Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Topic: Birth Family Visit

I was so rushed yesterday when I did my rambling and what came out in the end is something I'd like to write more about and explain more about.

If you got bored reading about my escapades at Secrets/Cancun and never reached the end of yesterdays post then have no fear! I'm going to kinda sorta start ova! Yes, that's how we talk up hea in the Noth... Bad attempt to try and show the New England accent in writing! I should do a video!!! OMG, I haven't made a video in forever. I would do a video, but frankly I look like shit b/c I'm sick. But be warned... videos are coming to a Lori blog near you!

I need to dress the children... hang on. Don't you love my new way of talking? As if you were reading this live. I'm so used to talking w/people in real time online that I feel you need to know why I'm gone. But you won't know I'm gone will you. Eegads, I need help. Oh wait, already addressing that one!

Time to be serious...

I wanted/want to ask a question to you adoptive moms. Do you ever think, want, or plan to bring your ET child(ren) back to ET for a birth family visit? I know everyone has had a different experience in country and that some of you may not have met your childs b.family. The reason I'm asking this question is that I've been thinking about it. Quite often as of late. Let me tell you about our story real quick and why I'm asking this.

We traveled to ET in August of 08'. We had a birth family visit. It was the most inexplicable moment of my life to be embracing, kissing, and sitting next to a woman so in love with her child that she made the choice that she did. Our visit was about 45 mins. A letter that we wrote to her was translated and read to her. At the end we were able to ask questions back and forth with the translators help. One of the questions that was asked of us was this: "Will you give me updates? Will you bring her back here to visit us?"

At that time we had no intention of bringing our peanut back for a family visit. We also knew that it is something not widely encouraged for a whole host of reasons. We were vague with our answer and repeatedly told her that we would send her updates, pictures, and letters. We did not address the other part of the question, how could we tell her "no". How? Just writing this brings me back. I can literally smell the earth of the dirt floor. We were also VERY fortunate to have the b.family visit at the home of the birth family. What a gift. What a gift.

Most of you know the story of the rest of our time in country and what our lives look like now. Talk about crazy! One day, several months ago I was browsing through pictures on shutterfly and a picture of Tessa's first mom came up on the screen. Tessa walked by and I couldn't close the browser fast enough. Both kids go crazy excited when they see pictures on my computer and she quickly ran over to the screen and asked who that was. I was scared shitless. I said, "you don't know who that is?" She said "no". I was curious and surprised. I knew that I was probably doing something I shouldn't. I never planned to show her pictures from that visit until she was a lot older. But I did. I brought the picture back up on the screen. She stared at it with NO change in expression. Like looking at whatever. I asked her again if she knew those people. She told me no again. I pointed to each person in the picture and asked her. She had NO clue. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. It had probably only been six or nine months since she'd been home here with us when this happened. How could she have no clue. She was just curious. Even to the pictures of the outside of her home. She thought it was "cool" looking and it was as if she's never seen anything like it. She lived there for the first three years and two weeks of her life. How could this be? If you know me, you'll know that I kinda got freaked out and it crossed my mind that perhaps this wasn't her birth family to begin with. No wonder she had no reaction. But that was a fleeting thought. I know it was her family/is her family. Without a shadow of a doubt.

It was right around this time that I spent time putting together a nice album of pictures. I spent time drafting a letter. After putting it all together I sent it off in the mail, Ethiopia bound. Sadly, I was sure it would take a couple of months to get in the hands of the woman who gave birth to our peanut.

About two or three weeks ago I was contacted and told that Tessa's family has made requests that we send an update and some picures. Huh? What? I did that so long ago. I told this person that I already had. And that's when I really started thinking about a visit to Ethiopia WITH Tessa. I even know how to get to that house seven plus hours out of Addis.

MP and I talked about it. I told him that I want to do it, not like tomorrow, but not years away either. He thinks it would do more harm than good to her birth family. Especially Mom. I honestly feel that she would feel peace with it. Sure, it's bound to be very painful. It can't be more painful than how she must have felt that dreaded day that the truck took her baby away. It can't be more painful than "not knowing". If she could see her and touch her again. And know that it was right. Maybe this is just me feeling guilty (again) and selfish. Is it selfish of me? Is this to put me at ease that her first momma see her? These are questions I ask myself.

