Monday, November 27, 2006

The Sam-mobile

Dear Sam,

Well, it's official: Your Dad and I are no longer carless. After five years of not caring about gas prices, becoming way too familiar with CTA, renting cars for out-of-town trips, and being able to feel superior for not adding to our country's dependence on foreign oil, we have now joined the ranks of automobile owners. Our #1 reason: You. Although we admired Jenny and Jon, who trekked their kids around on bikes, we realized it would be more practical to get a car once we have a child.

Thankfully, your Grandma and Grandpa helped us out. They also care about the environment, so they bought a new Toyota Camry Hybrid, which gets 40 mpg in the city. Then they sold their 2001 (non-Hybrid) Camry to us, at a very good price. Then they fixed everything on it, and even had it detailed. It feels like a new car to us.

This is their new car, in the sparkly blue color, with lots of cool amenities. We'll get to ride in it when we visit them, which we will definitely do a lot more often now that we can drive up there so easily.

We're still adjusting to the weird feeling of freedom of having a car. We drove to church on Sunday and did a big grocery shop, but when I went to the thrift store tonight, I still took the el and walked home with my big heavy bags. I hope we will still be cautious in how much we drive places. But we're glad we'll be able to drive you where you need to go, including to Grandma and Grandpa's in Wisconsin.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Daddy practice

Dear Sam,

Last night your Dad and I got some practice at parenting, when we babysat for Lincoln, the 6-week-old son of our friends Jon and Kristin. Your Daddy held, fed, and burped him. I did the diaper change. He was such a good little baby, slept most of the time and only cried and fussed a little. I hope you're so easy!

You also got a present yesterday, from our good friends Jenny, Jon, Grace and Nathan. Aren't those the cutest shoes? (They're Squirrel brand, which I suspect are really nice kids' shoes.) The card said, "Dear Sammy, Here's a little something to help you make your first steps easier. We can't wait to meet you!" We are so lucky to have the Shemwells in our life, even though they went and moved to California right before you joined our family. We miss them a lot.

When it rains, it pours

Dear Sam,

I have been reluctant to post this more good news, because I didn't want to jinx it. But I think it's pretty sure now, so I'm happy to announce that Lutheran Social Services has decided that we will most likely now travel with their first group, rather than their second group. YEA!!!!

Mostly this is because, since it took so long for their license to become official, we caught up to the other three families in the first group. As of last week, our paperwork had returned from the embassy in Washington D.C. Now a few extra documents will be rushed through the embassy, then our dossier should go to Vietnam soon, most likely next week.

I had hoped that our DTV would be sometime in November, and it looks like we might make that. There is some hope, perhaps overly optimistic, that we might have our referral by the end of next month (the best Christmas gift!) and would try to travel before the Tet holiday, which is in early February, but again that is just an estimate, and like I said, a very optimistic one. But even February or early March would be good. :)

Can't wait to meet you!

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's even more official!!!

Lutheran Social Services has been added to the U.S. Embassy's official list of agencies licensed for Vietnam. Click here and scroll down to #31. YEA!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Dear Sam and Sophie,

We are celebrating here in the Schlumpf-Butler household, and I'm not talking about Halloween. Today, finally, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota received their license from Vietnam. So now we are officially in the game. We are adopting a boy from Vietnam. That may sound obvious, since I've had this blog for several months, but over the past few months, I wasn't so sure. We've waited three months for LSS to get licensed, and in the meantime we investigated dozens of other agencies, applied to three, and even got started with another one. But in the end, I think we were meant to get our son from Therese, Caroline and the other good people at LSS-MS.

There have been lots of steps, dramas, ups and downs in this journey to licensure, but I've just been too darn depressed to document them all here, and I'm not going to revisit them now! I already feel like a huge weight has been lifted from me. I told my co-workers that I feel like a new person, but actually I feel like the old me--the one who wasn't depressed and anxiety-ridden. It feels good. (Speaking of my co-workers, those dozen roses are from them. Thank you, guys. You've been very patient, sympathic, and understanding these past months.) That goes for all my friends and family, too (and you out there in blogland), who have been praying for us, asking how it's going, and not asking, when we couldn't talk about it. We couldn't have done it without you.

