The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Public Scrutiny

The waiting room at our clinic in the Children's Hospital is always an interesting experience.

You know that special way that four year olds have of asking questions?

"um, um, um? Uhhhm, whyyy does she? Uhm, I have a question. Um, why does SHeeee have...?"

Oh no, here we go I thought. Cue the question about whether or not she's mine. Or why her skin is brown. Or why we don't match. Or where she's "from." I've only had the question from one other four year old and my answer was embarrassingly weak. So I'm fluttering through files of possible answers in my head when this particular four year finally spits out the question.

"Why does she have pierced ears?????" (With a withering glance over to her own mother and a small touch of her finger to her lonely undecorated earlobe.)


What can I say? I read posts like this one, written by adoptive mothers about their battle with unwanted questions so often. This post and it's 60+ comments cause me to think hard and often about how I can prepare for intrusive or over curious children and adults. It also makes me examine my feelings about questions we might receive in public.

But the thing is, and I don't mean to diminish the frustration of others or minimize their experiences, we really don't get unwanted questions. Or stares. I used to look for them all the time. Remember my White Mama post? My eyes darting around the mall just waiting for judgement or over-curiosity?

Not us anymore. I wonder how to account for this? The fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I've been asked about Ariam's adoption, skin color, or story in the past 9 months. (Once by a small boy on the playground and a couple of times by curious Ethiopians at the airport.) Is that a realistic representation of the trans-racial adoption experience?

We do get stopped, by white and black families alike, and told how beautiful Ariam is. We've been told that she's so well-behaved, has beautiful skin and hair, has a lovely smile, or that WE are so lucky. Ethiopians tend to skip straight to asking what part of Ethiopia she is from and what her name is (and do we know what it means.) And while I guess some families might not even enjoy this type of interaction (because in some ways it is a reflection of the fact that she looks different from us) I don't mind it.

If you are reading this and are not an adoptive parent, I think the number one thing you can do with your curiosity, if you absolutely must make a comment to a family you don't know, is fuel it into an honest compliment. If the family wants to share more information with you, they may. If not, then you have not caused harm by stopping to compliment or smile.

For whatever reason, we've experienced a reprieve from invasive questions. Even from aquaintances and our church community. All of whom I'm sure feel some degree of curiosity to know MORE than what we have shared, but who are discreet enough to keep from asking overly personal questions about Ariam's story or her adoption experience. And I am thankful. It's really allowed us to become one family unit, without fear, without anxiety or feeling always on guard.

What has been your public experience with your child?
Do you get frustrated when people ask personal questions? Do you get more questions from strangers or from aquaintances?

Is everyone out there as irritated as the author of the blog I linked to? I'll admit to being rather surprised by her animosity.

She looks so grown up these days. Can I buy a pill that will keep her little?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Take a deep breath and count to five...or twenty?

EDIT: I have found a blogger who is capable of writing the words I would write. Like we have have an internet mind meld. Makes my job easier because I can just link to her

My flu-addled brain wrote the words below but I think that anyone interested in the topic of the current state of Ethiopian adoption should skip over to Grace and then come back here - or reverse.

Now back to your originally scheduled programming:

I've had the flu all week but have still managed to catch many of the highlights surrounding MOWA's announcement to reduce the number of letters they write each day (approving each potential adoption) from 50 to 5.

Some dingbat at V.oice of A.merica kicked off the panic, I believe, with an inflammatory headline stating "Ethiopia to cut foreign adoptions by 90%." Yes, I guess the math is there but the heart of the story is missing.

What potential adoptive parent wouldn't feel that headline cut right through the heart? This time last year - I would have!

Adoptive parents don't just, swish!, sign on with an agency and receive their child. No, there is the paperwork, the waiting, the finances, the waiting some more, the receiving of a match, the photo you fall in love with, the waiting and agonizing. Have I mentioned the waiting? Whether adopting through a traditional infant program or adopting older kids or kids with special needs, we all wait and agonize.

One of the steps J and I struggled with in our wait was the wait for MOWA (Ministry of Women's Affairs - which is now MOWCYA I believe) to write our approval letter and send it to the court. We failed court three times because MOWA had not written the letter approving our match and confirming that Ariam was available for adoption. It was awful. And yes, when you are in the process and waiting for that letter you do go to a strange "why the hell can't somebody just whip up a form letter and sign the damn thing already??!!" type of place. Been there. Have much empathy for everyone going through it.

