Who hasn't at some point in their life - 10 minutes before dinner, or after a long recreational hike, enthusiastically said "I'm STARVING!"? Yet, most of us comfortably eat 3-5 meals a day.
On the other side of the world, children and adults really ARE starving to death. I could write long articles about the fact that famine is a symptom of much deeper political and social problems... but this is neither the time nor the place (and besides, such articles already exist). Instead, I would like to encourage you and your family to think about how YOU can help the needy, the hungry this Holiday season.
An article was recently featured on Yahoo that showed the amazing transformation of a little starving 7-month-old Somali boy who was brought to a rescue camp. With food and expert care, he now is plump and healthy. Without FOOD he would have died.
Take a deep breath.
Ok, now scroll down.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 file photo, then seven month old Minhaj Gedi Farah is treated in a field hospital of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Dadaab, Kenya. In this picture he weighs just over 7lbs. In July, Minhaj was one of dozens of limp babies under mosquito net shrouds in the sweltering wards of the IRC hospital in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, but after months of intensive feeding the Somali boy has the chubby cheeks and cheeky smile of most babies his age.
Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 file photo, after 10 days of intensive feeding and care
In this photo released by the International Rescue Committee, Minhaj Gedi Farah is held in the arms of his mother Asiah Dagane in the International Rescue Committee (IRC) hospital in Dadaab, Kenya Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. ...after months of intensive feeding the Somali boy has the chubby cheeks and cheeky smile of most babies his age.
Several months of food and care have brought him back to life!
How can YOU help this Holiday season? Can you give up a gift, or two, or four, or ten? Can you make a family dinner a little less elaborate? Would your family consider cutting out Christmas gifts altogether?
This morning I dropped my 13-month old son off at a good friend's house so I could go to the doctor. When I came back, he just MELTED into my arms, wrapped his arms and legs around me, buried his little face in my neck, and wouldn't let go. My friend told me that he had spent the entire time I was gone crying for me. Not just whining, but all-out, snot and tears bawling.
On my way home the thought really hit me that on the other side of the world there are babies and children who cry and cry and cry for their Momma, and may NEVER feel the warm, comforting embrace of her arms again. They may NEVER feel that absolute relief of having their Momma rush to scoop them into her arms and kiss their sweet faces.
I have a hard time letting Little Guy cry himself to sleep at nap time... and on the other side of the world, a newborn may have been crying for hours in the alleyway he was abandoned in.
I doubt most of us have ever observed the real pattern of a child's crying past the point of distress. Can you imagine the millions of un-comforted little ones? They have gone past the initial panic of not knowing where their Momma is. They cried themselves to sleep, woke up again, and Momma wasn't there. They were hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, needed a new diaper. They cried and cried, and Momma still wasn't there. Can you even imagine?
My sons both cried as if they were dying if I didn't nurse them within minutes seconds of waking up from a nap. Don't even ask me to tell you how torturous sleep training a baby is for me. Have you ever even thought about how babies cry after they have cried themselves to sleep, woken up, cried some more, fallen asleep hungry and lonely, and woken again, still hungry and lonely? The lucky ones are found before it is too late. Scooped up into stiff arms, gruffly toted off to an orphanage. In-processed. Placed in the baby room or the toddler room. Fed enough to survive (hopefully). Cared for by (hopefully) wonderful nurses and nannies, but just how much attention and love does a little one get when a caretaker is shared among 6, 10, 20, 50 other little ones? Even the most loving, caring nanny can't replace the warm, loving embrace of a Momma.
I run to comfort my Big Guy when he skins his knee, and on the other side of the world, (heck, even in our own country) a child has no-one who even cares if he is hurt.
When my boys are hungry, I seat them at the table, open my fridge, and choose one of many nutritious and delicious foods for them. Yet all over the world, millions of families don't know when their next meal will be.
I feel so humbled. So powerless and small.
As my toddler sleeps in my arms after he has filled his little round belly with good warm Momma milk, I wonder about the many little ones who have no arms to sleep in, no Momma milk, and certainly no chubby bellies.
I look at these arms of mine, and think, wonder, pray. I can't wait to bring our daughter home from Ethiopia, to hold her in my arms. To love her. To rock her to sleep. To comfort her when she cries. To feed her when she is hungry. Maybe even nurse her (*gasp*).
There are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia. FIVE MILLION (yes, yes, soon to be minus 1 and all that). Clearly more needs to be done. By me. By you. By all of us together.
Today marks 2 months waiting since our dossier was sent to Ethiopia.
Right now the average wait time for an infant girl is between 11 and 18 months, counting from DTE. This means our wait will most likely be another 9-16 months. How's that for a long "pregnancy"...?
~Please join us in praying for the other families who are currently waiting to bring their little ones home. A lot of children have been referred, but still need to pass court and be cleared by the US Embassy. Lets bring those sweethearts HOME.
AGCI just made several referrals for infant girls, age 3 months-11 months.
I too am hoping our AWAA girl line will start moving along again soon - but we know that AWAA is a competent, ethical agency, and they are making sure to do their research beforehand so as only to refer out children who truly are adoption ready.
