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Monday, February 27, 2006

Another Check Mark

Saturday Greg and I finished and emailed our application to work with our agency. This morning I placed our fee and also our picture in the mailbox to send off to the agency. Now we are back to waiting again!

I'm not sure how I first heard of our agency but I imagine that it was through all my extensive google searches that I came across their website. Greg and I attended a seminar that they gave one night to learn about international adoption in general, and their agency in particular. I recognized the last name of the couple that gave the seminar but couldn't quite place where I had heard it. It turns out that the family of the man grew up in the same neighborhood as my parents did and we all belonged to the same private pool. My sister works with the woman. While she was going through all the troubles of getting her family started, my sister was pregnant and helping to care for my mom who was in the hospital. Sometimes the two of them would close the door to an office and pray for each other. The couple adopted their daughter from Guatemala about a year ago through the same agency and had a wonderful experience.

From the first contact that we had with the agency, Greg and I have felt very comfortable with them. All our emails and questions have been answered thoroughly and promptly. Their main office is in another state but they also have an office nearby us. It isn't necessary to use an office that is nearby but it makes us feel more secure to know that they are a short drive away. They are knowledgeable with social workers in the area and also all the requirements for adoption pertaining to Pennsylvania law. They provide several services through the agency so we won't be left on our own to fend for ourselves.

Now we have to wait. We should only have to wait a few days this time until someone from the agency contacts us and lets us in on our next move. I am still in disbelief that this is actually happening. I wondered for awhile if we would ever have children, and now every day I feel a little closer.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Officially Official

Today truly marks the beginning of the adoption process. Last night Greg and I finished the I-600A, looked over it a million times, read the instructions, reread the instructions, signed, dated, reviewed one more time, and sealed the envelope. This form has to be reviewed by the government so we can get approval to adopt internationally. We still have some more information to send in before it can be approved, but finally, our first real step forward.

When Greg came home from work yesterday he said, "Are we done fooling ourselves or are we actually going to send in our application with this agency?" I had actually spent some time yesterday filling out some of the application with the agency we have decided on. Greg filled in some of the blanks last night. In the next couple of days that application will find its way into the mailbox.

The fear and anxiety is starting to set in already. There is so much that I want to do but I know most of it would be pointless at this time. I dont know how old our son will be when we bring him home so I cant even prepare for that. Tomorrow I am hoping to pick up some yarn to start knitting my first baby blanket. That should take up plenty of my time.



Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Questions and Answers

Ever since we announced our plans to adopt, we have gotten a million questions. Why are you adopting? Are you adopting domestically or internationally? Why did you choose that? Are you going to have a boy or a girl? How old will your baby be? When will you get your baby?

Basically, the answer to all these questions is the same, and quite simple. We don't know. Just like deciding to start trying to conceive a child, there are more unknowns about how the adoption will play out than there are knowns. However, I am going to try to answer some of the questions the best that I can.

The idea of adoption has been in my mind for a couple of years. Blame it all on the new reality-type shows such as Extreme Make Over Home Edition and Oprah. After catching a couple episodes of Extreme Makeover and having tears of joy about how the simple actions of people can have such profound effects on others, I began questioning my own actions. What could I do that would really make a difference? Unlike the people on the show, I don't have any great building or designing talents. All I really have to give is love. An episode of Oprah helped me answer my question. Oprah had Lisa Ling on her show, giving a special report on the orphanages in China. I was shocked to see the conditions that those little babies were in while living in some of the orphanages. Greg came home from work to find me poised on the edge of the couch with tears following down my cheeks. They were tears of sadness for the children who didn't have families and tears of joy as I watched couples who had traveled to adopt have their children placed in their arms for the first time. As soon as the show went to commercial I turned to Greg and asked, "Can we adopt a child from China?"

From that point on I knew what I could give back to the world - my love. Greg and I have always wanted a family. We started talking about conceiving a child a few years after that Oprah show and I would always follow up the discussion with ideas of adopting. The original plan was to have a couple biological children and then start the path to adopt a girl from China. When we found out that it was likely that we would not have biological children, the decision to move on to adoption was a simple one.

