November is Adoption month and so it is with great pride that I share this incredible story with you today from Jennifer, my cousin. Adoption is near and dear to my heart as my own parents tried the adoption process back in the 80s when things were a little different. It is something I think about and hope is in my future for my own family. These stories from US adoption and International adoption are always so heartwarming. Whether or not you feel called to be an adoptive parent, I think everyone can appreciate the heartfelt stories of parents giving a child a better life. I know it is not easy to talk about such personal experiences, but I am so thankful Jennifer is here today to share her and Lily’s story. I hope by sharing her story that many are will feel enlightened and will spread awareness.
1) Give us a little background on your adoption story and why you chose international adoption.
Jeff and I were married in 2002 and were eager to start a family right away. After nearly 4 years of tests and surgeries, we were told there was 0% chance of us having a biological child. We grieved our “loss” for a couple of months, but we knew that God had other plans. 2 years into our infertility journey, I started to research adoption….just in case. Part of me knew that we would be heading down that road, so I wanted to be prepared with as much information as possible. Through my research I discovered that international adoption, particularly from Guatemala, suited us best. For one, I didn’t want to wait long. I had waited 4 years to become a mommy already, my heart couldn’t take another possible 4 year wait to adopt from China or the US. Wait times in the US vary. You have to wait to be picked by a birth mother. No one could give us a timeline. I also was scared of the birthmother coming back for her child, so I wanted as much distance as possible between us and the birthmother. I felt that international adoption would give us that peace of mind that our child could never be taken away from us.
2) What made you choose Guatemala and specifically international adoption?
We chose Guatemala for a number of reasons. As I said earlier, we wanted a sure thing. We didn’t want the possibility of the birthmother changing her mind in the end. We also liked the fact that the children were in foster homes, instead of orphanages. They received stimulation and bonding at the most critical times and chances of neglect were very low. We received monthly updates from doctor visits, photos and videos. A big factor was the wait time. At the time, we were told that we could have our baby home by 6 months old. This proved to be untrue; however, it was no fault of our agency. Due to unforeseen events, we didn’t bring our daughter home until she was 9 months old.
Another reason we chose Guatemala was because we were allowed to visit our daughter at any point during the adoption process. Some families were even able to move there to foster their child themselves, while they completed the adoption process. Unfortunately, this was not an option for us due to finances, but I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Guatemala when our daughter was 3 months old. It was on this trip that I met her for the very first time. I spent 5 amazing days with her, holed up in a hotel room. I have to say that this was both the most joyful and painful part of the process all at the same time. I cherish those 5 days we had, just her and I…my husband could not come because of his job. But, I also had to leave her…in a 3rd world country, with a woman I barely knew. Imagine for a moment that after meeting your baby for the first time, you have to leave her without knowing when, or if (more on that later) you will ever see her again. I remember so clearly watching our foster mom walk out of those hotel doors, with my 3 month old baby in her arms. I fell apart at that point and couldn’t get out of bed for 2 weeks after I got home. I couldn’t even unpack her suitcase of clothes that I brought back with me. But after all of that, I would still go back and do it again to be where we are today, with our beautiful daughter.
3) What was the most significant obstacle you had to overcome while going through the adoption process?
The most significant obstacle that we had to overcome while going through the adoption process was the threat of adoptions closing down in Guatemala. There was some corruption going on and unethical agencies who were taking advantage of birthmothers. There were rumors that adoptions would be cut off at any moment. Thankfully, I had done my research and knew which agencies to steer clear of. I found a very ethical agency, who was upfront and honest with us every step of the way. When we started this journey, babies were coming home at 6 months old. Then a few months into the process, the government agency in Guatemala started taking a harder, closer look at every adoption and this naturally slowed the process down. We just had to keep moving forward and hope that we could make it out of there before they shut the whole thing down. I would lay awake at night praying to God to please not take this from us. We had suffered so much already, please let us have our miracle. In the end, we did make it out, but barely. About 6 months after we were home, Guatemala adoptions to the US were shut down indefinitely.
While I understand why, it breaks my heart knowing that there are thousands of children left behind who will starve to death or never know the blessing of having a family to love them. These children will grow up in orphanages, that can barely take care of them. Guatemala is a very poor country and their own government cannot afford to take care of these orphans. We do as much as we can from here to help, but it will never be enough. I can only hope and pray that they can fix the system and open adoptions again.
4) Many people choose for personal reasons to keep their child’s adoption private. Is your daughter’s adoption spoken freely about in your home? If so, how has this evolved over time?
From the beginning we decided that we would never keep Lily’s adoption story from her or anyone else. To us, to not speak about it, would send the message to her that it’s something to be ashamed of. We are proud of her, her culture and our journey to each other. When we were in Guatemala on our pick up trip we went shopping and bought keepsake items for her that are still on display in our home today, nearly 8 years later. She has books about Guatemala, Christmas tree ornaments from Guatemala, dolls and a Christmas stocking that she proudly hangs every year. She doesn’t really ask many questions, because we talk about it freely in our home. I have 3 pictures of her birthmother that I show her every now and then because we like to see how she is starting to look like her more and more each day. Those pictures are not on display in our home because she hasn’t asked to have them. But, when she does, they will be placed in the most beautiful frame that we can find and she can place them wherever she feels comfortable.
