Friday, August 01, 2014

In which I compare my belly to male genitalia

I think having a big, pregnant belly is the closest I will ever come to the experience of having a penis.

38 Weeks pregnant with JA. He was born the next day.

It sticks out in front of me, and often makes unpredictable, uncontrollable, and even unwanted movements.

I think about it all the time. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning, look down, and think "whoops, where did that come from?"

When I am in a circle of friends, it inevitably becomes a topic of conversation.

Sometimes I catch myself absentmindedly scratching it in public, and getting the side-eye from people around me. The looks get worse if I catch myself trying to "adjust" the location.

Thankfully, most people know better than to try to touch it. Of course, I don't mind when my partner touches it. Actually, I really like that.


I'm pretty sure I perceive it to be bigger than it actually is. But of course, I know that it's not the size of the ship, it's the motion of the ocean. And let me tell you, I know I have some motion in this ocean (if you know what I'm saying, and I think you do.)

Yep. My pregnant belly is pretty much the same thing as having a penis. The only difference is, as my belly gets bigger and bigger, I get more and more ready for it to go away!

Monday, May 26, 2014

To my baby, on your due date.

It is with much tenderness that I share today about our baby who was born into Heaven last fall. Please know that I share here my feelings and thoughts, based on my experience. The experience of losing a pregnancy, whether one that was expected or not, is highly unique, and I don't intend for this to somehow imply that these feelings are what every woman experiences. However, I do want to share because whatever a woman's feelings are when she loses a baby, her words deserve to be heard. Her thoughts deserve to be shared. That life deserves to be remembered.

My baby Zion Avorie,

We weren’t expecting you, but somehow, I had a sense that you were there. Before I had even missed my cycle, the pink lines showed up and confirmed that your life was being knit together in the secret place designed to cushion such a fragile bundle of cells. As I sat and nursed your sister to sleep, I counted out the days and weeks. On that September day, I realized you were likely to arrive near my birthday; you would be expected May 26, but I thought it would be sweet if you maybe came a bit early so that you and I could have back-to-back birthdays, like Daddy and JA.

And you were born early. Too early.

When I told Daddy that you were growing inside me, the product of our love and some stress hormones that made my body do things it normally wouldn’t, he was surprised. Like me, he wondered how on Earth we would parent five children. Wondered might be putting it mildly. He was flabbergasted. And we were overwhelmed. But it was there, that same excitement and joy that Daddy always has when he thinks of cuddling a sweet, newborn babe. That glimmer was in his eye. Like mine.

When you were not much bigger than a blueberry, I got to see your little heart flickering on the ultrasound machine. Daddy was traveling, so I made him this little video of your precious heartbeat, struggling to see the screen from an awkward angle and mumbling awkward words- the natural response to having an ultrasound wand inside me.


Five days later, there was blood.

I rushed to the emergency room. Daddy was taking his board certification exam, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of him. It was okay. I needed to hear the words alone, so that I would not overwhelm him with my grief. The ultrasound wand once again buried inside me. Awkward angle and awkward words as I struggled to see the screen. 

There was no heartbeat. You had been born into heaven. It was October 11, 2013.


Daddy picked me up at the hospital. We ate some food. I came home. I don’t remember much. I felt deflated. I had been full… full of your little body, full of hope, and now, there was nothing. 


It took ten days for your body to separate from mine. For ten days, you were still present, although not in the way I wished. I was uncomfortable, and the few people who knew what was happening were fairly courteous and gentle with me. But I wished it hurt more. I wished the divorcing of our bodies left me black and blue, swollen, maimed… as if somehow, that external sign of pain could ease what was happening in my heart. 

But there was no outward sign of losing you. And few people knew, because few people had even known you existed. Losing you was not a white-water wild river of devastation. No, my hurt was the quite, aching kind. Like the puddle that gathers after a soaking rain, receding ever so slowly into the already-saturated ground. 

Daddy laid on the bed and held me. We wept together. We named you. Zion, meaning Heaven. Avorie, a take on PapPap’s name, meaning Wisdom. Somehow, I knew that this was right. This was the first moment of healing- the first sign of the puddle slowly absorbing into the ground. There was a ring of dark, slippery mud around my grief. Because as it turns out, grief and healing are messy things.

Your little brother or sister was conceived just weeks after we lost you. This precious baby was also not expected, but when we saw that set of pink lines, Daddy and I no longer felt overwhelmed. We knew now how very right it would be to welcome another baby into our family. And so we waited, with nervous anticipation. Hoping, and yet afraid to hope. The mud of our healing grief making even this hope a messy thing. 

