Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Prenatal Care = Orphan Prevention

Lisa Rieb is our guest today. She is the adoptive Mother of Moses. A tiny portion of his story can be found here and here. The rest of his story is unfolding in Wyoming right now.

* * * *

By Lisa Rieb

Most women (65%) in Haiti have no access to prenatal care and give birth at home, often resulting in maternal death or infant death. We don't fully know our son Moses' birth history, but putting clues together has led us to believe he suffered a brain injury at birth, causing his cerebral palsy. His birth mother most likely gave birth at home with little to no help, and nowhere to go if she faced complications. The fact that she was able to care for him as long as she did speaks to her great love and nurturing of him until his disability became to great a burden to bear. We are firm supporters of what Heartline Ministries in Haiti offers women. Prenatal care, labor and delivery services, lactation suppor, child development education, midwifery care, and so much more. We know that what they do keeps women and children safe and together. This is orphan prevention. Loving the mothers and children of Haiti like we would love ourselves and our sisters and friends. I can't help but wonder how life for Moses would be different had his birth mom had the love and care available through the Heartline programs. We are privileged to be his parents. He is a precious boy full of Joy, even in disability. We think his life story is meant to be shared as a testimony of how we should care for our neighbors whether near or far. Seeing Beth, Tara, Wini, and Andrema (and many others!) in action while I was in Haiti was an experience I'll never forget. They really do love their jobs, love the people of Haiti well, and do the hard work not only of delivering babies, but of entering into the messy relationships of life in order to be grace and mercy to Haitian women and children. Won't you consider supporting their ministry with a one time donation or monthly donation? Maybe you would like to do this in honor of Moses and his brave birth mom. Perhaps you want to give in honor of a child you or a friend has lost. The gifts are a way to say we are for our neighbors in Haiti and for their families. 
Thank you!

To give, please go here to donate. If you would like to learn about other options for giving, please write to teri.white @

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunday is coming ...

This photo was taken in 2011. It is the area of Haiti where over 100,000 people have relocated post-earthquake to a dusty mountainside area. This is Antoinette.  She is a good friend from the days of the field-hospital. She taught many of us after the quake and continues to do so today. Antoinette lives with hope that Friday's suffering will lead to Sunday's resurrection. 

Photo Credit: Esther Havens

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I find myself in an unusual position.

Or  ... Maybe this happens to you all the time.

Three kids, two dogs, one morning before school.

One morning last week I stood in the kitchen pouring caffeinated goodness, the steaming hot breath of life, into my favorite coffee-mug when Geronne walked up to me and said she had a message from the neighbors.

I jumped immediately into worry knowing that it has taken some time to be decent friends with our neighbors. Loud kids and loud generators make for rough relationships. We have worked so much out over the years, I sure hoped nothing had happened to put us back on their bad side.

Geronne went on to explain that the wife of the couple really thinks our Shih Tzu, Chestnut, is a lovely dog. Geronne has lived with us a long time. She actually used all Kreyol to tell me this, save one word. She used the English word cute. "Yo renmen ti shin ou, yo panse li cute." (They love your little dog, they think he's cute.)

Okay, I said, and so what if they think he is cute?

Geronne went on to explain that they want to know if Chestnut will "fè bagay" with their little female dog. I know what fè  bagay means, but I must have looked at her funny because Geronne clarified and said, "ou konnen, fè sèks". (you know, have sex) 

I laughed it off and said that we have already asked Kelly, the famous Haiti Vet, to roast the nuts of Chestnut and make him into a celibate man. Geronne said, "Yes, I told them that but they want him to come over before Kelly does that."

The week got busy, friends came to visit, some babies were born at Heartline, I did not think about those propositioning neighbors or their ovulating little Chihuahua again.

Friday night there was a knock at the gate. Knocks at the gate after midday are pretty uncommon. Lydia opened the gate and the neighbors (both husband and wife) moseyed on into the yard.  Troy and I went out and did all the kissing back and forth, give yourself vertigo, greetings. 

We regained our balance and made small talk for a tiny second before the wife asked if Geronne had told me how much they love Chestnut and how their dog is looking for a lover.  

