Thursday, November 21, 2013

Explaining this blog and FAQ!

I thought that I should do a blog post answering some of the questions most frequently asked by people when they learn of our adoption, but first I want to tell about why I did this blog.  If you’re not interested in this, then scroll way down to the FAQ section below.  This is a long post :)

I am not a person who is good at holding things in.  My best outlet for things I’m thinking or feeling is either talking or writing.  Since there were very few people who knew early on about our adoption (and I didn’t want to drive them crazy venting incessantly about it) I decided that I would start a blog and wait to publish it until I was ready.  Well!  Now that we are officially wait-listed, I think that now was the time! 
As for the title of our blog (One Miracle at a Time)…its meaning is two-fold.  First referencing the children in our family, and secondly referencing this adoption.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a serious planner.  I like to plan things out and know the details of plan A, B, C & D.  Therefore, the adoption and infertility roller coasters that we’ve taken during our marriage have been especially challenging for me in that way.  One has very little control of how or if/when things turn out.  We turned control of things over to others (case workers, birth parents or doctors/embryologist)…and also over to the Lord.  This relinquishment of control has always been one of the most challenging things for me. 
Even once we were blessed with Noah, I struggled with wanting to know how/when we would be able to provide a sibling for him.  Clear back at that time I started telling myself to take things “one miracle at a time”.  This of course reminded me to appreciate the miracle I had just been a part of and was blessed with at that moment (Noah)…and also reminded me that other children that were meant to join our family would do so in the way and the timing that the Lord intended.  Little did I know at that time that through the miracle of modern medicine we would be blessed with a biological child after in-vitro fertilization actually worked for us…and then with another child through IVF using frozen embryos!

Mark and I always knew that we would adopt a child internationally, but never knew for sure from where or exactly when that would happen.  Again – “one miracle at a time”, right?  Well, the season for yet another miracle in our family is approaching!  We are thrilled to be waiting to adopt a child from Ethiopia!  We recognize each one of our children, and the stories of how they came to our family, as miracles – and we are grateful to be part of this next miracle too.

As for the second meaning of the blog title – within the adoption process itself we recognize that there are countless numbers of miracles that occur, both seen and unseen.  While the adoption process is a rollercoaster that is not always fun (especially for one like me who likes to be in control, and continues to battle with patience)…it is full of miracles all along the process.  I wanted to remind myself also to recognize and appreciate those “little” miracles along the journey!

For example, one of the miracles we have already seen has involved timing.  I personally believe that the Lord spoke (loudly) to my heart as to the timing of when to start the official process of this adoption.  This (foreign adoption) wasn’t something that was new to my heart.  I’ve known since I was young that it would be something I would do, and Mark & I both knew it was something we were committed to once the time was right.  It wasn’t an exciting fad that I jumped on or an idea that just sounded fun to pursue.  However, after years of thought and research it was almost overnight that I felt a frantic urgency that now was the time to commit and move forward with things (see timeline to the right on this blog), and Mark was without hesitation on board.  Once we felt good about the agency we had chosen I compiled lists and lists of difficult questions for them, doing what I felt was my due diligence in assuring that they were an ethical agency.  We jumped head first into our commitment with this adoption and perhaps that is why it was so troubling for me when we started hitting roadblocks so early on.  In fact after we finally felt good about the timing of things and the agency we chose, we turned in our initial application and our application to use AGCI was surprisingly denied!  For any of their programs! 
The person reviewing our files said that we had too much debt (due to the $230,000 we took out in student loans to put Mark through medical school), and that we were not candidates for international adoption.  I was crushed.  We could have taken that as the end of our hopes for this adoption, but instead I began to get on all sorts of adoption message boards and reach out.  I looked up blogs of strangers that I could find that were in the medical profession who adopted and I contacted them asking questions…then I called the United States immigration office myself asking about debt limit requirements.  The conclusion I came to was that the denial should not be made on amount of debt, but rather one’s debt to income ratio.  So, I contacted our agency again and the director of the agency personally took a look at our file, looked into (and explained) where the misdirection had come from, and we were approved with flying colors!

