An Adoption Story: Adoption – A Beautiful Disaster
Years ago I memorized this verse from the Bible.
“Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3:25, 26.
I grew up in a home with a dad that drank, but it never had the same feeling of joy and happiness that I’ve seen in a Coors Light ad. Many of you have experienced the pain of living with an alcoholic. One minute it seems like life has settled down, the next minute you’re life is shaken like a snow globe. My childhood taught me that at any moment I could face sudden disaster. Throughout the years almost anything could be considered “sudden disaster.” Unexpected bills were a financial crisis. A bad grade on a test from my kid meant “Goodbye Yale.” Any disease was probably cancer.
Hopefully, you’re reactions are better than mine and you are able to remain calm in the storm. You probably don’t even need that verses. Until you, like me, decide to adopt. Then, buckle up. Here comes the boom.
Several years back, after the earthquake in Haiti, my wife felt like God was putting it on her heart to go and be a part of the relief effort. She can’t pick a hammer out of a tool lineup, but that did not deter her. That trip led to another trip and she has now gone over 30 times. My children and I have joined her at least 5 times each. During one of those journeys, we fell in love with a beautiful little girl. Time and again my wife would come home from Haiti and tell me, “She’s smart, funny and she just feels like a Hawkins.” I half expected my wife to pull her out of her suitcase after one of the trips. Then, one Christmas, 5 years ago, the whole family went down to Haiti and on that trip, God opened my heart up to adoption and we decided to start the process. After reaching out to several adoption agencies we decided upon America World Adoption. They were very clear about how long the process might take, but we were excited and optimistic and thought to ourselves, “God is in this! We’ll have this little girl home in world record time. Better start picking out curtains for her room.”
The adoption process started with a flurry of activity. Stateside there were all kinds of paperwork we had to run down and tests we had to take and fingerprints that needed to be done. I’m still to this day wondering why I had to have my fingerprints done 7 times in four years. Of all the things that changed over our waiting period, my prints were not one of them. Probably should have done 7 psych exams. I enjoyed the early days because they gave me something to do. I felt like I was making progress running down letters from the Sheriff’s department and sending away for a copy of our marriage license and getting health clearance. It was once our initial dossier was complete that the difficulty started. Tom Petty put it best. “The waiting is the hardest part.” (If you don’t know the song look it up. That’s some sweet 80’s rock and roll)
We had to wait for a signature for the Children’s Judge.
We had to wait to get our adoption decree.
We had to wait to set our bonding trip.
We had to wait to get our exit letter after out bonding trip.
None of these waiting times went according to my preconceived idea of what a reasonable waiting period would be. We were told after we did our bonding trip that the exit letter would come out 10 days later. 6 months later we had our exit letter in hand. Until they took it away again and we had to wait another 6 months. Each time we got good news we celebrated for like a minute, but each completed step just meant that we had more waiting. Waiting is a good word to describe adoption, but it’s not a complete description. You have to sprinkle in a generous amount of sudden disaster. At the risk of depressing those of you who have already started the process let me paint a picture of some of the disasters that beset us.
We waited for months for the Children’s Judge to sign our paperwork. When we got it we rejoiced for a weekend only to find out on Monday that the Judge had misspelled our daughter’s name and it would be another several weeks to rectify the error.
Two years into the process we were told that our dossier had been red flagged. Apparently, they had decided that I might be too old to adopt. The rules for the age of adoptive parents had been changed since we started. I think I know why this happened. Adoption has a tendency to age at an accelerated rate.
Our adoption took so long that our I-600 form was about to expire which meant that we need more, drumroll please, fingerprints done! Fortunately, that was free so we filled out the appropriate paperwork. Unfortunately, when we filled out that renewal form we didn’t check the box that said we wanted our form renewed as well. When we contacted immigration they told us that we didn’t check the box so they didn’t renew our form and we would have to start the entire process over, this time with an I-800 form. And another check. Side note: Adoption also includes a lot of checks.
So have I depressed you?
Have you surmised that my spiritual gift is not encouragement?
I’m just trying to be real with you. It’s easy to walk into adoption with this idealistic view that your adoption will go easier and you will be the exception. I certainly felt that way. It is not easy. But it is worth it. You are saving a life. You are giving an opportunity to a child who would not have it. The unemployment rate in Haiti is estimated at 70%. It’s probably higher for women. My daughter would have little chance of carving a life out for herself. I’m guessing there are similar stats in the country you are adopting from. Adoption is hard and it doesn’t get easier when they come home, but I will save that little ray of sunshine for another blog. Your hard work and paperwork and patience and check writing will pay off.
A couple weeks ago my daughter was hanging out with my wife and she said “I like saying the word ‘dad.’” My wife said, “Why is that honey.” “Because I never had a dad before. I just like saying the word ‘dad.’” I like being a new dad. There are so many firsts. With my bio kids, it was first word and first step but there are lots of adoption firsts. The first step on American soil. The first day of school. First trip to the supermarket. First trip to Disneyland. First night in her own bedroom. I know the journey is long. Don’t lose sight of the finish line. If you find yourself in the weeds of adoption let me give you a few thoughts that might make the journey a little easier.
Adoption will not go according to your plan. American’s like plans and planners and dates written in ink. That is not adoption. Just when you think you’re winning there will be another hurdle.
The people in the adoption agency in the country you are adopting from are not trying to mess with you. They are not just greedy people looking for a bribe. Or maybe they are, I don’t know. But it doesn’t do any good to blame them. If your experience is anything like mine the foreign adoption agency is filled with good people who are way underfunded. They don’t have late model iMacs and Xerox color printers. They may not even have file cabinets. We heard stories of paperwork that couldn’t be completed because the printer ran out of ink and they couldn’t afford more ink. Our passport got delayed because Haiti ran out of passport books. If that happens here we just run to Kinko’s. There are no Kinko’s in Haiti.
Do not blame your adoption agency for delays. They are doing the best that they can. The rules for adoption in these countries are always changing. It sometimes feels like the government of Haiti was inventing new problems. Try not to talk your frustration out on your agency. Our agents Michelle and Margaret worked tirelessly for long hours against amazing odds. What makes the job even harder is that often it is thankless. Be one of the parents that says thank you.
Figure out who you want to be when your child arrives. The wisest words we got during our adoption process came from a friend who adopted two children from Uganda. She said to us, “Who do you want to be when your child arrives? Do you want to be a worried wreck or do you want to be a person of faith.” Those words were powerful. I have to admit that I spent my fair share practicing worry and fear, but we worked hard to find faith amidst the disasters. Our character is built in that middle space between setting the goal and reaching it. If you’d like to hear more on that subject I’m part of a podcast called 10 Steps Further that explored the idea of living in the unresolved.
Click on the link during your commute tomorrow. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/10-steps-further/id1293788430?mt=2&i=1000401603264
Several years back Kelly Clarkson sang a song called Beautiful Disaster. I think it was about some loser guy she was dating, but those words perfectly describe adoption. It’s years of waiting and sudden disaster after sudden disaster. But in the end, it’s beautiful. I will remember forever the moment we walked into baggage claim and 40 family and friends were chanting my daughter’s name. Beautiful. It took lots of disasters to get there but that moment was beautiful. I’m praying that you will experience a beautiful disaster too.
America World is advocating for children in Haiti who need forever families. If you are being led to adopt from Haiti, our staff would love to answer your questions! Check out our Haiti pages for lots of information and reach out to our Haiti team at Haiti@awaa.org or 800-429-3369.