Fisseha Sol Samuel: “Irreplaceably Marvelous”

He was not my son, but I see Sol Samuel in many people that I love. Born in Jimma, Ethiopia, in 1994, Fisseha was adopted 10 years ago by the writer Melissa Fay Greene and her husband Don Samuel. Fisseha became Sol Samuel, one of 9 children in a loving, active family. He was an amazing athlete, gifted at soccer, a handsome young man with a warm smile and loads of friends.

He ended his life on October 9.

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He was not my son, but I see the spirit of the vibrant, living Sol Samuel in many Ethiopian and other adoptees that I know and love. Survivors, resilient, charismatic. Great smiles. Most succeed mightily in light of day, overcoming hard pasts, interweaving two distinct realities of Life Then and Life Now. A few who struggle in the night, with painful memories, gnawing fears, and desperate desires to please others, to fill gaps, to know truths, and to trust that life won’t again fall apart.

Most, of course, carry on and do well. They occasionally stumble, but most adoptees, like the rest of us, live out their lives without despair.

Here is a cynical but factual comment I read recently: Adoption and suicide are both permanent solutions to temporary situations.There is sobering research that says that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s here in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not lightweight stuff, and even more startling in that the mean age of the 1000 participants was about 14. Out of the total group, which included adoptees and biological children, 56 had attempted suicide; 47 of those were adoptees.

Sol was Melissa Fay Greene’s son. I met Melissa via phone in 1999 or maybe 2000, when she interviewed me for an article she was writing about Dr. Jane Aronson. Melissa and her husband had 4 children at that time, and were in the midst of adopting a son from Bulgaria. They went on to adopt a total of 5 children, 4 of whom were from Ethiopia. Melissa has written several powerful books, including “There is No Me Without You,” about an Ethiopian woman who took in AIDS-orphaned children. More recently Melissa wrote “No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.” I may have had one conversation with Melissa since that first one some 15 years ago. My impression of her when we first talked and since then is that she is a smart, talented, warm person with a fierce devotion to her family.

She wrote a number of times about Sol, including in 2004 about his amazing athletic abilities evinced just one day after his arrival at 10 years old in the United States. In “The Flying Son,” she wrote of him, “When Fisseha ran, ambition fell away. When he ran, he was a ballet dancer alone in a studio, whirling. He was a painter dipping a brush into oil paints. He was a greyhound, flashing over the ground out of its deepest nature and joy. When Fisseha ran, he was Peter Pan, who knew how to fly.”

He was not my son, this beautiful boy will now remain forever 20 years old. So young, so terribly young. The funeral service yesterday was recorded; it is filled with prayers, with the sound of rain, and with steady, wrenching crying. Among the speakers are two of Sol’s siblings and Melissa. Besides deep grief and deeper love, in their voices there is a sense of puzzlement: How could this be, that they are eulogizing their brother, their son? How could he leave? How can he be gone?

Some adoptee suicides get a great deal of press, as in the case of L’Wren Scott, written about powerfully here. Some get very little attention. Much more research is needed in the area of adoptee mental health. Native American adoptees are said to have a high rate of suicide; certainly many struggles have been documented. Deanna Doss Shrodes of the insightful blog Adoptee Restoration has a challenging post titled “When Adoptees Want to Die.” Tough title to see in print, isn’t it? Tough post to read, speaking as an adoptive parent. Incredibly important to read, and think about, and talk about.

We are not very good as a society at talking about mental illness, or depression, or suicide. We need to learn how to talk about it better. Suicide is not often listed as a cause of death: that someone “died unexpectedly” is the phrase used in some obituaries. Unexpectedly, indeed. The shock, the heartache, the questions left behind for loved ones to handle after the beloved has ended his life are unexpected, and enormous.

I have no insights into Sol’s mind or heart, no knowledge of whether he struggled with depression or anything else. I wept as I listened to the eulogy. I feel completely confident that his was a family that would have provided (and may well have) every possible resource to help any of their children, including Sol.

My impression is that Sol’s death was nothing short of a cosmically confusing event. No warning, no overt signs. Was it something about sports, something about adoption, something about relationships? My heart aches for him, his family, his teammates, and his friends, who will now not only grieve but revisit conversations and events for clues, for explanations of the unexplainable. As a parent, as an adoptive parent, I am mindful of the fragility and the strength of our children–how much we know, and don’t know. How much we love, how little we control, how we need to keep trying and reaching out to those we love. Tomorrow is not promised to us.

It may mean nothing that Sol’s suicide occurred in October. Whatever his demons were, they did not operate on any timetable other than some tortured sense of urgency all their own. Another Ethiopian adoptee, the British poet Lemn Sissay,  wrote this on his Facebook page October 9, coincidentally the day Sol died: “When October arrives part of me leaves. I want what leaves to come back. Now.” I can imagine each member of Sol’s grieving family is saying, “I want Sol back. Now.”

