Monday, August 15, 2011

Falsified Record: "abandoned" but mother easily found

Our child was listed, adopted and granted a visa as an abandoned child. We were told by the adoption agency there was no way to find out anything about his history.  A couple of years after he was adopted, we tried searching.  Our searcher went to the large, Catholic orphanage in Addis from which our child was referred.  Within minutes he was given the address of the woman who brought the baby to the orphanage.  Soon after the searcher went to the address and talked to people, we had contact with our child’s Mother. She told us that she gave her baby to a friend, who, with a known baby broker who had spent time in prison, took the child to the orphanage to be adopted. We now have ongoing contact with the formerly non-existent Mother.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trafficking: Child adopted without mother's consent

We researched for months before choosing a placement agency. I asked the "tough" questions. We decided to go with them based on others' reports that they were ethical. They provided Lifebooks for the children. They facilitated birth family meetings. They had all the right answers. We met with our social worker and decided "what we could handle." We convinced ourselves that we would only be suitable parents for a healthy infant. 

Shortly after signing on with our placement agency, the wait time increased from 6-9 months to 12 months. Then months later it was extended to 12-18 months. Then, again to 18-24 months. Each time the estimated wait increased, my husband and I talked about whether or not we should stay with the agency or look elsewhere. Each time we convinced ourselves that it would be better to wait longer and be with a "good" agency. Why take chances switching to a smaller, faster (in our minds, therefore shadier) agency? We will have to answer to this child one day. So we waited. 

Along the way I became an advocate for PAPs to demand that audio recording of the birth family meetings should take place. One more way to keep things transparent. They eventually agreed, and I took that as reinforcement that they were doing this the "right" way.

When we finally got the call, we were overwhelmed. The 20 month wait was worth it! We had a detailed history for our son, and we would be meeting his mother when we traveled in order to verify it. We passed court (before the two trip rule) and got set up for travel.

Once we arrived, we were told that we wouldn't be receiving our son's lifebook until after we got back home. The rain had made the roads impossible, and they were unable to make it out to where his mother lived. But they would do it, we would just have to wait until the weather was better.

A few days later we took the long ride to a "neutral" place to meet with our group's children's birthfamilies. Hours later we arrived and our name was called first. The social worker pulled us aside and said that our son's mother could not be found. We would not be meeting with her. We were devastated. We had our tape recorder. We had our list of things to talk about. Pictures of our son to give her. A map to show where we live. We didn't even know what she looked like. 

At our Embassy appointment a few days later, we were asked several questions, one of which was "Did his mother appear at court?" I had always heard that if the family members didn't show, the court date was rescheduled. So I was shocked to hear the social worker with us answer, "No, she did not." I felt like I had been punched. I also felt I could say nothing. We had been warned that one wrong word at the window and we wouldn't be bringing home our son. As soon as we were done I cornered the woman and demanded to know how we had passed court if his mother was not there. She said she only knew what was in the file and she couldn't help me.

I was eventually told by another social worker that his mother had not been seen since she relinquished him, and they did not know where she was. I asked how they could promise me that a lifebook was coming if they didn't know where she was. They said they would find her and take care of it. They promised to look through our son's file and try to find at least a picture of his mother.

On our last evening in country, we met with the head of the the Ethiopia staff for what was obviously supposed to be a pat on his back. He asked the group about our experiences, and we were supposed to say how wonderful it was. I broke down and said that we were very upset that we didn't even know what our son's mother looked like. He seemed put off that I was upset, and answered that if people disappear, there is nothing that can be done. Someone gave us a picture of our son with his mother, obviously taken at the time of relinquishment. So now at least we knew what she looked like. 

When we got home, I called the agency repeatedly demanding they try to find his mother, as the Ethiopian staff had promised. I was told they do not go searching for families. That would be inappropriate. I told them I was infuriated that one of the main reasons we chose them was because of the birth family meetings and the lifebooks. No one ever said there was a chance you would get neither. Six months after we came home we were sent a lifebook full of people who knew our son's mother. If I had not thrown a tantrum, I am sure we would have never heard from them again.

We have felt wrong about things since we left Ethiopia. A few months ago we started researching searchers. We finally decided on one and hired him. In two days he was able to locate my son's mother and father. 

