This past fall was a real time of change for us as we began
re-thinking what we were looking for in an adoption and what we had to offer.
We had begun assuming that we would adopt an infant. And I mean why not? Infants are cute and smell good and fun to
carry around and the general rule of thumb is that the younger the child, the
easier they adapt to a new family. So
adopting an infant from Ethiopia was sort of our initial thought on what to
do. But our experience with almost
adopting a pair of domestic twins began to change our thinking.
For one, we got attached to the idea of adopting two
children at once. Initially we had
thought that we would adopt one child and then possibly adopt a second one
later. But the twins forced us to
realize that we could adopt two at once - that, although this would be
difficult, we felt up to it.
Additionally, during the time that we had to consider
whether or not to move forward with the twins’ adoption, we were forced to let
go of the idea of adopting an infant and then begin thinking about what it
would be like to bring a couple of toddlers into our house. As it turns out, the more we thought about
it, the more we realized that there are a lot of advantages to adopting
For instance, did you know that there comes a time when
small children stop pooping in their pants and begin using a potty?
It’s true! And this
seemed like a pretty good advantage. But
more than that, there are lots of other advantages to having an older
child. After about 8 years of almost
always having an infant in the house, we had just reached the point where our
youngest is three and a half. And it is
SO much easier. Older kids can get
themselves dressed and feed themselves and get in the car on their own and play
with their siblings. It makes going to
the grocery store, or a restaurant, or even just hanging out at the house a
million times easier than chasing around a completely dependent baby that does
nothing but cry, poop and crawl around trying to swallow small toys on the
I also liked the idea that our kids would be grouped
together, age wise. I liked that there
would be a relatively small age range between our oldest child and our
youngest. Hopefully, this meant that our
kids would grow up to be close as they played together and shared similar
stages in life.
And finally, we began thinking about our oldest daughter,
Audra. Conventional wisdom holds that it
can be dangerous to “artificially twin” one of your children – that is, to adopt
a child that is the same age as one of your existing children. But Audra seemed like an exception. She had always wanted a sister and had the
personality that would really embrace having a sister her age. She would love to take her sister around and
introduce her to friends and show her how school worked. She would love to share a bedroom and stay up
late talking and giggling. More than
most kids out there, Audra would be an exceptional sister to a newly adopted
child. And the more we thought about
this, the more we wanted to make that happen.
Partly, I sincerely believed that it would be a good thing
for Audra and our family as a whole. But
also, I knew that most people who were adopting were in the position of only
wanting to, or being able to adopt infants.
And the more I considered it, the more I realized that we were in the
somewhat unique position to be able to adopt older children. There is a tremendous need in Ethiopia (and
everywhere) for older children to be adopted, and I felt like if we were able
to do that, then we should.
In the midst of all of these thoughts that were rambling
around in our heads, Sarah began looking at what is called the “waiting
children’s list.” This is a webpage
featuring children who have not found homes yet. Whenever a prospective adoptive family begins
the adoption process, they fill out a form describing the kind of child they
are looking for (example: a healthy
girl, under 18 months). The children on
the waiting list are kids who didn’t fit into anyone’s criteria. It is largely made up of older boys, often
between the ages of 8 and 12.
Sarah would look at the list frequently. It’s a heartbreaking thing to do – looking at
pictures of children who so desperately want to be adopted but haven’t
been. It was hard not to call up and
want to adopt every child there, but we were trying hard not to be impulsive in
a decision where it would be very easy to let emotions override your
thinking. Then one day, Sarah was
looking through the pages and came across a listing that seemed perfect. There were two sisters on the waiting
list. One was an 8 year old girl and the
other was her two year old sister.
All I can tell you is that there was something about this
girl’s picture that touched our heart. I
wish I could explain it more deeply than that, but looking at this fuzzy
pictures from 12,000 miles away there was something deep inside both Sarah and
I that told us that these two girls were going to be our daughters.
We requested more information and tried to do everything we
could to be responsible and make a decision based on thoughtful consideration
of what we knew about the girls and what we knew about our family, but in the
end, there was nothing we learned that could change the fact that we had fallen
in love at first sight. In fact, what we
learned made us all the more confident that this was the match for us.
