This is Part Three of a series on Adoption called Everything I Want You to Know About Adoption. To see the links to each individual post in this series, click the “adoption” tab on the nav bar at the top of the blog, or click here.
Sorry for leaving you hanging on that last post. I had a few Facebook friends cry out in agony at the thought of waiting until Wednesday for more of Elliana’s story. Trust me, I didn’t want to stop writing. I never want to stop writing. In a perfect world, I’d have the super power of being able to write all day long with one hand while tending to my motherly, wifely and housely duties with the other.
So, anyway, I left you
with Jon standing by our desk, surrounded by piles of financial paperwork, saying “I think we can do it.”
That’s when I about fell over. Clearly, God was leading us in the direction of adopting another child. At this point, I figured I better just jump on board and enjoy the ride.
Finding the Right Agency
I will cover some good tips on finding the right agency in a future post. But here, I’m just telling you how it played out for us, when I didn’t have a clue about good tips.
When we started the process, I knew not a single person who had adopted from Guatemala. I was starting at square-one. So, I did what any red-blooded American Christian would do. I Googled “adoption agencies Guatemala Christian.” And I became a student of international adoption. I read everything I could find on-line about the process. I ordered info packets from the agencies that looked good. I went to Barnes and Noble and scoured the adoption books for information on international adoption.
From there, I narrowed it down to two or three agencies. I’m not sure how to explain this, but at this point, I was not feeling the love for any of them. All of them looked capable and reputable. But, I don’t know…they just didn’t feel right.
So, one evening, I went for a walk alone in our neighborhood, for the dual purpose of burning some calories and also praying about finding an agency. About a mile into the walk, I saw the cutest little blonde-headed toddler, waddling around in her diaper. I commented to the Mommy (who I didn’t know) that her little girl looked just like my daughter when she was that age. And like Mommies do, we stood and chatted a minute about how fast kids grow up and how the toddler phase is so fun, yet so challenging. We briefly talked about our older children and I briefly mentioned that I was about to start the process of adopting a baby from Guatemala. Then she asked, “Do you have an agency yet? I have friends who just adopted two babies from there. They loved their agency. Let me give you their number.”
The next afternoon, I called her friend and interrogated her about everything from the home study to the cost of adoption to the travel. She gave me the name of her agency. It was a small, private agency out of Florida, called Heart to Heart.*
Hold that thought.
The following day, I was sitting in a meeting at my daughter’s school. It was the beginning of the school year, and I was about to join a Moms in Touch prayer group. While we were waiting for the leader to arrive, I introduced myself to the woman sitting next to me. And then, almost joking, I said something like, “I probably shouldn’t be joining anything right now. I’m about to adopt a baby from Guatemala, and I have no idea what this year is going to look like.
And she said, “Are you using Heart to Heart?”
“Do you have an agency yet? I heard Heart to Heart is great.”
Hold that thought.
The NEXT day (yes, three days in a row), I was at the zoo with Elijah. As I stood at the carousel watching him go ‘round and ‘round, I became smitten by a little dark-haired, dark-skinned boy. Every time he circled around, he smiled big, waved to me, and stretched his neck as far as he could until he disappeared around the bend. He looked like he could have been from Guatemala or Mexico or Honduras (now that I have a child from Guatemala, I have Guatemala-Baby-Radar—I can spot ‘em a mile away. But back then, dark children just looked Hispanic to me.) When the carousel stopped, I saw a Caucasian man scoop up the dark-skinned child and join a Caucasian woman about my age.
I approached the woman and struck up a conversation (if you learn anything from this post, let it be said that I have no problem approaching complete and total strangers and talking with them about my personal life), “Your son is adorable…is he from Guatemala?”
“Yes,” she said with a giant smile.
“We just decided to adopt from Guatemala, too…do you mind if I ask what agency you used?”
You guessed it.
“Heart to Heart.”
Late that night I found Heart to Heart’s website*, filled out the on-line inquiry form and got a call the next day (on a Saturday!) from Linda—the Executive Director of the agency.
Guess what agency we went with.
Let the Hard Part Begin!
At the risk of totally boring you to tears, I will attempt to describe in as few words as possible the next three months:
We received an incredibly thick pile of papers to complete. We had to gather financial information, employment information and medical information on every living being in our house. We needed certified copies of birth certificates and marriage certificates. We had criminal checks and finger prints. We gathered character references and applied for passports. We filled out immigration forms. We were interviewed not once, not twice, but three times by a social worker about the state of our marital union and the discipline strategies of our existing children.
