When I mentioned to people that I would be taking my 9 year old son back to Ethiopia to visit his birth family I received all types of responses. People were excited for us, nervous for him. Some wondered if I was “returning” my son- YES really they asked me that!! And, others asked why? They implied he was so young when he left them that he wouldn’t even remember. Oh, and let’s not forget the handful of people who asked if I was scared the family would try to keep him. So, let’s talk about the reality of the trip.
Thankfully I listened to my mama gut because this trip was nothing short of amazing. Seeing my son literally melt into the embraces offered up by teary eyed family members is not something I will easily forget. Watching my son who is typically untrusting and nervous in new environments absolutely shine was a gift… he was in his element. And, he deserved to experience that.
My son left his family at around age 2 1/2, his memories before we visited were mostly erased. However, there is something powerful to be said about the first family connection. I would be lying if I told you that he feels as comfortable in our family as he appeared to feel with his first family while we were in Ethiopia. All of those early days being cared for by this group of individuals. It didn’t matter that they had not seen each other in over 6 years… something about it rang incredibly familiar to my son. He did remember them… his body remembered what it felt like to be there. It was familiar. And, he recognized faces that he hadn’t seen in years.
One of the things I find so interesting is how scared I was of the “birth family” when I first started looking into adopting a child. One of the reasons I chose international adoption and Ethiopia specifically was because I too, was concerned my adopted child could be taken from me.
However, now after experiencing the trials and hardships my son experienced. Watching him grow curious… seeing there was a missing link in his life that only his first family could fulfill I can tell you I was a fool. Adopted kids NEED to have access (whenever possible) to their first families. They need to feel that connection, to ask those hard questions and to understand their adoption story. And, I can assure you that your role as mom is not compromised but only strengthened when you can allow your child to connect with their first mom. Above is a photo of my son's mom hugging him for the first time in over 6 years. I cannot tell you what that hug did for my son’s heart. To feel that love that his first mom has for him. To know his adoption did not take place because he was unloved or unwanted- that is some powerful stuff!!!
In my son's case he wasn’t only missed by his immediate family. An entire village came to welcome him home. I mean this kid was floating on cloud 9 and still is even though we returned home more than a year ago. He knows now that HE IS LOVED!!!
And, it wasn’t just the people. My son was fascinated by the tour he took of the home his family lived in. He loved being able to walk through the home and see how it is that his family lives. Many of his questions were about their day to day lives. He just wanted to gain a better understanding of how they lived.
Talking about day to day activities. We had hired an amazing guide/ driver/ translator who stopped whenever he saw local kids playing. My son was able to join in, learn about his culture and what kids his age did there. It was really neat to see. The kids were all so welcoming to my son and everyone cheered him on.
I am still trying to get over the amount of love that was lurking around every corner while we were in Ethiopia. We met so many cousins, neighbors and friends. One moment that was incredibly neat to witness happened when we were walking the path his family still walks ever day to get water. On our way we ran into a gentleman who approached my son and started kissing on him and demanding kisses back. Then our translator informed us it was my son's Great Uncle… he had recognized him walking down the path and he was SO happy to see him. How cool is that?
My son said he felt like a movie star because every where he went local kids would follow. These cuties followed us on our walk to see the water supply. They were ecstatic to be included in the picture although you can’t tell by their blank stares. Its so funny how they don’t know to smile in pictures. Honestly, they were squealing with delight and jumping up and down right before this shot 😉
Ahhh… then there were the moments with My son's birth siblings. That was pretty amazing. All my son has wanted to do is play soccer with his older brother. He has talked about it on several occasions. I cannot believe he finally was able to so. It was like watching a miracle. So so special!!!
A sense of belonging is something else my son gained. An understanding of his roots, the ability to piece his puzzle together on his own terms. Man oh man to any one out there who is debating taking your child back to visit their birth family or even birth country if family is not possible. Please… please do… and do it NOW!!! Don’t wait!
I am so glad that my son was able to have this opportunity. I am happy that he now has the ability to talk about where he is from. He got to know his family, his country, the beauty and the poverty. He gets to make up his own mind in regards to his thoughts on Ethiopia. He went from not wanting to talk about Ethiopia or his adoption in front of people to wanting to share his country with the world. He asked to do a presentation in his classroom and he is re-decorating his room to what he calls an “Ethiopian” style. What a gift this trip was for both him and I. And, what a powerful lesson in understanding that the definition of family is not a one size fits all.
This post was first shared on Global Munchkins in 2016.