Monday, April 30, 2012

Missing a stranger

Having just finished the delivery of 40,000lbs of food storage for about 100 families in a 12-hour marathon of logistics, I can say two things for absolutely sure:  First, I'm tired.  Second, I have spent an obscene amount of time on the computer getting ready for this event. 

On the desktop of my computer is my most recent picture of Xue, who will be known as Fiona as soon as we bring her to the US from China.  This darling little person is technically a stranger to me. I have never met her.  I know only what the orphanage says in their very few updates, which, according to others more experienced in adoption, are notoriously generic and often inaccurate.  I have a total of seven pictures of her, which constitute the entirety of my visual representation of her.  I have a couple medical reports (again, notoriously generic and often inaccurate).  I have never seen her in person.  I know nothing about her personality.  I have never heard her voice, nor do I even know if she can speak.  I don't know her likes, fears, what excites her, what makes her sad.  I know next to nothing about her.

But this I know...

I love this little person more than life.  She is MY daughter.  MY baby.  Every time I turn on my computer, or close a program, and see her face on my desktop, I smile, and my heart aches.  I miss her!  Every time I look at her I feel the distance, both in miles and in the months before I will get to hold her for the first time. 

I also know that I am as much a stranger to her as she is to me.  More so, actually.  I have been planning, working, and waiting for her.  I chose her.  She is not choosing me.  She is not choosing to be taken from the foster home - the only home she has ever known - and to be sent to a distant land with people who look wrong, sound wrong, smell wrong.  I look at her pictures every day.  I am preparing pictures to send to her, but she has never even seen my picture.  No one has told her yet that she has a foreign mama.  Even when they do, what will it mean to her?  She won't be two years old yet when we get there.  She won't be happy to see me.  She will be terrified.  It will take time and a lot of trust-building to change me from stranger to mother in her eyes. 

I know she is a stranger.  But I love her, and I miss her.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Red-Letter Week

It's been an amazing week in adoption-land.
  • We sent off our dossier paperwork (minus the immigration approval) to CCAI for checks and preparation.
  • We sent off two more grant applications for financial aid to hopefully close the money gap
  •  We got an update and two new pictures of our baby girl.  She was standing, has teeth and a glowing white bowl cut. 
  • We decided on her name (Fiona XueLan Dodge).
  • We printed and sent off our family photos to join the dossier papers.
  • Now, to top off the amazing week, we got our I-797 Approval!!!  
 This is a HUGE thing.  Nothing else could move forward until we got this approval.  This basically states that the US deems us acceptable to bring a foreign-born child into the country through adoption.

Now I need to put this paper through the same authentication process as the rest of our dossier (pray that goes fast) and our whole dossier will be ready to send to China.

Then: 2-4 months to Letter of Acceptance from China,
then 11-15 weeks until travel approval and travel.

BABY GIRL, WE'RE COMING!!!

Snow has a new name!

So far, she's been known as:
  • Dang Xue
  • Xue
  • Mei-Mei
  • Snow
  • The Little One
  • ...and on, and on
 But now, we are pleased to announce that we have actually decided on a name for this child!

Her name will be:
FIONA XUELAN DODGE
So, yay!  We actually managed to name another child without resorting to pistols at dawn.  

As always, we picked a name with a great deal of significance for us.  

Fiona is an Irish name that means "fair" or "white".  You just don't get whiter than this little girl, so it's very appropriate.  
Now, before I go any further, let me get one thing out of the way:
Think more of this...
Less of this...

  The name Fiona also fits in well in a couple other ways.  We have an alphabet thing going on with the kids' names (and by "we", I mean Lashi).  We are on "F" now.  More importantly though (in my opinion) is that all of the adopted children in my family get Irish names, regardless of our ethnic background.  Hence, I am a French Erin Colleen (my name literally means "Irish Girl").  

XueLan (pronounced "Shway-lahn") was a fun one to come up with.  Her given name (given by the orphanage) is Dang Xue.  Dang is, as we understand it, the surname given to all of the children in that orphanage.  Xue means "snow" and is a very popular name for children with albinism.  The other popular name for Chinese kids with albinism is Bai ("white").  We wanted Xue to be part of her name - both because it's so apt and because we want her to keep part of her old life in her new life.  
We used Lashi's Chinese dictionary app and looked up meanings of words that we thought might go nicely with "Snow".  Blossom, flower, jade, pearl, etc.  We were looking for a name whose meaning suggested her beauty and worth.  She's our little white flower, and more precious than jade.  Some words in Chinese had a good meaning but just didn't sound good with Xue or sounded too close to English words that had a less-than-elegant meaning. (think "doo" or "fang" and so on)
So, we picked our favorite, the one that sounded the best to our American ears and had a meaning that we like.  XueLan - Snow Orchid.  
Beautiful, Snow-white Orchids

Interestingly enough, I was looking at my wedding album, and it turns out I carried white orchids in my bouquet. 
See ^^ White roses, WHITE ORCHIDS, and... those other little white flowers.  Dunno, kissing Lashi - can't talk flowers.
So, there you have it.  Fiona XueLan Dodge. 