Some of her story matched what the referral information said, mostly identifying information. But all of the important information was fabricated. Someone she didn't know met her and found out she was struggling and told her about an orphanage miles away that would "educate and take care of" her son. She took him there right away. They paid her a small amount of money and put her up with a job in the same town. She was told she could go to visit him and breast feed him, but when she tried to do just that, the orphanage staff told her she was coming too frequently. A few times when she went she was told he was in Addis having specialists take care of him. The last time she saw him she felt pressured to stop coming, so she said she wanted to take him back. They convinced her to leave him since he was asleep. She saw him sleeping that one last time, and the next time she went to visit she was told that he was adopted to America.

Our son's father never knew she was pregnant. She did not want him to be involved in our son's life. She wishes that we not stay in contact with him. She has since married wishes that her new husband not know about all of this. Some other major things have changed since her son was taken from her, all of which add up to: he cannot be returned to her. 

I have since examined our son's court paperwork, and it appears his case was processed as though he was abandoned, even though the agency knew his mother.

We are sick and still processing what all of this means to our family. There are not words to describe the hell that we are in. I am sure that is also true for his mother. We hope to one day find some kind of peace. I guess I felt the need to share our story (even anonymously) so that people will know there is no "right" way to do this. Even the "good" agencies aren't good. The ET staff is a completely separate entity than the US staff you are talking to. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Falsified Record and Coercion of First Family

My husband and I began our second Ethiopian Adoption back in 2008. We had brought
home our beautiful son in 2006. We wanted children so badly and fell in love with the
country, the people, and of course our son. We knew our daughter was also "waiting" for
us there. Our story causes us heartbreak not only because of what happened to our child
and her family, but how selfish and naive we were. In hindsight, we genuinely didn't
know--we hadn't found the forums--we had heard the Guatemala stories, but that was
there. Right? Sadly this reasoning was just not so as we had come to learn.
We started with one of the bigger agencies in Ethiopia to wait for our little one. When
they had increased the wait time from 6-9 months to 12-18 months our hearts broke.
How could we possibly wait so “long”? A friend also starting her adoption at the same
time told us about <agency> , how wonderful and personal the
attention was. It was also run by an Ethiopian woman. What could be better?? We
talked with them and got signed up right away. When we went back to the other agency
to let them know we had switched, they questioned us repeatedly if it was the right
thing to do. They refused to release our home study to the agency. They made us feel
horrible—now I realize they knew things we didn’t.
We received our referral September 2008 before our dossier was even complete. We saw
a picture of a beautiful, healthy 10 month old. She sat sitting upright in a chair looking
curiously at the camera. Her cheeks were full, eyes were bright, it was the face of a well
loved child. She instructed us that if we didn’t turn our dossier in right away she would
give our daughter to someone else. She had to be moved to the orphanage right away and
could only do so with a paper ready family. We were told that her birthmother had been
raped and she wished to place the child, so she could move on with her life. We moved
quickly and got all our paperwork turned in. We were given a court date of January 2,
2009. At that point I had inquired on our list serve for the agency if any of the other
parents knew where their child was living. I had never even thought to ask where she
was or who was caring for her. I directed the question several times to the agency and
those went unanswered. A woman working for the agency promised she would find
out…she returned with a response regarding another child. Adoptive parents came and
went from Ethiopia, none returning with pictures of my darling baby girl. My heart sank.
I knew how the director had treated other families who questioned her, so I kept my
mouth shut and kept waiting. She had threatened other families to take away referrals. I
couldn’t let that happen. January came and we didn’t pass court. There was a letter that
was missing. Finally in February an AP returned with another set of pictures. I studied
each of the children intently hoping to find her. I posted on-line that I believed picture
187 was her. Much debate ensued about whether it was the child taken back by her
birthmother or if it was my baby. I couldn’t tell. This child appeared younger, smaller,
and unhappy. I cried staring at my computer screen. I once again reached out for help
from my agency and the call went unanswered. I had no idea where she was, if this was
her, and what was happening. Other families who had travelled guessed that by looking
at the pictures she was living at Kidane Mihret Children’s Home.

