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Dispatches from the Congo – a Journey of Love (Part 1)

By Erin Pohland

“We’re opening a pilot program in the Congo.  Would you consider being one of our first families?”

With those words, my life changed.  The Congo — the so-called “heart of darkness,” the rape capital of the world, and one of the most dangerous and impoverished countries in the world.

I said yes.

Less than a year after that conversation, I was on a plane to get my son.

I had made the decision to adopt in February of that year, after consulting with various doctors and doing a lot of soul-searching.  While I may very well be able to have biological children, I would be putting my own health at risk and possibly passing on a genetic syndrome.  More than my own health, I couldn’t bear the risk of giving my child what ailed me.

Adoption seemed incredibly overwhelming at first.  How do I choose an agency? How do I pay for this? Will I really have to go somewhere for a month? Am I capable of parenting a child with possible trauma and attachment issues?  I spent many a sleepless night pondering all of the ins and outs of what I was about to do.  In the end, though, there was no question.  I have always wanted children, and had told myself if I wasn’t married when I was 30, I’d start looking at options for becoming a mother on my own.  I was 30, and ready for a child.  I wanted to give back to the world in some small way, and what better way than to give a motherless child a mother? The decision was clear.

And so it began….

In my typical type A fashion, I started creating binders.  One for agencies, one for federal and state adoption law, and one for country-specific information.  I was ready for any question thrown my way.  And I got a lot….once people know that you’re adopting, the questions start.  I was questioned about everything from how I would raise a kid on my own to why I wasn’t adopting an American kid and — my personal favorite, from a guy at a child’s birthday party that I hadn’t met — if I was infertile. My parents probably asked the most amusing questions, wrought with the type of cultural cluelessness and lack of sensitivity that comes from growing up white and relatively sheltered in a certain era.  Many conversations were had where I explained that an Oriental is a rug, not a person, that “nice countries” (read: first world) do not typically allow foreigners to adopt their children, and that not all orphans in Africa have HIV. Absurd questions aside, however, I am incredibly lucky to have had such a supportive family.  I never doubted for a minute that despite their initial hesitation, my family would offer me their full support and welcome my baby with open arms.

I applied to an adoption agency in April of 2010.  When I read about and researched some of their practices like “artificial twinning”, I ran for the hills, and ultimately chose to work with Wide Horizons for Children, Inc.  One of the things that most attracted me to this agency was their focus on the humanitarian aspects of adoption.  The fees were higher, but the goal was to improve the community rather than just run a sort of baby mill for Americans desperate to start families.

Over the next few months, my life was a whirlwind of paper.  Despite the time zone differences and the cost of Fed Exing documents to and from the lower 48, living in Alaska did have its advantages — things that took 6 months for my adoption friends in New York, like having a notary stamp certified by the Lt. Governor, took less than a week in Alaska. The adoption was essentially my second job; every evening, I compiled paperwork, filled out applications, took adoption education classes and read adoption parenting books. By June, I had decided to adopt from Ethiopia; as a single woman, there aren’t nearly as many choices for adoption, so my search was fairly limited.  Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a rich, proud history as the cradle of civilization.  I early anticipated traveling there and learning as much about the culture as I could.  I perused Ethiopian cookbooks and decided to learn Amharic.

In July, I got the call.  The Congo.  Could I really travel there? Could I teach my child about his or her culture, rife as it was with war, violence, oppressive poverty, rape and colonial atrocities?  I knew that it would be a challenge, but I also knew that it was a challenge that not many people would be willing to accept.  A quick google search revealed an orphan crisis in the Congo (along with very stern State Department travel warnings). The overwhelming need was the deciding factor for me.  My heart strings pulled tight, I said yes.

And so the adventure began….

Look for future installments Sundays on the Mudflats



20 Responses to “Dispatches from the Congo – a Journey of Love (Part 1)”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    May you and your child live a long and happy life, full to the brim with health, peace, and every blessing.

  2. Wow wonderfully told, anxious to read the rest!! Great guest blog!!

  3. scout says:

    “My heart strings pulled tight” Beautiful, Erin, mine too…some fortunate child is about to get a fabulous new Mom.

  4. poesontherun says:

    A friend just returned from Congo, where she visited with people enrolled in the Women for Women project. She shared photos and stories of women hugely affected by the tragedy there, but still beautiful. I strongly recommend “A Thousand Sisters” by Lisa Shannon, for a raw, personal, unfettered view into the situation there.

  5. Kath the Scrappy says:

    Heartwarming! Can’t wait to read the next part of the adventure.

    Thanks Erin and Best Wishes.

  6. Bob Benner says:

    Good luck in the Congo… Don’t forget to bring plenty of shoes… (wink wink nod nod)

  7. I think one of the things that meant the most to me was the story that my mom told me about how I came into their lives. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was adopted and her story let me know always how much I was loved and how special I was, as well as how blessed they felt to have found me.

    Erin, I hope you will find a way to tell your little one just how much love there is in your family. I’m sure you will.

  8. Fawnskin Mudpuppy says:

    Beautifully told..can’t wait for the sequel.

  9. Shadow's Heart says:

    Remember to recite the Adopted Child’s Poem often to your little one:

    “Not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone but still miraculously my own, never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart but in it.”

    Blessings and good wishes.

  10. bubbles says:

    oh wow. bravo Erin.

  11. UgaVic says:

    Like stated so well by those before…can’t wait for the next installment!

  12. Erin, I applaud you for your willingness to open your heart to a child who needs you so. I was adopted in 1949, but that was a different time and place and adoption was in some ways much easier. My parents didn’t have to travel even outside our town.

    While you will face many challenges, just as all parents do, you’ll find many more rewards along your journey. And as for being a single mom, it really doesn’t matter. My mother was widowed when I was ten and she didn’t remarry. And the two of us did just fine.

    We have a friend who is neighboring Tanzania in the Peace Corps. She loves being in Africa and has already asked to extend her two years to three. I wouldn’t be surprised if she stays even longer. I think one of the things that she enjoys the most is learning and experiencing their culture and sharing her own. Your child will have that advantage of learning about more of the world than just what s/he can see out the back window of your home.

    I look forward to reading the next part of your journey. 🙂

  13. Baker's Dozen says:

    Wow! This is wonderful, and will make for compelling reading.

    Erin, you might be interested in a series that has run in The Christian Science Monitor for many years about a single man, Robert Klose, who adopted internationally. I have long loved his articles about his family. And now, I’ll get to read about yours!

  14. Waay Out West says:

    Can’t wait, ditto what every one else said also too.

  15. Laura Novak says:

    I just got goosebumps. I can’t wait to read where this story leads. Thank you!

  16. Another compelling guest blog! Thank you and looking forward to the next installment.

  17. GoI3ig says:

    A very courageous endeavor. Good luck.

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