Tuesday, November 22, 2011


We've been home from our trip to Haiti for just over a week now.  I have had some time to reflect on and process all that I experienced.  My first shower back was heavenly -- warm and clean water!  Washing my face with water for the first time in a week was divine.  I hope I never take that for granted again.  I missed my kids so much and I was glad to be back home with them (and even the dog and cat were a welcome sight).

Christina and her daddy
I am thrilled that after looking through our pictures of the trip, our kids are they are excited to visit Christina in the future.  They all took pictures to school to show their teachers and friends, even my oldest, who was the most resistant to the adoption.  I will never forget the laugh in his voice as he commented "we are going to have our hands full, she is a nut!" as he watched a video of us playing with Christina.

Eating lunch
The hardest thing about the trip was having to leave Christina behind. She is well cared for and safe.  She has plenty of food and sweet friends to play with.  But she doesn't have a mom or dad or siblings.  No nanny, however wonderful, can fill those shoes.  It was so hard to hear that even with our surprise court date and our paperwork finally reaching IBESR (Haitian Social Services) that we still have 17 months to wait.  Seventeen months!

Why 17 months?  Because we have to wait for the Haitian President to sign off on our documents, saying he approves of our adoption.  That can take up to 6 months alone -- our paperwork sitting in some pile on someone's desk in the Presidential Palace, waiting until he has enough adoption cases to make the time to sign them all.  Then multiple Directors from multiple governmental offices have to sign the documents.  Again, our paperwork can languish on each of these desks up to three months.  Pretty soon those months add up to 17.

I know our paperwork is not important to these people.  Christina is just one child in a country full of orphaned children.  I am sure there are many more important issues they have to deal with daily -- Haiti is a country with significant challenges.  I have been researching different Haitian blogs and news articles trying to understand their culture and politics.  Race and oppression is a huge hot button. Americans are not exactly loved by the Haitian people.  And they do not love the fact that we are taking one of their own away from their country.

I am going to have to learn how to do her hair!
Giving us a sad face -- this is how she greeted us each day, such sad eyes.
Me, I would rather Christina have the opportunity to stay in Haiti as well.  To be with her birth family, to keep her language and culture.  But there is nothing for her in Haiti.  No family, no opportunity.  Nothing but growing up in an orphanage and someday being forced to live on the streets or in a tent, with no job prospects, no future.

Even though we only spent four short days with her, she is ours.  Despite the challenges we know we will face, we know she belongs with our family.  We are excited to be a Haitian-American family, to learn Kreyol and Haitian traditions and incorporate them into our own.

We spent a lot of time drawing pictures together.

So my prayer is that those 17 months shorten to 9 months.  That each step takes the shortest time possible, that each Official feels an overwhelming urge to clear his/her desk of all paperwork.  That the President decides to sign adoption dispensations the day our paperwork hits his office.  9 months allows  for all of the necessary steps without any unnecessary delays.  The only way we can get it done in 9 months is through a miracle.  It has never before been done that quickly in the history of Haitian adoptions.  I know we don't deserve a shorter wait time than any other family going through the adoption process.  But I am praying anyway, because we serve a huge God who has a perfect plan for Christina.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A new day!

It's amazing what a new day will bring! I prayed last night that I would leave Haiti feeling good about our trip, Christina and the whole experience. Today He confirmed that He is indeed in control.

Let me back up a bit. When I first tried to book our trip I tried to book tickets for the middle to end of October. To our dismay, the ONLY dates available with our frequent flier miles were the five days in November that we finally booked. Two weeks past what we wanted.

When we arrived in Haiti Friday the orphanage director of the guest house we are staying at mentioned that we might be going to see the Dean on Monday. I had no idea what this meant, but I said ok. We had been told to just be agreeable to whatever we were told, so I acted like I knew what she was talking about.

Today after breakfast (we tried to eat as much of it as we could-- the ladies here seem to be offended that we leave food, but we simply can not eat all the food they serve us!) we were told to dress up, as we were going to meet with the Dean. Now, we did not bring dress clothes. We had no idea we would have any official meetings this trip. We put on the nicest clothes we had (thank goodness I had packed one skirt!) and were driven to Christina's orphanage once again.

The kids were dressed for their school day, all matching green polos and blue jeans. Christina came over to me immediately and wanted to be picked up. She refused to let anyone else near me. One little guy, maybe 2 years old, when he saw us, came running to us with open arms as fast as his little legs could carry him, a huge grin on his face. He literally threw himself at Weston. So sweet!

Sonya, the director of the orphanage where Christina stays, told us she had been able to get us an appointment (I still was not sure what appointment she was talking about) and she needed to prepare us. So she drilled us with questions:

Why do you want to adopt when you already have three children?
How are you going to provide for her?
How are you going to love her as much as your other children?
What did our children think of the adoption?
What does your extended family think of Christina?
What will we do if she is made fun of for her black skin at school?
Does having a black child bother us at all?
Are there other black children in our neighborhood?

When we answered all the questions to her satisfaction, we kissed Christina a quick good bye, told her we would be back soon and left for our appointment.

We got to see a new part of Port au Prince. The entire city seems the same-- street after street of destroyed buildings, piles of rubble and people everywhere. We did see some construction projects: they are rebuilding the streets and drainage in some of the worst areas.

We arrived at a building with 20-30 people milling around outside, obviously waiting to go in. We were told to stay in the car. Sonya brought a man out to us and had us sign a book -- I could tell the handwritten pages were all about us. I saw our names, social security numbers and some dates. All written by hand! She told us that was the paper needed before we could see the Dean. (what the heck is "the Dean!?!")