By middle February, we were exhausted and just praying that the adoption would
work out. We passed court on February 13, 2009 and prepared to travel to Ethiopia on February 25, 2009. We went to Kidane Mihret nearly immediately after leaving our hotel the following day. We stopped at the guest house to drop our things off and pick up the other families. When we arrived we
were greeted by a couple of the sisters who run the orphanage. The head sister asked if
we were there for “Feven”. I said “no” and repeated my daughter’s name all the while
the staff were video taping with our camcorder the interaction. Sister said she did not
have a child by that name. She thought we were there for Feven. They began speaking in
Amharic and stated they would be right back. I could feel the anger building. I wasn’t
sure even at that moment I would return with my daughter. They reappeared after what
seemed like an eternity with a sweet baby girl in their arms. They called her by the name
we knew and all the distress melted away. It was her, she was real. She matched the
referral picture.

The next days seemed like a blur, my travel partner and I vowed to get the hell out of
Ethiopia ASAP. It was not what I had felt before at all, the magic was gone and I was
suddenly faced with a horrible reality of what was going on. I was in a state of emotional
shock. At the care center run by the agency, pregnant woman roamed the grounds, they
breast fed their children, and they cared for the others. The director gloated about how
she “saved” these women and in exchange for their children got them work and housing.
When we met our daughter’s birthmom, we did so only with the translation help of the
director. As the birthmom began to tell her story she cried and I cried along with her.
The director remarked to me “don’t cry for her.” She was so cold and treated her mother
as if she meant nothing. Her mom came back everyday requesting to spend time with her
daughter, she even offered to take her while we went sight seeing. I said “no.” I thought
she would steal her from me…seems funny now. Not ha,ha funny, but…

During one visit, in which we had no interpreter, we hadn’t had one since the first night,
she looked at me and said in broken English, “I don’t like sister [Agency director’s name]
she promise me transportation, money.” I gave her several Birr, not really understanding
what she meant. She smiled and took it. I must have given her maybe $25 US. The
last night in Ethiopia, her mother came again. She planned to stay until we went to
the airport. We began to eat dinner and she did not join us at the table. I insisted and
she looked at the director and shook her head. I demanded that she eat with us and the
director agreed. Toward the end of the dinner, the director said something to her in
another language (Amharic or Oromo) and she began to cry, stood up, and walked out. I sat there confused about what happened. We boarded the plane that night relieved that
we were finally out of what we had dubbed “the Twilight Zone”.

We arrived back in the US on March 8, 2009. I had never felt so happy to touch
American soil. I squeezed my daughter tightly thankful we had made it out and I vowed
to never look back. Our next days at home were over run with doctor’s appointments,
settling in, and sharing pictures with other APs. About three days after arriving home,
my dear little one could not stop vomiting. She was in my doctor’s words “the most ill
adopted child I have ever seen.” She did not have much room to lose anything else, so
she was admitted to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. They ran tests to check
for giardia and other common infectious diseases in the area. It was on that Saturday we
received the most devastating news: she was testing positive for HIV antibodies. That
coupled with enlarged nodes on her neck and in her groin, the vomiting and the diarrhea,
the thrush in her mouth—the doctors feared the worse, that she was HIV positive and we
were horribly unprepared.

We were counseled on next steps, DNA PCR testing and RNA testing to determine
viral load. They asked if her mother was positive, we said no, we also informed them
she had tested negative on the last DNA PCR test performed by the embassy. That
could mean one of two things, our baby girl was recently infected or her mother had
passed on the antibodies to her. I called the agency and posted on the agency forum
what we were faced with. I demanded answers. I received a panicked phone call from
the woman running the US Office, explaining they were all so sorry, her mother tested
negative three times, but that during a formula shortage in 2008/2009 she may have
been wet nursed at the orphanage. I was never informed of the wet nurse practice. I had
contributed, along with other PAPs to the supply of formula that was sent to the agency.
We had been asked to no longer send it because one of the orphanage directors was
selling the formula, per our agency director’s report. So now a new piece to the puzzle--
was she infected by a wet nurse?

