Imagine being an 18-year-old American girl — Ethiopian-born and adopted at the age of two — and traveling to Africa with your parents to meet your biological parents.
Tsehay Driscoll was that high school senior, winging from her home in Los Angeles toward Ethiopia last June to experience the place she was born and meet the birth family she barely knew. Her adoptive parents, Mark and Robin Driscoll shared their daughter’s anxieties, ambivalence and anticipation.
Robin reassured her daughter, acknowledging the initial meeting could be awkward. “I was confident she wouldn’t regret the experience. Still, we didn’t really know how this would turn out.”
The idea of visiting Ethiopia had developed gradually after Tsehay’s birth mother reached out through Children’s Home. In a letter dictated to a Children’s Home post adoption staff in Ethiopia, she said she had new information about Tsehay’s biological father who had never met his daughter.
Tsehay and her parents decided to take advantage of this renewed contact with the birth mother and plan a trip to Ethiopia, even though Robin and Mark had concerns — not least the warnings from the U.S. State Department that Ethiopia was too dangerous for travelers. As for Tsehay, she was anxious about relating to her biological parents when she is firmly attached to the Driscolls.
Tsehay – A Ray of Light
Tsehay is one of the Driscolls’ seven children — three biological and four adopted. When Tsehay was a year old, her birth mother, single and struggling to feed her child, placed her daughter in an orphanage. The Driscolls adopted her several months later, in 2006.
Robin and Mark met Tsehay’s birth mother when they traveled to Ethiopia to pick up their new daughter. “It was a tearful meeting,” said Robin. “We asked her what she wanted most for her daughter. She said ‘education,’ and we promised to make that happen.”
“Tsehay means sun, or light,” Robin added. “And she is such a ray of light. Her birth mother gave her that name, which is why we kept it.”
Fourteen years later, the Driscolls were now planning their trip to Ethiopia, relying on the “incredible support” from the Children’s Home staff, Tefera Tagesse, to arrange for visits to the villages where the birth parents lived. Before embarking on the trip, Tefera sent the Driscolls photos of Tsehay’s birth mother and father.
“Tsehay had seen pictures of her birth mother, and there wasn’t much of a physical resemblance,” said Mark. “But when she saw the pictures of her birth father, she was struck by how much she looks like him. It made her emotional to see herself in him.”
A Poignant Reunion
Any concerns the Driscolls had about the reception they would get from Tsehay’s birth parents and the local villagers melted away upon their arrival.
“The whole village ran after the van as we arrived,” said Mark. “Tsehay’s birth mother embraced her as though she had just let go of her last year. It was really extraordinary.”
The next day, they went to see the birth father, who had never met Tsehay. “He kind of broke down when he saw her,” said Mark. “All his brothers and cousins traveled to be there. Tsehay was really stunned by that whole experience.”
After visiting Tsehay’s biological parents, the Driscolls spent six days traveling around Ethiopia, staying in rustic lodges, learning about remote tribes, and eating Ethiopian food. Afterward, said Robin, Tsehay felt a sense of belonging to her Ethiopian roots, cherishing the newfound connection between her biological and adoptive families alike. “Tsehay told me, ‘I feel like I have 3 families now.’”Children’s Home Ethiopia Post Adoption Services Donate to Children’s Home