I said, yes, yes , she told me.  From there an utterly bizarre conversation, half Kreyol half English and interchanging the two, took place. Things were said that I don't think are normal or even okay.

We stood chatting about how handsome Chestnut is and their little dog's period and then wondering aloud together when they are supposed to hook up? I said during "règ li" (her period) and the neighbor thought afterward. The wife even explained the way she thought the girl dog looks down in her nether regions, when the boy dog is wise to head over wearing his best cologne and cowboy boots for added height. 

(Oh. Wait!?!  Is that just a Troy thing? Scratch that.)  

After lots of speculating between people that have never ever bred dogs we decided that some Google-ing and research (and a lot of stalling on my part) was in order as was a talk with Chestnut about how he feels about being used for his seeds like that. I happen to know that Chestnut is a deep feeler and he is going to want more than just some cheap hook-up. 

Our sons were adamant that if they are going to let Chestnut go do the nasty with some random and unspecial (to them) Chihuahua, they want one of the puppies.  I told them we don't really want another little dog. The boys said, forget it then, Chestnut is not available to be used and thrown away like that if there was nothing for them to gain from it. 

The problem remains that the neighbors still want our dog to come over for a little dinner and hanky panky and we don't really know if we want our little guy doing that stuff.  Their dog doesn't seem good enough for him, number one.  Number two, what if it consumes his mind from then forward and we never get our innocent little Chessy back again? This could lead to a snowball effect of a whole lot of problems that we are simply not savvy enough to deal with well.

I may hide from them for a few days, or claim Chestnut fell very ill, or have Kelly the Vet come declare him infertile, or just make him infertile. 

I want to end this story by saying these funny neighbors are strange and pushy about getting our male Shih Tzu with their girl-dog  ... But the other day Noah took issue with calling people strange.  

I guess it can be said that this whole thing, with hooking dogs up cross culturally, is a kind of different that we just aren't used to yet. 

(also, strange!)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On taking women home ...

Comfort is not a soft, weakening commiseration; it is true, strengthening love.

Rosenie five hours after giving birth, reading her Bible in postpartum...

Rosenie stayed with us a little over 48 hours. We took her to her home on Saturday afternoon.

* * * * * *

Arrival at Rosenie's home ...

Looking back toward Port au Prince (and the ambulance you all helped us buy!) from her house...

 Lydia asking to hold Schenieder, he is Rosenie's 3rd child ...

"We will never become the people of hope and blessing 
we're meant to be until we learn how to wake up and 
pay attention to the glory and pain, 
beauty and suffering that are in lives all around us."

The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love

Prayer for their family and prayers of thanksgiving for a healthy, safe delivery.
Rosenie's husband had to work and couldn't join us.
(Below -L to R - Carline and daughter Wilna, Lydia, Rosenie, Emma, Baleline and son) 

Carline delivered two weeks ago and has needed to stay for nursing encouragement and support, Emma is pregnant and living at the Maternity Center until she delivers because she lives in a rough area. She worried she would not be able to leave to come to us if she went into labor in the night. Baleline is a young Mom that delivered 4 weeks early and stayed in postpartum longer due to her small baby. They all came on the ride outside of the city to bring Rosenie home. It was a fun field trip that boosted morale for all of us. 

Driving back to Port au Prince  - something is very hilarious...

One of the most special moments in the process of getting to know these strong ladies is the joy and honor of being allowed an opportunity to take them home. 

We all attempt to know one another better throughout the entire program and process. During intake, prenatal care, class time, labor, delivery, and postpartum care, we slowly build relationships. 

Back in the first year of doing this, it used to be intimidating to me to wind deep into neighborhoods uncertain if I'd ever find my way out.  I remember averting the job of discharging and transporting in the beginning, leaving it to others whenever possible. Avoiding visiting their homes saved my heart from pain. At times their suffering and living situations are difficult to see. Truth be told, it is much easier not to see it up close. 

Something changed once I recognized that sorrow and joy and pain and triumph all constantly dance together. They are a paradox far too intertwined to experience one without the other.  