Then she handed me the official copy of our dossier to look through. Our dossier is every piece of paper needed to process the adoption. In Haiti it is all kept in a big file folder. There are no PDFs or computer files, it is all done the old fashioned way by hand. I read as best I could (it was all in French-- I am so grateful for my four years of French in high school and college!) all of the documents on Christina. Her psychological profile, where they found her, how she was when she first arrived at the orphanage, how long Sonya waited until she decided Christina was ready to be adopted.

We arrived at a government building and were ushered into one waiting room, then another. Everyone else was dressed in suits and dress shoes. We felt very under dressed. We were also the only white people.

Sonya told us the Dean was busy but would try to squeeze us in shortly. So we waited. And waited. About an hour later we were told she had a staff meeting and we would have to keep waiting. Then about a minute later we told to hurry into the office. The staff wasn't ready for the meeting, so she would see us now.

We walked in to an air conditioned office and a stern looking woman told us to sit down. She then told Sonya to give her the dossier file and to leave the room. She asked for our passports, looked over them, compared them to the dossier file. She proceeded to ask us many of the same questions Sonya had prepared us for. She did not look happy.

These are the pictures we showed the Dean.

Finally she asked to see pictures of us with Christina.  We got out our camera and showed her a couple of pictures and she seemed to soften.  "She is very pretty", she said to us with a slight smile. "Good luck" and she signed the documents.

As we got in the car to return to the orphanage, I asked Sonya when we would have to go to court. She laughed and said "you just did! That was your court date and she was the judge! And my questions helped prepare you, no?"

I had no idea! The final document needed in order for us to go to court had come in two days before we arrived. Because it came in right before we got here Sonya was able to schedule a court date for us today! Had we visited when we originally planned, in October, we would have missed the opportunity to go to court. God knew what He was doing!

Our paperwork will now head to IBESR and await the presidential dispensation. Our wait time probably won't be any shorter but at least we won't have to come back for the court date.

We had a few minutes to snuggle Christina before we had to head back to our guesthouse. She was very sad and withdrawn. She snuggled Weston, clutching his shirt in her little hand, her head on his shoulder. In her other hand she held the picture book we had given her. It is apparent she knows we are her family. She is one smart little girl.

Another couple from Germany was also at the orphanage. They are picking their little boy up to take him home this week. We had a few minutes to chat with them (the husband spoke decent English) and he said they had been in the adoption process since May, 2010. And they don't have any other children. That makes my heart sink. Our process could be even longer than that. Sonya said to count on at least another year, but that she is praying the president signs off on our paperwork in miraculous time.

We said goodbye to all the sweet kids, kissing each one, and kissing Christina over and over. We told her we would be back. She didn't cry, she just lay limply in our arms.

On our way back to the guest house we told Sonya we were pretty sure Christina knew we were adopting her, but that we had worked hard not to tell her. Sonya said its ok for her to know. It gives her hope as she sees other children leave with their white mamas and papas. She can hold her photo album and know she has a family coming for her too. One of her buddies left last week, another cutie (who I just love!) will leave the first week of December. At least adoptions are happening, however slowly.

We got back to the guest house just in time for lunch. Rats. Another huge meal to try and finish. We were hoping to miss lunch time and save room for the huge dinner we know is coming. Tonight we have vowed to eat all the meat we are served. It was apparent that not finishing all of the duck we were served last night was a bit offensive. We may pop, but maybe we will for once show our appreciation for the meal.

We've printed out our boarding passes for our trip home. It took us close to an hour with the slow Internet and old computers and printers they have here. No wonder paperwork takes so long here! I am so sad to leave Christina here. But I am happy to go home, see my other kiddos, take a nice warm shower, wash my face with water and drink a cold beer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A tough day

Today was a tough day. We were told we would be at the orphanage for an hour and our driver finally picked us up almost six hours later. That is a long time to be with 10 attention-starved kids. I have to admit I was really glad to see our driver when he finally showed up.

Once again we received a warm reception from the kids when we arrived this morning. They were all dolled up in their Sunday best, even though I don't think they went to church. Christina had on a cute pink sundress and her hair was undone and Afro big! Her nanny was in the middle of styling her hair. That will be something new for me to learn, it looked pretty difficult, with a squirmy little girl.

The kids gathered around us waiting to see what fun things we would pull out of our backpacks. We have learned less is more with the gifts. One for each, and nothing more. Today I handed out plastic beaded necklaces. They loved them, although there were a few fights over colors. Christina crawled into my lap the minute I sat down, much to the dismay of two other little girls who wanted a piece of my lap. Weston was trying to fit three little ones in his lap as well. We are pretty much left alone with the older kids, I think the nannies use us as an opportunity to not have to supervise the kids themselves. Even the baby room gets left unattended often. It is amazing to see how those little ones, barely old enough to crawl and walk have learned survival instincts.

After an hour of being fought over I was exhausted. We couldn't hold them all and someone was always on the edge of crying and feeling neglected. Christina exhibited some behavior that makes me think we are going to have a hard road ahead of us. I wish we had a chance to have her alone as I would like to see how she behaves outside of the chaos of the orphanage, without feeling like she has to fight for our attention. And because we can't let her know we are adopting her we have to give all the kids equal attention, which made things really tough.

There were moments of sweetness and joy with her, but also moments where she was animal-like. She does not like being told no, and will act out when she doesn't get her way. She also does not like to be helped and will fight to do things herself. She pinched, kicked, and fought at us. I have to admit after a couple of hours of watching her and interacting with her I was wondering what in the world we had gotten our family into. How in the world could we bring this feral child into our home? We will have to put locks on the doors, put up anything we don't want destroyed.

