Thursday, November 26, 2009

A New Family's Thanksgiving Letter

This letter is posted by permission of a new family living in Colorado in their wish to give hope and encouragement to everyone waiting for their children to come home from Haiti.

Hello friends and family,

Just a quick holiday greeting and update before the festivities begin! So the past couple of weeks were scattered with more firsts....Jazzie's first hair appointment, Cameron's first haircut, their first ride in a Lotus, their first friend home from BRESMA orphanage, first trip to the hot springs....etc. I've attached some photos I've taken over the last couple weeks, some might be repeats as I've finally got a computer that allowed me to download and I wanted all their pics in one album!

Anyways.....we've certainly been busy, having play dates, visitors, house guests and such. It's been wonderful to share Cameron and Jasmine with all our friends and family and we so appreciate the yummy foods, treats and company since their homecoming!

I'm working on completing their validation paperwork and almost have it finished. The adoption is recognized federally but the state of Colorado requires that you legalize/validate the adoption for the state! So more paperwork, more notaries and more money!! I'm hoping to get it out before the week is out. We obtained their citizenship papers and their social security cards this past month and this will be one of the last steps to finalize everything!

As we approach Thanksgiving I wanted to write a message about all the things I'm Thankful for......not sure if this will still be a brief email but I'll try to make it abbreviated! :)

I'm thankful to have a loving and supportive husband, whom I could never of made it through this journey to parenthood without. I'm incredibly blessed to have him in my life. I'm thankful for our two beautiful children, Cameron and Jasmine whom proved miracles are possible! I'm thankful for Cameron and Jasmine's birth parents who made a selfless decision to give their children a better life, without their decision, we wouldn't be filled with the joy of having Cam and Jazzie in our life. I'm thankful for Jamie and Ali for their love and support of our children and for keeping them and the children of BRESMA safe while their families wait to bring them home. I'm thankful for our family and friends that have provided us support and love throughout this entire process! I am truly grateful for all the blessing we have received this past year!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone....May blessings be bountiful in your life!

Love, Liz, Jon, Cam, Jazzie and Daisy too!
Help make our blog better - share your stories of kids at home, your trips to Haiti, or even how you are dealing with the pain and frustration of waiting for your children to come home. Email your story to me at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

DOS Hague Panel Discussion

I’m only writing this tonight because I’m afraid I might forget something by morning if I don’t. I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, and home has never looked so good. And they even had a really good supper waiting for me…

The panel discussion was held at the home of Consul General Donald Moore. The panel and a few invitees sat in salon which had been set up for our meeting. The Consul’s house has airconditioning, which impressed me as much as anything else. It’s been pretty hot down here!
I was one of three adoption workers asked to speak. Vera Valdivia and Mansour Masse spoke as well. Dixie Bickel had been invited, but she was in Canada and unable to attend. Judge Rock Cadet of Parquet Court and Madame Jean Bernard Pierre, Director of IBESR participated as well. The attendees included representatives from most of the major crèches, the Swiss Ambassador, UNICEF, and the press.

All three adoption service providers were unified in our message – implementing the Hague prematurely in Haiti would be disastrous. Mine was unfortunately the longest speech, although I did cut it short. I had practiced many times with a stop watch, but I never thought to allow for the translation of everything I said into French. My translator and I had some troubles hearing each other. I ended up translating some of my own remarks into Kreyol, which got me a big laugh. Probably at least in part because of my fumbling speech.

My speech included a case study between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which is a Hague country. Like other Latin American nations who have implemented the Hague, there are almost no intercountry adoptions out of the Dominican. I pointed out a large discrepancy in statistics. Although the DR’s average Gross National Income is 6.3 times that of Haiti, the mortality rate of children under five in Haiti is only twice that of the Dominican Republic. I speculated that perhaps the crèches, with their children in care, their schools, their nutrition programs, and their temporary care might be part of the reason. I also asserted very clearly that if we ratify the Hague prematurely and shut down international adoptions, children will die.