For legal reasons, we are not able to share pictures or
names on a public site, but in private we showed pictures of our girls to our
close friends, reveling in the fact that these girls would soon be a part of our
family. One friend even said that he
couldn’t get over how much the older sister looked like Audra. This was of course not even remotely
true. These two girls from different
countries and different cultures looked nothing alike, but still there was
something about them that did seem so similar.
We filled out the formal intent paperwork to adopt the girls
and began from that moment on to think of them as our own. However, this was back in October and there
was still paperwork left to be done. Our
immigration paperwork had gotten stalled in an office in Missouri. I spent weeks calling trying to get ahold of
someone to find out what was going on. I
was becoming furious to think that our girls were in an orphanage in Ethiopia, unable
to come home to be with us because some stupid government agency had to stamp
I was ready to join the tea party.
Finally we learned that our documents had gotten lost and
that the reason we couldn’t reach our assigned INS agent was because she hadn’t
been issued a phone yet. Eventually, we
made enough of a pest of ourselves that someone took pity on us and after
overnighting some replacement forms, the final piece of our adoption dossier
Then I took about 30 different documents that I had compiled
and took them to my social worker and got them all notarized. Then I went to the county office and got all
the notary signatures documented as accurate, then I took all those documents
over to the state office and got all of them affixed with a state seal stating
that the authorization of the notary signatures was accurate. So, I had thirty documents with a signature,
attached to a notary signature, documented by a county authorization and
attached to a state seal. Who says
bureaucracy is dead.
During the months it took to gather all of these ridiculously
exacting documents, we were receiving regular updates about our girls from the
orphanage. Every few weeks we would
receive an email with pictures of our girls and a report on what they were
doing and how they were faring.
There is something miraculous about this process. Because without warning, one day you check
your email and there is an innocuous message full of pictures and wonderful
stories about your soon to be adoptive children. It is virtually impossible to have a bad day
when you receive one.
I transferred all the pictures over to my phone so I could
carry them around and show them to friends, or just sit and stare at them
myself whenever a quiet moment came around.
We had pictures of the girls printed up for the house and even bought a
family tree frame for the grandparents that included our soon to be adopted
Finally our dossier was completed and sent off. It buzzes around the U.S. for a couple of
weeks to various official offices before being sent to Ethiopia. And from that point on the waiting begins
until you get the phone call to bring your children home.
This can be a difficult time, as the waiting is hard and
also unpredictable. This was made all
the more difficult by the fact that I became seriously ill. By now it was early December and I came down
with what I thought was a particularly bad flu.
A week later I was in the hospital undergoing the knife for surgery to
remove a severe infection in my liver. I
was of course worried about the surgery and whatever danger to my life this
might bring, but more than that, my very first thought was about how this would
affect the adoption. You had to be in
good health to adopt internationally.
Would this disqualify me? Would
this delay the process? It was hard for
me to imagine ever getting over the fact that my illness had somehow kept these
beautiful girls from becoming part of our family.
Luckily, my social worker assured me that this was unlikely
to be an issue. However, while I was in
the hospital she did email to say that there was a mistake on one of our
documents and that it needed to be corrected before the dossier could be sent
Are you kidding me?
So, Sarah, the non-hospitalized one of us, found the
document, corrected it and got it sent on its way. Finally, on the 23rd of December,
two weeks after having been admitted, I came home from the hospital having been
poked and prodded in the most unpleasant of places. I was battered and exhausted, but aside from
coming home just in time for Christmas, I came home to the very, very good news
that our dossier had arrived in Ethiopia and that it would be just a matter of
time before the girls would be declared officially ours and we would be able to
bring them home to meet their new sister and brothers.
We got the news that our dossier had arrived in Ethiopia on
December 30. The year of 2010 had been
kind of a rough year, but I had to say…. 2011 was looking pretty good.