Yet once she realized we were not going to back down, she would calm down. A couple of times she completely shut down after a fit, staring blankly into space. But with some snuggles and hugs she would slowly come back to her sweet self. We can see glimpses of the little girl she can be, given time, a stable family and unconditional love. That is what we will have to cling to when she has her fits.

We really saw who she can be at lunch. She was obedient, fun and sweet all through her lunch. She smiled, played peekaboo and seemed so happy! A favorite nanny came in during lunch and it was fun to see the kids light up at her arrival. The other nannies introduced us as Christina's parents, I have to think Christina is figuring out who we are. She is a very smart little girl.

I can't believe how much these little ones eat at each meal. A huge bowl of food and they can't leave the table until the bowl is empty. Christina ate more than I could ever think about eating at one sitting. After lunch with such full bellies, no wonder they all get so sleepy! Think of the energy it must take them to digest it all! Christina's belly was so full her back was arched from the weight as she marched around after lunch.

After lunch she continued to play sweetly with us and the other kids. I observed her being kind to another child who was sad, sharing her book and offering my lap to another little one who wanted some snuggles. She sang songs, kicked a ball, we read a book. At one point she fell and began to cry and when I picked her up and cuddled her, she was all better. I feel like the chaos of us being with all the kids is partly responsible for her behavior, they all have to fight for what they want. It really is survival of the fittest. But once we had been there a while she settled in and calmed down a bit.

It is interesting to watch the kids interact with each other. You can tell who is the mother hen, who is the tattle tale, who is the instigator, who gets picked on. They have their little society amongst themselves. They are all so smart and capable of fending for themselves. In the US we would never let kids run around like these kids do-- concrete floor, sharp edges, stairs, metal gates, little pieces they can (and do!) put in their mouths: an environment not at all safe for unattended kids. Yet these kids navigate it just fine. It is what they are used to. They don't have many toys, so they play with whatever they can find, whether it is a piece of string or an old deflated balloon.

I can honestly say that after being with these little guys all day there isn't a single one I did not get along with or like. They all have their issues, but overall they are all sweet, wonderful little children, just craving attention and love. And they all have fits just like Christina. They hit each other, take things away from each other, and they all have moments where they shut down and stare blankly at nothing. None of them like being told no and they all destroy whatever they are given. That seems to be the way of an orphanage.

Weston and I have our work cut out for us. Another year of Christina being in the orphanage is only going to encourage her animal-like fits. It is what she has to do to survive here. It will take time and energy to unteach those behaviors and teach her boundaries. I have to admit, I am a bit glad she isn't coming home just yet. I am going to have to do more preparation. I am also glad my other children will be that much older, and hopefully understanding, when she does come home.

When we left the kids all waved good-bye, but there weren't any tears. They must be used to watching people come and go, so it doesn't phase them.

We will visit her once more tomorrow, and although I am tired and a bit discouraged right now I am hopeful that one more day will show us we can actually do this. I am looking forward to our last day with her and I pray God shows us more glimpses of who our little girl truly is, and who she will be once she is with her family.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An afternoon with Christina

We drove to Au Bonheur des Enfants, the orphanage where Christina lives, again today. Today must be market day in Port Au Prince, it seemed like every person was in the streets, either buying or selling things. I saw live chickens in baskets, raw meat (pork?) in a bucket, eggs, herbs, oranges, mangos, onions, tomatoes, cell phones, toothpaste, Doritos, nail polish, fried bread of some sort -- all being haggled over on the side of the road. I have never seen a street so crowded with people. Our driver had a couple stops to make, so we got to see some parts of Port au Prince we would not have been able to see, places where the roads were so torn up we bounced all over the backseat. We saw more tent cities. One tent had a baby, maybe a year old, standing in the dirt, crying, no one else around. A mangy, skeleton bodied dog llicked water from a dirty puddle..

We got a wonderful reception at the orphanage when we arrived. The kids seemed thrilled to see the white people who bring gifts. Our driver told us he would be back to get us in 2 hours and I thought it wouldn't be enough time! I came all this way to spend every minute with Christina, not just a couple hours! But we can't be picky, so we said ok.

She didn't want me to put her down!
Christina was clutching the photo album we had given her and the kids yesterday. One page was already torn out and the pages were dog eared from being looked through so much. I had created an album of pictures of our family doing all the things we like to do-- skiing, hiking, swimming, running, being silly. I included a couple pictures of the dog and cat. Although we did not tell Chrisitna we are adopting her, we gave it to her to look through and she assumed it was her album. Obviously she had held on to it all night.

We got out the bag of balloons, giving each kid one. I spent the next hour blowing them up over and over. Only one child wanted his tied. The rest just liked to see the balloons fly through the air after they let them go. They also liked the squeaky sound when they let the air out slowly. I couldn't think about all the drool I was ingesting each time I blew the balloons up again and again.

Christina instantly jumped onto my lap and refused to let another child near me. Weston had two little girls fighting over his lap, and a third on his back. These kids are dying for attention and snuggles. It's not that they are ignored or mistreated here, but they have to share the affection of the nannies with 10 other kids.

I counted 10 older kids and at least 15 (maybe more, there was a room I couldn't see into) babies either crawling or just beginning to walk. That is a lot of kids, all wanting to be snuggled and loved!

I pulled out another photo album, this one had pictures of our family as well as of most of the kids at the orphanage. I had printed out pictures from our agency directors latest visit and added them to the album so the kids could see themselves. This album was a huge hit. The kids loved being able to point at themselves and their buddies.