After the panel spoke, a UNICEF staff member rose and stated that if Haiti ratified the Hague, no children would die. I hope that means that if it happens, UNICEF will come to my house with food for all the children living here. Although UNICEF’s official position is that it approves of international adoption as a last resort for children, in practice UNICEF is often content to settle for children remaining in orphanages in their native countries. As UNICEF’s primary funding source, the United States really must make clear that every child has the right to a permanent family.

Overall I think the panel went very well. I was so honored to meet all the important people present. It is fortunate I was asked questions about adoption, about which I feel so passionately, or I would have been completely tongue-tied and foolish before them. As it is, I am very relieved that it is over and I lived! On to the next one!

Margarette dragged herself to the meeting, despite just having arrived from France. We had a very quick meeting at the office this evening, and then I nagged her about turning off her phone and going to bed. I begged her husband to hide her phone and unplug the internet. Margarette insists that she’s going right back to work tomorrow, but she was visibly exhausted. Nobody can keep up that pace.

I leave tomorrow with a small friend riding in my lap all the way to Denver. I’ve finished my book, but somehow I’m sure that I’ll have enough to do spending the whole day on airplanes with a 17 month old boy.

Another successful trip. The kids all want to know what day I’m coming back. I think this time I’ll stay at home for at least two months, but I know I’ll miss them before that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Haitian Workday

What a whirlwind of a day! It started at 6:45, when Jamie and I went to the Embassy for a Visa appointment with my little buddy. It went very smoothly, and we were out by 9:00.
Then we were off to the bank, fighting morning traffic, to see if the child care funds KAS wired days and days ago had finally arrived. You can’t just call the bank here –you have to go there. No luck. Lucy and I made frantic arrangements to track the money, and to use MoneyGram to send Jamie more funds. In the meantime I gave her all the money I had with me except for $20 US. It’s funny how I think of money here in Haiti. I have a place to stay and food to eat at all times, and what more do you need? In Haiti, money feels like a luxury. All those things I think I need in the US are not needs at all, but just wants.

My friend Alison was waiting outside the house when we got back to whisk me back out to the barn. We enjoyed an hour of VERY hot stress relief in the sun. When we finished, her car thermometer read 104. Quite the change from South Dakota – no wonder I was woozy from the heat! My cold water bucket bath never sounded (or felt) so good.

And then, on to another really delightful task. One of my adoptive Moms who is a worker for Haiti herself arrived. We had never met before in real life. Her toddler son, also at Jamie’s, is doing very well. He had been in BRESMA II, but then he got sick and they moved him to BRESMA I. I have a strong preference that all of ‘my’ kids stay at ‘my’ house or at Jamie’s, so Margarette agreed to let me move him. Moving is always a trauma for a child, and he had a few rough weeks at Jamie’s after two moves. He is noticeably happier since my last visit just a few weeks ago. His Mom seems really pleased with how he is doing. I thought it might be too much for him to go and stay with her after so much upheaval in the past few months, but Jamie and the little man in question disagreed. He was quite happy to go off with Mom for a few days of time together. It will be very hard for her to leave him, but at least she’ll know he is happy in his new home.

Once we sent the two of them off together, Jamie and I went to a bank to pick up the money Kentucky Adoption Services had wired down using Moneygram to tide us over until the child care wire is located. Everything here takes forever. Between the paperwork and standing in line, it probably took a good hour to leave with cash in hand. Jamie had already spent all the money I gave her while I was at the barn to buy diapers and a few meals’ worth of food for her house. When you can’t buy in bulk in Haiti, you really pay extra.

Next we had to come back to BRESMA II to get my wallet, and to Jamie’s to collect Ti Ness. Ti Ness is Margarette’s younger brother. He is married to Bielen, the nurse at Jamie’s House. He drove us to Bainet to visit the birth mother of one of our children (see my blog entry from April 18th, 2009). I had to arrange for a rental car so that he can go back, leading USCIS officers, for an interview with the same woman. You have to have a credit card to rent the vehicle, so I guess I just have to hope that all that comes of my signature on that blank credit card slip is a hold for renting the car which will be cancelled after Ti Ness pays in cash when he returns the car.
Finally I came home for a few minutes, where I rested, ate something at last, and eventually fell asleep. But I was back up in less than an hour to go out one last time, to celebrate Jamie’s birthday with a few friends.