The process to adopt from the US (domestic adoption) and internationally are quite different. With domestic adoption, after signing with an agency birth mothers get to pick who they want to adopt their child. We could be waiting for years before we were chosen. The adoption process takes a minimum of 1.5-2 years. There is a chance that the birth mother could change her mind. Even after the child is placed in your arms, the adoption is not finalized for several months, during which time there is still a slight possibility that the adoption will not be finalized.

With international adoption, there is a more definitive timeline. Once all the paperwork is submitted, our name will be placed on a waiting list. Once our name reaches the top, we will be matched with an available baby. The wait varies from country to country but with Guatemala (the country we have chosen) the entire adoption process can be completed in 6-12 months. The adoption is finalized in the foreign country so once that child is given to you, there are no worries about birth mothers changing their minds.

We have chosen to adopt a boy from Guatemala. I know, more questions. Yes, I did say that I was interested in adopting a girl from China. How did we end up coming to the decision to adopt a boy from Guatemala? China has an age restriction on adoptive parents. Both parents have to be at least 30 years old. That would mean that Greg and I would have to wait at least 3 more years to even start the process. We are anxious to get our family started. We decided that we would try to adopt a boy now. In the future if we decide to adopt again, we may try to adopt a girl from China. Having a boy now means that we can even things out later with a girl, since Chinese adopting almost guarantee a girl.

Guatemala is one of the best countries to adopt boys from. For some reason, most adoptive parents (about 85%) request a girl. There are so many boys waiting to be adopted from Guatemala that almost as soon as we get our paperwork done, we will be matched with a baby boy. (This matching process is called a referral.) Then it will just be a matter of waiting for the adoption to be finalized in Guatemala before we can pick up our son.

Guatemala is also one of the fastest countries to adopt through. Babies are typically referred when they are between 1 day and 1 month old. This means that they are also some of the youngest international babies once the adoption is complete. This will maximize our "baby time" we get to spend with our son.

Almost all the babies in Guatemala are kept in foster care, as opposed to orphanages, while the adoption is finalized. Therefore, they receive lots of one-on-one care as well as medical attention. Depending on the foster parent, we may receive photo updates, videos, and written medical reports - things that are not always available when babies are in orphanages. This type of care will also cut down on the transitional period between the foster care and becoming a member of his forever family. Unfortunately, this good care comes at a price, making Guatemala one of the most expensive countries to adopt from.

Greg and I will also have the option of going to Guatemala to visit with our son before the adoption is final. We can stay in a hotel and our son will be brought to us to care for and bond with during our stay.

The travel time to adopt from Guatemala is also shorter than many other countries. Many countries require that the adoptive parents visit for up to a month and sometimes even make multiple trips. The travel to Guatemala is for only 3-5 days. This will help to cut down costs since less money will be needed to stay abroad and airfare will be less expansive than flying somewhere considerably farther away.

How old will your baby be? When will you get your baby? These are the hardest questions to answer. It really depends on how smoothly the process runs. In an ideal situation, our baby could be as young as 4 months old and our adoption process could take 6 months. Unfortunately, this is the exception. Most of the timeline is out of our hands. Once we have our paperwork submitted we will have to sit back and wait while the US Embassy in Guatemala and the Guatemala government review, reject, and revise absolutely everything. Right now the average time of adoptions from Guatemala are around 8 months, but I did talk to one woman who took over 18 from the start of the process to the end.

Mostly we are going to have to be patient, work at controlling the things we have control over, and be understanding with the things that we cannot. We are also going to need to be flexible. By the time the process is over, we could be coming home with a baby girl from China afterall.

Sorry to say, we didn't get the I600A in yet. This week will be it. Life is just getting in the way. Already we are not very good at controlling the things we actually have control over.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

...And We're Off!!

Okay, maybe we really arent "off". It is more like we are doing our warmup before we step up to the starting line. But at least the starting line is in view.

Greg and I are still gathering some information before we make any real decisions. I have to call the one agency we are really interested in to get some further information. Hopefully that will happen today. I downloaded the I600A, which is a form that must be submitted to the government so we can be approved to adopt internationally. It can take 3-4 months to get approval, and we will still have to submit more information before our application is complete, but it will be helpful to get our information in ASAP. My plan, although Greg might not be aware of this yet, is to have that submitted by the end of the week.

