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.