Friday, March 30, 2012

Adoption Journey Overview

We've been thinking about adoption for a long time.  Back when I was getting pretty comfortably settled into being single for my whole life, I assumed I'd adopt a kid when I was in my 30s.  Then I met the Winemaker when I was 31, and first we wanted a few years to ourselves, then a couple more went by while we were still trying both the old fashioned way and a few of the new-fangled ways they have nowadays for those for whom the old fashioned way isn't working.  Then we left the country for a year, came back, changed jobs, and generally had a hectic period in which we had agreed we'd adopt, but didn't start working on it.

So I guess we've been actually working on it for 2 years, with about a year's lead-in of occasional conversations, light research, and an agency intro session.  I spent summer of 2010 in massive research mode, looking at programs and agencies.  Domestic or international?  Latvia, Georgia, Nepal, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, India?  How many kids?  How old?  How...healthy?  We took a few steps down the path towards Latvia and Georgia. It became clear that both programs would involve not only a long wait, but that these countries only allowed international adoptions in cases where a) there were severe medical needs, b) the children were older than nine, or c) there was a sibling group of 3 or more.  There was one group of  four boys on the list for Latvia, and I daydreamed about bunkbeds in our upstairs bedrooms.  They sounded so sweet...but four?  When we were starting from zero?

So I checked out Lithuania.  Unlike Georgia, we don't have close friends there whom we know would help us out while in country.  Unlike Latvia, we don't speak the language.  But their restrictions on international adoption were somewhat less.  They favored adoptive parents of Lithuanian heritage.  We knew there would be many cultural overlaps with Latvia, so we knew it would be a country we would enjoy bringing into our home, and place we'd scrimp and save to return to with our children, a place we could instill a sense of pride in.  When I first thought of it, I worried that The Winemaker would see it as too much my family connection, and not enough his.  But his eyes lit up, and I remembered how after each visit to Lithuania, he couldn't stop talking about how warm and friendly the people were, compared to the average person on the street or trollybus in Riga.  Then I read that the adoptions seemed to go quickest when the applicants were a married couple.  We are!  When the prospective mother was of proven Lithuanian descent.  That's me!  When the couple had no prior children.  That's us!

We went out looking for an agency.  Because Lithuania is careful and cautious about their adoption process (this is a good thing), they only allow screened and authorized agencies to work with them. Not just Hague Accredited, which I won't explain here (either you're adopting, and you already know, or you're not adopting, and you don't really care), but agencies that were specifically approved by the Child Welfare Ministry in Lithuania.  There were three of these in fall of 2010.  Two were specifically religious; one required a statement regarding your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.   I am a lapsed Episcopalean, and even if I weren't lapsed, I'd feel like that is way too personal of a question.  We applied to the third agency.

They were conveniently located in Chicago.  (We're on the west coast, so that sentence should be in sarcasm font.)  We also needed a local agency to do our home study.  Then we had to get the two agencies talking to each other and offering mutual approval.  It was spring of 2011 by the time we had an appointment for a home study.  We were nervous, although not as freaked out as some families I'd read about.  When I opened the door to our social worker, we both stared for a second, then I figured it out first.  "Oh!  You were in my knitting class last month!"  So things got off to a good start with her.  Two visits and some phone calls later, we had our approved home study.  There was much notarizing, and then much apostilling. That one I will explain, because it's slightly interesting.

See, a notary is authorized by the state.  They examine your documents and then certify that they are what you say they are.  For example, "This is a true copy of X's passport."  Or, "X and Y signed this agreement in front of me and showed me identification that proves that they are indeed X and Y."  Notaries can charge up to $10 for this service; our wonderful credit union offers it as a free service.  How many papers need to be notarized for the adoption process?  Well, the kid young man who notarizes at our local branch now says, "Hi X and Y!  Got some papers for me?" when we walk in the door.  (Note to self: I need an alias for this blog.)

But see, Lithuania doesn't know if we went to our local bank and saw a notary, or if we bought a fancy stamp and used it liberally.  This is where apostilles come in.  We take our notarized documents down to the state capitol and find the Secretary of State's office.  The Secretary, I suspect has an ACTUAL office upstairs somewhere, because this place looks kind of like the DMV.  There's a counter, and you hand your papers to a harassed looking lady, who tells you to come back in 20 minutes.  If it's a sunny day, you buy yourself a cup of coffee and go sit on the bench outside, immediately spilling the whole damn cup of coffee all over the bench.  So you go back inside for paper towels, because you don't want any of the nice government workers to sit down on the bench at lunch and soak their pants.  Then you play "hunt for the garbage can" with a handful of dripping wet paper towels in your hand.  Finally, you go inside and wash the coffee smell off your hands.  By this time, the twenty minutes are about up.  (I understand that when The Winemaker did one of these trips, he skipped some parts of this procedure, but that's how it went for me.)

In the meantime, the harassed looking lady is looking up your notary's license on file, and comparing his signature and seal to what he should be using.  Since everything is in order, a super fancy stamp is put on all of it, with some official language about certifying that this is a true notary's seal.  For $10/page.  This becomes a significant sum by the time you're done with the process.

We got everything signed and sealed--hey!  That's what that means!  Not stuck in an envelope, but with a seal put on it!  Then we sent it to our Chicago agency, and they sent it to the law firm they work with in Lithuania, and they translated everything (including letters of reference, personal statements, and the 20 page home study), and submitted it to the Lithuanian government.  (I skipped some stuff, like all the fingerprinting and Homeland Security hoops we jumped through.)  In October of 2011, our dossier was accepted, and we entered the registry of prospective adoptive parents at, oh 263 in line, or something like that.

We'd been told to expect a wait of 3 years or more.  I'd been reading the blog of a family that had been waiting that long already.  Days after we got on the registry, there was a flurry in the online Lithuania adoption community about whether or not Lithuania was closing to international adoption.  I contacted the agency and was told no worries.  Then I was told that our agency was closing their international program, and we needed to find a new agency.  Our choices were the two religious based agencies we hadn't applied to before.  It seemed that one of them, despite having "Christian" in their name, would accept a non church going family.  They waived their application fee and lowered their lawyer's fees, since we'd already paid a few thousand to the other agency, and both use same Lithuanian lawyers.  After that exciting round of paperwork (yes, more notarizing and apostilling took place), we figured we had 3 or more years to learn about adoptive parenting, save some money, clean out the bedrooms, etc.

Then one Friday in February I got an email at work.  "You have a referral.  We can't get ahold of you by phone (because oddly enough, I don't keep my phone on while I'm teaching), and we're about to leave for the weekend (because yes, we traded in an agency that's two hours ahead of us for one that's three hours ahead of us), so I'm just going to attach the information to this email."  Luckily, I was done teaching for the day, although I couldn't actually leave for another 2 hours.  I tore out of the door at 3:30 precisely, for the first time all year, and bounced in my chair while The Winemaker brought up the email on the computer.  He paused to see who else had emailed him that day, and I about came unglued.  Later he said, "I think the only time I've ever seen you nearly that excited was when I proposed."

Just like I did with his proposal, we accepted the referral.  Well, first we had an adoption specialist MD look at a video of the kids. I omitted that step with the proposal, but then, I'd had 10 months to do my own evaluations in first.

We hope we'll bring them home this summer.  But it's perfectly clear at this point that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF THE TIMELINE.  Or anything, really.  So we'll just see what happens.

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