But back to the inflammatory VOA article.
I read it and I thought - huh. Well MOWA must be under additional stress and backlog. There have been new requirements set in place by both the ET government and US Embassy requiring additional documentation before a child can be adopted. It makes sense that MOWA, already unable to get letters out for every matched family/child in a manner we consider timely, already being inundated with stories of adoption fraud, would need to regroup a bit. (Big benefit of having Ariam home is that I'm able to think much more logically. I want to recognize here, formally, that this is something very very hard to do when you are anywhere in the process prior to bringing home the child you have waited for.)

So here's my thought: MOWA isn't a person - it is a ministry. A collective group of people about whom I know very little. But you have to consider that like any other office in the world, MOWA has staff turnover, MOWA has the need for trainings, MOWA had changes in leadership. MOWA oversees all of the issues related to women, children and youth in Ethiopia. Take that in for a second! Wow!

MOWA is not a ministry designed by the American people expressely set up to write letters for us.

There was a lot of frenzy online after the article came out. A lot of praying for Ethiopia. A lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth for children who may not be adopted because of this. More knee jerk reaction math was done and headings began to go the direction of "Ethiopian adoptions will now take 7 years on average."
A letter writing campaign was initiated asking adoptive parents to send in their happy stories and bright photos demonstrating successful adoption and a petition circulated.

Whew! I came up from my fever a few times to take a peek around the internet and quickly went back to bed.
Several friends have asked me what I think, given some of my professional connections in Ethiopia, and it's now or never for stating something. So take it or leave it, try not to take offense, here is what I think.

A. Children should not be raised in orphanages. I will always start with that. It's like a geometric theorem. One must always start with that.

BUT, given A....

B. International adoption is a tiny dent in what is actually a large scale child protection problem in Ethiopia. Whether we like it or not, nobody can argue that international adoption by itself is going to solve any kind of "orphan crisis." Studies are actually emerging indicating a distinct correlation between the increase in international adoption and the increase in the number of orphanages built in parts of Africa. Chew on that for a second....

C. MOWA wants to invest more time and resources into child protection and addressing the need for domestic solutions for children. They stated this very publically, to very little online applause from the adoption community.

I actually think this (not the reduction in letter writing - rather, the public committment to improvement) is the beginning of a huge step in the right direction for kids in Ethiopia.
If you take A, provide for B, and factor in C...maybe you actually come out with a solution that keeps more kids out of orphanages in the first place.

Ok, on to the rest of the list.

D. Ethiopia is not the United States of America. And Ethiopia does not have a responsibility to supply children to the world. I know, you are cringing and feeling defensive.

E. Let me ask provacative question - is the rush to petition a race and/or poverty issue? Honestly and truly? Maybe it is not for some and maybe for others it is. I don't know. The history of colonization is not a pretty one. History is littered with lighter skinned people taking control in countries they feel are "less civilized." Less able to manage themselves. Obviously not competent. While I am no fan of the Ethiopian government as a whole, I just cannot support this mass criticism and petitioning of a ministry that to all intents and purposes just announced that it is going to provide an increased focus on domestic solutions. We are all upset. We want to adopt our first Ethiopian child - or a sibling for our current Ethiopian child. We feel called. We feel righteous. We feel noble. We care. Whatever the reasoning (and I fall into ALL SORTS of those categories above) do we really have the right to impose our will?

F. I did not sign the petition or send in a flowery story with photos demonstrating the success of my adoption.

I think there is a VAST DIVIDE between our intentions, our actions, and the message received. If I can't control the message actually received then my intentions are irrelevant. The only thing I can control are my actions.

These are my thoughts.

As of this morning it appears that MOWA has decided to write 20 letters/day.
I don't believe this is an example of the collective bargaining power of the petition.
It's my understanding that this, and other improvements, to the "five letter situation" is a reflection of the good work of U.NICEF, the hard work of the embassy and the committment of a lot of child welfare professionals and others in Ethiopia. All who are concerned that children not fall through the cracks. I know that post-earthquake in Haiti, U.NICEF dug itself a bit of a grave with the adoption community. But let me assure you that in Ethiopia this is an office working incredibly hard to advocate for children to be out of orphanages and in families - whether those homes be in country (first choice) or overseas.

I think we'll see a stabilization in weeks to come. I've been too sick to try and collect all of the online links for you here but I do like The Wayfarer since it seems to always include both sides of every story and is fairly up to date with a list of who, what, when, and why. (Don't hold me to that - I've just skimmed the site today to make sure most of the news is posted.)

Now go ahead, shred me if you want to.
I didn't write any of this in anger or to divide the adoption community even further.
I just think that so often we (the collective we) in the U.S. forget that our reality and the reality on the ground, in the field, in the hard places is very different.