I know it's probably easier for me to say because we are at the very beginning of "the wait" ...but I hold fast to the knowledge that God has JUST THE RIGHT little girl in mind for each of the waiting families, and she will come into each of our lives in God's perfect timing.
We're hunkering down for a long wait. Ben (the hubby) and I were talking about the advantages of a longer wait yesterday evening, and for fun I thought I would share our little list:
-more time to raise funds
-more time to prepare our heart and home
-more time to pray for birth Mom
-more time to talk to other families and encourage them to pursue adoption (cuz remember, there ARE 5 million orphans in ET!)
-more time to practice doing corn rows on my friends' little girls' hair... I'll be GOOD at it by the time we bring our daughter home
-more time to learn how to cook injera and tibs
-more time to get healthier and into better shape so we will have the energy to run after our sweet girl!
-more time to paint adoption art for our home and the homes of other families
-more time to build that tree fort for our oldest son
-more time to pursue formula manufacturers and shoe retailers and other companies asking for donations for the orphanages (our dentist is going to supply us with a big box of tooth brushes and toothpaste!)
I know we are all hoping that the "more time" will turn into "less time" ... our arms and hearts all yearn to hold our sweet girls...but let's try to be positive.
What are YOU thankful about having 'more time' for while you wait?
~Dear Lord, please protect the joy in my heart, and grow us closer to you while we wait for our little girl. Please show us how to pray for her, and how to prepare our hearts and our home. Show us how to love and encourage others while they wait, too.
A lot of people have been asking us if the fact that we have sent in our dossier means that we will be bringing our daughter home soon. I have to remind myself that most people have not spent hours pouring over adoption literature, and so are not familiar with the whole process.
To make the process a little bit more transparent and understandable, I decided to write a summary of the adoption process. I am writing specifically about adopting from Ethiopia, but the process is very similar for other countries, as well. In short, International Adoption 101:
1.) Finding an agency and deciding on a country program.
There are SO many different agencies and country programs. Research well - some agencies have different rules, different costs, different ethics... there is an adoption-agency-research yahoo group, and there are also a lot of other resources.
There are 2 approaches: Some families are in love with a certain country, and then search for an agency that has a program there. Other families will choose an agency first, and then choose one of that agency's programs.
In our case, we have some dear friends who have adopted, and who had a really positive experience with AWAA. We researched them, and requested their information package (as well as from another agency), and were very happy with how open and transparent they are. Of the country programs that AWAA offers, the Ethiopia program fit our family best.
2.) Fill out an initial application (sometimes called pre-application).
This is usually free, and is just to get a feel for whether you even qualify for the program you are interested in. Information you need to do this is you and your spouse's full name and birthday, last year's income, and maybe your basic religious affiliation if it is a Christian agency.
3.) Apply for a specific program within the adoption agency.
For this you will, again, need your vital statistics, your income info, info on how much $$ you currently have saved, and you will probably have to answer some questions about health, life style, how many children you have, religious affiliation, and give 3-5 references. There will be an application processing fee associated with this.
A note about savings: Don't be worried if you do not, at the time of application, have the money in the bank necessary to adopt. At this point they are more interested in seeing that you live within your means, and they may ask you about your plans for fund-raising, applying for grants, etc. - LOTS of families adopt without having all the money in the bank beforehand! The cost of adoption may look scary, but it's not all due at once, there ARE grants, and you will have about 2 years to fund-raise!
A few days after sending off your application and application fee, you will get a call, an eMail, a letter, or all three, from your agency. If you qualify (which you probably already know from taking the pre-application), they will congratulate you, and send you your contract. You will sign this, and send it in along with the initial program fee.
4.) Assignment of a family coordinator (for the dossier) and a social worker (for the home study).
AWAA has their own social worker do the home study in our state. Some agencies sub-contract, or even ask the family to find their own. Personally, I love that our social worker works exclusively for our adoption agency, so she knows all the specifics to our agency and our program.
A lot of the documents you have to collect for your dossier (more about what a dossier is in a bit) and your home study (I will explain this, too) are the same. Our social worker was ok with receiving copies of a lot of the documents we had to get for the dossier. Because of this, we were able to paper-chase for the dossier and the home study in parallel.
5.) Paperchasing. This usually takes between 3-6 months. Some families have finished in mere weeks, others take a year.
Dossier: This is the collection of original documents (you can see the list here) that is sent to Ethiopia (or whatever country you are adopting from). These documents will be the legal framework for your adoption. Your family coordinator will send you detailed instructions that are specific to your country program. If you are ever in doubt, always ask your family coordinator! That is their job, and they are happy to help.
Home Study: The same documents (or copies) as the dossier, to prove your identity, check your background, show your income and health. In addition your social worker will meet with you 3x (at least once in your home) to interview you (the parents) together and separately. You will be asked to write a biographical essay answering a specific set of questions. It will feel like you are being asked to bare all, but understand that this is being done to ensure the safety and happiness of your future child. Your social worker will also look at your home to make sure it is safe. This does NOT mean you have to disinfect every inch of your home - in fact, the social worker will be concerned if everything is spic and span because a child might feel like an intrusion into such order. Basically, make sure all the bedrooms have a smoke alarm, have a fire extinguisher, store cleaning supplies and medicine behind a locked door, and make sure knives and weapons are stored safely (ammunition and firing pins must be locked in a safe).
