Imagine a young girl, unwed, just giving birth. The father is ashamed of his daughter and worried about what other villagers think of his family. So ashamed and worried that he takes his daughter’s 2 month old baby girl one morning and returns home later in the day alone. He confesses to the young mother that he brought her innocent newborn to an orphanage to be adopted.
That baby is my daughter.
I am the one who adopted her.
On referral, we were told that baby M’s parents (aged in the 30’s) had passed away from unknown illnesses. That she had been taken care of by her grandfather and he just couldn’t care for her anymore while taking care of 5 other children. Supposedly, these 5 other children were the baby’s older siblings.
As sad as this story is, it was one we could understand. One that we could see happening in a third world country like Ethiopia. We didn’t question it. We moved on. We flew to Addis to pick up our new daughter.
My husband and I visited and spoke with M’s grandfather in the Sidama region. We asked him questions about the daughter he lost too soon. After trying to find the right words, so as not to sadden or insult him, we even asked him how her mother and father died. He was a quiet, reserved man and even though he didn’t give us the best answers, we believed him. We had no reason not to.
Upon returning from Ethiopia, we made a book for M explaining all that we knew about her short little life in words that a toddler might understand. We prayed for her grandfather and her siblings every night. We grieved over the loss of her parents on special occasions such as Mother’s and Father’s Day. We sent letters, as well as pictures, to M’s grandfather and siblings often.
We were comfortable in explaining this story to her, because as sucky as it is to lose your parents, at least we could tell her, without any doubt, that her parents loved her.
Fast forward to more recently, 1 ½ years after M is home with us. We had heard from other Ethiopian adoptive families that they were sending someone to find the birth families again (or for the first time in some cases). They received videos and pictures back for their children to cherish as they get older. My husband and I decided to try this. We wanted to see if we could get a few more simple questions answered and more pictures of her grandfather as well as her brothers and sisters.
Our searcher went to Sidama and returned after 1 week. He said he was going to translate some things for us and send us a DVD of pictures and videos soon after. But first, he said, he would send us a teaser. A picture or two.
It was tease, alright.
One picture was labeled “M’s birthmother and grandfather”
Scrambling a coherent email back, we asked him to confirm this. Or to, pretty please, tell us that was a mistake.
He wrote back saying that it was no mistake. The young girl, a teenager, in the picture was her mother. He said that telling the orphanage that she had died was the only way they thought they could have M adopted. He stated that M’s mother was not married and it is very shameful to have a baby out of wedlock.
Sitting tight, we waited for the DVD to make sense of this all. Because, of course, now we have so many more questions we want answers to. Like: How old is this girl? Our daughter’s mother. Was it her decision to bring M to the orphanage? And, where is her father? Is he still alive? If so, were they in love? Or was it a violent relationship?
We received the DVD about 1 month later. Scared out of our minds, we popped it in to our computer. The pictures are priceless. The videos are priceless (in Sidamic and Amharic, no less. We are going to have someone else translate for us). In particular, there is a video of M’s mother speaking. In our searcher’s explanation it says that M’s mom (who has a completely different name than we were told and that is on her birth certificate) had no idea that her father was taking M to an orphanage. She said that she cried and cried and cried when he told her. And when the searcher tried to ask any questions about M’s father, the grandfather kept on telling her to be quiet. The grandfather also asked us not to tell the agency any of this new information. Oh and just to add another gem of a fact, M’s “siblings” are not true siblings at all. They are her aunts and uncles.
Of course, the agency didn’t know the truth. They couldn’t have. This protective and strict father provided a good story. A different name. Different age even.
Just because the agency does not know the truth, doesn’t make this situation right. It doesn’t make our adoption any less unethical. They were lied to. We were lied to. Her mother was lied to. And in the end, our daughter has been lied to.
How could this situation have been different? If the grandfather AND her mother wanted her to be adopted, would that have been allowed? On the other hand, could the agency or the government have done anything differently to find out the facts before allowing M to be adopted? DNA tests? Hire an investigator? Interview more villagers?
I just keep thinking about that poor young girl. Having a beautiful baby girl on one day. And then losing her the next without even knowing it was coming. I am so sad for M. Disgusted at the father. And just heartbroken for the one person that probably loves my daughter more than I do. Her birth mom.