Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vietnam Adoption Part Two: How I got to Vietnam

My Vietnam adoption story, like many other's, started in China.

When we adopted Jenna 4 years ago I was married. I don't mention it often, but I am a widow. My husband died from burn injuries from a single engine plane crash 2 and a half years ago. When the love of your life dies many other things die with them. One thing we had talked about doing was adopting again to give Jenna a sister from China. At first I thought, that dream is dead too. But then I realized not necessarily.

Darrell died in March of 2006 and in December I started to see rumors that China was going to implement new restrictions for adoptions. One that effected me the most was that singles were no longer allowed to adopt if their paperwork was not turned in by May 1. I was lucky enough to get a singles slot with my wonderful China agency, CCAI, and the paper chase began. I must add that along with all of these decisions were many prayers. I learned after Darrell's accident and during his 5 week ICU stay before his death that GOD is in charge and you can't go wrong if you are living in HIS will, not your own. So with all decisions now I pray and pray and pray that He will show me HIS will and not mine.

I was fortunate enough to find a social worker in Nashville who understood my tight time constraints (my dossier had to be turned in and logged into China by May 1st.) Things just clicked along without many problems so I knew that I was doing the right thing. Around the middle of March I Fed-Exed my dossier to my agency and then it hit me. I was in for an incredibly long wait. At that point I knew I would wait at least 3 years for a referral. Jenna was 4 and that meant she would be at least 7 before her new sister arrived. I had hoped to have them closer in age. I posted this on my original October 2003 DTC group and a friend there emailed me about her recent adoptions from Vietnam.

I'll be honest; I was leery of Vietnam. I had heard that unethical things were happening there and like any sane person this scared me. But I talked to Jody on the phone for about an hour and half and she assured me things were good there. She told me that the unethical practices occurred prior to the last shut down. Things were better now. She told me that her agency was extremely ethical and it was very small. This meant there was a shorter wait time. I explained the reasoning behind this in Part One.

So after more prayers and great fears I signed a contract with my new Vietnam agency, before my dossier was even logged into China. The question was then, what do I do? Switch my paperwork with Immigration from China to Vietnam or start the Immigration paperwork all over again? I just felt that God wanted me to leave my paperwork in China. At that point I still wasn't sure if I would follow through on the China adoption but it was only going to cost me the $545 to reapply for a new I-600A and $70 for fingerprinting. I knew if I pulled my China paperwork I couldn't resubmit it but I could leave it and then decide not to adopt later. The paperwork stayed.

The Vietnam dossier was easier than the Chinese dossier but I had wait to be re fingerprinted and get the new approval from Immigration. In the meantime, my dossier was logged into China on April 5 (LID 4/5/07) so I beat the May 1st deadline by a little less than a month.

By now everyone knew I was adopting from China and the response was better than I had anticipated. I expected great resistance since I hadn't even been widowed a year yet and I had 4 other children. But everyone knows how much I love being a mom and although no one voiced this, I think that they thought it would be a good thing for me to focus on. But how would they react to TWO adoptions? And I wasn't even sure if there would be two adoptions. So not wanting to lie but not wanting have to explain the situation I told people "The wait for China is so long that I have decided to adopt from Vietnam." No one questioned this and it was accepted.

In May my agency had a group of families in Vietnam in the province of Phu Tho. The families had gone without a firm G&R date (G&R: Giving and Receiving Ceremony. This is the official adoption) and now seemed to be stuck there because they would get a day and time and then an hour or two before it would be cancelled. This was also happening with other agencies there. Rumors on the internet were swirling around that the province was being investigated. No one knew what was going on. Somehow some of the families got their babies before their G&R due to medical needs. Then one preadoptive parent of twins suddenly announced that his adoption was unethical. He returned the babies and left Vietnam. The chaos grew. Within a few days the families had their G&R's and were home after the first of June.

But what happened with prospective parent of twins? Although he claimed unethical behavior, there was nothing to back his claim in fact no specifics at all. I just wanted some facts, some accusations, something to know whether this was just a crazy lunatic who was tired of waiting of his G&R so he threw in the towel citing unethical behavior just so he wouldn't look bad or was there really unethical behavior? When I asked or suggested on some email list groups that we needed more information before we assumed something was going on I was told to mind my own business and even worse, called every name in the book. The Vietnam adoption world is not for the faint of heart.

