Life After Haiti

One year ago today, my friend Lorraine got some terrible news. The girl she was trying to adopt from Haiti was near the epicenter of a devastating earthquake. The American women who run the orphanage where the girl lived sent frantic messages in the following days. They were running out of food and water. They feared looters would come into the now vulnerable compound.

They, like many of the adoptive families, took action and contacted everyone they could think of to help get the children out of the country. Several days later, Lorraine brought her daughter, Samantha, home to start her new life in Playa Vista, California.

It seemed like a perfect and happy ending, but really it was just the beginning of their new life together. “Nothing could have prepared me,” Lorraine said. “Her needs are so different than my other children.”

Lorraine and her husband Damien have 2 other children, ages 1 and 5, and had always wanted to adopt a child. After they had their daughter who is now 5, they started the process of adopting a girl from Haiti. They picked Haiti because of its proximity to the United States and because it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They visited Samantha’s orphanage several times, always telling her that soon she would be coming home with them. They knew it wouldn’t be a quick process, but they had no idea it would take more than 2 ½ years.

During that time, Lorraine had another baby, a boy, and when Samantha left Haiti Lorraine’s son was 1 month old. Lorraine and Damien went from having one child to 3 in a month and there was quite a lot of adjusting to do.

First, they had to get Samantha, who is now 11, to trust them. She knows she has parents in Haiti (who survived the earthquake that took the lives of 200,000 people), parents who gave her to the orphanage when she was 5-years-old because they were too poor to care for her, but part of her thinks that Lorraine and Damien took her from her birth parents. They have documents from the orphanage that Samantha’s parents wrote explaining why they had to do what they did.

Lorraine and Damien tell Samantha that you can love someone so much you’re willing to give them up so they can have a better life. “We don’t know how much she believes.”

Samantha has slowly begun to trust her new family.

Trust isn’t the only issue. The family is working hard with Samantha to get her caught up in school and teach her about concepts like the value of money and basic math skills.

As an 11-year-old, Samantha would typically be in the 4th grade. However, “When she got here she couldn’t count to 20,” said Lorraine, who stays home with her 3 kids. They sent Samantha to a private school that could transition her over time into a normal curriculum and they hired a tutor to work with her every day. “Now she’s doing 3rd grade math.”

Her improvement isn’t just academic. In 1 year, Samantha has grown 8 inches. She went from a small, malnourished girl who looked years younger to a healthy tween who looks her age.

Her age has always been in question because there are no records of her birth. She also has no baby pictures to hang alongside her adoptive siblings so Lorraine and Damien hired a police artist to do age regression drawings of what Samantha would have looked like as a baby.

“She’s really proud of them,” Lorraine said. “She really embraced the idea of what she looked like.”

Their life is more difficult than Lorraine could have imagined when they went down the road to international adoption.

“Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like,” she said. “This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done…(but) It’s worth it in the long run.”

If you’re looking for ways to help the people left in Haiti, please see my post about the Heart of Haiti project. 

A Happy Ending

Long before I became a blogger or a mother, I was a newspaper reporter. When the earthquake in Haiti devastated the country, I worried that the story of how my friend had worked so hard to adopt a child from Haiti would end tragically.

It seemed that so few stories ended happily. Or so I thought.

Lorraine and Damien’s story ended in the best possible way. They brought Samantha home to Los Angeles last night. She is safe and healthy and with a family who loves her. She dressed up in her new sister’s princess dresses and the two stayed up until 2 am playing. Today Samantha, who turns 10 on January 25, unpacked the clothes, books, and toys donated to her during her stay at a hospital in Pittsburgh, in her very own bedroom.

Her parents say she hasn’t yet shown signs of trauma from the earthquake or her years in the orphanage. “So far so good,” her father, Damien, said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have her home,” he said.

Here are past blogs about the family’s struggle to get Samantha home:

LA Moms Blog Post –

Lorraine’s Letter –

Updates –

Wonderful News!! Friend's Daughter is on Her Way Out of Haiti

I just talked to Lorraine and Samantha is on a plane and coming to the U.S.!!! She’ll arrive in Miami first where she’ll go to a hospital. Once doctors determine that she’s healthy, she’ll fly to Pittsburgh. Lorraine and the rest of the family will meet Samantha in Pittsburgh and bring her home to Los Angeles.

A wonderful and unbelievable ending to their story.

I haven’t been able to find out how many of the other children from Bresma are coming with her, but this news story said that 61 children from the orphanage were heading to Pennsylvania on a relief plane.

