Thursday, May 7, 2015

Adopted ID: A Haitian Adoptee Searches for Answers

Judith Craig Morency
About a year ago, I received an email from Judith Craig Morency. She had read my story of finding my family on my blog, and she was excited to meet another Haitian adoptee. In her email, she explained that she also grew up in Canada. She was born in Cap-Haitien, the northern part of Haiti, and she was cared for in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince for four months before being adopted by a white Canadian family in Montreal.

Judith and I share many similarities, including our desire to connect with our families. But Judith’s story is a little more complicated. When Judith started searching for her family, she didn’t have any family names as a reference, including her own. Only a few days old, Judith was found in a ditch and taken to an orphanage. In 2007, she returned with a camera crew to document her journey back to Haiti.

As I watched her documentary, Adopted ID, my heart ached. As Judith met with different women who claimed to be her mother, her enthusiasm never waned. She continued searching in the hopes that she would find a family member to help put together the pieces of her early life. The movie is not just Judith’s journey, but a revelation of adoption in Haiti. Wherever Judith went, she was met with families eager to claim a lost child. Adoptions in Haiti have created a lost generation that may never find their way back to their families.  

There were many scenes that I will never forget, but one that stood out to me was when Judith was staying at a guesthouse and met with a family who was there to adopt. Judith stood apart from the family and watched them hold their soon to be adopted children. In the next scene, she told the camera that she felt sadness knowing what these children would grow up missing. For all of the material things they would gain, they would lose a part of themselves that could not be replaced. Adoption ID is a documentary that shares the story of one Haitian adoptee, but it is the story of us all - the lifelong search for family and roots. Watch the trailer below and read on for our interview!

I’m interested in the history of your name. Your name on your birth certificate was Denise. Who assigned that name?

I was named Denise by the nun Soeur Yolande Poulin was responsible for me while I was in Haiti. She named me after her sister, something I learnt when we reunited in Canada in 2006. It was such a pleasure to meet her, as she was one of the first people who knew me. I thought it was nice she named me after someone so close to her.

When you were adopted, you were given the name Judith. Is there a meaning behind that name?

My parents named me Judith which is Biblical and means Praise be of God. My older sister, who was 3 at the time, named me Jennifer after her favourite baby-sitter, and they kept Denise as my other middle name.

Like you, I also  grew up in a predominately white family, neighborhood, and school. My situation was little bit different because I have five younger Haitian adopted siblings, and there were a few other Haitian adoptees in our church and school. What advice do you have for transracial families to raise well-adjusted black children in a white world?

There is always so much I feel I could share here, but to simplify it I would challenge parents to literally put themselves in their child’s shoes. Go into an environment that is predominantly representative of their child’s ethnicity and really immerse themselves in it just to get a sense of what life is like for their children. It’s not a perfect science because they have ‘white privilege’; however, it gives them a bit of a glimpse.

I think it’s also essential for parents to acknowledge that they won’t ever fully be able to relate to their child’s experiences. This can be a real challenge as transracially adopted children need to be able to have a safe environment in which to express the difficulties they may experience. Be aware that you need to be able to empathize even if you don’t understand what they are going through. Also, parents need to embrace their responsibilities of educating their children on potential difficulties, specifically racism. Pretending we are all colour blind is a very dangerous angle to come from. It’s simply not true. We don’t live in an altruistic society. Preparing your child as much as possible and then being there to support them when they have challenges is key.

Raise your child in a multicultural environment where they will see themselves reflected. How can your child be well adjusted and comfortable in their own skin if they never see images they can relate to? Positive role models who they can identify with is also very important. This can be done in various methods, but it is best if this is naturally integrated into your daily lives; such as having friends who represent your child’s ethnicity. Celebrating and embracing cultural elements into your daily lives also makes it easier for your child to embrace their culture and learn how to navigate belonging to two cultures.
When you travelled to Haiti, did you travel with anyone else besides your camera crew?

