Haiti has had my heart since my first trip there in 2001. Children of the Promise has been a big part of my life for the past 10 years. I served with COTP several times in high school and college. I have adopted siblings, Juven and Ketsi, who were among the first kids adopted from COTP. My husband and I lived and served in Haiti for a year (2009 – 2010) and continue to work with COTP state-side. And I am the adoptive mother of three beautiful children from COTP, MIka (4), Lindy (3), and Alex (2). We also have a biological son, James, who just turned one. Yes, we are quite busy and it IS amazing that I have found enough “spare” time to write to you. I am writing you today from the perspective of an adoptive mother who has a passion for the children of Haiti and a heart for all adoptive families. Although it is not easy for me, I am going to be as transparent with you as possible.
When my husband and I decided to adopt our three children I was ecstatic. I had always known I wanted to adopt, and now in front of me were my very own son (6 months) and two beautiful daughters (11/2 and 2). I was not completely naive to the challenges and hardships that come along with adoption. I had seen and experienced it firsthand in my own family. I knew it would not be easy, I knew it would not be perfect, but I looked so forward to that day when we would all live together as a family and I could call them my own. I couldn’t wait to be mommy. Although I knew it wasn’t realistic, I still fantasized that one day they would all come running in my arms, we would kiss and cuddle, and they’d never want to leave. Nearly two years after our children moved in with us this had still not yet happened.
Our adoption story started when we were asked to take in a 6 month old boy named Alex. We had been living in Haiti for a few months and were settling into our roles. Alex was labeled “failure to thrive,” and had been in our care since he was 10 days old. It was apparent that the baby house was not giving him consistent enough care to thrive. Alex had learned to cope with life by putting his fingers in his mouth and going blank. Initially, he was an easy baby: never cried, never fussed, ate when you fed him, slept a lot. But, there were red flags that became very concerning: he never smiled, never played, and rarely made eye contact. He had learned that there was no one he could trust. No one was going to meet his needs. So, he put his two little fingers in his mouth and stopped trying. I rejoiced the first time he cried for food. It meant he trusted me enough to rely on me to meet his needs. The first time he smiled, I knew he was mine.
This and several other signs was the confirmation Jamie and I needed to know we were called to adopt at that point. I can remember our conversation we had where we agreed we were called to adopt and I asked, “How many?” Jamie said “three,” the exact number that had been placed on my heart. After officially being matched with Alex, Rosemika, and Roselinda, our children moved in with us in November of 2009. We knew there was trauma, abandonment, and trust issues. We thought that with consistent love and care, they would learn to trust us. They just needed a mommy and daddy. If we could just love them enough, they will heal.
However, this was not reality. Two years in my little girls were not attached to me. They liked me (sometimes), and they were learning to trust me, but they were not attached. I was hesitant to share this feeling with anyone else, and scared to even admit it to myself, but I knew there was something missing. That emotional bond between mother and child just was not there. Beyond this gap in relationship, there were many other things that worried me about my girls: there were glimpses of extreme fear and sadness, fits of rage, trouble eating and sleeping, showing affection to strangers, complete breakdowns, and total shutdowns. One of my girls was so dependent on my approval I had to be constantly reaffirming her as a person and could not ever leave the room, the other could be on her own for hours and not even check to see if I was still around. We had prayed endlessly, tried everything we could think of, but nothing seemed to change. My girls were not bonding with me and I needed help.
In September of 2010, I started going to therapy with my girls. It has been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, but the best thing I could have done for my kids and myself. The anger and fear that has come pouring out of these two little souls is unbelievable and very difficult to deal with at times. We are on the road to healing and it has been and continues to be hard, but it is all worth it.
As we and many others across the country were struggling to bond with our adopted children, we started asking the question: “Can we do something to make this better for our little ones in Haiti? Can we make the transition easier? Can we provide a level of care that will reach more of the children’s emotional needs?” As we talked with the Bonnemas (Bud, Jan, & Robin), we all came to the same conclusion: YES! Robin shared with us a plan that had been forming in her head for some time, Family Homes.
I will be forever grateful to COTP and the nannies there for saving the lives of my kids and giving them the best care they could. However, we are realizing that there is more we can do. Babies need a consistent caregiver who they can bond with and trust. Babies need to know that they are important, their voice can be heard, and there is someone there who will meet their needs. Babies need to feel loved. From all the research we have been doing, we are learning that it is critical for a child to have that bonding experience when they are young. It is necessary for that child’s emotional, physical, and spiritual development. We are also finding that it is better for a child to bond and be separated than to have never learned how to bond at all. Although our babies are receiving amazing care at COTP right now, the current set up does not allow for the children to attach to any one person. Their caregivers change every 24 hours, and short term volunteers come and go on a regular basis. Most of our babies have learned to get their needs met however they can by whoever they can, but not to form true relationships with anyone.
We want to change that and we believe we can with this new model.