While it might bring a measure of heaviness, I now know what an honor it is to be on their turf, to see and experience life sitting in their chairs, in their homes.  

It can be culturally and socially awkward, but as we sit there all fidgety and unsure and we are willing to be a bit uncomfortable together and allow that awkwardness, it almost always builds trust. 

Part of what we hope to do during our time with the women that pass through the programs is to offer them an unusual comfort and kindness. Bringing them home, instead of having them take crowded public transportation is one way we can love and comfort them. 

The word comfort is from two Latin words that mean "with" and "strong".  God is with these women and He makes them strong.  He is with us and He makes us strong. Amy Carmichael said, "Comfort is not a soft, weakening commiseration; it is true, strengthening love."  I hope that sort of comfort is what Haitian women are experiencing as they are brought home after giving birth. 


Other posts about going home ...

All Photos courtesy of Jenny Duhm

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Marathons, Mamas, McHouls

last 20 mile training run
In September of 2005 my husband and I walked into an unusually stifling hot home near the Port-au-Prince airport. The most giant dogs either of us had ever seen lumbered toward us, huge strings of drool flying off of them, as we stepped through the door. 

An oddly dressed man with wild hair and a strange accent offered each of us a wrist bump, rather than a handshake. I caught Troy's eye and said with my raised eyebrow look, "Yikes! Weirdo!"  
We advanced into the kitchen where a beautiful woman introduced herself as Beth McHoul, the woman whom I had first written to on a marathon training Yahoo group earlier that year. It was so fun to meet someone I had only exchanged emails with up until that point.
We made small talk for a few moments  before Troy was whisked off for an afternoon with the scary looking guy that we thought was loitering at Beth's house. As it turned out, he was Mr. Beth. 
My husband, Troy, spent the next few hours watching the madman at work. I went with Beth to a beautiful and small little children's home where a handful of children in the adoption process were living. Beth explained that for many years they had been processing adoptions. She said that the quality of care was the most important objective and that her ministry was about offering the highest quality care. 
That night, we laid in one of the hottest rooms in the history of the universe, inside the McHouls house, whispering back and forth about these interesting McHoul people. Troy told me stories about his day. He said John had been negotiating for a car repair and had quickly said to Troy, "Stand right here, I am going to fall down, catch me." He proceeded to feign a heart attack over the price and actually fall down.  We talked all through the night, mostly because nobody newish to Haiti sleeps in heat like that.
Beth and I woke up to go for a run together before Troy and I headed to the airport. We ran about five miles, chatting about marathons, training, and exchanging running stories and plans for the future. We hoped to move to Haiti and I told her I hoped we could be friends, even if we lived in another area of the country.
That was our first introduction to John and Beth McHoul. We did not anticipate working with them. We did not yet know that Heartline would send those children I had met in their children's home to America all at once after a huge earthquake. We did not anticipate that we would one day be able to work in the area of Maternal Health and women's education and empowerment in Haiti. We did not know that the McHouls would serve as our mentors and teachers. I did not know that Beth would become my running partner for years and years to come.
I wish I had kept track of the miles and hours Beth and I have logged together. I don't know how many it is, but I know it is a lot. We have laughed and cried and had countless memorable things happen along our favorite running routes over the years. There have been times where we stopped running to pray for friends, to pray for Haiti, to pray for our adult children. Running is a spiritual discipline, serving two or more purposes for both of us. 
We trained for two races together in 2009 and it felt like that entire summer and fall were spent encouraging one another to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We left Haiti a week before the earthquake to go run a marathon in Florida. The night before the Florida marathon Beth said, "Hey, I know we have not finished tomorrow's race and this is hard to decide right now, but my sister said that she thinks we can have two charity runner numbers for the 2010 Boston Marathon."  I gave Beth a 'WHAT!?!' look. 
"Just think about it", she said.
On January 11, 2010 I flew home to Haiti sore and happy that the Florida marathon had gone well.  
The next day the earth shook for 45 seconds and life changed drastically for millions. We never spoke of running Boston again. There was no time to train and nowhere to train. For the next few months there wasn't much time to sleep either. The year of 2010 quickly became something entirely different for all of us.
Here we are, four plus years post-earthquake. All of the children that the McHouls were caring for at the time of the earthquake have been with their families in the USA for a long time.  

