It’s impossible for me to share the entire experience of our first adoption trip, but I want to share more than I already have.  Keeping in mind that I will omit certain details so as not to identify the country, I hope to give you a somewhat better sense of our adventure by describing a few aspects of our trip.  If you’re just joining my blog, we are in the process of adopting “Noelle” (not her real name), a 10-year-old girl from Eastern Europe.

  1.  When we went to the government office for our first referral, there was a protest going on, both outside the building and in the waiting area.  We literally had to push our way through a mob of angry, shouting people to get to our appointment.  When we returned later in the day to pick up the paperwork we needed, we had to sit in an office down the hall from the waiting area for almost two hours.  We listened as protesters with bands of white cloth tied on their foreheads, hats, or upper arms yelled at the deputy minister who came to speak with them, while police and military personnel stood by in the hallway just outside the office we were in.  It was rather surreal.  Fortunately, when we returned for our second referral nine days later, the protest had ended and it was business as usual.
  2.  We took a night train from the capital city to the region where the first child we met lives.  The train left shortly after 9 pm and arrived at 6 am.  While the sleeping bunks were not uncomfortable, the most memorable part of the trip was that the temperature was stiflingly hot.  We were also awakened during the night when the train stopped at a station to discharge and pick up passengers.  We made a point to take a daytime train when we returned to the capital, mainly because we didn’t relish the idea of sleeping on a train again, but also so we could see the scenery that we passed through.
  3.  We enjoyed the food.  Although most of the places we stayed were apartments with kitchens, we ate dinner out every day, and sometimes lunch.  It was not unusual for a restaurant meal for the three of us to be the equivalent of about $20 USD, and we ate very well–often having soups, alcoholic beverages, smoothies, and/or desserts in addition to our entrées.  The food quality was excellent and it was a welcome treat to enjoy these fine dinners after our long, stressful days.  One of the first things we learned was that you can’t just order water–you have to specify whether you want “still” or sparkling water.  We did eat multiple times at a restaurant featuring the traditional cuisine of the country, but we also enjoyed Italian food, as the apartment we stayed in while visiting the first child was within easy walking distance of three Italian restaurants.Peter eating smallItalian restaurant small
  4.  Ordering food was not as challenging as we might have expected.  We were fortunate that in the capital city and the first region, all of the restaurants we went to had an English version of their menu (except for McDonald’s, where most of the names of menu items sounded like their English names, other than whatever they called French fries).  However, in the town where Noelle lives, which is considerably smaller and not touristy, neither of the restaurants we went to had an English menu.  Google Translate has an amazingly cool feature where you can use the camera on your phone/tablet to read words and it will show you the English translation, but it’s not perfect.  We did our best to pick out items that sounded good, then pointed at them on the menu when the waiter/waitress came for our orders.  It worked well enough, other than the plate of sliced sausages I accidentally received when I was intending to order soup.

    Meter long pizza small

    Another adoptive family had shared pictures of this restaurant’s meter-long pizza, so we made a point to try it.

  5.  The journey from the capital city to Noelle’s region to meet her for the first time is one that I hope to never re-live.  We received the referral on a Thursday and our facilitator was anxious for us to have our official first meeting with Noelle on Friday so that we would be allowed to visit her over the weekend, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to meet her until Monday.  There were no places left on the train, so we went in our facilitator’s BMW with the facilitator and translator in the front seats and Don, Peter, and me in the back seat (me squished in the middle).  Our facilitator has a textbook Type A personality and is the most aggressive driver I’ve ever had the misfortune to ride with.  I was mostly okay when we were on divided highways, but found it considerably more stressful when he was passing vehicles with oncoming traffic.  At one point, as I was watching the speedometer needle edge over 130 mph (miles, not kilometers–that’s about 210 km/h), Peter (who is not normally prone to motion sickness) told me he wasn’t feeling well.  Thank God I had an empty plastic bag in our backpack and was able to pull it out in time.  The facilitator stopped on the side of the road for a couple minutes to let Peter get some fresh air, then continued driving the exact same way.  It was the longest five-hour drive I’ve ever taken; I can’t describe the relief I felt when we arrived at our destination.  We could have gone back to the capital with the facilitator and translator after signing the petitions for adoption, but we choose to stay another day to visit Noelle a couple more times.  That was wonderful in and of itself but also meant that we didn’t have to ride with our facilitator again.

    speedometer small

    Don surreptitiously snapped this picture of the speedometer while our facilitator was driving.

