The conversation was bound to happen. I’d read about these talks. In some ways I dreaded them. They never seem to happen at a convenient place or time. But, this was a conversation wasn’t exactly textbook. As a matter of fact, it was barely recognizable.
Hanissa had an appointment at the hospital. Lots of tests, blood drawn, and another x-ray. Other than spending many hours at the hospital and being traumatized (once again by needles), the day was going well.
There are some great little Ethiopian markets near the hospital, so I decided we’d stop in and get some injera and other staples. Hanissa loves these stores. The smells, the sounds, the sights, it brings a little bit of her history to her present day life. Visits take their toll, too. More often than not, an encounter with anything Ethiopian brings great joy and then the feeling of great loss. Some choose to avoid these places because of the “side effects” it brings to their families. We’ve chosen to embrace her past and deal with the fallout as it comes. (And, I question this decision regularly.)
This day, we walked in and two ladies were talking in Amharic. They smiled and made a fuss over Hanissa. They asked me where Hanissa was from and we talked about Ethiopia for a few minutes and about Hanissa’s health. Then one woman looked at Hanissa and said, “You have a good Mommy.” To which Hanissa responded, “She isn’t my real Mommy. That Mommy is from Ethiopia.” Hanissa would have gone on telling more of her story if the women hadn’t interrupted.
The two ladies looked at me wondering if they had heard correctly. It was the first time Hanissa had started her story this way, so I was a little surprised. But, I knew she wasn’t trying to be mean to me. She is trying to figure out all the roles of people in her life. I looked at these women and said, “ She’s just trying to tell you that her family is from Ethiopia and she was born there.”
I guess the shock, that had stunned the women into silence, wore off because they started in on Hanissa. “This woman, the one who clothes you, the one who feeds you. This is your real mommy. That woman in Ethiopia she isn’t caring for you. She doesn’t sit up with you when you are sick. This is your REAL mommy.” The rant continued as I grabbed Hanissa’s hand and thanked the ladies for their concern. I picked up Hanissa and said, “They just want you to know that we love you, too.”
I really couldn’t think of anything else to say. I don’t want her to be afraid to talk about feelings she has for her Ethiopia family. And, I don’t want her to assume she was unwanted and therefore put up for adoption. (Yes, that happens, but most adoptions are much more complicated and filled with heart wrenching decisions.) I also want to protect her from those who would try to keep her from searching out and knowing who she is. These ladies had good intentions. They were trying to solidify my place in Hanissa’s life. But that position isn’t won by mere words.
Three weeks later, I had to correct Hanissa’s behavior at church. She looked at me and asked, “Why are you telling me what to do? You are not my Mommy. Not my real Mommy!” This time, the words stung. She wasn’t merely trying to tell her story, but had learned from our experience in the store that this was an issue. I immediately prayed, “Father give me words of Truth and Love to speak to her right now.”
I took a deep breath and responded, “You are a special girl. God has given you two different Mommies. And they both love you very much. One from Ethiopia who got to hold you and sing to you as a baby and one in America who gets to watch you grow up.” The answer satisfied her. Her spirit quieted and the rebellion that was growing disappeared.
I know this isn’t the end of the conversation. This discussion pops up all the time. “Where is my Ethiopia family?” “I can’t remember them very well.” “I’m afraid I won’t ever see them again.” “Did my first family die?” The last few months my blog has been rather silent because most of my free time has been spent holding a little girl who is in tears or lashing out in fear/anger because of her past. Memories haunt her, feelings she can’t explain, concern for those she left behind.
Most people only see my girl’s beautiful smile and her charming wit. And, I’m glad this is the girl others know. But just like everyone else on the planet, my girl has secret fears and hidden scars. And, as with most adopted children, she is having to deal with them early in life. Learning to cope with her past and her present, learning to accept the person she is…these are lifetime struggles.
Am I her “real” Mama? Most definitely, I am. But that doesn’t make her first Mama any less real. Coming to grips with my girl having two Mommies can only help her in the healing process. Knowing that she loves, cherishes, and even longs for her other real Mama only causes problems for me when I allow fear or pride to grip me. Adopting this sweet girl has changed me profoundly. It has been more painful than I ever imagined but has also grown in me humility, love, and compassion. I am so thankful for H’s other real Mama. For loving her, keeping her for as long as possible, and for being a precious memory to hold on to forever.