?

—–

What if you find out something that you wish you hadn’t known?

—–

What if your birth sister doesn’t want to know you? Doesn’t she have rights, too?

Debate.org posed the question “Should adopted children be allowed to seek their biological parents without their consent?” Aside from feeling slighted by being continually referred to as an adopted child, I find this question irksome as it inherently suggests that an adoptee learning of their roots and kin is somehow not our right. 19% answered “No,” one comment read:

The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents, and I for one (who is an adopted parent, a REAL parent, btw) would be insulted if my kid told me he wanted to seek his bio parent.

I’d like to suggest that the person who left this comment view Lisa Marie Rollin’s one woman stand up show entitled Ungrateful Daughter. Lisa, an adult adoptee turns the “Why can’t you just be grateful?” question in to a comedic fare.

Perhaps adoptees are labeled chameleons since we have difficulty understanding when we are allowed to have a say and make a choice. Our birthparents decided to create us, and then somewhere along the line someone (the State, birthparents, foster parents etc.) decided that we should live somewhere else. So, we adjusted and acclimated to new smells, new rules, new schools, new bedrooms, a safer/different environment etc. How are we expected to grow into competent, strong adults if decisions are continually made without our consent? How will we learn to navigate which decisions are ours to make and which aren’t?

I’m grateful that my [adoptive] parents raised me to pursue my curiosities, to strive towards satisfying my incessant existential questions, and to simply try things – even though I may fail. I’m thankful that both my birth family and my adoptive family support me in this endeavor as unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all adoptees. I’m glad that my family understands that my desire to search and learn more about my roots does not simultaneously cease my desire to be a part of my [adoptive] family. Finding my birth family has never been an attempt to replace anyone else, but simply an effort to find myself. Selfish? Maybe…although I’d wager to guess that I’m not alone in my human desire to know how and why I’m alive, or, more simply, to be able to see a physical reflection of myself in someone else. I’m thankful that the great majority of people are able to access this information with relative ease. What makes me (and other adoptees) jealous is that those who question our motives to search are often the same people who brazenly take for granted getting to know foundational knowledge about their life. Adoptees are keenly aware of this injustice and in the absence of this vital and axiological information we search, and search and search (and sometimes we have to defend ourselves while we’re at it).

Darel – A 75 Year Old Adoptee

Darel is an adoptee who felt his heart stirred with long repressed emotions after viewing Closure. Our meeting was Darel’s first conversation with a fellow adoptee about his adoption story. He met his birth mother when he was 50 years old which helped him to better understand how this primal separation affected every single day of his life. His birth mother was secretly sent away to a maternity home for women who are “in trouble” (See Philomena or A Girl Like Her). Yesterday, the disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling received a punishment for his racist statements of a lifetime ban from the NBA – The sanction imposed on Darel’s birthmother used language not too dissimilar – the documents state that she was to be “forever barred from raising the child.” The general philosophy behind infant adoptions during the 30’s and 40’s was that children adopted in their early years would have absolutely no memory of their birthparents.

I know there are other folks like Darel, whose voices are worthy to be heard. I would love to hear from other adult men who were adopted during the era of closed adoptions as it’d be so enriching for male adoptees to get to know each other and share experiences. I can’t help but wonder how Darel’s life may have looked had he conversed with another adoptee earlier on in his life.

 ** Filmed and edited by Bryan Tucker. **

When You Check The Box

Even though I’m hearing impaired
I am a healthy adult.
Even though this wasn’t learned until my late childhood
I was a healthy child.
She didn’t always eat healthy while I grew in her belly
There were no prenatal visits or vitamins
Still I am fine and I’m healthy.
You should know that still I have worth.

I know you checked the box
on that homestudy preferences list
that you were not open to prenatal drug use,
a family history of depression or bipolar
you checked the box that you would not adopt a child
whose birthparent’s wanted to choose their name.
Does this have anything to do with the needs of the child?
Or is this just you playing a matchmaking game?

Does my health depend upon your understanding of medicine?
Is healthiness a societally constructed concept?
Is an autistic child unhealthy? Down syndrome? High IQ?
Does a lack of birthparent history dictate the child’s future health?
Are you seeking perfection in a child; A valedictorian graduating magna cum laude?
Is a “special needs” adoptee incapable of success? PTSD? Anxiety?

Not knowing family medical history can feel scary
and in utero drug exposure may concern you
But know that adoptees will seek righteousness with Malala.
We Will Rise with Maya Angelou
We strive for peace like Benazir Bhutto
and have hoop dreams like Sheryl Swoopes
although I may strain to hear you at times,
or I may lose my balance,
I may need a sick day or two to recoup
Still I am healthy and I am strong.

Dyslexia doesn’t define a soul
anymore than a perfectionistic mother in defeat.
ADHD shouldn’t equate to “I can’t parent this”
just as “normal” is not synonymous with healthy.

Prenatal alcohol exposure doesn’t make my brother less human
Prenatal drug use doesn’t make my sister’s body wrong
I am healthy. We are healthy.
We aren’t a series of labels, or orphaned bodies to experiment on.