That is why I'm asking you. Knowing our story, what would you do? What is your story? Will you?

I hope this post doesn't offend anyone or bring up painful memories. If you know my blog then you know that I'm pretty straight forward and open. Yes, again I didn't proof and there is no spell check - sorry!




  1. I am not speaking from experience. We are going to pick up our toddler in Ethiopia next month. We may not have the opportunity to do a birth family visit while there. But, the agency has asked the birth mother many questions for me at their meeting after the court hearing. If her birth mother DOES want us to visit, then we plan on doing it when B is a teenager. Because I think it would be hard for a younger child to process all that is going on. But that is my only opinion...it is not based on facts. So, if I were you then maybe I would try to just look at it from Tessa's perspective rather than yours or the birth mother's...b/c one thing you both have in common is that you want to do everything right for Tessa. Is Tessa ready? Could she handle that situation? I think only you could answer that b/c it would have to come from your gut as her mother. That is my 2 cents. I think you are amazing for processing this and asking all of those important questions of yourself.

  2. Wow. Eastopians, what a great response. That is actually something I need to process. I can't believe that I haven't yet. I just keep thinking that she doesn't remember so it's ok. But once there it could be VERY confusing and disturbing to her. Plus, one day she'll know we brought her back. Will she be upset to learn that? She could be very upset indeed. Thanks so much. More to think about - Lor

  3. Addison's birth mom said also, that when she was older, she'd like to meet her. I think we were both ok with that. Mark and I have both agreed that when all the kids are older, we want to take them all to show them where she is really from. But I think our plan is to wait till she is older....like late teens even. First of all, just cuz the plane ride is NO fun and the older they are the better they should be able to handle it. But also, they'll appreciate it so much more and understand so much more when they are older.
    I hope this helps....I don't think you are terrible for thinking you want to take her back. But I would agree at her age now, and in the next few years, might not benefit her. It may confuse her. But I think too, Ethiopian kids are really smart...they may show how grown-up they are too.

  4. My boy is 9 (8 at the time of relinquishment) so we have a different situation. He talks about going to visit and even has dedicated part of his allowance to saving for the trip - I explained that it's expensive to travel there and he came up with this plan on his own, bless him. Without spilling too much of his story in public, he has extended family that he lived with for many years and an older sister who still lives with them. It's the sister that he really misses and wants to see again more than anything. I've told him that when he is 11 we will go even though I think it will be confusing and in some ways hurtful. I think the good will outweigh the bad. Like you, his first family asked that I bring him back to visit. I told them that I would...

    Theresa is spot on in recommending that you think about Tessa's well being rather than what you or her first mom want. I tend to think though that visiting sooner rather than later might be good for her. To give her a context for how she came to be and how she came to be part of your family.

    Your husband is probably right that it would be hard on her first mom, especially if T doesn't remember her.

    You just have to weigh it out and decide what's going to be the best for T.

  5. Our situation is very similar, yet different. When Petros first came home, we didn't allow him to see pictures or video for the first month or two. (We wanted to be sure that his English was good enough to understand us when we told him he was here forever.) When we showed him the photo of his birth family, he lit up and exclaimed his birth father's name. (Which is good because it's now Petros' middle name, and we'd been pronouncing it wrong!!)

    We now have framed photos of his family scattered about our house, and we watch the video fairly regularly. (I hesitated about this too, because we're all a mess in it, but his first dad talked to him throughout it, so I wanted him to see it before he lost ALL of his language). We talk frequently about visiting, and Petros asks to visit, but also wants to be sure that he's coming home with us. He asks how old his brothers and sisters are now, and if we think they're going to school, still taking care of the goats,cow etc. He talks to Dan each day on the way to school about what he thinks his birth family is doing, etc.

    He also remembers Arbegona fairly vividly, and tells us stories and recalls the landscape, etc. We do plan to bring him to visit his first family when we adopt again. Sadly, we don't feel like waiting until he's a teenager is an option. His birth father is already older than the average life expectancy in ET. If all goes as planned, (fingers crossed) Petros will be visiting his birth family shortly before his 6th birthday. For him, we're confident that although it may come with emotions, he's ready.