  6.  We had a very long trip home.  We left in the evening on Easter Sunday, taking a taxi from our hotel to the train station in a neighboring town, a two-hour train ride to the closest major city, and then another taxi to a hotel, arriving around midnight.  The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport, flew to Munich, then to Newark.  We were already feeling spent when we arrived in Newark, then we discovered that our flight to Detroit had been cancelled.  After waiting a ridiculously long time for customer service (even though we were second in line, the people ahead of us either had extremely complex problems or the staff was extraordinarily slow), we were re-booked on a flight the next day and given vouchers for food and a hotel room, since the official reason for cancellation was aircraft maintenance.  We scarfed some food in the airport because we were famished, then waited and waited for a hotel shuttle.  The hotel was oversold and they were going to walk us to another hotel, but ended up giving us a room.  By the time we got to our room, about 10 pm Eastern time, it felt like 5 am to us due to jet lag and we hadn’t slept yet.  We were zombie-like.  Furthermore, we didn’t have any toiletries or a change of clothes; we only had our carry-ons, because the rest of our luggage had already been checked before we learned that our flight was cancelled.  Although we could have taken an 8 am flight to Detroit, we didn’t want to have to get up in time to get to the airport by 6, so we had chosen an afternoon flight instead.  After sleeping in and having a disappointing breakfast at the hotel, we took the shuttle to the airport, ate lunch there, waited for our flight, flew to Detroit, waited for a shuttle to where we had parked, got our van, went out for dinner, then drove to my parents’ house, about an hour from the airport.  Simon and Clara were already in bed asleep before we arrived, so we didn’t see them until the next morning.  We spent Wednesday and Thursday at my parents’ house, recovering from jet lag and reconnecting with Simon and Clara, before making the all-day drive home on Friday.  Altogether, we were gone for three weeks.
  7.  If you’re a regular reader, you know what’s coming next.  Here’s my fundraising plug.  We still have many adoption expenses to pay for–Don and I will be gone for over a week when we fly back for court in May, then Don will spend about three weeks in Noelle’s country in June before she can come home (only one parent must travel for the pick-up trip, so I will stay home with the other kids to make arrangements easier and travel less expensive).  Since last week, I’ve updated my Hearts for Valentine page and had our Reece’s Rainbow FSP page updated.  Please check them out!  Your support is greatly appreciated.

After writing all this, I notice a certain theme–the portions of our trip when we were actually travelling tended to be stressful and exhausting.  Although I am eager to see Noelle again when we travel for court (not that long from now–we only have two weekends left to prepare), I am decidedly less enthusiastic about the travel involved.

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It’s a challenge to write about our trip without sharing information or photos that would identify the country or the child, but since our adoption is not finalized, I need to continue to maintain privacy about many details.  Here are just a few comments.