Tomorrow is the big workshop meeting. I’ll read my speech out loud a few more times to practice, and then Mansour Masse from Holt International will come to get me. We’ve given ourselves an hour of meeting time before the workshop to come up with an alternative plan for solving all of the problems in Haiti’s adoption process. Luckily Mansour has had a few years to think about this one!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pointers for Adopting Families

A rare slow day. In the morning I went to the stables with a friend, wearing one of the other hats I am forced to wear in Haiti – unlicensed practicing veterinarian. Her horse is lame, and there really is no large animal veterinarian on this half of the island. We had a leisurely morning sitting on the patio at the barn chatting when we were done with the horse. I’m feeling very stressed out about my meeting on Tuesday, and any distraction is a welcome relief. In fact, I’m going back out to the barn tomorrow after my Visa appointment. Nothing like exercise and the great outdoors for fighting stress!

I spent the afternoon with Jamie. I got to meet the niece of one of my adopting mothers. Hillary is here in Haiti teaching at a Christian school called Quisqueya. I had a million questions about how she managed daily life here. Without all the help I get from my nannies here, I’d be totally lost. Here in Haiti I am like a child. I don’t know how to cook over charcoal. I’m perfectly awful at figuring out the money – all the bills are marked in gourdes, but everyone tells you the prices in Haitian dollars. One Haitian dollar is five gourdes, but it takes me far too long to multiply and divide it all out my head, while at the same time trying to manage numbers in Kreyol. They are a lot more complicated than they are in English. I wouldn’t have the first idea how to rent an apartment, figure out which taptap to take, order water delivery. I am still just as in awe of Jamie and Ali as ever!

Jamie and I had a good long talk. She remains concerned that parents are not hearing our message that all of these children have experienced trauma, and that trauma is going to come out in some form when they get home. Many of our children are less traumatized than most of the adopted children in the world. But still, each and every one of them has lost his parents. And when we bring them home, they lose their whole orphanage family, their culture, their country, and even their language. Our gain is very much their loss. Those losses are bound to show in some way at some time.
It is so important to remember that in fact, most of the children are normal children. And if normal children lose their entire families and live in a institution with no parents for several years – even an institution as good as BRESMA – there will be damage. It is inevitable. None of us would allow the daycare center to raise our child. Even though I believe that Jamie’s House is better than any commercial daycare center I’ve ever seen in America, it is still not a real family. Loving, consistent, paid caretakers are not as good as a real family. We’ve seen this over and over again in the US, where children raised by the best foster parents are still hurt by never having a family of their own.

Most BRESMA kids come out on top in the end. Almost all adoptions from BRESMA II and thus far all of those from Jamie’s House are going very well. But most of them have had a few rough spots. These children will be grieving losses that we will never have to endure at the same time as we are rejoicing that they are home at last.

Do you want to ensure that your family is one of the lucky ones? Well, you can’t really ensure anything about parenting. But you can certainly improve your odds. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Learn about grieving and angry children. Learn how to be empathetic and how to build attachment. Consult with a professional about your expectations for your new child’s behavior upon arrival at home, in a year, in ten years. Are you adopting a child because you hope to become someone who can love him, or because you hope him to become someone you think you can love?

There are a few characteristics I’ve found happy adoptive parents have in common:

  • Flexibility

  • A sense of humor

  • Reasonable expectations

  • The ability not to take a child’s feelings personally (it’s not about us, most of the time!)

  • Faith

  • Support

  • The knowledge that love is a verb, not just a noun

  • Absolute commitment to their child

  • Eagerness to become a whole new kind of family

Have you completed your adoption or spent a lot of time with your child in Haiti? Please put in your two cents. What do adopting parents need to know when recreating their families?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

On the Road Again...