We were healthy children that have grown to be healthy adults.
We were adopted as we were, and have grown in to who we are.
We have struggles, and faults, we succeed, we laugh
at times we gain ground, and at times we fight bad thoughts.

When you go to check the boxes
Please don’t predetermine what healthy might mean for me.
Please examine your own beliefs first.
I wonder, what does “healthy” mean to you?

“I Wish I Was Adopted”

I have had the honor of being involved in many interviews and conversations about adoption which have offered lots of opportunities for me to further the adoption discourse. There is a certain thrill that comes from being vulnerable and answering questions off the cuff as there is no great way to prepare for the questions that will come my way. I enjoy the spontaneity and the sense of unscripted-ness these interviews provide as there is room for truth and the conversation can flow in any direction that seems important at that moment. However, I have been thrown off by a  statement that sometimes gets tossed into my conversations. The statement: “Your family is absolutely amazing. Makes me wish I was adopted” has been a tough one for me to figure out how to answer.  When Bryan is present I am glad for the opportunity to exchange glances with him, silently inquiring “did you hear that, too?”  Bryan often tries to soften the blow in his wonderfully understanding way by making assumptions as to the more likely meaning of the comment. I generally know the intention behind the statement, but that doesn’t lessen the sting or make it any more acceptable. Words are important.

My friend and fellow adoptee, Amanda Woolston has heard this sentiment many times as well. She rationalizes the statement in this way; “It was said mostly in high school during times where teenage friends just didn’t feel like their parents “got” them. […] They saw being adopted as an opportunity to be a free and unique individual in the midst of genetic strangers who would just embrace whoever you were. It was an opportunity to be a blank canvas and invent oneself .”

Even with the recent media surrounding rehoming of adoptees, there continues to be a general love for the ‘rags to riches’ stories, a certain fascination with the projection that adoptees are grateful for a “better life” (check out adoptee Lisa Marie Rollins’ show Ungrateful Daughter).  I routinely receive messages of love and praise regarding Closure as folks seem to view my life as quite idealistic and use words like strong and determined to describe my steadfast drive for answers and the years sleuthing to find information. Although there is certainly truth to those adjectives, I feel the need to make sure its known that the only reason I had the opportunity to personify these traits is because of an inability to know my own truth.  Although a portion of my life has been communicated via a movie format, my life is not the Annie story. Closure moviegoers tend to get swept up by the hope and romance of the impending reunion with my birth parents and forget about the pain, separation, confusion and abandonment that had to have been present in order for my adoption to have even taken place. There is no adoption without tragedy somewhere along the line. Although my uniquely beautiful [adoptive] family is wonderful, wishing to be adopted isn’t a compliment. I’d propose that the actual intentions of a comment or tweet of this nature is something more akin to; “Sometimes I wonder how it’d feel to be part of a family without any genetic ties or biological expectations.”

You wish you were adopted and I wish I didn’t have to wait until my adulthood to know who gave birth to me. Different viewpoints I guess…

Whether you’re adopted or not, how might you respond?

“I Think My Birthmom Is Just Like You”

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Meet Valeria – a transracial adoptee.

This darling 8th grader from Southern California will surely be rocking this world with her wisdom and beautiful mind in the coming years.  After viewing Closure with her mother at the Refresh Conference, Valeria bravely came right up to me and told me that she imagines that her birth mother is just like me. I asked her why she thought this and we proceeded to have a conversation that was uniquely adult, yet sweetly innocent.  I loved her continuing spew of questions and couldn’t help but to see my younger self in her words as I listened to every single word she said.

“Do you think I’ll ever find my birth mom?” “How can I find her?” “I know that my birth mom gave me to a friend, then my foster parents picked me up from a prison. That’s all I know. With this information, how do I find her?”

Valeria and I discussed searching, and some routes towards locating her birth mother, including someday taking a trip to her birth place – Columbia. While I signed a DVD for Valeria, she asked, “Do you think my birth mom has allergies?” I was formulating my answer but Valeria’s brain got there before mine, she continued “I don’t think she does – I was stung by a bee three times in fifth grade, and it didn’t even hurt or get swollen. I’m pretty sure that my birth mom wouldn’t be affected by a bee sting either.” Her curiosity about her self, deep longing for truth and middle school youth was palpable. I could feel her words hanging in the air. I felt so honored that Valeria felt able to trust me with these questions as she sought to integrate these multiple aspects of her own identity.

I’d fashion that Valeria’s resounding beauty comes from the combination of a wisdom one can only gain from allowing strangers to adopt and parent you at an older age, combined with the safety and structure of having a home and a family. I do believe that many adoptees have this same mesmerizing spark that Valeria has, but that this sparkle can be dulled by many things – including well meaning adoptive parents not allowing these curiosities and questions to come forth, unsure if their child can handle it.  It seems obvious to me that Valeria’s future is bright, as historically some of our world’s greatest leaders are people who know how and with whom to ask the tough questions.