  1.  It was a long trip.  We were in Eastern Europe for two weeks.  With travel time and spending a couple days at my parents’ house recovering from jet lag before driving home, we were gone for three weeks.
  2.   Another pseudonym is needed.  I was using the name “Valentine” for child that we hosted and planned to adopt, but I didn’t make up that name–it was his identity-protecting nickname on Reece’s Rainbow.  Now that we’re adopting another child instead, it would be easier to talk about her if I had a name for her, but I don’t want to use her real name to protect her privacy until after the adoption is finalized.  I considered “Valentina,” but I think that might be confusing; she is a completely different person than Valentine (they don’t even speak the same language).  We’re planning to keep her current first name after the adoption but we’re giving her a middle name that we chose.  I’ll use that name for her until the adoption is final and we take custody of her.  It also just happens to fit the holiday theme–Noelle.
  3.   The trip would have been shorter if we had met the “right” child the first time.  As I previously wrote, the first girl we met was not ready to be adopted, and we had to go back to the capital city for another government appointment to get a second referral.  Our second appointment was nine days after the first one, so in theory, our trip could have been nine days shorter if we’d chosen Noelle the first time.  We were shown her profile at our first appointment (we didn’t know anything about her before then), but Don had his heart set on meeting the first child we met before we even went to the appointment.  She had been hosted last summer; her host mom (who is not eligible to adopt her because she is single and this country requires adoptive parents to be married) had given a glowing report on her hosting experience and sent us photos and videos of her.  When I saw that she had only been in care for a few years and that her mother had lost parental rights (as opposed to passing away), I was concerned that she might have difficulty bonding with me due to feelings of loyalty to her mother.  There was something about the expression on Noelle’s face in her profile photo that captivated me and the limited details of her history that we were given at the appointment didn’t raise similar concerns, so I would have chosen to meet her.  However, Don was determined to meet the first child and I didn’t feel I had a logical reason to argue for meeting the child we knew much less about, so I agreed to meet the first child, and now we know how that turned out.
  4.   I hope that the extra time was not a waste.  We were gone from Simon, Clara, our home, and our regular lives for a week and a half longer than we could have been.  We paid for an extra week and a half of lodging and food, along with train tickets for three of us from the capital to the first girl’s region and back again.  In some ways, I wish we would have skipped that experience to save the money and the time away, along with the heartache of a failed attempt.  However, it was a valuable experience for us to get to see the city and the boarding school/orphanage.  Noelle lives in a different region, in a very small orphanage that is more like a group home; if we had only met her, we wouldn’t have as clear a picture of what life is like for most older orphans in this country.  Even more importantly, I hope that the experience causes the first girl we met to reflect on her situation and be prepared to say “yes” to another family if/when one comes for her.  I’m hoping that she will be listed on Reece’s Rainbow (I’ve been told she can be, but it hasn’t happened yet) and I will advocate for her.  People are much more likely to adopt a child that they have met or at least someone has met (like Don, with his desire to meet her after talking with her host mom), so she may still end up with a family due to our involvement with her.
  5.   It was hard to be gone for Holy Week and Easter.  With everything going on (our second appointment was on Holy Thursday and we met Noelle for the first time on Good Friday), I didn’t give Holy Week the attention that I have for the past several years.  The couple that owns the small hotel we were staying in invited us to attend the Easter Vigil service at their church.  We assumed that it would be a Catholic church since they were celebrating that weekend instead of the next, like the Orthodox churches (which are more common in Noelle’s country), but we were surprised to find that it was a Polish-language church.  The service was long (about 2 1/2 hours) and we could only understand a handful of words (mostly names).  We generally understood what was happening because the Mass/Easter Vigil format was the same (with a few variations, like the blessing of baskets of Easter bread before the service and much more vigorous bell-ringing by the altar servers).  I imagined that some very distant relative of mine in Poland was at the Easter Vigil service at the same time. All in all, it was a memorable experience.
  6.   Now we wait for court.  We just found out the date yesterday–it will be May 10th.  We’ll fly over earlier that week to visit Noelle a few times before court.
  7.   You can still donate to help with our adoption expenses.  I need to get our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship page updated to say that we’re adopting Noelle instead of Valentine, but donations there are still US tax deductible and will still go towards our adoption.  I also need to update my Hearts for Valentine page.  I will still make a poster and put it up in Noelle’s room, so please send a photo if you haven’t already!

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We had our second appointment on Thursday, the 29th, and chose to meet a 10-year-old girl.  We left Thursday afternoon for the region where she lives and met her on Friday morning.  It was a completely different experience from meeting the first child; this girl was super excited about being adopted.  We hit it off immediately; Don and I both agreed on Friday that she was the one and we signed the petitions for adoption on Saturday.  We visited her again on Sunday before leaving for home.  58 grueling hours after leaving our hotel, we arrived at my parents’ house in the Detroit area, where we are currently resting and re-connecting with Simon and Clara before making the all-day drive back home.

Trying yet again

Long story short, the girl we were meeting with was not ready to be adopted, so we are headed back for another appointment to choose another child.

We met with her seven times over six days.  Although she liked us, she was not willing to commit to being adopted.  She has only been in care for a few years and still has strong ties to her birth family.  She is in the orphanage with two cousins (who are not available for adoption) and has phone contact with her mother and aunt.  The aunt told her that she couldn’t be adopted, that she couldn’t leave her brother and sister (her cousins—they lived together before they were taken into care), and that her mother was going to come get her (which is not true—the mother’s parental rights have been terminated).  Obviously, this caused her a lot of internal conflict.  The orphanage director, a caregiver, and our facilitators all tried to help her understand that she won’t be returning to her birth family and that she would have a better future being adopted than staying in the orphanage, but it was too much for her.  We think she needs time to process it all, understand her situation, and decide that she wants to be adopted period before she will be ready to decide to be adopted by any particular family.

This has been such an emotionally wrenching process.  If you are the praying type, please pray that the next child we meet with will be the right one.  With our approved dossier, we are allowed to meet up to three children, but after Valentine being adopted and this girl not working out, I don’t know if we would have it in us to go for the third appointment if we have another loss.

In Eastern Europe

I’m sorry for the long silence.  Here’s a brief adoption update.

We left home early in the morning on the 17th, arrived in Eastern Europe on the 19th, had our appointment on the 20th, took an overnight train to the region where the child we chose to meet lives, and have met with her every day from the 21st until today (3 visits so far).  I don’t want to give many details at this point, but we have been meeting with an 11-year-old girl.

This trip has been both physically and emotionally exhausting.  It’s hard to find the energy to write much; I hope to share more later.

A change in plans

In my 7 Quick Takes post last Friday, I said there were things going on behind the scenes that I couldn’t share.  I am now able to share them with you.  A little background for new readers of my blog: we hosted “Valentine,” a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe, for 10 weeks last summer, and have been working to adopt him.