So now everyone wants to know how long till we bring Sammy home. Well, that depends. Today our dossier (paperwork) went off to the Vietnamese consulate in D.C., for a process that should take a couple weeks. Then our dossier should head to Vietnam, where it also has to go through an approval process that can take up to two months or more. Then we'd be eligible for a referral (matched with a baby, get a picture, etc.) Then we would travel another 2-3 months after that to get him. I would say we're still about 6 months away from meeting him, give or take a few months. And I know waiting will be hard. But today I'm grateful just to be in line and to start waiting. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I refuse to update this site until we have good news. Hope you hear from me soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Shoes for Samuel

Dear Sam,

Some prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) worry that you can "jinx" your adoption is you shop too early for things for your baby. I'm not one of them. Although we have postponed doing the nursery because of our problems with the Vietnam adoption (we figure we can only look at an empty nursery so long), I'm still garage sale shopping for Sam. I figure I have to do it now, while we have garage sales. There are none in January in Chicago. Today I got these tiny little shoes for Sammy. The Old Navy sandals are for 6-12 months and were new. The water shoes might fit him his second summer (this assumes he comes home by this summer!). Total: $1 for both.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Love in the mail

Dear Samuel,

After getting the bad news today, I came home early from work, took a hot shower, and went to bed. When Ed got home, he brought in the mail, which included this package from a woman I met throught the Internet months ago. She wrote:

"I don't have any idea what this little pin was meant to depict, but when I saw it, I thought, 'My baby is around the world.' So I bought a few and I've shared a few with waiting families. I've asked each woman to tuck it inside a purse, or pin it in a pocket, somewhere closed but private, as reminder that this is real. Your baby is waiting--maybe not as you envision, but still, waiting for the right moment to come to you. I can tell you that each family has been successful in adoption. Believe!"

Many tears follwed. Thank you, Elaine. This couldn't have come at a better time.

Bad news

Dear Sam,

Today we learned that LSS is not going to be getting their license this week. In fact, the VN government has set them back several steps, so they need to have a site visit again. Therese called with the news and said she really thinks they can't make our timeline and that we should consider going with another agency. If we stay with them, we have to be "in it for the long haul," and be willing to go with their occasional slowness. She suspects their agency (and others newly licensed, heck, maybe even all of them eventually) are going to have extra steps along the way.

So your Dad and I have to make a decision. Stay, or start over. Neither is good news, and means that not only will we not meet you this year, or early next year, but that we'd better get used to thinking "maybe by summer."

I am extremely depressed this week, to say the least. We hope to take a small break from all this adoption obsessing (I'm even limiting my adoption blog reading!). Maybe after our anniverswary camping trip next weekend, we'll have more clarity.

Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years ago

Dear Sam and Sophie,

Shortly after September 11th, a friend remarked that I should write down my memories, as surely this was a day, like Pearl Harbor, that would "live in infamy." (And I saved that New York Times issue pictured at right.) I never did write my thoughts down, but I thought I would now, on this fifth anniversary, because someday you kids might want to know what your Mom was doing that day.

I didn't even know your Dad then; we met about six weeks later. I was dating a man named Ryan, an attorney who was very politically conservative, although I was trying to see if I could love someone who was different than I was. In the end, I realized we just didn't share the same values, like your Dad and I do. September 11 helped me see that.

I used to get to work early, around 8 a.m. along with two other people who worked with me at U.S. Catholic: Carmen and Diane. I was at my desk, when Ryan called from home to tell me he had seen the news about the first tower on TV. I quickly flipped on the television in our office and we gathered around it. I was watching it live when the plane hit the second tower. By then, people were arriving in the office and the country was starting to realize this was probably not an accident.

Because Chicago is a big city, and especially for those of us close to the Sears Tower (I was a block away), people immediately began to worry that something might happen here. That fear intensified, as we saw the crash into the Pentegon and in Pennsylvania. I think the first person I called was my sister; and my mom called soon after that. She wanted me to drive to Wisconsin because she thought Chicago wasn't safe. To be honest, I briefly considered it. I still have memories of the Croatians who told me about driving out of their town before it was attacked. Those who left early were luckier.

We had a new boss in my department and she was not very good at being a boss. She was trying to reach her boss to see if she could dismiss us. I didn't wait for her permission. Outside my window I saw streams of people on the sidewalk, more than any rush hour. Some people were carrying their computer hard drives.

I spoke to a few of my close friends and decided to go to the house of my friend Amanda, just north of downtown. We walked there, in a daze. She and I and my friend Megan and Sabrina watched TV there, as the reports came in. I remember we ordered Thai food for lunch.

Later I met my boyfriend at his house, but his political analysis of it was already annoying me. He is definitely not a pacifist and quickly became very "patriotic." I remember him saying to me, "I can't believe you support the Palestinians," referring to my political views about the Israeli/Palestinian crisis after my trip there. The TV was showing Palestinians dancing in the street for joy. This was later proved to be false: a reporter told a few kids to dance, which they did, and then the video was said to be Arabs celebrating the carnage. It fueled a lot of anti-Arab sentiment.

In the evening, I left my boyfriend's and went with my girlfriends to a prayer service at Holy Name Cathedral. It was all so surreal. I had often thought about what it might be like to live in a war-torn country, having visited a few of them. I wasn't so much afraid, as I was sad.