I am often asked to weigh in on the “correct age” to introduce conversations about their child’s birth mother, or when/if to encourage their child to begin searching for their birth parents…Let’s take a cue from Valeria (and her mother, who lovingly stood by allowing Valeria to direct where she wanted the conversation to go). What’s the harm in her curiosity? Perhaps there are unforeseen beauties within a child’s questioning. Even though our conversation centered around her story, she may never truly know how deeply impactful this conversation was for me. The ripple effects of allowing an adoptee to feel free enough to ask questions could be endless (likely both in some difficult and positive ways).

In the grand scheme of things I know that my conversation with Valeria is just beginning. Thankfully we were able to get in a final hug, but not before she asked me “Do you ever feel mad at your birth mom?”

***   This post was written with the permission of Valeria’s mother, who lovingly stated “it was as if you were the only two people in the room. It was beautiful; I saw a spark in her eyes.”  ***

A Worthy Voice: An Adoptive Parent Who Cannot Carry Her Baby

I am an adoptive parent with a physical disability. There may be a common misconception that having a physical disability makes one less equipped to parent, and therefore less equipped to adopt children. But I find that growing up with a physical disability has prepared me in many ways for the unique challenges of adoptive parenting.

I have had cerebral palsy from the waist down since birth, which impairs my gait. I walk on my toes with my ankles out and knees in. I have heard it described as walking like a T-rex. This is a blunt but pretty accurate description.

My partner and I adopted domestically, because we wanted an open adoption that would allow our child’s biological parents (birthparents) to be in their lives. That means that in order to adopt we needed to be selected by the expecting parents.

When we first started in the process, I excitedly called the adoption agency that we were planning to use, to make initial contact. When I told the social worker that I was disabled, she said “Oh, well, it will probably be a long wait, because birth moms will probably want a healthy mom.” I explained that I was very healthy and active. She responded, “Well, you know what I mean. Have you considered going through a Christian agency?” After that phone call, I felt totally hopeless. I feared I would never be able to raise a child because of my disability. No one would want their child to have a disabled mom.

As it turns out, my disability was not an issue for us. We were found by a young woman who knew that we were the family for her little girl. Our adoption agency had to rush our paperwork to get everything done in time for the birth. Sometimes in the adoption process it is hard to know whose version of perfection you are living up to: is it the expectant mothers or the agencies who are looking for Joan Cleaver?

While my disability may have been viewed as a barrier to adopting, growing up with a disability has prepared me to be an adoptive parent in a number of ways. First of all, I know that not everything has to look the same. I can still walk; it just doesn’t look like your walk. I can carry a laundry basket up the stairs: just not the way that you would do it. I can be a strong and loving parent, recognizing my own limitations. I had to make adaptions to carry my daughter when she was a baby. At age two, she is too big for me to carry now, but we still snuggle and tickle and walk holding hands. Above all, I can still build a strong and loving family: it just might not look like yours. My daughter’s birth family is part of our extended family. That doesn’t mean that I am any less my daughter’s mom, or that my family is any less of a family. It just looks different. I am very proud of the family that we have built together.

I have spent my entire life answering insensitive questions about my personal life. I’ve been educating people for as long as I can remember. When I was in the first grade, I was so tired of all the questions about my walk and the staring from other kids that I made a poster about my disability and presented it to every class in my elementary school. By the time I was an adult, educating people in grocery store interactions was just part of life. So I am well practiced in the art of addressing such personal questions when they come up around my daughter’s adoption, or when people ask me why she does not look like me. Sometimes I answer these invasive questions. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I care enough to share with the person in front of me. Sometimes I don’t. I hope I can show my daughter that answering such questions is really up to her.

Last but not least, my daughter and I both lost something at birth that we didn’t know that we had. Now, I am not saying that being disabled and being adopted are the same. Obviously, they are not. But I think there are some similarities in terms of both living with loss, and the evolving understanding and meaning of that loss over the course of our lives.

My daughter and I both have the “what if” factor. When we first brought my daughter home, I was deeply saddened that she had already lost something, and that she had no say in it. No matter what I did, or how much I loved her, I could never make up for that loss. She would always have the questions: What if I wasn’t adopted? What would my life be like? Who would I be? It reminded me of all the times growing up what I had wondered the same thing about myself. My disability is such a huge part of who I am that I often wondered who I would have been, had I not been disabled at birth. What path would my life have taken?

I hope that I can use these experiences to help my daughter navigate her own as she grows up. I will remember that, although I was sad at times, I never wanted to be someone else. I never disliked my life. I was just mourning an inherent loss. And so, when my daughter is feeling sadness related to her adoption, I will put my arm around her, and say;

“It is okay to be sad sometimes. It doesn’t mean you are not happy with who you are, or your life. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your dad and me. Sometimes you just have to let yourself be sad about what might have been. Please remember, all of this makes you the wonderful person that you are. You are stronger for the journey.”

–Mary Robison, Adoptive Parent