Also, we looked up the characters for Xue and Lan and confirmed them with a sweet gal at CCAI, just to be sure.  She sent us a copy of them in 3 "fonts". 
So this says (reading each line left to right): Snow Orchid, Snow Orchid, Snow Orchid :)


Now all we have to do is get her home and teach her her new name.  :)  Oh adventures!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Updated pictures of Xue!

This morning, we got two new pictures of our little princess.

Oh my goodness, she has hair!!!  It's so bright the poor little one can't open her eyes at all.

Looking down probably helps with the brightness.  Look at her little nose! Her chin!  Her chunky cheeks!!! 
I can't wait to meet this little girl.  That's my baby!!!

I have no idea, but would venture a guess that the woman behind her is her foster mother and that this is her home. 

We sent off the dossier paperwork to CCAI today, so things will continue moving along.

UPDATE: APRIL 25 - They also sent us an actual update from the orphanage that oversees her foster home.  They said she sits alone and stands with support, but does not crawl or stand alone.   So, even though she's getting so big, she will still be a baby in many ways.  That's okay.  She's my baby and we'll get her caught up.  :) 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Process Update 4/23

Just a quick note to let you know where we are in our process.

Our dossier documents came back from the Chinese consulates last week with seals on them.

This is a photo of someone's China authentication seal. 

We got our adoption petition, police clearances, physical exam reports, employment (or non-employment for me) verifications, financial statement, and marriage license back from the Consulate in Chicago (which oversees several states including Colorado), and our birth certificates back from the Consulate in San Francisco (which oversees Oregon and Washington, where we were born).

Next, we scanned and printed copies of EVERY SINGLE PAGE of this mess.  We need to send a set of photocopies with our dossier to China, and we want to keep a copy of each document here as well, so it's best to have them digital.  We have found that we frequently refer to or need an additional copy of one or another document as we've been applying for grants.

Now, as soon as I get the paperwork in the prescribed order (and yes, that is specified.  Gotta love Chinese bureaucracy.  They tell you EXACTLY what they want) I will send the documents, 3 passport photos of each of us, photocopies of our actual passports, 3 couple photos and 8 family photos to CCAI (our adoption agency) to be checked, re-checked, and checked again, summary translated, and ready for the ONE LAST PIECE....

Which is our immigration approval.  Specifically, it is the I-797c, which is an approval of a form I-800a, which we sent in a month ago and had fingerprints taken for on Saturday.  This form is an approval for us to adopt a child from a Hague Convention country (of which China is one).  Once that gets here (and goes through the same notarization, certification and sealing process - UGH! - then it joins the other documents up at CCAI, where they are lovingly bound in a professional-looking red folder and sent to CCCWA (China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption).

In other news, Lashi just finished his last online parent training - this one on Grief and Loss in Adoption - and we have our last in-person class at CCAI in May.  That class is about Becoming a Multicultural Family. 

And finally, we are thiiiiiis close to finally selecting a first name for our little Snow Angel.  Hopefully I'll have something to announce soon.  :)


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mom was right. Indexing is actually FUN.

Last night I completed my 10th batch of names (over 300 names total) through Family Search.  I did one war volunteer card, but most of my work has been on the 1940 Census.  It has been incredible.

My father-in-law has done professional genealogy work and frequently speaks at family history events.  My mother-in-law called and told us about the Census going online weeks before it happened.  She suggested that all of the siblings' families dedicate an evening to indexing and teaching her 16 grandchildren about indexing and family history work.  She said, "It will be so much fun!"

*blink blink*

Yeah, mom...  "Fun".

I understand that indexing, records and family history are important, and that it can be quite exciting when you find something new, but indexing records FUN???  That's a bit of a stretch.  Lashi and I actually had a good chuckle over that.

So, the night before we were supposed to have this "Family Indexing Fun Night", we set up our accounts, watched the "getting started" video, and tried out a couple small items.  We learned a couple things that night:

  1. Indexing is easy - There is an image from a census sheet, you look at the info (which is highlighted in blue) and type it into the little box below.  Basically, you create a digital spreadsheet from a hand-written spreadsheet.  It's just data entry.  SIMPLE!  However....
  2. Some people's handwriting sucks - There really should have been some kind of qualifying handwriting exam for the census takers.  I did one sheet yesterday where the "F" for "female" looked like a "2" or perhaps a "Q" with lots of character.  That one I figured out, as there are only two options in the gender column: M for male and F for female.  For names, places, etc. that are undecipherable, they have a wonderful quick-key.  type <ctrl u> and it will mark that particular entry as "unreadable".  OR, if you see a name and can't tell if it's "Anne" or "Anna", then you can enter it as "Ann*".  That will throw a flag for the arbitrators, who will do their darndest and make a decision.  If someone's handwriting is just so absolutely terrible that you don't want to deal with trying to decipher it, you can return the batch for someone else to do and move on to someone more legible. 
  3. Indexing is always fascinating - It's like snooping into someone's neighborhood.  Once we learned what all the columns meant (even the ones that do not get recorded in the indexing), we discovered we could see who lives next door to whom, who is living at their house, interesting relationships and age differences, how much they pay per month for their home or farm, how much education they have...  I was amazed at how many of the adults had only as much schooling as my own children.  4th or 5th grade.  Some have NONE at all!  I found a family the other day where the husband had only an 8th grade education, but his wife had 4 years of college.  Very unusual.  We found 17 year olds married to 38 year olds with toddlers.  
  4. Fascinating quickly becomes real, genuine, actual FUN - I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this.  I download a couple batches in the evening so that I can work on them when I get a free moment.  I index while my adoption paperwork is printing.  I index while I'm sitting in the car waiting for my kids to get out of school.  I index when I've put someone cranky in their room and need a moment of peace.  It has replaced my video games, YouTube, and old episodes of "Hoarders". 
Other pieces of advice and interesting things we've found:
  • If you see an "M" for married that is crossed out and it looks like there is a "7" written next to it, you're absolutely right.  Someone came up with that as a code for "married with absent spouse".  Yeah, would have been nice to know that upfront.
  • If a county or city name is unreadable, use our wonderful modern internet.  I had one that said "Van@^*&#@".  Could have been any number of things.  I Googled "Counties in Indiana" and found a list of all the counties.  Among them was "Vanderburgh".  I double-checked it against what was written in the Census, and it became very clear that that's what it was.  I also had what looked like "Vew Beach" in Indian River County, Florida.  I looked at a map of Indian River County and found a "Vero Beach".  Looking back at the ambiguous handwriting, that's exactly what it had been.  The internet is a wonderful thing.
  • Some things will just dumbfound you.  Yesterday's indexing included a line that said, "Here ends the negro neighborhood which is bordered on the north."  Wow.  In 2012, you just don't see things like that written our records. 
  • Adoption was not what it is now.  I know that from my own family records, but I saw a case of it this week.  There was a 33 year old widowed lady living with her widowed father, listed as "adopted daughter".  Not daughter, "adopted daughter".  Of course, she's listed with her married name, but if her case was like my great-grandfather, she never took on her adoptive parents' name or really integrated as a family member.  Again, different from today.
So, more as I continue, but I challenge and welcome and encourage everyone to give it a try.  Go to www.familysearch.org, create an account, download the free program and make even a one-document contribution to this great work.  You will be surprised by how much you enjoy it.   You may even find a piece of your own history as you do so.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Field trip with registered sex offenders

If ever you have one of those days when you feel like, "I can't take these kids to ____!  It's to unmanageable!"  Here's a story to remind you, it could be worse!

Once upon a time.... late December 2011 in Colorado Springs, I needed to be fingerprinted as part of the adoption process to bring my new little daughter home from China.  Early in the morning, I bundled up my five children, ages 2-10, and piled into the Suburban.  After dropping my husband off at work, we drove through the snow to the downtown police headquarters.  I thought to myself as we drove, what is this likely to be like?  I always try to imagine the possibilities: long lines, long waits, breakables, expectation of silence - things that could make an appointment with 5 kids miserable for them and me.

"Nah," I told myself, "this will be fine."  After all, I was told that if I went early in the morning, we could get right in - a 15 minute appointment - and be all done.  We could certainly handle 15 minutes.  The kids were fresh and getting along, and we had a good talk on the way there about expected behavior at the police station.

I thought this will be great!  No late-night drunks, hookers, or other hoodlums.  This is first thing on a Thursday morning, and we'll be in-and-out in 15 minutes.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN?

We arrived 15 minutes before the opening time.  The door was already open and a small number of people were sitting inside already.  I was vaguely aware that as we came into the building, 2 or 3 people got out of their seats and left.  I thought nothing of it. 

I had my children sit down in one section of chairs that was unoccupied and went to the fingerprinting sign-in table.  I was surprised to see 7 names already ahead of us!  Was that included in the 15 minutes or will this take longer than we thought?  I wrote my name, and next to that was a section of checkboxes.  "Why are you being fingerprinted?"  The choices were "New Job" (nope, this isn't a new job, I've been a mom for years), "RSO" (what does that mean?), and "Other".  I looked at what the other people had selected.  Every single one was RSO.  Should I be checking RSO?  Because I wasn't sure, I checked "Other" and wrote "adoption" in the line provided.  That ought to cover it.

Then I settled down in my seat with my children and waited.  While waiting, I began thinking.  What could RSO mean?  Residential Service Officer... Really Sweet Old...  Retired Sea Otter... No, otters don't need to be fingerprinted.  Who would?  Slowly, the words filled themselves in.  

Registered Sex Offender.  
Oh.My.Goodness. 

