Soraya Miré, FMG Survivor, Author and Human Rights Activist: Raising A Baby Activist

Soraya Miré, age 2, with her siblings. Somalia, Africa

Meet Soraya Mire. Life has a beautiful way of bringing people together. Serendipity worked its beautiful magic one day last year, at a local coffee shop where I was writing. As I headed for the largest table in the place, I joined a beautiful woman who smiles with her whole face. Little did I know that asking to take a seat at that table would would lead to a wonderful friendship and a chance to hear, and read, her story. Little did I know that she’d been through the unimaginable, and that she had taken her pain and used it to heal, and to become a leading Human Rights activist, author, lecturer, filmmaker and champion for justice the world over.

Little did I know.. But I know now, and you should know, too. I am so honored that she agreed to be featured as this month’s Raising A Baby Activist post.

Though Soraya was born in Somalia, this story isn’t based in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. All countries, cultures & families have cycles of pain. It is how we choose to look at them, respond to them and act in contradiction to them that matters. This story is based in our own backyard, wherever you are in the world. It is the story of children, of refugees, of moving parts. It is people coming from other cultures that we aren’t aware of. It is in America.

When I started this journey, I was ambivalent about circumcision of little boys. I once interpreted for Deaf parents whose newborn son was being circumcised and I can tell you it was terrible to watch. It was clearly painful to the newborn, and it didn’t make sense. It was bloody and horrible and felt unnecessary, but society taught me the myth that it’s “cleaner”, so witnessing what price a baby has to pay, I made the mental note not to do that if I ever had a son, blocked it out and moved on. I am now keenly aware of my place against circumcising, no matter a person’s gender. With all due respect, cultural norms, be damned.

In her book, The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir, Soraya writes about the extreme devastation and physical, mental and emotional trauma she faced and overcame as a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation at the tender age of 13. This book takes us on her journey of how she overcame this horrendous trauma, moving forward as a champion for women and girls all over the world. Her story blew the lid off of this largely ignored “rite of passage”. “The misconception,” she explains, “is that this somehow equates to a first drink or experimentation with a drug. Or perhaps even a girl’s first menstrual period. But this has a different meaning. This is something put upon my body before I was even aware of my body.”

How did you become an activist, and what activism have you been involved in?

Looking back, I was born to be an activist. My mom used to say, “You are a reign of terror!” I believe in fairness and justice. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but if I’m right, and something is unjust, I’ll tell you without a filter. I respect religion but we are talking about child abuse under the cloak of culture. Mutilation is the ultimate child abuse. The children subjected to it were born perfect. It’s my choice if I want to enhance my body in any way at the age where I can decide for myself correctly, not influenced by the idea of the perfect body.

When I was faced with the decision to choose my family or my activist path, I was considered to have discarded my family because they disagreed with my choices to speak up and reveal what has been happening young girls in our culture, and many others, for about 2000 years. I had no choice.

I have spoken before the United Nations, U.S. Senate Human Resources & Health Assembly and the World Health Organization. I have worked with medical professionals, government officials and with women and families affected by FGM. My goal is human rights for women & girls, and to end this violent global oppression while empowering women.

I was struck by the way you were able to express the emotions of yourself as a child in your book, going through all of that trauma, but speaking as your adult self. What was that like for you?

I want you to smell that burning rotten flesh. That’s the fire that keeps me going. My voice and experience matters. I know that speaking and making you feel how I felt, you will understand millions of innocent children who are forced into this before their bodies were developed. Women can’t have a normal delivery when they give birth. The fistula -the tissue between the anus and vagina falls off – and childbirth is excruciating.

Let me walk with 3 legs. I would rather my clitoris dangling between my legs. I’d rather be “different”.

People refer to Female Genital Mutiliation as body-enhancing surgery. How could this be viewed as that?? I can’t believe this is actually a real perspective! The belief is that this is the mistake God made; that we need to fix this body so that we can make a woman the wife a husband “should have”. It’s wrong.

These are the hidden secrets in our cultures. This is the shame they live with. I wanted you to know it so that change could happen.

What do you say to the people put off the topic of FGM?

This is a crime against humanity.

There is a difference between Empathy versus Sympathy. Any human being who doesn’t have empathy has no reason to block the feelings of the other human being – especially on the topic of FGM. Sympathy comes in the form of looking horrified, turning a blind eye and downplaying what is actually happening. People say things like “What do you think about yourself? If that happened to me, I would have killed myself. What kind of a woman would I be then?” One American woman told me that she considers any person who has experienced it less of a woman because they are mutilated.