Remember that your social worker is ON YOUR SIDE. They want to help you bring home your son or daughter. It is their job to be nosy, but they are not out to get you! Be honest. Be yourself. And... RELAX!
In the course of your paper chase you will be asked to pay several more fees, to your agency, to your home study agency, to the USCIS, and possibly you will have to pre-pay your post adoption visits. Just make sure you get receipts and that costs are itemized. Our agency is very good about being open and transparent about costs. If your agency is being secretive, this may be a red flag. Don't be shy to ask questions.
Once your home study is finished, you will receive several copies of a home study summary from your social worker. You will send one copy to the USCIS (immigration), along with your I-600A application and some fees. Within 2-9 weeks you will have a biometrics appointment (aka be fingerprinted) at the nearest USCIS office. A while later (1 week for us) you will be sent the I-171H, which is the approved permission to adopt from another country.
6.) Send your dossier to your agency. You will probably have been asked to scan or fax all the documents before sending the originals so that your family coordinator can check everything and make sure all is as it should be. We had to request new proof of life insurance forms because our bank's notary's commission ran out too soon. Everything else looked good.
You will be asked to assemble multiple copies of your dossier, as well as the original. You will probably have to pay some more fees at this time, both program fees and the first installment of the international fee. Don't forget to include payment.
Take a deep breath.
Fed-Ex your dossier and copies to your agency, as instructed.
Your family coordinator will then overnight your dossier to the State Department for another level of authentication, as well as to the Ethiopian Embassy. Then they will send your dossier to Ethiopia via courier service. The date on which it is sent off by your agency is used to calculate your position in line waiting for your child. Our DTE date ("Dossier to Ethiopia") is 8/12/2011, even though we sent our dossier to our agency on August 1st. Once in Ethiopia, our dossier is translated into Amharric, and is presented to the Ethiopian government.
Rejoice in the fact that you no longer have to chase for documents.
And wait some more. According to our agency, the wait time for an infant girl is between 11-18 months counting from DTE.
Use this time well - you can organize fundraisers. You can read literature about adoption and bonding and attachment. You can learn more about the country you are adopting from. You can get connected with other adoptive families online or in your area. Pray for your child, and for his or her birth mother. Prepare your heart and your home for welcoming a new little blessing.
Wait some more.
Wait even more.
Right around the time when you think you can't stand waiting any longer, your family coordinator will inform you that you are among the top 10 on the wait list. This means you are "on deck" and could receive a referral call at any time in the next days/weeks/months. Referrals seem to come in clusters, probably due to the way paperwork is processed in Ethiopia.
When you receive THE call, your family coordinator will tell you they have a possible referral for you. They will tell you the gender and age, and the short version of medical and family history, and ask you if you are interested in finding out more. If you say yes, they will email you one or more pictures of the child, along with more detailed background info. You then have a few days to decide.
During this time you will think, pray, and probably meet with a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption medicine. You will probably look at the referral picture about ever 2 minutes, and I doubt you will be able to sleep.
The hardest part at this point is that you are not allowed to show anyone the picture! Literally only you and your spouse are allowed to see it. The child's identity must be protected, and showing others the picture can actually jeopardize your adoption!
9.) Referral acceptance.
As soon as you make the decision to accept the referral, you let your family coordinator know, and you sign a formal acceptance form. You will probably have to pay the second installment of the international fee at this point.
Your acceptance paperwork will then be processed in Ethiopia, and you wait for a court date.
Depending on how long you wait for a court date (currently about 8-12 weeks) you will receive monthly updates about your little one, including pictures, development and health info. Depending on your agency, you may be able to send care packages.
10.) Travel to Ethiopia for your court date!
At this time you also get to meet your son or daughter... and you will go to court to formally adopt your child within the Ethiopian legal system.
If you pass court, your child is given your last name, and you may now show your friends and family some pictures.
Many families don't pass court the first time around. This may be due to the missing MOWCYA letter (the Ethiopian Ministry of Women's Children's and Youth Affairs has to write a letter of recommendation, and is sometimes back-logged), or maybe the judge asks for additional documentation about the child. If this happens, the parents don't have to go to court again... they travel back home as planned, and the agency will use their power of attorney and go back to court for you. In some cases, a new court appointment isn't necessary, and the judge will sign off on the paperwork as soon as the MOWCYA letter arrives.
It is very difficult to leave your child in Ethiopia while her papers are being processed... but in most cases, she will be in an agency transition home, where she will be loved and cared for by wonderful nannies.
While waiting to pass court, a lot of families will post cute pictures of their child's hands or feet on their blog... since they have met and held their child, but still are not allowed to share pictures!
Once the family passes court, the adoption paperwork is forwarded to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa for processing. This can take anywhere between 2 and 12 weeks.
Also, once your family has passed court, you will be allowed to show pictures of your child, and depending on your agency's rules, may be able to sign a photo release form to have other families who travel to Ethiopia take pictures of your child.
