Taking the Time to Smell…Well, Anything.
I clearly remember the first time in my adult life someone told me I didn’t “pause” enough.
It was roughly eight years ago. Ian and I had attended a special evening service at our church, and at its conclusion I was singled out by one of our pastors for prayer. The pastor laid his hands on my shoulder, I began to cry (because I nearly always do when someone prays for me), and he told me, “God wants you to know how proud He is of you, Meg. You’re so busy looking to the future, to what’s coming next, that you don’t ever stop to look back. God wants you to know He sees how far you’ve come, and He’s proud of you.” I’m pretty sure someone handed me a box of kleenex after that.
That prayer nailed me. A little backstory might help you to appreciate how. A lot had happened in the eight or so years preceding that moment. I had discovered Jesus to be a real, personal, powerful savior, and with that revelation had found freedom from nearly a decade of dysfunction linked to a life-threatening eating disorder. I had finished college, gotten married to my incredible husband, become a teacher, immersed myself in the life of our church. Frankly, in the season when my pastor prayed this prayer, my life was full-steam ahead. There wasn’t a lot of time for looking back. Even if there had been, I was more concerned with making up for the many years that had been lost to depression and sickness.
That prayer was also a watershed word for me because it established something yet absent from my self-understanding. As a writer and an (at times morbid) introspective, I’d never thought of myself as someone who needed a reminder to stop and take stock of my life. For so long, it seemed that all I could do was take stock: of the wreckage within and outside me, endlessly. The kind of forward momentum that leaves so many of us shaking our heads and wondering “where the time went” had only recently set in, and it actually felt healthy, refreshingly productive. I was accomplishing things! I didn’t know yet what a strong stimulant inertia could be, didn’t know to be wary of it. It was true that I had begun to forget to pause and look back. It was also true that the discipline of doing so would only become more challenging with age and increased responsibility and the expansion of our family.
Pause, Reflect, Assess.
That’s what came to me as I considered what the subject of this next post should be. And I thought, of course. Because the adoption journey so far has been in many respects a microcosm of my adult existence. Periods of frenzied activity interspersed with lulls in which I wish (vexedly) something would hurry up and happen. Trifectas of trouble (problems really do seem to come in threes, in life and adoption) that seem destined to just keep multiplying, but which eventually do clear so I can breathe again. Like the road of life, the journey to adopt is driven largely by destinations — objectives, next steps — the ultimate goal being, of course, the child himself. The driver too impatient about the destinations cannot enjoy the journey, and that’s the danger I find myself in as momentum toward the goal slows in this season. Now is an opportune time to stop and take stock.
Ever since Ian and I finished our last home study visit on April 30th, we’ve been on standby while we waited for the home study to be drawn up. It took our social worker several weeks to write up the home study report, and the document still has to go through a tri-layer editing process before it’s (hopefully) approved by our placement agency. There’s isn’t much we can do right now but twiddle our thumbs. This is the slowest things have been since we initiated the adoption process at the end of January of this year, and it’s disconcerting. Kind of like going from 100 mph to zero. I gotta confess, I’ve been gunning the gas and (ahem) fuming.
We really have come far and accomplished much, though. Let me bring you up to speed.
Our adoption process began with a paperwork stack that made the end-of-semester pile-up on a teacher’s desk look tame. For our home study agency, Upbring, there were comprehensive parenting and marriage questionnaires and life autobiographies for each of us to complete. We also had to mail in photos of our residence, our family members, a floor plan of our apartment, a firearms safety verification, a copy of the first page of our current income tax return, and more. Upbring also required many of the official documents we had to collect for our placement agency, Holt International, vital documents such as our Massachusetts birth certificates and marriage license, medical forms certifying that Ian and I are mentally and physically fit to raise an adopted child, documentation of income and net worth, letters from each of our employers, police clearances certifying neither of us has a criminal record, personal recommendations, etc. The documents we gathered for Holt sometimes had minutely different requirements from those Upbring wanted, which meant extra care and sometimes extra steps.
Our documents for Holt had to go through a series of special steps because they’re part of what is called our “dossier”: a compilation of documents designed to satisfy the legal requirements of the foreign country as well as the immigration requirements of the U.S. government. Each document in the dossier must go through a three-stage process to prove its authenticity: it must first be notarized, then certified at the Secretary of State’s office in the state where the document was issued, and, finally, authenticated at (in our case) a Chinese consulate. The ins-and-outs of making all that happen are complex (beginning with first understanding all the terminology!), and any errors can necessitate a “re-do” and set the prospective adoptive parent back significantly in time and money.
For example, one of several paperwork predicaments for us arose when my medical form and letter were incorrectly notarized by a distracted notary public at a local UPS store. After discovering the error, I placed a call to the Secretary of State’s office and learned that Texas law does not permit certification of a re-notarized document, so going back to the UPS store wasn’t an option. What were we to do? The office of the doctor who’d performed my exam and issued the form and letter had abruptly dropped our insurance carrier, so I couldn’t go back to her and ask her to re-do those documents, had I the chutzpah to approach an insanely busy medical professional with such a onerous request in the first place. Would I have to find a new PCP and pay for everything to be re-done and lose several precious weeks in the process? Fortunately, Holt came to our rescue. They were able to make arrangements to re-notarize those documents in Oregon, where they’re located and where re-notarization is legal. The medical form and letter had to be state certified and authenticated separately from the rest of our dossier docs, but thanks to the agency’s ingenuity, that particular hitch was smoothed over.
So there was the dossier, the fingerprinting (twice so far, for the Austin PD and the FBI), the police/child abuse clearances for every state we’ve ever lived in (even just for a month). Sidenote: those police/child abuse clearances…Remember how I mentioned trouble coming in threes? It took us three notarized requests, numerous fruitless phone calls, and several months to finally get Ian’s clearance from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. Most recently we survived the three required visits from our assigned social worker for our home study, visits in which we bared our hearts, hopes, and lives to a complete stranger in the hopes she’d approve us as “adoption ready.”
We really have covered a lot of ground, and under less-than-ideal conditions. Since November I’ve been battling through a rash of mysterious and tenacious health problems. There have been challenges on the job front, financial pressures. Raising a toddler has a way of making you continually question why on earth any sane person would willingly pursue a second child, by any means. Plenty of potholes on top of the ones inherent in the adoption process to make the going rougher and to provoke questions like, “Do we have it in us?” “Was this a mistake?” Midway through the home study appointments with our social worker, we fell into a sinkhole: got cold feet and nearly quit. (More on this in a subsequent post). Thanks to the prayers of friends and family and our own petitions to God for faith and clarity, we recovered our resolve and forged on.
It hasn’t been easy, but we still believe it will be worth it.
What’s next? We get our approved home study, notarize it, and then apply for the first of two immigration approvals from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). I think we get fingerprinted again, this time for USCIS (yay!). Once we’ve received immigration approval, our dossier will be sent to China, at which point there will be more waiting while the Chinese do their thing. Once our paperwork is “logged in” in China, we’ll receive a child referral (a “match” accompanied by all available medical and developmental information on the child). If we choose to accept it, we will at last have a face to match the name we’re holding in our hearts.
The timetable on all this is uncertain: at best, I think we could hope for a referral mid-to-late fall. That seems so far away, and for some reason the perceived distance gives the adoption itself in aura of unreality, as if it will never happen. The wiser part of me recognizes, however, that everything has its season, and this is preparation time. I know we’ll be boarding a plane to China one day in the future saying to ourselves, “We can’t believe this is happening — we’re not ready!”