The earthquake meant that Heartline Ministries could transition fully into programs for women that would help keep children with their mothers. The tiny program that had begun in 2008 to offer maternal health care has grown into a full-scale program serving 45 pregnant women at a time and 45 brand new mothers at a time. The Women's education center has grown too. Women are learning to read, write, sew, and make a living for their families in Haiti.
This month  - in just two weeks - Beth is finally getting her chance to run Boston on a charity number.  
The Boston Marathon is an institution. The most gifted runners in the world try to qualify for Boston. These are fast, intense, hard-core athletes. If you know a serious distance runner, you might know how important Boston is.  
For Beth and I, speed is not a thing. We are not elite runners, we are not fast. I do think, however, that Beth is hard-core. Beth has a fused back from childhood scoliosis and surgery. That means she works even harder than most runners. I know she works harder than I do. While her race is not about speed, it is about perseverance. 
Today, just two weeks until Boston Marathon race day, I am asking you to support Beth. I am asking you to pray for her, for the work she does in Haiti, for the training she has left to do, for her race day legs and endurance, for her ongoing race in Haiti.  I am asking you to give.  Offering Labor and Delivery services and Prenatal care and education in Haiti costs in more than just emotional dollars. We need your support, we need NEW people to hear about the work here. Please help us. Please support Beth.  (On the right side of this blog, at the top you will see a Pure Charity widget that offers you a chance to give to Beth's Boston Marathon for Haitian Women.)
Her race is about endurance and about pushing through.  Her 25 year long race working in Haiti and her 26 mile long race at the Boston Marathon will look very similar.  Things get really hard. It becomes tiring. At times it feels like there is no finish line, no victory.  The path is unknown and the hills so steep they feel impossible to climb. Beth pushes through the mental and physical roadblocks. She faces adversity in her work and in her running in a way that teaches all of us that stand on the sidelines cheering for her.

The following post was written by Beth a couple of months ago ...

By Beth McHoul
I grew up in Boston. We call it Bahhhst-inn, which is the official pronunciation, by the way. Life called us away from Boston to a resource-poor island in the Caribbean many years ago. Although I haven’t lived there in 25 years, my husband and I still carry our accents and our Bostonian pride with us. We don’t pronounce our ‘R’s and Boston is still home.
The Boston Marathon bombings rendered me senseless last year. I anxiously waited until the news came that my running sister, who had been a mile from the finish, was safe.  My team of co-workers and midwives here in Haiti, a world away from Boston, worried with me. We prayed and stalked Internet news, sitting on the edge of our chairs as each new piece of information was released.  I am no stranger to upheaval; my own world here in Haiti is often volatile and full of chaos.
This was unnerving, my other world in turmoil. Boston, home, where I go to visit family. It is safe, rock solid, and a place of comfort – until last year when terror touched her too.
The Boston Marathon has always been a huge event in my life.  “Marathon Monday” is a holiday like none other, although we take St Patrick’s Day pretty seriously, too.
My sister, Charleen, has run Boston over a dozen times and she knows every landmark, every hill (big and small) and every water stop.  Calvary Chapel, our running club, mans the water stop at Heartbreak Hill.  Heartbreak – the defining point in the marathon, the hills that conquer your soul.  The hills that tell you, you are almost done!  Six more miles to go and you have made personal history.
Calvary Chapel’s running club offered me the rare and incredible gift of an invitational number to run Boston this year.  This most important year.  The comeback year.  The year that wins over terror.  The crowds will be back, the fans will cheer, the runners will run and evil will not win the day.
I will be among the runners.  I’ll be in that crowd. I’ll make my statement. I’ll run to say that other people matter and evil cannot overcome good.  I get to be a part of that every day in Haiti, where women who would typically get no prenatal care come to our Maternity Center for care and a safe birth.  I’m part of a team that supports women through pregnancy, birth, and child development.  Moms and babies live. Every safe birth crushes the unfairness of poverty just a tiny bit.
I will run Boston this year.  I’ll train here on the chaotic streets of Port-au-Prince. This older American woman will be part of the hectic morning scenery these next few months. I’ll bob along with my water bottle and navigate the busy streets as if I were trail running.  I’ll encounter pigs and goats, school kids and merchants, overloaded trucks, UN tanks, rocks and obstacles of every variety. This is my norm.  I live here.  I love this place.  It is home, too.
This particular 26.2 mile run is personal. This is my grand finale as an aging marathoner training in the midst of a third world city.  Also, my run is public. I am asking supporters everywhere to pledge money towards Heartline Ministries in Haiti to fight poverty and injustice.
Heartline provides literacy training, sewing school, cooking school, prenatal care, safe birth, post partum care, and a men’s bakery.   These programs equip folks to care for themselves.
I’m running to show support to my hometown and I’m running to show support to my adopted country.
Every runner tells bombs they can’t win.  Every fan, every cheer, every person on the sidelines are telling terror it is not welcome here.  Every foot strike pounding the roads from Hopkington to Boston shouts evil does not win.  It can’t win in Boston and it can’t win here in Haiti. We stand against terror with Boston.  We stand against poverty for Haiti.  Stand with us!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Listen More

