As the plane touched down on the tarmac, I began to feel giddy with excitement. When they opened the plane’s door, the humid Haitian air overwhelmed me. As I left the airplane and took my first steps on Haitian soil, I realized that finally, I’d made it home.
It was a surreal feeling. I was amazed by the beauty that encircled me. There were mountains to our left and Touissant L’Overture Airport on the right. I immediately started taking pictures of all that surrounded me, including the Haitian welcome band that played joyfully as we entered the airport.
Before arriving I had thought this moment would have caused me to burst into tears. Instead of crying, I had a simple feeling of contentment. My life-long dream of coming home had been realized.
Sonia, my filmmaker friend, and I had 27 days to make connections that would lead to meeting members of my birth family. We were as prepared as we could have been; we could not have known where this journey of a lifetime would take us. We did not know whom we would meet and what outcomes might surface. Each step I took on Haitian soil brought me farther into the unknown.
I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this visit until we arrived at Topik Radio Station. We were live on Haitian radio—all across Port-au-Prince. Initially, my nerves overtook me. The fact that the host was so welcoming and appeared to be so intrigued by my story helped me to embrace the experience.
I was able to use the opportunity to share my story and ask for help in locating my birth family. The popularity and effectiveness of this radio station became evident, as the phones began to ring almost immediately.
My stomach flipped and flopped, when the first call came in. It hit me in that instant, that I had just opened myself up to a journey and experience that was far bigger than I could have imagined.
Could I really do this? My birth family could be listening. Someone might actually come forward to claim me. Was I ready for that? Was I prepared enough? Could I ever be?
Before I arrived in Haiti, I had five sessions of Adoption Counseling in London. My counselor and I examined some of the possibilities I might encounter on my journey. Some of the scenarios we discussed included the following: 1). Finding my family and being embraced warmly, but what expectations would they place on me; and how would I deal with those? 2). My birth mother could be deceased and that may be all I would find out about her; I would learn nothing more about who she was. I might meet some of her family. If that happened, would I be satisfied? Did I have a choice? 3). I could search and not find anyone.
The counseling revealed that the possibilities were endless and I wasn’t sure exactly how I would react if any of the scenarios we discussed occurred. All of this flooded mind. When the calls of support and encouragement started coming in to the radio station, I convinced myself that I could manage it. It had taken a lot of determination to come on this journey. It took strength I didn’t know I had to follow through with this conviction. I knew that I had done as much preparation as I possibly could have. I would just have to deal with whatever came out of this.
A few days into our journey, we sat at a restaurant to catch up on telephone messages we had received over the past few days. Amongst all of the messages, one woman’s call stood out and sounded interesting. She said she came from Carrefour, a very poor area in Port-au-Prince. We agreed for Jeremie to return her call to obtain additional information. I sat anxiously as Jeremie made the call and asked her direct questions about where she had lived at the time of her baby’s birth, what her circumstances had been and when her pregnancy had occurred.
Once Jeremie hung up and translated the information, we all agreed that the initial details which the woman provided sounded conceivable. We would drive to Carrefour to obtain further information and, of course, see what she looked like.
Since I was a child I’ve been desperate to physically resemble someone; this physical appearance has always been very important to me. My adopted brother is also from Haiti; but since we are not biologically related, we don’t share any major physical similarities.
I always prayed that when I searched for my birth family there would be an obvious physical similarity. I had seen this within my adoptive family as comparisons were made between my parents’ biological children, themselves, and other relatives about who resembled whom the most. I always felt left out of those discussions and longed to find someone I looked like in the world. As I got older, I became aware that not all parents and children do look like one another; this troubled me greatly.
How would I find my birth family, if I didn’t physically resemble them? As this and so many other thoughts went through my head, our meal arrived. Although I was incredibly hungry, eating was very difficult as I wrestled with the reality that the woman on the phone could potentially be my birth mother. Could it really have happened so quickly? It was only the third day of our trip. Was the woman a stranger only trying to take advantage of me, or was she truly the woman who lost her baby girl 28 years ago? Was she hoping beyond hope that I was that lost baby returning home?
