Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Daughter's Mother

 We met her when we went to Ethiopia to pick up Zeni.  I videotaped our time together - focused the camera on her, set it down on the desk and didn't stop recording until after we had said our goodbyes.  In my mind the whole film is her face: young, confused, pained, and shy with the interpreters voice in the background and Jeremy interjecting questions now and then.  I've never watched the tape - it is so frought with emotion that I can't seem to bring myself to sit down and push play.         

        "Our in country staff updated me that Zeni's grandfather (her birth mother's father) 
         called them today after receiving the message from the neighbor. He said that he 
          would try to contact Zeni's birth mother in order to see if she would be available to 
          meet with you while you are in Ethiopia"

 I read and re-read the email on Jeremy' phone.  I imagine the grandfather getting the message from a neighbor.   Surely it was surprising  - had he thought much about Zeni since his daughter made an adoption plan for her own daughter nearly six years ago?  He will "try to contact" Zeni's birth mom.  When we were in Addis they lived together, father and daughter.  Was there a falling out, or did she leave because of a job?  Because she was making enough money to afford to live on her own?  Did her leaving have anything  to do with the birth of my daughter?

Jeremy is going to Ethiopia in February. He is working with a medical school to teach med students and to set a residency exchange program.  At least, that's our cover story.. And true as it may be the real reason for his trip is so that our family can establish some connection to Ethiopia which will afford us a way to spend more time there, as something more than tourists, getting to know the culture and the land and the everyday rhythms of the place where our daughter was born.  We are hoping that after this first trip our family will be able to spend summers, or at least a month or two, in Ethiopia every year.

Zeni is excited about the prospect of meeting her birth mother.  Last night she told me she wished her "tummy mommy" lived next door so that we could get to know her.  She gave Jeremy a list of questions she would like answered ("How old are you?  When is your birthday?  What is your favorite color?) The prospect of forging a relationship with (at least) a place, and hopefully with people who are genetically linked to my daughter is awesome.  I know that the more information she has, the more tangible evidence of her biological family she can get her hands on and her mind and heart wrapped around, the better off Zeni will be in the long run.

I am also reluctant to embark on this journey. What if Zeni's mom breaks her heart?  What if the reality of the economic and social situation of her biological family is too much for Zeni to bear?  What if the fucked up power differential that exists between a five year old and her birth family causes too much guilt, or places too much burden on my daughter's shoulders?  How can I willingly expose my daughter, who is one of the three most important people in my world, to the potential of so much hurt and tothe impossible-to-digest realities of poverty, privilege and struggle?  

I know that once I can't control the situation.  All I can do is try to keep my daughter's best interests at the heart of the decisions we make and be here for her when things turn out better than she had hoped as well as when they fail spectacularly.  

Along with pictures and notes from the kids and me Jeremy is taking a necklace to give to Zeni's mom.  There are three in the set - she will have one, I will have one, and Zeni will have one.  I know, or at least I choose to wholeheartedly believe that the strands of silver that hold these necklaces together  are a tangible representation of the strands of love, genetics, and humanity which will always connect the three of us.  

So deep breaths and good thoughts to Jeremy for a safe trip and non-grumpy immigration people, and to me for keeping the children alive for a few weeks without him and to the kids for surviving the insufferably screamy, bitchy mommy I am sure to be on at least a few days out of the next month.  

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