This I remember: Fairly early on, if not that day, maybe the next, I started to get very uncomfortable with many Americans' reaction to September 11, which was to rally the troops (literally and figuratively) for our group, in an us-versus-them sort of way. There was violence against mosques, talk of closing down our borders. Everywhere you went, people wanted to sing "God Bless America." I personally don't think God blesses America any more than God blesses the rest of the world. In fact, my faith teaches me that God blesses the poor more, so in that respect God blesses lots of other countries more than America.

Even then, I think I realized I was more of a "world citizen" than purely an American one. Later, of course, this made it easy to picture my own family as an international, interracial one. Ryan and I had had many political debates before, but in the aftermath of 9/11, they were more serious. We broke up shortly after, he eventually went to work for the White House and spent time with the U.S. government in Iraq during the war. I went on to meet your Dad, fall in love, get married and to work to get you two. I'm glad it turned out how it did!

Thoughtout history there have been times that people have had to respond to horrendous evil being directed at them or their people. Thoughout history, people have screwed up that response (putting people in interment camps, more war, etc.) I can understand why. It's extremely scary to be attacked. I initially felt fear, but pretty soon after (even that day) I decided not to let the fear get the best of me. As a country, I don't think we did that, and that makes me sad. One of my goals in life is to live from love, not fear. I know it sounds idealistic, and it is. (This is one of the debates Ryan and I had). But if you only live your ideals when everything is going honky-dory, then what are they worth?

September 11 was a horrible, horrible tragedy, and I continue to remember those who died (and those they left behind). But it also was something of a wake-up call to me, and to many other "liberals" out there. It was a very hard time to be a pacifist. Many of us were galvanized not so much by 911, but by our country's reaction to it. I did not wear a flag pin, nor did I "shop" to be patriotic, as George Bush suggested. (In fact, I mailed his "tax cut" directly to charity.) Intead, I got more politically involved to try to make this world a better place. In that sense, some good always does come out of evil. Another Christian belief.

So those are my memories. I'll try to get your Dad to put some down, too. I know he spent the day with his friend and co-worker Jerry. They played video games and hung out. Your Dad is lucky to have a lot of good friends who not only enjoy having a beer, but also talking about important things. Most of them share our ideals and pretty similar political beliefs.

This reflection is much longer than I intended it to be! But I think my friend was right: It's good to put those memories down before they fade too much. One image that really sticks in my mind was the quiet in the city for the several days in which there was no air traffic. It was palpable. Scary, but also peaceful.

A lot of people remember how people were nice to one another after that. There was an almost instant super-community feeling, which I do remember. Of course, in the Midwest, there is already some of that. I do think that most Americans would not have predicted that we would be in the mess that we are now, lo five years later. Sometimes I am not optimistic about the ability of the American people to care about more than their own little lives and possessions. In the end, I don't know how much 9/11 really changed people. For me, I know it only reinforced a global consciousness that was already forming.

I often wonder what will happen if one of your countries of origin ends up at war with the U.S. What will happen if everyone hates Chinese or Vietnamese people like they did Muslims and Middle Easterners? It is a challenge for some reason I feel called to in this life. I know you will probably have mixed feelings about being "American" since you were not born here. Your Dad and I promise not to "over-Americanize" you! We will also raise you to be world citizens, ones who care as much about people halfway around the world, not only because some of them are your biological family, but because, really, we are all biological family. We in this together, for better or for worse. That, to me, is the lesson of September 11.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On Wisconsin

Dear Sam,

My home state rocks! I sent the requests for state certification of our birth certificates on Tuesday to both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (Express Mail, of course, and including a return Express Mail envelope). Today I got the one back from Wisconsin. Yes, in less than 48 hours. Last time, for our China dossier, Pennsylvania took forever. Let's see if they're any better this time.

Notre Dame plays Penn State this weekend. I'd even cheer for the old fogey Joe Paterno, if it meant the State of Pennsylvania would hurry on our paperwork. The Badgers play Western Illinois this weekend. I'm still cheering for Wisconsin. See what happens when you have a good state?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Birth certificates sent

Dear Sam,

Today I sent two copies of your Dad's birth certificate to the Department of State in Pennsylvania and two copies of my birth certificate to the Secretary of State in Wisconsin. All told, we probably spent about $150-200 on birth certificates, postage, and certification.

For Sophie's paperwork, your Dad's birth certificate was the last piece of paperwork we were waiting for (took even longer than the I-171H!), so I'm hoping it goes more quickly this time. Most agencies don't require you to have birth certificates, but LSS has you do it just in case. More evidence of hyper-caution, I guess. Perhaps I'll be thankful for that someday.