Less than a week later I got a phone call from our social
worker. This was not unusual, but it was
a call I always greeted with a little bit of hesitancy. It could be that she was calling with the
great news that our court date had been scheduled, but more likely, she was
calling with bad news. Probably another error
had been found in our dossier or a piece of it had gone missing. This would mean another week or two of delays
as we scrambled to recreate the documents, get them notarized, approved and sealed
and then shipped off to who knows where.
When I picked up the phone, the first thing she said was,
“Marcus, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.
We’ve lost the referral.”
Lost the referral!
What did that even mean? How did
they lose the whole referral? These
people were worse than INS. I steeled
myself for whatever Sisyphean task of gathering endless paperwork lay before
“What does that mean?” I sighed, “we’ve lost the referral?”
“This adoption is over.”
She said quietly. “Other
relatives have come forward to take the girls.”
At first, I sincerely didn’t understand what she was
saying. And then slowly, in waves, the
reality of her words began to hit me.
We had lost the referral. The adoption
was over. These two girls who we had
been dreaming about, planning for and praying over every day and night for the
last three months were no longer going to be our little girls.
I was in a state of shock.
“This almost never happens….” She went on.
“And yet it’s happened to us twice now,” I corrected,
I was trying to be understanding. I was trying to be considerate. But in the rush of emotions there was plenty
of anger bubbling up amidst the pain and the oncoming depression.
These were our girls.
Our girls! We knew,
theoretically, that things could still go wrong, but I don’t think I had ever
taken that possibility seriously. After
all we had been through, it certainly seemed as if we had taken our share of
whatever difficulty was required for an adoption and besides this just felt so
right. I had felt with my whole heart
like God had brought these girls into our lives. It had seemed crazy on paper: two more kids? An eight year old? A two year old sister?
It seemed completely wrong, but the more we had thought
about it and prayed about it, the more sure I had become that It was absolutely
right. These were the two children that
would complete our family in the most perfect way. I stared at their faces every day and
imagined what it would be like to have them living in our home as our
daughters. I imagined our five children
playing together in the backyard. I
imagined having to stomp upstairs at 10:00 at night and shush the two giggling
older girls and tell them to stop talking about boys! I imagined each of our three daughters getting
married as I held their arms and walked them down the aisle, their two sisters
smiling as bridesmaids. I imagined a
Thanksgiving thirty years from now when my five children, their spouses and my dozens of grandchildren swarmed around
the house while I tried to get the largest turkey I could fit in the oven ready
I was that sure that these girls were ours, that they were
part of our family. I knew that things
could go wrong, but it had never occurred to me that they would ACTUALLY go wrong. When things are so perfect…. when you feel so
strongly that God has led you to this place….. how then could it all evaporate
with a single phone call?
And yet that’s what happened.
The days and weeks that followed that phone call were
miserable. It felt as if someone had
died. These two girls had only been
“ours” for only a few months, but they felt for all the world like our children
and losing them felt as if a part of us had been ripped away.
In the coming days we had to tell our friends and our family
about this loss. We had to endure
telling the miserable story over and over again. We had to cry all over again when we told
someone who truly understood our pain.
We had to bite our lip when we told someone who didn’t understand why we
might be so upset. I had to watch my
children cry when I told them that the sisters that we had been talking about
for months would not be coming to live with us.
And then, as if the pain of this loss wasn’t enough, we
realized that we also needed to figure out what to do about this adoption that
we were in the middle of. We had
invested months of our life and tens of thousands of dollars. We had done it gleefully with the knowledge that
we would be bringing home these two girls that we were in love with. And now, we once again found ourselves back
at the beginning of a very long and very
emotionally treacherous path.
We needed to decide, again, what we wanted to do. Did we still want to adopt siblings? Did we still want to adopt at all? There was certainly a part of me that just
wanted to be done with the whole thing.
Should we just walk away and try to pretend that none of this had ever
happened? Was it even wise to once again
expose ourselves to such potential pain?
We spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do,
what direction to move in, but our hearts weren’t in it. I felt emotionally numb. We needed to make a decision, but I had no
idea how. The things we had depended on
in the past – our hopes, our desires, our prayers – had all betrayed us. I didn’t even know how to access those
emotions any more. So we did the best we
could. We tried to think about what
would make sense logically, since that seemed to be the only resource I had to
evaluate our options.
