Sunday, July 1, 2007

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step...” Confucius

The photo above was one that we used in our adoption dossier that was submitted to China in June of 2006, but let me start at the beginning...

In February of 2005, Gary and I decided to adopt a child. After I did a lot of research on different programs we made the decision to adopt a little girl from China.

One book I read that helped us reach this decision is called “The Lost Daughters of China” by Karin Evans. It does a good job of explaining the causes and implications of the child abandonment problem in China. For those of you who are not familiar with this, I will try to give a brief summary of the issue. Many provinces of China have a one child policy meaning that families are only legally allowed to have one child. If they have a second, unauthorized child they will often be fined an astronomical amount. Most of the people affected by this law are peasants who live in rural China and do not earn enough money to pay the fine for a second child. Also, due to the fact that China does not have any form of social security, most families hope that their one child will be a boy. This is because in rural China most sons will stay with their parents for life and take care of them in their old age. Daughters will typically leave to live with their husband’s parents. So, if a woman gives birth to a girl she may decide to abandon the child with the hope that her next child will be male. Sometimes the decision is made for the mother by the father or in-laws. Frequently, these children are left in the middle of the night (it’s illegal to abandon a child, so they do it surreptitiously) in a public place where they will be found the next morning. Often they are left in markets, parks, or in front of orphanages. When a child is found the police are called to take it to the closest orphanage. A finding ad will be run in the local newspaper in an attempt to locate the family of the child. Since the family does not want to be found, these ads rarely do any good. Before a child can be eligible for adoption the orphanage must go through a long process involving health checks and a great deal of paperwork. Due to the length of this process most children are not eligible for adoption until they reach the age of at least 8 months. It is unusual for China to refer children under this age. Lately the average age at referral seems to be about 10 months old.

So, Gary & I decided that we would adopt a little girl from China. One of these little girls that could not be kept by her birth family will be so very loved and cherished in our family.

After we made our decision in February of 2005, we wanted to get started immediately so that we could bring our daughter home as soon as possible. We found out that there are three main parts of China adoption: the compilation and submission of the dossier (about a 4 month process), the wait for referral (in Feb of 2005 there was a 6 month wait) and the wait between referral and travel (6-8 weeks). We thought that in less than a year we would be bringing Natalie home.

Unfortunately, when we talked to a local social worker we found out that the state of Arkansas has a requirement that couples be married for two years before their home studies can be approved. From my previous research we knew that China only requires one year of marriage, so we were blind-sided by this news. We were married in April of 2004, so at this point we realized that we had to wait a whole year before we even started the adoption process. I was really devastated by this news, but eventually I got used to the idea of waiting for Natalie for two years instead of one.

I decided to spend lots of my free time reading and learning about adoption, parenting, and China. I joined several online support groups. People who have already completed one or more adoptions from China have been great about giving advice to newcomers. My favorite group is a small one of about 20 people who were all logged into the China system in July of 2006 and are using the same agency as Gary and I. Many of us have become very close friends. I feel so fortunate to share this experience with them. Some members of this group will travel to China at the same time, so eventually we will get to meet face to face. We are also planning on having annual reunions with our daughters. Last year I also started studying Mandarin. I thought it would be helpful to be able to speak a little mandarin when we travel to China. Also, if Natalie decides she wants to learn Mandarin someday I can practice with her. However, the most important thing I have learned during this wait is to live in the present moment. Hopefully, this will help to make me a better parent.

As we were living our lives until we could get started on our adoption in early 2006, the wait for referral started to increase. By the time we submitted our dossier, this part of the wait had increased from 6 to 13 months. I really didn’t think much of it at the time because I knew that the wait times had historically fluctuated. Most people seemed to think that there was a big chance that the wait would go back down closer to 6 months. What we didn’t know at the time was that the China adoption program was undergoing some major changes. Each month since then the process has continued to get slower and slower. For families who are being matched now the wait has been about 19 months. By the time they get to our dossier it will likely be a wait of 24-36 months. For us that means getting a referral sometime between summer of 2008 and the summer of 2009. So, counting from the time we made the decision to adopt until the time that Natalie comes home, it will end up being 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 years. The Asian elephant has a gestation period of 645 days - we will definitely have that record beat.