The emotions I experienced were so overwhelming that I went into my Social Work mode, trying to remove all personal feeling from the situation. I decided we needed a plan of action, and elected Jeremie and Pushent to act as my intermediaries. They would make the initial contact. I felt this was an appropriate way to safeguard myself, in the event that the woman’s story was not credible.
As we drove the short distance to Carrefour, I tried to settle my nerves with deep breathing and taking pictures of the scenery. We pulled into a gas station to finalize our plan and located an internet café across the street. It was a public place which was well lit and still open. Sonia and I decided to wait there.
I don’t recall exactly what was said as Jeremie and Pushent made their way down the street, but I knew waiting would test my patience like nothing I had ever experienced before. The couple who ran the internet café were very pleasant. Sonia explained what we were doing; they invited us to wait in their store. I started verbalizing all of the thoughts going through my head at this point and trying to weigh each potential outcome with Sonia as my sounding board.
There I was, potentially moments from meeting my birth mother– something I had desired my entire life–and I realized that no amount of counselling could have prepared me for the occasion. How was I supposed to feel? I tried to recall all of the personal accounts I had read or been told about by fellow adoptees.
Why was it that their words of wisdom failed to come to memory at that crucial moment? I felt vulnerable and scared of what potentially would occur in a matter of moments. I grew impatient. It felt as if we had been sitting in the café for hours, but in reality it had been just 45 minutes since the phone call came.
Jeremie rang and confirmed that the woman’s story sounded plausible and also that there was a physical resemblance to me. My first question was: “How close a resemblance?”
It was hard for the guys to describe, so they agreed to take some photos of her and meet us at the internet café. We would assess the photographs then. Again it felt like hours went by until the guys finally returned.
I inhaled sharply, as the guys reached for the camera. Was I about to see a picture of my birth mother? What would I do, if I stared into a face that mirrored mine? Would I cry? Laugh with joy? I wasn’t certain. I took a deep breath and looked at the pictures.
I felt disappointed as I didn’t see much resemblance but the rest of the team felt there was. They specifically thought the upper region of her face was like mine, so I tried to remind myself that not every child and parent will be mirror images of each other. I listened to what other information they had gathered.
Jeremie shared the woman’s story with us: Many years ago she met a man in Port-au-Prince and they began dating. He was originally from Cap-Haitien and wanted to return there. She agreed to go with him, leaving her friends and family behind in Port-au-Prince. They built a life together in Cap-Haitien over a five-year period, and then she found herself pregnant.
Their relationship wasn’t healthy. The man became abusive and finally left her. She became mentally ill to the extent that when she gave birth to her baby girl, she abandoned her somewhere in Cap-Haitien. Several days afterwards, when she realized she had left her baby, she went back to get her but couldn’t find her.
All these years she lived with this guilt and desperately wanted to let her baby girl know she loved her. And she had wanted her. She recalled giving birth on September 11th 1979. That was a month earlier than my estimated birth date, but we felt it was plausible—as dates are not always recorded in certain parts of Haiti. The year and season were correct.
I had goosebumps and knots in my stomach after they relayed the story. This story could be MY story, this could be MY birth mother. I felt nauseous and anxious and had to make a decision. Jeremie and Pushent wanted me to go to the house where Jaqueline resided with her current husband and their son and daughter who are in their 20’s and who are all aware of her situation.
I returned to my Social Work mode, and decided it would be inappropriate to go to their home at this stage. Instead, I asked the guys to bring the woman to the internet café where we were. As I waited nervously, I stared again at the picture of this woman who could be my birth mother. To think that in just moments I might meet her was surreal.
“Oh my lands! Is this really happening? What do I say? Will I feel a connection immediately? Will I cry?”
I didn’t have long to wait. I turned around and found myself looking into Jacqueline’s eyes. I felt a wave of nervousness, as she looked searchingly back in my face.
Judith Craig Morency graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She has worked in the United Kingdom in Social Work with children and families for over 10 years.
Judith was born in Cap Haitien, Haiti and currently resides in London, England. Adopted ID is her first book.