Sol was Melissa and Don’s son, and his Ethiopian parents’ son, and the brother to many. Sol and every one of his siblings have a tattoo “1/9th,” said his brother Lee in the eulogy. Each child in the family is 1/9th of the child pie. Lee also said the name “Fisseha” means happiness. Melissa called Sol “irreplaceably marvelous,” “a genius of the heart,” “a natural-born athlete of joy.” May Sol-Fisseha rest in peace. May his family find strength and healing. Lemn SIssay wrote in June last year, “I’m not defined by my scars but by the incredible ability to heal.” May all of us draw strength from that.

Baruch dayan ha’emet: Blessed be the True Judge. This is a Jewish blessing (the Greene-Samuels are Jewish) said at time of death or other difficult time. Rabbi Louis Rieser says the blessing has this meaning: “In the presence of death, filled with a range of emotions (including anger), I cannot understand anything more than my loss at the hand of some power beyond my control. I can, if I must, acknowledge the power, even if I cannot endorse it at that moment. Even in my grief, I can note God’s Presence. …at this dark hour when we feel the loss deep within our being, this blessing asserts God’s Presence alongside the mourner. We are not abandoned, though we feel very much alone. We are not without consolation, though it is hard to hear any words. God stands with us as we face the mystery of death.”

Baruch dayan ha’emet.

Sol’s obituary is available here.

Update: Yesterday (October 15), Melissa Fay Greene posted this lovely message on her Facebook page. Warm wishes for continued healing.

“Thank you all for the messages of condolence. I can’t write much here yet, but will say that, although Sol took his own life, he was joyful, generous, ebullient, kind, and funny every day of the ten years we knew him, basically until last Thursday. Suddenly, inexplicably depressed over soccer, he made the worst mistake of his life. In our son Lee’s eulogy, he described Sol as the most “down for any adventure” person he’d ever met. There is no way Sol actually meant to miss out on every bit of fun he had planned for the coming year (Thanksgiving with family in Florida, his 21st birthday in January, a return to Ethiopia next summer, intermixed with the endless playfulness and fun of his everyday life), much less miss out on the infinite joys awaiting him across his lifetime. We are grateful for everyone’s loving visits, messages, and bagels. We assure you: he was the gleeful, glorious boy you knew, and the 600 or 700 or 800 people sobbing in the pouring rain at his funeral knew that, too.”

 

 

 

Update on Kristen Barbour and Carri Williams

Update on Kristen Barbour:

Kristen Barbour was sentenced to 6 to 12 months in jail for pleading no contest to the felony charge of endangering the 2 Ethiopian children she and her husband had adopted. Kristen’s petition to serve the sentence in an alternative housing situation was denied last week, and she will be sent to the Mercer County (PA) jail. However, she will be allowed out five days a week to be in her home with her 2 biological children while her husband, Douglas Barbour, works at the family gardening/nursery business. Her petition to allow time served before sentencing to decrease her time of 6 to 12 months in jail was also denied. Kristen will not be allowed to take the children outside the home, with the exception of doctor visits (or similar) for which she must get advance permission. You can read the Post-Gazette article, which includes remarks from the jail warden, here.

The Pattersons, the family that has adopted the 2 Ethiopian children, attended the court session on Kristen’s petitions. The Pattersons asked for help in reminding everyone that all children’s lives matter, all adopted children’s lives matter, and black people’s lives matter. While much has been made of Kristen’s Biblical/Christian motivation for both adoption and for discipline, the Pattersons ask people of faith to denounce any practices that endanger the lives of children. Information on how the children are doing now is available here.

A news video from the local Pittsburgh CBS station is available here. It includes Kristen’s attorney Robert Stewart commenting that he has been surprised at the amount of media coverage this case has had, given that he’s seen far worse cases of abuse.

The adoption community has really come together in speaking out for the rights of adopted children. Let’s keep talking about the safety of vulnerable children, the need for better pre- and post-adoption services, and the experiences and insights of adult adoptees.

Update on Carri Williams:

About a year ago, Carri and Larry Williams were convicted for the murder of Hana Williams and for the abuse of Immanuel Williams; Hana and Immanuel had been adopted from Ethiopia. Carri and Larry are currently serving lengthy prison sentences in Washington state. Both had indicated that they would appeal the conviction, and Carri Williams recently filed her appeal. Her case is being handled through the Washington Appellate Project, a nonprofit providing legal assistance to indigent clients.

Carri Williiams’ appeals brief is some 59 pages; the appeals process can be lengthy. Let’s continue to keep Hana and Immanuel in mind, and to hope that justice is served.