Another week passed by and we received test results, our daughter had no detectable
disease and had tested negative on the DNA PCR test. She did not have the HIV virus,
but sadly her mother does. We were relieved, but then were faced by a new blow. Our agency director posted on their agency forum the
following letter:
Dear Families,
The <agency> wanted to take a moment to thank those
of you who have been advocates for our agency and its missions. So many of
you have helped our small agency grow and improve. We truly appreciate your
insights and suggestions that have come through this Yahoo Group; <agency> would
not be where it is today without them. .....
The Yahoo Group has been a wonderful tool to keep our clients in touch.
However, it has come to our attention that a few clients have been abusing
the purpose of this group. We have received many complaints from clients
about the use and misuse of this Yahoo Group and it has been hard for <agency> 

to keep up with fixing the many problems caused by baseless postings. <agency>
needs to have its focus entirely on our clients and their adoption journeys.
We want all of our time and efforts to be spent on the adoption
process/children in Ethiopia rather than spending valuable time clearing up
rumors and false accusations that start on the Yahoo Group.
For example, a particular family stated on this Yahoo Group that their child
returned from Ethiopia and tested HIV-Positive. The agency was shocked and
of course the readers of the group were as well. The post turned out to not
only be untrue, but the misinformation caused much damage. The birth mother
of this child was turned out of her home because news of her being
"HIV-Positive" had quickly spread to her home town. The birth mother was
tested 3 times before and after her child was given to <agency> and all 3 times
she test HIV-Negative. But because of faulty information posted on the
internet, it was believed she was carrying the virus and compelled by the
circumstances, she had to leave her town. This woman has every reason and
right to be angry with <agency> and would have the ability to damage our
mission. Instead of taking action against us she thankfully came back to <agency>-ET 

for help. She was in need of a job and a place to live because she
was turned out of her home.
Detailed updates from my recent visit to Ethiopia are currently being worked
on for presentation to our clients. We have made many beneficial changes in
Ethiopia that we are really thrilled to share with you.
 (agency director)

I still read this and feel as though I might vomit. We had begun our work with an
attorney several months prior to this, in anticipation of a wrongful adoption case had
our daughter tested positive for the virus. Thankfully prior to this e-mail being sent on
the public listserve, I had received information from another PAP that was in Ethiopia
informing me of what actually happened. My child’s birthmother had gone to the
director and the agency seeking help, the help she was promised. She had no food and
no money. She was given some money and turned back to the streets. This from the
agency with a reported “women’s empowerment program.” I needed help. Lots of help.
Someone to find the truth for me, for us. Thankfully, there were several reporters already
on the ground in Ethiopia beginning to investigate the reports of corruption. This was
2009. One of them reached out and offered to go see her mother. I booked tickets for
June 12th with arrival June 13th preparing to return our daughter to her mother. I told
my husband he would have to do it. I couldn’t. The reporter arrived in Addis and shared
with me that her mother was not given anything for our daughter but had been promised
help. Her mother reported she knew our daughter would have a better life in the US
and wished for her to stay with us. She asked however for reports of her well being,
pictures, and to see her again. She shared that she wants our daughter to be involved in
her life. Further her mother went on to share that when the director learned of our child’s
test results she had gone after her physically. Telling those in her village she was HIV
positive. The agency director was the reason those in her community knew. She was
hurt as she ran away from her and sought medical attention. On video she shows the
scars that remain.
We hired a talented Ethiopian man to compile a life book video with the true story of
our daughter’s relinquishment. How she had come to know the agency director, what
her thoughts and feelings were when she relinquished. She also talks about that first
day seeing our daughter since relinquishment, how skinny and sick she was, how she
questioned whether it was even her. We got on video the facts, not what the agency
director told us or other families about our case. It was straight from the horse’s mouth.
We learned that she had met the director through a church friend. She was told that she
could relinquish her daughter to the orphanage and she would be adopted to the US. She
was told she would be well cared for. In exchange she could get help finding work and
transportation. I also learned her mother was a member of the OLF and the director was
active in the OPDO an opposing political organization. Her mother had been a victim of
torture and while imprisoned met a man. She had a relationship with him, there was no
rape. She even hoped our daughter would meet her father one day.
The biggest blow
came however, when my attorney received a letter from their attorney accusing us of
defamation and libel. They were threatening to take us to court. I continued to tell the
truth and showed the attorneys that I could back it up. I was terrified. We did not have
the money to fight, but I was not going to roll over and allow them to bully me, my child,
my family, or her mother. The legal saga continued as stories regarding the agency
continued to pour out. The agency demanded $75,000 from us for their trouble, their loss
of clients they were now blaming on us. Their trouble?!!!!
I got to see the end <agency> and while it is so sweet, I still hurt for the other families.
I still hurt for my child’s mother.