I still cried every day, because I still missed you. Even with the new baby growing where you had grown, living where you had lived, I missed you. This baby is not you, and I don’t know if I will ever get over the longing I have for you. It took ten days for our bodies to fully separate, but ten years won’t be long enough to separate my heart from yours.


On the day that this baby had been carried in my womb exactly one day longer than you had, I knew. I knew why. I understood. 

I will never know why you were born into heaven, or why I only had the chance to hold you in my womb and not in my arms. I’ll never know why those who loved you so much never had the chance to see your precious face, smell your sweet baby head smell, stroke you soft pink skin. 

But I know this: I know why you were created. I know why your little heart beat, if only for a few days. I know why your little soul was created, even if I will never get to know you on this side of eternity. And it’s really quite simple. The greatest things in life are, I think.


You were created by a God who loves you more than Daddy and I ever could, I truth I trust you now know and experience in a more real way than I do here on Earth. You were created because God loves you, He loves me, He loves Daddy, He loves all his children. 

He is Love. 

You were created because Love itself created you. You were given to us, if only for a while, because Love itself gave you to us. And you, dear Zion Avorie, are now with Love. Every moment, your soul is in the presence of Love. 

I may never understand why Heaven’s wisdom allowed you to slip from my body before your body was fully formed. I’ve given up trying. Because it is enough. It is enough to know Love.

And dear one, while your body was here in this realm only a short time, you brought Love to us. Daddy and I know more of Love now than before. We have more Love to give because you brought Love to us. And it is Love that will reunite us again.

Today is the day that I thought you would be born, the day I thought you would flood our lives with joy and excitement and love. The day I anticipated receiving a happy, belated birthday gift.

The day of your birth came far earlier than expected. But dear one, it still brought us Love. Thank you for that gift. 

Missing you,

Friday, October 04, 2013

A Practical Guide to Improving the Ethics of Your Adoption

Over the past few days, a group of adoptive parents on a FaceBook group compiled the following list of steps for prospective adoptive parents to take in order to work towards an ethical adoption. 
I am honored to share them with you now, and I look forward to your feedback, resources, and suggestions to develop this list further.

A Practical Guide to Improving the Ethics of Your Adoption
by adoptive parents, for adoptive parents

1. Work to understand the overall status of international adoption (IA) and the ethical issues involved.

2. Develop a healthy mindset about adoption:

  • Adoption agencies are first and foremost a business. Sure, they may want to help kids find families and help PAPs form families, but at the end of the day, they are a business. They need to make money to continue operating.
  • Agencies will employ every business tactic out there to continue to generate income
  • Agencies are masters of “spin.”
  • Remember, no matter how nice/kind/supportive they are, you are ultimately hiring an agency to perform a service: they work for you.
  • Good customer service does not equal an ethical agency

3. Selecting an adoption agency (general):

o   Transitions in adoption (care center to APs, arrival in the US, adapting to live in the US, cocooning)
o   Trauma and attachment in adoption (for children adopted at all ages)
o   Behaviors of post-institutionalized children and how to respond in a way that promotes attachment

