Our adoption journey started while my husband and I were still dating, though we did not know it. At one point, we had discussed family size – three children sounded about right. Then my husband-to-be said, “What if we can’t have kids?” My quick answer: “Then we’ll adopt.”
That subject did not come up again for about fourteen years. In those years we had three boys, had paid off our loans and while we didn’t have a lot of money, we had enough. That is until God put the idea of adding another child to our family, this time a little girl, from China, through adoption! We had little idea of what international adoption entailed, but we did know of an adoption agency in a nearby city. We made an appointment to talk to someone about adopting from China.
When we arrived for our appointment, we were shown to a small conference room and told that “Maria” would soon be there. Thirty minutes passed…. I leaned over to my husband and said, “Do you think this is some kind of a test? Like maybe they have a camera in here, and they are checking how patient we are?” After forty-five minutes, we decided we were wasting our time and should have definitely passed any “patience test”. Turned out Maria had forgotten about us! She apologized and ushered us into her office.
This was early in 2001; she gave us the time frame of that era:
Referrals would take about about a year
Travel was two weeks
Most of the referrals were younger than one year old
Then I asked the question that was in the back of my mind, “What might keep us from qualifying?” She sort of chucked, “You don’t have a criminal record do you? You need to be married for X number of years, and oh, you need to make $10,000 income per person in your household plus the new child.”
We sat there quickly calculating, “Umm, I guess that leaves us out.” I regretfully started to stand. She stopped us and asked how close our yearly income was to that magical amount. My husband told her and explained the 401 K plan his company had in place and the other benefits they provided. We also added my small income from making quilts. She pondered a little and said, “Tell you what, I am traveling with a group next week and I will ask our contact in country if he thinks you would be approved.”
Over the next three weeks, my father-in-law offered to let us buy a tract of land next to our house, and we were seriously considering it. My husband told me later while he prayed about buying this land, he just didn’t feel comfortable and wasn’t sure why. We found out why when Maria called. Her words were, “Get started on your dossier.” I had no clue what a piece of art that would be, but page by page, hurdle by hurdle we put it together. According to our estimates, those precious documents were in NYC during the 9/11 attacks. They did make it to China and thirteen months later, we received a FedEx package with a picture of our daughter!
I told Maria during our wait that I was sure one day I would get a phone call saying, “Oh sorry, you don’t really meet our criteria”. Only after we decided to add another child to our family did I realize how many doors God had opened for us to adopt the first time.
After Hope was home about a year, we realized our family was not complete. We knew that the wait times had become shorter and there were many adoption agencies in the area. We approached our adoption agency during the one-year-post-placement visit. We had a new social worker by this time, as Maria had moved on. This social worker did not see how a family our size would be able to afford another child. So we tried to forget the idea of another child. But, since there were so many other adoption agencies in the area, it wouldn’t hurt to ask…. would it?
By this time, we had email and three hours of internet a week! I used my time wisely and gathered phone numbers and email addresses. The first three agencies all gave me the same answer I was getting from my new Yahoo Group friends: unless you make $10K per person in the household plus the new child, you just don’t qualify. That is until I called “one last” agency. The kind lady on the other end gave me a refreshing reply, “Send me an email with your specifics… income level, 401 K, stocks, loans and anything that we could take into consideration.”
I gave her all the positive information we could find. Together we planned a dossier China couldn’t refuse. We had graphs and pie charts (we didn’t send all of them). We had a chart showing in detail where we spent our money. I went to our twenty-one cubic foot freezer and estimated the value of the food we had stored there. We generously assigned value to our family heirlooms. I was very happy for the Microsoft Money program that I had used to keep track of our family’s expenditures; I used it to gather the numbers.
Our dossier was in China by May 2005, and on January 25, 2006 we received an email with an attached photo. Apparently, God just moved our paperwork through that matching office and no one noticed that we didn’t have big enough numbers on our income affidavit.
Faith became our daughter in March of 2006.
Three years later, our hearts still pulled toward adoption, but by then things had changed drastically. Families who had their paperwork logged in mere months after ours were still waiting and there was a Special Needs program and there was internet and there were agencies who posted information on the Special Need password protected sites. One day we “met” our new son, through a video. We had no home study and our income was still on the low side, but wait! Our oldest son was almost eighteen and technically not a dependent. I called the agency, talked to someone in their China department… and was told that “things are different these days, you can get approval from China first, then you have between three and six months to get your home study finished and sent to China”.
By now I knew the “problem areas” for our approval, so we pulled out the numbers again and showed them how we spend our money. We wrote a letter-of-intent and the agency sent everything by email to Beijing. We were to receive a “Pre-Approval” by email as well! We waited and waited. I tried to be patient. The director was on holiday. We waited some more. After six weeks, I asked again and received this reply:
We receive PA (pre-approval) from the CCAA for this family; so they should quickly move forward: register with us and get HS and dossier done ASAP.
Alrighty then! The process had changed and yet it remained the same. We pulled out our old autobiographies, updated them, fingerprinted, wrote checks, and waited some more. One year later September 2010, we were in China finishing our adoption.
The addition of a son brought some lobbying from the girl side of the family….“we need another girl.” By now, we had learned that God would take care of the details over which we had no control. We didn’t want to shove any doors open, but knew we would test them gently. We decided that I should “just look” at some of the agency’s lists. I probably should be looking for a girl about five years old. After all, we were both past the age of forty-five and my husband had thought he wanted all his children born by the time he was forty. One day I was looking at BAAS’s (Bay-Area Adoption Services, CA) photo list and found “Mia” and my heart went thud!
But she was listed as a ten-month-old, and would now be about eighteen-months-old… which is pretty far from the age of five. I kept looking and found two little girls that were closer to five years old. I showed my husband their files when he came home, but first I showed him “Mia”. I told him was just kidding (kinda) and gave him what I knew about the older two girls. He wasn’t listening! “Go back to that other picture. What is her story?”
A few days later, he told me that he firmly believes that this little one is our daughter. He is not a “vision”-type of person, but he told me he had a vision in church and while it makes no sense and is not in his plan, this eighteen-month-old little girl is our daughter. I was very glad for his certainty. We waited a few weeks to move ahead – another certainty he had was when we received Pre-Approval from China within three days of sending our Letter of Intent.
Convincing our home study agency that we were this little girl’s family was another matter. We would have chosen another agency, but we had used them for three home studies, and we liked our social worker. We jumped each hurdle by being informed and checking with other families that had gone before us. I kept careful record of each email and phone conversation, fact checking along the way. We received our Pre-Approval on December 15, 2011 and I met Shekinah on October 15, 2012.
A few things we learned along the way:
1. Find your facts. Very often “China’s rules” and “agency rules” are two different things.
2. Don’t force closed doors. Nudge and test… but don’t force.
3. Keep records of your finances so you can easily pull out your information.
4. Don’t throw away any piece of paper. Waivers are possible, but you need an agency willing to work with you.