>Who needs toes?


>As I wrote in my last post, Birthmother’s Day was created in 1990 by a group of Seattle-area birthmoms who wished to acknowledge the incredible effects of birthmotherhood on their lives, to honor themselves and the choices they made. It is celebrated the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to recognize that birthmothers are first mothers. Today, it has grown to be a time to honor birthmothers by all those who have been affected by adoption.

Anna and her birthmother, sweet A.

I had the privilege of meeting Anna’s birthmother during my time in Ethiopia. Last year, for Birthmother’s Day, Anna was just starting to understand the idea that she grew inside the belly of someone other than me. Since that time, her understanding of her birthmother had grown tremendously. She understands that she has a birthmother in Ethiopia, that her birthmother gave birth to her, and that she lived with her birthmother “while she was a baby.” She knows her birthmother is brown, and they look similar. She knows Abigail, Gaga, and I all met her birthmother when we went to “Eepeeohpeeah” to meet her. She knows that I am Abigail and JohnAndrew’s birthmother, but I am her adoptive mother. 

Mostly, though, she knows that her birthmother loves her. Loves her as much as I love her. And that I love her birthmother. And that she can love her birthmother and me at the same time. She knows I think about her birthmother every day, and we pray for her often. And one day, we will go back to Ethiopia and she will get to see her birthmother and give her hugs and kisses. She is very proud to be Ethiopian, proud to be brown, and proud that she has a birthmother that loves her. 

I get a lot of this parenting stuff wrong- heck, I get a lot of this life stuff wrong, but once in a while, I think I get it right. This is one of those times.

Today, on Birthmother’s Day, we make a special, public declaration of our love and admiration for our children’s birthmother’s. We honor the difficult choices they made that resulted in their children being placed into our homes and families. We take time to pause and gratefully acknowledge these first mothers for the amazing role they have and will play in our children’s lives.

But the true sign of our respect for these ladies does not come in the grandness of our tributes today. It comes in the daily, quiet ways that we acknowledge them in our children’s lives. It comes through sharing our child’s story with them over and over, allowing them to own it, and encouraging them to love these women. It comes in bravely acknowledging that their birthmother experienced pain and loss in some form. It comes by allowing these birthmothers, these first mothers, to be just that- first. In our home, respecting Anna’s birth mother comes through photos, stories, and prayers. Daily. As often as Anna wants. And even sometimes, when she doesn’t want. So that she will learn her story, remember her story, and know that her story not only makes her unique, but allows her to be strong. Because her birthmother was a strong enough woman to make the most difficult choice of her life- to deny her own wants, her own desires, her own will, and think only of her child.

May I also learn that lesson… to die to my will, and serve my children in love. Completely. 

>Tomorrow is Birthmother’s Day. And World AIDS Orphans Day. While these two events are not explicitly linked in our family, for many, many families, they are.

Birthmother’s Day was created in 1990 by a group of Seattle-area birthmoms who wished to acknowledge the incredible effects of birthmotherhood on their lives, to honor themselves and the choices they made. It is celebrated the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to recognize that birthmothers are first mothers. Today, it has grown to be a time to honor birthmothers by all those who have been affected by adoption.

World AIDS Orphans Day was founded in 2002 by the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights (FXB). It is recognized on May 7 each year, in an effort to draw attention to and advocate for the more than 15+ million children orphaned by AIDS (estimates are that the number reached 25 million in 2010, with millions more unaccounted for in India, Russia, and China). The majority of these children reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, where access to medications preventing maternal-fetal transmission of HIV are minimal, and where ARV therapy- especially for children- is hard to access.

There is no denying the fact that HIV/AIDS has contributed immensely, and will continue to contribute to the growing number of orphans worldwide. Sadly, children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, even if uninfected, often face stigmas within their communities that prevent them from finding loving, permanent homes. And children who are infected, in addition to stigmas within their community and country, are often more difficult to place into international adoptive families, due to stigmas in receiving nations.

I firmly believe that the best way to prevent children becoming orphans is by keeping birthfamilies intact. For many in Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world, this would be possible with access to ARV therapy  for mothers and children, and through support for those living with HIV/AIDS.