Meanwhile, no news from them yet. They're supposed to be talking to our social worker today. I hope to hear more tomorrow.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lewis and Clark

Dear Sam and Sophie,

It's Labor Day Weekend, and although that refers to a different kind of "labor," I'm really feeling the "work" that is involved in becoming parents to both of you. This latest news that things might not work out with our second Vietnam agency has been so disheartening, and the wait for China continues to crawl at a snail's pace. I took a vacation day on Friday so I would have a nice long weekend to try to recover, and I decided not to accomplish anything this weekend. No cleaning. No projects. No commitments.

Friday night I was supposed to go to a friend's bachelor party, but my ride fell through, so I took it as a sign I wasn't meant to go. (Large group gatherings with strangers are especially hard these days, as everyone asks me, "How's the adoption going?") Then your Dad decided to go to a bbq at friends Jason and Daniela's, and at the last minute I decided to go along. Jason and Daniele had a little boy named Max three months ago, and at the party we both got to hold and feed him. He is so cute! And it was great to get a taste of what's coming for us.

Then on Saturday we decided to go on the Moonlight Paddle with Chicago River Canoe and Kayak, where my friend Delia works on the weekends. It was so great! We canoed upriver from Addison to Foster, got off and had a picnic dinner, then canoed back down in the dark. Very peaceful and even romantic! On top of that, we met three people (one young man who works with Delia and a couple on the trip with us) who were Vietnamese-American. We shared that we were adopting from Vietnam and they were all very supportive. By Saturday night I had a much more peaceful feeling about the whole thing. I think it's a sign we're meant to be going to Vietnam to get little Sammy. Maybe God sent those three people to let us know we're headed in the right direction.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

LSS license issue

Dear Sam,

Yesterday we heard from Therese at LSS that this COA/Hague thing may not be a problem after all. Maybe. Their social worker has reviewed our home study (finally! They've had it for one month!) and LSS's social worker will be contacting ours (who's been waiting patiently to hear from them for weeks!) next week. As I said, this "approval" of our home study agency is not for sure. I asked Megan, our social worker who did our home study, to contact me next week after she talks to LSS to help us decide where to go from here.

The bigger and more serious issue is LSS's license, or rather lack of it. This was an issue of some discussion on one of the Adoption Agency Research listserves yesterday. One person noted that LSS refers to themselves as "newly licensed" on their website and in a short article in the local paper noted that they were approved by the VN government to do adoptions. Of course, that's not true yet. Another poster on the listserv had emailed the U.S. Embassy and gotten a reply that there' s no such thing as "verbal approval." Either they have their license, or they don't yet.

Therese and LSS have always been very honest with me about this. I explain it to non-adoption types like this: Agencies have to jump through 30 hoops to become licensed; LSS has jumped through 29, maybe 29 1/2. And this last step is just taking longer than usual because of all the uncertainty around Vietnam adoption right now, as it's just opened up and already both of our governments are seeing some problems and trying to clamp down.

Last week the U.S. embassy changed their website to note that "no new applications for agency licenses are being accepted by Vietnam at this time." Of course, LSS (and several others) have already applied, so this doesn't apply to them. But it does signal some tightening of the licensing process. And now we've learned that a "31st step" has been added.

This is my concern: it is possible that LSS will unfairly get caught in a clamp down on not-yet-licensed agencies and either not get their license or not get it for quite a while. Already they have been telling me for over a month that it's coming "any day now." I believe they are being honest with me when they say that, but we are dealing with international governments here, and nothing is ever for sure.

At some point, your Dad and I have to draw a line in the sand and say, "If LSS doesn't have their license by this date," we're going elsewhere. I believe that date is sometime next week.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A new wrinkle/A new agency?

Dear Sam,

Today your Mommy-to-be had a little bit of a crying breakdown. I had to close my door at work and just let it out. This journey to you has already been hard, and we've barely started. The new wrinkle is that is there is a possibility that we may have to start over with yet another (our third) agency for our Vietnam adoption. It seems that LSS-MN is being super-cautious about the new laws that will be part of the Hague treaty next year. Therese emailed me today asking if our homestudy agency, Glenkirk, is COA accredited. Turns out they've applied for it, but don't have it yet (they, too, are anticipating Hague changes).

So now we're waiting to see if we are "grandfathered" in for this particular issue. They said they should know by the end of the week. This is very upsetting, as it will mean that we have wasted another month with an agency that won't work out for us. My good idea to "jump" to Vietnam, made two and half months ago, would have put me ahead of all the people who have subsequently had that idea. Now we're probably part of the new rush to VN and will end up waiting just like everyone for China. To be honest, this, combined with the fact that LSS doesn't have their license yet and their general slowness with the paperchase, has me not that sad to switch.