    I think you're an amazing mom with dead-on istincts for both of your kiddos, and you'll make the decision that's right for Tessa

  6. Wow, Julie and Tiff, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    It's amazing how much Petros knows and remembers in comparison to Tessa. Perhaps this is a journey we may make together? Who knows. From New England to Arbegona, two families with toddlers - small world. I like how you think.

    Julia - your son sounds brilliant and aware. I love his spirit and attitude!

  7. Your post was very thought provoking. Our daughter was abandoned at 2 weeks old so we don't have a family to visit BUT I want to take our entire family to Ethiopia when Desta can remember (she's only 6 months old now so...)

    Having grown up the first 19 years of my life in Africa, I can say with all certainty that a trip "home" is very important.

    For me, getting Desta a month ago was closure to this open feeling I had. I hadn't been in Africa in 12 years so it was a good bye of sorts.

  8. Lori,

    I came back to read the other responses to gain their perspectives too. I am so glad that you have opened this up so that we can see what you are thinking and what others are thinking. Some great insight was shared, and as usual...I learned a thing or two.


  9. Ruth & Aster were only with thier family for the firts 6 weeks of thier lives, so it's different. But I will take them back. I hope to make our first trip when they are 5 or 7. Who knows, maybe when they are 5 or 7 I will feel differently, but right now, if it were not financailly impossible, I would take them back as often as I could.

  10. Lori
    I know you have already made up your mind but I just wanted to share my thoughts.
    I am a social worker for the county. I have removed a fair amount of kids because of abuse and neglect. I removed one child at a few days old but had to do the whole court thing and visits etc. Eventually we ended up doing an open adoption with her foster family which basically means that the adoptive family can send stuff and can receive stuff but its not obligatory. It has worked beautifully. The little girl knows about her mom and calls her by her first name. She knows she is adopted, she knows what her mom looks like and she knows who all of her gifts are from. I think that sometimes we underestimate our kids. I think that as adults we recognize what a crazy traumatic situation this is for everyone involved but kids dont realize that at such a young age (older kids are different I think). I think that if you presented it as it is what it is, it would be fine (mind you I dont know Tessa). THats the way this little gals family is handling it. And her birth mom lives for the times when she gets updates. She knows that she wasnt able to care for her daughter and knows she did the right thing. She wants her to know that she still loves and remembers her and wants her to know that she thinks about her. They havent met in person yet but I think it will probably happen and I would almost advocate for it.
    As for Lengitu, every night after we read books, she says good night to me, good night to the dog and then goes to the pic of her aunt and blows her a kiss and tells her she loves her. Obviously she knows shes going to know shes adopted and I dont want, some time down the road, to spring this aunt on her. I want her to just know daily that she exists and as she gets older, explain it to her. I think that I will bring L back sooner than later for a lot of reasons. First, health is so sketchy over there and people are so hard to find that I dont want time to lapse and them to pass away or to get lost. I also think that while she is too young to get it now, in a few years, she will understand and I dont want her to miss the opportunity to see them before its too late.
    I think that a lot of times, parents get scared that they will lose their kids or that their kids cant handle it and I think that its really us as adults that can't handle it for fear that they wonlt want to be with us or any number of things. I just dont want Lengitu to be an adult and be ticked that she could have seen them but didnt. And the birth family I am sure thinks about her a lot and wonders if she is ok. I have sent tons of pics and we have only been home 3 months.

  11. hi i stumbled across your blog. we are picking up a 5 month old from ET in a few months. i'm a social worker and i have travelled on birth country tours with kids and their families and have helped facilitate many birth family reunions on these tours (an option in some countries). you might want to check out http://www.adoptivefamilytravel.com
    something to think about for the future...at some point they will begin offering ET trips. this is the group I travel with. I'm also a PhD student and will be doing my dissertation on the effect birth country trips have on kids. usually the kids that take the trips are between 9 and 19 or so...there are no age limits...but we think the closer they are around 10 the better b/c they aren't quite jaded and they're open/excited about the experience (as opposed to a teen who may only be concerned with what her boyfriend is doing back in the states while she's gone). anyway, it's a wonderful program. i thought you'd like to know this could be an option for you guys....best, laura