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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Finding an Agency that Matched

Before I begin, I want to start by saying everyone's response to our posts has been AMAZING!  It's such a great feeling to know your love and support through this process!  It's also great to know our post is being read- 98 people read my last posting the day I posted it!  WOW!  Thank you all for loving, supporting and caring for Ron and I in this adventure!

I wanted to begin this post with a quick review of "What to Expect When Expecting."  Ron and I went to watch the movie last night and thought it was great!  It was definitely funny at times, but touching and real in many others.  The thing we weren't expecting was that adoption was part of the story line.  Jennifer Lopez's character and her husband went through a Hollywood version of the Ethiopian adoption process.  Although it wasn't 100% correct (Ron and I won't be picking up our son wearing a white cape to a musical procession), it was still really neat to see!  I think the movie did a great job illustrating that adoption is an equally valid method of building a family!  Adoptive parents experience many of the same hopes and fears as pregnant parents, but with a lot more paperwork and rules.  We recommend the movie to everyone looking for good laughs and warm, heart-felt stories!

In the last post, I hinted at the challenge of finding an agency.  There are literally HUNDREDS of adoption agencies around the US, so deciding on one is a challenge.  One of the beauties of international adoption is that we can use any of them- we aren't limited to only the agencies in Washington.  Once Ron and I knew we wanted to adopt from Ethiopia, we then started looking at agencies that worked there.  Again, we used the adoption.gov website for information provided by the State Department.  Although Ethiopia is not a Hague Association country for adoptions (to be discussed later), Ron and I wanted to use a Hague certified agency.  We thought, "The more credentials, the better."  The adoption.gov website lists all Hague certified agencies by state (it also lists the ones denied of accreditation as well).

Once we narrowed down our agency list from hundreds to a hundred or so, I went to the Ethiopian Embassy website (http://www.ethiopianembassy.org).   There, I found the adoption page (http://www.ethiopianembassy.org/OtherResources/OtherResource.php?Page=AdoptionEthiopianChild.htm) and researched agencies that are approved to conduct adoptions in Ethiopia.  We then went through our two lists to find a Hague accredited agency that also was approved in Ethiopia.  We narrowed our list down to 30 or so!

From there, we just started exploring agency websites.  We were looking for credentials, information provided, ratings and references.  Also, we were looking for an agency that "felt right."  I e-mailed and called over 20 agencies.  Many were really supportive of Ron's and my unique situation.  A few weren't :(.  One agency told me that because Ron was in the military, they wouldn't work with us as they view the military as a too unstable environment for a child...ouch!  Needless to say, we're not using that one!

After narrowing our list down to about 5 agencies, Ron and I began looking at costs.  Ok, we actually looked at costs over 2 years ago when we really started talking about adoption to see what we were getting into and if it was something we could even afford.  We knew African countries were some of the least expensive to adopt from (especially considering the costs of adoptions from Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Russia).  For those that know me are well aware of my hesitation talking about money.  Although I'm going to try to avoid specifics, for the purpose of this blog, money will be mentioned.  I think it's important for other families to see that adoption is possible and understand our thought processes with the financial side.  Plus, understanding the financial costs of adoption means that we're not taking adoption lightly!

Adopting from Ethiopia involves many aspects: agency fees (for the agency's services), Ethiopia international fees (for the Ethiopian government and their orphanages), HomeStudy fees (to be viewed eligible to adopt in the US), immigration fees, travel fees, visa fees, post-placement fees, etc.  After reviewing the costs of numerous agencies (probably over 100), we realized there are some costs that can't be changed or controlled.  For example, our I-600 form for the immigration service is a flat rate of $920.00.  The Ethiopian government fees are anywhere from $8,000-$10,000.00 (which can't be controlled by us).  However, what we could control was the agency fees.  In looking at agencies, the TOTAL cost for an adoption for Ethiopia (paperwork, notaries, translation, travel, agency/international fees, HomeStudies, immigration, visas, travel, courses, post-placement, etc.) is $22,000 -$34,000.00 (which is actually a bargain in the adoption world).  Ron and I have chosen a program and plan that will keep us at the very low end of this range.  Don't worry, we realize it's a lot of money, but the finances will be something to be discussed later...

