Road to Congo:Our Adoption Story Part 4

Welcome back! This is the final part of our adoption story- if you’ve been following along, then you know I’ve covered most of the big questions about our adoption. The “best for last” part is where we actually get to our destination and hold our children in our arms. This part of the story actually intertwines with everything else I’ve shared, but I’ve saved it for it’s own section.

We filed all of our adoption paperwork in February of 2011. I mailed all the application paperwork to both of our agencies and by tIMG_1954he end of that month, we were in the system and starting the process.

There are two  things that happened simultaneously once we filed applications. One, the Home Study which is where our domestic agency worked to make sure we were qualified to adopt with in person meetings, phone screens and background checks. Secondly, the international agency put us on the wait list for a referral.

Because I have a double triple dose of GSD (Get Shit Done), our Home Study went pretty quickly. I set up all the necessary meetings, got all the finger prints and background checks completed and prepared to move on. Only we didn’t. The nine months our international agency said it would take to complete the adoption turned into a year and a half of waiting for just a referral.

Finally in April of 2012 that we got our referral. Two boys. Their names were Ephraim and Elysee and I loved them completely. Ephraim was 9 months old and Elysee was 3.IMG_1825We were completely over the moon. Our agency said that it would probably be 6-12 months before we could pick up our boys. By now, however, we realized that maybe, just maybe, our agency wasn’t super intelligent when it came to timelines, so we figured it would be longer.

However, in July we got a call from our caseworker telling us that the boys we planned to adopt had been picked up from the orphanage by their birth mom. The story she told us didn’t sit right with us and by now, between the extended wait time and the other BS, I had had enough. So much was happening here- I was in contact with several families who were being completely jerked around by this agency, we found out that there was a 3rd brother in the orphanage who we knew nothing about and lots of conflicting information was moving around. It was scary and it left us not trusting an agency who had thousands of our hard earned dollars. (Remember the international adoption horror stories we didn’t hear ignored? By now we’d heard plenty!)

When we lost our referral, I just went into something like “You’re done f*&*# with me” mode and I started to push for reform. I think our agency had lost a few clients because of all of the crap they doled out (they have since closed due to fraud…imagine that) and they didn’t want to lose anymore so when I came around they decided they better just give me what I wanted (the more likely scenario is that Holy Spirit did everything and I got to see the miracles happen).

I called them up and said, “if you don’t give us a new referral in the next 24 hours, we’re dropping you”.  (Which actually would have been a huge financial loss to us and I’m not sure I was serious, but it got the ball rolling). We did give serious consideration to whether we were just in some kind never-ending trap with a fraudulent agency and several times, we almost gave up. You know when something in your life is super hard and you can’t decide if God is opposing you or if you are on the right track and that’s why it’s so hard? We kept asking, “Is this the time where you press in to God or is this the time where you jump ship because you are not even supposed to be on this roller coaster?”  That’s the adoption process. WHY IS THIS SO DAMN HARD? SHOULD WE QUIT? OR ARE ALL GOOD THINGS SUPPOSED TO BE THIS HARD? That was us for months. And months. And months.

Anyway, the next day, we got a new referral. These are the first photos we ever saw of our children. August 2012 was the first time we laid eyes on these two kids.

Honestly, this time, I was terrified. I was terrified to fall in love and lose again and I was terrified of Eloise (seriously. look at her). Let’s not even discuss the fact that these children are clearly not “2” and “5”. But when you are in the fire you make compromises to get out of it, so it was with some trepidation that we said “yes”.

Again, it was supposed to be “6-12” months before we could finally pick up our kids. And honestly, I didn’t have “6-12” more months in me. I had 2. maybe 3. So, again, I contacted our organization.

Through research I figured out that there were two ways to complete a Congolese adoption. One way was the way our agency was doing it, which was for them to file all the paperwork in the DRC. The second way was for the adoptive family to file all necessary documents in country and stay in the Congo until the documents are processed. Way #2 was known to be faster because the government in Congo was processing these documents quicker. To compare: way #1 was taking 3-6 months and way #2 was taking 3-5 weeks. So, being the professional that I am, I wrote a business proposal to our agency asking them for special consideration for us to be able to file our paperwork in country. It was an absolute miracle that they said “yes”.

What this meant was that we needed to be there for 3-5 weeks in order to file papers. This wouldn’t work for us, so we compromised and had Andy go to Congo alone to meet the kids and file the paperwork. It meant he would come home without the kids and then I would go and pick up the kids once that paperwork made it’s way through the system. This worked for us because Andy couldn’t get that much time off work and I didn’t think I could manage weeks alone in the Congo with two kids (after spending 10 days there when I went to pick up the kids, I am confident I couldn’t have managed).