We decided to go ahead and ask for siblings again. We knew that was what we wanted, but it was
hard. We didn’t want to simply try to
replace the girls that were still so prevalent in our thoughts. We
kept asking ourselves, “what do we want,” and having to shy away from the true answer. We knew what we wanted and we couldn’t have
Eventually, I made an appointment with our social worker and
went in to formally fill out the document stating what kind of children we
wanted to adopt. We knew we wanted
siblings, but beyond that we were open.
We wrote in a few vague preferences, but at every opportunity we
mentioned that we were open to other options.
We had started off wanting an infant and had ended up falling in love
with two older sisters. The reality is
that we didn’t know what we wanted. We
wouldn’t know until we could see it and think about how it might affect our
family. We had traveled so far on this
journey and changed so much. Who were we
to say what we wanted any more. There
were so many different scenarios that might work. And through all of this was the
numbness. We knew, intellectually, that
we wanted to adopt and that there were certain scenarios that would be better
for our family, but my ability to tell anything for certain was long gone.
Our social worker explained that it was impossible to
predict how long it might be before siblings that matched our broad preferences
might become available. Siblings did not
come into the orphanage frequently and we could have to wait a year or longer,
or it could be that a perfect match for our family could appear in as little as
a month. Because we were looking for
something unusual (older siblings) it was particularly difficult to predict
when we might get a referral. This meant that on top of the pain of having lost
our girls, we were once again thrown, seemingly, back to the beginning of the
process and faced with the knowledge that the end to our adoption process
wouldn’t be coming in a few months as we had thought, but would most likely not
come for a year or longer. Somehow this
made our loss feel doubly deep, as if we were somehow losing a year of our life
on top of everything else.
But despite the pain and the numbness, we knew that we
wanted to adopt and we knew that with every passing day that we were being indecisive
we were prolonging the time that we would finally be able to bring a child
home. And we also knew that a few days
can make a big difference. In
international adoption the process is constantly evolving. Countries change their regulations
sporadically and it can have a huge impact.
Last year Ethiopia changed the process so that adoptive parents now have
to travel to Ethiopia twice to complete the adoption. And, of course, as a result of one impulsive
parent, Russia closed their country to adoption altogether. And then there are situations like
Haiti. A natural disaster can vastly
upset the process. There are always
risks associated with this kind of process and delays, even small ones can be
So I felt under some pressure to go ahead and metaphorically
get back in line. We, once again,
officially submitted our paperwork and went home to mourn and to wait, not
having any idea how long each of those tasks might take.
But if this process has taught us anything, it is that life
is unpredictable. You can spend all the
time you want guessing what is about to happen or how you think things will
turn out, or even what you believe that you want. But there is little certainty in life. Things change, and experiences change
you. What you thought would happen can
alter in a single earth shattering moment and what you believed you wanted can
shift in ways that you never saw coming.
And this is where faith comes in.
Believing that things will happen a certain way is a faith
that is almost certainly destined to disappoint. Rather, faith exists to show you that no
matter how things turn out, there can still be goodness in the result.
I left the meeting with my social worker on a Friday,
knowing that I likely had months and months of endless waiting before a pair of
siblings would come along that would be the right fit for our family. But like most of my other assumptions about how
this process would go, I was dead wrong.
The following Tuesday, three days later, our social worker
called to let me know that a pair of sibling girls had become available for
adoption. She had the referral in hand
and was ready to send it to me, but she wanted to know whether we were
ready. She wanted us to know that we
should feel no pressure. If we decided
to look at the referral, we should feel free to take as long as we needed to
review it, consider it and then to accept it or reject it without feeling
obligated one way or the other. The only
question was did we feel ready to review the referral? Were we emotionally at a point where we could
start down this road once again?
I wasn’t sure. The
numbness and the depression were still a very real and constant presence in our
lives. We were still mourning our
girls. Could we possibly consider new
children so quickly?
I called Sarah at work and we had a quick talk. As hard as it might be, we knew that, at this
point, there was only one thing to do – only one direction we could really go
NEXT – A New Direction