From my agency email list I knew who my likely travel partners would be and we were in close contact about what was going on. I seriously considered switching agencies because my dossier hadn't been sent to my agency yet but after many discussions the three of us decided there was no proof of trouble. In fact, the other traveling families claimed to not know what the prospective parent was talking about. They said they saw nothing troubling. My dossier was almost done and once it was sent I would be second in line for a referral with my agency, although I was ready to get in line somewhere else if there was really a problem.

I decided to stay the course.

My dossier was logged in the first week of June. My friend Mindy was before mine and my friend Brooke was right after me. We were told that we would most likely be a travel group. We just had to wait for referrals. The first week of July we were told that there were a group of babies that would be available for referral but not until they turned 2 months old which was towards the end of July. No more information could be given.

We were finally told toward the end of August that we had referrals. I was given the referral of a very petite baby that appeared to be severely anemic. We were told to expect travel the end of September.

My baby was born June 19, 2007. We planned to name her Ella Joy. Ella for Darrell and Joy because she was bringing joy back into our lives. We actually came up with the name early in our adoption process. However her blood tests were concerning. She was very tiny and very anemic. The question the international adoption doctor asked was she anemic because she was malnourished or was she anemic due to something else. Her blood tests were done when she was only one and half months old so it was hard to know. I was told that she might have some developmental issues due to her malnourishment and her anemia that could follow her for life. I will never forget leaving the pediatrician's office and going to Burlington Coat Factory and calling Mindy, a midwife with NICU experience, and discussing my options sitting in a rocking chair next to the baby department. But there were no options really. I knew she was mine so the only option was to continue on. And trust in God. I knew it was His plan and I just had to trust in Him. I admit that I was scared to death but I followed Him.

By mid September not only were we waiting on our travel plans but I was also waiting for updates on Ella Joy. She was getting weaker and weaker. She was too weak to take her bottles and she spent most of her time sleeping. I had another consult with the international adoption doctor who said it could be malnourishment or it could thalassemia. He needed more blood work. Soon after that my agency called me and told me that they thought I should refuse my referral because my baby was too sick. I asked how I could even do such a thing? I had already signed my paper for the DIA stating that I accepted her for my referral. They didn't know the exact details but would find out what to do. I told them not to bother. Just get me there as soon as possible so that I could take care of her. I told them to arrange for her to go to the hospital and I would pay for it if necessary. We left the conversation on that Wednesday afternoon with the woman from my agency calling the facilitator in Hanoi to arrange to have Ella taken to the hospital.

I had the email address for our facilitator in Hanoi, we had emailed previously about Ella's condition. On Thursday I emailed her and asked if the baby had been taken to the hospital. She wrote back that the orphanage director had had meetings and no one had time to take the baby the 2 1/1 hour drive to Hanoi. They would take her the next day.

I emailed again on Friday. No reply.

Saturday morning I got a call from my agency. She told me that Ella's birth mother had heard she was doing poorly and that she came back to claim the baby. My Ella was gone. But in the next breath she told me that she had a new referral for me. A baby born on July 10 and she was emailing me her photo right then along with her medical report.

We were devastated. Our baby who we had been praying for for over a month, the baby whose pictures were plastered all over. OUR baby was gone. And I knew she hadn't gone with a birth mother. I knew in my heart she was dead.

But in the depth of our tears, mourning for a child that was never really ours, was born a new child -- a child we felt nothing for. I felt so badly for that fat faced baby looking off into space in her photo. She deserved to be celebrated not be a substitute that her siblings weren't even interested in looking at. But this new baby was our baby, not our Ella Joy. What would we name her?

Ella Joy was out of the question for all the children. The other baby was Ella Joy and always would be. I said perhaps the name Ella Joy would have been too large a burden for a child to live up to. Perhaps it was best that Ella Joy was with her name sake in heaven. A baby for Darrell and a baby for us.

But when would I get our new baby? I was encouraged to wait until November to travel with another group or I was given the option of traveling with my original group and staying an extra week or two. I was also told that if I went in September I might have to go back with the other group in November. My travel mates were devastated to learn that I might not travel with them. But that couldn't be a reason to go. No, I felt that God was telling me to go. I called my dear friend Tammi and she said she had a message she felt she was supposed to give me. This woman is one of the most Godly women I have ever met and when she told me she thought even though it was crazy for me to go, she too felt that I was supposed to go.

A week later I boarded a plane with my 4 year old daughter Jenna and my friend Brooke for a flight from JFK to Bangkok, Thailand and then onto Hanoi.

My world would never be the same.
This was originally posted at There's Always Room for One More on August, 23 2008

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