I like to refer to this part of the adoption process as the First Trimester. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know the first trimester pretty much sucks. (And I don’t even like to say “sucks.”) But it just does. If you’re not vomiting, you sure as heck wish you would. You want to sleep all day, but you still have to work or take care of your family. Your stomach is all bloated– like you just pigged out on all-you-can-eat burritos. You know, too bloated to be able to button your jeans, but not bloated enough to wear maternity clothes. All your favorite foods,
including especially coffee and chocolate, repulse you. You’re giddy with excitement that you have a baby inside you, but other than the two lines on the pregnancy test, there’s no real proof. In fact, you aren’t quite sure if all this fuss is actually pregnancy or just terrible PMS. Or the flu.
That’s what it’s like in the first three months of adoption. Except it’s all on paper.
With an international adoption, you have the added bonus of taking the entire stack—which is ridiculously large and incredibly valuable—and getting all the papers approved at both the county and state levels. Which means you make the rounds to all the county court houses AND the state capital with your precious stack of papers. And then, you take the whole thing and overnight it to your agency, along with a big, fat money order (usually the first half of your fee is due at this time). It feels like you are mailing off your first born. And you kind of are.
When I wasn’t filling out papers or standing in line at some government office (or glory-be-to God, trying to still take care of my two other children), I was on the Heart to Heart website looking through pictures of “waiting children.”
Just saying “waiting children” makes me cry.
Remember when I described the terrible feeling of “rejecting” the potential children presented to me with Elijah’s domestic adoption? Well, imagine looking at screen after ever-loving screen of beautiful children smiling into the camera, as if to say, “Please choose me.”
For me, this was a thousand times worse.
So, How Do You Choose?
I don’t know if I have the answer for that. All adoptive parents I know have a unique story of how they “knew” which child was theirs. Our story is pretty simple, really.
I saw a newborn picture of a chubby baby in a pink sleeper with the name “Jaqueline Lineth” printed above it. Jaqueline caught my eye because my mom’s name was Jacqueline. My mom passed away when I was pregnant with Rebekah. How could I NOT choose a baby with my Mom’s name?
Not only was her name Jaqueline, but she happened to be sleeping in the picture, too. I like that in a newborn—good sleeping. I don’t know what else to say…I just loved this baby. Only, I couldn’t officially choose her until all my paperwork was completed and postmarked.
On January 4, 2007, after mailing off the whole kitten caboodle, I raced home to my computer to see if Jaqueline Lineth was still available. She was. I quickly e-mailed Linda and said, “All my paperwork is in the mail to you…I would love to adopt Jaqueline, if she is still available.”
Her response was brief: “Congratulations! I will put her on hold for you.”
“On hold.” That sounds so K-Mart, doesn’t it?
I refreshed my computer screen to see the word “WAITING” gone from beneath her picture, and the words “ON HOLD” there instead. My heart did a flip. This moment is very much like getting to see your pregnant belly on a sonogram for the first time. She suddenly became a hundred times more beautiful. She suddenly became real to me. She suddenly became my daughter.
For the next year, we received medical updates and pictures from her foster family, every 4 to 8 weeks. And we still had dial-up internet at the time.
Do you know how LONG it takes to download a stinkin’ picture of your baby on dial up internet? Like 35 hours, or something. It’s insane.
And every time we received new pictures, I would enlarge the best one to an 8×10 and stick it in a magnetic frame on our fridge.
Elliana’s adoption took longer than it should have. Guatemala was in the process of closing its international adoption program (it closed in January 2008 and remains closed), and we got caught in that mess. We had to call our senators and speak to people at foreign embassies to make sure our baby didn’t get stuck there forever. At one point near the very end of the process, we discovered our immigration paperwork was mistakenly sent to China instead of Guatemala, which delayed things even further. Eye-yi-yi….
It all seemed like a very big deal, at the time—and I suppose it was. But, much like labor pains, it is totally worth it. Miraculously, it all becomes a distant memory, once you are holding that child in your arms.
On January 4, 2008, exactly one year to the day that we chose “Jaqueline Lineth” from the screen of waiting children, our little family flew to Guatemala and arrived in our hotel. Within minutes, we received a call from the lobby.
And there she was.
Alright. Enough about me. I am ready to attack the FAQ’s of adoption. Next week we will start all that hoopla. Though I cannot promise it will be Monday. In fact, let’s just agree that it won’t be. I have eighteen members of my family travelling in from out of town this weekend to celebrate my Dad’s 87th birthday and to watch my son get baptized. Twelve of them are sleeping at my house. I may be a little busy.
*I am not sure what happened to Heart to Heart. I tried to get on their website so I could link to it for this post. Unfortunately, their website is no longer available. I assume the closing of Guatemala adoptions put them out of business.