Monday, May 02, 2011

Meeting a birthmother

Kevin, Mary and I--with a dog--just moments before meeting our girls.  Our sons are from this orphanage/transition home too. 

{There is so very much to share about our trip, and so I think I'll do a little at a time.  Probably in chronological order.  And while I can't share photos of our girls yet due to the fact that we have yet to actually pass court, nor can I in good conscience share photos of their birthmoms in this space, I'm including some photos of our time there in this post.  'Cause no one likes a post without photos!}

I mentioned before that we met the respective birthmothers of M. and T, the same day we met the girls.


I was so incredibly nervous.  Honestly, I just wasn't sure what to expect.  The girls had been relinquished long ago.  These women travelled all the way to Addis to meet with us.  What on earth would we say?

Mary was a celebrity.  Seriously.  Here she is, with me, getting lots of attention from the toddler class at Layla House.

And like I mentioned before, yes, most orphans included in the statistics we read about have at least one living birthparent/relative.  It sounds strange, but it's the truth.  I suppose it's similar to the US in that respect: we have so very many children in foster care, some adoptable and some not, and most of them have at least one living biological parent.  For some reason we don't call these children in our own country orphans, yet their situation is remarkably similar.

This phenomenon makes for all sorts of complex ethical questions when it comes to international adoption.  It's why a growing number of people and organizations are becoming concerned about how international adoption is changing the face of Ethiopia.  I've been pondering these things myself for years.  It's just really messy.  Because you can look at things from many different perspectives, and come up with many different answers.  And at the end of the day I do believe children belong in families, so if a child is living out their days in an orphanage, I think adoption is a valid solution for that child.  Especially if their country has no safety net or future for someone who grew up as an orphan.  Especially if they have a medical need or condition or situation that makes them particularly vulnerable.

Laundry drying in the Layla House courtyard.

So we met two women that day, each with a unique story but also with some similarities too.  Both women are widows.  Both are struggling to survive.  One seemed strong and capable in the midst of her brokenness.  The other seemed sad and ashamed.  Both felt utterly unable to parent, and yet each seemed to care for their child.  Interestingly, neither child was relinquished because of Down syndrome per se, although it definitely played a role in that these women were very concerned for the child's future and were desperate for their child to receive medical care and an education.  Remember that there is no place in most societies for children born with an extra chromosome, or for children who are visibly different.  There is shame, exclusion, even abuse.  Here in our country, it is manifested in a 92% abortion rate of Down syndrome pregnancies.  So like most things, it is hidden in the US beneath a veneer of progress and technology and (false) civility.  But in other places, these children are born and oftentimes shunned from their family and from society.

It was a precious time meeting the women who gave M. and T. life, but it was confusing and painful too.  Because children should be with their parents.  I believe this with everything that is in me.  Part of me wanted to cry out, "You could have kept your dear seem to love them...they won't necessarily need a ton of interventions or extra medical care...they should be with you."  But then part of me also wanted to say, "How could you have given your child away?  How could you hand them over to government officials and walk away without knowing their future?  How could you possibly think that a life in an orphanage, or even with other people, is better than the life a mother can offer?  Why didn't you love this child enough to keep them?"

Like I said, confusing.  And painful.

Mary getting some more love.

I'm obviously still thinking through these things.  And to be honest, I will probably be processing this for a long, long time.  These questions are easy to ignore when there is no face, no name, no voice to go with the first parents of an adopted child.  We can conveniently pretend that this parent was too sick, or too desperate, to parent.  But when you look into someone's eyes, when you hear their story and see them hugging their little one goodbye, you have to face these questions head-on.

M. and T. were legally relinquished through a government office (that has nothing to do with our adoption agency) a long time ago, and by the time we met them, they were two little girls with no family, no future, no hope.  Both girls born with Down syndrome.  Sweet M. also bearing the label of Cerebral Palsy.  In a country with literally no resources or place for them.  I am not even certain that their birthmothers knew they'd have a chance to be adopted.  The women seemed exTREMEly grateful that the girls have found a family (relieved, even) and it was more than clear that this was their hope for their daughters.  Still, it was an incredibly emotional experience that has further cemented some questions in my mind about international adoption.  It's not comfortable, but then adoption should never be totally comfortable because it necessarily involves so much brokenness and loss and un-ideal-ness. 

As difficult as it all was, as hard as it was to watch both women break down in tears when speaking about their lives, it was also a true honor it was to meet the two mothers of the two sweet girls we are adopting.  This is a profound gift that we will forever treasure, and one that I am so grateful to be able to give to our two new daughters.  It is their story, and we hope to steward it well.


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