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. Enya-Maria had been born on October 18.

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, Enya-Maria 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 Enya-Maria. 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 Enya-Maria'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 Enya-Maria 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.
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