 

Kristen Barbour Asks for Reduced Sentence for Abuse of Adopted Children

Kristen Barbour pled no contest to two felonies of endangering the welfare of the two little children she and her husband adopted from Ethiopia. In September, she was sentenced to 6 to 12 months alternative housing (outside of her home) and 5 years of probation. Her attorney, Robert Stewart, recently filed a request to change that “alternative housing” to home confinement, saying that the Barbours’ two biological children would then be left with no one to care for them.

The district attorney, Jennifer DiGiovanni, objected to any changes in Kristen Barbour’s sentence, saying that “Doing so would dilute this court’s sentence. This would not adequately address the severity of the crimes of which the defendant was convicted.”

You can read the full story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here.

The two children are doing much better, following removal from the Barbours’ home. May justice for them be served.

 

Helping Adult Adoptees Return to Their Homelands

Humans of New York (HONY) recently posted about a young adoptee in Israel. She hopes to return to Brazil to meet her birth mother. The post got 400,000 likes, and was shared some 4,000 times. Journalists, flight attendants, and hundreds of other people around the globe now want to help her. I’ve no doubt that the young woman is well on her way now to making her dream a reality.

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For international adoptees not featured on HONY, what support do they get to return to the country where they were born?

My daughter Aselefech wrote a powerful article, “Finding A Way Home,” in this month’s Gazillion Voices about exactly this question. The coincidence (she had written her article before the HONY post was published) suggests to me that there is global interest and need. Aselefech writes, “Going back (to one’s country of birth) is more than about visiting your birthplace like a tourist. It’s about completing your identity, and salvaging the very things adoption has stripped you of. Adoption has a huge impact on our identity, many times stripping away the very core of what we believed made us who we are.”

It’s expensive to travel around the world. How does one travel from Canada to Ethiopia, or Israel to Brazil, or the US to China? Adoptees can, of course, save money for such a trip, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, the reality is that original family members die, adoption agencies close, records are lost, and time is wasted. International adoptees had no voice in being moved from their first countries. Is the adoptees’ only recourse to have adoptive parents willing and able to fund a trip to the homeland, or to do online fundraisers to reconnect with their own heritage, culture, and family?

A Google search for “funding for adoptive parents” yielded 21,000 results. Without quotation marks, it had over 8 million. The phrase Funding for International Adoption also got about 8 million results. Loads of resources, grants, and fundraisers for people thinking about adopting a child.

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Then I Googled “funding for adult adoptees.” It had No Results. Without quotation marks, it had about 82,000 results, or roughly one-tenth of those for adoptive parents.

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“Funding for international adoptees” also yielded No Results. That same search without quotation marks yielded just over 200 results, but loaded only 12, all of which were about the only US program I am aware of that provides funds to adoptees: the Gift of Identity which is part of TIES: Adoptive Family Travel. It seems a good model, though it’s only for US citizens, is connected with the homeland tours, and requires a “pay it forward” commitment.

I envision programs for adult adoptees who would travel alone, or with other adopted adults, or with a spouse or partner, not with Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad were eligible for big funding on the front-end of adoption. American adoptive parents have received some $7 Billion via the adoption tax credit, most of which has gone to reimburse the parents for the cost of international adoptions. I’ve argued that even a small part of those funds should go to pre-adoption preparation, and for post-adoption services (including for first/birth parents as well). Adoption agencies and adoptive parents have been aggressive and successful proponents of the adoption tax credit as it exists.

Are those same adoption agencies and parents willing to advocate for funding to help adult international adoptees (especially those with limited financial resources and those whose adoptive families cannot or will not help them) visit their homeland and search for their original family?

Here’s my vision going out to the universe today: Funding for adult international adoptees, all around the world, to visit the country of their birth, a global collaboration for and by adult adoptees that could include a partnership with parents (first/birth and adoptive) as well as airlines, businesses, governments, and more. As Aselefech writes in Gazillion Voices, “I believe going back to your mother land should not be a privilege, but a basic human right. Let’s find a way to give that right and experience to others. It might be through legislative advocacy, through grants, through partnerships, or through networking around the globe. But it’s time for us to make sure we can all find our way home when we need to.”

To read Aselefech’s full article in Gazillion Voices, you need to subscribe. It’s well worth it, for her article, my article, and lots of great articles and features. Good news: until October 10, you can subscribe for a deeply discounted price. Click here for more information!

 

 

 

 

 

Of Birthdays and Memories, Friendship and Love

My dad will be 85 this December. He’s in terrific physical shape, and is still quite proud he has hair and that much of it is not yet grey. He is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, with very little short-term memory. Much of the time he is in good spirits, and I am forever indebted to the people who care for him at Putnam Farm in Danvers (MA), an assisted living facility. Every Friday, Dad and I Skype, no matter where in the world I am. Our conversations are similar, week to week. Yes, everyone is in good health. No, none of the kids are married.