As I started sweating, I looked around the room.  Everyone looked normal.  I started getting paranoid, but kept trying to remind myself, sex offender doesn't always mean horrible psychopathic rapist.  Although, they could be here too...  Remember the story about the man who got RSO status because his (then girlfriend, later wife) was 3 years younger than him?  Yeah, maybe ALL of the men here are... here for... that reason?  Still, I became distinctly less comfortable than I had been.  I started worrying about my kids, who were getting restless and wandering a little bit from this chair to that, across the walkway, to the magazine pile over there.  Suddenly I wanted them all under my wing.  And silent.  And invisible.  I didn't want them drawing any attention to themselves.  

I also decided that I wanted this appointment to be over as soon as humanly possible.  No, actually sooner than that.  I asked the woman at the front desk how long it would be.  She told me 15 minutes per person but that the court-ordered ones (which happened to be all of the above) took longer.  

I started moving through something akin to the phases of grief.  

First came anger.  Why the heck didn't someone tell me earlier???  Doesn't the Police Station have family hours???  

Next, guilt.  What kind of a mama bear am I?  I lead my cubs right into a den of wolves and have them play there completely unaware for 2 1/2 hours!  Bad mama bear!  Bad!!!  

I thought about leaving and coming back later - at a better time.  Wait, what?  When is a "good" time to sit at a police station with sex offenders?  As is usual in these situations, my cortisol-drenched brain could not comprehend that someone would actually be willing to watch my children for me while I completed this task.  All I could remember is the trainer saying, "Get this done as SOON as possible! This will hold up your entire adoption process!" and our social worker talking about how she sat there for 5 or 6 hours because she came in the afternoon.  I thought of a little orphan in China who has no mommy to take her on field trips with sex offenders.  I knew I wanted to bring her home.  I want to be that lousy mommy!!!  

So we sat and waited.  

I was very relieved to see the officers who would pop out every now and then, who (in my opinion) were there making sure that my babies were kept safe.

I was also relieved - and simulataneously totally freaked out - when I realized that when we entered the room, 3 people had exited the room and were waiting for their turn outside in the December chill.  The reason was clear:  They were court-ordered to stay away from children.  Well, I was glad that they were at least complying and were not immediately in my precious babies' presence, and I hoped that meant that the rest of the men there were... "safe sex offenders"?  I don't even know what that means.  In any case, it got me thinking about how often we are around people with these types of offenses under their belts and never know it. 

When we got to 2 people left on the list ahead of us, we had been there for almost 2 hours.  The little ones were getting restless.  They were starting to become louder, wander further, and the 4 year old was trying to strike up conversations with the other "visitors".  I was near panic.  The older kids were giving me looks, wondering why mom was acting so uptight.  I really didn't want to explain that to them under the circumstances.  I told the kids that if they could sit nicely and read magazines or books or play with blocks for just 20 minutes, I had a lollypop for each of them.  

Good news: it worked.  They sat nicely for 20 minutes.
Bad news: then I gave them lollypops.  BAD MAMA BEAR!!!

My innocent children happily took their treats, slumped in their seats, and began running the lollypops up and down their tongues in what anyone but an innocent child would consider a very non-innocent manner.  OH.FOR.THE.LOVE.OF.BACON!!!

Mommy flipped at this point.  Overreaction?  Probably.  But again, we're talking cortisol-drenched mama bear now.  I was so stressed about being in that place that everything freaked me out.

Finally, it was our turn.  We all migrated back to the little biometrics room and the toddler and preschooler both took the opportunity to totally melt down.  You know what?  I still preferred grumpy glares and screaming children to sitting among our previous company. 

After what seemed like WAY more than 15 minutes, but was probably only 7 or 8 (remember, they wanted us out of there as much as we wanted to be out), we were finished and left the building.

I went home, settled the kids into their activities, ate a half day's worth of calories in chocolate, and took a nap. 

NEVER.AGAIN.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Should have put this up in September...

*This is a "process so far" entry that I wrote in September, WAY before our home study, dossier, match with our beautiful girl, etc.  It's more detailed than my overwhelmed memory is right now, and I had happy reminiscences while reading it. Enjoy.*

 
Our adoption process really began in earnest shortly after I started my midwifery training.  I am currently doing the academic portion of my midwifery training through Midwife to Be, an online/correspondence program headed by Lisa Aman, CPM.  Midwife to Be, or MTB, participates in mission trips to the Dominican Republic several times a year to both get more hands-on experience with births and to provide needed equipment to the Dominican nurses and midwives.  

After Lisa’s church returned from a mission trip to Uganda, she started working on setting up a midwifery-mission trip there.  The minister’s wife whom they worked with is a midwife at a hospital that delivers 20-30 babies every day.  It is also located near an orphanage run by the couple that serves over 600 orphans.  She said if people were interested in adopting one of the orphans from Uganda, there would be opportunity to pursue that.  