I called the next agency on our list of preferred one, Adoption Center of Washington, and spoke to Linda, the director there. She told me they would work with us with our China adoption started, and that COA accreditation was not a problem. They are highly respected and have had two groups of families travel so far. The only thing is that they are a couple thousand dollars more expensive, and they have a waiting list of 14 families before us. They currently only work in one province, but are close to adding two more. They estimate the wait to referral after paperwork to be 2-6 months (while LSS says 2-3), but they estimate paperwork should take 6 weeks (whereas with LSS, it could be more like 3 months). I had to start over, but it helps to know we have some options. They already sent me their info packet and even the dossier guide (by email!). We think we're going to fill out the application (what's another $300!?) just in case.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Paperchase finally begins!

Dear Sam,

It's been a busy week (or 10 days) as far as your adoption paperwork is concerend. We had yet another mail problem (I do wish LSS wouldn't send everything regular snailmail). In fact, it took so long for the dossier guide to get to us that Therese finally emailed it to me. I was somewhat disappointed because it is only PART of the dossier. They want us to do these first four documents first:

1. Application to adopt a child from Vietnam
2. Letter about why we want to adopt
3. Commitment to do annual reports
4. Photo page (I included this photo of our kitchen!)

We finished these, had them notarized and faxed them to Therese at LSS-MN today, Thursday, Aug. 24. Now we wait for them to be approved and then apparently they send us the info we need to do the rest of the dossier. This excessively cautious methodical-ness is really frustrating. Most agencies would have already sent me the whole dossier guide and, to be honest, I'd be done with it already.

I can only hope they don't send the next packet regular snailmail.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A place for your clothes

Dear Sam,

Your Dad and I bought this dresser at At Home Furniture in Libertyville more than a year ago, knowing that it would someday be a baby dresser. It's a funny story: We were driving home from Wisconsin after visiting your grandparents there, and since we had a rental car, we decided to stop at the store in the suburbs where we had ordered this. But it turned out it was much bigger than we thought, and the store owner didn't think we could get it home. We shoved it in the trunk, tied the trunk shut as best we could, and prayed it wouldn't fall out on the way home. I remember we drove really, really slowly on the freeway. But we made it home safe and sound.

After sitting unfinished for more than a year (and being filled with assorted junk), I decided to finish it on Friday. We wanted it to somewhat match the crib and the Ikea bookshelves in the room, so I just polyurathane'd it with no stain. It turned out nice--two coats everywhere and three on the drawer fronts and top. I also painted the drawer knobs with the green paint from the wall.

The old Laura Ashley lamp from my bedroom matches well, as does Boo Bear (my teddy bear from when I was a child). You can see your rug and bedding piled in the corner there. It's still seems too early to put the crib together. Maybe next month, or as a celebration when our paperwork is submitted. Meanwhile, at least your clothes and some of your toys are tucked nicely away in this dresser. Baby steps...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Scary news about Agent Orange

Dear Sam,

We can only hope that your family was not exposed to this awful chemical during the Vietnam War.

Vietnamese study confirms Agent Orange's deadly legacy

Latest studies on Agent Orange/dioxin have proved its long-lasting effects on human health and the environment, a Vietnamese doctor has said. Assistant Professor Doctor Nguyen Van Tuong of the Hanoi Medical University said a recent study by medical researchers from around thecountry indicated that dioxin residues remained at high levels in some areas like the airport in the central Da Nang city, Bien Hoa Airportin the southern Dong Nai province, and the Nam Dong area in thecentral Thua Thien-Hue province.

The study, involving genetics, immunology, biochemistry, and hematology among people with high risk of exposure to the dioxin, alsofound that the rate of lymphocyte disorders in a high-risk group in Bien Hoa was 59 percent and in Nam Dong, 24.7 percent.This compared with only 2.6 percent for a group not exposed toAO/dioxin during and after the war in the northern city of Hai Phong. The ability to produce antibodies against HBsAg and hepatitis Bsurface antigen, among the high risk groups in Bien Hoa and Nam Dongwas significantly lower than the group from Hai Phong.

Research conducted among veterans who fought in the south during the war and now live in Hanoi's Cau Giay district found there was a marked level of 2,3,7,8 TCDD, one of the most potent toxic dioxins, in their blood and a high rate of mental, respiratory, and dermatological diseases. A gene analysis carried out on five generations of veterans' familiesin the northern provinces of Ha Tay and Thai Binh indicated changes inGene P53, Cyp 1A1 and AhR, which have been proven to have a relationship to dioxin exposure.

Scientists from the Hanoi University of Medicine, the Ho Chi Minh CityMedicine and Pharmacy University, the Military Academy of Medicine,the Vietnam-Russia Tropical Centre, and the Biotechnology Centtejointly conducted the research. Dr Tuong said that tests for the research had been conducted at the Analysis and Experiment Service Centre in HCMC and the Fukuoka Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences of Japan. He would report the study results on behalf of the research team at an international conference on dioxin scheduled for August in Norway, he said.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Turtle time

Dear Sam,

I hope you like turtles. Last night I bought these little khaki short overalls with little turtles embroidered all over them and matching shirt. I found them at Filene's Basement, where your Dad and I were shopping for shoes for him. This was on sale and then on clearance and only cost $3.50. Your Mom is one bargain shopper!