Alzheimer’s disease takes away the brain’s abilities to think, to remember, to reason. You can use a metaphor of file cabinets. Those of us without the disease can pull files out and open them easily, chatting about what we had for lunch, aware of whom we are talking to, able to know where we are–not just the room, but the decade and the season and the time of day. People with Alzheimer’s can pull out some of the files, but they’re often not in good order, or seem written in a foreign language. Some pull out the same, familiar file and go with that. Over time, the files become hard to open, and are sometimes locked.

Dad, a Boston College grad, a writer of poetry who once handled crossword puzzles with ease, can still open a bunch of files. Some Skype visits are great, and he’s animated and able to chat easily. Words flow in the right order. The jokes he’s told a million times are delivered easily. He thanks God for good sleep. He thanks God 3, 4, 5 times for good sleep in any conversation. Sometimes, though, the words almost make sense, but one or two aren’t the right ones, and I am not sure what he’s saying. He’s alert enough to recognize that, and gets embarrassed, trying to figure out what to say to move the conversation along. He often finds a way at points like that to thank God for his good sleeping, and we all take refuge to that well-trod territory.

I don’t tell Dad anymore about any of my kids’ birthday, or mine, which is tomorrow. I used to, and he would feel badly that he hadn’t remembered, and hadn’t sent a card. He and my mom were great card-senders. In their last years together, before Mom died in 2003, they were amazing in their careful selection of cards, their use of stickers and colored pens (even when I was well into my 40’s), their thoughtful messages, their tenacity to put the cards in the mail well in advance of events. Dad did okay in remembering birthdays, and often sent cards, for a few years after Mom died.

I have had no expectation of a birthday card from Dad in recent years, and that’s fine. So when I received a card yesterday in the mail with his return address on the envelope–though the writing was my friend Sheila’s–I wondered what was up.

Sheila and I have known each other since before we had drivers’ licenses, when we rode our bikes from Danvers to Peabody along Route 114. You’d never let your kids do that today. Yet here we are, still alive, still very good friends. She had visited Dad this week.

Sheila included this note to me in the envelope: “When I visited with your dad yesterday, we were talking about age, birthdays. I mentioned your birthday was a week away, and your dad panicked. I went out and asked a nice aide if there were any extra greeting cards–hurray, she found one.

“I gave Dad the card and he very intently began writing. He twice asked me about spelling but he was fine. I never spoke while he wrote. At one point he said ‘My handwriting is awful.’ Said I, ‘It’s always been awful,’ and we smiled.

“It took your dad nearly 30 minutes to write his message to you. I took a cell photo for your memory book as this is such a precious gift from him.

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“While your dad may have forgotten much, his always strong love for you remains true and devoted. This is the gift that keeps on giving.

Your Dad is amazing.”

Here’s the message Dad wrote to me in the birthday card:

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That is the most beautiful, perfect present ever. I tear up a bit every time I look at it. What a gift. Thank you, Sheila, for helping Dad send me this card. I am so very grateful to her for her warmth, her thoughtfulness, and her compassionate heart, as we walk this journey with my Dad, who loves her very much also.

When I Skyped with Dad yesterday, he didn’t remember Sheila’s visit, and he didn’t remember it was almost my birthday. It doesn’t matter at all. In that moment when he was writing the card, Dad was writing with memories and love. That’s all that matters.

 

 

 

Libraries, Mothers, and Children: Visiting the Awassa Reading Center

Being able to read, and having books, changes the world. I love to read, and take it for granted far too often. When my kids were growing up, the house was full of books. My granddaughter, at almost 8, is a terrific reader, at home and at school, with books at her feet, under her bed, on the family room couch, in her backpack, in her hands.

What a treat, then, for my daughter Aselefech, her daughter (my granddaughter) and me to visit Ethiopia Reads’ Awassa Children’s Reading Center during our recent visit to Ethiopia. The mission of Ethiopia Reads is to collaborate with Ethiopian communities to build schools, plant libraries, teach teachers, boost literacy and provide youth and families with the tools to improve their lives. They have planted libraries in every region of Ethiopia (no small accomplishment), and fill an enormous need in this ancient, beautiful country.

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Awassa (sometimes spelled Hawassa) is about a 3-4 hour drive south (about 140 miles/220 km) from the capital city Addis Ababa. We were just dropping in, a group of 7 of us, on a Wednesday afternoon. About 10 kids were inside when we got there, a few in the little nook to the left, a couple looking at the books on the shelves, and a bunch in the sweet treasure of a reading room at the front. The adults working there were gracious to us, helpful to the children. Books were available in English and in Amharic; the kids were reading a variety.

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Children at the Awassa Reading Center

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Boys choosing books from the collection at the Awassa Reading Center

For my granddaughter, the Awassa Reading Center was a comfortable, familiar place, some 7,000 miles from home. She looked through the books, pulled out a Magic Tree House book, and joined the kids in the sunny front room.