We then narrowed down our list of agencies to the ones that were most cost efficient.  We initially decided upon WACAP in Seattle, WA.  We actually went to meet with them 4 weeks ago!  We LOVED the staff and their program.  We even completed our application and paid our application fee.  However, we were told that the current wait time to adopt a young, healthy Ethiopian boy was 2-3 years with the agency.  The reason is that WACAP runs their own orphanages and currently, many of their orphanages are full of children that are not eligible for adoption- their families have not given up parental rights.  As such, WACAP provides care for the children because they drastically need it, but their orphanages are "full."  This has slowed down the adoption cycle.

Since Ron and I will be in Thailand for 3 years and I won't be earning my American salary, we figured now is the perfect time to create our family as I won't be working at a career job, just local hire.  Plus, in the next year, Ron will have free time (yes, that is an actual word to you military folk).  Ron's free time and flexibility this next year will enable Ron to travel to Ethiopia to pick up our son without interrupting his studies in the following years.  We then decided we wanted to complete our adoption in the next year or so, not next 2-3 years.  This realization brought us back to the drawing board...

I found A Love Beyond Borders agency in Denver, Colorado, which I LOVED!  When I called to ask about their Ethiopian program, I was blown away!  They currently don't have a true wait list- their families are referred/matched to a child within 1-2 months of all the paperwork being completed!  I was shocked!  In researching them further, I learned that they conduct all of their Ethiopian adoptions through Adoption Avenues Agency out of Portland, OR.  I found Adoption Avenues' website and contacted them directly to see how they worked and if I could cut out the middle man!

Adoption Avenues Agency (AAA) is an agency run by a Romanian M.D.  I knew immediately that I liked that the manger had a straight train of thought, was to the point and offered no fluff!  Just what Ron and I wanted.  We know we have a very unique situation and wanted an agency to work with us.  We also didn't want to pay for the "fluff" as we are having to do our own research for our situation.  I called AAA (http://www.adoptionavenues.org/) and spoke with Radu's (the founder's) daughter.  She told me that her dad was in Washington DC on a layover going to Ethiopia.  Within 30 minutes, Radu called me back!  He was just as I had imagined: kind, honest, encouraging and factual.  Most of all, straight-forward and supportive of helping Ron and I!  We got a, "Sure, no problem!" and "I help families overseas all the time" from Radu!

After hearing our entire situation, Radu told me that if we worked hard to complete our HomeStudy, our immigration and our Dossier (all to be discussed later) and submited everything to Ethiopia by the beginning of August, the remainder of the timeline would be in his control.  Radu told me that Ron and I could adopt our son from as soon as December of this year (2012) to as late as July, 2013, depending on our situation.  Once the Ethiopian government accepted our Dossier, the agency then would work directly with government-run orphanages to find our "match" (or son).

Ron and I researched AAA further.  People either love or hate the agency.  Those that loved it love that Radu is a man of few words but huge results.  At the end of the day, he gets things done.  Those that hated the agency wanted more communication and directions (fluff).  Ron and I both read the reviews and felt very confident in our decision.  We wanted a straight-forward agency that produced results that also provided us enough freedom to conduct the adoption in our unique situation! 

We completed AAA's application and mailed it in last weekend (a very happy day)!  On Thursday, Radu sent me our "check-list" to get things going!  I spoke with Radu this past Monday and was told that we should have our HomeStudy done "yesterday!"  That meant, "Get a move on it!"  So Ron and I got moving...with the HomeStudy...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS

In writing this blog, I'm going to try my best to keep things as organized and comprehendible as possible.  However, I'm finding this more and more difficult to do as nothing is really comparmentlaized in the adoption process!  I know it's only my 3rd blog post, but I apologize in advance if some of the blogs seem to run together or if they involve multiple ideas!  

This post is all about ETHIOPIA and the decisions Ron and I made to reach this big DECISION!  As stated before, Ron and I always considered adoption our Plan A for starting a family- we just didn't have the countries nailed down.  Once we found out we were moving to Thailand, a lot of decisions were made for us!  We knew where we would be living for the next 3 years and could begin working on our 3-4 year timeline (which is very difficult to actually be able to do with a military life)!

In 2000, Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act.  Under this law, children adopted overseas by American parents are automatically granted American US citizenship the moment they land on US soil.  This is pending that the parents followed the rules set by the host-nation, have legally adopted the child in the host nation, and completed the proper US Immigration forms and the I-600/I-800 adoption form (forms that make the parents eligible to adopt abroad from the US side of things).  Even though we are going to be living abroad during our adoption process, it is reassuring to know that our children will be granted US citizenship after we adopt them.   However, to ensure that they receive their citizenship and all of the benefits the come with it, we had to choose a country that would enable us to legally adopt our child in that country as we will not be residing in the US to finalize the adoption.