Now that she’s 8, we have started to let her share her story on her own. We don’t tell people that she’s adopted because now we feel like it’s her story to tell, not ours. We like to be open about it, but we don’t want her to feel like that’s the only precious thing about her. I have to add that she looks so much like my husband, that people are shocked when they learn that she was adopted. We get such a kick out of it. We often hear from strangers, “she looks so much like her daddy!” when we are out somewhere like a grocery store or restaurant. We used to reply with, “Can you believe she’s actually adopted?” Now, we just go with it and let her decide on how she wants to handle it. Most of the time, she just goes with it too and doesn’t share. I don’t think the reason is that she’s ashamed, I honestly think it’s because she forgets that she is adopted. We even forget!
I have had a few people comment that “we thought about adoption, but don’t think we could love another child as our own”. While these comments offend most other adoptive parents, we look at it as an opportunity to share with them the miracle of adoption.
5) Is there a question you always get asked by friends, family, or strangers?
We always get asked “Why did you decided to adopt from another country while so many kids here in the US need homes?”
Our simple and honest answer to that is, “A child is a child no matter what country they are from, they all deserve a family”.
6) Bringing home your baby girl must have been the most incredible feeling. How would you describe that moment?
Our pick up trip and homecoming was something I will never forget for as long I live. My mom accompanied us on our pick up trip. Her perspective was that I had “labored” emotionally for 9 months and the hotel room in Guatemala was our delivery room. She wanted to be there for me, like any mother would be for her daughter who was about to give birth. I will cherish that gesture from her for as long as I live. This was also the first time my husband held his baby girl. Throughout the process he didn’t get as attached to her or as emotional as I got with every monthly update picture. He would say how beautiful she was, but I always felt like he didn’t feel the connection I felt. I guess it’s different for men. She wasn’t tangible to him yet, and that’s what he needed to start the bonding process. When they placed Lily in his arms for the first time, it was love at first sight for the both of them. He did not put her down for the rest of the trip. I had to keep asking to hold her and he was always reluctant to give her to me. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
The moment we touched down on US soil, my mom stood up in her seat behind me on the plane, kissed me on the top of my head and said, “it’s over now, baby”. And for the first time in 9 months, I started to breathe again.
We were met outside the terminal by all of our family members holding “Welcome Home” signs and waving miniature American Flags. They were able to breathe a sigh of relief now, as well. Lily instantly connected with her cousins and our 3 dogs at home.
I would like to say that everything was roses and unicorns after that, but it wasn’t. Our social worker and agency had prepared us for any bonding issues that she may have. Lily went from her birthmother at 2 days old to her first foster mother. Then at 6 months old, she was moved from that foster mother who she was already bonded with and placed with another foster mother. 3 months later, we come along and take her. She would not go to anyone else and would not let myself or my husband leave the room for even a second. She was afraid we were going to leave her or someone else was going to take her away. It was very hard on all of us. She really didn’t trust us enough to get close to us. She never really hugged us back or gave us kisses. She would only let us hold her. We had decided to co-sleep to try to accelerate the bonding process, but even then she kept her distance by sleeping with her feet by our heads and her head towards the end of the bed. Then when she was 18 months old, she came down with a nasty stomach virus that landed her in the hospital for 4 days. During those 4 days, I held her non-stop and even slept IN the crib with her. Then we had a breakthrough. Our first night home from the hospital, in the middle of the night, she crawled on top of me and put her arms around my neck and went back to sleep. It was the most precious moment of my entire life. When she was in the hospital, dangerously ill and we didn’t leave her behind, she realized that this is forever. We are forever a family.
Today, things are a lot different. She has formed amazing bonds and relationships with our entire family. She is cherished and adored beyond comprehension. She has the most beautiful relationship with my husband, her daddy. We could not imagine our lives without her. We are often told, “she is so lucky to have you guys”, but that statement always makes us uncomfortable because we feel that WE are the lucky ones. She has accepted us and adopted US.
7) Any advice to parents who are wanting to embark on this process?
My advice to anyone who wants to embark on this process is to take that leap of faith. It’s a HUGE leap and it can get downright ugly and heartwrenching, but you need to remember what you’re fighting for. And just as important, do your research! I researched for 2 years and it saved us a lot of heartbreak and money.
Adoption is such a blessing and is just as beautiful as childbirth. There will be ugly and ignorant comments, but as long as your child knows that he/she is loved and cherished, that’s all that matters.
Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing your personal story on international adoption with our readers today! I know there are many who are in this process or wish to begin it at some point, so I know your story will be insightful and helpful to many.