Some Adoption Updates

Well, friends, we have been making solid progress through our adoption process! Last time I wrote, we had just received our Letter of Acceptance / Letter Seeking Confirmation from China, which we, of course, signed joyfully when the hard copy arrived!

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Since then, we have received our I800 approval (10/12/2016), our GUZ # yesterday on 10/20/16. That is basically our new case number indicating that our case has been assigned to the consulate and Guangzhou, and it’s important because it allows us to fill out form DS-260, an immigrant visa application, which I did last night. And this morning, I woke up to the RTF/PDF of our letter indicating that our file has been forwarded to the US Consulate in Guangzhou!

All of this will allow our agency to drop off what’s called our Article 5 paperwork with the US Consulate in Guangzhou on Monday, and assuming all looks good (which it should, because our agency has reviewed everything to make sure that it does!), they should be able to pick up our Article 5 paperwork 10 business days later. Then everything gets sent back to the CCCWA in Beijing, which will be responsible for issuing our Travel Approval – our invitation to come to China to adopt our little Fang Fang! Travel Approvals generally take a week or two to be issued but have been coming pretty quickly lately. There are no guarantees, but we believe this should happen in plenty of time for us to have a December 12 Family Day, which is what we’ve been hoping!

In the meantime, we’ve been working hard at home. Some of that is adoption-specific – I applied for our China entry visas, and we got a Power of Attorney form notarized and certified, and it should be getting authenticated right now, which will allow me to adopt a child on Matt’s behalf 🙂 Of course both spouses have to participate in the entire process, but in the end, it’s surprisingly easy – one piece of paper! – to adopt a child in your spouse’s absence!

Beyond that, though, I’ve been working on preparing for travel and our life once home with all 4 kids. I’ve been stocking our freezer with meals for Matt and my mom and the kids to eat while Madeleine CaiQun and I are gone and for all of us to enjoy in those early days and weeks of settling into life as a family of 6. I have Fang Fang scheduled for her first OI clinic in Omaha in January, where she’ll see some of the top OI experts in the world, and we’ll be advised on how best to care for her and proceed with her medical treatment. I’ve talked with our school district’s coordinator for Early Childhood Special Education. I’ve started all of our Christmas shopping.

I’ve made my “To Do” list of everything that truly needs to happen before I travel and everything I’d like to have done before I travel. I’m making some progress, but I don’t really know exactly when or how it’s all going to get done. To be honest, it’s feeling pretty overwhelming, more some days than others. I’ve had some days of feeling pretty anxious. It feels like there are so many moving pieces, and I’m the one responsible for getting them all to fit together the right way. The logistics of travel themselves are complex, and then we’ll want to be able to jump into life back home as quickly and easily as possible, too, and that will be no easy feat, as we adjust to being a family of six (with 4 kids age 6 and under!) and gain experience with OI.

I’m trying to remind myself of a few truths. First, we believe God has called us to this and is making it happen, and though I’m sure we’ll encounter many challenges along the way, He is and will be with us, and that really makes a difference. I’ve been working with the girls on memorizing some Bible verses for AWANA, and that has been a good reminder to me to dive back into my own Scripture memory – I think I’m going to try to tackle Psalm 46, a passage that has long been encouraging to me, but which I haven’t ever memorized. Second, I’ve been reminding myself that it’s not going to go perfectly, no matter what I do. Travel won’t go perfectly, things at home won’t be perfect while I’m gone, and adjusting to life at home won’t be seamless once I’m back. I need to prepare for everything as well as possible, but I also need to realize that it’s okay that there will be things that don’t go according to my plans, and it will still work out.

And I’m reminding myself of the sweet little girl for whom we’re doing all this. A friend is in China right now adopting her baby from the same foster home in which our little girl lives, and it has so sweet to see their pictures and realize that in less than 2 months, that is going to be us! She and her husband were also kind enough to deliver a mini-care package for us, a family photo album and a small Comfort Silkie security blanket like the ones all of our other kiddos have and sleep with.

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Once we have our Travel Approval, the foster home will share the photo book with her and begin to prepare her more specifically for our coming. It won’t be long now!

China said yes!