While in Ethiopia for court appointment, there may be some opportunities to do some tourist-y things such as see sights, visit the birth village of your child, go shopping for souvenirs, eat local foods etc. - this may be different depending on your agency.
11.) Embassy appointment.
Once you are "cleared for Embassy" you will be given an Embassy appointment. This sometimes happens VERY short notice - one family in our agency was recently told ON FRIDAY that they needed to fly to Ethiopia ON MONDAY to appear at their Embassy appointment on Wednesday. They were able to book a flight and fly fly fly to their sweet baby.
On your Embassy appointment you appear with your baby, fill out some paperwork, possibly see an Embassy doctor, and then are cleared for travel. At this point you get to keep your little one with you at the guest house!
Then you fly fly fly home... and when you land in the US, your little one becomes an American citizen (there are some exceptions).
12.) Post placement visits and reports.
The Ethiopian government requires a series of post-placement visits by your social worker to ensure good attachment and health of your little one. Your social worker is also a wonderful resource for advice if you are facing some challenges. You will most likely have pre-paid for these visits when you completed your Home Study.
Several post-placement reports will need to be submitted to the Ethiopian government at set dates, up until your child is 18 years old. This is a measure to ensure that your child is being treated well and is thriving.
13.) Optional so-called Re-adoption in the US legal system.
As the title of this step indicates, this step is optional... but it IS recommended.
You have the option to appear before an American judge and to adopt your child within the US legal system. They are already considered your child after adopting them within the Ethiopian legal system. However, at this time you can make any name changes you wish to make, and your child's birth certificate is re-written with YOU as the parents. This can help ensure they are covered by inheritance law (if there are siblings), and is another layer of security for you and your family.
If age discrepancies have been found (the age of many orphans are estimates), the birth date may be adjusted at this point, according to a doctor's recommendations. This may be useful in terms of school later.
So that's all, folks. From start to finish, we expect our adoption to take between 20 and 30 months. I am hoping it will be on the short end, but we are hunkering down for a long wait, keeping in mind the possibility of the pleasant surprise of it taking less time.
~Don't be afraid of long wait times or high costs. God provides. If HE has given you a heart for adoption, HE will open the right doors at the right time!
Today was a big day for us - we sent off our dossier to our adoption agency AWAA!
This means that after checking all our documents (they have already seen scans of them, and have approved them) our family coordinator will send everything off to Ethiopia via courier service. Here our documents and letters will be translated into Amharric, and we will officially be placed on the waiting list to adopt an infant girl.
The documents had to be placed in a certain sequence, so I spread out and sorted everything on our living room floor last night.
These are the papers that we had to collect for our dossier, in sequence: -Family photo pages -copies of our passports -Power of Attorney (Notarized and certified by the Secretary of State) -Dossier Cover Sheet (Notarized and certified by the Secretary of State) -Application letter addressed to MOWCYA (Ministry of Women's Children's and Youth Affairs in Ethiopia), notarized -Original birth certificates for Ben and me -Original Marriage license -Physical Exam forms and Doctor's letters for both parents (notarized) -Proof of medical insurance for us, including notarized copies of our insurance cards and a letter stating that our daughter will be fully covered (notarized) -Proof of life insurance for both parents (notarized) -Employment letter for Ben (notarized) -Letter of voluntary non-employment for me (notarized) -Home Study documents (notarized) -3 Letters of Reference (notarized) -Notarized police reports for both parents -USICS Approval I-171H (Notarized copy of original) -Agency Recommendation (will be added by our family coordinator when she receives our packet) -Agency post placement commitment (notarized) -2 sets of passport photos for each -Hague Adoption Training certificates for both parents
In addition we had to send a check for the next installment of fees. You can keep track of how much we have paid on the thermometer in the righthand side bar.
Here are 2 copies of our dossier, and the original. Ready to go.
To make it special, and to keep the papers from bumping around in the FedEx box too much I wrapped our dossier in this baby-printed tissue paper...
Mark and Sean both caught on to the excitement of sending off our dossier!
Collecting all those documents was hard work, it took us 3.5 months to get everything together. If it hadn't been for the USCIS wait we would have been done 1.5 months ago, but since they say that the paper chase takes between 3 and 6 months, we can't really complain about our timeline!
We will be given a "DTE" date shortly (Dossier To Ethiopia).
Guess what came in the mail today from the USCIS (Immigration)???!
This means that NEXT WEEK our dossier will be sent to Ethiopia via special courier, and we will officially be "DTE."
~Tonight I pray for the government in Ethiopia, that they will make wise choices in their effort to help those affected by the current famine. I'm also praying that the hearts of other nations will be softened and all possible relief and help can be provided.
Today Ben and I had to go to the USCIS processing center in Portland, OR for our biometrics appointment (aka = to be fingerprinted).
Is it strange that I was so excited about it last night that I had a hard time falling asleep?
Thankfully the USCIS actually took notice of my coverletter for my 600-A in which I asked that we could go to Portland, OR (which is right across the river from us) rather than having to drive 3.5 hours to Yakima (which is where the WA State processing center is).
