Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

I'm frequently asked how exactly I ended up in the shoes I am now struggling to fill. This is certainly NOT what I had planned for my life.

I had known since early childhood that I would adopt a child. And as an adult, I encouraged my husband to take all the hours of classes and work our way through the piles of paperwork that were required to allow us to serve as foster parents. Our foster children gave us far more than we could possibly have given them, and confirmed our desire to become adoptive parents.

After a long and rather torturous journey down a twisting road that most of you adoptive families would understand perfectly, we ended up with a referral of not one, not two, but THREE Haitian children to join our six-year-old birth daughter in our home in Fort Collins.

My predictable, traditional, conventional life ended on December 13th, 2003, when I first walked through the door of BRESMA orphanage. I was a moderately successful computer programmer. We were financially stable. I had been with my employer for four years and had no plans to leave, ever. But all that changed the moment I walked through the orphanage gate.

When I first met my three Haitian children, I had three thoughts almost simultaneously. The first came to me when I saw them across the front yard, and realized that they were really, really REAL. My first thought was, "Dear God, what have I done? I can't do this! I can't parent these three children!"

Then my two daughters turned to face me, and my second thought was wordless, as I was stunned by how beautiful they were. And in an instant they were in my arms and all I could think was, "Thank you, thank you, thank you Lord!"

I stayed in Haiti for a week with a group from Answered Prayers visiting my children. That was all the time it took for my entire life to turn upside down. Quite simply, the problem was that I was only adopting three children. Many in the orphanage had no families as yet, and hundreds of thousands of homeless and abandoned Haitian children outside did not even have the security BRESMA offers those who wait for an adoptive family. I couldn't live with that.

Upon returning to the States, I gave up programming and having a 'real' job. At the request of our orphanage director, I eventually founded a non-profit organization and a Colorado licensed adoption agency to help all the children I left behind. Just last summer we made the decision to merge the agency with The Alliance for Children, and I joined the Alliance as the Haiti programs coordinator. I am still doing the same work, but with a lot more help and support from the large and experienced staff at the Alliance.

As a Haitian program coordinator, I travel to Haiti every two to three months and live at the orphanage with the kids for at least a week. I speak Kreyol with them and the staff to learn about each child. At the orphanage I braid hair, listen to tattling, listen to giggling, dispense band aids, send kids to time out, wipe noses, listen to funny kid stories. I talk about the funny things Americans do, like insist on being all alone in the bathroom while they use the toilet, or getting all excited when people point with their middle fingers. I prepare the children for adoption by going through photo albums and answering questions. I get to know new children as best I can so that I can shoulder the awesome responsibility of matching them to a family to which they will belong for the rest of their lives. I'm constantly seeking adoptive families and funds for 'my' kids at the orphanage and more funds to support the desperate parents who come to our doors begging for food, formula, medicine, and hope.

Over the years I've become actively involved in the adoption process itself, both in the US and in Haiti. When US Immigrations services experienced communications issues with the Haitian government and then between federal bureaus here, I was able to help with finding a solution to bring our kids home to their families. I participated in delegations from the Joint Council of International Children's Services to develop a Standards of Practice for international adoptions in Haiti in the hopes of speeding an exhaustingly delayed process. Our work to make Haitian adoptions more efficient and yet build in greater protections for Haitian children and their birth parents continues. I'm beginning to learn that no project in Haiti is ever truly finished.

I came to Haiti as a computer programmer mother of one with a predictable life. I left as a humanitarian aid worker and mother of four. I've never looked back. Since then I've done dozens of things I never would have expected. I've hiked deep into the mountains of Haiti seeking a birth family. I've learned a new language. I have rubbed elbows with and ruffled feathers of important people in Washington. I've wondered where our next grocery money was coming from. I've helped to write international policy. I've comforted an adoptive family and our staff when a baby in our care died in the hospital. I've held the phone away from my ear and joined adoptive families in whooping with joy when we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My life is not at all what I studied for, planned for, or expected. Thank goodness.

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