So!  We turned in our official application and waited excitedly for acceptance when again we were told that there was a concern.  Any type of heart condition is flagged, and although mine is not life threatening I had to have a specific letter from my cardiologist stating that I was healthy enough to parent an adopted child.  And THEN we were told that we needed to provide documentation from our previous adoption agency that we complied with all post placement requirements after we adopted Noah.  This is in addition to all the other paperwork and documents that we had to provide simply for the initial application process just to sign on with AGCI.  This isn’t even starting the homestudy or dossier.  So!  From the time we turned in our initial inquiry to AGCI (Oct. 3, 2012) to when we were finally approved with them it was 4 months and two days.

I’m really not complaining…I’m getting to the point I was making earlier about timing.  I believe that the Lord knew about these snags that we would hit.  Many couples may turn in an application, are immediately approved, and proceed on to the lengthy homestudy/dossier process right away.  Since this wasn’t in the cards for us, and we were going to take a few extra months getting there, I believe that is why I felt a fire lit underneath me when I did…because 2 weeks after we were officially  accepted with AGCI they stopped accepting applications for adoptions of children (from Ethiopia) under 3 years of age, and shortly after that they stopped accepting all new applications for the program.  Timing.  In my opinion, the first of many miracles in this adoption process.

So, as we progress down the road of this adoption waiting for our next miracle (both as in our next child, as well as the next miracle within the adoption process itself)…lots of waiting, re-doing paperwork, regulation/program changes, etc...I hope that I will remember to recognize and focus on…”one miracle at a time”!

So, that is a long winded intro to this blog!  I indulge myself in long-windedness here because first and foremost I created it as a release for me.  I also write it to document things for myself and for our child, and then also to use as a way to keep people updated on where we are in the process.  We don’t mind anyone asking how things are going, however sometimes people are curious but hesitant to ask knowing that for a long time we won’t have anything of substance to share.  And speaking of curious…here are the list of FAQ I mentioned that I would include!

I am by no means an expert on all of this, and every adoptive couple will answer these questions differently according to their experiences and feelings...but these are my personal answers to these personal questions (that we just happen to be very open about)!

Why Ethiopia? Well, I could give the snarky response of “Why NOT Ethiopia?”  Rather, let’s just say this:  Because there are children there who need a home, and every child in this world deserves a home and family.  Also, our family does not feel complete, and of the various adoption programs that are currently open to residents of the U.S. - Ethiopia was the best fit for us (every countries procedures, criteria, parameters, etc are different).  Once we came to that conclusion and prayed about it we felt a unique pull toward the people, culture and land of that beautiful country.  Now, I want to say that statistics are not what persuaded us to pursue an adoption from Ethiopia, but they did educate us as to the need.  So, I’d like to share some of those.  First, there are 4,600,000 orphaned children in Ethiopia.  I wanted to put this into perspective, so I looked up some numbers: 
Using numbers from the 2010 US Census:  Imagine that we added up every single child under the age of 18 in the states of Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona…then tossed in another 4 thousand for good measure.  Imagine if all of those children were orphaned - all 4,600,000 of them.  That is how many children under the age of 18 are estimated to be orphaned in Ethiopia (state statistics from UNICEF, 2011).

There are also alarming statistics on the mortality rate of infants and children, literacy rate (especially for females), malnutrition, AIDS, severe poverty, and preventable illnesses.  Now, I don’t pretend to believe that adoption is the answer to this country’s struggles.  It’s not.  In fact, it would be ideal if every child could remain with an intact family.  And there is much that we can do to assist the people in this country as they combat these hardships.  Our family is committed to being part of that as well.  However, in the meantime, there is a profound need to provide homes to children NOW that need physical and emotional care and stability.  They need a family, not to be raised in an institution or on the streets.

How much does it cost/why is it so expensive?  This is a very common question and one that causes some people within the adoption community to bristle.  I personally am quite comfortable talking about this aspect (and most others) of adoption, unless there is an insinuation that something unethical (baby buying, bribery, etc) took place.  While tragically there are cases where this has taken place, this is not the norm and I know that most people who ask about costs are not insinuating that.

So, here’s the scoop:  There simply is a financial component to adopting children.  Just as there were bills to pay when having a biological child – hospital, doctor (in our case fertility cost also)…with adoption we pay social workers with nonprofit agencies (for time preparing our homestudy and for their experienced guidance throughout the adoption process), filing fees on both the U.S. and Ethiopian side, immigration costs, document translation fees, costs (food, clothing, medical, etc) for the first several months of our child’s life in an orphanage, court costs, and the very expensive component of travel  expenses (we will both travel 2 times to Ethiopia during the course of this adoption).