Christina did not want to share this album either. She kept pushing the others away. Then she grabbed at my backpack, trying to open the zipper. I thought she was trying to get another ballon, but realized she was trying to put the album I gave her yesterday in my backpack. Once she got the album in the front pocket, she told me to shut the backpack. She was hiding the album in my pack so the other kids wouldn't get it!

We spent a long time going over the pictures. All of the kids fought over both Weston and me, each one trying to get into our laps. It was exhausting. Finally it was lunchtime.

We watched as the kids all ate a big bowl of chicken potato stew. They ate every bite. Christina worked hard at keeping her face clean, using the sppon to catch drips, but succeeded in rubbing the stew all over her chin and cheeks. One little girl, younger than the other older kids, each time she caught my eye, she would burst into tears. She did not like the strange people in her house. Finally the nanny had to block her view of us to get her to settle down and eat.

After lunch we settled back into snuggling each child. They all really needed naps, but I guess they don't take naps here. They also don't seem to take the kids to the potty. The kids just hold it. Weston colored pictures with three little girls and I rocked a little boy, Christina sitting beside me, finally sharing her album with another little girl. They had such a conversation about each picture! I wish I could have understood what they were saying.

Weston took picture requests, the kids would say what they wanted him to draw, we would have to figure out what they said and he would draw it to their delight. Rabbits, butterflies, cows, dogs...but one phrase we couldn't figure out. Blanche mama, Blanche papa. They kept repeating it. Then I realized white mama, white papa. They wanted him to draw a picture of us! They laughed so hard when we finally figured it out. (just so you know, it sounds much harder than it looks! Kreyol is not an easy language to understand!)

Meanwhile, the little boy I rocked to sleep was put on a little cot and Christina once again crawled into my lap. I rocked and cuddled her and soon she too was sound asleep. Weston rubbed the little girls back beside him, and she too fell asleep right at the table.

Another little boy, who had not interacted with us much, began to irritate the little girl next to Weston, trying to wake her up. Weston kept telling him no, but he persisted. Any attention, even negative, was better than none, I guess. So Weston invited him to sit beside him, and he lit up. He snuggled right up to Weston for back rubs and snuggles. He just wanted some love too.

A sleeping Christina
As I rocked a sleeping Christina I felt something wet drip down my leg. A little, then a lot. Poor baby wet her pants and she never even woke up. The nannies were no where to be found, I think they were grateful to have us watch the kids so they could wash dishes and do laundry. So I had to sit in pee for several minutes until we finally found someone to change Christina. A nanny changed her and put her in a bed upstairs to finish her nap. I am not sure the nannies were very happy with us for putting three of the kids to sleep. But they were so tired! They needed a nap!

Finally our driver showed up. He was over an hour late, which was fine with me. We didn't get to say goodbye to Christina, she was still sound asleep, but I gave the album to her nanny to give to her when she awoke.

The other kids gave us hugs and kisses. We thought we wouldn't get to see them tomorrow, since it is Sunday and no one works on Sunday, but to our surprise we were told the driver would pick us up at 8:30 am tomorrow to take us back to the orphanage. Yea!!

I have learned a ton about Christina, about how kids have to survive in an orphanage, even a good one. I will save my observations for another day, however, I am exhausted and it is hard to type this much on an IPad.

Driving in Haiti

Driving in Haiti is quite the experience. Cars are everywhere, no one really pays attention to traffic rules. The roads are narrow, and full of pot holes. Not little pot holes, huge craters that would swallow the car if driven into. Motorcycles weave in and out of the cars. The only way to turn right or left across an intersection is to force your way through the line of cars speeding by. Our driver, Franc, is excellent. Even with the insane traffic I never felt unsafe. He knows how to navigate the streets well.

The streets were always this crowded!
The streets are lined with people selling their wares. Fruits, veggies, used clothes, shoes. Men walk the streets with auto parts and television antennas, hawking them at the passing cars. Women cook rice and meat over open fires. Because the sidewalks are full of the vendors, pedestrians must walk in the filth filled gutters of the streets. And I mean filth filled. Garbage is everywhere. In some areas the trash was several feet deep. Every ravine, pothole is filled with trash. Some pictures I have that will stay with me forever--

2 little kids, no older than 7, walking with empty bottles to a water puddle to fill up the bottles with the dirty water
a woman carrying a huge basket of carrots on her head
Tap taps (makeshift taxis-- a little pick up truck with benches in the bed and a cover over the top) filled with as many people as can fit in it
A group of school kids in matching uniforms laughing at us from their tap tap. I am sure we looked very strange to them.
The glare I received from a man who thought I was taking a picture of him (I wasn't, I was trying to get a picture of the street behind him)
A tent city on our way to the orphanage
The hills lined with makeshift tents-- the tent cities are unbelievable. Makeshift tarp roofs with tin sides. Hundreds and hundreds lined up.
Women cooking over fires outside and kids sleeping on the dirt.

The buildings are drab and gray, concrete crumbling walls. Most are falling down, what's left of the second stories are just rebar sticking up from the ceilings of the first floors. The only color in the streets are the billboards and posters of alcohol and cell phone advertising.

It is amazing to see so many people with cell phones and earbuds. They live in a tent yet have a mp3 player.

UN trucks filled with armed soldiers are everywhere. Signs telling people not to drink untreated water line most corners.

Speaking of water, it is impossible to shower here. The water is so splashy I am afraid to get my head near it for fear of it splashing in my mouth. So last night I took a sponge bath. I feel disgusting. But rather that than cholera! After I wash my hands I use antibacterial gel to get the water off my hands. The only water we can drink is from a water cooler. We use that water to brush our teeth as well.