  • Agency requires PAPs to identify attachment/trauma experts and services in your area prior to placement
  • Agency provides a listing of post-placement services that they offer or are offered in your local area, including resources for parents who feel overwhelmed/are considering disruption
  • Agency provides a clear understanding of all fees before a contract is signed; agency explains how fees are used and how refunds will be issued if they fail on their end of the adoption contract
  • Agency does not charge a “monthly fee” or "maintenance fee" upon acceptance of a referral (payment plans are okay, charging specific monthly fees to maintain the care of the child after referral is not okay)
  •  Agency allows you to travel within the country independently, and allows independent contact with birth family while in country (no agency personnel present, including agency translators)
  • Agency allows you to record any interactions with birth family
  • Agency does not promise a particular timeline; agency does not claim that they can process adoptions faster because they are smaller, have fewer clients, etc…
  • Agency allows you enough time to conduct an investigation and have file reviewed by medical professionals before accepting a referral; they do not pressure you to accept a referral immediately
  •  Agency does not give referrals to families whose dossier is not yet complete
  • Agency does not give referrals of children whose paperwork (including orphan status) is complete
  • Agency discloses how many cases have not passed Embassy on the first attempt, have been referred for additional investigation, etc
  • Agency provides a clear plan of action (that does not result in extra cost to the PAP) if a referral is lost or an adoption fails because they did not do due diligence in investigating the referred child’s orphan status or case particulars (suggestion: plan should have option of refunding your program fees, not just being given another referral, because do you really want to continue working with an agency like that?)
  • Agency does not make threats (obvious or veiled) towards PAPs; they do not make statements that your actions could “endanger the whole program,” etc.
  • Do not work with an agency that has ever offered money to a family in exchange for signing a gag order (you may have to ask around within AP networks to see if an agency has ever done this)
  • Agency does not claim that particular actions are “not allowed” unless they can support that claim with a law or documentation from a governing body (eg: pre-adoption contact with birth family, exchanging contact information with birth family)
  • Agency does not claim to have any “special relationships” or connections within the sending nation’s government or child welfare departments (“special relationship” is code for “they accept our bribes.”)
  • Agency does not promise speedy referrals of healthy infants
  • Agency does not refer 2 unrelated children together
  • Agency does not have or support a “safe birth house” for mothers in the sending nation (this is essentially code for a place to brainwash women into relinquishing their health newborn)
  • Agency does not claim to offer family preservation and adoption services at the same time
  • Agency does not accept clients from other agencies who are no longer operating in the sending nation or have had their license revoked in the sending nation
  • Agency reveals how many children that they refer are classified as “abandoned,” how many children that they refer are under age 24 months, and how many special needs/older children they refer.
  • Agency never pays employees on a per-child basis, especially in-country staff and partners
  • Agency does not charge fees to “facilitate” contact with birth family
  • Agency does not give money or “gifts in kind” to orphanages, nor do they work with orphanages who receive money or gifts in kind from other adoption agencies.
  • Agency is free of claims (or has appropriately responded to any claims) of abuse, neglect, and maltreatment of children in their care
  • Research the agency on the Yahoo! Adoption Agency Research group (link provided here)

4. Selecting an adoption agency (Ethiopia specific):

  •  Select an agency that works in regions with multiple orphanages (so that children who are brought to the local MOWA office are not guaranteed to go to a specific orphanage/placed in IA pipeline)
  •  Refuse to work with an agency that does not allow you to independently verify the orphan status of referred child, often called an “Orphan Status Verification” or OVS (Note: an OVS provided by an “independent” contractor (such as EthioStork) who has been hired/contracted/paid by your agency is not sufficient. This should be independent searching/contracting on behalf of the PAP, paid by the PAP.)
  •  Agency allows you to travel within the country independently
  • Agency does not take custody of the child until after the Federal Court (not local or regional court) verifies the orphan status of the child (until then, reunification remains a possibility, and the child should not be in agency care.)
  • Research the agency on the Yahoo! Ethiopian Adoption Agency Research group (link provided here)

5. PAP Due Diligence

  • Research your agency and country program at ethics watchdog sites like PEAR, Ethica, Reform Talk, Pound Pup Legacy; consider that any unethical behavior by an agency (whether in your selected program or not) is potentially possible in your adoption process
  • Carefully read your agency contract and understand all of your obligations and the agency obligations
  • Strike any language that inhibits your ability to act in the best interest of your family and/or your future/referred child (eg: prohibits you from doing an independent investigation)
  • Strike any language that prevents you from hiring your own attorney/legal representation in the US or in the sending nation
  • Ask about how often staff has turned over in the last few years, both domestically and in the sending nation; research all current and past employees of the agency (often, unethical people just go an start a new agency or work for a different agency and continue the same practices. Staff turnover can also indicate that they became aware of unethical practices and fired a person to “fix” the problem- although it usually doesn’t “fix” widespread problems.)
  • Ask if the agency ever used a different name, and fully research that agency
  • Obtain a full list of all orphanages/care centers that your agency works with and fully research them
  •  Ask how many other children were surrendered from the same area on the same day as your referred child (should not see 10 kids being surrendered on the same day in the same town)
  • Do not accept a referral if you have not completed an independent investigation of the child
  • Understand the family law that governs the sending nation, the birth family and child’s rights in the sending nation, and your obligations as the adoptive parent in the sending nation (Ethiopian Family Law.)
  • Understand when and how to report unethical agency behavior, and do it!
  • Commit to walking away, no matter how much money you've spent, no matter how much you have fallen in love. Commit to walking away if you cannot reasonably ensure the ethics of your adoption process.
One note about a suggestion I did not include: One AP suggested that I add "find an agency that values family preservation." I think these two goals are mutually exclusive. Much like you do not find a doctor who claims to attain the longest length of life for patients at the end of life and also secure useable organs for transplantation (goals which are usually medically contradictory to each other), so also agencies cannot truly work to preserve existing families at all costs and promote adoption. I wrote about the difference between a "culture of family preservation" and a "culture of adoption" a while back.