Maybe turtles are an appropriate image for this whole process because it's so SLOW! But we did get some good news today. Therese from LSS told us to resend in our contract and emailed us some of the forms we need to start filling out. She also said the "dossier package" is in the mail, which means we will officially start "paperchasing" soon. Yea! In preparation, I sent away for my birth certificate from Wisconsin today, and your future Grandpa in Philadelphia sent away for your Dad's. Here we go... I'll try to remember that slow and steady wins the race.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Good news, bad news

Dear Sam,

How about the good news first? Well, sadly, the father of official in Vietnam has died, which means he returned to work and signed the paper that moves our agency one step closer to official licensure. We're sorry for his loos, but happy that this process is moving forward.

Now the not-so-good-news: the timeline for bringing you home is looking to be longer than we had hoped. It seems the paperchase is more involved than for China and may take quite a bit of time. And we haven't even started yet! For example, in addition to having our paperwork notarized and then authenticated by the Illinois Secretary of State to prove that the notary is real, it also has to be sent to the U.S. Department of State to prove that the Illinois Secretary of State is real! And that DOS step can take weeks. :-(

But our agency is working with us to make it go as quickly as possible. In fact, I'm going to order copies of our birth certificates today, as I'm pretty sure that's one piece of documentation they're going to need. I remember that Pennsylvania is really slow on the authentication process, too.

The gist is that we now have to accept that we will not meet you in 2006. In fact, now I'm praying that we can even have a referral by Christmas. Lowered expectations. That's what adoption is all about.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Contract sent!

Dear Sam,

Well, it's official. Today we Fed Ex'd the signed contracts with Lutheran Social Services. Also, our homestudy agency, Glenkirk Adoptions, has sent their signed contracts, too (after a little mix-up). Now LSS-MN will work with Megan, our social worker, to get our home study fixed up for Vietnam. Hopefully this is something that won't take too long and won't cost too much! It's a little bit more than changing all the "China"s to "Vietnam"s. We met with Megan last month for a quick update, and she was helpful, as usual. She referred us to a good pediatrician who specializes in children adopted internationally. And she gave us good advice about having two children from two different countries.

I've updated the blog to include some links about Vietnam adoption, adoption in general, and eventually China adoption. I'm also starting a list of other adoptive parents' blogs I'm reading.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Dear Samuel,

As you know, we initially expected your sister, Sophie, first. So when our friends Jenny and Jon were getting ready to move, they gave us lots of gently used baby clothes from Grace, but ended up selling all of Nathan's old clothes at their garage sale. Also, your Auntie Amy has been saving all of her kids' clothes, but Jack and Kevin were rougher on them than Clare. Simply put, we have lots of girl clothes and not so much for you.

So today your thifty Mom went off on her bike to hit the neighborhood's garage sales and had success at one in particular, where a woman with a toddler boy was getting rid of baby clothes. I got a nice snowsuit (at right) and several outfits, some still with the tags on for only $10. Yes, $10 total, for a snowsuit, two light blue cotton outfits, two pair of cord pants, one pair of sweat pants, a fleece reindeer outfit, a fleece lion top, and a Pooh baseball pair of jean overalls.

I can't wait to wash it all in Dreft and put it in your (yet unvarnished) dresser. Don't worry, you will not be naked!

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Dear Sam and Sophie,

That's U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, what what used to be called the INS. Those of us who are adopting internationally are very familiar with USCIS, and the dreaded I-171H form, which is usually the last piece of paperwork you need for your dossier. To get the I-171H, all you have to do is fill out Form 1-660A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, send it in with copies of your birth certificate, marriage license, home study, and then wait for an appointment to go down to their special fingerprinting place (No, it doesn't matter that you've already been fingerprinted by the local police and for DCFS.)

We, of course, already have our I-171H form, but it needs to be transferred from China to Vietnam. Luckily (ha!) they only charge $200 for that. (The first time around it's almost $545 plus almost $200 for fingerprinting.) We are not bothered by the $200, since it was almost guaranteed that we would have to completely redo our I-171H anyway, since it's only good for 18 months, and the wait for China is approaching that. (Despite many attempts to lobby the federal government, they have so far refused to make that document "last" longer. A huge hassle for people adopting from China.)

