Angelina Jolie Must Be Distraught by Public Pleas From Zahara's Birth Mom

Angelina Jolie Zahara Shiloh Jolie-Pitt
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I never thought a day would come when sympathy would be an emotion I feel for Angelina Jolie, one of the world's richest, most famous and beautiful women. But recent reports that her adopted daughter Zahara's birth mom is publicly pleading to have contact with the 12-year-old girl really hit home. As an adoptive mom myself, I understand the impossible situation Jolie is in. It's so unfair.


Jolie adopted Zahara in Ethiopia at just 6 months old in 2005 and, according to the Daily Mail, at the time believed the baby was an AIDS orphan. Now, 31-year-old Mentewab Dawit Lebiso says she is the girl's birth mother and is heartbroken over losing contact with her.

"I just want her to know that I am alive and here and long to be able to speak with her," Lebiso told the Daily Mail. "I do not want my daughter back but just to be in contact with her and be able to call her up and talk with her."

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Lebiso's story is heartbreaking. She was raped, she said, and couldn't care for the baby she named Yemasrech, so her daughter was put up for adoption.

Lebiso doesn't want money from Jolie, just contact with Zahara. And it's hard for any mother not to ache for her loss. Here's what she told the interviewer:

She has a life that I could never give her, but I would still like to have some contact. I would like to see her face. She has grown into a beautiful woman and I am so proud of her. My heart bursts because I am so proud.

We all die sometime and before I die I would like her to know about me and that she has family here in Ethiopia.

I would ask Angelina to let me speak with her. I do not think it is too much to ask.

And it doesn't sound like too much to ask, right? Maybe it is.

First of all, shame on the Daily Mail, which tracked down Lebiso in a remote Ethiopian town for no other reason than to dig up dirt on Jolie. Zahara is already weathering the very messy split between the only parents she's ever known -- Jolie and Brad Pitt. Now thanks to the lame "scoop" the Mail was trying to score, she's got to navigate the sea of emotions that must go along with confronting the traumatic details of the first months of her life in the most public way.

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Second, regardless of how sad, poverty-stricken, or sincere Lebiso is about just wanting to talk to Zahara, it's Jolie's responsibility as her mom to protect her little girl, no matter what. She should be allowed to do that in her own time, and in a way she thinks is best for Zahara. Bad publicity and public pressure should have zero to do with it.

Jolie can have empathy for a mom who had a baby under the worst of circumstances and also think it best to keep her daughter protected for the time being. It's important to remember both things can be true.

Every single adoption is different, as are the particular details leading up to the separation between a birth parent and child. Those are personal, private details that any adoption counselor or adviser will tell you should be kept that way. What matters most is protecting an adopted child from traumatic details about his or her life story until he or she is ready to handle it. Children all internalize and process these terribly sensitive details in their own way, and out of common decency, they should be able to do it in their own time and among the people that love them the most.

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Adopted children will inevitably have questions about their story and where they came from, and it's the responsibility of adopted parents to be open to letting them explore and find out about themselves when the time is right. It's something I am always mindful of, and prepared for, in raising my own daughter.

Perhaps one day Zahara will hop on her mom's private jet and meet her birth mother. Chances are when she does, Jolie will be right by her side. The narrative from the Mail seems to want to caricature the situation as Jolie-versus-Lebiso in a battle for Zahara. But I know that isn't at all how adoptive parents actually feel about their children's birth parents.

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Lebiso gave Jolie her precious daughter, and speaking from experience, I would bet one day the two women will meet and marvel at the gorgeous girl they have in common. But as Zahara's mom, Jolie is who should get to decide how, and when, that happens, along with her daughter.

The rest is just no one else's business.

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