*PERK*  

Adoption?  We’ve always wanted to do that.  There was one problem, however: I could be interested all I want, but I’m only HALF of the parents in this family.  What would Lashi say?  I figured he’d say what he usually says about my great new ideas: no.  Usually, he’s right.  If left unchecked, I’d not only bring home half of the Ugandan orphan population, but I’d also start 3 new businesses, buy a farm and a herd of milk cows and run for office all at the same time, while learning to speak Arabic.  
 Can we say burnout?  

So, I took a deep breath and told him about the trip and the hospital, the birth opportunities, the orphanage and all the little kids – probably very fast and all in one breath, but I can’t remember – and then I waited for his response.  He took his own deep breath, looked me in the eyes very seriously and said, using his finger for emphasis, “You are allowed to bring home ONE child.  Do not even look at twins, sibling groups, anything.  I know they’re cute, but I don’t care how cute they are.  ONE CHILD!”  

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  He was ready to take the step and go for it without a big to-do.  I couldn’t even get him to do things he really wanted to without at least some hemming and hawing.

I got to work searching out Ugandan adoption requirements.  Turns out, there were several major problems.  One was the residency requirement.  Though they “sometimes make exceptions”, the Ugandan government requires a 3-6 month residency for foreign couples wishing to adopt a Ugandan child.  We couldn’t move the whole family to Africa for that long.  Lashi has work, the kids have school.  If we left them here, who would take care of them for that long?  Would I be travelling alone?  No, that looked like a problem.  Bigger yet, though, was that I found that many of the children in the orphanages are not true orphans, but children from poor families who cannot care for them, but visit frequently.  I don’t think it would be right under those circumstances to remove them from their family and culture.  There were many other “variables”, such as the time a visa might take, if the child we’re working to adopt becomes “qualified” at the right times, if the US would allow them in, etc.  Too many “ifs”.  

I looked at intercountry adoption in general, using the State Department website and calling all of the adoption agencies in town to get as much information as possible.  I filled quite a few pages in a notebook and printed numerous charts and lists of requirements.  

Many countries had residency requirements that we just could not comply with.

Many others had limits on the number of children allowed in the family.

Even more had wait times that were 3-5 years or longer!

In the end, the countries that “fit”, meaning they were willing to deal with us and we were willing to deal with them were: Russia, China and Ethiopia.  

Both Russia and Ethiopia were fairly stable, but had had some diplomatic issues in the past.  Both required two trips to the country.  Ethiopia has rampant AIDS, and although the children have to test negative before leaving the country, not all cases are caught.  Russia has a higher rate of children with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) after placement.

China looked like a long shot.  The income requirements looked very high: $10,000 per year per family member, including the child to be adopted.  That’s quite a bit if you’re a large family.  Second, the family has to have a net worth of $80,000 or more to qualify.  I was just counting up our liquid assets, and it doesn’t come close.  That worried me.  Third, they disqualify anyone who has had a history of depression.  I was on medication at the time for postpartum depression.  I thought that would disqualify us.   

Turns out I was worried for nothing.  Income includes the benefits package (health insurance, vacation time, etc.) which more than took care of that qualification.  Net worth includes a lot more than I thought: our home’s appraised value, our contents value (based on the insured amount), and more!  Finally, postpartum depression is not a mental illness - which is what China frowns on – it is a situational stress from a temporary hormonal state.  I was also ready to wean off of my medication (as the youngest had weaned from breastfeeding a couple months before), so that was not an issue.  

 Hooray!

Another issue with China is that because we have more than four children, we are allowed to adopt only a special needs child.  Uh-oh! Two of my siblings are “special needs”, did NOT want to deal with that!
Lashi, wanting to make sure we had checked all of our options off of the list, asked me to check out a couple other options first.

What about domestic adoption?  There are tons of children in the foster system that need adoptive homes.  What about them?  I called Denver county, because my mother said they had been so good to work with during my sister’s adoption.  They were very kind and friendly, but the story was clear: all of the children available through the county systems have serious issues from abuse, neglect, drug exposure, severe medical needs, or a combination of those.  At this point in our lives, we cannot risk the well-being of our other children on such a risky situation.  I know lots of kids that were adopted through the system, and their stories are not pretty, their adjustments are not pretty, and many of them never are able to recover from their past.  We just can’t go there.  

What about domestic infant adoption?  We actually had one agency that thought we could get an infant within a couple years: A Act of Love.  (Terrible, un-grammatical name, but I digress…)  They were also very kind, optimistic, and good to work with.  However, they said that about 7-10% of their birth mothers back out of the adoption AFTER the birth of the baby.  That’s a pretty high risk.  Also, quite a few babies are still special needs or drug exposed.