When we think of it in the right context, the response is “You’re a survivor. Beautiful. You were abused; how can we make this right and stop this cycle?”

Somalians and other Africans say ‘you brought the most intimate secret out – we had this.’ The countries and cultures knew. Torturing our kids every hour and we kept silent but I refused. I remember my mother’s eyes looking at me allowing my mother provide the ultimate betrayal.

I love and respect, understand and forgive my mother, but it doesn’t give her the right to do that without fighting for me. I have the right to say ‘you are my mother but you were wrong to do this to me. You thought I was like an animal, to do with me whatever you want.’

This happened to my mother, and her mother, and on and on. My mother was abused and so she continued the cycle with me. I didn’t ask for this so now I ask myself how I can make it better for others.

What is your advice for people who feel exhausted by the current political climate, and who may want to take action but feel that they won’t have an impact on lasting change?

We all have a spark inside. Sometimes dimmed with worries, depression, fear – it takes a lot to get off the couch and make things better. Remember why you wanted to make a change a long time ago. Make the choice to live your truth. Television will numb your brain, and you will find yourself forgetting what your truth was. Beware of the hypocrisy of religion & power.

Stay in touch 100% what your mission and purpose in life is, and you will always have that torch to pass it to the next generation. We were too angry or radical, fighting too many fronts to have a torch. Focus on one issue. CHANGE IS HERE – always remember your mission to have that spark to have that torch.

What is your advice to the youth of today, who may not be able to vote yet?

Educate yourself on the topics at hand. Become an expert and learn the opposition’s facts. A good activist must know what their opponent is thinking before your raise your voice. Be an expert without arrogance. Be authentic. Not only when the cameras shine on you. Others may not see your truth because they see standing in their truth. You have to understand what the other is feeling to bring them over.

Angels make mistakes and become eagles. Too much power goes to our head awhen we allow ego and you really must know what you’re standing for.

  • Know who you are and where you stand.
  • Be humble.
  • The closest people you know will be scared of you standing in your truth
  • Have strong, open dialogue.
  • Never, ever, ever back down when improving someone else’s life and you have done your homework
  • Know your facts.

What about parents who are raising baby activists for the future?

It is the hardest job to raise a child. A parent’s first job is to really understand their own self; making peace with their past, how they felt in society, how they saw their bodies in the eyes of others, how they came to be a parent.

Lead with encouragement and listen with sympathetic ears. Allowing their voices to have a space where they are heard “you’re just a child” Once we have empathy. If I hurt you, I know how it feels because I’ve been there.

Wanting to help their children and making peace, they must accept the child’s decision to have, do and say. The choices of understanding happen at an early age. If you take their choices as an insult, and respond with hostility, you break their heart and you are the one left to look in the mirror. When a child doesn’t understand consequences, too much freedom will lead to issues. Too much screen or phone time is unhealthy living and will damage growth.

Male Circumcision

Soraya & I also spoke about infant male circumcision. This is something inherent to American countries, and something that is not common in other countries. There are so many misconceptions among society, and the medical community who profits from its continuation, about culture, cleanliness/disease prevention,

This is the most thorough resource I have found for understanding how absolutely unnecessary & damaging Circumcision is for boys. My conclusion: Just don’t! Here is what a male experiencing this goes through.

Here is some information about male infant circumcision:

  • Performing a totally unnecessary procedure on an infant who is not at the age of consent is a human rights issue.
  • As the vaginal hood over the clitoris aids in sexual pleasure, so does the foreskin of the penis. This means that circumcised men & women tend to experience less pleasure than uncircumcised people.
  • Amputation of this body part is aesthetic in American society (“it’s what everyone does”, they say. “It’s cleaner”, they say) and it is extremely lucrative to the remainder of medical community which still supports it.
  • The reports of injury, disfigurement, infection and even death have been reported, and many more which have been kept under the radar.
  • It there is no threat to a child’s health, this – again – is medically unnecessary.
  • The idea that the uncircumcised child will be made fun of is a dated excuse for amputation and mutilation. There is a large population of uncircumcised males in the U.S. To think otherwise is a dated way of thinking.
  • As fewer parents request it, the culture is changing from the bottom, up.
  • This is a trauma, chosen and imposed upon a newborn by a parent.
  • Internationally adopted children are being circumcised far beyond the age of infancy in order to “match” their American family members and peers.

