Potential adoptive families often balk at countries that require long stays to adopt; but as working remotely becomes more normalized and technology improves, Agape Adoptions has discovered that it’s more possible than many families think. It takes a little creativity, an open mind, and a willingness to have an adventure, but it is possible! Over the next month, we’ll catch up with two families who have made a long stay work for them.
The Dominican Republic’s adoption process has one of the longest stays - families can expect to live in the Dominican Republic for up to six months (there is some wiggle room, which we’ll get to in a bit). The adoption authority requires adoptive families to live in-country for a co-habitation and bonding period, between 30 - 60 days. Once this is completed, parents need to stay in the DR for three - four more months to finish the remaining parts of the adoption process.
Other countries, like Romania (minimum 30 days) and Sri Lanka (one to two months), require longer stays in-country for the processing of an adoption. Long stays require families to think creatively about how they’ll structure their lives, both back home and while in country, during the adoption process.
The Tejada-Acosta Family’s Long Stay Journey
Recently, I hopped on the phone with Nancy Acosta and Angel Tejada to learn about their experience adopting their son, Jackson (4 years old), from the Dominican Republic (DR). The two were getting Jackson out of his evening shower and ready for bed, in their home Savannah, Georgia. Having finished their adoption in September of 2022, it was a heart-warming scene to get a glimpse into their lives!
The Tejada-Acosta family’s adoption process didn’t begin like many families’ adoption processes. Nancy was born in the DR and Angel was born in Puerto Rico. Angel moved to the mainland-United States as a child and Nancy moved to the U.S. in 2015. Both have extended family residing in the Dominican Republic. In 2018 Nancy traveled back to the DR to attend her grandmother’s funeral. While there, she shared with her family that the couple was planning to adopt a child from the United States.
Around the same time, a very young family friend in the DR became pregnant and didn’t feel as though she could parent the child. After talking with the Tejada-Acosta family, the biological mother agreed that the child would be the perfect fit for Nancy and Angel’s home. They began the process of adopting their son, Jackson, as an “identified” child (meaning that they had identified a child that they would like to adopt, rather than having the DR adoption authority refer them to a child). The family admits that they didn’t originally intend to adopt from the DR – but after meeting Jackson, they were determined to find a way to make the long stay work. Necessity is the birthplace of creativity!
Navigating the Long Stay
Nancy and Angel met Jackson when he was just five days old, and he started living with Nancy’s parents in the DR at fourteen days old. When Nancy and Angel were completing the adoption process, they lived with Nancy’s parents. During this time, Nancy’s parents served as foster parents, and there were still several hurdles to start the adoption process – Nancy and Angel had to be married for five years to adopt a child and Jackson had to be 1.5 years of age. During the first year of Jackson’s life, Nancy took a leave of absence from her job and lived in the DR with Jackson and her parents; while Angel traveled back and forth twice, still working in the United States.
When Jackson was sixteen months old, the family realized they needed to start the adoption process in the United States. They called every agency listed on the U.S. Dept of State’s website that facilitated adoptions from the Dominican Republic, but most weren’t interested in helping a family adopt an identified child from the DR. When they called Agape Adoptions, they were thrilled to hear we were willing to give it a try! Their home study agency Nightlight Adoptions had only good things to say about Agape Adoptions too. Nancy reflects, “They (Agape Adoption’s staff) were extremely helpful, they responded right away. If they didn't know the answer to something, they'd let us know and they’d figure it out. No complaints at all, everything was wonderful!”
In February 2020, Nancy flew back home, leaving Jackson with her parents, to start the required process in the United States. And we all know what happened next, weeks later travel became more complicated due to COVID-19. Nancy and Angel missed Jackson terribly but FaceTimed with him everyday. After completing the home study, education and paperwork process in the United States, and once travel restrictions loosened, Nancy and Angel flew back to the DR in May of 2022 to OFFICIALLY begin the process of adopting Jackson – the required co-habitation and bonding period. Nancy took another leave of absence from work and Angel went on 45 days of family medical leave act (FMLA).
