When we first began our adoption process, I was at a loss as to where to go with my overwhelming feelings of apprehension, excitement, and frustration at the amount of paperwork involved. Where do I go next? Who can I talk to about killing massive amounts of trees to repeat paperwork three, four, five times? Who understands this process and can keep me away from the emotional edge?
It was then I knew I needed to find another mom who had adopted and reach out. So I did. Amanda Austin was initially a friend of a friend. Through our mutual friend, I had followed her adoption journey in Guatemala. We then became friends and I cheered when she brought her daughter home. She was immediately receptive to my plight, and often, in the middle of the night, would be the only sound voice I heard as I worried that our arms would never be filled with a baby girl. Her support, her journeys, and her constant belief in adoption kept me on even ground and I can never express to her how vital her being there was to me.
Since that time I have realized how invaluable adoptive moms are to each other. Whether we adopt internationally, domestically, from foster care, or a family member, adoptive parents get each other. We can speak to each other without saying a word. And collectively exhale during various times in our journeys.
This is the story of one adoptive family. One close to me. One whose story can still bring me to the depths of tears, and the highs of happiness. This is Amanda’s story when I asked for her to share her adoption processes:
“The process to adopt in Guatemala in 2007-2008 was dark, full of unknowns and incredibly difficult. The U.S. government stopped allowing adoptions from Guatemala after December 31, 2007.”
Amanda and her husband started their adoption process in 2006, hoping to adopt from Vietnam, but their agency was having trouble getting the appropriate licenses to begin doing adoptions again after a shutdown. In the spring of 2007, they were still waiting.
“During spring break we received a phone call that changed the trajectory of our plan. Vietnam still had not issued the license and we were the next in line for a baby girl. There were rumblings of a shutdown of adoptions in Guatemala in the next month or so and our agency had 5 baby girls who needed to find families before that happened. Were we interested in changing programs?” They were. They did.
I have realized how invaluable adoptive moms are to each other. Adoptive parents get each other. We can speak to each other without saying a word. And collectively exhale during various times in our journeys.
They received a referral for a baby girl who was a month old. They were over the moon! Unfortunately, that did not last long. When they were about to receive their baby’s second month update, their agency contacted them with bad news. Their baby was not well. In fact, she was very sick. “We were devastated. Completely bottomed out. We had been trying to have children for seven years. It seemed as if this was not in His plan for us.”
A week later they were informed of the passing of their precious first child.
“The next day our agency said that they had 3 little girls who needed to be matched and they had basically the same stories. The mothers were of majority age, they were all born in March, and were of full gestational age. They were all healthy. We thought this might have been the cruelest joke ever. How were we supposed to look at the pictures of these precious little people and choose one? Based on what?”
Eventually they chose the little girl whose name held meaning to them. Both she and her husband had great aunts named Lillian, neither of whom were able to have children. “We chose the black-haired little beauty named Lili. Her name was the only connection we felt to any of these little angels. What an answered prayer that turned out to be.”
The next year was fraught with ups and downs. At this time, I was involved with Amanda’s quest to bring her daughter home. We surrounded them with prayer, but their journey had bumps every step of the way. “Each rejection out of Guatemala’s court system was like a soul-crushing mortar attack. We spent 8 months of our baby girl’s life in a step that should not have lasted more than 8-10 weeks. We visited our daughter 6 times, each time for a week. Each time her foster mom brought her to us and she remained with us for the duration of our visit.”
They were able to view their daughter’s homeland through her eyes. To become intimately involved in the culture, to fall in love with the beauty. To see the poverty and devastation as well. Each time they fell more in love with their daughter and each time, they had to leave her behind. “There aren’t words to describe the pain for us and the confusion for her. The final trip, I packed my bags and planned to stay in Guatemala until the adoption was finalized. Too much time in this little girl’s life was spent going back and forth from us to her foster family. I fostered her for 6 weeks in Antigua, Guatemala.”
Finally the approval from Guatemala’s PGN courts came through when they were about to celebrate their daughter’s 1st birthday. “We started the process in Guatemala with the expectation that she would have been brought home at less than 6 months old. We entered the US with our daughter on April, 22, 2008. The year of waiting for her to come home was the most emotionally complex, spiritually challenging, and joyous one of our lives.” Of that, I can agree!