After we received our appointment date last Monday, one of the facilitators from our team contacted Valentine’s orphanage to see if they could get his 3-day sputum test for TB started (it’s required for his US visa and it takes 8 weeks to get the results).  At that time, they learned that Valentine is being adopted by a family from his country.  They have already had court and are now in the waiting period before taking him home.  Apparently Valentine was aware that we were working to adopt him (our facilitators had been in touch with his orphanage director in the fall) and chose to be adopted by this family.  It’s understandable.  He clearly wanted a family very much; how could he say no to a family that spoke his language and was right there in person, wanting to adopt him, when he hadn’t seen us in months?

It was a big shock to us to learn this just as we were preparing to travel to Eastern Europe and see Valentine again, after all the time and work that it took to complete our dossier and have it approved.  We needed a few days to grieve and decide what we were going to do before sharing this information.  We are now preparing to travel to Eastern Europe to attend our appointment and seek a referral for another child who fits our home study approval.

This is a whole new ballgame now–instead of traveling to be reunited with a child whom we already know and who already knows us, we are going to meet a child we’ve never met before, try to decide if he/she will be a good fit for our family, and try to show him/her that life with us would be better than staying in the orphanage because he/she needs to consent to the adoption.  We have identified a few children who interest us, but we don’t want to share details at this time.  We will share more after our appointment, when we have chosen a child.

This has been a very stressful week for us, but we are now feeling more peaceful about it all.  I trust that God has a plan here and that everything will work out.  While we are deeply disappointed to have lost Valentine, we are happy for him that he has a family, and now another child will have a family also.  I know that losing Valentine is probably a shock and a disappointment to you also and we appreciate your support as we go forward on this journey.

7 Quick Takes #61

  1.  Our dossier was approved and we got our appointment date!  The current plan is that we will leave here on the 17th to drive to Don’s parents’ house.  We fly out on the 18th, arrive on the 19th, and our appointment is on the 20th.
  2.   We’ve decided to bring Peter with us.  Simon and Clara will stay with Don’s parents.  Leaving Clara behind will be very hard for me because she’s not old enough to understand why we’re gone and when we’re coming back, but bringing her with us would be a lot of work and a major distraction.
  3.   There are things going on behind the scenes here.  I wish I could write about them now because I’ve been trying to be transparent and share our story as it unfolds, but Don feels a need for privacy at the moment.  Stay tuned and I will share when I am able.
  4.   We have so many things to do to get ready to go.  We have ordered useful items like a mini travel coffee maker thing (for Don; I don’t drink coffee) and electrical outlet adapters.  I just finalized my selection of pictures for a photo album featuring our family and home that we will show to the orphanage director and social workers, who must approve the adoption.  We have lists galore–lists of things to do and things to bring and things to pack for Simon and Clara.  There is so much running through my mind right now, I’m having a hard time sleeping, which is not helpful.
  5.   Homeschooling productivity has taken a hit since we got the news on Monday.  I didn’t do lessons with Simon at all on Monday or Tuesday and only managed about half of his lessons on Wednesday and Thursday.  Peter has fared somewhat better, but Thursday was the first day this week that he finished all his work and I managed to check it all.  Next week will be as bad or worse; not only will we be packing and doing our final preparations but Simon is going to be participating in an ice show and has two rehearsals, a photo session, and then the final performance on Friday.  (There are actually two shows, but he’ll miss the Sunday one.  I’m relieved that he will be able to perform in the first one at least; I’ve been stressed about the possibility of him having to miss it ever since I realized that we might be traveling sooner than we had originally expected.)
  6.   We finally managed to take a family picture.  Previously, the only picture with all five of us in it was a goofy one taken last March.  On Monday, we made the effort to set up a backdrop and decorate it with a heart banner I bought for 25 cents on clearance after Valentine’s Day, then took a bunch of pictures using the timer feature on our camera so we could choose the one that turned out best.  It’s not exactly professional-looking, but I’m happy with it.  However, we’re about to add another child, so this family picture will soon be obsolete.Family portrait small
  7.   And now, my obligatory fund-raising plug.  Travel will be our biggest expense for this adoption; we will be making three trips to Eastern Europe.  If you’d like to make a US tax-deductible donation towards our adoption expenses, you can donate to our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account.

Thanks for reading!  I don’t expect to post next week because I will be running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get everything prepared to leave.  We do expect to have internet access while we are in Eastern Europe and I will try to post something while we are there, but expect details to be limited.  While you’re waiting for me to post, you can find other bloggers’ 7 Quick Takes to read by clicking the graphic below.