I feel strongly that transparency is important in every aspect of adoption, including this one.  So, I am happy to provide our agency’s estimated breakdown of what the costs will likely look like for our adoption.  Things vary from country to country, and even from family to family…but we anticipate our total cost to be right around $37,000 (including updates to our paperwork that will have to happen during our waiting period).  Yes, it’s expensive…but we are happy to pay for all of these necessary components required to adopt our child.

Why is the wait so long?  There are different reasons in different countries, but here's my insight into Ethiopia.  In recent years Ethiopia saw in increase in the number of applications for adoption in their country.  Enough so that, as has happened with other programs, corruption ensued.  Some agencies and orphanages became involved in unethical behavior.  In an effort to more closely monitor applications, and to put an end to this problem, MOWA (Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs) decreased the processing rate of applications by 90%.  Several licenses were revoked and orphanages closed.  Naturally this drastically changed the speed with which adoptions were able to be processed.  We are still seeing a trickle down affect of this, combined with other issues.  While it is unfortunate that there is not a speedier alternative to processing legitimate adoptions at this time, I believe that the changes that have taken place within the Ethiopian adoption process over the previous 2 years are for the best in the long run.  I won’t lie though…I’m the first to admit that I hope our projected timeline (from dossier submission to referral) of 3 to 3 ½ years will shrink to be less than that as time progresses.  Especially when you consider that we’ve spent a year before that doing paperwork, and we have several months after that to travel twice to Ethiopia and finalize the adoption (potentially adding up to a 5 year wait if projections are correct).  We know things are always fluctuating within international adoption (in fact the wait time increased from 2 years to 3 ½ just during our paperwork phase of our adoption).  So, the timeline could increase again…or it could decrease!  More likely than not we’ll see some of both over the next few years.  The bottom line is that we’ll wait.  We’ll wait to have our adoption done right, and bring the child home that is meant for our family.

Will you travel there?  Yes.  In 2011 Ethiopia also changed its adoption process to require 2 separate trips to Ethiopia in order to process an adoption.  After meeting our child, there will be a mandatory bonding period (which we’re thrilled about) where we will be able to spend time with our child, and observe her care there - mimicking some things we see there will help ease some off the overwhelming transition she will experience upon coming home with us later.  We will be assessed by a local social worker, and then our adoption will be finalized in court while we are there.  We do not look forward to leaving our child that is then legally ours until we are able to come back after all documentation has cleared immigration, but it’s a necessary requirement of the process.

Were you always ok with adopting a child of another race?  Yes.  In fact, when we submitted paperwork for our fist (domestic) adoption we put that we were open to a child of any race.  We were told that with that level of openness that we would likely be placed with an African American child since there were not as many couples open to that.  We were thrilled with the idea.  In fact, Mark’s aunt even made us a quilt which happens to have beautiful African women embroidered onto the quilt.  It is displayed in our living room.  We ended up being matched with our beautiful baby boy Noah (who looks more Caucasian than anything else), but the openness to becoming a multi-racial family (and in this case multi-cultural as well) was already firmly planted in our hearts.  So, when sorting through available adoption programs (countries), skin color wasn’t something we really took into consideration.  I have to admit now though that I have a hard time picturing anything else but that beautiful brown skin, dark brown curls, and big brown eyes.  We know that there will be struggles that our child will have growing up outside her country of birth, and we hope that we will be there to love and support her through them. 
How did you choose your adoption placement agency?  I spent a LONG time researching agencies.  I found a few that I liked, but continued coming back to AGCI.  I researched information online, on message boards, blogs, and emailed families I found online that had used them (or that used them for one adoption, but not another).  The only “negative” feedback I got was that their wait times were long and that they were very much a “hand holding” type of agency (which I actually want). 

When comparing agencies our main concerns weren’t as much money and time-frame of the adoption, as they were agency ethics and the agency’s involvement with other types of support in the country (family reunification efforts, schools, community support, etc).  Lastly, I compiled pages of questions which AGCI was happy to provide the answers to.  I may not have always been happy with their answer/stand on some things, but in the long run I came to understand why their policies are in place (and I now actually agree with most of them myself).  Those policies are there to protect both the Ethiopian children and parents adopting as well as to maintain the ethical integrity of the adoption process in Ethiopia.  I came to realize that our agency has a reputation for being meticulous and cautious (which I liked). 