This morning I sat down and started to write, sharing my heart and my disappointment that we had not yet received our Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC)/Letter of Acceptance (LOA). A number of families – many of whom had submitted their dossiers after ours – received theirs on Wednesday, and to say that I was disappointed when ours was not issued at the same time was an understatement. I had been so sure it would come. Our case worker assured me that this often happens, and there’s really no discernible rhyme or reason for it. She believed that if the CCCWA had any questions about us or our dossier, they would already have asked them during the dossier review phase, and our agency had never had the CCCWA deny an LSC/LOA to a family, so she really thought it was coming and would be here soon. The wait and the not knowing were still hard, though, and I felt very discouraged this week. I tried to trust that God would lead us where we should be when we should be there, and focus on the things I actually could and should be doing – preparing freezer meals, doing school with the girls, etc.

And then today the call came – the CCCWA computer system showed this morning that our LSC/LOA has been issued!

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This is China’s official approval of us as adoptive parents of our precious baby #4, Fang Fang, as her foster home calls her. We couldn’t be happier! As I spoke with our case worker on the phone, I had to go hide in the play room, as the girls were running around screaming in their excitement, “We got our Letter of Acceptance! We got our Letter of Acceptance!”

Travel before Christmas is still by no means guaranteed, but it just got a whole lot more likely!

This news was particularly wonderful to receive today, as it follows a rather difficult week for us. First was our disappointment that we didn’t receive our Letter of Acceptance on Wednesday with so many other families. Then later that night, after the kids were in bed, Matt ran over to the art department to get some files he needed for a talk he’d be doing Thursday morning. He was gone for half an hour, then an hour, and then I texted him to make sure he was okay. No response. I knew he had his phone with him, because he’d come back inside specifically to get it before leaving. I waited 20 minutes and texted again. No response. I called and got his voicemail. I figured that the most likely scenario was that his phone had died, but I was still getting concerned. We were approaching midnight, and he was almost certainly alone in the building, so if anything was wrong, there probably wasn’t anyone there to help him. Finally I messaged one of our friends, a colleague of Matt’s, and asked if he’d mind going to check on him. He did, and actually right as he pulled up in the parking lot next to our van, Matt texted me that his phone hadn’t been working and needed to update its operating system, and he had just then gotten my messages. Phew!

So Matt came back home, but it was less than 14 hours later that he sent me a text message, “I am at hospital,” and we had the following exchange:

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That’s a picture every wife wants to get from her husband! A friend graciously came over to hang out with our kids, and I drove to the ER to be with Matt (whose colleague had, thankfully, talked him out of driving himself there). They ran a number of tests (bloodwork, head CT, x-rays, an EKG), and everything came back normal, so essentially they think he was tired (it hasn’t been a great week for sleep here at our house) and potentially dehydrated and probably fainted for a moment. They told us what symptoms to watch for but discharged him and said they expect him to be fine. He’s pretty banged up and sore today but generally feels alright.

And now, we are heading into a weekend that we hope will be filled with catch-up sleep, catch-up work, and some time for Matt to rest and heal, but also some celebration that we are officially approved to become parents of our FOURTH child! This is a great feeling, my friends 🙂

FAQ: Adoption Travel – Who? When?

Some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received as we’ve worked our way through this adoption process relate to travel.

First, who will travel? At least one adoptive parent is required to travel. Last time Matt, Miranda, my mom, and I all traveled to adopt Madeleine CaiQun, and it was an amazing trip, and that was absolutely the best decision for our family at that time.

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This time around, the logistics surrounding traveling as a family would be somewhat more complex given our greater numbers, and it would be tremendously more expensive, and we’re not sure that even if we had that extra money on hand, it would be wise for all of us to travel. Given the young ages of our children, we think it best for one of us to stay home with them and the other to travel. It’s reasonably likely that we’d travel during times Matt is supposed to teach, and on top of that, I’ll be our daughter’s primary caregiver, so it makes most sense for us to encourage her to bond with me first. That means that I’ll travel, and Matt will stay home. And I’m going to take Madeleine CaiQun with me. The cost of bringing one additional child is not all that high, and we saw, on our last trip, how beneficial it was for Mei Mei’s adjustment to our family to have a sibling there with us, and we’re hopeful that having her there will aid in our baby#4’s transition to our family. And of course there is the added benefit that she’ll have the opportunity to return to and visit the country of her birth. Additionally, any two of our children at home always get along better than all three, so my having her with me will hopefully make life at home easier for Matt and my mom, who has graciously agreed to stay home from China and instead help Matt maintain life on the home front.

