Meeting the Mother She Never Knew

“Do you know your family has been looking for you for 30 years?”

Mariette Willams embraces her birth mother, Colas Etienne, for the first time. (Dieu Nalio Chery / AP)
Mariette Williams thought she knew her own story. She was adopted in 1986 from an orphanage in Haiti. Her adopted mother told her that she was small and sick, and she was better off in Canada, her new home.
“I believed that I was doing it for the Lord,” Sandra Knopf, Williams’s adopted mother told the Associated Press. “I was not doing it for the children and I was not doing it for me.” Knopf and her husband had already raised three sons. She wanted two daughters, under the age of two, and found a man who could arrange an adoption from Haiti for $6,000.
But Williams was always curious about her history, especially around Mother's Day.  “I was celebrating the mother I had, but I was pushing away feelings of hurt and anger for the mother I lost,” she wrote on her blog. “And so Mother's Day would come, and I would grin and bear it. A week would pass, then a month, and the sharp pain became a dull ache for the rest of the year.”
She tried to reach the orphanage where she was adopted from, but it no longer existed. The town where she was from, Pestel, didn't seem to have any online records she could search. Her family name is very common in Haiti. Eventually she found a Facebook page for the town and posted a message: “My name is Mariette. I'm looking for my family.”
Some weeks later, she was on the phone with Ginette, her 45-year-old sister. According to Ginette, Williams was taken by her godmother to Port-au-Prince for medical care at the orphanage. When the family came to visit one day, both the godmother and Williams were gone.
“Do you know your family has been looking for you for 30 years?” Ginette told Williams.
Looking back, Knopf said there were red flags. She never met the attorney that arranged the adoption. Some of the paperwork was unavailable, and then suddenly appeared, hand-written.
Armed with this new information, Williams decided to visit her birth mother for her 70th birthday. The Associated Press followed her on the journey, photographing the moment she finally met her family.
“I gained an education, I was able to attend private school, I'm a college graduate, I have my master's degree, I am a teacher. I have two beautiful children. I have a husband,” she said. “And I lost my family. So, if you were to ask anybody today, would you trade your family in for a college education, they would probably say no. I never had that choice, but that's what I did.”