I talked to a friend of a friend last night on the phone for about 45 minutes. She adopted her son from Guatemala about 9 months ago. It was great to hear from someone who has been through the proceedure. Unfortunately, her process didnt go so smoothly. While everyone who adopted through her agency were home with their babies after 6-8 months, she and her husband had to wait 17 months. It just seemed that every possible hangup along the way, they somehow got hung up in each one of them. I just need to remember to be patient, that this will all work out in time, and sometimes it will be all out of my control. I hate that feeling but I know in the end the reward will be well worth it.



Friday, February 10, 2006

Greater Purpose

In a part of town that I rarely go to, in a building I have only driven by, sitting next to a women I have never met, I learned the most valuable lesson of my life.

The instant I sat down I thought I should find a different seat. I wanted to read while I waited. There would be no reading. Two women sitting a few feet away were talking entirely too loud. I tried to block them out and soon gave up. I decided instead to listen to them talk while I giggled to myself. The younger of the ladies was delivering a sermon to the older lady.

My laughter was not me dissing God by any means. I just thought it was an odd platform to be delivering such a topic. I have my own views on God that dont fit neatly into any one religion. I usually respond with "Christian" when asked my beliefs, but my beliefs are more rooted in my upbringing, my education in science, and my personal observations of the world. I dont think I am right. I dont think anyone has it all right. But what I believe works for me, gives me hope and strength, and I think that is the most important part. Contrary to several popular beliefs, I am not God fearing but God loving. I think everyone has a right to their opinion on the subject and I am never out to alter anyone's opinion. Therefore, unless I am prompted, I keep my own opinion on the subject to myself. That is why I found it so amusing that these two women were discussing their belief in God so loudly and openly in such an unlikely setting.

I tried to piece together the story.

The older woman, a lady in her 70's, had been sitting at a bus stop. There were plenty of people waiting for the bus that day, all spread out around the area. A strange feeling came over her, one of illness and confusion, and she stood. Instead of speaking to anyone that was near her, she walked past several people to a man she did not know who had been standing with his back towards her. She asked the man, whose name she found out later was Mr. Black, "Can you do me a favor?" The man turned and said that he would. The older woman said, "There is something wrong with me. I dont know what it is but I need you to tell my family." That is that last thing this woman remembers.

The woman had an aneurysm. Although I have to make some assumptions to fill in the blanks of the story, it seemed that Mr. Black got help for her. Mr. Black had gotten contact information for this woman's daughter. This woman's daughter was the other woman that I overheard talking that day. The older lady, the mom, said over and over again that she didnt know why she went to that man, why she picked that stranger out of all of the strangers there at the bus stop, to talk to, to confide in, and ultimately, to trust with her life.

It was her daughter who was doing the preaching that day. The daughter told her mother that God's angels were looking out for her. Maybe Mr. Black was being tested that day, to see if he would do a good job. Or maybe Mr. Black was one of God's angels. This older woman had a greater purpose in life, a purpose that had not been realized yet. Her life was in God's hands and God still had work for her to do. Mr. Black was an angel sent to ensure that she stay on this earth to do her work. At any point in the conversation when the older woman got down, complained about her finances or the cane she had to use, her daughter was right there to lift her back up with God's love. "Mom, dont complain about these little things. These are just material things. God gave you life and you are not done using it. You have a greater purpose. God sent his angels to help reach that purpose."

As soon as those two ladies got up and left, I was thankful I could return to my book. Silence at last.

Thirty minutes later my life was altered. The one truth that I had always known was only a myth. Half of my heart had been ripped from my chest and shattered to the floor in a million little pieces. I couldnt think. I couldnt breathe. I couldnt even be sure that I had heard what I had heard.

The other half of my heart was remembering Mr. Black and the 70-something woman who had passed so quickly through my life. The other half of my heart was singing in celebration.

That woman had looked death in the eye. She had lived through wars and struggles that I have only read about in history books. Yet, she needed Mr. Black and God's angels to pull her back into this world to remind her that her work here wasnt done. She still had a purpose. She was 70 years old and still had to figure out what her purpose was.

In a blink of an eye, I knew I was the luckiest person in the world. I am 27 years old and I know what my greater purpose is. I discovered that purpose in some part of town I rarely go to, in a building I have only driven past, from a woman who doesnt even know that her purpose was to help me discover mine.