Our guest houses is clean, comfortable and luxurious compared to the rest of port au prince. We are in a little compound, tall concert walls with razor wire on top. The house is colorful, and our room has Air conditioning. We have a bed, a dresser and our own private bathroom. There is a living area with a tv and a nice upper porch where we can sit and enjoy the cool breeze. When we arrived the ladies instantly made us a pot of coffee. We were so glad to have some caffeine after being up for 24 hours.

A feast at every meal
The food is fabulous and plentiful. Dinner last night could have fed our entire family and still had leftovers. Roasted chicken (maybe the one we heard in the garden?), fried okra, collard greens, carrots, rice (at least 8 cups worth) macaroni casserole with cheese and some sort of sausage, and awesome fried plantains. Dessert was a piece of banana cake and a yummy vanilla and fruit trifle. We felt badly leaving so much. But I could not have eaten another bite. The ladies keep telling us to eat more. They are very sweet. We try to communicate, poorly. We end up laughing at how we can't understand each other. They seem very intelligent, they just can't speak English.

My next post will be all about the orphanage. I wish I could post pics here but I can't upload them. I will have to do that when I get home.

Arriving in Haiti

After 18 long hours of travel, including trying to sleep in the Miami airport (that was impossible-- the seats had armrests so you couldn't lay down and they kept announcing the time over the loudspeakers every few minutes) we arrived in Haiti. From the air, Haiti is beautiful. Green, lush mountains, surrounded by crystal blue ocean. But when you land you see the devastation and the utter poverty.

We were ushered off the plane and through customs. No problems there. And our checked bag full of presents and shoes for the orphanage was waiting for us at baggage, thank goodness. As we exited the airport a man asked for our baggage ticket and we realized we had thrown it away. Oops! Luckily he knew we were stupid Americans and he just checked our names to make they matched the tag on the bag.

We walked down a covered sidewalk with men trying to take our bags and lead us to their taxis. We had to keep saying no meci! They were quite persistent, but the worst thing you can do as an American is get a ride from a taxi driver. You must know the person picking you up. We knew a driver from the guest house would pick us up, we also knew he has a habit of being late. So we stood on the sidewalk, conspicuously white and American. Every few minutes another man would approach us and Ask if we needed a ride. One man was quite persistent, he kept telling us our driver had forgotten about us but he would be happy to take us where we needed to go. Of course even if our driver had forgotten, which we were hopeful he hadn't we had no idea where the guest house was. We were totally helpless, praying that Franc would eventually show up. An hour and a half later a man with a sign saying "Baur" walked up to us. Thank goodness! We were on our way.

We are about to head to the orphanage now, so I will post more when we return!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Visit #1: one week and counting!

In exactly one week we will be in Haiti, visiting Christina for the first time. I can hardly stand the wait! We have been collecting little toys, balls, puzzles and games over the last month to play with all the kids at the orphanage. (Do you know how hard it is to find books with anything other than white kids in the pictures?) We are also collecting toddler and little kid sandals and dress shoes -- that is what the orphanage needs right now.

It is interesting heading to a foreign country without much knowledge of what our trip will look like. Normally we would have our itinerary planned, knowing what each day should look like and have all the contact information for where we are staying. We have been assured by our agency that the Guest House and Orphanage knows we are coming, and transportation has been arranged, but there is no way to double check. We have to trust someone will be at the airport waiting for us. Or at least will show up eventually. They should recognize us -- we will be the two Americans looking lost, fending off the men at the airport trying to carry our bags. (I have heard they are pretty aggressive. Can you say "I have no money to give you" in Haitian?) We don't know how far the guest house is from the orphanage or what our days will look like once we get there. Do we spend all day with Christina? Do we go back and forth? Will we have a chance to visit an open market? We have been told the drivers usually have Sundays off, so we don't know if we will even be able to leave the Guest House that day.

Even with all of the uncertainty of the logistics of our stay, I am not worried. We will get where we need to be when we need to be there. I have to believe our agency and the orphanage have done this enough that everything will happen like it is supposed to.

I am so looking forward to getting to play with a bunch of toddlers and preschoolers for a couple of days. Even though we won't understand each other, I am excited about teaching simple games and songs, and letting them teach me too!

We got an update on Christina last week -- she is doing very well despite all she has gone through. She has a smile on her face in most of her pictures. We even got a short video to see how she interacts with the other kids. I can't tell you how many times I have watched that video, it warms my heart to see her play and smile. Seeing how well she is doing has made some of my fears about meeting her subside. Somehow I feel like I know her just a little bit and I am not afraid to meet her face to face. I think we are going to have a lot of fun getting to know each other. But I am afraid it will be extremely hard to leave her.

Our agency told us that the president of Haiti has appointed a new director of IBESR (the Haitian social services department in charge of our adoption file). It sounds like that is a good thing and perhaps, just perhaps it will mean the wait times will shorten a bit. When the new president took office a few months ago, adoption paperwork stalled as he appointed new directors in all the areas of government. But now that everyone is in place I hope they get aggressive about getting those cases off of their desks and through the system. That is what I am praying for, that the 18 months shortens to 12 months. Christmas 2012. I pray every day that she is home by next Christmas. That would truly be a miracle.

I have a lot to do to prepare for our trip -- menus to plan, laundry to fold, grocery shopping to do. Grandma is coming to stay with our other three kids, so they will have a fun time while we are gone. And with our IPad, we should be able to talk to them every night before bed, so they shouldn't miss us too much, I hope.

I can't wait to share our experiences when we return.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nou pral monte yon avyon!

"We are going to ride on an airplane!"

