Meeting Maria

Jun 06, 2014 Living Hope Adoption

I’ve thought about writing the story of meeting my sister Maria for years, but have found it so difficult to put all my thoughts, memories and feelings into words. My parents had always discussed adoption very openly when I was growing up, and shared any stories they could with me. Interestingly, I can’t remember a specific time when I learned I was adopted, but believe me, I was proud. My parents were my parents, forever, and that’s really all I cared about. I always knew I had at least 3 older biological brothers and sisters, and one twin sister. My sister and I were separated at birth, and adopted to two different families, but that’s all I knew. We didn’t know where she lived, so my Christmas lists always had a place reserved to ask for “my twin sister.” I was fortunate to have a younger sister, Alexandra, in my life, but did find myself longing to learn more about my twin. Wondering where she was, did she look like me, and where did she live?

On vacations I would always look around and wonder “does that girl look like me?”

The child and family’s lives are not simply briefly interrupted or bothered – they are changed forever. Perhaps it should be referred to as adoption catastrophe, or devastation, or casualty; because it is that significant to all involved. But since I cannot change the term now, for the purposes of this article, we will stick with disruption.

When speaking of ‘disruption’ in terms of adoption, it is most simply when an adoption does not work, and the child is moved from the adoptive family’s care (typically at the request of the adoptive parents). It can happen one hour after the adoption, one day, one week, one month, one year, five years – there is no time limit on when a disruption can or cannot occur. Unfortunately, adoption disruption has become ‘the elephant in the room’ of the adoption community. From the families experiencing it, to the children living it, to other adoptive families, to the ‘new’ family of the child, to the agency workers, everyone has an opinion on the matter, but many are nervous to share that opinion. I am not here to give you ‘the agency’s’ opinion, as I cannot speak for all agencies – but I can speak for myself – one adoption social worker who has experienced her fair share of disruptions (and by ‘fair share,’ even one is too many).

My first disruption involved a family adopting from the foster system. I conducted the family’s pre-adoptive training, did their home study, supervised visits with the adoptive child, counseled them on her placement history and needs, talked them through her behaviors, equipped them with parenting techniques to handle her behaviors, and brought her to them on the day of placement. I KNEW this family…I KNEW this would work…it was the PERFECT match. Everything was lining up just as it should. One week goes by – all are doing well. Two weeks – Mom is not answering all of my phone calls/emails as fast as she usually does…but still reports all is fine. Three weeks – Mom starting to seem ‘distant’ when answering questions, and keeps responses brief. At a home visit, family gives a positive report. They decline extra support because they don’t feel they need any. Four weeks – Can’t reach the family at all. Alarm bells start going off. Make an unannounced home visit. Mom is in tears. She ¨can’t keep this girl in her house for one more day.¨ Ok, let’s re-group. You have to fill me in. I cannot help you unless you tell me. Mom goes back to the first week when she started noticing behaviors that were troubling to her (cruelty to animals, inappropriate comments to/about the men in the family, extreme behaviors). Re-visit the pre-adoption training with Mom and Dad. ¨I understand these behaviors are troubling to you, but they are normal based on her history.¨ Mom and Dad understand in their heads, but I can tell they are at the ends of their ropes. They are willing to try counseling and respite. They cannot imagine giving up on their daughter. They know how much she has been through, and they do not want to be another cause of trauma for her. Start counseling and child goes on respite care for a weekend. Two weeks go by, and progress is being made. After three weeks of counseling I get the call. ¨We can’t do this. Come and get her.¨ Talk it through some more. The decision has been made. The family is emotionally spent and unable to try any other avenues to better the relationship with their daughter. I can hear it in their voices. I know the best thing for them, and the child, is to move her. Mom and Dad cried, child cried, I cried. As I drive the hour and a half to pick her up, I am going over everything in my head. What did I do wrong? What did I miss? How did this happen? What could I have done differently? I have failed this wonderful family. I have failed this child.

I pick her up. Hug the family. Child says her goodbyes. Family packs my car with the slew of things that they have gotten for the child over the course of the past few months. During the drive to her next family, I do my best to talk about what she is feeling. ¨I don’t know. I thought they liked me. I guess I shouldn’t have broken the DVD player, and I should have cleaned the table when she asked me.¨ No. This was NOT your fault. In my head I was thinking

“Oh my God. That was my sister.”

My family and friends celebrated with me as Maria and I began talking on Skype, calling each other, and just catching up on everything we’d missed over the past 19 years. Then, we planned. I couldn’t wait another minute to meet my Twinny, so my family and I made the trip back to Greece during the summer of 2007. To say I was anxious is an understatement. I was a lunatic.

My family made matching shirts for the occasion, and we were ready to “Meet Maria” on July 1, 2007!

After spending some time in Athens, we traveled about five hours to a town close to my sister’s. We had arranged to meet Maria and her parents at a restaurant, and met her dad up the street first. As he hugged me and told me not to cry (between tears of his own) he led us down the street to where Maria and her mom were waiting.

Nothing, nothing could have prepared me to see Maria for the first time. I couldn’t move, speak, or react. She was literally the same person as me. We moved the same, laughed alike…everything. Here’s the first glimpse we had of her:

All I remember was hugging her so tightly, just in awe of what was happening. I was in Greece, holding onto my sister like she would disappear if I didn’t hug her tight enough. We sat down with our family, our one big family, and immediately began comparing ourselves to the other. Same hands, same eyes, same nose. My life was changed forever.

Here we are the same place we met, 4 years later.