I stole some words of wisdom from my Uncle for my post (find it here) over at A Life Overseas this month. 

Below is my Uncle's entire post, I hope it speaks to your heart. It did mine.

By Rick Porter - Winks, Whispers, and Wonders
The world is a garish, noisy neighborhood. Decibels and pixels abound. The phone in my pocket spews more information in hours than I can assimilate in years. I’m reminded of my college speech prof who counseled tongue-in-cheek, “Shout louder if your argument is weak.” There’s a whole lot of shouting these days.
The prophet Elijah lived in distracted times. Faith in Israel’s God was at low ebb. People were frantically worshiping other things. Power structures were arrayed against Elijah to silence his invitation to passionate faith in the One True God. In the chaos, Elijah wanted to hear The Voice. So he sought a quiet place and waited. A contemporary Bible version records, “A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.”
Even today, hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires add noise to news. Whispers are intimate treasures easily lost in the hub-bub. God was in the whisper.
Sometimes God speaks up. C. S. Lewis wrote that He shouts in our pain. Psalm 19 declares that He “pours forth speech” by way of the universe. The book of Hebrews says in the past He spoke through prophets but nowadays has uttered Himself through Jesus. Jesus said we don’t live by bread alone but by Words from God’s mouth. Jesus also said He would send the invisible person of God, the Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth” by speaking to us.
It seems that God is verbal, but, like a good a teacher, He lowers His voice to invite attention. He is the human whisperer. When we slow down, get away, or are laid up for a time, His whispers may be heard as shouts. It’s all relative. Like the ticking clock unheard except in solitude, God is always speaking. He shows up, winking His love and inviting us on an eternal adventure. We dare not settle for cheap noise lest we miss The Voice.
Elizabeth Barret Browning described this in visual terms. “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
How we hear or see God is likely as diverse as our styles and personalities. But we best begin in quietude. If you really want to hear Him and know Him, let the chaos of contemporary life settle. Listen for the whisper. Watch for the wink. Your faith will be encouraged and your life enriched. We dare not lose the best of forever in the noise of now.

To go to the other post at A Life Overseas, Click HERE.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Open International Adoption - Is that a thing?

Part II

See Part I  first, please.

Hope with her older sister in 2012

During an adoption, please try to meet the birth parent if at all possible or allowed. If the child you are adopting is a true orphan, try to meet an aunt or a grandma or connect with the nanny that cared for him/her if possible. Take photos if allowed. After you adopt, please try to send them photos and updates once a year or more if at all possible or allowed. You may see no need for it, but it is a kind thing to do and it provides someone with less power a way to feel a little bit of peace. Most birth families just want to know the child is well. The cell phone and Internet make contact much less complicated. If sending photos by snail mail is your only option, try to do that. 