Got our tickets to visit our sweet girl for the first time. We hope it is just one of many trips while we are waiting to bring her home. One of the great things about Haiti being so close is that taking trips there isn't that huge of a deal. Just an hour and a half flight from Miami.

We are using frequent flyer miles, thank goodness, because while getting there is easy, the ticket price is a little steep. After two hours on the phone with British Airways -- thank you, our sweet, persistent customer service rep who wouldn't give up-- we finally found two qualifying seats that wouldn't cost us first class miles. The flight times are TERRIBLE: a 5 hour layover in Dallas, arrive in Miami at midnight and fly out the next morning at 6am. (Did you know that the VIP rooms for frequent flyers close at 11:30 pm? What's that all about?) But I am trying not to complain. At least the flight is (almost) free and we have enough miles leftover for one more trip!

I went online to the travel advisory website that the US government posts and read all about traveling to Haiti. Almost wish I hadn't. It pretty much states that no one should travel there because the country is so unstable. It has warnings about traveling by car, by bus, by taxi, from and to the airport, in and around certain areas of Port-au-Prince, and on and on. But all of our in-country travel will be arranged by our orphanage, and they do this all the time, so I am not as fearful as if we were just heading down there by ourselves.

While in Haiti we will stay at the guest house of the orphanage our agency typically works with. I am told the food is fabulous, authentic Haitian fare. For the price of a low-end US motel, we have a clean, air conditioned room and three meals a day. Luxury by Haitian standards.

I have to admit, I am scared about eating local food, even though I know it is safe to eat the food our Guest House will serve. I have a terrible fear of spending my entire time there in the bathroom because I ate something I shouldn't have. So I will bring probiotics, some OTC drugs and pray my stomach can handle what I eat. (I may pack a few granola bars as well.)

We will be driven each day to the orphanage where Christina stays, which is across town. The only day we won't get to spend with her is Sunday, because the drivers have that day off. So I guess we will hang out at the Guest House and visit the orphanage there. Lots of kiddos to play with, so it will keep us busy.

We are not telling Christina who we are or that we are adopting her. In Haiti, because child matches happen quickly (because there are so many wonderful kids just waiting!) but the process is so long, adoptive parents are encouraged to visit as often as possible, and begin the bonding process even before they bring their child home. They can tell their child they are adopting them, and give them special gifts and photo albums while they are waiting. But we have been told that telling Christina so far in advance of her coming home would be devastating to her fragile emotions. So part of the deal is she can't know until the week before we come to get her.

We will be just another white couple coming to play with all of the kids. Of course, we will take lots of pictures of all the kids, and sneak in a few of just Christina. I am sad that we can't shower her with love and gifts each time we visit, but I understand. If that is best for her, I will do it, regardless of what I want. I am grateful that the orphanage cares enough to know each child and do what is best for that child, even if it is not the standard procedure.

So now that our first trip is planned, I am attempting to learn Haitian Creole. No one in Christina's orphanage speaks English. Communicating will be interesting.

But recently I found out that a neighbor a couple of streets over not only adopted a little boy from Haiti four years ago, but she also created "Simple Language for Adoptive Families". She has books and cd's to help adoptive families learn Creole, Madarin Chinese, Amharic, Russian and Spanish. Very Cool. She has a website: www.adoptivelanguage.com.

Haitian Creole is a derivative of French, which I took in high school and college. You would think that would help some. Nope. The pronuciation and spelling are just close enough to make it seem like I should say it correctly, but then I don't.

But I will keep plugging away, learning phrase by phrase if speaking in her language will help me get to know her even the tiniest bit. Maybe after she sees us in the orphanage a few times and we attempt to speak her language she won't be as scared as I think she will be when we finally get to bring her home.

Can you imagine? Being ripped out of the only place you have ever felt safe into a world with strangers who have different skin colors, different smells and sounds who can't understand a word you say and you can't understand them? I feel so sad when I think about how scary that will be for her. But maybe if I can say to her Ou an sekirite, (you are safe) or Ou pa bezwen pe (don't be afraid) she won't be quite as scared.

And maybe, just maybe, when in a year or so she hears Ou se pitit fi mwen, nou va pran swen ou byen (You are my daughter, we will take good care of you) she will know she is finally part of a family, a family who loves her and will protect her.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Meet Christina!

I am so excited to announce that we have been matched with a little girl! Her name is Christina and she is about three and a half years old. We are told she is bright, very verbal, physically healthy and deeply grieving from her past. I am not going to share exactly what she has been through because it is her story to tell when she is older, if she chooses to share it. Let's just say that no one should have to endure what she has in her short life. The pictures we received broke our hearts -- her eyes are so sad. We did get one picture of her grinning a great big grin with her eyes lit up and sparkly, so we know she has moments of joy.

Her journey to the orphanage she is currently in is nothing short of a miracle. We truly can see how God put all the pieces in place to make sure she would be there and we would be ready with our paperwork at just the perfect time.

Our paperwork is done, translated, approved by the Haitian Consulate and should be on route to Haiti shortly. Because Christina is in an orphanage our agency does not typically work with, we had to redo some of our powers of attorneys, causing a slight delay. We have received our pre-approval for adoption from the United States government. We are at the mercy of the Haitian government now.

I think that is the hardest part -- knowing we have done everything we can on our end, that she is waiting in an orphanage and we can't go get her. We are praying we will be able to bring her home by next Christmas. A whole year and 3 months for her to get bigger, grow out of the toddler phase and into the little girl phase. And we are missing it all. I know she is getting love and plenty of food at the orphanage she is in. We are told it rivals some of the best day care facilities in the States. It is clean, has plenty of supplies and the nannies love the kids. That helps a bit, I suppose, knowing she is safe and warm and has a full belly each night. It is certainly better than where she was a few months ago. But she needs a family. And here we are, ready for her and a bunch of paperwork is what stands between us. For a year!