Except for having to brave downtown Portland traffic (including construction, detours and lots of one-way streets) the whole thing took about 20 minutes and was very undramatic. I didn't even get to take a picture of our inked fingers because they do an ink-less scan now - we just had to hold each finger onto a scanning device with the help of a USCIS person.
Now we wait with baited breath for the I-171H to show up in our mailbox. Yay! Another step closer to our baby girl!!!
As I wait, I find myself wondering who in the world the little stranger will be who will become my daughter. I love looking at pictures of Ethiopian children... and of Ethiopian adults, too. I see the faces of grown women and wonder if my daughter will look like them some day.
~Little Stranger, wherever and whoever you are, I yearn to be your Momma, and to hold you safely in my arms!
Today Ben and I each got a letter in the mail with our finger printing appointment for the USCIS. We have to show up at the Portland FBI office on July 20th. Even though this is almost a month away, I'm happy, because this is progress, and progress = good!
Some of my blog readers might have noticed that I haven't posted any photos of our family on this blog. Today the curious among you are in luck:
One of the required items for the dossier is a set of photo pages. Our Ethiopia information packet states that there must be: -2 formal photos (do not have to be professional, but all family members should be dressed, smiling, and facing the front) -4 family life photos -1 photo of the outside of the home -1 photo of a room the inside of the home that we like to spend time in together (I haven't taken this one yet. It seems that the rooms are a) never quite clean enough and b) always seem to be full of people during daylight hours).
Our family is SOOOOOOO not formal, and getting my Hubby to smile for a picture is like pulling teeth. Don't get me wrong - he smiles and jokes and laughs all day... he just really hates having his picture taken! Add into that a young boy who likes making silly faces, and a baby who may or may not want to have his picture taken. Have I mentioned the fact that we never really dress up for anything these days (our church is very casual)? Our family coordinator reassured us that "normal" family pictures will be fine, thank goodness. Needless to say it has been interesting getting these pictures.
So here we go:
Formal photo #1
Formal photo #2 ...well, we will pretend this is formal. It is posed, everyone is dressed, and we are all facing the camera.
Family Fun picture #1 - we are all having fun here, and I like this kind of picture much better than a posed one!
Family fun picture #2 - My two wonderful boys, big M and little S.
Family fun picture #3 - Hubby and big M "fishing" in the Columbia.
Family fun picture #4 - Momma (me) watching some ducks and a swan with big M and little S. Little S actually is looking at his feet, but hey, he's having fun, right?
The outside of our home.
Alrighty. Here is the pic of an inside room. We spend more time together in the big family room/ play room, but this room was easier to clean up and get the kids to stay out of for long enough to take a picture. :o)
Anyone who knows what garage sales CAN be like, here is the list of miracles: - The weather was amazing, very sunny and warm. - We had tons of stuff to sell, thanks to so many wonderful, generous friends. - We had so much help! THANK YOU ALL!! - People were friendly, cordial even, and rather than haggling down every price, actually rounded up quite a few times! - Have I mentioned that people were friendly?
We exceeded our goal - I wanted to sell at least $500 worth of stuff, and the total tally is $751.15 - YAY! I also still have a few items that I am going to try to sell on Craigslist and eBay for a few weeks, and we donated lots of items to Open House Ministries (a shelter).
Again, a big huge THANK YOU to everyone who shopped, helped, and donated items! It wouldn't have been possible without you!!!
Today we had our final Home Study meeting, and I am happy to say that it was very favorable. We feel so blessed to have wonderful friends who wrote us fantastic recommendation letters. Woohooo! One step closer to our little girl!
We get the official HS document and several copies next week, and can then apply for the I-171H from the USCIS.
~Today I am praying for the Ethiopian government officials, both the judges and those who work for the MOWCYA (Ministry of Women's, Children's and Youth Affairs). Please give them wisdom in the decisions they make. I am so thrilled to see all the AWAA families passing court and embassy the last few days!
We are done (DONE!) collecting all the documents from our end, both for the home study and the dossier. Now we just need to wait for our wonderful Social Worker to finish writing the home study, and for the last few reference forms to be mailed to her by our friends. Then we will apply for the I171-H form from the USCIS, and then our dossier can be mailed off to our agency, from where it makes a few more stops before being sent on to the Ethiopian government.
While we wait, we diligently pray for our daughter and her first family. As I think about her, I can't help but wonder: 'How should we pray?' There is a good chance that she is not even conceived. Her birth mother and father will make choices, experience things, face hardships that are REALLY hard for us to fathom. Our daughter has a long, difficult road ahead of her. I feel selfish praying for her birth Mom to have a healthy pregnancy, because I want my daughter to have a good start into life. 1 in 6 women die in childbirth in Ethiopia. Many women and children die of malaria, diarrhea, HIV, and other illnesses. Any of these things could be the reason our daughter becomes available for adoption. How should I pray for her birth mother? I pray for God to give her strength. For her not to experience pain. For her to be surrounded by loved ones. Words fail me as I think, as I pray. In the end, I just have to be still. Have to trust God.
Praying for our daughter is easier. Dear Lord, please keep our little one safe. Keep her little body from being harmed. Keep her little soul safe from hurt. Treasure her little heart until we can bring her home and become her family.