In early December, our agency called to let us know that the rest of the steps were complete and Andy could travel. When Andy called me from Congo, he said, “I feel like two years of crap (the adoption process) has transformed into two beautiful kids.” (He was right, by the way, I’d do that two year sentence any day for these kids).

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He came home after meeting the kids and filing our paperwork and again, we waited. This was maybe the hardest waiting [just kidding, it was all hard] because now we knew the kids. Now we had invested everything and Andy had held the hands of our children. Just like everything else in this journey the unpredictability was very scary for me. We didn’t know when or if we’d be able to go back. Everything was so tenuous.

On Christmas day we still hadn’t heard that the paperwork was complete and so we still didn’t know if and when we could travel back. I sat on our couch on Christmas day and cried and cried. I was so afraid that our dreams were just out of reach and we would never have the kids we wanted so desperately.

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Our last Christmas together. A hike in the woods and me crying on the couch.

As it happened, just days after Christmas we were cleared to travel. We were so excited! I booked our tickets on Friday, December 30 and started to prepare for travel in early January. [On Saturday, December 31 I took that first pregnancy test that confirmed, that we were now expecting 3 kids in 2012- another miracle!].

Andy’s sister, Betsy (who had been working in the Congo previously) agreed to go with me so I wouldn’t have to travel alone. She speaks some French (the main language in Congo) and has traveled extensively internationally. So in early January, we left for DRC.

Our in country experience was…hot, scary, nerve-wracking, and tough. Congo is a war-torn country, so it can be very dangerous. We stayed in a hostel-type place (where the cook hated us, but everyone else was mostly nice) that was gated off and as we were advised, we hardly left and we never left without a Congolese friend. On the second or third day (it was to be a 10-day trip), the orphanage workers brought the kids to us.

Meeting Vaughn and Eloise is indescribable. It was every dream I ever had fulfilled. But it was really hard! I just longed for Andy to be there with me the whole time! Once we met them, the kids were ours and I got to have them stay with me until we were granted exit. Eloise had malaria and though Vaughn talked a lot I had no idea about anything he was saying. If it was hard for me, I can’t even imagine what it was like for them…but someday they will tell you their stories.P1000260

We got to visit the orphanage while we were there and I am so glad we did. It was eye-opening. What shocked me the most was how these two kids followed me everywhere at that orphanage. As if to say, “Lady, I may not know you at all, but you aren’t leaving me here!”. P1000543

Anyway, now that we were together, we had just one more document to obtain and that was the famous exit letter. If you have kept up with adoption news at all you know this is the big thing*!

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So much of our story could not have happened without the man on the right. While I don’t truly know, in my heart I think he was one of the good ones. He served us well and I trusted him. Mr. Claude, wherever you are- thank you!

We were granted our exit letter and as fast as we could, we packed our bags and got the hell out of there. Travel home was a nightmare. Eloise had never been strapped into anything in her life and I lied to the stewardesses on the plane about her age just so I could hold her and she would stop screaming. It wasn’t the first time someone lied about her

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age…Vaughn was obsessed with the TVs and after dozing off I woke up one time to find him watching Blood Diamond (a movie about diamond trafficking in the Congo). He cried when I made him turn it off. He almost vomited on a stranger and I couldn’t wake him up (or carry him!) at one point when we had to move because he was so jet lagged. It was rough, but we were headed home!

Our entire family met us in Washington, DC to meet the kids. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget. The most fun was on Day 2 when we announced that we were pregnant. It was fun to see the shock on everyone’s faces.

 

So there it is. The complete story of our adoption- miracle after miracle. Now here we are 3 years home and it is still a beautiful mess. But at least I am not waiting for anything…

XO,

CELINA - signature

*DRC Exit letter- Just a few weeks since our departure from Congo in January of 2012, the Congolese government suspended the issuance of exit letters. Almost no children have left the country legally since then. Many families are living in Congo with their children and have no idea when they will be able to come home. Children have died waiting for exit letters to be issued. What this means for us is that if our agency had not granted us the ability to file in country, we would not have our children today. There were people who got referrals at the same time I did, and they are still NOT HOME. Please pray for these families and children and that the government in Congo will release them!

 

 

 

 

 

The Lessons We Teach and Learn

As parents we inevitably teach our children lessons. Some come through mistakes from our past, funny stories we tell our kids about a big lie we told, or the time we didn’t listen to our parent’s advice and the embarrassing and catastrophic lesson that inevitably followed. We teach lessons through natural consequences, and we teach lessons when we choose to pick out things going on in our world and talk them through it. We teach them lessons everyday, little and big, about our faith, our morality, our ethics, our world.

