Part I: How to recognize if your child would benefit from a birth family search
Some adopted children will not express interest in knowing their past. Others will become obsessed with exploring their roots. In my experience as an adoptive mother of one daughter born in Ethiopia, you will not know which personality your child owns until she acquires the language to tell you so.
Around 18 months, while side-by-side in the bath, my daughter began placing her tiny arm next to mine, clearly interested in the difference she saw. Her minimal language skills at the time included verbalizing color differentiation, perhaps because my husband, her dad, is an artist and art supplies fill various corners and rooms of our home. At this early age, she seemed to take pride in correcting me when I would choose a pink crayon and call it pink, because she knew that it was "light pink," not "dark pink."
At the park, on rare occasions, various white children would burst with uncensored comments, such as, "Hey, why is that girl black and her mommy is white?"
My child didn't understand. Or maybe she did.
Even though I waited it out, hoping that we might be okay living life as it was, by the time Aster approached four, I knew for sure our daughter did not belong in the "not interested" category; it was time to do something to help her know from where she came. Unfortunately, our adoption agency had given us less than nothing to go by. (Four employees of this agency are currently under indictment for "for allegedly conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with adoption services in Ethiopia." See the Homeland Security website for more information.) But, I did have some clues. And I knew that it was my responsibility as her mother to do everything humanly possible to find out if her first mother was alive, and if she was, I needed to continue until we made contact. If it was the last thing I ever claimed to do right as her mother, I would not stop until it was done.
Part II - When the "deceased" birth mother isn't
I began to think about Aster's birth mother long before the nanny handed her to me. It took many months for my daughter's biological mother not to enter into my daily thoughts. I felt such a deep sadness for this child who, we were told, would never have the opportunity to know the woman who birthed her. She supposedly had no other blood relatives, so seeking out her birth family would never be an option for Aster.
I wrote the above for the epilogue of my book, and as that part of the story evolved, both solicited and unsolicited information began to arrive, clearly indicating that not only was Aster's birth mother alive, but other blood relatives were too. Though we had come upon this surprising and comforting news in the summer of 2009, it wasn't until the fall of 2012 that my husband and I committed to hiring a private birth family searcher to find our daughter's birth mother.
You may ask, why after uncovering some of the facts of our daughter's social history that we were not originally given did it take us three years to move forward with a professional search? The reasons are many; so let me take them one at a time.
1. Back in 2009 in what now seems like the dark ages of international adoption, we did not know what a "professional birth family search" was. Without this awareness, we had to "be good" with knowing that someday we would be able to go to northern Ethiopia and find birth family on our own. Some day.
2. But ... as the months, then years rolled on, my anxiety grew. What if she is ill? What if she becomes so ill, she dies before our daughter has a chance to reunite with her? My worried mind would not rest; the negative thoughts accompanied my every waking and sleeping moment. And each time my three-, then four-year old daughter would mumble words about her "first mommy," such as, "she's probably dead anyway," my heart shattered. I knew I could not live this way indefinitely.
3. With the publishing of my book in early 2011, my story slowly entered the ethers, with the book cover image of Aster and I tugging at others' curiosity. I heard from a woman in Addis Ababa who wanted a copy of my book. Her daughter just happened to be living in the USA, in Virginia. That daughter just happened to own a birth family search business.
4. When I made contact with this woman shortly after my communication with her mother, a glimmer of hope poked through soggy corners of my mind; perhaps my tears of frustration and grief could turn to tears of joy?
Still, another 18 months would pass before we chose to send in the deposit for a birth family search. Why? Because, we bemoaned, What if it didn't work? We would be out a lot of money, and a whole lot of heartache. It was a gamble. Though we were lucky in that we did have a name for our daughter's birth mother, and we did have the city where she was born, that was it. Would the search crew be able to travel to her birth city and ask the right people the right questions in order to help our wishes come true? And once we got the information, then what? Would this be the best thing for our daughter, to know that her first mother is alive yet still relinquished her for somebody else to raise? Would it be better if we all didn't know?
As a memoirist who has spent much of her adult life encouraging others to know thy past in order to better know thyself, there was no way in this world that I could deny our daughter the right to know from where she came.
Thus, in the fall of 2012, we made the most important financial decision of our lives: we hired a searcher to find Aster's birth mother.
Weeks later, the results were in. Two copies of the DVD arrived in the mail, and our lives absolutely changed for the better (such an inadequate word), forever.
With shaking hands, and tears already welling in my eyes, I pushed the DVD into the computer. Traditional music accompanied a panoramic view of Wukro, located in the north of the Tigray region, the birthplace of our daughter. We had not taken the time to travel north of Addis Ababa during our short stay back in December 2008, so this visual addition to what we thought would only be an interview felt like we had struck gold. Once the camera became still, a girl who looked to be pre-teen entered the frame (Aster's sister, if you can imagine that!), then slowly the focus was the birth mother of our child, the woman who had allowed me to become a mother. By now, I could barely see the computer screen; tears marred my view. But the interview that was about to begin would make my initial emotions seem meaningless, for the questions and answers that were about to be revealed would bring solace as well as longing, two intense feelings that I would have to deeply experience before knowing what to do next.
Please see www.FindingAster.com to download the book that details some of our back story.