A New Approach to a Long Vacation
Both Angel and Nancy look back on this time in the DR with such joy and fondness – I even started to wonder if the 45 days were some of the best days in their life. They spoke about the time with such warmth and love, “It was like going home, since we both have family there (the closest family member in the United States lives five hours away) ...We tried to create memories with Jackson and treated it like a family vacation. We played board games, spent time with family, went to the movies, played on the beach, and had more family time.”
Angel says, “Reconnecting with the DR part of my family was so nice, the last time I was there I was six-year-olds...Playing Uno, seeing my parents and in-laws learn to play Uno...I'm one of the few guys in the U.S. who LOVES their in-laws! I never had a big family, I experienced that last year for the first time, it was fun! Jackson got to play with his cousins, even though they fought like siblings sometimes. We miss them (now that we’re back in the U.S.)! And we know he (Jackson) misses them too.”
Nancy continues, “We knew that when we came back home, we wouldn't be able to have the same memories and experiences. I showed Jackson my childhood school, where his grandmother was born. We believe in open adoption, and we were able to connect with his birth family. There is no money that can pay for that!”
The hardest part about spending time in the DR? The two had a fun back and forth on this:
Angel: You get used to the comfortable life in the U.S. A/C 24/7, power always works, transportation is reliable. That was hard.
Nancy: Angel was so HOT!
Angel: The traffic is horrible!
Nancy: No, Angel, it's fun! But really, people shouldn’t drive there - avoid driving at all costs! We only did it because I’m from there.
Once Angel’s 45 days of FMLA were up, he returned to the United States and work. For the next three months the family was separated, Nancy lived in the DR with her parents and Angel lived in the United States (the DR allows one parent to return to the United States after the co-habitation period). About the separation, they say, “Suck it up and deal with it because the end result is worth it.”
The Challenges of Long Stays
Nancy missed Angel, but Angel missed Nancy and Jackson more – both agree the separation was harder on Angel than it was on Nancy. Nancy had Jackson to parent, and her parents to support her. Nancy says, “It was hard to not have Angel next to me. Jackson knew I was his mom and Angel was his dad. We did story time with Angel every day, and video calls. When Angel left, Jackson regressed. It was hard on me. He only wanted me or daddy. Jackson would ask, ‘Why did daddy leave? When can we leave?’...I wasn't sleeping because Jackson was having nightmares...I used to breakdown to Angel, but I also felt like I needed to be strong for him. If your spouse is leaving, don't stay by yourself! Make sure you have some sort of support. I’m so grateful that my family was there to support us."
Angel worked a lot of overtime, played video games and watched LOTS of movies. Angel says, “I kept as busy as I could. My dog was my support. I could have written a country album. I watched a lot of movies, movies I have wanted to watch for years."
As for the question many families who embark on this journey worry about, how to finance it? Nancy and Angel admit that they were lucky, they didn’t have many expenses while living in the DR – their family was very supportive. They lived at Nancy’s parents, used their car, and chipped in for food, gas and other household items. They note, “Only thing we had to worry about was paying bills at home, which is why Angel came home. We also fundraised through selling cookies and t-shirts, and we received a grant from HelpUsAdopt (psst, their next grant deadline is July 15th!), and Angel did a lot of overtime.” They say the financial part is the most anxiety inducing, and they recommend prospective adoptive parents have at least two months' salary saved before traveling.
The Long Overdue Reunion
In September of 2022, Jackson’s adoption was finalized, Angel flew back to the DR, and Nancy, Angel and Jackson traveled back to the U.S this time as a family of three. While spending all of that time with their family and having those precious experiences with Jackson in the DR were wonderful, Nancy says, “At the end we needed and wanted our normal life.”
Thank you to the Tejada-Acosta family for chatting with us and sharing their story. If you are interested in adopting from the Dominican Republic or adopting an identified child, reach out to Agape Adoptions, we are happy to discuss if we’re able to help you. And check back in a few weeks, when we’ll have a Q&A with the Harrison family, who are in the process of adopting Bayron, a young man they met while traveling in the DR.