When our children grow up, they are going to ask us things about their first family. The more we can tell them, the better. Making contact after many years is more difficult than just having it from the start. (This is not illegal in Haitian adoptions. I cannot speak to the rules of other countries.) 

I urge you to see a documentary called Closure if you have not been exposed to adult adoptees wanting and needing to find their first family. 

I am only guessing, but I bet most adoptive parents cannot consider a trip to the country of their child's birth.  For those that can now, or think they might in the distant future, the questions below were posed by adoptive parents.  I don't know many of the answers. I am not going to make answers up, I can't answer all the questions.  

Every kid is different, every situation is unique. Most of what I have learned is from listening to my own kids and to adult adoptees and hearing them say that the information about their birth families mattered to them. I did not force my kids to meet their birth families. I waited for my kids to ask and be interested. 

In Part III I will share along with our two older kids, what this journey has meant to them and the things they have learned about themselves as a result of meeting their first families.

Prepping the kids:
  • Is it feasible to visit with formerly adopted kids? If the child you adopted has been issued a U.S. Passport and any required visitors visas, they should be free to travel back to the country of their birth. We have met numerous adoptive families as they stop in to say hello while on a trip to reconnect with a first family. There are adoptive families that have reconnected successfully with their birth-family. I have seen it work and have mainly been told it was a positive experience for them all.
  • Who decides when to come? In my opinion your child needs to be ready to come and needs to want to come. I am not a psychologist, but I don't think you should do this until your child has a desire to do it. Ask a psychologist or smart person.
  • If we are not ready to come, how can we send photos and an update? Do you have contact info for the orphanage you adopted from? Can you send photos to that orphanage in case your first family stops in asking for word of their child or children? If you have the ability to do so, (during an adoption) getting an email address of the first family or of a friend of the first family makes a lot of sense. Most (materially poor) people have a way to go access the Internet or have a friend that does. Sending photos digitally only takes asking which address you can email them to every so often. For example, our daughters first Mom does not speak English but she has a friend that makes calls for her to contact English speaking friends in the USA.  This same guy emails for her on occasion and can do so in English.
  • How do we prep the kids for experiencing Haiti? The kids are really worried about the poverty, how do we prepare them for that? It would be wise to talk about poverty and prepare them for what they will see. Adopted or not, poverty can be a hard thing for kids to see and process. Our daughters first came to Haiti at ages 7 and 12 and both struggled with the needs they saw. We spent a lot of time on those trips just talking about how they felt.
  • How do we portray Haiti (any country) factually, but positively, so that they understand that people may not have *things*, but that they are proud and strong? I don't know exactly how you portray things positively, but I do know that the media portrayal of Haiti hasn't been helpful. (I assume other developing-world countries have unfair and over-the-top media-spun images too.) Sometimes seeing poverty is so painful that we separate ourselves from it by deciding things about "those people". I think it is good for all of us to remember and teach our children that we are all so much more alike than we are different. Our basic needs for love, acceptance, food, shelter, etc are the same. The difference really only lies in our access to those things.

Practical considerations:

  • How easy/hard is it to find birth families if it has been a while since we've had contact? There are obviously situations that can make it very difficult to find a birth family. The earthquake in Haiti means that for those that adopted prior to 2010, it may be very difficult to locate a birth family. If you have a name and a photograph of a birth parent and a last known area where they lived, I would say that word of mouth is one of the most insanely effective ways of communication in the developing world. It has happened more than once that one person went into an area to say, "We are looking for this person", and within a few days the person was found. In some countries there are people that have made a business out of helping make a connection between adoptive and birth families. It is a great idea and something that a bi-lingual go getter could make a living doing.  We don't currently have anyone to refer adoptive parents that have adopted from Haiti to, but we have presented the idea to a couple of friends to consider. There would be financial risk involved - adoptive parents should plan to pay a non-refundable fee to begin the search and then if successful there would likely be fees to help make the appropriate connections to begin correspondence. Again, making these connections during an adoption is a lot easier then trying to find someone you lost contact with many years ago. 
  • When visiting Haiti, where do you recommend families stay? How would we do things like: hire someone to translate, get around, etc? Do you recommend that we have the birth families visit us at a guest house, etc?  Do you recommend that we visit the families at their home, if invited? Depending on your budget, there are options for where to stay. A guesthouse or hotel/motel makes the most sense. It is good to have a safe and calm place to return to at the end of an emotionally intense day and your kids will need the down time.  Again, the details are very much a personal choice. For the first three years of our relationship with our kids' families we met them at a neutral location. It felt like the right thing then.  Now, we will often go to visit them at their houses. Hope and Isaac have both visited their birth-parents at their homes. Depending on your child, you can decide if a meeting at a guesthouse or hotel makes more sense than visiting at their home. I don't have a list of drivers and translators (because we drive and don't use translators often) but I would guess that if you contacted people that work in the area you hope to visit (google search blogs of missionaries, ask friends, network) you could find someone that would be able to give you names of trustworthy drivers and translators. Hiring independent translators and drivers makes a lot of sense. It is good to meet with them first if you want to explain why you are visiting and build some understanding and trust with the translator. (This also helps you find out how good their English skills are.) 
  • Are there safety considerations we should keep in mind? I can obviously only speak to Haiti's security situation. If you are smart and careful, I don't think there are many risks to visiting Haiti. If you feel super afraid of coming, I don't think you should come until you can shake that fear and come with confidence and joy and anticipation. When I say be smart and careful, I just mean don't go for a walk alone at midnight, stuff like that. 
  • Would you recommend taking the birth families to a nicer place to eat and spend the day, or is it better to "keep it simple?" It would be very kind to take them to a meal. It would very much depend on what they are comfortable with. Depending on their economic level, they may prefer to do something simpler. You could ask them and give them the choice. In our experience, for kids that are not in their mid teens yet, three or four hours together is going to be emotionally tiring and you wouldn't necessarily want to plan for an entire day on the first visit. 

Cultural considerations when interacting with families:

  • What expectations might birth families have of us?(financial or otherwise)  If your kids have lost their language skills, it may surprise the first family and you'll want to prepare your kids for that. We have found that many birth families haven't really considered that aspect and it surprises them. If you have a way to have them know that in advance it will help lessen the awkward. I think each family will be unique. A lot will depend on what your orphanage told them. It is possible that they have been promised your help by someone else along the way. They may have been told that "someday" their child is going to return to help them. Be prepared to communicate in an honest and straight-forward way. It is okay to say, "No, I cannot buy you a house." They don't know what your finances look like and much like you and I cannot imagine trying to get by on a few dollars a day, they cannot imagine what having money means. There is a gap in understanding one another that can be filled with love as long as you try not to get mad at being asked. It is best never to say "maybe" about helping.  Say no until you know 100% that you can come through. Broken promises are a bad way to start a relationship and maybe means yes to a lot of people.   (I answered this as if the adoption was long ago complete and final. DO NOT give any gifts at all if your adoption is in process. Please know that it is illegal and while probably totally innocent - it could get you in a lot of trouble.) 
  • Hope with her niece, Judnah on the day she was born
  • How do you navigate a level of openness that you feel comfortable with?  For example, if they want to call, and we are not comfortable with that, but would be comfortable with pictures and/or updates. What expectations might birth families have of the kids?  What about helping birth families long after the adoption is done.  Should we? Decide in advance what you and the children you share are most comfortable with - go in with a plan to communicate that. Be honest. You can say, "No, we cannot take phone calls but we would love to email or send letters."  That might make some first-families mad but that is okay. For example, our first families have our phone numbers but they don't know where we live. When we first entered into relationship with them we did not give out our phone number. That came as trust was built. Like anything involving expectations, your role is to clearly communicate. If someone is upset over unmet expectations that is their issue, not yours. Honesty and being totally straight forward is best. 
Sometimes people just need to be heard.  If there is one thing I have learned it is this, just because someone tells you they don't have enough food or a way to pay for an operation or a house that keeps them dry in the rain, it does not mean they expect you to make it all better. They are sharing their life. Just the way you sit down and tell your friends that so and so is fighting Cancer and so and so just lost their job. Sharing our sorrows is different than expecting someone to fix our sorrows. Most of the time, people just need you to sit with them in their place of pain and need. They don't need your pity, they need your respect.