This journey still hits me in the gut when I think of everything they went through. The determination to bring their child home through every obstacle imaginable. But that journey did not stop them from adopting again!
They began their second adoption journey in August of 2008, knowing the process in Korea would take approximately 18 months. “We chose Korea because we had lived there the first year we were married. We loved the culture, the people, and had firsthand experience with both. The process was beautiful. It was straightforward, systematic, and predictable.” What a difference!
They were only allowed to travel to Korea at the end of the adoption process to meet with their son. “Receiving him from his precious foster family was joyful for us and utterly terrifying for him. He was 13.5 months old. He was firmly attached to these people who loved him for more than a year. He trusted them and felt safe. We were an entirely different story.”
“His arrival in our family was tentative and fearful. He came home on September 20, 2010. He was a serious, cautious little man who clung fiercely to his sister. He grieved profoundly at first, but eased his way into trusting us and allowed us to love him completely. He is the perfect balance for our family. We could not be more grateful for him.” And as her friend, it has been amazing to watch him grow.
Amanda and her husband are wonderful examples of how adoption works. They love these two children completely and embrace each of their cultures. Their daughter still has contact with a little girl that was fostered in the same home. They get together as often as they can so the girls can maintain their closeness. They travel as a family back to Guatemala. They have been back to Korea to visit with their son’s foster family. They know it has taken many loving hearts and hands to bring their family together. And they never forget it.
Not only was Amanda a great support to me through our adoption process, she continues to mentor me through the constant variations of having an open adoption relationship. When I asked her what brought them to adoption, her story was very common. They had a painful journey of infertility. She had a heart for adoption; it took awhile for her husband’s heart to catch up. But when it did, they were ready for the ride of their life. The deciding factor? “Some of our dearest friends decided to adopt after they walked through infertility. They adopted a little boy from Guatemala and we all fell in love. That little man, who is 11 now, represented all that was possible for our family.”
They knew this was how they wanted to build their family as well, a prime example of how adoption paths can cross and blend together. When I asked Amanda what advice she would give other parents looking at adopting, she was very open in her responses. It is one of the traits I love most about her! Her advice:
1. Do your homework. Read, ask questions, talk to agencies. The adoption community is deep and wide. Listen to the negatives as well. Do not let your heart get ahead of your head. Gather as much information as you can.
2. If considering a child with special needs or multiple health concerns, consult a physician. If adopting internationally, consult with one of the many international adoption clinics in the US. They have experience with health issues in different countries and can read between the lines. Make sure you fully understand what is involved.
3. Know your desires and limitations. If you are not comfortable adopting from another country for one reason or another, don’t. If you are not comfortable adopting from foster care or domestically, don’t. Only you know what is right for your family. You owe no one an explanation. In adoption you have the ability to make choices that you don’t always have an opportunity to make with biological children. Sometimes that can make you feel guilty, but don’t. Do not say yes to situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
4. Brace yourself! And I mean that in the best way possible. I was not prepared for the gift of the adoption community. Reach out. Connect. Those relationships are invaluable. It is a community in the truest sense. Take advantage of the generous, open hearts that are willing to be a shoulder or a cheerleader when you need it. And do the same back for someone else. It will bring you great purpose and joy.
I asked Amanda in closing what she would have done differently if she knew now what would happen with her journeys. Her response warmed my heart. After she disclosed she would have done more research on the agency that they chose for their first adoption due to the repercussions that occurred and affected every step of their journey, there was little else she would change.
“Because of my faith, I believe that every step of our story was divinely appointed. There were times that I thought I couldn’t take another blow. And yet we did, with God’s strength. In the name of our family and what we believed to be God’s plan for us, we withstood the difficulties. We also celebrated more victories than I thought possible in the journey to create a family. They were often other people’s victories and triumphs.”
One of those victories was the bringing home of our daughter. And for Amanda’s support, guidance, and friendship, I am eternally grateful. I hope that I can turn around and be that type of support to other parents walking this path. And that you can be as well. Look for the blessings on the journey path . . . you may very well be that to someone else!