I would obviously love to have Matt with me on this adventure, but having already traveled to China for an adoption trip once before, doing so without him this time feels manageable. However, I don’t think it would be wise for me to go without at least one other adult. I asked my brother and sister-in-law if either or both of them would be willing to accompany me, and they’ve both graciously agreed to do so, and I’m very grateful for that. They’ll be supportive and helpful and, of course, are much beloved by Madeleine CaiQun 🙂

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We’ll be a party of 4 traveling to China and party of 5 returning home! I am absolutely dreading leaving Miranda and Atticus for that long – I’ve never been away from them for anything like that length of time, and I’m sure I’ll miss them like crazy. As we’ve talked and prayed about it, though, we’ve become more and more convinced that this is the best travel scenario possible.

While the group of people traveling is pretty well set, our timing is less certain. I’m a part of a number of Facebook groups centered around providing support for families adopting from China, and in one of them there is a pretty reliable chart tracking current timelines for each step throughout the process. If the averages hold, we are likely to get our Letter of Acceptance (LOA), also known as Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC), sometime this week. Our dossier was out of translation (OOT) last Tuesday, September 13, and we were out of review as of yesterday, Monday, September 19. We have probably lost a little bit of time because the CCCWA (the central governing body in China overseeing everything related to adoptions) was closed September 15 – September 17 for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, but they were back to work on Sunday, and usually the next steps (matching and issuing the LSC) are fairly quick, so hopefully we’ll make our way through that this week and get word that our LSC is on its way! This LOA/LSC step usually has the most variation and is thus the most crucial to our timing.

From there, the process gets a little confusing, but essentially we wait for several levels of US Immigration Approval. First we file our I800 (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as Immediate Relative) with USCIS. Once that application is approved, our paperwork is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC), where we will be assigned some new case numbers (our GUZ and invoice numbers) and receive information we’ll need to fill out the DS-260 form to apply for our child’s US immigrant visa. The NVC will also cable our file information to the US Consulate in Guangzhou. As soon as we are able to obtain a copy of the letter verifying that they have done so, our agency will drop off our Article V paperwork with the consulate in Guangzhou. The consulate reviews all of our paperwork and determines that everything is in order, and they issue our Article V to our agency, which is the last US immigration approval we need before traveling. While confusing in their layers, all of these steps are reasonably predictable in their timing, taking approximately 5-6 weeks in total.

At that point, everything is submitted back to the CCCWA, which has to issue us a Travel Approval (TA) – essentially an invitation to come pick up our child. TAs are coming pretty quickly these days – almost all that have been issued most recently have come in less than a week. There is no guarantee that that timing will hold, but we certainly hope it does. Once we have our TA, we request an appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and as soon as that is confirmed, we can get to work booking our travel! Usually you can leave about 2 weeks after TA is received.

All that to say, from LOA/LSC (which we hope to have this week) to travel can be approximately 9 weeks IF and only if everything goes perfectly. I’m giving us a 1 week grace period and hoping and praying like crazy to leave around December 8 or 9. Please, please, please pray with me that we’re able to do that! If we are able to travel then, we’d be gone for Matt’s finals week and the first week of winter break, which would be a pretty low key time for him at school and should make life here for him and my mom pretty smooth. Then we’d return around December 22 or 23 – just in time to have our family of 6 home for Christmas! It would be crazy – half of our family would be so incredibly jet-lagged for Christmas itself – but we’d be together, and that would be so amazing.

It’s entirely doable for us to travel then, but it’s by no means guaranteed. We really need to get our LOA/LSC this month, preferably this week, in order for it to be possible, and every other step needs to continue to go pretty quickly. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll need to make the decision about whether we travel at the end of December, which would mean getting our girl home faster and having more of Matt’s winter break left to enjoy all together but would also mean spending Christmas with half of us stateside and half in China; or travel in January, which means not traveling over Christmas but then bringing our little one home later and not having as much time over Matt’s Christmas break to settle into life together. I really don’t want to have to make that decision. I really, really want to travel and be home by Christmas. Would you pray with me that that can happen?