Ron and I knew we wanted to adopt a child from Africa.  As stated previously, I love the cultures and landscapes in Africa and have always been drawn to the continent.  Additionally, knowing that the continent contains the poorest nations on earth was a large pull for Ron and I to look there.  The US State Department has an excellent website devoted to intercountry adoptions: http://adoption.state.gov.  Ron and I explored the website and read the country information for every country in Africa.  At first, we looked into Kenya.  But Kenya requires that the adoptive parents live in that country for an extended time, which we wouldn't be able to do.  We then researched Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Ethiopia was the only country in Africa that would enable us to have a finalized adoption before we left Ethiopia with our son.



The reason for this is that Ethiopia requires two trips to complete an adoption: the first trip is to meet your child for the first time (YAY) and for the Ethiopian Court hearing to legalize your adoption.  After this trip, the adoptive parents are required to leave Ethiopia and return a few weeks later once all the paperwork has been completed.  This second trip enables you to complete the adoption and leave with your child as an Ethiopian citizen with a US Visa (remember this changes once they reach American soil).  Not all countries require two trips, and it is only the countries that require two trips that have adoptions fully completed when the child is brought to the US.  For the other countries, the adoption must be completed in the US court system or through follow-ups with social workers and the adoption agencies.  Although Ron and I were interested in Rwanda and the DRC, we knew that those countries did not meet our needs with the actual adoption process.

It is interesting to note the increase in African countries open to American adoption.  Many adoption agencies are beginning "pilot programs" with many African countries.  These seem like exciting programs and ways for families to have short wait times for their adoptions, less adoption fees and an opportunity to adopt children from impoverished/war-torn nations.  If you're considering adoption, I would strongly recommend looking into these countries.  The children are TO DIE FOR cute!  http://www.bbinternationaladoption.com/waiting_children.shtml

So Ron and I decided upon Ethiopia due to its economic status (1 in 10 chidden never live to their first birthday, over 50% of the children never attend school), as well as its adoption laws.  Both of these seemed to fit exactly what we were looking for.  To top this all off, Ethiopia is a very established country in the adoption world!  There over over 30 American adoption agencies that the Ethiopian government has approved to conduct adoptions in Ethiopia.  This past year, over 1,200 children from Ethiopia were adopted into the US.  In the past 13 years, over 12,000 Ethiopian children have been adopted into the US!  This is incredible considering that Ethiopia has over 5 MILLION orphans!  Ethiopia is one of America's largest adoption partners.  This was reassuring to Ron and I as we knew that there would be less uncertainity with this program.  Again, as we will be overseas while adopting, we wanted to limit as many controlled uncertainities as possible as we will have many obstacles to face (to be discussed later).



The majority of families adopting abroad request daughters (80-85% of families).  Why?  I don't know.  As such, Ron and I decided to ask for a son.  The wait time is much less for males and we want to open our hearts to a child that is in need.  We therefore decided on a son from Ethiopia.  This was an easy decision once we heard the stastitics!  After all, the goal through our adoptions is to have our children no longer be orphan statistics, but members of a loving family where numbers don't matter! :)

A third decision we had to make with all of this was the age of our son.  At first, Ron and I were open to adopting a child 0-4 years of age.  We thought adopting a toddler would be a lot of fun.  Additionally, most parents adopting request an infant (0-1 year of age), so there is a shorter wait time for older children and again, we would be helping out those in need.  However, after talking to various adoption agencies and watching "Gotcha" videos online (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lr26swseGw0), we decided to keep our request for a son 0-2 years of age.  By the time we actually adopt our son, he will be 1-2 years old, which we feel is a perfect age for us!



So after MONTHS of deliberation, Ron and I decided on a young boy (0-2 years old) from Ethiopia for our adoption.  This was a huge step!  But believe it or not, it was one of the easiest decisions we will make along this journey.  After this decision was made, we then had the task of deciding on an adoption agency...


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why Adopt?


