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

Bargains!


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

USCIS

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 www.paperlantern.org.

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.