Soraya Miré works tirelessly to keep this conversation alive and open, and to continue the progress of the laws against this. Her ability to educate the world about this important issue will continue as she is developing a screenplay of “The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir”. With the brutal honesty of that which exists in real life, and the Truth of her story, this story must be told!

I can’t say this is in the past”, she says. “What about the next one, and the next one? All of us are born into raising our voices to advance humanity, to make the world a better place for all of us. When I’m feeling good, I can bless others and pay it forward. I stand in acceptance.”

To read more about Soraya’s story, visit http://www.sorayamire.org/

To donate fund to further Soraya’s work, and the making of her film, email: sorayamire@hotmail.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sorayamire

My Article was Published! Here’s the Link

I have been reading this online publication for some time now, and I love it. Today, they published an essay that I wrote from my heart, about the day that we met our daughter. Thank you, Motherly, for sharing this piece of our journey.

https://www.mother.ly/love/the-minute-we-got-that-call-i-knew-you-were-our-daughter

Parenting Through Grief: What I’ve Learned

Lots of things change when we become parents.  Last year, my uncle died only 8 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, leaving his young wife, 2 small children and extended family and friends devastated.  In April, I had spine surgery, leaving me unable to bend, twist or lift (my daughter or almost anything else) for 6 weeks.  Recovery to the point where I felt normal again was a long 3 months.  Recently, I ended a 27-year friendship that had become toxic.  It has been quite a year.  How I handle these things now versus how I would have before becoming a parent is vastly different.

As the 1-year anniversary of my beloved uncle’s death approached last week, I felt grief in its current form take over me like a wave of sadness that was only relieved by a hike to the place where his ashes were spread.

  • As a parent, I can say that having my girl’s sweet face to greet me each morning has been a game-changer in how I process just about everything, including such deep loss.  On days when I would just cancel my day and go back to bed, I’m up, engaged and engaging.  While I am lifted up out of my own sadness by the busy life of a 2-year-old, I’ve learned that this cannot change the actual processing that needs to take place in my grieving
  • Let Nothing Stop You From Taking Care of Yourself

Having a supportive partner, I’ve been able to talk openly, when I could verbally express myself, about the impact that my feelings of loss have had on me.  Recently, I also decided to pursue grief counseling.  It is here that I learned the lesson to let nothing get in the way of taking care of yourself.  Find things that are just for you – a hobby that brings you calming enjoyment, exercise, meditate, try acupressure, get back to listening to your favorite music.  Having set times to write each day or each week has been part of my healing process.  Whether it is posting a new blog post or free writing, I get into a groove and it is my relief.

  • Don’t Hide Your Grief From Your Kids

My daughter is very verbal, especially when she wants to express her feelings.  This comes from our willingness to share our own feelings, talk about them and get through the feelings.  Being honest with our kids is modeling how to be healthy about their own stuff.  I can feel sad openly, and then when I’m okay, I can feel okay openly.  I want my daughter to know that she can do the same.  I do this in the simplest terms like “Mommy feels sad because she misses (someone).” And then, “Mommy feels better because this photo of him makes me feel happy.”

  • Slow and Steady

Trying to hide grief causes it to show up in less constructive ways.  If I’m in a fog over it and not processing it constructively, I become distracted, irritable or tired.  When I’m in it, it has to be a conscious decision to pull myself out, but I do it because it makes for a better day, every time.  I’ve learned that while it’s important to feel it, maintaining control of how it’s doled out is also crucial.

Someone who experienced the death of their child once told me that grief is a like an ocean that comes in waves, and ebbs and flows as it needs to, forever.  Indeed, it does.

National Adoption Month: “I Lush You Too, Mommy”

Happy National Adoption Month!

As I move into our daughter’s second year of life, I have so much to be thankful for!  Ella is small, but mighty.  She tells us about a lot of her feelings these days, and I am so grateful for her own self-awareness. She brings us never-ending joy, and she treasures us.  She tells us that “I feel happy” and “Mommy, Momma, Ella, happy family!” just about every day.   This allows me the opportunity to foster her expression, awareness and articulation even more.