On the bright side -- we do get to visit her. We have planned our first trip and can't wait! She won't know we are adopting her. We will just be some strange white people who speak a funny language and play with all the kids in the orphanage. But it will be fun to get to interact with her, see her personality and spend a bit a time with her (and sneak some pics!) I have a feeling that leaving her will be extremely difficult.

So now it is just a waiting game.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Does the paperwork ever end?

For those of you who did not feel like reading my epic first post, a quick recap of our journey so far:

November, 2010: We find God tugging at our hearts to adopt.

December, 2010: We send in our application to begin the process to adopt a 0-2 little girl from Ethiopia.

March, 2011: We begin our home study and I begin to compile the massive amounts of paperwork.

April, 2011: We decide to change countries, agencies and age range (read the first post for details -- see, I will get you to read it somehow!)

Some high and low points of the mountainous amounts of paperwork over the last several months:

My fingerprints were rejected because I have small, wrinkly fingertips. Luckily, the second time around they were accepted. Don't ask me how my fingertips suddenly got bigger or less wrinkly.

I had to have two notary signatures redone. (They failed to sign their names exactly as it appears on their stamps -- this is a huge no-no! Because all notarized documents must be authenticated at the state level, the signature must match the stamp perfectly.)

A reference letter and document fee check got lost in the mail (mailed separately, the same week). This taught me to send everything priority mail, with a tracking number. It cost more, but the peace of mind was well worth it. The check and reference letter still have not shown up.

The criminal background checks for our two oldest kids (we have to prove that our kids are not juvenile delinquents) mailed by the home study agency took 20 (yes, 20) days to go less than 5 miles across town. When the paperwork finally arrived, it sat on a government desk for 2 weeks. When it was processed at last, we discovered it was not filled out properly by someone at the home study agency and part of it had to be resubmitted. Ugh!

I discovered that home study agencies do not like you to call government agencies to check on the status of document processing. (However, I do not feel too badly about it, that is how we discovered the document mentioned above wasn't filled out properly.)

BUT, due to our Haitian director visiting Haiti, we were able to have our referral interview a couple of weeks earlier than expected. This was an answer to prayer!

We completed our final step just this week. At least the final step until we file paperwork in Haiti. We drove 30 minutes to the Immigration office to once again have our fingerprints taken for our I-600A document (some document that Homeland Security needs to prove we are who we say we are, I guess). It amazes me that our government doesn't keep things on record or share information between agencies. Our state fingerprints, taken less than 2 months ago, can't be used by Homeland Security. Wouldn't it be more cost effective to just send over the prints than to have us fill out more paperwork and have another employee spend time fingerprinting us? (So many of the documents we have compiled are redundant.) I fear my fingerprints may once again be rejected -- this time the employee says my fingers were too dry. I am crossing my (dry) fingers that I don't have to redo them.

Overall, the paperwork process went more smoothly than I ever envisioned. I took it one piece of paper at a time, and tried not to get bogged down in the fact that I just filled out the exact same thing for a different governmental agency. You have to be willing to jump through a few hoops to adopt a child. She will be so very worth it. Granted, we are not even close to being finished with the process, and once our documents reach Haiti, I will have zero control over them, so I may singing a different tune in 6 months.

While the paperwork may have been smooth, there were some bumps with our kids. The idea of a toddler running around the house, messing things up didn't sound very fun to our two oldest. Which I totally understand. It'll be a transition for all of us to go back to the toddler years.

I think the main thing I've learned is to listen to my kids' fears and feelings and to let them know it is ok for them to feel that way. I have tried not to sugar coat any of the process and make it seem like everything is going to be just fine when their new sister arrives. Because it may not be. We focus on the positive aspects of adding another to our family, but we certainly can't pretend that there won't be challenges. But as our kids got used to the idea of having a new little sister over the last few months, they have gotten more and more excited about it.

I will leave it at that for now -- my next post will be an exciting one, as I have lots to share about the next phase of our journey!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How it all began...

I am starting this blog to help those who are interested in international adoption, or Haitian adoption. It has helped me tremendously to hear other's journeys through adoption. If I can help one family by sharing our own journey, it will be worth keeping up with this blog (because I am terrible at blogging). Of course, each journey is different, with different challenges and road blocks, but it is comforting to know we are not alone in the process.

Documenting our journey will also be a great way to look back on it all and see God's hand in the journey -- He has definitely guided us and sometimes I just need to be reminded that He knows what He is doing!

Warning, this post will be long -- I have a lot of catching up to do. I promise I will try to keep it succinct, and future posts shouldn't be as tedious to read.

Some background: My husband and I had NEVER considered adoption, in our 17 + years of marriage. We have 3 wonderful, perfect (in our eyes) children. Our kids are self-sufficient and old enough to stay home alone. Our lives are pretty easy. In a few short years it will just be the two of us, enjoying each others company as we travel, sleep in on weekends, and do all those things I dream about empty nesters getting to do.

So when we found ourselves sitting at church on Orphan Sunday, in November, 2010 watching a video on adoption, neither of us had any inkling of the journey God was about to start in our lives. It was not an in-your-face, you-have-to-adopt video, just a short, simple video explaining one family's decision to begin the adoption process.

I don't even remember what the rest of the sermon was about -- but it wasn't about adoption. I just kept replaying in my mind what I felt God saying to my heart about adoption, trying to figure out if He was really talking to me:

The reasons you have for not adopting are pure selfishness. You have the resources to care for another and you are a good parent.