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Children in the cheerful reading room at the Awassa Reading Center

As an American middle-class child, she finds books and libraries nothing unusual. Not so for her Ethiopian counterparts, and that’s what makes Ethiopia Reads so valuable. They are building communities by bringing books and libraries to places that had neither. They are educating girls, as well as boys. Ethiopia Reads also provides soccer balls to kids (who deserve to play with more than deflated, dirt- and hole-covered footballs–look what our kids have for equipment here in the US), supports a running team of girls (including job training,which provides employment and keeps them safe), and offers monthly sponsorships for kindergarteners. Many families struggle to send their little ones to school, since there are no publicly funded options for kindergarteners. For just $21 a month, you can sponsor a kindergartener for a full year: that will help with tuition, food, and clothes. $21 A Month. Amazing. I’m sponsoring a child to go to school through Ethiopia Reads, and you can too. Change the world with me.

Libraries here in the US and there in Ethiopia are important community centers as well. While we were visiting, we dropped off flyers at Awassa about Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which offers a searchable database to connect adoptive families around the world with first/birth families in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopian mothers long to know how their children are, after placing them for international adoption. EAC helps in a compassionate, pragmatic way. Many children placed for adoption come from the Awassa area. As an adoptive mother, I was very happy to think that some mothers might be able to know that their children are alive and well. As an adoptee connected with her Ethiopian family, Aselefech was glad to share EAC’s information as well.

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The transcendentalist Margaret Fuller said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Lovely sentiment from the early 19th century, and exactly right some 200 years later, whether meant for children in 1840’s New England or children in 21st century Ethiopia. Create a reader and change the world.

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Children’s books in Amharic at the Awassa Reading Center

 

 

 

 

Alleged Child Smuggling Comes to Light in DRC, Amid Hopes of Avoiding “A Media Storm”

An alleged attempt by some Americans to smuggle out children for adoption from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was featured in news reports there a few days ago. Here in the US, there apparently has been an effort by some adoption advocates to urge silence about that attempt, “to avoid a media storm.”

IMG_4913In Erin Siegal McIntyre‘s article “American Implicated in Congo Child-Smuggling Ring” on Fusion.net, she writes that “The illicit practice of smuggling children across the DRC’s borders has reportedly been going on for years, sources tell Fusion.

“ ‘It’s a word-of-mouth referral system,’ an adoptive parent told Fusion on the condition of anonymity. ‘The [Americans] have the children brought through Lubumbashi instead of Kinshasa. It’s $2,500 for fees and services, and a $750 donation… They do it in groups of four…. there was another trip scheduled for this Sunday, but because of the bust, they’re postponing trips until December.’

“Adoption advocates are concerned that the recent scandal could bring unwanted attention to the cross-border smuggling network. During a private conference call on the morning of Sept. 17, an adoption lobbying group warned adoptive American families to keep their mouths shut and maintain ‘absolute discretion’ about adoptions in the DRC.

According to one adoptive parent on the call, the group’s spokeswoman warned that talking to the press about the situation might trigger a cascade of ‘radioactive’ publicity similar to what happened in 2010, when American Laura Silsby and eight others were caught smuggling 33 children out of Haiti.”

A Harvard Human Rights Journal article, “Owning Laura Silsby’s Shame: How the Haitian Child Trafficking Scheme Embodies the Western Disregard for the Integrity of Poor Families,” is available here.

Adoptions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been problematic for quite a while. Just under 800 children have been adopted to the US from there since 1999, according to the US State Department. The DRC is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, and its infrastructure is limited for adoption. I hope that all families who considered adoption from the DRC were fully informed by their adoption agencies about the huge risks inherent in adopting from a country with very limited resources. The DRC’s involvement in trafficking has been cited in many reports and articles, including by the US State Department here.

Last year, according to State, the emigration office of the DRC announced that they would no longer issue exit permits for adoptions approved on or after September 25, 2013. Children could not leave the country without these permits, although they had been legally adopted by US citizens. It is unclear at this point when the DRC government will lift the suspension. Several hundred US families have been affected by the suspension, which was put into effect because of concerns about the fraud and corruption along with the well-being of adopted children.

There has been, for months, a highly publicized, highly vocal campaign by families affected by the DRC decision to suspend granting of exit permits. The campaign has been led by Both Ends Burning, which has been aggressive in its lobbying to get the DRC to change its position and allow the children to leave. BEB may be the adoption lobbying group now urging discretion about the attempt to smuggle children out of the DRC. BEB’s silence now is almost puzzling, not condemning the smuggling or even acknowledging it on their web page.

Many of the affected families communicate and commiserate together, including on Facebook. In McIntyre’s article, she includes a screenshot of a brief conversation from a closed Facebook group, Congo Adoption Families.

