Tami D. Garcia’s path to motherhood was comparable to a difficult childbirth, a labor of love and will. The Cleveland, Ohio native affirms, “I always wanted to be a mom.” She also wanted to create a family the traditional way, making all the seemingly proper moves for Mr. Right to surface.
A graduate of Howard University, she received a certificate from Columbia University in nonprofit management. While earning her MBA from Case Western University, she studied in South Africa and Mexico. “I’d gone to school, traveled, I had a great job. I wanted to wait until the right man to come along but it just didn’t happen.”
Tami was also battling some medical issues. “A doctor told me when I was 33, I needed to get pregnant now or it wouldn’t happen.” So it was on, full speed ahead. And the perfect man wasn’t present. Tami went through the procedures: in vitro fertilization (IVF), three IUIs (Intra-Uterine Insemination) and two more IVFs. Nothing worked. After the second IVF, she was extremely sick.
“One night I woke up screaming at the top of my lungs,” Tami recounts. When she went to emergency room, they gave her some painkillers and advised her to see her gynecologist. When she went, she was told, “Something is wrong but I don’t know what it is. I’m checking you in to the hospital.” Within a few hours of being at the hospital, she felt what she considers the worst piercing pain ever.
“My hospital room looked like something out of Grey’s Anatomy,” she remembers. “When they did the exploratory surgery, they found that my insides were liquefying.” Liquefying?? When Tami had her last in vitro fertilization, the doctor had punctured something inside of her. She became septic. After 72 hours of being pumped with the maximum amount of antibiotics, she got worse.
“They went in and gave me a complete hysterectomy and took my appendix out,” she says. “My GYN was present during my surgery; she said it was a textbook case. She’d never seen anything like it. They thought I was going to die.” Having been in the bed for two weeks, when Tami walked the hospital floor, the nurses applauded her. “I went home after about two more weeks. But I went home without the ability to have children.”
Depression ensued. Tami had thought about adoption before, but along with having her own children. “I asked my aunt (who had adopted a son), ‘How will I know if I will love my adopted child as much as my biological child?’ ” Her aunt responded, “ ‘You will never know what it’s like to have a biological child, so you will just love that child.’ From that point, I decided I was ready.”
In her pursuance of motherhood, Tami took classes with the city on domestic adoption, and talked to different agencies handling adoption abroad. “I looked into the Dominican Republic, where my family is from. Brazil and Ethiopia.” She adds, “I wanted a child of color, and I wanted one that would resemble my family. I know that’s not important to some people, but that was important to me.”
After a great deal of consideration, adopting from Ethiopia made sense. “Living in D.C., there is an active Ethiopian population,” she says. “My child would always see her people, and I have a real affinity for the culture.”
However driven, she is clear that the adoption process is rigorous. Tami decided against domestic adoption due to the harsh laws. “For instance, you can adopt a child [in the U.S.], take care of the child for several months, and the mother has the right to reclaim her or him. With all that I’d been through, I couldn’t handle that emotionally and I couldn’t handle it financially.”
But she did have the wherewithal to handle a great deal of paperwork—for the United States agency, immigration and Ethiopian agencies, documentation of her income, a written plan of how she would parent the child, an agreement stating who would take care of the child if she could not, letters of reference and a home study recording how she lives. “It’s a long process. It’s not for the faint of heart,” she says.
Almost a year later, Tami received a referral of adoption for a three-month-old child. She went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and met the birth mom. “We talked for two hours. I wanted to make absolutely sure that this was legal, she wanted to do this and needed to do this. I gave her my contact information. I promised her pictures. I wanted my daughter to know that I knew the situation with her mom, and that I cared about being able to impart that information if she ever wanted to know.”
Nine months later, Tami and her 12-month-old daughter were on a plane to Washington, D.C. The doting mommy named her Isley Rahwa. “My daughter is the joy of my life. It’s hard to believe I didn’t give birth to her and she acts so much like me!” Isley is now 3. After a year of having her, Tami took about 50 pictures and sent them to the bio-mom. Woman to woman, she wanted to share her joy and appreciation for such a perfect child.
“I had to hire a searcher to find her in the countryside. When he did, they called her from his cell phone. She was honored and couldn’t believe I actually sent photos to her.” For all sacred intents and purposes, Tami said to her, “She is our daughter.”
Tami also has a son, Alemayew, whom she sponsors in the Ethiopian capital. Considering adopting him as well, she and Isley will visit him in October. “I have to be thoughtful about the decisions I make in regards to my daughter. I have to make sure he is emotionally able to come into a family.” That doesn’t stop her from thinking and acting on his well-being daily. “He has a pretty difficult story and he has no one. I pay for his schooling, his clothes, and anything he needs there. We Skype, we email every day. He calls me ‘mom.’ Right now, I’m trying to get him into a boarding school there and catch him up with his education, because he’s 12 and in the second grade.”
Buna Ethio Mamas is a group of women, a sisterhood if you will, who have adopted children from Ethiopia—with 75 members in the U.S. “We share ideas, opinions and simply laughter. Our kids are like cousins.” The families have mini-gatherings in different cities and countries throughout the year, and one large family reunion each summer. “We support each other through helping to build smart children with high self-esteem. We have created relationships that are closer than people we have known for years. Our kids are not only able to celebrate being Black, but to celebrate Ethiopia.”
Currently, Tami’s mother (from Florida) and cousin (a med school student) live with her in her house in D.C. “I love that Isley can have fun with her family under one roof. There is a lot laughter in this house!” Tami looks forward to welcoming more love into her life. “I want a husband. I am in such a great space. I have a beautiful daughter, a great house. I love my job and I’m passionate about the business I’m starting. I don’t think I was really ready for marriage before, but I am now! I look forward to it.”
The coolest thing about the Garcia family is that it’s born from an empowered woman who would not be robbed of being a mother. “I don’t know that I would have really adopted had I had my own child.” Today, Tami couldn’t imagine her life without her daughter Isley—this specific child. “I was so devastated a decade ago when I was told I would never have biological children. I thought my world had come to an end. But now I thank God every day for that diagnosis. My heart beats for this child. I live my life for her. I am so grateful and lucky to be her mother. She is my greatest joy.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.