So, the choice really came down to China or A Act of Love.  Act of Love was a sure shot – eventually.  We would someday have an infant through that agency even if there was a lot of heartache and false-starts in the process.  China adoption meant special needs for sure, but we could pick which special needs we are open to!  We discovered that “special needs” in China means anything from serious medical problems to deafness or even a red birthmark or prematurity.  Almost anything can get you put on the “special needs” list.  Even some of the little ones on their “special focus” list, which is for harder-to-place and higher-needs children are all but perfect in my opinion!  The cost between Act of Love and China was about the same.  We decided to give China a shot, and if we did not meet the Chinese government didn’t accept our family’s qualifications, we would still have Act of Love to fall back on, and that was an option we could be happy with.  

During this debate, I looked at the only two China-focused agencies I could find: Great Wall China Adoptions and Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI).  Both of them seem like very good agencies, but every family I knew that had adopted from China had worked with CCAI and had only the best, glowing reports about working with them.  There was a huge support network here.  Best of all: they were located IN Colorado, just one hour drive from our home.  They also run the only Chinese Cultural center in the country, and were the first Chinese Adoption agency in the US.  After talking to Joshua Zhong, director and founder of CCAI, and having all of our worried alleviated, it was settled:

We decided to adopt a special needs little girl from China through CCAI.
I called Hillary, the applications manager at CCAI, and she sent us the information packet right away.
Our packet arrived within days by mail with a packet about CCAI’s traditional China adoption program (healthy infant), another about the Waiting Child Program (special needs), forms for getting started, an application, schedule of orientation meetings, a DVD highlighting both the agency and their charitable arm that funds orphanages and cleft palate surgeries.  I poured over all of it until I had it nearly memorized.

I spent several days going over the Medical Conditions Checklist.  Because of my midwifery training, I was familiar with many of the defects and conditions that were listed on it, but I still had to look up some of them, like gastroschisis (rather shocking to see the first time), and strabismus.  After that, Lashi and I had to discuss each condition and whether it was something we thought we could (or should) deal with.  We had the options “Yes”, “No”, and “Maybe”.  We discovered that I was much more willing to say “yes” to conditions than Lashi was, but that came as no surprise.  We indicated on our sheet that we are particularly interested in a little girl 0-18 months with hearing loss of any degree.  

I spent so long on the process of filling out the sheet that we didn’t send it in for over a month.  Finally, I submitted both the Medical Conditions Checklist (MCC) and our Family Information Sheet online, which put us in the waiting pool for a child match.  

The very next day a little girl’s profile was posted to the Special Focus list on the website, meaning that she has languished in their waiting files for months with no MCCs that match their conditions.  Had I submitted our sheet earlier, she would have been matched to us.  She was a perfect little 9 month old with [I remove the specifics of her condition here just to be on the safe side of CCAI policy.  Needless to say, very minor conditions as far as we were concerned]– an absolute angel, gorgeous child.  I called Lashi, who was still very concerned about the amount of money that is due early in the process that we would not have saved up for several months yet.  I called my grandparents, Jim and Vera Spain, who very sweetly gave us a loan of $4,000 to get us started on the process.  I called Pam Rodriguez at CCAI, and requested the file for the little angel.  I was told that 20 other families had requested her before us, but we were put in the queue.  Pam said that sometimes the first family ends up adopting the child, and sometimes they go through dozens who all turn the match down.  I could hope, but it was slim. 
One week later, Little Angel was matched to her family.  It was bittersweet.  I was happy for her – the whole point is for the little ones to find their forever families.  But I mourned for the lost opportunity.  She would have been perfect for our family.  I can only trust that there is another little one out there who is the right match at the right time and is meant to be ours.  The other little girl I had been considering was also matched to her family.  [Again, removed her specifics.  She did require more therapy and medical attention, though.] 
Even though CCAI said that hearing loss is very seldom seen, we have seen two children just on the Special Focus list with hearing loss.  Maybe

 I never finished that thought back in September and I don't remember what I was going to say.  I was so focused on the possibility of having a deaf or hard-of-hearing child that I didn't give much thought to the other conditions we had indicated on our MCC.  Just goes to show - God often has different plans than we do and His turn out quite well.  

The Adoption Process so far

Few people are familiar with the process of adopting a child through any means, and the process for those who have done so domestically, or internationally (even from China) through a traditional program is still different from the China Waiting Child program through which we are adopting Xue.

Here's what's happened so far:

Over the summer of 2011, I did lots of research and we made the decision to adopt from China through the waiting child program at CCAI.

Medical Conditions Checklist
In August, we submitted our "Medical Conditions Checklist".  Basically, this is a form with a long list of medical conditions commonly (or relatively commonly) seen in children in China's waiting child program.  You go through the list, learn about conditions that you are unfamiliar with, and check "yes" "no" or "maybe" for each.  Some examples are: cleft lip and palate, club foot (one or both), scars/burns, hepatitis B, hearing loss, albinism and low vision, missing/extra fingers/toes, spina bifida, various heart conditions, paralysis, hernia, gastroschisis, genital malformations, etc.  If you want to see the list or look into adopting a waiting child, HERE it is.
Because of my studies in preparation to become a midwife, I was already familiar with most of these conditions, but we did some extra study and discussed them together.  One of our parent training teachers said at CCAI is that almost always one parent is more gung-ho than the other, or as Lashi and I say it, "He is the anchor, I am the motor."  You really need both to get somewhere safely.