But inevitably there are lessons that must be learned the “hard way”.

Apparently at my house, we’re working on those a lot lately.

We have had a couple of on-going “lessons” happening at Purvis Point.

This is my first time as a parent allowing one of my children to make decisions that I don’t agree with- (I realize that when he was three and pooped on the picnic grass at the zoo in front of hundreds of strangers who were joyously eating their lunches, I didn’t “allow” that either. But I mean purposeful, long term decisions- not momentary behavioral choices.) We are letting him begin to carry the burden of his choices.IMG_2077

A few days ago I asked the boys to put the laundry away, and they began to complain and say things about how difficult and unfair their lives were. I sat them both right down on top of the folded laundry and we had a “talk” . (“Talk” does not refer to a discussion, a “talk” is when I talk at them, and then they go and do what I told them to do. I realize this isn’t the ideal model- but I need some grace here, remember, it’s been rough.) I said something like:

“It is not my job to raise boys. It is my job to raise men. I realize that you are boys today. But sooner than any of us can blink, you will be men. And I do not want you to be men who quit when things get hard. I do not want you to be men who act like boys, or men who run away when the going gets tough. I do not want you to be men who blame others, or expect things to be easy. I want you to be men who aren’t afraid of doing the hard things in life. Because often times the right thing, is the hard thing. I want you to be men who care about others and notice others, before you take notice of your own comfort level. I want you to be men who are proud of yourselves, who take pride in how you treat others. I want you to be men who lay down at night and know that you did your best that day, for yourself and for those around you. And so now you will get up and joyously put your laundry away that I will never again fold for you.” (It went on, but I am summarizing here for your comfort, and my dignity.)

Looking back, I realize that I was really taking a lot of liberty with connecting whining about laundry to dead beat dads and grown up man-chidlren. BUT this talk actually really stuck with them. (I know! I can’t believe it either.) I think this stuck with them because they didn’t realize that they’d be men one day. I’m pretty sure that thought had never occurred to them.

Fast forward a few days,  last night after Tre complained, and cried, and feigned multiple injuries, and “lost” equipment, and everything else he’s been doing to get out of football practice, AGAIN. I reminded him that this was a decision he made, fully knowing what it entailed, and that he had to fulfill his commitment, well. He geared up, brushed off his “injuries” and jogged out to the field. (Reminding me on several occasions that he already decided to not play next year.)

After practice as I sat in the mud room with him, helping him pry his sweaty gear of his gangly body. He looked into my eyes and said, “I always feel so good after football. You are right. The hard thing is usually the right thing, and it feels good to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.”

And I wanted to just stop the world, right then.IMG_2078

You see, this football thing has been really hard for me this year. Apparently at his age, things start to get, whats the word? Oh right, COMPETITIVE. And it goes from cute fun to… lets just say not so cute, and not so fun. And it has been really really really really really hard for me. It’s been super duper hard for me. This has been hard for me. My mommy heart is breaking daily and I am feeling like I want to scoop him up and run away to where the world will never find him and I can keep him, and things, just stay innocent and fun like they have been up unto this point.

This choice that we’re letting him feel is hard for me, not because of the time commitment (we have football SIX days a week), not because of the financial commitment, or the immense amount of additional laundry and weeks without us all sitting down for dinner together. This has been hard for me because I have spent the last TEN years (I am counting in-utero here too!) protecting my son. I have spent ten years making sure nothing hurts him, I have spent ten years keeping him safe emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I have spent ten years “helping him” make decisions so that he didn’t feel consequences. I have spent ten years making sure he had everything he needed to be successful.

And as I stood by the dryer telling him I was raising him to be a man, I was lecturing myself, not him. I was telling myself it was time to let him begin to feel pain and consequences, burden of choice, it was time for him to begin to understand the weight of commitment and the burden of choice. It was time for me to begin to allow him to make choices that would negatively affect him and others, little ones, but ones he can carry.

And I am learning that he is capable. He is strong, and brave, and his foundation will hold. But I want him to feel the weight of commitment with a 12 week football season. Long before he feels the weight of commitment of for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health…

Growing up is hard work. But growing people up is hard too. Watching my little boy make bad choices and watching him make the right choice, even when it’s hard- this is big girl stuff! My heart is aching and growing and aching and growing right along with his.

The pregnancy I always wanted didn’t save me

Four years. We spent four years trying to get pregnant. Every last hope. Every last wish. Everything I ever wanted hinged on having children. I wanted a baby so bad.

