While we were in the adoption process for Zinashi, I started to read everything I could possibly get my hands on at the library and my eyes on via the internet so that I could better understand just what we were about to do. I found the voices of seasoned adoptive parents to be valuable, but the people I wanted to hear from more than anyone were adoptees themselves. I wanted to know how they felt about their upbringing, what their parents did well or didn’t do well, how the prevailing customs at the time of their adoption affected them. While there was a wide range of experiences, the thing that I kept coming back to was that most adoptees whose stories I read desired knowledge of and, if possible, a connection to their first family.
There are many different ways that adoptive families approach connections to their children’s first families. Some maintain close ties while others opt not to have any contact at all. In the United States, open adoption is becoming more and more common, but in international adoption it is less so. I would love to see that change. In my opinion, because it is my children who have lost everything, and it is Jarod and I who have gained, our responsibility is to consider their needs first. We need to take all the blows we can for them, because they have already taken plenty. So for us, when it came down to whether or not we felt comfortable trying to pursue a relationship with the girls’ Ethiopian families, our comfort level didn’t really matter. What mattered was if it would be the right thing to do for our daughters and their families.
The bottom line in our case is fairly simple. It is not our daughters’ families’ fault that they were forced to make a hard choice and that the end result was placing their children for adoption. Both families love their children dearly and were heartbroken to have them leave. It is also not the fault of our daughters’ that they were separated from their families, their country, and their culture. The burden falls to us, then, to do our best to restore that connection. So we have, and we will. So far, it has been beautiful.
While we were in Ethiopia adopting Elvie, we arranged to have Zinashi’s family come to Addis Ababa to see her and to meet with us. We had only met one family member before, and we were both excited and nervous to see everyone who was coming, as was Zinashi. The result was a lot of love in the room for Zinashi and for one another. How could we not love the people who gave life to the daughter that we share, the one that would go home with us and continue to regale us with made up stories about rabbits and race cars and elephants? Though it was stressful trying to fit in a visit with them while getting things taken care of for Elvie, it was absolutely worth it. We cannot wait to go back in two years and travel to the village where Zinashi spent the first three years of her life.
For Elvie, we intend to do the same. We met her family on the same day we met her, and we know that they desire to see Elvie happy and well. When we go to Ethiopia next time, we will head south to visit the part of our family that brought us Zinashi, and north to connect with the part of our family that brought us Elvie. Our children are such a gift, and it is not just our duty, but also our pleasure, to keep them connected to the people who loved them first.
I know that many families think it is best to wait and see what their children want in terms of connections to their first families when the children are older. While we intend to be sensitive to our daughters’ wishes over the years, we also desire that our trips to visit their families would be a normal part of our family life from the beginning. It will be complicated for them to sort out those relationships as time goes by, but we feel that to wait to establish any connection at all would make it even more awkward and also carries the danger that they might not be able to find their families, or that someone important would have passed away. Our hope is that over the years, we can all grow ever closer, and that we will be able to help our children navigate forming deeper relationships with the people who love them dearly from far away.
In the meantime, our schedule is set for a trip to Ethiopia every two years. We just got back, but I am already daydreaming about the next one. It won’t always be comfortable, but it will be wonderful, and it will be worth it.