Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm so tired

I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
--The Beatles, I'm so tired
I like being a father, but I wish babies liked to sleep until 9 or 10 a.m. And it's not like I'm jumping up every two to three hours with a new born changing diapers and popping bottles in my daughter's mouth (though we got to do that on our first visit with her last Christmas). But EM does tend to keep us guessing about when she is going to decide to wake up. She tends to need a diaper change and bottle anywhere between 3 and 5 a.m. and then sleeps until anywhere between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m.
In all honesty, Tess is the one who pops up to tend to the wee hour (no pun intended) diaper change. On the days that I'm staying home with our daughter, Tess says she wants me rested and it gives her time to be with EM before she has to get ready for work. But on the days Tess is staying home, she still jumps up comfort our daughter. I don't protest vigorously. I imagine my time will come.

Regardless of whether I get up or not, I wake up. I am not a sound sleeper. I've gotten so the mere rustle of our daughter tossing in her sleep puts me on a first level alert. A whimper raises that alert. When that elevates to a prolonged cry, I'm ready to jump up. The past few nights she has been waking up at midnight, 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. tossing, kicking and crying out odd things. I swear the other night she yelled, "Rosebud." But that could just be me projecting things on her.

Even after a rough night that leaves Tess and I feeling as though we've been through the Cuisinart at high speed, EM wakes up smiling coyly as if she hadn't been wriggling in our arms with her head spinning like Linda Blair ala the Exorcist just hours before. I applaud her ability to do mornings. At least one of us is smiling.

I have found that taking care of a baby and blogging are not totally compatible. Even when she is napping, I'm too busy picking Cheerios out of the cat's fur to think about blogging. The evenings are spent catching up with Tess, cooking dinner and listening to the baby monitor in case Lind Blair decides to make an appearance upstairs.

I suppose I will get into the rhythm of it all. Some day I'll be able to feed EM breakfast, play with her, get her morning bottle, walk her to Safeway to prime her for her nap and manage to squeeze in a shower and maybe some blogging. Until then I've given up worrying about my appearance. That's what jogging suits and baseball caps are for.

Monday, September 17, 2007


My daughter is special. Not only will she get to celebrate a birthday each year on October 18th, she will also get to celebrate August 28th. That is our Gotcha Day. It is the day that we dressed her in a new dress I'd bought and packed for the occasion, and took her in a cab at 7: 30 a.m. to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City for our final visa appointment. It is the day that we waited in line with 15 or 20 other adopting families to be ushered into a small waiting room lined with windows where weary clerks called names and numbers and processed forms to legitimize in the eyes of the US government what we'd already known in our heart for months -- that EM was our daughter.

"H**** family, please proceed to door number 11," was the announcement we waited for. We lined up by what looked like a closet door. Several families were in front of us. Each entered the door and returned a few minutes later smiling. Our turn came and we entered. It was no more than a closet with two chairs in front of a bullet proof cage where an Embassy staffer sat behind files stuffed with the paper trail that had led us here. He asked to see our passports and the bright new, red Guatemalan passport that had been issued for our daughter. He asked a couple of questions about how many times we'd visited and then stamped our file.

"Your application had been approved."

We went back to the waiting room in shock. Our name was called again to go to another window where yet another Embassy staffer had us raise our right hands and swear to something. I was in such a daze that I can't remember what it was. He then told us we could come back the next day at 3:30 p.m. and pick up our visa that was our ticket home with EM.

We left the Embassy quickly and caught a cab back to the hotel. EM seemed oblivious to the momentous occasion as Tess and I hugged her and reassured her that she was ours now and we'd never let her go. We took her to the pool once we got to the hotel and all of us played in the water. Tess and I recalled earlier trips to the Westin and the pool when EM was much younger and much less enamored with the water. Now she splashed confidently, held up by her mother's arms and smiled with her gummy grin.

That night we went to dinner at the hotel restaurant to celebrate. We were seated in dining Siberia. It's one of those things we are learning as parents. You have a baby you are tucked away at restaurant in places where crying and food tossing will not bother the other patrons. That was fine with us. We each had a glass of wine and took turns moving things out of EM's reach and placing non-choke able bits of food in her mouth.