Ron and I have been talking about adopting for the past 3 years (pretty much ever since we met).  While dating, we had many conversations regarding our future, what we wanted out of life, and what we saw a future family.  Adoption was a commonality between both of us.  It was something that we shared and was a reassurance that we both wanted the same things in life.  Our wants for adopting began differently, but have molded to be the same.
Growing up in Asia, I saw first hand the effects of poverty, mal-nutrition and lack of health care has on the world's children.  When I was 15 and moved to China, I knew that I would adopt in the future after seeing the children there.  For some girls, there is a calling to be a mother, to be pregnant and give birth.  I have never been that way.  I have always wanted to be a mother, but have never envisioned being pregnant.  Instead, I knew that if someone gave me a child and said it was mine, I would love it unconditionally as mine.  Different people are called to do different things.  Adoption is one of my callings.  I don't feel the need to create life, but I feel a very strong need to save lives. 

Since high school, I have been drawn to children in the numerous countries I have visited.  My heart has been melted with their eyes and my heart has been warmed with their innocent smiles.  My devotion to adoption has increased with time.  When I was in college, I traveled to Africa with my family.  I fell in love with the continent, the people, and the wonderful cultures.  My experiences in Asia and Africa led me to believe that those were the locations I would adopt from.

Ron has always told me that he wanted to adopt.  When we first met, Ron envisioned adopting when he was older.  He said he felt the need to "save those that the world has lost."  Adoption was one of the many things that brought us together.  Since then, Ron and I have become even more excited about adoption and building our beautiful family.  We envision our family as one full of love, laughter and diverse cultures.  It will be one that represents the beauty of the world as we have experienced.

Last night, Ron and I were talking about the adoption process.  He stated, "You know, this will be the greatest thing that will ever happen to us.  We will be opening up our lives to new cultures and lives that otherwise we would not know.  It will enrich our lives in ways we cannot even imagine."  I completely agree!

We are not adopting because we are "more Christian" than others or feel a "higher need," as we have been told.  We are adopting because it is something that we feel in our hearts is the right path for us.  It is a path that will fulfill our lives and make us whole.  We feel that we have a gift to give orphaned children: an opportunity for a family, love, support, an education, freedom and healthcare.  It is a gift we are ever eager to share and give.

Ron and I understand that people will always question our want to adopt.  They will wonder, "Can you have your own children?"  "Why would you adopt when you can have your own?" "Will you ever have your own kids?" or "Why don't you just adopt a white baby from the US?" 

We realize that not everyone understands our want/need to adopt and that many people never will.  Adoption is our focus right now and our way of having children for the current time.  Our dearest family and friends have stood behind us along the way with their unwavering love and support, and they will continue to do so.  However, all that really matters is that for Ron and I, adoption means the world and is an amazing gift we can give two children: a boy from Ethiopia and a girl from Thailand.

The world currently has 157 million orphans, a STAGGERING number.  Ron and I are going to reduce that number by two and build a beautiful. multicultural American family the way we have always wanted!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

We're Adopting!

We're adopting- that's our way of proclaiming, "We're expecting!!!!... except that we don't know the exact date or age our child will be!"  I can only imagine the joy our friends and family have experienced when finding out they were pregnant, and then sharing that news with loved ones, or the anticipation they feel waiting for when the child is born.  Although I'm not pregnant, Ron and I are eager to share that same news with our family and friends.  And we will have very similar anticipation, anxiety, fears, hopes and dreams over the next few months (or even years) while we experience the adoption process.  We did not find out we were "expecting" from a pregnancy test or missed period.  Instead, our process began over 2 years ago when we had in-depth conversations about what our future family will be and the children we will have.  We knew when we decided that we would adopt.  Since then, we have conducted hundreds of hours of research regarding adopting, discussing the process with numerous adoption agencies, and talking to families who have recently adopted.  Almost 10 days ago, Ron and I made the first and most important step: we finalized our adoption agency and filled out our first official application form!  We have been accepted into the system and are well on our way to receive our future children!  

We decided to begin this blog as a way to document our adventure with adopting.  To many family and friends, adoption is foreign or something they are not very familiar with.  We hope that this blog is educational for them and will further encourage their joy and excitement for our pending arrivals.  We also want to share our story with those considering adoptions.  There are many factors to consider and the process seems so daunting on the surface.  We hope that this blog serves as an inspiration and reassuring guide to those following our footsteps.  Finally, we hope that this is a way to document our adventure for our future children.  We want them to know that although they may not even be born yet (or they may be waiting in an orphanage across the globe), Ron and I already love them unconditionally and we CANNOT wait to bring them home to open arms and loving hearts!


And so this adventure begins...