There isn't really any news, we are waiting on a few documents before we can move forward.
I am a pretty organized person, and count it an honor and a blessing to already have had several opportunities to help other newbie adoptive parents with their paper chase questions. On several occasions these last few weeks I have been asked how to keep it straight which forms and documents need to be notarized in what way. I decided to post my answer here, hoping it will help other adoptive parents in the future.
We were blessed not to have to pay for notarization because a wonderful woman at our church did it for free. I am also told that some banks have notaries on staff who will help for free. Just make sure their commission/stamp doesn't expire for at least a year.
With as many forms and documents as we have to collect, it's easy to loose track of what is what and which form needs what kind of stamp. I sorted everything into piles, and then gave each pile a slot in my accordion folder. Here's the breakdown for all the docs:
Certified copies (that's what you call it when you request them, and they certify them in the office they make them at): -Birth Certificates for you and your husband -Marriage certificate
Color copy: - you passports. This was tricky, since Kinkos etc is not legally able to make a color copy. We scanned ours at a friend's house and then made a color print.
Notarized Copy of Original (see the form for that in your packet): -of your insurance cards -of your I-171H form (since you travel with your original)
Notarized and signed by wife + hubby (This means you wait to sign until you are in front of the notary. The notary stamp must be good for 12 months. Make sure the notary's date matches yours.): -Dossier cover sheet (later gets authenticated too) -Application letter (to MOWCYA) -Financial Statement -Power of Attorney (later gets state certified) -Letter of non-employment (if you stay at home with the kids... there's a template in the Dossier Guidelines)
Notarized and signed by others: -Physical exam forms -Doctors letters (see template in Dossier Guidelines) -Proof of Medical insurance (e.g. a letter by your or your husband's employer that states that as of the adoption being finalized, your adopted child will be covered by medical insurance etc... there's a template in the Dossier Guidelines file) -Letter of Employment (see template in Dossier Guidelines) -Letters of Reference (Dossier) ...the reference forms for the HS do not need to be notarized -Police reports (every State handles this differently, your SW will tell you how to get yours. We had to do an online check through the police department, then fax them a form with our credit card info, and they then sent us a notarized letter stating that there is no record of any unlawful activity etc) -Proof of life insurance. We had to call our company to request a letter that states our proof of life insurance, and then had to actually re-request them, because the stamp on the first set of letters only lasted until this May!
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
A lot has been happening in the world of Ethiopian Adoption these past weeks. MOWA (Ministry of Women's Affairs) has turned into MOWCYA (Ministry of Women's, Children's and Youth Affairs), there has been much talk about just how many recommendation letters (necessary to pass court in ET) MOWCYA will write per day, and some other things that may or may not change about the process. You can read more about our agency's conference call concerning findings of the DOS and the USCIS in conversation with the ET government here. Amazingly, I don't feel worried. We know that God led us to pursue this adoption in His right timing, and we are confident that He will unite us with our daughter in His perfect timing, too. Whether there are delays or not is outside of our realm of influence, so there isn't much point in getting worked up about it.
It has been about 3 weeks since we first started the grand paper chase, and we are almost DONE getting everything together from our end! We are collecting the documents and forms for our home study and our dossier in parallel, since a lot of them are the same. 3-6 months to get everything? PSCHAH!
-We got Ben's and Katie's birth certificates in the mail -We got our marriage certificate in the mail -Katie had her adoption physical, which included the nurse taking about 5 gallons of blood. Well not quite. But there were a lot of tests. I have it on good authority now that I neither have TB, Hep B, Hep C, HIV, or any other communicable diseases. I also weigh 4lbs less than I did before getting pregnant with Sean. Oops. Time to up my caloric intake even more. That's what I get for nursing a 20lb baby every 3 hours. -Ben has his physical next week -the proof of health insurance letter and the employment letter Ben's HR wrote has been approved, in spite of their weird vague wording (heaven forbid they make any statement about future employment or income) -We made color copies of our passports - did you know that Kinkos won't do it because it's not technically legal? We had to scan them at a friend's house and then print them, since this is a requirement for the dossier. -A wonderful and generous woman at our church notarized all our documents and forms for free! -Our proof of life insurance is ordered and on its way here. -We had our first home study meeting with our Social Worker. It went well.
Now we just need to wait for the reference forms and recommendation letters. Once the home study is complete, we take the paper chase to the next level: sending in our I-600A to the USCIS to apply for our I-171H which gives us permission to adopt an orphan from abroad.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but there IS apparently a good use for by somewhat obsessive attention to detail. The huge list of documents needed for the home study and the dossier looked overwhelming at first, but going at it methodically, one step at a time, really made it quite easy. I would be happy to help other families build their dossier, since it seems this is something I am good at.
We also brought home a stack of books from the library. Some are recommended readings from our social worker, some are travel guides to Ethiopia, some are some random other books about Ethiopia, Adoption, Transracial adoption, and Bonding with an adopted child. I will try to give reviews on the ones that are worth reading.
I have also enjoyed reading a bunch of adoption blogs. Seeing those sweet faces of sons and daughters united with their families makes me all the more eager to meet and bring home our little girl.