Anyway, today I mailed off the form to transfer our I-171H from China to Vietnam. But first I spoke to a really nice man at USCIS's customer service, who suggested I attach a letter with your Dad's information (since I am the main petitioner) and also explain how we have different last names. Just to be sure he advsised me to attach copies of our birth certificates and marriage license. He was very nice but pointed out to me that women who do not take their husband's names make it very difficult for those who process paperwork. Mmmmm. It was so much easier when the property ownership of women by men was obvious! (Feminist rant concluded).

Of course, after I got that all overnighted (thanks, in no part, to a lame woman at the Lawrence Post Office; it's the worst!) I read on a listserv that they also want a copy of the new home study, which we don't have yet. Sigh. If that's true, I suppose I'll be hearing from them. Since this is one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of the dossier (aside from the home study), it'll be good to have it done.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Vietnam update

Dear Sam,

I spoke with Therese at Lutheran Social Services today and learned a little more about their program and the updates from Caroline, their in-country facilitator, who just returned from Vietnam. The bad news is that although LSS-MN is definitely licensed to do adoptions in Vietnam, it is not "super official" until this one piece of paper gets signed and processed. Unfortuantely the one governement official who needs to sign off on this very important piece of paper is out because his father is dying. Therese assures me that the VN Ministry of Justice and others are very confident that this will be resolved soon. She also thinks it will not slow down our process, although they have families who are ready and can't get their referrals until this is clearned up. They will be LSS-MN's first group of families to travel, and we will be watching them closely. So let's all pray that this man's father recovers, or maybe that they hire someone else who can sign the darn piece of paper!

In other news, she shared that most of their early referrals will be coming from two area in Vietnam: Tu Duc (I think this might be the orphanage name, not the province), which is just outside HCMC and where there are so many infants avialable that some are having to stay in the hospital because the orphanage is full; and Kien Giang, which is southwest almost to the Cambodian border and where Catalyst has a big humanitarian project, which also has many children of varying ages available.

For those of you interested in the timeline, LSS-MN still estimates between 1-3 months for our referral and another 1-3 to travel after that. Of course, this is all after your paperwork if complete, which we have barely started. We're hoping our paperwork process will only take about a month or so. We'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Nursery news

Dear Sam,

After that sad story, how about some happy news! Let me tell you about the room that will someday soon be your home. It used to be what your Dad and I called "the study." One whole wall is full of bookcases solid with books. Since "Freakonomics" says that children raised in homes with lots of books (regardless of whether they are read or not) end up being smarter, we are confident you are going to be brilliant. The books are staying in that room, in part because there is no place else for them to go.

So is a rather well-worn sofa, which came from your Dad's apartment, and before that from his friends Jenny and Jon. It is a sofa bed, so if anyone comes to visit, they can sleep on it. It is also where we'll probably lay you to change your diaper, since we have no changing table. We did buy a really nice dresser at the unpainted furniture store. All I have to do is give it a few coats of varnish, since we're going with the natural wood look.

Your crib is a gift from the same friends of your Dad's I mentioned above. It belonged to their daughter Grace and their son Nathan. It is really nice and has a drawer in the bottom. Today the linens that I bought came in the mail. I think they will match the sage green wall color perfectly ("Weekend Getaway" by Benjamin Moore.) They are made by Tadpole Baby and called Sage Toile (with gingham.) We also bought a pretty sage green chenille rug from World Market.

Unfortunately all this stuff is in a big pile right now, since that room is pretty crowded with lots of other stuff. But I am really working hard to go through, throw out, and otherwise organize that stuff so there's room for you! We hope to put the crib up in a month or so. I'll post a photo when we do.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Not-so-nice notary

Dear Sam,

Today your Dad and I went to the doctor at Swedish Covenant Hospital (pictured above) to get our physicals and to have our health forms signed for our dossier to Vietnam. Even though we have not yet been officially accepted by our agency, they allowed us to do this because our doctor's appointment was made almost a month ago when we thought we were going with the other agency.

However, our family doctor got married and moved, so we also had to meet our new doctor. Her name is Jayshree Dhali and she is from India. We both really liked her. She was very friendly and even gave us a recipe for catfish, when she learned your Dad's cholesterol and blood pressure are a little high. He is going to try to start eating a little healthier.

After we finished, the nurse called a notary from the hospital to come up and notarize the forms. Your Dad went to work, and it's a good thing he did because it took almost an hour for the notary to arrive. When she did, she immediately scolded the doctor for signing the forms before she arrived. Dr. Dhali offered to redo the forms (luckily I had two extras). Then the notary asked me where I was supposed to sign, but I pointed out to her that we don't sign the forms, only the doctor.

Then she demanded my driver's license and asked where my husband was. When I said he wasn't here, she said she couldn't notarize the forms. (Not true, by the way, as she was only notarizing that the doctor's signature was true, not to the veracity of everything in the form.)

