Saturday, October 9, 2010

Faces Of A Vanishing World/ Infant Adoption And Loss

I was going to write this post about an amazing show where a professional photographer went to Ethiopia to take pictures of remote tribes in the southern region. I'm still going to tell you about this amazing show, but this post will include something else I was not prepared to tackle, that came as a result of watching it with my Ethiopian daughter.

But first... about the show "Faces Of A Vanishing World". Unlike so many photographers before him, Joey Lawrence returned to Ethiopia to show and give the photos back to the people, many of whom had never before seen themselves in pictures. His return to Ethiopia, bringing the photos back to the people, is what the show is about.

I've known about this photographer for a while now, since my husband Marshall has followed his work. Marshall worked on Twilight, and this guy photographed the Twilight cast for their posters like this one...

I remember when Marshall first told me the guy who photographed the cast of Twilight was going to Ethiopia to spend time there and photograph the people. With the Twilight and Ethiopian connection, not to mention his photography hobby, Marshall has been following Joey Lawrence's adventures through his Twitter page.

His photography, lighting and photoshop skills are unlike anything I've seen. When we heard he made a show about his return to Ethiopia with the photos he took, we had to watch it. It has been playing on the National Geographic and Ovation channels and we set our DVR to watch it. Marshall and I were incredibly moved when we sat down to watch it. Our daughter is from the Sidama people, who are also from the southern region of Ethiopia. Here is the trailer for the show.

Faces of a Vanishing World: Official Trailer from Joey L on Vimeo.

If you haven't yet caught it on TV, I highly recommend watching it. You can purchase it digitally or on DVD at

I've actually watched it twice on DVR, AND I just ordered it on DVD. I was that moved by it.

After watching it with Marshall, I thought it would be a great idea to watch the program again with our kids. Haven, age 10 (biological), Seamus, age 6 (adopted domestically) and Marlie, age 4 and 1/2 (adopted from Ethiopia).

Normally our daughter Marlie gets very excited whenever she meets another Ethiopian, or hears Ethiopian music. She swells with pride over being a part of Ethiopia. I thought she would love this show. I did not anticipate her reaction at all.

When you start the adoption process, many parents (us included) think... oh we'll get an infant. They'll come with no history, won't experience any loss, won't be affected by adoption... it will be exactly like they are born to us. They won't have any adoption-related issues. WRONG.

Our middle son was adopted domestically. My husband cut the cord when he was born. We took him home from the hospital when he was 2 days old. So far I haven't noticed any adoption-related "loss" issues with him, but his birthmom is a big part of our lives. That and his personality might have something to do with it. He may never feel a sense of loss related to his adoption or it might hit him at a later date.

Our daughter's Ethiopian father died while her Ethiopian mother was still pregnant with her. Her Ethiopian mother died when our daughter was 3 months old. We were matched with her at 6 months old, and brought her home just 7 weeks later. She has 4 older sisters that are being raised by their aunt and uncle. We keep in touch with them and send care packages, pray for them, etc. They send letters and pictures back to us. A logical mind would say she's got no memory of her Ethiopian mother or siblings, and certainly none of her Ethiopian father who died before she was born. Our daughter has been told her adoption story in an age appropriate manner since before she could talk.

Imagine my surprise when she was so greatly affected by "Faces of A Vanishing World". While watching, she asked, "If I grew up in Ethiopia, would I have to work hard like the girls there?" I said, "yes". She then asked, "Do my sisters have to work hard like that?" I again answered yes, knowing her sisters have a much harder life than she does. They live in a mud house. They walk an hour to school each day and an hour back. The food they eat is the food they grow and make themselves. Life is much harder for them than it is for her. It is a hard truth that she will have to someday come to terms with.

Seamus enjoyed the show. He thinks it's "cool" to see Ethiopians like Marlie. Haven was truly moved by the program. He has had a heart for Ethiopia since we adopted Marlie. He cannot wait until we return as a family to visit and especially wants to hand out bottles of water to the children. He also wants to give away all his money to the Ethiopian people.

By the end of the show, I noticed that Marlie was silently crying. When it was over, I asked her why she was crying. Her answer... "I miss my Ethiopian Mommy and Daddy". Logic had no place at that time. I held her tight as she cried and said, "I know you do baby, I know you do."

Haven, my logical son, said, "But how can she miss them if she was just a baby?" I explained that no matter how young she was when they died, she still has faced a tremendous loss because most kids are raised in the families they were born in. And she was not. She lost her parents, lost her country, lost her culture and her language and she can never get them back. It's a devastating loss for many adoptees, and one she may never fully get over. It's NOT fair that stupid disease-carrying mosquitoes bit her parents and made them sick. It's NOT fair that they lived in a rural area with no access to medical care. It's NOT fair that a simple pill could've saved their lives. It's NOT fair that they died.

Then Haven said, "But if her parents had lived, we wouldn't have Marlie in our family." Ahhhhh that simple statement that even I can't fully reconcile. Of course I love Marlie as if she was born to me. Of course I'm grateful I get to raise her as my own. Of course I believe she was meant to be in our family. But that doesn't mean what happened to her parents was a good thing. It's a tragedy. And in this day and age, no one should die from Malaria. NO ONE. But people still do. And my daughter was orphaned at 3 months of age by that hideous disease.

I continued to hold my grieving daughter as she cried and cried that day and I thought to myself... the hell adopted infants don't feel loss.