We shared a cab the next day with another adopting father going to the Embassy to pick up visa's. This was his second Guatemalan adoption and he was pretty nonchalant about the process. We returned to the same waiting room at the Embassy and chatted with some of the familiar faces from the day before. Finally they began calling names. We heard ours and Tess went to the window with our passports to retrieve EM's passport with her US Visa. Within minutes we were back in a cab for our last night at the Westin.

Then next morning we took the hotel shuttle to the airport. Both Tess and I breathed a sigh of relief when we had checked our luggage, cleared security and finally filed onto the plane to leave Guatemala with our daughter. There had been too many trips from that airport without her. The flight, EM's first (I didn't take my first plane ride until I was 15). I had booked us in First Class. Coach is traumatic enough for adults on long flights. I wasn't going to inflict that on my baby daughter. She did reasonably well considering.

We touched down in Houston and Tess and I gave each other knowing looks. We had brought our daughter to the US soil. The unpredictable ebbs and flows of the Guatemalan legal system were behind us now. We went through immigration and handed them all of EM's documents. They escorted us to a backroom where the documents were examined. Finally the immigration officer stamped EM's visa and said we could leave. As we passed through the door we heard the officer mutter, "Congratulations."

It didn't matter. We heard marching bands in our heads and imagined fireworks and other sounds of celebration. We hugged our daughter close to us headed off to retrieve our luggage and catch the final flight home.

It has been two weeks now since our long journey ended. And already the pain and anxiety of the long process is beginning to fade. The waiting and worrying about when we could be with our daughter has been replaced with the day to day joys and worries about naps, feedings and dirty diapers. The process of adoption has been replaced by the process of parenting. And each time I place EM in her crib I look at her peaceful sleeping face and whisper, "Sleep well, hija. I am so glad we finally 'gotcha." Te amo." Then I watch for a few moments to make sure she is breathing and tiptoe out.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Hija - a homecoming, Pt. 2, the process of adoption

People ask lots of questions when you tell them you are adopting. 'Why Guatemala?,' is right up there at the top. There were many reasons we chose Guatemala when we started the process. It had fewer restrictions on age of parents. I am pushing 50 and Tess is in her early 40s. I'm too old to adopt in most countries.

Guatemala didn't require you to spend weeks in the country before you could adopt. Theoretically you could fly in, pick up your child and leave in a three-day period. Tess and I really laugh at that one now. Collectively we spent almost three months in Guatemala counting visits and the pick up trip. But that was our choice.

I think the number one reason we adopted from Guatemala was that most of the children are kept in foster homes rather than orphanages. Guatemalan adoptees tend to have fewer attachment issues. There are also almost no instances of fetal alcohol syndrome in Guatemalan children. Culturally, women don't tend to drink in Guatemala. And the poverty level keeps them from affording alcohol if they did.

'Isn't it expensive to adopt?,' is another one of the questions. Yes. But so is a pregnancy. So are fertility treatments. So is a car. So is a house. So is life. Once you are in the adoption process, cost and time become irrelevant. What is important is the child.

'Why does it take so long?' I hated that question more than any of the other questions. I wish it was a short process. It would be so much better for the children. But it is a process that involves two governments, lawyers, agencies and red tape beyond your wildest dreams. I wanted to scream at people, "We aren't buying a puppy, this is a child from another country." But I just smiled a fake smile most of the time and said, "That's just the process."

The long process starts by picking an adoption agency. There are tons of them. They all claim to have all the knowledge you need to complete a successful adoption. They have professionally done Web sites and promise they will hold your hand at every step. We chose a local one that didn't answer the phone, "Praise Jesus."

Once you have signed with an agency, you prepare a dossier with all of the documents required by the country you've chosen. You need certified copies of birth certificates that are then notarized and state sealed that they are indeed notarized. You also need the same for your marriage certificate. In general, you have to have at least three certified, notarized and state sealed copies of these document. Then there are financial records and recommendation letters. And you need a home study by a social worker that requires a biography and photos of you, your family and your house.