*Further reading about measures to protect the ethics of your Ethiopian adoption can be found here.

**Additional resources about adoption, international adoption, adoption ethics, and the adoption triad can be found on my Adoption Resources page. (Please feel free to suggest any additions!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

In My Heart, I Am George Zimmerman

In my heart, I am George Zimmerman.

Me, a woman who grew up in a community where white was the minority by far, a girl whose first best friend was sweet Michelle with her caramel colored skin, whose first grade crush was Leon with his strong, sinewy chocolate arms. Me, a woman who dated black men and befriended black women. Me, a woman who loves Ethiopia and feels more at peace in a room of Habeshas than in a room of my American peers. Me, a white, well-educated, proudly Yankee mother of a black child. Me, in my heart, I am George Zimmerman.

I found out a few weeks ago, at 10:30pm as I carried a pint of Heath ice cream across the Kroger parking lot. My kids and husband had gone out of town to visit his folks, and I had no responsibilities other than work and a strong craving for ice cream. I threw on a skirt, tshirt, and wedges to run to the grocery. The parking lot was empty, even by the one unlocked door to the store, and despite being “in town”, the stars were shining beautifully bright. I found my favorite ice cream, checked out, and walked out the automatic doors.

A few steps into my jaunt, I noticed a group of young men standing near their cars a few rows over in the parking lot. Their cars were decked out in the local high school mascots, and they wore college football jerseys with their shorts. They were smiling and laughing with each other..

I let out a little sigh and picked up my pace as I noticed they began to look at me. Suddenly my shirt felt too tight and my skirt felt too short. I glanced up and saw that several more pairs of eyes were on me. My stomach began to churn.

And that’s when I knew that in my heart, I am George Zimmerman.

You see, the only reason I felt intimidated by that group of young men was because they were all black. They clearly were from our affluent town and our little high school. None of them had said a word to me, nor made any intimidating gestures towards me. They didn’t even take a step in my direction. But still, I felt vaguely nervous, scared, hyperaware.

Because somewhere along the line, while I was able to make meaningful relationships with people of color, I had also internalized the societal message that black men represent danger, especially to white women. Never did it cross my mind that those young men were likely just hanging out, enjoying a sweet tea, Skittles, and a few laughs about football teams. No, I immediately assumed they were up to no good and looking to start trouble.

Racism isn’t about a personal interaction between two people, although individuals can certainly be racist (and many people are racist.) Racism is about the fact that as white people, we view the world in a certain way, and the way we view the world often involves negative stereotypes of people of color. Especially black people. We are all guilty of it. Whether we admit it or not.

The question, then, is what do we do about it? What do we do about the fact that our society teaches us, overtly and covertly, that people of color are less than… or even dangerous?

I wish I had the answers. I wish it was an easy fix. But I don’t, and it’s not. But here’s what I did.

I stopped walking. I told myself I was not going to be George Zimmerman. I looked up, smiled at those young men, and said hello. They nodded and waved and said hello back. And then I walked to my car and drove home.

The moment we can all recognize that George Zimmerman lives in our hearts is the moment we can begin to exorcise racism from our society.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Adoption Ethics: Why I write about it

Yirgalem, Ethiopia
March 2013
Photo Credit: Bridget McGann

Because I have an obligation to my daughter and her Mother.
Because too many childrenfirst families and adoptive families have been hurt by unethical adoption practices.
Because I want to be a voice for the voiceless.
Because we all do better when we listen to victims of crime.
Because I want to be an ally.
Because every child deserves better than what the current adoption system allows.
Because I talk about adoption, and ethics cannot be divorced from that experience.
Because I have hope that the adoption system can be changed to meet the needs of children who need a permanent, loving, prepared and supported/supportive family.
Because I'm tired of being told that adoption conferences and online adoption forums are not the right environment to talk about adoption ethics.
Because hiding, minimalizing, or marginalizing stories of adoption fraud and corruption sends the message that they don't matter.
Because once my eyes were opened, I found I could not keep silent.

Why do you talk about adoption ethics? If you aren't talking about adoption ethics, why not?
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