After only a few weeks at home, here I am back in Haiti again. The kids and staff were very surprised to see me. For once the amazing Haitian grapevine failed to notify everyone of plans. But they were very happy to see me nonetheless, and the older kids made sure to assure me that Manno had indeed bought chicken with the money I left here last time.

A few things have changed. One little girl at BRESMA II has left for France, and a pair of toddler twins from Jamie’s House is now safe at home. The little boy I brought here from BRESMA I on my last trip no longer has any sign of the scabies or scalp fungus afflicting him before.

The kids played a long, loud, and rowdy game of Kidnappers. The older boys were the bandits, of course, and they marched back and forth from the front yard to the back, chanting ‘left, right, left ,right’ in unison. They would select a target (one of the older girls, or even me, once) and drag their victim back to the front yard amid wild shrieking and giggling. Then Manmi Lis would run to the front yard and pretend to chase the boys around with the belt she wears around her shoulders as a threat. The game went on for hours. I couldn’t help but think over the deafening noise of 29 children, that this place does not sound like an orphanage. It sounds like a noisy home.

I am here on such short notice as I have been summoned by the US Consulate. Vice Consul Linda Percy has asked me, three other adoption professionals, Judge Rock Cadet of Parquet Court, and Madame Pierre Bernard, the Director of IBESR, to a workshop to discuss the feasibility implementing the Hague Convention on International Adoption here in Haiti.
Initially I was flattered, intimidated, and a bit confused why I, of all people had been asked. I am quite ignorant of the Hague. Or at least, I was until a few days after the invitation. After quite a bit of intensive study of legal documents, statistics, and history, I am grateful to be given the chance to speak.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption is a simple document. It is only fourteen pages long, and covers many basic human rights, as well as outlining structure for uniform processing of adoptions throughout and member country. It’s the implementation that is tricky. And expensive.
The United States signed the Hague Convention in 1994. And then it took us fourteen YEARS to be able to create and implement policies allowing us to conform before we ratified the treaty in 2008. And we still have loopholes, bureaucratic struggles, and allegations of politics interfering with the accreditation process.

I am grateful to have a chance to speak before a group who seems pre-disposed to listen so that I can say that I think the Hague could be a wonderful thing to Haiti, IF and only IF it were implemented correctly! This would involved a multistep process, taking several years, culminating in Haiti successfully following all Hague standards internally for at least 12 months before ratifying the Convention. Reform is certainly needed in the adoption process, but as Tom DiFilipo, President of the Joint Council always says, we must not try to remove a splinter with a chainsaw.

I hope to witness a step of the process I have not done yet on Monday. Margarette is still in France, rallying for more funding for more new schools and attending BRESMA reunions of French children. She’s assigned me the task of taking him for his Visa appointment, which the Consulate was so kind as to grant me immediately so that I can hopefully escort the young man in question all the way home to Denver on my lap.

I’m no fan of escorting, but this little guy’s mother was just here a few weeks ago to file form I-600 and He’s super outgoing. I made a point of spending some time with him this afternoon. I think he’s feeling pretty comfortable with me, because threw a really impressive, first class tantrum when I put him down because I had to leave.

The few times I have agreed to escort a child, it has been a real thrill. Seeing parents reunited with their children is one of my greatest joys in this stressful, challenging work. My favorite escort trip had to be one where I brought a little boy bound for Canada to meet his mother in Miami. Upon my arrival, I suddenly realized I had never met the woman, nor had I ever seen her picture. While I was in Haiti I kept thinking I would identify her the same way I always identify and adoptive family I’ve never met before when I pick them up at the airport – they will be the white ones. A highly effective system of identification here, but not so useful in Miami.

I needn’t have worried. Not only did the baby lean towards a particular woman in the crowd, but I imagine one only makes that face once in a lifetime, at the moment of greatest joy.
I don’t know what this mother looks like either, and there are a lot of white people in Denver, but I’m not worried. We’ll find each other. This baby boy is coming home, after months of working and waiting. It was meant to be.