Oh and you need background checks by DSHS and homeland security. This includes fingerprints that are taken at one of the Homeland Security centers. Everything has to be sent to the Guatemalan Embassy in San Francisco where it is stamped and entered into their bureaucratic process. All of this requires processing fees and fed ex fees and fees just to process the fees.

Eventually you have gathered gathered every possible official paper you can and it is all sent to Guatemala. Then you wait for a referral of a child by a Guatemalan lawyer who has a contractual relationship with your adoption agency. Ours came on October 26, 2006. EM had been born on October xx.

We filed an I-600 or whatever number it is with the US Department of State. This began the pre-approval process. During that time we were also signing powers of attorney and getting pre-approval for a DNA test. There was family court in Guatemala that included a social worker interview with the birth mother. Many of these things were going on concurrently, but they all were required to move on to the next step in the process.

We visited in December to see our daughter for the first time. That experience deserves its own post. The day before we arrived, the DNA was conducted on our daughter and her birth mother to ensure that they were biologically related.

We visited for the second time in February. While there we learned we had received our Pre-Approval from the DOS and the social worker from the Guatemalan family court had completed her report. We hoped at that point that we'd bring her home by March or April.

For some reason, our lawyer dragged his heels and didn't submit our case to the final step in the Guatemalan process until late March. The final hurdle there was PGN, an office similar to the Attorney Generals Office in the US that reviews all adoption cases. We entered PGN on March 23. On May 10, our case was kicked out of PGN for a typo on our Power of Attorney document. Our lawyer had listed the wrong province of birth for our daughter. After some scrambling, our file was resubmitted to PGN on May 30. It languished there until July 6 when it was finally approved. As far as Guatemala was concerned, EM was now our daughter.

Tess quickly hopped on a plane and went to foster our daughter while we finalized our documents with the US government. This required getting final sign off by the birth mother. Then a new birth certificate needed to be issued with our names as the parent. This was followed by getting a Guatemalan passport. Once we had those documents, our lawyer submitted everything to the US Embassy on August 7. They added a new requirement at that time. We needed to get a 2nd DNA test to prove that our daughter was the same child who had had the first DNA test. This added two weeks to the process.

Finally on August 23, Tess went to the US Embassy to retrieve what everyone in the Guatemalan adoption world views as the holy grail: "Pink." Pink is the color of the piece of paper the Embassy issues when they grant you a final interview to get a visa to allow you to take your child to the US. Our appointment was August 28.

I scrambled to get roundtrip airfare for myself and one-way for Tess and EM. I arrived in Guatemala on August 26. Our interview took place on the 28th and we picked up the visa on August 29th. We were on the plane home on August 30th. The final step in the long process was handing a sealed envelope from the US Embassy to Immigration Officers in Houston. They took us to a backroom, opened the envelope, stamped several papers and finally the visa in EM's passport. The bored Immigration Officer handed us the passport and said, "There you go."

The process was over. Even now, I go numb when I think about it. I find myself writing about it clinically and detached. I think it is because now that it is over, I don't want to relive the pain of it. I don't want to pick that scab of emotions and ups and downs wondering if we would ever bring our daughter home.

But what is important to us now is that we are moving on with our lives together. Every night now I can kiss EM good night and not her photo. I know that when I wake up (to her gentle cries and coos from her crib) our day will be one of toys and bottles and bibs, not endless bureacratic process and emotional pain, wondering when...when she will come home. Because finally she is home.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hija - a homecoming, Pt. 1

On our initial descent into the Guatemala City airport, the pilot had pulled up from his first approach, citing a warning light on one of the flaps. After a long ten minutes, he announced it was only a glitch and we'd be landing "normally" in a few minutes. I didn't breath easy until the wheels touched asphalt.

This was my fourth trip to Guatemala in eight months and my first trip there alone. I stepped off the airplane noting that the airport was never the same in Guatemala. As with most of Latin America, it was constantly under construction at a Third World pace that defied logic.