Collective deep breath in, collective deep breath out.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Attachment Post (at 9 months)

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Ariam was cradling plastic baby in her arms, attempting to feed it from a miniature plastic baby bottle last week. She kept trying to jam the little pink n.ipple into plastic baby's mouth but it wouldn't fit. Instead of getting frustrated, she gave baby a very empathetic look, bent over to set the bottle on the floor, tipped baby onto her back, looked her in her blinky blue eyes and quietly whispered...
"shhhh sh sh sh shhhh."

For 9 months that has been our comfort language. "Shhhh sh sh sh shhh" I whisper in her ear when she's upset. "Shhhh sh sh sh shhhh" is the sound I make when she cries at night, it is our mommy/baby language.

Maybe nothing has been more satisfying than watching Ariam use my love language to share comfort and love with her baby.


Like every other adoptive mother that has been steeped in attachment literature and scary adoption trainings I searched those early photos of Ariam. Looking for signs of her past, her early life, and her capacity for resilience and future attachment. I looked and looked and looked.

Her shining open eyes gave me reason for hope.

Then we showed up in person. And I'm not saying it went...badly. No, I can't say that exactly. But we received a child who was tired, plain old tired, of packing up her little bags and moving on. The eyes didn't shine for us. We faltered, there were a few days when I didn't even touch Ariam (I was sick), and while we had initial feelings of adoration for her, we were not sure she would ever like us in return.

Looking back I think we made it all much harder than it had to be. We were serious and sick. We were incredibly sleep deprived. And we had no clue how to be parents. So she was probably just reflecting our own mood.

I will not forget the first time I saw Ariam's face light up, not for food or her bottle, but for a person. I knew then, I just knew that she (in her baby way) loved deeply, trusted, and would attach to us.

On day 14 together, we took a very bumpy dusty ride to Debre Zeit (a smaller city about an hour and a half outside of Addis Ababa.)

Late in the afternoon as we were preparing to leave Debre Zeit the social worker we were with just happened to mention that Ariam had actually lived in a baby home near where we were parked. (News to us!)

She offered to take us by the home and introduce us to Ariam's favorite nanny.

We pulled through the gates into a compound that looked just like a regular, small, concrete Ethiopian home. Washing strung across the yard on ropes. A comfortable front porch. A few women, a few babies.

I carried Ari in and up the porch stairs and heard a gasp of joy. Women began running and calling out in Amharic.

Lovely Alemtsehaye:

This woman cared for Ariam from the first day she left her mother. This woman did not put her in the crib they showed me (on the "Derartu" tour!) but rather slept with her in her own bed. This woman tended to the bug bites on her legs and hung her photo on the wall (it was still there.) And quietly/aside, the social worker told us that Alemtsehaye cried and begged for Ariam not to be moved to Addis Ababa.

I am so thankful for Alemtsehaye and the love she poured over Ariam.
The bond they had, even after not having seen each other for the past 3 months, was palpable. We stayed for a long time,  had coffee, and enjoyed the handful of babies and equal number of nannies. We took a photo of Ariam's first baby photo.  The experience with Alemtsehaye and the baby home was a priceless glimpse of Ariam's early life attachment story.

I know that Ariam lived through trauma in her short life before us. But I know that she also experienced very real care and devotion .

Our attachment story, like all, began WAY before we entered the picture. It began with Ariam. With the people who shaped her and whatever was inside her that stayed aware and willing to reach out.

In my less than expert opinion, I'd like to posit that attachment begins with trust, not with love.

Attachment is not a willingness to love whomever comes along. It is a willingness, based on previous experience and probably just inherent to some personalities, to trust that your needs will be met. It is the desire to put your hand and heart out there and trust that it won't be hurt, even if it has been before.
We were naive, but it served us well in the long run. We had no previous children or experiences against which to measure either Ariam's attachment to us or ours to her.

We didn't instantly love or attach to her. But we trusted that it would happen. We didn't always even like being parents at first. But we jumped when she said jump and as her trust in us grew, our enjoyment of parenthood grew.

For Ariam attachment turned into love for us. I think it happened more quickly for the three of us than it does for most - and for that I am eternally grateful. I can't believe that I wrote this post after being home just one month. (Of course, at the time, it felt like an eternity.)

Somewhere along the line Ariam began to reach for us. Hold our hands against the side of her head and look up, making eye contact and smiling. She began to come to us for kisses with every little bump instead of getting up stoically and moving on without a sound. She began to point and name us and light up when either of us entered a room. She molded her little body onto my hip, found her groove with looping one arm around my bicep, and we...well we both attached and we loved.