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I mention this to underscore the fact that there is no privacy on Facebook, that all posts even in ostensibly closed groups can be photographed and shared on the Internet. This is especially relevant to adoptive parents, and I’ve written about it here. While the Congo Adoption Families post has since been deleted, it now lives on nonetheless. It is a comment that lends credence to families’ being asked to be silent about alleged trafficking. In any event, the notion that news about the alleged child smuggling/trafficking could be kept quiet seems naïve and irresponsible.

If we are ever going to have ethical, transparent adoptions, we must speak up and demand that child trafficking never be accepted, condoned, sanctioned, or ignored.

The notion that child-trafficking should not be spoken about is disturbing. This most recent alleged case from the DRC is chilling to read about. Trafficking is a crime, a horror imposed on children, and not something we should ever be silent about.

 

 

 

September Sadness: Searching for Balance and Light

It’s my birthday month! Along with my fellow September birthday celebrators Beyonce, Meat Loaf, Colin Firth, Sophia Loren, Bruce Springsteen, Will Smith, Lil Wayne, Adam Sandler. I hope you sent them all a clever card. Those sharing my exact day include Hilary Duff, Young Jeezy, Brigitte Bardot, and Naomi Watts. I’ve invited them all to dinner, and we will raise a glass to Ed Sullivan, who shares our birthday as well.

Admittedly it’s a disparate group. We have in common our good looks and creative talents, plus we all fall under the sign of Libra, seeking balance.

September, it turns out, can be a very hard month, a time when–even if celebrating Mira Sorvino’s birthday–any of us can feel sad, depressed, anxious, or triggered, as individuals and as a species.

What might be some of the reasons for sadness in September?

* Change of seasons: In at least part of the world, it’s the end of summer, and the days get shorter, darker, and cooler. We stay indoors more. We put on more clothes. We may sleep more, but not feel refreshed.

* September 11 is globally observed as a day of mourning and loss.

* The Autumnal Equinox happens this year on September 22 this year, and the rapid changes of light can disturb our sense of peace. Even Dooce has struggled with it; read her post here. She’s a Leo, by the way.

* September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

* We send our children off to school, an event that is wonderful and hopeful, but also leaves our homes emptier. The kids are growing up. September means some kids leave home completely.

By mid-late September, the glow of summer has faded, and the challenges of school are firmly in place: bullying, homework, learning disabilities, cliques, meetings, deadlines, projects, testing.

* Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is in full swing. It’s real. It affects those with bipolar disorder, as well as lots of other people. It also affects the friends and families of anyone struggling with SAD.

All of the above is depressing, right? Yes. So let’s be with it, talk about it, acknowledge it, and look at ways to understand and deal with it.

It’s that Libra balance that my-ex Keanu Reeves (birthday September 2) and I share (well, maybe): the interest in acknowledging the challenge of September, and in finding the counterpoint in a strategy.

Let’s start with the aptly named SAD. Here is one reason many folks feel depressed and lethargic:  Our skin has an amazing ability to take in sunshine and change it into Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps us to regulate our positive moods. Not enough sunshine, not enough Vitamin D, not enough positive mood.

So, extra Vitamin D can help.

Another reason for feeling down and disconnected is that, in darker days, our bodies produce more melatonin, a hormone that helps us regulate our sleeping patterns. More melatonin can mean disrupted sleep that doesn’t make us feel better.

I drew from this source for the above information about SAD.

Another good approach can be light therapy, something quite popular here in the Pacific Northwest and applicable to many other geographies, including your living room. Basically it’s a supplement of artificial light to make you feel better. Read about it here.

A final note about SAD is that it affects not only humans but also some animals, according to this article from Live Science. A quote, casually placed in the article: “For instance, during long winter days, the Siberian hamsters’ testes increase to almost 17 times their size during short days.” Whoa.

Click here for more information about SAD.

Some of us experience disruption and an undercurrent of sadness during September; some of us deal with significant depression. Even if you’re doing fine, it’s hard to see your friends and family members struggling, a little or a lot. I mentioned above that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Most suicides, though, don’t happen in September. They happen more often in spring or early summer. Find info about myths and facts about suicide here. We humans are complex creatures.

If you have a loved one struggling, or if you are, here’s a site with loads of information and links.

If you encounter someone on the Internet, on Facebook for example, who seems to be dealing with depression or considering suicide, there are ways to reach out and offer help. Here’s a good source for online helping.

Of course, consult your doctor, your mental health provider, your (trusted, trained, experienced) source of medical information, whoever that may be.

You’re not alone with this, whether you are dealing with depression (or related realities), or trying to help someone else. It’s a hard road. The National Association of Mental Illness has a site to share stories and get support, called Not Alone.

I urge anyone struggling with sadness in September to reach out for help. There’s no shame in it. May we be open to asking for and accepting help. May we offer and give help. May we be open to laughter and love. May we find light on dark days, in September or whenever they occur.

