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Once Upon A Time… Part 1

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On October 16, 2009, my husband and I landed at O'Hare airport with our 17-month old daughter Frehiwot (Fray) Tessema. Our three boys, my parents and Mike's mom met us at the airport to meet their new sibling and grandchild. While all of us were overjoyed, excited and beyond thankful, Mike and I were still in a cloud of processing our journey and Fray's birth story. The story of how she found herself being taken from her home in Ethiopia, to become a member of a new and completely unfamiliar family and land. This weighed heavily on us. The weight increased by our decision not to share Fray's birth story with anyone but Fray when she became old enough to understand it. This was not the original plan. At first, Mike and I had decided we would share our child's birth story with family and friends, and possibly even the curious friendly stranger. Our thinking at the time was there is no shame in being adopted and by the birth story being out there, the whole thing would just be normalized. No one special day of sitting down and revealing all the details. They would just always be out there for our child to grab on to whatever made sense to them at the time. We had a plan, a philosophy. We were all set. Until...

I must admit, I am not a fan of non-fiction reading, and as much as I would like to say that the excitement and process of adopting Fray motivated me to scour adoption books cover to cover, that would just be a big ol' fat lie. My engineer husband on the other hand, is the exact opposite, as he is seemingly allergic to all things fiction. So although we didn't ever really fashion an information attack plan, I garnered the majority of my adoption information from People Magazine articles about Angelina Jolie, talking with adoptive and prospective families, and a subscription to a thin magazine called, "Adoptive Families." Mike read piles and piles of adoption books addressing everything from attachment to identity. He would then regurgitate all the important facts, whittling a 200 page book down to a summary of three pages for me, while I would share a heartening story or photograph I had come across. We were an awesome team.

It was a relatively short article that threw us for a long and windy loop. I can't remember the exact title. It was something to the effect of, "Your Child's Birth Story— Who Should Know?" The author basically took the position that your child's birth story is exactly that— your child's. That in addition to being given the gift of adoption, you have also been given the gift of your child's birth story— but as a guardian of it and not the teller of the tale. They emphasized the first person that should know your child’s story is your child. Because once you put it out there, you can’t take it back and in essence you have given something away that never belonged to you in the first place.
The most difficult part has been keeping Fray’s story from her brothers. They are not inquiring all at once, and they are not curious all the time, but when they ask and we give our little speech, I can see the wheels turning. When you don’t explain, when you can’t answer, kids come up with their own reasoning, their own answers. For our kids, there is nothing they can imagine that would create a situation in which they could no longer live with us. They can also not imagine anything happening to us that would make our staying a family impossible. In some ways, I am grateful for this. But I have recently stoked the fires by taking Fray back to Ethiopia last month. The trip was to say the least, utterly amazing. Next month I’ll tell you all about it. Well, not ALL about it…

Click here to read part two.

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