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The blank page has been calling to me for weeks, but even as my fingers hover over the keyboard, I hardly know what I’ll write.

We’ve been to Haiti and back.

I have serious doubts about the adequacy of any descriptions I may attempt here. But adequate or not, I have to try. A new chapter of my family’s story has begun. I want to remember it.

How was your trip?┬áMany kind people have asked that question, but I’m still searching for a satisfactory answer. The truth is, it was complicated. We daily seesawed between joy and sorrow, amusement and confusion, hope and despair, faith and fear. We often felt opposite things at once. I came home feeling kind of fractured.

My hope is that if I set out the pieces in writing one at a time, it will be easier to see them as a cohesive and lovely whole. The pieces may vary in color and texture — this one smooth and vibrant, that one scratchy and mottled — but together they make a patchwork in which every piece tells an important part of this chapter.

Here’s the first.


I had some romantic notions about what it would be like to hear the voice of a child born to another woman call me Mama. It would be a miracle, I thought — like what redemption must sound like. It would be the word this child had always wanted to say, and I would be overwhelmed because he said it to me.

On the second day of our visit, our little boy did call me Mama because the nannies told him to. It’s difficult to say what I felt. I think it was something like sorrow.

No child should have to be told who his mother is.

Family Tree

The orphanage’s “family tree” — no mamas, only children.

When the nannies coaxed out that first “Mama,” I knew that to him the name didn’t carry any of the recognition, trust, belonging, or love imbued it by birth and bonding. To hear him assign that name to me — a stranger — was disorienting.

Then he called Grant “Mama.” And his nanny. And even our friends who had traveled with us to meet their own little girl.

So many things that should be etched on a son’s soul by birth will have to be grafted into this son’s heart:

Belonging. Knowing. Love. Trust.

Mama. Papa.

Home.

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