~Right now we are in the "hurry up" phase... very soon we will find ourselves in the "WAIT, wait, wait" phase. While we are wait wait waiting, some very BIG things will be happening in the lives of our daughter and her birth family. I am praying for guidance, and comfort for them. It is hard to pray for something of which I know the end-point. Whatever will happen, results in us bringing our daughter home. I don't want this "whatever" to be painful, terrible, traumatizing. God knows what he is doing, and HE will hold his hand over our little girl and her family.
We have made some good headway both in the home study process, and in building our dossier. This is what we've done so far:
- paid the home study fee, and pre-paid the post-placement visits. - signed and mailed the home study agreement. - wrote our autobiographical statements (whoa baby, that was a lot of writing/thinking) - ordered certified copies of our marriage certificate and our birth certificates - Ben asked his HR department for a letter of employment. Katie wrote her letter of voluntary non-employment. - printed off last year's tax return - filled out the financial statements as well as the monthly expense worksheet - printed off the reference forms, and gave them to our references along with a pre-addressed, stamped envelope - asked 3 wonderful people to write us a letter of recommendation for the dossier - sent my parents the guardianship form to fill out - signed and mailed the duty of candor form and the international adoption disclaimer form - made appointments for medical exams for Katie and Ben. The boys had their check-ups yesterday, so we already have their health forms. - did our Washington State Patrol criminal background checks. - filled out the forms for the DHS background check - Katie finished the online training, and Ben is almost done. - drafted the formal letter for the dossier in which we ask the Ethiopian Ministry of Women's Children's and Youth affairs to allow us to adopt an infant girl.
Have I mentioned that we've been busy??!!!
We still need to make color copies of our passports and proof of health insurance, and we are still waiting to get our proof of life insurance, as well as birth certificates, marriage certificates etc. in the mail. We also still need to have a whole bunch of the above forms notarized, but we'll do that all at once. At first glance, the mountain of paperwork seemed insurmountable, but really, it's all coming together well, and it all does make sense...
If you feel like peeking over at my art blog, I also painted a fun little set of three paintings titled "hair time."
We just got a note from AWAA telling us that they have received and processed our contract and first payment of the program fee. We should hear from the social worker who will do our home study as well as the family coordinator who will help us compile our dossier in the next week or so.
Ben and I get to complete an 8 hour online class about adoption. I completed the course yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised at how useful the info was (originally I kind of thought that it was "just another hoop" to jump through). The first few lessons were mainly about the process of adoption, which had nothing in it that I didn't already know. I think it will be useful for Ben to get more of an insight about the cogs and wheels of the process though, I even saw him taking notes. The final lessons had a lot of info about the mental and physical health of children that have been institutionalized, and how to recognize and help with problems. There was good information on helping your child bond and adjust. There were some great articles on raising a child that is of a different race than her parents. I thought the articles and videos presented a well-balanced viewpoint. The only downside was that a lot of the reading about mental and physical health was specific to adoptees coming from Easter Europe and Russia. There are actually some very good articles about mental and physical health of adoptees from Ethiopia, e.g. Matern Child Health J. 2008 Sep;12(5):599-605. Epub 2007 Aug 22. Health of children adopted from Ethiopia. Miller LC, Tseng B, Tirella LG, Chan W, Feig E.
The "paper chase" portion of adoption is tedious for sure, but thankfully I'm one of those weird people who enjoys filling out forms.
Today my friend Kia came over for a play date and to let me practice/play with her daughter M's beautiful hair. Thank you so much for your advice and encouragement!
Here is what her hair looked like afterwards. I did 6 french braids in the front, and 4 regular braids in the back. We then put all the braids in a pony tail. In retrospect I should have started on top, and also done smaller sections in the back. For it being the first time I braided curly curly hair, I think it turned out pretty well. I was going to do the corn-row kind of braid where the braid is visible on top. Unfortunately my fingers just couldn't quite do it yet, so I opted for a few french braids instead, until my fingers get a bit more nimble.
My take-home lessons: -use LOTS of moisturizer/detangler -detangle/moisturize in sections, and start at the tips -get a rat-tailed comb to do parts (I used a regular detangling comb, and in addition was a little afraid of hurting sweet M, so the parts I made weren't as perfect as I would have liked to make them) -make smaller sections. In the end it will look neater, and will be easier to keep untangled -braid as tightly as you possibly can! -I will need to grow out at least one fingernail on each hand just a little to make corn-rowing easier -Being able to finish off a braid without a rubberband, just by twirling the curl, is TOTALLY AWESOME! -plan for time. M did an awesome job being patient with me for the 2 hrs it took me. She watched a movie, had some snack, and read. Good girl!
I know it will probably be 1-2 years before we even bring our daughter home... but I like to be prepared! I want "hair time" to be special, and I think I am going to have a lot of fun doing our daughter's hair. I want to get good at it, because I want her to feel good about her beautiful naturally curly hair.
We signed a bunch of contracts last night, including the adoption agreement for AWAA, and mailed it along with our first installment of the agency fee.
Now we need to complete the online Hague adoption orientation course, and wait to be contacted by the social worker who will do our home study.