I think about the weight of her adoption on a daily basis.  I write letters to her birth mother in my mind.  Sometimes I write them in real life too.  As I participate in groups like TAP 101 and  Transracial Adoption Perspectives on Facebook, learning the perspectives and experiences of adoptees, I know that my responsibility to honor my daughter’s ethnic identity, her identity as an adopted person, and as a Black female, is crucial.

My experience is just 2 years old, and I know it will continue to grow and change based on the needs of my child.  I know that my understanding will evolve.  Once I understood that being a better parent meant learning, growing, educating myself and teaching her how to embrace her own identity, the results were enormously rewarding.  As a toddler, she embraces her dolls, books, places we go, things we do and her friends who provide mirrors for her.  She understands that her family is made up of three different skin shades and one heart, and she kisses my hand every time we talk about it.

On Monday, November 6, the Parent Voice, an online magazine for multiracial families and their multicultural lives, published an article that I’ve written about this topic. Please be sure to go and read it and the many other stories, interviews and perspectives from other parents from around the world.  My article is based on my family’s experience, and the perspectives and lessons that I’ve received from other adoptees who were adopted transracially.

“Not flesh of my flesh,

Nor bone of my bone, but miraculously my own.

Never forget for a minute;

You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”

~Fleur Helinger

As I watch this person grow, from my 5 pound, 1 ounce baby to a toddler with her own thoughts, feelings, ideas and a very clear point of view, I ache with the depth of love that I have for her.

I eat up each moment because I know it is never to return, except in my memory. I relish in the delicious moments of tender hugs and requests to “hold-ju, Mommy”, and the chance to be by her side as she learns to navigate this world that is now hers.

This gift of motherhood is a privilege that is not lost on me. Her kindness and love of others, her ability to be a good friend already, her sense of adventure… My life is forever changed because she is my daughter & I am her mother.IMG_6492

Recently, when I tell her I love her, she responds with a big hug or by pressing her sweet little cheek to mine saying, “I lush you too, Mommy.”  That is everything.

IMG_6534

*updated on Nov 22, 2017*

Bonding With Adoption

Mothers hold their children's hands for a short time, but their hearts forever. ~Author Unknown

My wife and I got the call that our baby was here when Ella was 5-days-old.  She'd been taken to the NICU because her birth mother thought that she was about 30 weeks pregnant when she delivered.  We were allowed to pick her up the next day.  As we walked in to the room to meet the tiny person in the hospital bassinet, the nurse asked, "Who wants to hold her first?"  Lynne immediately said, "Lola.  Give her to Lola."  My child.. the greatest gift I've ever received.

The moment that I was alone with Ella for the first time, I cradled her in my hands and told her this:

On the day you were born, all the gods got together and threw a BIG party!  They decided that you, Mommy, Momma & Lucy should be a family.  And so we are going to take you home today.  You are our dream, come true.

At that, my newborn baby girl smiled in her sleep.  She already  knew and loved my voice, and I already knew and loved her smile.  Our bond was instant, and it is strong.

My friend recently told me that the bonding hormones that are produced from childbirth & breastfeeding were absent for us, so our bond must be less than that of a birth parent.  Oh contrare, mon frere!  We've got it goin' on over here with the bonding.  The odds were in our favor, though, because studies show that when you're the first to bond, the bond is most likely to be successful.

Contrary to popular belief, the fact that I didn't birth or breastfeed her is, in fact, irrelevant in our case.  Her moms are the first people she looks for when she's happy, sad, scared, hungry, wants a hug or a kiss, or just wants to have fun with someone.  We are her first best friends, and we relish in the delight of it all.  I cannot imagine feeling any closer to my child than I already do.  She feels like a part of my body. She is a part of me, like it or not.

Since bonding is a term that describes a caregiver's attachment level to a child, it's really the adoptive parent that needs to bond with a new baby—not the other way around. ~Jae Curtis 

We did skin-to-skin bonding, we took care of each other and ourselves so that we were able to relish in the moments without too much crazy newborn fatigue, we had lots of face time and snuggle time, and we love the crap out of our daughter.  That's the most important part.  Love.

Lately, Ella says, "Mommy! I hug yoooo! I holdu!" and I know that the gods really did have that huge party, and they really did line up the stars, and we really are a Family.6A2A51E8-864D-42D9-83E1-F5DA667209AA                      My tiny girl.. 2-months-old_MG_2764                     She is one of the most joy-filled people I have ever know.

Mommy & Ella June 2017                                                  See?!? Pure joy, and she is mine.

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