The Pain of Reunion: A Transracial Adoptee's Search for Her Birth Mother

by Mariette Williams

I am irreparably broken. My adoption was an earthquake that shattered my life. When I was three, the ground beneath me suddenly rocked and heaved me into the air, shards of concrete and glass pummeling my body. When I finally landed on the broken earth, I was another child with a new last name in another family.

I was separated from my family until I went back to Haiti on July 13th. I was in Haiti for five days and tasted from a buffet of emotions. I cried when the plane landed at the tiny airport in Port-au-Prince. As we drove to the guest house, I held my breath on each turn we made through the winding and narrow streets of Delmas. My hands shook with anticipation for finally meeting the woman who shared my blood, who nurtured me in her womb.
When my mom finally arrived at the guesthouse, she stepped out of the passenger seat of the van and we hugged, holding on tightly to each other.There were no tears. I had cried enough in the years and weeks leading up to the reunion. It would usually happen when I was driving by myself at night. Dark waves of despair would choke me, leaving me sobbing and gasping for air, tears streaming down my face. Sometimes the trigger would be a sentimental song or a scene in a movie, and I would have to excuse myself to the bathroom and cup my hand over my mouth to stifle my cries. It was exhausting.

So when I finally met my mother, I felt relieved. But my reunion was like coming out of a coma. For five days, I was introduced to family members. I met my two brothers, my four sisters, and several of their children. Each time a family or relative would greet me, embrace me, kiss me on the cheek, they would look at me expectantly for some sign of recognition. My older brother told me games we used to play, with an eyebrow raised as if to say, “You don’t remember this? You don’t remember me?” And I didn’t remember.

I saw the house where I was born. I walked on the hard-packed dirt floored and surveyed the room where my mother gave birth to me. My mother even told me the exact day and the exact hour I was born. I tried to remember. Sitting in front of my mother’s house, I closed my eyes and tried to will myself to conjure up some type of long forgotten memory, but I couldn’t.

At three years old, my memory had been reset. My first memory is the ride on the airplane that would eventually take me to Canada. I remember being sick, throwing up all over myself and crying. Trying to cope with the trauma of being uprooted from my family, my brain had does its best to make me forget everything I left behind. And perhaps for good reason. Because this summer, I found out the real story of my adoption.

For most of my life, I knew very little about my adoption. I was told that my parents had placed me in an orphanage because they were too poor to take care of me. My adoption papers listed my name, my place of birth, and parents’ occupations as farmers.

Almost everything else in my adoption papers was a lie. My birthday was changed to make me younger, and a backstory was invented to make me seem more adoptable. My parents signed no papers and were not aware of my adoption. I left Haiti without my parents’ knowledge. But how was that even possible?

My mother sent me and my two older sisters to live with my godmother, one of her close friends who ran an orphanage in Carrefour. My godmother promised my mother she would send us to school. My mother had hopes that her three daughters would be educated, but adoption was never the plan. My mother would visit us often, bringing fresh fruit and vegetables from our yard. When I was sick, she would breastfeed me, rocking me until I stopped crying.

Until one day I was gone. My godmother had arranged my adoption. Papers were forged, money was handed over, and I was gone.

For 29 years, I was lost to my family. They didn’t know where I was. My mother had thought I was with my godmother, who had also disappeared. They thought she had taken me to the Dominican Republic. That maybe she had made good on her promise to give me an education and taken me to Miami.

My mother took my sisters back home, and the orphanage eventually closed. There was not a day that didn’t go by that my mother didn’t think of me, the child she was missing. Not a day has gone by in my life that I haven’t thought about my mother, longing to someday see her face.
My father passed away two years ago, and I will never get to meet him, but I was comforted by stories that his friends told me that he had always prayed that I would make my way back to Haiti.

Twenty-nine years ago I was stolen from my family. It’s foolish to think my life is suddenly fine now that we have reunited. That I can just forget about the last 29 years. My adoption has had an impact on every single aspect of my life. The absence of my mother has affected my friendships, my marriage, the way I parent my children, and my identity.

I am hyper aware of how others perceive me, wanting to always project an image of someone who is well adjusted, emotionally balanced, and normal. But under that facade, I vacillate between an intense fear of rejection and severe feelings of apathy towards everyone around me. My entire life I have battled low self esteem, my personal accomplishments a thin veneer over the gaping hole where my mother’s love should have been.
It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that your parents loved you so much that they gave you up. To a child, it still feels like rejection. There’s no comfort in hearing that you have been separated from your mother for some greater good that you have yet to see.

But now I am grappling with the fact that the few things I knew about myself, about my family in Haiti were never true.

Twenty-nine years ago I was stolen from my family. With my disappearance, my family was broken, and each family member suffered from the loss. In the months that have followed our reunion, the pain of separation has been renewed. Every day I wake up and think of my family, and each second away from my mom reminds me of what is still missing in my life.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She is currently working on a YA novel and lives in South Florida with her husband and two children.

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