Good-ish news concerning possible changes or slowdowns to the Ethiopian adoption process - Our adoption agency has posted the following update on their blog: "America World has received confirmation of significant personnel changes within MOWA. These changes have resulted in overall staff turnover and changes within the adoption unit. The unit is now called the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA). We are hopeful that the new leadership will not only support processing an adequate number of favorable recommendation letters, but also continue to implement policies that will best serve the children of Ethiopia. (...) We have continued to receive optimistic feedback and have seen how the Ethiopian government is very committed to adoption."
Thanks to my friend Audrey we have a TON of girl clothes size newborn - 3T for our daughter! She gave them to us a while ago, and today I got motivated to unpack them all, sort them by size, and pack them into labelled rubbermaid bins. I have to say, we are going to have one stylish little Miss.
When Ben came home to THIS his first reaction was "Help! It's a pink explosion!" :o) I'm going to keep some of the boys' clothes as play clothes for our little girl...
Hmmmm. Our daughter isn't even born, and she already has too many shoes...
With the Home Study in mind, I bought a fire extinguisher and a lock box to keep the ammunition and firing pins for our weapons in today. We should have gotten those items before, anyway... *cough*
We just got a call from AWAA congratulating us to being officially accepted into their Ethiopia program! I didn't really have any doubts about whether we would be accepted, but it still feels wonderful to know we are one step closer to bringing our darling daughter home.
With the current changes being made by MOWA (Ethiopian Ministry of Women's and Children's Affairs), there is the possibility that the wait time will be longer, so we were given the option to put our application on hold or switch to a different program. I feel confident that Ethiopia is the right path, so we decided to stick with it, and move forward.
As soon as I've gone to the store to buy new printer cartridges, we will print off the initial stack of forms to fill out and sign, take our adoption orientation classes, and pay our first installment of the program fee. We also get to start our home study!
~Today my prayers are for wisdom for the Ethiopian politicians, bureaucrats, and judges who are implementing new rules, laws and procedures for international adoption. I pray that the children's best interest is represented, whether this means programs that make it possible for them to return to their birth families, or them being released for international adoption. Either way, I am praying for orphaned children to be united with their life-long families SOONER rather than LATER.
We've known that we want to adopt for a long time. Because my Grandma was born in India, and I was there as a little girl, we used to think for sure we would adopt from India some day. However, right now India is not accepting any new adoption applications, and we really feel like God wants us to adopt a daughter NOW. In addition, we don't want our kids to be too far apart in age, and who knows how soon India may or may not change its policies.
I don't at all feel like Ethiopia is a "second choice" after India. I think our focus originally was on India was because I had been there as a child, so it felt semi familiar. Really, the important part is the wish God has grown in our hearts to bring a little one into our family from afar.
We've prayed a lot, and researched a lot. We looked at domestic adoption thoroughly, but it just didn't feel right for us right now. We decided to stick with the plan of international adoption. We looked at different agencies, and 3 of my friends have had a really good experience with AWAA. We also feel like their values and goals are in line with our own beliefs. We looked at the different country programs that AWAA offers, and Ethiopia seems to fit our family best: the process takes 18-24 months to bring home an infant girl (China's wait time is 4 years!), and it is possible to adopt very young infants (starting at 1 month, so as young as 4-5 months at home-coming), which is a lot younger than in many other countries.
The more I read about Ethiopia the more my heart aches and I feel myself falling in love with the country from afar. There is a huge need there, with an estimated 4.3 million orphans.
In spite of the dire need in Ethiopia, infants and children are treated well: both from what I've read in books and on the internet, and heard from friends who adopted from Ethiopia, the babies in the orphanages receive good health care, are loved on a whole lot by the nannies, and are all screened for HIV, Hepatitis, and some other common diseases.
Also, one reason we decided to adopt from Ethiopia is that some friends here in town adopted from there, so our little girl will grow up seeing other families that look like hers (white parents with light and dark skinned kids).
~This evening my prayers are for our daughter's birth mother. Right now, our daughter has probably not even been conceived. Who knows the hard path that still lies ahead, both for the birth mother and our little girl. May God be with both of them. May God give comfort, strength, and courage.
Ben and I have known pretty much from the very beginning of our relationship that we would grow our family through birth and through adoption. Now that little Sean is 6 months old, we have prayerfully decided that we will begin the paper chase in early April.
Mark has known for years that some day we would adopt a little sister for him. We have raised him in the knowledge that some babies grow in my belly, and some grow in my heart. I have even heard him explain this to his friends.
What we know so far: ~We have chosen AWAA (America World Adoption) to be our agency. ~We will bring our daughter home from Ethiopia approximately 18-24 months from the time we hand in our application. ~We are requesting an infant girl under 1 year of age.
Next steps: ~hand in our application to AWAA ~pay the initial application fee ~start our home study ~pay many more fees! ~once we pass the home study, we begin compiling our dossier, which consists of the documents necessary to adopt from Ethiopia
What I have been doing so far: ~Going over our budget. ~Filling out the application forms. ~Researching international adoption and Ethiopia online. ~Reading books about adoption and Ethiopia. ~Lying awake at night praying and dreaming about our little daughter-to-be.