Disclaimer: I write from my experiences. They are all in Haiti. I cannot speak to detailed questions about other countries/cultures or cultural norms. Totally generalizing, but I think most birth-mothers think about their child and wonder frequently if they are okay. The point of Open Int'l Adoption is two-fold - 1. To help children have answers about their heritage and history and 2. To respect the sacrifice and emotional scars of the birth-family and provide them with proof of their child's well-being. Adoptive parents are wise to go into an adoption concerned about these things.

for love, for maternal health, for haiti ...

As a distance runner, I recall exactly how moronic I thought distance runners were PRIOR to becoming one. There are varying levels of insanity and some folks stop at pushing themselves to 26.2 mile routes, while others do "ultra" marathons and make the marathoners look like itty bitty cry-babies.

I never plan to run further than 26.2 miles. That sort of stuff is left to those that desperately dislike themselves OR have a cause greater than themselves.  

This video is about a guy that had a cause greater than himself. It probably shouldn't be watched at work. Employment is good and I want you to keep yours. Please come back and watch it once you are home. 

This is the story of an Australian man that lost his first child at birth. This is the story of a man that decided to do something much bigger than himself in order to raise awareness of the need for Maternal health care in Haiti. This is the story of a man that would like to see Heartline Maternity Center expand its capacity to serve pregnant women. This is the story of endurance, perseverance, and pain. This is the story of healing. This is the story of love. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

on opening ourselves up to pain and possibility

If you are adopting and you are given the opportunity to meet the family of the child you are adopting, there are so many good reasons to do it. 

(This entry is an addendum to Part I.   This article talks about open adoption from a country that does not typically do open adoptions. Still working on Part II and III.)

I started to write these entries about open adoption and quickly realized the pain part is what many adoptive parents hope to avoid.  We don't like unknowns and when the unknowns could be painful, we usually choose to bypass them.  Just yesterday I caught myself doing it.  My son Isaac's first parents were waiting outside the Maternity Center to talk to me and I did not want to face it because it is hard. I did not want to feel the way it feels to stand face to face with the incongruity of our lives. I did not want to hear what they needed because hearing what they need hurts. Not being able to fix things hurts. 

In the original post I said: 

I think it is our job as people of love to uplift the marginalized and to be more than fair. If we are honest we know that we hold the power. We (adoptive parents) have the passports and the money and the ability to be connected and jet around the world. With great power comes great responsibility. We made a decision many years back that no matter how intimidated we might be by entering into an open adoption relationship, it was the correct thing to do and a way we could tip the scales of injustice back the other way.

I realized that I need to further qualify what I said there. By saying it is our job, I did not mean to imply that it would be all sunshine and roses. This is painful stuff. When it comes to knowing first families, it will involve some pain. 

Any child that has been placed for adoption will come to you with their own pain and history of loss. No matter how hard we try to frame it or tell it in a fairy-tale way, we cannot make adoption into a pain-free endeavor. It is not pain-free for them, it is not likely to be pain-free for adoptive parents either. 

Some of the most painful things in life are the things that give us the greatest opportunities to grow (change) and become more loving and gracious. 


In 2009 we returned a little boy named Renald to his family after fostering him for a handful of months. Our daughter Paige often says this was one of the hardest days she ever faced in Haiti. We learned so much about ourselves and our attitudes toward "the poor" during and after our time caring for Renald - I am linking to this story today because it is easy to get in a place of superiority as adoptive (or foster) parents (with the power) where we think that we are better suited and therefore doing a big favor by adopting - maybe that leads us to think we don't need to worry about knowing the first family. Sometimes we think that our material blessing automatically makes us a better candidate for the job and causes us to decide (unfair) things about first families. I think that is a trap, one I hope many can avoid. 

Find Renald's return story here.