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.