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Status Check

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!”

“See you in Another Life, Brotha.”

Some of you may remember the TV show LOST, an ABC supernatural/sci-fi drama that aired from 2004 – 2010. The show followed the survivors of the crash of a Boeing 777 on a mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific. As  Season 1 unfolded, viewers struggled to pin down the show’s genre: was it sci-fi? Fantasy? Thriller/horror? Magical Realism? Given that the threats the crash survivors faced in the first 25 episodes included a rampaging and starkly out-of-its-context polar bear, an elusive “smoke monster,” and the island’s apparently hostile, abduction-prone native inhabitants, the confusion was understandable.

Though at times put off by the show’s many mysteries (“What was that stinkin’ polar bear doing there?”), its crazy plot twists (flash forwards, anyone?), and its at times stunning violence (the writers had an unfortunate propensity for killing off beloved characters in the most heartrending ways), Ian and I stuck with the show through all six seasons. What kept us hooked was the characters: LOST was, above all, else, a show about, well, “lost” people — people who were hurting, broken, in search of meaning and purpose and, ultimately, redemption. And the island itself, theorized by many early on in the series to be a purgatory in which the survivors of the crash are given an opportunity to purify themselves from their past sins before moving on to the afterlife, is nothing if not first and foremost “another life” for people in desperate need of a fresh start and a clean slate. It’s a place of new adventures and trials, a perfect matrix for inner growth.

Ian and I each had our favorites when it came to characters, but one character whose appearance in an episode invariably brought smiles to both our faces was Desmond. Who didn’t love Desmond? The Scottish brogue, the fantastically unkempt hair, the passionate devotion to his beloved girlfriend Penelope, the ability to time travel (yeah, definitely magical realism)… Most of all, we loved him for what he symbolized. Hope. Desmond’s life before the island had set him up for an inferiority complex: he struggled with alcoholism, botched two near-nuptialed relationships, got kicked out of a monastery and dishonorably discharged from the Royal Scots, and earned the heaping scorn of his love-interest Penny’s rich industrialist father. He was like a Greek tragic hero, only sans the epic height from which to fall. His quest to prove himself brought him, fatefully, to the island, where the greatness that had eluded him in the “real world” was, after a fashion, thrust upon him.  What Desmond faced on the island would test his mettle more than anything in his life — test and, at last, prove him. It’s not that he shed every last defect and emerged as pure gold: he simply, finally, stopped running from the pressure to perform and the fear of failure and just did the best he could with what he had.

So where am I going with this? One might argue that each of our lives are roads intersected by a series of “another life” junctures, transition points where we are invited take a turn in a new direction or cross over from what and where we are into something unprecedented. Sometimes, like the characters on LOST, we’re thrust unwilling into these brave new worlds; often, we get to choose.

When Ian and I decided to adopt, we knew we were at another of these “another life” junctures. There was excitement, a glimpse of a incredible vista opening before us, but also, with each step past the deciding line, wave upon wave of knee-knocking apprehension. Choosing a child, welcoming him into our  hearts and home — it was a undeniably a blessing and an opportunity. But was this really our path? Would we be equal to the challenges we’d face?

As for our son-to-be, his crossing will be the more formidable one. A few months ago, when I was learning as much as I could about overseas adoption and skimming a lot of blogs, I came across a video that captured the moment an adoptive couple welcomed their new Chinese daughter into their arms. A caretaker from the orphanage entered the room where the parents were waiting, the little girl in her arms.  When she attempted to hand the child over to the couple who’d waited over a year to see and touch her, the child shrieked and cried, clinging to her nanny with every bit of her baby strength. Clearly anxious that this important moment go smoothly, the caretaker hushed the child and thrust her into the arms of these two smiling, teary-eyed strangers. The girl was still wailing inconsolably and stretching her arms toward her nanny when the video clip ended.

This video brought home as no written description could have the trauma that adoption is for the child. No matter how deprived an institutional existence is, no matter how inadequate the care and attention, removing children from that context and the people in it is, quite simply, taking away their entire world. Add to that blow the barrier of an unfamiliar language and the shock of a new culture…Well, an entirely “other” — and largely frightening and confusing — new life is what that child gets.  Ian and I did not initiate this process with do-gooder kumbayah delusions of multicultural familial bliss. Still, these kinds of “flash forwards” to what lies ahead are sobering.

You’ll have to watch the LOST on Netflix — the whole series, from start to finish (it will be worth it) — to discover what I mean by flash forwards and just how Desmond Hume “finishes well”.  As for this real world story, all you need to do is check back here for updates and further Thoughts Along the Way.

See you in another life, friends.