On our way home from church, my husband said that he felt that God speaking to him during that video, telling him that his reasons for not considering adoption were selfish, that we have the ability to adopt and we are really good parents.

WHAT?!? Was God really telling us we needed to adopt? Maybe He just wanted us to get more involved in some way -- write a check, help another family adopt, go on a missions trip. He couldn't possibly be telling US to adopt, we are on the backside of parenting!

So we started praying. Hard. And we began researching adoption. The more we prayed, the more we researched, the more we knew we were being called to adopt.

Things I know about God: He calls us to step out in faith, even when it looks crazy. He calls us to help those in need. And He does not call us to a life of comfort and ease, wrapped up in our own little safe worlds.

Let me also say this: While we are all called to help those is need, not everyone is called to adopt. So if you are reading this and thinking, I really don't feel like God wants me to adopt, that is fine. But do ask Him what He wants you to do to help those less fortunate. There is something you can do to help!

Back to November -- We agonized over countries and adoption agencies. We felt like Africa was where we should go, but there were so many agencies to choose from. By Christmas we had finally picked a reputable agency, settled on adopting a little girl, age 0-2 from Ethiopia and had begun the application process.

Part of the adoption process is completing mounds and mounds of paperwork. Given that red tape and redundant paperwork drives my husband batty, I began the tedious process of compiling birth certificates, marriage certificates (which have to be certified for adoption -- requiring ordering specific certificates from the state), reference letters from friends and family, ordering blood work, etc etc. In March, 2010 we began our Home Study. A home study is where a case worker comes into your home and basically investigates your family history, your marriage, your parenting style, and how you live to determine if you will be a good candidate for adopting a child. After a series of interviews over several weeks, the case worker then writes a long report that is submitted to the government along with the rest of your paperwork. It is a very long, tedious process, compiling all of the required paperwork.

While in the midst of our home study I found out that Ethiopia had changed its court policy on adoption, possibly slowing the process from 18 months to well over 2 years. My heart broke over this news. Wait longer? We are already in our early 40s. Our oldest is in high school! The idea of waiting over 2 years for her to come home made us rethink everything. Once again, I scoured the internet, researching different countries.

I happened upon an agency with a Haiti program. Due to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, most Haitian adoption programs were no longer accepting new applications, which was why I never considered Haiti in the first place. But this agency had reopened their application process a month earlier. Photos of Haitian children filled their website -- sweet, beautiful children with no special needs except that they needed a stable home. Two little girls caught my eye -- an infant and a one year old. So I called the agency.

I immediately connected with the Haitian director. I liked everything I heard. Even when she told me our family didn't immediately qualify according to Haiti's adoption laws (I will clarify in a minute) and that the process would take up to two years, I felt I needed to vet it out.

Haiti's adoption process is different from most international adoptions. In Ethiopia, for instance, our longest wait would be for a referral (being matched with a child). Once our paperwork was in Ethiopia, it could take months, even close to a year before we were matched with a child. Once matched, however, it was typically just a few months (and two separate trips) before we could bring her home.

Haiti is the opposite. We would be matched with a child quickly once our paperwork was complete. The wait happens after the paperwork reaches Haiti. It takes the Haitian government months and months to process the paperwork. And because our family required an exception from the Haitian adoption laws, we could expect an additional 6 months of waiting.

Haitian adoption laws as they stand today:
  • husband and wife must be married for a minimum of 10 years
  • husband and wife must be over the age of 35
  • husband and wife must not have any biological children
(there are some minor exceptions, but for the most part, this is the law). Since we have 3 kids, in order to adopt from Haiti we HAVE to meet the other criteria and get a special dispensation from the Haitian president. Getting the dispensation can take up to 6 months. CRAZY! Because the Haitian President doesn't have enough to do, running a messed up, poverty stricken country with no infrastructure. I am sure he has the time to go through our paperwork to determine if we can successfully parent one more child.

What's even crazier is that I stumbled upon Haiti because I was trying to find a country that wasn't going to take 2 or more years to complete the adoption. And here we were, considering a country that would definitely take that amount of time and more.

So once again we prayed. Even though the timeframe was more than we wanted, we both felt this was where we were supposed to go. Because Haiti has such strict adoption laws, many wonderful families are disqualified. We are one of the few who qualify age-wise and marriage-wise (even if we have kids, which is the easiest law to work around). The Haitian orphanages are full, they are forced to turn away new children. Most of the children are healthy (in terms of third world health) and most have living parents who just can't provide them with adequate care. It is a terrible situation.

So we changed agencies, changed countries. Which required redoing some of the paperwork I spent months compiling. But it was the right decision.

Meanwhile we began our 24 hours of in-class education, required by the state of Colorado for all adoptive parents. Can I just say that ALL parents should be required to take parenting classes? We have to take classes before we can drive a car, before we can sell real estate or insurance and yet we don't have to know a thing about good parenting before we have kids. Even with successfully parenting 3 kids of our own, we found the classes to be extremely beneficial.

Taking the class made us rethink our age range of 0-2. We chose such a young age, thinking the less she remembered about her life before our family, the better. But the classes helped us realize we were capable of parenting an older child and that there are resources to help us with a child who has memories of an orphanage or being abandoned.

So we broadened our age range from 0-8. The Haitian director agreed with our age range -- she thought due to our age and our kids ages, a little girl who was a bit older would fit better into our family.

From a 0-2 Ethiopian child to a 0-8 Haitian child! Our journey took so many turns we never expected. Yet we see God's hand in each turn.

There is more to tell, but I will stop here for fear this is becoming a book.