It is the rainy season in Guatemala. The airport was hot and humid. The customs agent barely looked up after stamping my passport and retrieving my immigration form. I walked into luggage claim and waved off the baggage handlers eager to help. I was only waiting for one bag. Fortunately it arrived quickly and I prepared myself for walking the gauntlet outside Guatemala City's airport.

I passed throngs of people waiting for loved ones. I scanned the several signs held up by drivers waiting for clients. I ignored the inquiries from cab drivers and tour operators. I had just reached the end of the lines of people when a young man of about 28 approached me and asked, "Are you Tim?" I nodded, shook his hand and let him take my bag.

He led me over uneven concrete and gravel walks towards a parking lot. He pointed to a van. I smiled when I saw my wife waving at me. In her arms was the reason for our many trips to Guatemala.

"Say 'hi daddy, EM," my wife said, waving my daughters tiny hand. She shyly burrowed into Tess. They'd been together for six weeks in an apartment in Antigua, a small colonial town about 45 minutes from Guatemala City. I hugged them both and leaned to kiss EM's head. She burrowed further into Tess.

We piled into the van. I sat next to EM's car seat where she cast shy glances at me and smiled slightly with a heart melting toothless grin. We pulled into traffic and began the winding journey to Antigua. The van dueled with Chicken Buses, the colorful ancient form of public transportation most people in Guatemala commute on. I was reminded briefly of a scene from Ben Hur as our van's tires came precariously close to the hubs of one of the buses trying to cut us off. Driving in Guatemala is 90 percent horn and 10 percent steering. Somehow we avoided a collision.

I looked back at my daughter who began talking to me in a language that was neither Spanish or English. She looked back at my wife and then at me. The last time I saw my daughter was in April. It was torture not seeing her for four months. But that is one of the downsides of International adoption.

We arrived in Antigua, a centuries old Spanish town ripe with character and history. Two volcanoes rise above the town. One had erupted while Tess was there, lighting up the night sky like Roman Candles. When I arrived they were both shrouded in clouds.

Our van squeezed down a narrow cobblestone street lined with nondescript but colorful doors. It was hard to imagine, but the doors masked elaborate houses and courtyards with numerous apartments and businesses hidden from the street. One of doors, a red one, opened to the group of apartments where Tess had been living with EM since mid-July.

I marveled at the contrast of Antigua with Guatemala City, the only part of Guatemala I'd seen up until now. All of our trips beginning in December of last year had consisted of shuttle rides to the Westin Camino Real, six nights in the hotel, and shuttle rides back to the airport. Another downside of adoptions in Guatemala is that when you visit, it is not really safe to take your baby out of the hotels. The adoption community is rife with stories of Guatemala City police stopping foreigners with Guatemalan babies or the foster mothers delivering them to hotels and threatening to take them away unless a financial resolution can be agreed upon.

Antigua is just the opposite. It flows in a slow fashion almost untouched by the modern world. That is why when our adoption was final in the Guatemalan government's eyes, Tess chose to go to Antigua to begin the bonding process. There are probably at least a hundred other American mother's fostering their Guatemalan children while the glacier speed adoption process moves forward (and sometimes backwards). They moved about freely in this city that caters to tourists and Spanish students.

Tess' apartment is smaller than I had judged from the almost daily photos she sent me. But it was comfortable and safe. EM had overcome her shyness and was tugging at my pant leg while she played with Grover and other comforting toys. Tess turned on a small television and EM laughed in delight as her favorite programs on the Discovery Kids Channel flashed by, albeit in Spanish. I would soon become very familiar with High Five, Lazy Town, Backyardagains and of course Barney.

Tess was anxious to show me the town she had grown to know so well in six weeks of exploring while getting to know our daughter's personality quirks. I pulled out the Ergo Baby sling I'd ordered per Tess' instructions and we quickly strapped it on me. EM slid in and hugged my chest as if we'd been doing this every day. My heart warmed as I felt her tiny arms clutch me and her head nestled against my chest.

A gentle rain began falling as we stepped into the street. Tess handed me an umbrella. It was the rainy season and if you waited for the rain to stop before you ventured out, you'd never venture out.