Because we try to be very deliberate and careful with our finances and planning, we made a spreadsheet listing out costs and the timeline in which we could actually pay for the adoption.  We knew that there are financial helps available, but wanted to be able to pay the whole of it if we are not able to qualify for any of those.  My grandparents very generously gave us a loan to cover the homestudy and get us started.

In late December 2011, we submitted our formal application to CCAI and attended an orientation class at their headquarters in South Denver (on S. Holly Circle). 

THE HOMESTUDY
In January and February 2012, we completed our homestudy with our social worker, Lisa Staab.  We filled out extensive questionnaires that covered everything from our relationship with our mother to discipline to our sex life and more.  I would not have been surprised to have needed to record the color of my poo for a month, but that was not one of the questions.  At least we know they are thorough.  When we had completed those, Lisa came to our home and toured it, making sure that it was safe and of adequate size to support another child.  She interviewed Lashi and I together and separately, as well as talking to each of the children.  It's one of those moments that makes a parent hold their breath with nervousness, but the children were themselves and they did fine.  Liam told her about sea urchins and said that he's fine having another sister, except that she'll be "another human to deal with".  Antigone explained our chore chart, Brian said he gets in trouble because he gets "sucked into the TV", Dmitri roared at her and told her about Spinosaurus, and Erik refused to look at her.  Yup, those are my kids!  :)
The home study also includes the clearances from our child abuse records search, letters of reference from friends, letters of recommendation from the children's teachers, financial records, and medical exam reports from our doctors. 

In February we also began collecting and producing the various documents that are needed in our dossier to send to China.

THE MATCH!
Here's where our process differs from so many other processes.  On February 16, I got a call from CCAI asking if we wanted to review Xue's file.  She was designated as a "Special Focus" waiting child and her file was sent to CCAI (as opposed to the shared list, which is viewed by several agencies at once).  We had said "maybe" for albinism on our Medical Conditions Checklist, not really giving the condition a whole lot of thought.  We reviewed her file, looked at her pictures, did internet searches about albinism and talked to a couple doctors, then decided that this would be a good match.  We sent a Letter of Intent (LOI) to China, and were sent a pre-acceptance letter back.  Her file was pulled from the available waiting child pool and is being "reserved" for us until we officially get our Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from China after our dossier is done.

THE DOSSIER
The dossier is the packet of authenticated paperwork that represents us to the Chinese Government. 
It includes formal documents such as our birth certificates, and homemade documents such as our pictures, financial statement, and petition to adopt. There's a lot more, but that's a sample.
EVERYTHING in the dossier has to be notarized, then sent to the Secretary of State of the state in which it was produced, then sent to the Chinese Consulate that oversees that state.  So, because I was born in Oregon and Lashi in Washington, our birth certificates are now in San Francisco getting "sealed" by the Chinese Consulate, while our marriage certificate and all other documents (produced in Colorado) are in Chicago at that consulate.  When those come back, our dossier will be almost done, except for...

POLICE CLEARANCES AND IMMIGRATION
Oh boy, this is an adventure unto itself.  First, we went and got fingerprinted at our local police station.  I will post separately about THAT experience.  Those prints are run through the CBI (Colorado Bureau of Investigation).  When they came back clear (finally), the prints were sent on to the FBI to be checked at the federal level.  That took another month.
Once our police clearances came back, we filled out and sent in our I-800A form (to determine our suitability to adopt from a Hague convention country) to USCIS (immigration services).  They first go over our info, then they will send us instructions (in a few weeks here, we hope) to get a second set of fingerprints done at the state fingerprinting office in Aurora (near Denver).  Hopefully that will be less "exciting" than the first fingerprinting trip.  Those prints then go BACK to the FBI for their own round of checks.  Because... the first ones didn't count?  or maybe our fingers have changed?  perhaps we're in the midst of a crime spree?  Whatever.  Let's just get this thing done. 

WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW
Our I-800A is being processed at USCIS.  We have not yet gotten the fingerprint appointment or cards.
Our dossier is almost done.  Our documents are being sealed at the consulates.  I need to fax over additional paperwork today to the San Francisco consulate. 

WHAT'S NEXT?
When our I-797C comes back (the approval of our I-800A), that gets sealed at the consulate, then the whole dossier goes to CCAI.  They will go over it several times, making sure everything is in order.  When it gets the "all clear", it will be compiled and bound in a red folder (one BIG folder...) and mailed off to China.  THEN, it will take a couple months to translate the whole thing into Mandarin.
Then we should get our approval letter (LOA).  After that, visa and travel arrangements.
Currently, the estimate is that we will be traveling to bring our little girl home between October and December 2012.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Albinism 101

Okay, to begin with, I feel that I still know VERY little about albinism.  However, seeing as we are going to have a little princess with albinism very soon, I'm doing my best to learn as much as I can and help my friends and family understand a little about it as well.