Problems? At 9 months I am guessing there's a lot we don't know and have yet to experience. I feel sure that we'll continue to wonder about things - "attachment/adoption issue or normal kid issue?" (Um - I feel compelled to insert here that I wonder this all the time about her huge preference for daddy.)

One thing I've found that adoptive bloggers don't seem to ever talk about though are our own issues.

The attachment discussion on blogs this month, and the interesting representation of daddy preference stories, has made me think a lot about this. What kind of baggage do we bring to the process of attachment and parenting? What expectations/hopes/dreams set us up for fear, concern or disappointment? Do we project and displace some of our own insecurities about attachment onto our children?

I don't say this to rock the boat at all. I'm not suggesting that it's all in our heads. What I'm suggesting is that we bring a lot more "stuff" to the adoption triad than we probably realize. Stuff that helps, stuff that hurts, and stuff that prevents us from knowing how to move our children securely through the massive life change that is international adoption.

I think that a lot of the things we, in our own family, get stuck on have as least as much to do with our own childhood, our own daydreams of parenthood, and our own attachment styles as they do with the actual issue at hand. A conversation for another day...unless you want to respond in the comments! (hint hint...)

Time is a circus, attachment is a river, attachment triage, goodness there are so many great metaphors and talented writers exploring attachment this month.
I find myself ending this blog without any profound conclusion.

I recommend you head over to Claudia's blog to read all of the gathered attachments posts and form your own conclusions.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Enter Guardian Angel

The benefit of having a blog is, if done right, it keeps a person honest!

I can easily go back and visit March 1-3, 2010.
If I didn't have those feelings in writing, it would be very easy for me to say, a year later, that we knew immediately that Ariam was our daughter - that we recognized her.

But the truth is that I didn't write our  referral post until 2 days after we first layed eyes on baby "Derartu." I post-dated it when it was uploaded to the blog on March 3rd.

You see, Derartu looked scared and hollow. Her eyes told a story I wasn't sure I could handle. Her thin little arms floating in that yellow shirt looked so breakable. Neither of us were sure. I felt unspeakable fear that this was not the baby I had prayed for when I asked God every day to give us a joyful child...
(To be honest, I was worried that I had gotten us in over our heads and that J, who had been so reluctant, would not be able to bond with this little traumatized one...)

Enter Guardian Angel.

I wrote about her briefly in this post and how she sent us the words we needed to say yes and the photos that made my heart leap.

I promised that I would post her words someday....


Please don’t think that I am in any way stretching the truth to make you feel good but Derartu has been hands-down my favorite babe for the whole time I have been here. When I read her name this morning, I thought surely things couldn’t be so perfectly aligned but it turns out that they are just that.
Her crib was in the same room with a baby that I have been doing physical therapy with many times daily.(Tariku! For those of you who follow his mom's blog.)

 She is so distinct in both her behavior and her looks, that to my eye, she just glows.

I would catch her watching me closely from in between the bars of her crib. When I would catch her eye, she would be watching me patiently, waiting for me to notice her. Not only would her eyes smile, but her whole face would just open up in pure joy when our eyes would meet. She is so calm in her demeanor and watchful. She has such a patient temperament and quiet bemused way about her. She keeps this little smile on her face as just her way of being at rest, like all is right in her little world.

The first day I was able to pay her one-on-one attention she grabbed my finger with such a grip that I have never felt on any of the other babies. Because she is so calm in her way of being, it had never occurred to me that she would have such a grip. When I have had to leave her, I have actually asked other people to stand in for me to have them take over holding her hand. For me, she is one of the most difficult babies to leave behind.
I don’t want you to think from my description that she doesn’t have gusto and health. This girl can squeal with laughter and will reach her arms up to be picked up and will wave goodbye when I say “ciao.” She is completely aware of her surroundings and tuned in to what is happening to her and around her.
The head nurse was getting her stuff ready to be transported to (another home) when I left her 30 minutes ago.
Please feel free to contact me at any time and I will do my best to respond. I will stop in and see how she is adjusting on my way back tonight. I also took photos of her that I will do my absolute best to upload to you. She is just magical. A picture will never do this child justice.
She sent this picture that night. And I don't know how to explain it but the best I can do is say that the minute I opened it I recognized Ariam. I saw her face and it was the face I had been waiting for. Eyes that reflected a heart open to love.

I am sad when I look at her referral photo. We don't often look at that little baby, laying on her back. When I see it, it strikes me that I don't recognize her because she was still part of another world. Her eyes and heart were still completely with someone else and not ready to let go.