Sunday's are very busy in Antigua. For some reasons marching bands were performing around the town square. We weaved in and out of Guatemalan families out for a stroll, teenagers in band uniforms, soldiers with ominous looking automatic rifles and American tourists. I was hypersensitive to the cobblestone streets and the delicate cargo I had in my daddy pouch clutching to me.

Antigua could be a scene from a Hollywood movie. Horse drawn carriages rolled by pulled by ponies that you could easily count the number of ribs on. Mayan women in traditional garb walked with unidentifiable loads on their heads. On a more sobering side, beggars with various deformities sat in doorways with begging bowls waiting for a few Quetzales to help them stave off hunger.

We passed shops, and ruins of churches toppled by ancient earthquakes. Squeezed in between were Internet cafes and finally a McDonalds that made the plastic molded versions back home pale in comparison. In addition to Happy Meals and Egg McMuffins, you could buy Guatemalan traditional breakfasts of black beans, plantains and eggs. American McDonalds have a lot to learn from that McDonalds.

Tess pointed out old churches and charming hotels where she'd paid to use the pool to entertain our new daughter. She took me into shops lined with masks, fabrics, and other crafts. I was relieved that Guatemala hasn't succumbed to the malady of tourist towns in Mexico. There were very few tacky t-shirts and shot glasses to be seen.

We stopped at a small cafe Tess had discovered and settled in for lunch. Tess extracted EM from my pouch and a waitress brought a high chair. I scanned the menu. It was in English and Spanish. This was fortunate because neither Tess nor I are fluent in Spanish. And the waitress wasn't fluent in English. I ordered a Coke light and I thought I noticed a slight frown on her face. We also ordered a couple of bottles of water and some sandwiches and she hurried away, pausing a moment to pat EM on the head and coo, "Bonita nina."

Tess began popping Cheerios into EM's mouth as she worked the crowd in the room, waving and flashing her gummy bear grin. Few could resist smiling in return. "That's my girl," I thought.

A Guatemalan couple with their baby were seated in the table behind me. EM began a conversation with the baby and they giggled back and forth. The sandwiches arrived with fresh fruit. Tess taught me to squeeze small bits of the fruit and pop them into EM's mouth. She accepted them readily like a baby bird being fed bits of worms or grubs. I became fascinated with the process of foraging in my salad for things she could eat. Fatherhood does strange things to you.

We finished up, paid in Quetzales and returned EM to her daddy pouch. As we past the Guatemalan couple and their baby, I smiled. The mother shot me a stony glare. I felt a twinge of embarrassment. Maybe it was my imagination. But I couldn't help but be sensitive to the fact that not all Guatemalan people are happy that more than 4000 babies a year are adopted by American couples and taken out of the country.

We wove our way home and I experienced the evening rituals that Tess had established for EM. We played. Then I helped shovel unappetizing looking goo and applesauce into her mouth (well mostly into her mouth). That was followed by a bubble bath in the kitchen sink, changing into pajamas, a bottle and reading of Buenas Noches Bebe before bed. As our daughter slept Tess and I held each other and talked of the long time apart. Neither of us could believe that we were finally going to be able to bring our baby home.

We went to bed after checking to make sure EM was breathing. I quickly crashed as the red eye flight caught up with me.

Around 6 a.m. I was aware of rustling from the Pack and Play where EM slept. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her pull herself up to standing and then I heard a small voice say, "Daddy!"

I fought back the tears and rose to pick up my daughter.

Author's Note: Call me superstitious, but I didn't want to write about our adoption until our daughter was safely home with us. It has been an emotional roller coaster that has finally wound down. EM was born in October 2006. We received a photo of her a week later and immediately fell in love. Our first visit was in December so we could spend her first Christmas together. That was followed by a trip in February and again in April. Tess went for another visit in June and finally went to foster her in mid-July. We brought her home on Thursday, August 30.

I plan to finish writing about our last days in Guatemala in future posts. I will be taking a couple days a week family leave through next June. I may start another blog to write about that experience. Somehow Dizgraceland doesn't seem to be the best venue for writing about how much I love my daughter.