LA Family Trying to Get Adopted Daughter Out of Haiti

I wanted to update the LA Moms Blog post from Friday about friends who are trying to get the girl they are in the process of adopting out of Haiti.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much good news to report. The situation is still desperate. The children in the BRESMA orphanage have received limited supplies, but continue to be short on water. Many of the children have diarrhea and are having trouble getting rehydrated because there isn’t enough water.

Lorraine and Damien’s daughter Samantha isn’t sick. They have talked to Jamie McMurtrie Heckman, who runs the Bresma orphanage with her sister Ali McMurtrie, (You can find updates about the two sisters at this blog), and she told them that Samantha’s is doing ok for now.

Security at the orphanage continues to be a huge concern. The orphanage is run by Americans and people know that. Whenever they get a delivery it’s a huge risk for their safety. There is so much danger all over the country that the military is overwhelmed.

There are many rumor and news reports about planes going in to rescue the BRESMA orphans and some of the thousands of other orphans in the country. About a dozen children have been flown out, but the others are still in desperate need of help.

If you’d like to help, Lorraine and Damien recommend donating to one of the LA area drop off locations listed on this site.

This website is also collecting donations for the Bresma orphans.

LA Moms Blog post: One Mother's Struggle to Get Adopted Daughter Out of Haiti

This is the LA Moms Blogs about Lorraine’s struggle to get her daughter out of Haiti.

CNN ran this story about the ophanage.

Here is a website collecting donation for the Bresma orphans.

Friend's Struggle to Get Daughter Safely Out of Haiti

The news footage from Haiti is almost unbelievable. Buildings in rubble, bodies and limbs scattered in the streets, children wailing. The Red Cross estimates that 50,000 people are dead.

My friend Lorraine has always feared for the safety of the daughter she is trying to adopt in Haiti. But now the situation is so dire, she is asking the world for help.

Here is her letter:

We started the process to adopt Samantha from Haiti in August 2007.
Due to red tape, corruption, and apathy by the Haitian government, an adoption process that we expected to take 9-12 months has continued to stretch longer with no end in sight. We have traveled to Haiti on 10 different occasions over the last 2 1/2 years–each time to visit and develop a bond with Samantha. Samantha will turn 10 in less than two weeks. She entered the orphanage just over three years ago. Her parents gave her up do to extreme poverty. We have met them and have seen firsthand the love they have for their daughter–so much love that they are willing to give her a better life that takes her away from them. Samantha is a wonderful gift they have given to our family.

It has been painful to watch her grow up in an orphanage–but we wouldn’t trade for anything the opportunity to know and love her over this period of extended delay. We are especially grateful that Lexi was able to travel to Haiti for the last three trips and at long last was able to meet and enjoy time with her big sister. We remain committed to bringing her home–no matter how long and difficult the road ahead will be.

My husband, Damien, and Lexi, were in Haiti from January 8th until January 12th. They were incredibly lucky to fly out just four hours before the earthquake struck. Damien was able to contact Samantha’s orphanage director just after the earthquake. He received news that she, and the other children, had come through it without injury. The day after the earthquake, Damien received a distressed email from this same orphanage director. While the children remain unharmed, they have no drinking water, are running low on food, and are unable to inhabit the severely damaged house. Thus far, they have seen no signs of assistance. The block wall that surrounds the orphanage toppled during the earthquake. If rioting begins as they fear, the children are fully exposed to the potential violence. This situation is dire.

We have been working alongside our adoption agency to identify sources of immediate rescue assistance from local non-profits, the UN, the US Dept of State, and/or the US Military. We are hopeful–but far from certain–that help will arrive in time to save all lives.

Beyond the near-term crisis, Haiti’s orphans are faced with a long and steep uphill battle. The Haitian government infrastrucure and many of the already over-flowing orphanages are in ruins. The paperwork supporting many of the in-process adoptions may have been destroyed. Barring unexpected leniency by the Haitian government as well as cooperation by US Immigration, It seems likely that current orphans won’t be united with their adopting families for an extended period. In addition, the Haitian orphan population grew (possibly dramatically) in size as the earthquake struck and took the lives of many Haitian parents. As the government begins to rebuild, adoptions–and badly needed adoption reform–are unlikely to be near the top of its priority list.

These conditions point to a huge need for near- and long-term funding for Haiti’s orphans.

Please contact Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office to ask that she put pressure on the Haitian government to allow pending adoptions to go through quickly so the children can get out of the country safely, 415-393-0707.
If you would like to help, here is a list of supplies that are needed at Samantha’s orphanage and drop off locations in and around Los Angeles.
Here are is a list of other organizations taking donations

Samantha is pictured above with the two Americans, Ali and Jamie, who run the orphange.