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!

 

 

 

 

 

Road to Congo: Our Adoption Story Part 3

In Part 2 I shared with you that all of our big decisions had been made and some of the logic behind them. And now that we were well into the process two things had to happen: a lot of money had to be paid to people and a lot of waiting had to be done.

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Not our photo.

The waiting…. I can’t even begin to describe it. It was like impatiently waiting for something that might never happen. We knew all along that adoption was a risky business. We gathered from all we’d heard that it was possible that in the end, we’d do a lot of waiting and never get anything out of it. So the waiting sucked. And I didn’t do it well. I cried, I moaned, I impatiently bitched, and I got really sick of people asking me, “How’s the adoption!!??” with their smiley-faced good intentions. I hated it. AND I hated that I hated it. But the only thing we could do was wait.

While we were waiting, we needed around $35,000 to bring our yet unknown children home to us. We started from where we were at and by the grace of God we came up with all the money we needed. Here is how that looked for us.

  1. Save, budget and cover expenses as they come up.
  2. Take on extra jobs. I was doing photography, so I offered my services to raise funds for our adoption. Andy offered his handy- man services to friends and he made some
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    money helping people with projects.

  3. Craft Fairs! This was the start of Shabby Alpaca! I made a few things and sold them for a profit at smaller craft fairs. My mom told me about some cute alpaca things I could add to my inventory so I did that, too. I made a big poster that I displayed at all fairs saying why I was raising money and so all the profits went to our adoption.
  4. Flip a house. Andy was out of work during part of this time and his parents graciously helped us buy a house that was a total flip. Andy remodeled the whole thing and we sold it for a profit.
  5. Knowing the best and most generous people. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people gave. It was a lot. People gave and gave and gave.
  6. One major fundraiser. I hate asking people for money, so I only wanted to do it once. My friend Kristin helped me come up with the idea for a Black and White party. I put major effort and creativity into this party and it really paid off. I mailed out (really awesome) invitations that included a “can’t come but will send money” option and lots of people from out of town just sent money.

    For the party, I had everyone wear black and white clothes, all the songs had black or white in the lyrics, all the food was black and white and we even had a photo booth (my favorite touch!). We had LOTS of hands on deck for this party; many friends helped us out, so we couldn’t have done it alone. In the end, we raised almost $7000 from just that fundraiser. And as it always is with God, it was enough….

  7. So now, we’ve waited and raised funds….in the next and final installment, our children will finally be in our arms, but not without sweat, threats and tears.

 

XO,

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Road to Congo: Our Adoption Story Part 2

Now that we had decided we would adopt internationally to add to our family, we had to decide where to adopt from. There are probably hundreds of places that you can adopt from, but we knew only about China, Russia, and Africa. Truly at the beginning of this process we were totally open to wherever God would have us adopt from.
One thing we knew all along was that “God knew”.  We knew we had to ask the questions, but we also knew that God knew where our children would be from.

We started to think about all the places where there were children who needed families and suddenly, it became totally overwhelming. We were paralyzed with indecision about where we should adopt from.

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Because we knew there was no time for fear and indecision (I had already waited 2 years, people!), we decided to decide and to decide once and for all where we were going to adopt from. Once we settled on that, Congo was actually an easy decision. Congo was our introduction to this whole international adoption thing and it just made sense. At the time adoptions began in Congo, adoption agencies were boasting (falsely) a 9 month start to finish adoption process, the US government was offering a massive tax credit for adoptive parents, and we had a Congolese connection with Andy’s sister. So, we decided: Congo.

Now that we decided, we selected our agencies (we needed two- one for the domestic side and one for the international side) and we started the whole paperwork process. I’m not going to bore you with this, suffice to say- everything you’ve heard about the paperwork involved for adoption is true. If you plan to adopt, buy yourself a new pack of pens and plan on spending many waking hours filling out paperwork. Luckily, I am organized and driven so I dove right in. For someone like me, the paperwork was a breeze. My favorite game as a child was to play “office” so this was all fun for me. I planned date nights for Andy and I to just fill out paperwork and I actually loved every minute of it.

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Once we were signed on with agencies and filling out paperwork, we knew the next thing that would happen was a whole hell of a lot of waiting. So we decided to get to know what we didn’t know. I knew of two adoptive families through my job at Compassion, so I called them up, told them we were adopting and invited ourselves over to dinner at their homes. That was one of the best things I did during our wait. These families were open and honest about adoption- the good, the amazing, the bad, and the awful and it was just what we needed to hear. Like everything in my life, I had an unrealistic set of expectations about what adoption would be like. (Honestly, this is one of the biggest struggles with prospective adoptive parents- unrealistic expectations.) So meeting with families who were 2, 3, 5 years into the process and had their children home was really helpful. It enabled us to lower the bar and set realistic standards.

We decided early on to adopt siblings instead of just one child. The cost was much lower to adopt two children at once, rather than to adopt twice, and we knew we wanted more than one child, so it was easy to just do it all at once. We figured we didn’t know what we didn’t know about just having one kid, so we dove in (Andy and I tend to do this a lot..!).

Someone told us to “get the youngest kids you can” and that is sound advise (but it doesn’t address the fact that trauma impacts the brain even in utero). But getting younger kids can make the attachment and bonding processes easier, so there is that. We figured since we wanted two kids we would need to up our age limit a bit so we would have a better chance of getting a referral sooner, so we decided any gender, two siblings under 5 years old and that was our criteria.

Now that we had the big decisions made, paperwork underway and the waiting began we needed money. And lots of it. In the next part I’ll share how we raised funds for our international adoption.

XO,

CELINA - signature