At first glance, it seemed impossible. Then it blinked awkwardly onto our radar. And then it became our no-going-back-now reality.
The preparation was confusing and long. Followed by a quiet lull of post-paperwork waiting. Both of our referrals were accompanied by days filled with joy and celebration we will never forget. Holdups with DHS approval and travel visas left us feeling unlucky and cursed. Passport typos felt like bullets to the heart. More waiting.
The final triumphant whirlwinds that followed brought the realization that what had seemed like way too long a wait was now not enough time to fully prepare not just to travel to another country to grow our family, but to ensure that we were prepared on the homefront. The getting there was exciting. The being there was perfect, uncertain, exhausting, horrible, peaceful, and life changing. The coming home was a relief. The memories are treasures.
For anyone who has ever had the opportunity to adopt internationally—and I use the word lightly—you already know that there is no one clear path from here to there and back again. It’s a windy road (or flight path) with unexpected twists and turns, no matter how organized you think you are. It is not for everyone, but it turned out to be a perfect fit for us. Looking back on our experience as a whole, however, I do feel as if it was a wonderful opportunity for our family.
Choosing International Adoption
After researching and reaching out to a few local/domestic agencies and not finding what we thought we were looking for, what had seemed to me at first an unlikely choice due to finances and logistics suddenly felt like the rightest (I know this isn’t a word, but it’s accurate) thing in the world. It was as if international adoption was choosing us rather than the other way around, and we quickly became caught up on the ride.
Not going to lie: it was not fun or easy or less cumbersome or less expensive than domestic adoption, as some sources may have you believe. It was as if there was an entire extra layer to work through during each stage—and even afterwards in regards to immigration, re-adoption procedures, and post-adoption visits. Red tape aside— we chose to focus on our children rather than the negative aspects of the adoption process–I am glad our adoption path led us to Colombia.
Until we discovered our support group and researched the orphanage that served as a first home to our daughters, the most I’d known about Colombia was from news reports about drug cartels, kidnappings, and cocaine—and movies with tough talking actors and fiery explosions. And yet, here was this group of regular ‘ole American families who had finalized adoptions and lived to tell about it—many of whom had actually traveled there during the country’s darkest days. In fact, their love and enthusiasm for Colombia was palpable whenever we met for a class or social event.
Instead of horror stories, we heard about the kind people, beautiful culture, and amazing food—most of all, these were moms and dads who were excited and proud to share their family photos and to share their own life-changing experiences. We learned about and met the founder of the orphanage, were told about the care and consideration given to birth mothers and the high standards set for the children who called it home. And even more important to us, though most likely not fully understood at that time, the post-adoption support—the fact that our children would be encouraged to know where they came from, to get to know one another through Colombian culture camps, and to meet so many other local families that had also been formed this way.
In addition to a local buddy couple here in the states who guided us through the pre-adoption prep, we were put in touch with Colombian locals who would help us maneuver through the system out-of-country—from airport pickups, to legal issues, to medical/emergency assistance, to living quarters, to touring the local landscape, to where to find the best tamale or hamburger. This list of names and phone numbers would literally serve as our lifeline—and over the course of two adoptions and several months—become trusted friends, educators, and passionate ambassadors of our children’s homeland.
Spending time in Colombia was not all sunshine and roses—although, there were roses. Did you know that the majority of roses purchased in the United States come from Colombia’s billion-dollar flower industry?
Once the long-anticipated adoption presentation is over and you realize that you will spend an unknown amount of weeks or months in a foreign country where English is not used all that much, in a strange home, with strangers from other non-English speaking countries, and that all of your family and friends, comforts of home, and, well, life as you knew it, is thousands of miles away–that knock of reality hits your “I’m a new parent” door pretty hard.
The upside, of course, is that you are now holding that beautiful child you most likely only saw in a somewhat-blurry or over-processed photograph several weeks or several months before. She Number 1 is now sitting in your lap and staring up with her dark brown eyes into your tired yet happy tear-filled ones, as you gently rock her back and forth to sleep—or two years later for Round 2, She Number 2 is mischievously stealing her not-so-thrilled big sister’s favorite toy while ramming into your legs like a tiny tidal wave. Either way, you are a plane ride away from your mom and her “I’ve raised four kids” advice, visits from friends baring casseroles and extra arms to relieve yours for a bit, to things as mundane yet necessary as drinkable water.
Having spent more than three months in Colombia over two trips and sharing space with several families who all handled their stays differently, I can say the best thing to do is to jump right in and embrace your temporary surroundings; take advantage of every second you have to bond with your child away from work, chores, and life’s daily distractions; get out and about as much as possible; tour your child’s native land and journal about it often; appreciate the local food and make a note to make as much of it as possible when you return home; stop and listen to the local music and make sure to pick up a CD or three to take home; make time for yourself to be yourself when you’re not currently playing the role of new parent in foreign land—simple things like going for a haircut can actually prove pretty entertaining; and don’t forget to breathe while you wait each day for the process to creep forward and eventually hear those amazing words: that you’re cleared to go home! As our two-time hostess, aka Tia Betty, reminded us often, “Everybody goes home.”
We also had the opportunity to tour and meet with the orphanage staff multiple times. We were able to meet with the nurses and caregivers who had bathed, fed, and loved our children before we were able to be with them. They are very open and encourage families to spend time, to volunteer, to learn, and to take what you’ve learned home in your heart. And they look forward to return visits from adoptees who are encouraged to come “home” and to volunteer when they are of age.
Our international adoptions did not end when we returned the the United States—once with an infant, despite a raging snowstorm that threatened to leave us stranded several states away— and once to an airport full of fellow adoptive family and friends, our then toddler-aged older daughter racing into her over-two-months-missed grandmother’s open arms, while her little sister clung tightly with wide eyes taking in so many new faces, experiencing new smells, and hearing new sounds. It was not the end at all. Instead, it was the beginning of our commitment to our daughters to remain connected to their first home—the now far away orphanage—as well as to their fellow local adoptees, and to encourage them to know and learn about their birth country—the place we’d traveled to, and most likely, the place we’ll return to someday.
These days, our girls giggle at the well-worn stories of how they misbehaved and got each other into toddler trouble, or how their tired mommy and daddy would bang our knees against oversized furniture in our small living quarters, go without a shower due to a broken water main, or try to remain as quiet as possible through the night so as not to “wake the baby” and have to trudge through a courtyard to get to the kitchen for a late-night bottle.
They love to hear about our adventures through the sprawling city of Bogota and the many interesting people we met along the way who introduced us to people, places, and things not found in travel guides, but that now proudly grace the pages of our family photo albums. They look forward to traveling back as a family and meeting some of these same people and experiencing–a little older–some of these same places and things.
At first glance, it seemed impossible. Then it blinked awkwardly onto our radar. And then it became our no-going-back-now reality. I’m glad international adoption chose us.