WHAT IS ALBINISM?
Many people think they don't know what albinism is because it's usually referred to as "being albino".  I however, feel that albinism is a condition, not an identity.  As much as I love blonde jokes, having blonde hair is a characteristic, not a defining attribute.  Same with many other characteristics or attributes or conditions we may have.
Albinism is a recessive genetic condition that affects vision and often gives the person little or no pigment in their eyes, skin and hair.  Some people with albinism, however, have very normal pigmentation for their ethnicity.
Xue appears to have oculocutaneous albinism, which is the more common type.  (The other is ocular, and affects almost exclusively males, and primarily impacts vision and eye pigmentation, not skin and hair pigmentation.)  Within oculocutaneous albinism (or OCA), there are several subtypes, which are linked to which gene and melanin-related enzyme is affected.  The stereotypical "albino" look, with completely white hair, pink-white skin, and depigmented eyes is usually indicative of OCA1A or "complete" albinism.  This is what Xue appears to have.  (In short, she will make her Viking siblings look downright swarthy.)

HOW COMMON IS ALBINISM?  
In the U.S., the rate of occurrence is about  1 in 17,000 people.  Albinism occurs worldwide, and the rate of occurrence in parts of Africa are somewhat higher.  If the rate in China is comparable to the U.S., then it stands to reason that there are a WHOLE LOT of people with albinism there.  There is a stigma associated with albinism in China, and some even consider it a curse or unlucky.  It generally makes life difficult for people with albinism. 
WILL SHE HAVE PINK EYES?
Nope!  Surprised?  Yeah, I thought that too.  I thought white skin and pink eyes were the definition of albinism!  Turns out no one has pink eyes.  People with albinism have blue, gray or violet-looking eyes, or if they have more pigment, they may have hazel or even brown!  "Depigmented irises" are actually blue!  Beautiful, gorgeous, crystal blue in fact.  :)  That's what my baby has.

So why does everyone say that people with albinism have pink (or red) eyes? 
Have you ever had "red eye" in photos?  That is caused by the light (usually from the flash) reflecting off of the blood in the choroid behind your retina.  Something similar happens in people with albinism.  The sclera ("whites") of the eyes have no pigment, nor does their iris, and when light hits their eyes at certain angles, a similar pink or red-effect occurs.  In normal light, you get to enjoy their beautiful baby blues (or whatever they are).

WILL SHE EVER BE ABLE TO GO OUTSIDE?
Absolutely.  Because of the lack of pigment in her skin, she is unable to tan and will burn quite easily and be at higher risk for skin cancer.  The solution?  Long clothing, hats, and LOTS of sunblock.  I think I'm going to have to find a brand of sunblock that we like and buy it by the gallon.  
Also, because her irises and sclera have no pigment, they let a LOT more light in than your eyes or mine do.  The result is that feeling you get when you turn the bathroom light on first thing in the morning.  TOO MUCH LIGHT!  In a great primer book on albinism put out by NOAH (more on NOAH later) called "Raising a Child With Albinism", they describe it this way: 
"Imagine the brightness of a floodlight that's always on, or the sensation of coming out of a dark movie theater on a sunny day - that is what it's like for someone with albinism."
So, sunglasses.  LOTS of sunglasses.  A family with several children with albinism suggested just having a drawer full of sunglasses.  Inevitably, the little one is going to lose this pair, sit on that pair, get in a fight with a brother and break the other pair, and still will need some to go outside.  She will probably end up with prescription sunglasses when she is older, but we'll take that as it comes. 

One "bright spot" here (oh, punny...) - our living room is always dark.  Even when the sun is shining, it just doesn't have the kind of light that we'd like.  When we were anticipating being matched with a child with hearing loss, we thought that would be a project: getting better lighting in the front room.  Turns out it's just perfect!  I love good news.

WHAT KIND OF TREATMENT(S) WILL SHE NEED?
Because albinism is a visual condition, she will need to see eye doctors more frequently than the average bear.  She will need sun protection.  Other than that, time will tell.  Many people with albinism use special adaptive technologies to help their functional vision.  Many children with albinism use occupational therapy.  Some need braille or use it in conjunction with print.  
In short: We'll see.

SO, OTHERWISE SHE'S HEALTHY, RIGHT?
We believe so.  There is a rare condition called Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome that causes lung, bowel and other problems.  According to her medical records, she does not have a history of bruising or bleeding, which are common first symptoms of HPS.  

If anyone has other questions, I may have just not thought of them yet.  Please ask and I'll try to find out the answers.  I would like to be as prepared as I can before my little Snow Angel gets here.

In closing, the best resource I have found for information about albinism is the NOAH website.  (National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation).  They have forums, resource lists, and pages for people with albinism and people who just need to write a paper about albinism.  I found that amusing and helpful.