Anyone who has struggled with infertility knows the cycle of emotions. Shame. Pain. Embarrassment. Hope. Disappointment. Hope. Disappointment. Jealousy. Shame for feeling jealous. Hope. Disappointment. Anger. Sadness. Depression. Round and round it goes.

The emotions are suffocating. And so, so lonely. Because it is such a hard thing to deal with it’s an even harder thing to talk about. Infertility is very isolating. Every time I  hear of someone who has been ‘trying to get pregnant’ I am taken back to the place of isolation. I feel those emotions again: the sadness- deep and aching and I long to say, “I get it.” But having a baby after struggling with infertility boots you from the club. Yes I can relate, but to someone struggling, my struggle isn’t that real anymore. I have what someone else is wishing and praying for. So my voice into their sadness is a quiet prayer. When I was struggling, I remember talking to people who at one time struggled with infertility who now had children and it just didn’t count. No matter what kind of hope, courage or empathy they offered me. Because when you are in the depths of this struggle it feels like there is no way out. And frankly, I didn’t want to hear that someone else made it out because I knew I might not ever get out of that hole and I didn’t want to be alone at the bottom.

Our journey into parenthood is another blog post, but I’ll tell you this: because our desire for children was without reservation, we changed our “Plan A” to adoption. We knew we wanted children and after two years of trying to get pregnant we decided we didn’t care how they came to us. For some, the adoption process is just like the infertility journey, only it is years of the same cycle of emotions +++ years of paperwork and bullshitting. For us, after two years in the adoption process we were finally cleared to go to Africa and pick up our two children (unheard of timing). The day after I bought my plane ticket to pick up our kids, I found out I was pregnant. So I was leaving for Africa in two weeks (without my husband!) and I was finally pregnant.  For us: a miracle unfolding. Only two years to adopt internationally- unheard of. Pregnant now that everything about our adoption is final- unheard of.

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Here is Eloise making our pregnancy announcement two days after our return from Africa.

And now it gets good because in nine months time I will have a complete family. A husband, two children by way of international adoption and the baby I always wished for. What more could someone in my situation want? All the prayers, hopes and dreams have come true. Which is exactly what the problem was. All of my hope was hinged on things that could be taken away from me- things of this world. None of my hope was in Christ.

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So, when Avett was about a year old, and our adopted children had been with us about 20 months, I crashed. How could everything I’ve ever wanted crush me so badly? I was depressed. Seeking old vices. Not connected with anyone. Not anchored. I KNEW I had everything I ever wanted and yet I was m.i.s.e.r.a.b.l.e. Miserable. Unhappy. And most of all guilt-laden. The baby I dreamed of for years didn’t deliver the happiness the dream promised. The children I dreamed of for years didn’t save me. And please let me be clear here: every single one of my children is perfect. I don’t say that lightly, trust me I am a realist at best a pessimist at worst. Vaughn and Eloise really don’t misbehave. Avett slept through the night right away and was always a happy and fun baby. Childbirth and pregnancy were really wonderful. I had the natural childbirth I hoped for and a healthy baby. It wasn’t my children not meeting my expectations of a perfect family. It was my expectations of a perfect family. All of the dreams I had, when they were answered didn’t satisfy me. Because now there is nothing more to hope for. I truly, really, 100% have it all. So there is nothing left: except Jesus.

To be fair here, the truth is, I can’t blame 100% of my crash on my misplaced hope. Having three kids in nine months is a real shit storm. It is not easy- and when you are in the thick of something so, so hard you actually have no idea how hard it is. All the adjustments. All the unknowns. It’s crazy town. Until you have a moments rest, you don’t know how stressed, tired, and overwhelmed you really are. And that is certainly part of what happened to me.

I love my kids and they really do make me happy, make me laugh and in many ways complete me and my picture of who God created me to be. But they aren’t the end of the story and I made them my happy ending. My happy ending is Jesus and my real happy ending is heaven with Jesus.

So what now? I’m two and a half years in. I still struggle. I still hate myself for not being happy with what others would kill for. I still don’t understand why perfection wasn’t enough. But. God. I’ve pursued the things in life that don’t satisfy: drugs, sex, money. And now I’ve pursued more things in life that don’t satisfy: pregnancy, babies, a husband, a perfect family. One of those is an ‘unhealthy’ pursuit and the other, at least socially acceptable. But guess what: only Jesus. Only Jesus can fill me up. Only Jesus is the appropriate hope for me.

I’m happy with the life I have. My kids are wonderful. My husband is amazing. But getting what I dreamed and hoped for didn’t save me. It just made me realize how much saving I needed.

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XO,

CELINA - signature