  1. Certainly thought provoking! Thanks for sharing, Julie. And please give Marlie a hug from us. We love her.

  2. Tearful post Julie. It reminds of me of what drew me to your blog in the beginning and made me a faithful follower and fan of the fabulous Ms. Marlie. I DID not know that Lulu and Marlie shared such a similar story. Lulu's dad died before she was born due to Malaria, Her mother died 24 days after she was born. She was nursed by the family of an uncle who could not get this grieving infant to eat and she has 4 siblings, 3 brothers and 1 sister that live with her uncle. AND, she is from the Sidama region! I have not discussed adoption with Lulako. Not because it is a secret, I share it with anyone willing to listen. But I am now going to weave it our daily discussions!

    I appreciate this post. I must share!

  3. Julie, that was so moving. I think it's such a common misconception that babies don't know loss. Even those who've been adopted at birth have known someone else for 9 months at that point. They know their voice, their heartbeat, their smell. They have an unbreakable connection to that person. I think it helps Melkamu process the loss of his firstmom because we have a picture of us with her that we keep on his dresser, and are willing to talk about her whenever he wants. When he first came home at 16 months old, he hadn't seen her in 4 months--but looking at that picture when he was the most scared and angry and grief-stricken always helped him relax. Even so, when he first saw pictures of himself with his extended family as a baby, he closed the photo album and didn't want to look at it anymore. It was the first time he'd really connected that he lived with, and was very loved by, another family before we brought him home. He took a few days to process that before asking to see the pictures again.

    Kamu's firstdad died when he was a month old and even though he has no memory of him, he's recently started to show understanding of the fact that he had a dad before Jason, and to seem sad about it. And there's nothing I can say to make it better, other than "I know sweetie, it's very sad and I wish we'd known him."

    We also talk about adoption frequently with Melkamu, so that he knows that we're always open to talking about it and answering any questions he has. It's really hard sometimes and can leave me in tears later. I try not to cry in front of him, but sometimes the fact that he's become the wonderful little boy that he is even with those losses in the past is just staggering.

  4. I know from personal experience young children experience loss of their deceased parents. My dad died when I was 2 months old and as long as I remembered, I felt his presence. When I grew older, I went through years of missing and longing for him even though I had a wonderful loving stepfather.

    Somehow, I knew even though my dad was prematurely taken from me, he loved me. These children all have angels. I don't think deceased parents "rest" when they leave very young children behind. I think they feel the need to know what's going on. I don't believe in ghost, but something happens that we don't understand. Sometimes his presence was so close, I felt as if I could reach out to him. That's what triggered the saddness for me.

    As an adult, I finally felt as if my father "let go". It was when I was about the age he was when he passed.

    I really believe the spirit of some deceased parents live on in their children.

    I know you're a patient loving woman and you'll continue to allow her to express the pain she feels. In the end, she'll develop a stronger self-awareness and compassion for others just as you've shown her.

  5. Thanks for sharing this Julie. I never realized how much our daughter had in common with Marlie and Robbin's daughter Lulu. I watched the trailer when you posted it days ago. I remember the young girl who stepped away from the photo. It reminded me of the young people we took photos of during our visit. They were shocked by their images as well.

  6. Like you and Robbin, we have the same story too. Thanks for sharing this. What a powerful family experience.

  7. I cried. I love how you just held Marlie while she grieved her loss. You didn't try to explain it away or minimize her tears. And, you weren't threatened by her tears for her birth parents. Awesome job!

  8. I am crying as I write this. You tell a true story that most people can't even begin to grasp. Peyton tell us more and more each day about her family, her daddy, her siblings, her aunt and she misses them very much. Some days more than others and some things just cause her to remember something out of the blue. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I led a book tour last November on "The Primal Wound." One of the things that struck was when the author says that we often forget that THE CHILD WAS THERE (or we simply discount that the separation may have had an effect).

    Reading that book has had a big impact on me as an adoptive mom. Like you, one of my children seems to have more of a wound to heal than the other.

    I am impressed by the way you sat with your daughter and allowed her to feel and process, even though it hurt to do so.

    (Oh, and I love purple, too. May I move into your house?)

  10. My heart breaks for your baby girl! but at the same time I know she has an awesome family that will support her and help her through it all!

  11. Thank you for sharing this Julie. My 2 year old daughter does not yet talk, but when she does, I expect to sometimes hear her talk about Ethiopia and her first parents, despite the fact that as far as we know, she may only have been with her mother for a few months, and left
    Ethiopia at 15 months old. I am so frustrated when people say things like "that's great that she has no memories of her difficult past." WHAT? First of all, of course she has memories -- I wish I knew more of them to be able to help her hold on to them! and secondly, why would it be good to not remember her first family and country when they are such a part of who she is?
    Meanwhile, my 10 year old loves those bear photos!

  12. awwww julie. youre such a good mommy. and little marley is the cutest dang thing. im praying for her heart to heal this morning.

  13. Thank you everyone for your kind and thoughtful words. It was obviously a difficult post to write... lots of emotions, but I felt it would stay on my mind until I wrote about it.

    Lavender Luz... there's a house for sale two doors down for me. You should buy it and paint it lavender! ;)

  14. Greetings from New Jersey!
    Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I are considering adopting a child from Ethiopia. I saw your video on youtube, and I follow your blog.
    You have a beautiful family and you are such a good Mom!

  15. Glad you aren't hiding the hard truths from your daughter (or your boys). I think it's important to be open with the blessings AND losses.

  16. Thanks for posting the video referral and sharing about your daughter and all the emotion it stirred. I ordered a DVD to watch with my son when he's older.