 

 

 

Removed From the Barbours, The Children Have Flourished

In “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers,” Anne Lamott wrote…”Nothing can possibly make things okay again. And then, people and grace surround the critically injured person or the bereft family. Time passes. It’s beyond bad. But people don’t bolt. Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soul. The sun rises. Wow.”

Many people have asked how the two adopted Ethiopian children adopted by Douglas and Kristen Barbour are doing. The little ones arrived from Ethiopia in March 2012, were removed from the Barbours by the state of Pennsylvania in October 2012, and went to a foster home. The Barbours pled “no contest” in June 2014 to abusing and endangering the children, and terminated their parental rights this summer. They were sentenced this week: probation for him and a prison term of 6-12 months for her, which she may well serve at her home, not in prison. Read more here.

The children, a boy and girl, now 8 and 3, are flourishing since being adopted by a new family that includes parents Alison and Kevin Patterson, plus 3 siblings. It’s such good news, and the only happy part of this whole miserable case.

The following information is from the Victim Impact statements Alison and Kevin submitted to the court for the Barbours’ sentencing hearing this week; the statements and the photos below are part of the public record from the sentencing.

Alison Patterson’s statement:

“E  is an athletic, intelligent and good-humored boy with a handful of close friends. He debates between a future in engineering or medicine, though sometimes he considers professional sports or the circus.

“He also struggles with his self-esteem, has some separation anxiety when parted from the other children in our family, has light scars from the sloughing of skin (“peeling like paint” was the language used to describe the condition), and has intrusive thoughts about the summer and early fall of 2012. These symptoms have decreased significantly over the past year, and he is a far different child from when he arrived, small and fearful in October 2012.

“The first day we met, E asked me which bathroom he could use. When I told him that he could use any bathroom he wished, he told me that his ‘body was unsafe for other people.’ I told him this was certainly untrue. But he believed it to his core — why would he have been kept in the bathroom in the dark if it wasn’t true?

“He feared the dark, which we corrected by using nightlights. He feared the bathroom fans so much so that he would break into a cold sweat, and we replaced them with whisper-quiet fans. He asked where he could eat, what he could eat, whether he was allowed to eat the same foods as other family members, and whether he was still allowed to use the same bathroom or eat the same food when we had guests. He could not be upstairs alone, and feared that if he went to his room unaccompanied we might forget and leave him there.

“He told us that after what had happened, he ‘[did] not know how to play with other kids anymore.’ Our other children amazed me and my husband with their intuition and with their compassion. We supervised playdates closely to promote positive peer interactions, and his post-traumatic stress disorder therapy helped him to see himself as not so alien to other people. He began to make lasting connections.

“It has been suggested that many of the behaviors observed were adoption-related, and that E was ‘troubled’ and ‘overwhelming.’ But his life in Ethiopia was no more ‘troubled’ than that of many other adopted people. While his first family could not provide for him, he was and is adored by his Ethiopian foster mother K, and her grown children W and EE.  K says that she ‘call[s] him my son’ and she misses him. EE keeps E’s picture at her own home, and thinks of him every day. I debated revealing this very private bit of information, but I hope it helps [the court] to think differently about ‘orphan.’ E has been loved by many, and he is the son of many who are proud to call him son.

“For (the daughter) R, anti-seizure medication had to be taken exactly on time to avoid seizure activity, this in a child with no seizure history prior to a traumatic brain injury in September 2012. When she arrived in our home, she had no reflexes, and she would not catch herself if she leaned while sitting. She had to learn to walk again, but we could not risk a fall. Thus, I had to be within literal arms’ reach at all times.

“But she learned to walk. And then to run. And soon, with therapy and role modeling by the children around her, to talk. She is a marvel: funny and warm-hearted.

“She also has poor impulse control, and a combination of high intelligence and the significant likelihood of permanent learning disability as a result of frontal lobe damage.Her vision has improved. Her Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist is pleased by her progress, but cautions that school will be a challenge. Most of her disability will be invisible, and a private struggle.

“R is too young to speak to you about her experiences, and perhaps too young to have any speakable memory of the events. But someday she will have to come to terms with the fact that her difficult start in Ethiopia was followed by her near death in Pittsburgh. E says little these days about 2012, and he functions marvelously in a large and loving family. But he also has a lot to live with for a little person, and as loved as he is, his life will never be normal. He will not always be a PTSD patient, but he will always be a child who almost starved to death in the midst of plenty.

“E and R, like all child victims, deserve the court’s protection, as well as a sentence proportional to the harm done and permanency of the damage and reflective of society’s understanding of the value of these children’s lives.”