One social worker that we contacted about potentially doing a homestudy for us said that AGCI went “overboard” making sure that things were done properly and by the book.  Having the personality I do, this was GOOD to hear!  While we’re anxious to get our child home, we care more about having things done properly on the front end so there aren’t unnecessary hold ups down the road…and that the adoption is ethical.  There are agencies out there who have shorter wait times (and some who claim shorter wait times, but they aren’t), but we felt good in our decision to partner with AGCI.  In the end, after doing as much research as we could, there is still an amount of trust that has to be involved with the agency one chooses.  So, we’ve put our trust in AGCI to safely help us bring our child home
Will you meet or know the story about her real mom?  First, prepare for a rant:  The term “real” mom is something I’ve been sensitive to since before we adopted Noah.  I can choose to correct the wording of this question defensively, with humor, or educationally.  Since I believe that most people mean well when asking the question, but just aren’t aware of appropriate adoption terminology, I tend to choose the last option (education).  So, here we go:  The term “real” means:  genuine; not artificial or imaginary.  When someone refers to my child’s birth parent as their “real” parent it insinuates that I am the opposite thereof.  Really both biological parents and adoptive parents are” real”.  So, if one is trying to distinguish between the two sets of parents, then use the terms that define them – biological parent (sometimes called birth parent) and adoptive parent.  Otherwise, I simply consider myself my child’s mom.  Very real indeed.  Now!  To answer the intended question…Will we meet or know the history of our child’s biological parents (or surviving family members)?  Simply put:  We don’t know.  Our agency will provide us with all information that they have on the child’s history (which frankly, sometimes is very limited in Ethiopia).  We put in our paperwork that if any family members are open to and interested in meeting us that we would very much like to facilitate that (not all adoptive parents are interested in/open to this for different reasons), but we understand that this is a very personal and often deeply painful thing for these birth families and we respect their privacy also.

Adoption has always held a special place in my heart, but I've never felt that adopting a child was right for my family (sometimes followed by reasons why).  Do you think I'm awful?  (You'd be surprised how often I hear this)  The direct answer to this question is NO!


While I do feel very passionate about adoption, and can vouch for what an immense blessing it has been in our lives, I certainly do not feel that adoption should ever be a burden that people take on out of obligation.  Any more than I think someone should get married out of duty/obligation, or have biological children out of obligation.  It should be something that feels right to both parents involved (or to the parent if there is not a spouse).


There are, however, a myriad of ways that one can be involved with assisting in an adoption or with helping an orphan in need.  This isn't a comprehensive list, but here are a few ways:


Pray.  Pray for the children in need of a home.  Pray for birth parents/families that brought these children into the world.  Pray for the adoptive couples navigating their way through the process to their child.  Pray for people heading up adoption agencies, orphanages, running government agencies that facilitate adoption.


Volunteer.  Whether you volunteer your time at an orphanage, or foster children that will be re-unified with their biological families or be adopted into a new family, or volunteer at a local adoption agency!


Make your voice heard.  There are always petitions to sign, stories to make people aware of, and children to advocate for. 


Donate money.  Adoption is expensive and many families struggle to raise the necessary funds to bring their child home.  Also, the often preventable tragedies preceding a child becoming an orphan in countries all around the world is even more expensive.  There are many reputable organizations providing relief to families in crisis, providing job training to widows looking for ways to keep their families intact, promoting education, making health care accessible, improving sanitation measures, feeding the malnourished, and providing direct care for orphans.  It takes money for all of these efforts.  Do your research and find an organization that facilitates these things...or ask me and I'm happy to give you a few suggestions! :)


You don't have to be Christian to have these things weigh heavily on your heart, but because I am I think of what we are taught in the Bible about what "pure religion" is.  We are told that pure religion is caring for the fatherless and the orphans in their afflictions (James 1:27).  We aren't told that everyone should adopt a child, but we are told that we should all find our own way to serve the orphan and the widow.  So if that is something you feel drawn to do, then I encourage you to look over the short list I just made and pick one thing, big or small -  and do it.  You will be glad that you did.


I don't know if anyone will really take the time to read this long blog post, but if you do (first of all, congratulations) then feel free to post a comment with any additional questions.  I may add to the FAQ list as time goes on.  Thanks for your interest in our adoption, and your support of us!

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