Well, I have to tell you, I was not having a good day, and when she said this, I immediately burst into tears. Yup, right in front of the whole doctor's office. "Fine, we'll just take another day off work, make another appointment, and redo everything," I said in between sobs. They rushed me into the nearest room, which happened to be the drug supply area. The nurse, Mary, was being really nice and trying to comfort me while I was crying and saying, "Everyone else just get to have sex and have a baby."

Finally the notary agreed that if Ed would copy his driver's license and fax it from work, she would sign them. Of course, I couldn't reach him. Then Mary realized they had a copy of his driver's license in his file. She went off to copy it. Then this notary woman turns to me and says, "You're going to be so happy when you get this baby." I seriously wanted to murder her. I said, "Please don't talk to me. " She replied, "I'm just trying to cheer you up." To which I said, "You're not the right person to do that."

Finally, she signed the form, then as I left she said, "Sometimes God brings angels into our life and we don't know why. Have a blessed day." It took all my moral strength to not reach across and put my hands around her throat and try to strangle her. Later, I tried to pray for this poor woman who clearly has no power in her life, so when given a little (as a notary), she somehow feels the need to lord it over other people.

I cried the whole way home. So many people have no idea how painful it is to go through years of infertility treatments and then have your life overscrutinized by social workers, doctors, government officials, and, yes, even notaries in order to adopt a child. I fully support the background work necessary to deem up fit parents. Obviously I wouldn't want a child placed with just anybody. But could the people involved in this process please recognize how hard this is, not just financially, time-wise, but emotionally for us? This same notary grilled the nurse on the phone before coming, so the nurse had to ask me, "What country are you adopting from? What's the child's name? Do you have a child assigned to you yet?" I almost started crying then. I wanted to scream: "NO! And I've been working on this for years!" I mean, there was no reason for the notary to ask all that just to come up and sign my paper. But because I needed something from her, I had to accept her prying and her nastiness.

It's days like this that you feel really annoyed that people who have biological children don't have to do any of this: prove their physical fitness, demonstrate their psychological and financial fitness, take parenting classes, and contantly live in fear that they won't "pass" one of these hurdles and be prevented from becoming parents. Sam, I know you're going to be worth it, but some days I wish it weren't so hard.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Paper lantern

Dear Sam and Sophie,

A couple of weeks ago your Dad and I were at a Friday night party at an art gallery. The event was a book launching for our friend Karlin Sloan's new book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

At the party, we were introduced to a friend of our friends Nick and Sandra. Her name was Laura Gannarelli, a graphic designer and adult Korean adoptee. She has started a non-profit organization called "Paper Lantern," a resource center for Korean adoptees.

We had a great conversation about the issues facing Asian adoptees and their families. We were so excited to hear that she has her first big event, a panel discussion with U.S. and Canadian Korean adoptees, on Sept. 17 in Chicago. "My hope is that through these honest discussion of our experiences stated in a frank and honest way [we] will help the parents understand our feelings and to see things that they may not have been aware of," says Laura.

For more information about the event or the organization, see

We hope to learn more from Laura and other adult Asian adoptees.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Adoption buddies

Dear Sam and Sophie,

Today I talked to my friend Karen. She and her husband, Jeff, are also adopting a child or maybe two children. We have both had lots of ups and downs in trying to adopt, and it has been nice to have one another for support.

Some friends of Karen and Jeff had an adoption shower for them this past Sunday up in Wisconsin. This is a picture of Karen being surprised. Her husband knew about the shower but kept it a secret.

Karen and Jeff started working on their adoption right around the same time we did--last fall. They originally wanted to adopt two toddler/preschool-age children from India. However, things have not gone that smoothly with India, so they are now looking at Vietnam and Thailand.

There is a possiblity that we might be going to Vietnam around the same time. Wouldn't that be fun?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Here we go again

Dear Sam,

Today your Dad and I chose the agency we are going to use to adopt you from Vietnam. We thought we were going to use another agency, but after your Mom did lots of research, using her investigative reporter skills, she found out that maybe that agency didn't have the best person to help us when we get to Vietnam.

Finally, we decided that Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota is the best agency out there to help us start our family. We really like the woman in charge of the Vietnam program there. Her name is Therese Bartlett and she has written a book called When You Were Born in Vietnam (Yeong & Yeong, 2001). You can read an interview with Therese here.

LSS works with a woman named Caroline Ticarro-Parker, who founded a humanitarian organization called the Catalyst Foundation to help children back in Vietnam as well as those who come to the U.S.

We feel really good about this agency, so as soon as we heard today that everything is going smoothly with their licensing by the Vietnam government, we took the application that we filled out this weekend, and your Mom rushed home to get a copy of our home study and get it all in the overnight mail by 5 p.m. So by tomorrow LSS should have our application.

It's Step 1.