Little R Looking at a Llama– Photo by Heather Kresge Photography

Kevin Patterson’s statement:

“R is exuberant. She brings life to every room that she enters, and she has a smile that lights up everyone around her. She is active and smart. She likes to take care of baby dolls, and her hugs are strong and insistent. She is impulsive and trusting, throwing herself off of a climber at the playground and into my arms – ‘You catch me!’ she said with a smile and without having considered the risks. She knows that she is adored.

“As her father, I know that someone tried to kill my little girl, and that someday I will have to help her come to terms with that knowledge.

“I want for my children what any good father would want. I want them to know that they are valuable, that their existence as people is important and meaningful. I want them to find joy in the world without feeling like it may all come crashing down at any moment. I know that, despite my love for them, I shouldn’t have them. The conditions under which they came to be my children are those of a dangerous and unjust world.

“I have done and will continue to do everything in my power to expose them to the parts of the world that are lovely and good. I ask for your (the court’s) help in that mission. I would like to, one day, be able to say to them, and show them the proof, that their lives were valued not only by our family, but by our society. Given the seriousness of the crimes committed, the lasting effects on my children, the lack of admission of guilt or even expression of remorse for the children’s pain and for all they have lost, I ask for the maximum sentence possible for the crimes to which the Barbours have pled no contest.”

Kevin and Alison are not taking questions about the case, and have not commented on the Barbours’ sentence except in the Victim Impact statements above. A September 15 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article “Franklin Park couple sentenced for abusing adoptees” is available here.

Kevin and Alison shared the following thoughts with me, thanking the community, referring to Hana and Immanuel Williams, noting that no child should be abused, and that all children deserve justice:

We extend our sincere thanks to all who have expressed their love and support for the children. We are especially thankful to all those who have spoken up for our son and daughter when they could not speak for themselves and when we could not speak for them. Maureen McCauley Evans, amaseganallo (thank you in Amharic).

Hana Williams is in our hearts today, as are Immanuel and his family, and all children who have been blamed for the violence committed against them. It is worrisome that we have to assert repeatedly that it is never, ever, ever the child’s fault, but assert it we must.

Patterson Family Photo

My thanks to Kevin and Alison, and all good wishes to the children. May they always be safe and surrounded with love. Bones and lives heal. Wow.

Update on Trial of International Adoption Guides

Latest news, as of September 17: The trial of Mary Mooney and James Harding has been rescheduled for January 15, 2015, and it is possible there could be additional continuances. Both are out on bail at this point, and forbidden from working in adoption.

Following the February 2014 indictment by the US Department of Justice of the adoption agency International Adoption Guides, three former staff members were arrested for fraud and bribery involving Ethiopian adoptions. One staff member, Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia) remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. Of the three arrested, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. You can read more here.

The trial of the other two US agency staffers, Mary Mooney (IAG Executive Director) and James Harding (IAG International Programs Director), was scheduled to start tomorrow, September 16, in South Carolina District Court, but it looks like it will be rescheduled. This is not unusual in our court system, and happens for a number of reasons. Maybe the lawyers need more time, or the defendants are working on a plea agreement, or there is more evidence that needs to be shared and reviewed.

Alisa Bivens will be sentenced later this year. In the meantime, victim statements are still being accepted by the Department of Justice Victim Advocate office. I urge all families who were victims of the IAG crimes–fraudulently obtaining adoption decrees and signing off on adoption contracts, misrepresenting information about children and adoption, submitting counterfeit forms to the US State Department, and bribing Ethiopian officials–to speak up.

This is from the DOJ press release in February:

“If you believe you have been a victim of this crime involving the named individuals or International Adoption Guides, please call 1-800-837-2655 and leave your contact information. If you have questions or concerns about adoptions from Ethiopia in general, please contact the Office of Children’s Issues at the Department of State through the email address AskCI@State.gov. If you have specific questions about an adoption from Ethiopia that IAG facilitated, you should contact the Office of Children’s Issues at the Department of State through the email address IAGadoptioncases@state.gov. 

This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The prosecution is being conducted by Assistant United States Attorney Jamie Schoen of the District of South Carolina and Trial Attorney John W. Borchert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.”

While it is heartening that the prosecution and punishment of IAG officials are moving ahead, it is dismaying (unconscionable, horrifying, unbelievable–I’m not sure of the right word) that this even happened. So much grief, loss, and heartache for so many children and families, in the US and in Ethiopia.

Adoption agencies, adoption-related organizations, COA (the Hague accrediting entity), and others are, I hope, looking long and hard not only at the crimes allegedly committed, but also at what services have been and should be offered to all the families who were affected by this. I hope they speak up for the children and families as well, acknowledging what is at stake here and how justice might be achieved.

Given that IAG is obviously out of business, how will adoption agency professionals step up and speak out? What standards will the supporters of Children in Families First insist on? How will this affect future families placing their children and those adopting? How will governments and agencies work to ensure that adoptions are not based in fraud and corruption?

Many victims here. Please speak up.