I encourage you to become involved in the fight for access to care for mothers and children. Do something to honor the birthmothers who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. For each person, this act will be different, but here are some ideas:

  • Become educated about HIV/AIDS. Know the facts. Don’t contribute to the stigma of HIV.
  • Once you know the fact, share the facts with others. The only way to fight stigma and misinformation is through truth.
  • Join the movement to increase access to HIV/AIDS care for mothers and children. Help prevent the number of HIV/AIDS orphans from growing. Go to the FXB website and find an event, donate, petition world leaders, share your ideas, and get involved.
  • Support family preservation efforts that provide access to health care, including HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment care.
  • Sponsor an HIV+ child- in Ethiopia, you can do that through AHOPE
  • Consider adopting an HIV+ child. Learn more about that at Project Hopeful or From HIV to Home.
  • Share what you are doing. Here. On your blog. On Facebook or Twitter. In an email. With friends. At church. At your child’s school. Tell people about the difference you can make in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the battle to keep families intact.


>A friend shared this great article with me, and I hope you all take a few moments to read it… really, it won’t take long, and is worth the time. It was written by a family on the ground in Uganda and is very insightful.

This sums up what I hope to see happening in terms of family strengthening/preservation in Ethiopia.

>Family Preservation (FP) is complicated. Not because the goal is unclear or difficult to understand, but rather because the barriers to FP are often unclear and difficult to understand. Just like any decision we make, the factors that influence relinquishment/abandonment are often deeper than what can be understood by outsiders, especially by affluent Westerners. The cultural and religious norms/mores, the values of society, the political and financial situation of the country, and the availability of services are just a few of the external forces that drive decision-making. Many, many other factors come into play.

I want you, for a moment, to try to imagine a situation where you, as a parent, would feel desperate enough to consider abandoning or relinquishing your child. Personally, I can conceive of situations where I would consider it, but I cannot, in my wildest imagination, envision a situation where I would actually go through with it. And yet, we are led to believe that this act is “normal” or at least “predominant” in Ethiopia. (Keep in mind that up to 90% of orphans in Ethiopia have living birth parents.)

I firmly believe FP efforts start with access to basic health care. The plain truth is we cannot preserve families if the parents are dead, or in the end-stages of illness. Access to health care is crucial to maintaining families. The World Health Organization states that over 1,000 women die every day in developing nations due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth… many of which are preventable or treatable. 8.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year from illnesses that can be treated or prevented with access to simple, affordable medications.

On the “priority list” of medications that the WHO identified to reduce maternal, newborn, and childhood morbidity and mortality, a few common, simple, take-for-granted medications stand out: Oxygen. Normal Saline. Morphine. Amoxicillin. Vitamins A and K. These medications cost pennies. We hand them out like candy in the US. And they can literally save lives in developing nations. Add to that the fact that 1.8 million of the 2.1million children living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa (based on numbers from 2008), and the profound effect of ARV (anti-retroviral therapy) becomes evident. Most of these children are infected during childbirth. One third of HIV+ children will die before they reach 1 year of age. Another 50% will die before they are 2 years old.. ARVs save lives of children and parents. Basic health care is just a small part of the solution, but I believe it is a pivotal component.

Think for a moment what it would be like if each family that adopted from Ethiopia were to invest the same amount of money that they used for their adoption process into FP efforts in Ethiopia. Currently, the complete cost of an Ethiopian adoption, from initial application to the flight home on the second trip is probably about $25,000-35,000. Let’s just say $30,000 per family. In 2010, there were more than 2500 children adopted from Ethiopia to US homes. FP donations would be about $7,500,000/year from the US alone . Yes, 7.5 MILLION dollars in family preservation funding… if we simply put our money where it’s most needed.

Below is a list of organizations working towards family strengthening/FP, domestic foster/adoption, and non-IA services to vulnerable children in Ethiopia. I cannot personally endorse each agency, but most of this list was provided by someone who personally knows many of the founders of these organizations, or has worked with them in a professional capacity. Please, fully investigate any of these organizations and do not just take my word that they are doing good in Ethiopia. If you know of an organization that you would like added to this list, please let me know! If you can provide a reference for an organization and are willing to do so, please let me know that as well!

Yezelelim Minch
Foresaken Children
Compassionate Family International  (note: website not current)
Beza Entoto Outreach
Hope for Children in Ethiopia/WSG
Family Health International (part of the foster care pilot program in Addis Ababa!)
A Glimmer of Hope
Hope in Ethiopia: Zeway

A final thought: many, many people promote adoption as a Biblical mandate. In fact, we are to look after orphans and widows. But orphan care is not simply adoption… partially because many children who are orphans are simply not adoptable, and they need care too, perhaps moreso than those who are adoptable.  If you are engaged in an adoption because you believe the Bible instructs us to do this and/or you have been “called” to adopt, please, please keep in mind that this specific area of orphan care is just one of the many ways we care for orphans. But it does not “complete” or “fulfill” this mandate. It’s not “oh, I adopted a kid, so my work for orphans is done.” Adoption is just a small part of orphan care ministry.