The camera crew consisted of my friend Sonia Godding-Togobo who was also Producer and Director. We had pre-arranged to hire a cameraman and driver/translator for when we arrived in Haiti and they were brilliant; Pushent and Jeremie are great guys! We also received great support from a Haitian journalist Guy Delva and a Brazilian aid worker. Although I would have appreciated having one of my best friends with me, I had support over the phone from two main friends who knew me incredibly well during my journey.

How did you plan your trip?

The planning process was two-fold. I managed logistics such as flights and accommodations while Sonia managed making contacts for a fixer and cameraman. We contacted the few people we knew in Haiti or those who’d been there in the past. We got recommendations and went from there. Once we got there, making certain contacts on the ground helped ease any areas that weren’t so clearly defined ahead of time.

I also ensured I did a lot of self-care ahead of time; I had several adoption counselling sessions in preparation and ensured I had a support network before, during, and after. I have a strong faith so it was also very important for me to have people praying for me throughout the journey.

Did you have the support of your adoptive parents?

My parents had always told me while I was growing up that they would support me if I wanted to search, but since I’m a foundling I think they weren’t actually prepared that I would ever actually want to search. So when I told them they were initially quite taken aback. I believe they were concerned I would get my hopes up and nothing would come of it, they are my parents so they are protective and didn’t want to see me get hurt unnecessarily. It took a while for them to fully understand why it was so important for me to go and search on my own and respect the journey I needed to go on. They did locate the Nun Soeur Yolande Poulin who had been involved in my adoption, and they took me to meet her in 2006. That was great but not enough. Once they realized I was going on my journey regardless of what I found, they were more supportive. I can appreciate that for many adoptive parents it’s a scary process because they are fearful that they are going to be replaced by the birth family, but I never had that intention.

Judith as a baby in Haiti circa 1970s

While you were in Haiti, you were able to spread the word quickly. You managed to get on the radio, and you were even on the front page of the local newspaper. How did you orchestrate that?

That was an amazing blessing. We were so fortunate to meet Jeremie who was a journalist and was our ‘fixer’ for several radio stations ahead of us arriving. Once there the journalist Guy Delva was also an amazing help. He is a very influential journalist in Haiti, and his support allowed us the opportunity to have direct access to decision makers who put my story on the front page and we got onto many more radio stations. It was all very surreal but incredible and really helped to spread my story quickly.

What prompted your move from Canada to the UK? Are you still close to your adoptive family in Canada?

Moving to London was something I was keen to do after graduating from university. I was ready for some adventure in my life and thought that working and traveling in Europe was perfect! What started out as a two year journey has turned into 10 years and many life changes. Interestingly having so much time to myself when I first moved to the UK did provide me with the opportunity to explore more of my emotions around my adoption and spurned me on to the search. England is also where I met Filmmaker Sonia Godding-Togobo who ironically is Guyanese-Canadian and resided in Toronto, although we didn’t officially meet until she also moved to England and mutual friends introduced us.

I’m very thankful for social media which keeps me connected to my family in Canada although it’s never the same as being with them. I do get very homesick for my family and I try and go back as often as possible. Two of my four siblings have visited me and my mother’s been twice when I had my daughters.

I moved to Florida for college and I met and married my husband who is a black American. I always knew growing up that I wanted to have a black family. Did you feel a sense of closure when you met your husband (who is Haitian) and started a family?

I went through a period in life where I was more attracted to a wider range of men, however, once I started seriously dating I ended up dating predominantly black men and I soon realized I wanted to create my own black family. The fact that my husband’s Haitian is such an added bonus. It provides me with the opportunities to get to embrace my culture in a way in which I missed out on growing up. I’m learning our native language Kreyol, how to cook Haitian dishes, and more about our culture in general and the way of life in Haiti. I love it all I’m so keen to travel to Haiti again, I fell in love with it!!

Judith with her husband

What is the next step in your search for your family? Where can people view the documentary?

I’m still incredibly determined to find my family. The next step is using the film to try and find them. I would like to screen it in as many cities as possible especially within North America particularly within the Haitian diaspora. I’m also in the process of completing my book all about my adoption journey. I’m planning on that to be out in November to accompany the film and coincide with Adoption Month. We are also in the process of organizing the film on DVD. People can check our Facebook page Adopted ID for updates.

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 lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.