From the time I was 9 or 10 years old I knew I wanted to adopt a child some day.
It was during this time in my childhood that I met a boy at church who would one day become my husband and the father of our 8 children. Also attending our church was a woman who provided foster care. From time to time Noami would have African American babies in her care. I was crazy about Naomi’s babies. I already knew in my heart that I could love a child who was not born to me and that it didn’t matter at all if we matched on the outside. My father also made several short-term mission trips to Haiti about this same time. Looking back I can see that all these things were seeds, planted in the heart of a young girl, that would one day determine the very formation of my family.
John and I married in 1976 and went on to have a son and three daughters. Fifteen years into our marriage I knew the time had come when we needed to get serious about adoption, if we were ever going to! This was the early 90’s and with relative ease we adopted two African American newborn baby boys. We felt deeply enriched by the experience of becoming a multi-racial family and knew our family looked exactly as God had always intended. With six children we felt very contented and very blessed. We thought our family was complete.
Then, in 1996 we became acquainted with an American woman who had gone to Haiti on a short-term mission trip and was so touched by the plight of the children that she had taken an early retirement and now devotes her life to facilitating Haitian adoptions. We began receiving her newsletter with photos of waiting children. It is the rare mother who isn’t stricken when she hears of starving or hurting children, regardless of what part of the world they may live in. But when those children look like one’s own children it becomes much more personal.
As I looked into the faces of those desperately impoverished and malnourished children and saw reflected the beautiful brown faces of my own two sons it became very important to me to somehow make a difference in their lives. We began to tell anyone and everyone about the desperate need for adoptive families for Haitian children. Over the next year several families in our state successfully adopted beautiful Haitian babies and toddlers through this woman. We were thrilled when close friends invited us to be at the airport when their 8 month-old baby boy came home from Haiti. I can’t really put into words the emotions that came over me that evening as I held their baby in my arms.
Suddenly I was painfully aware that I no longer considered our family complete. There was a ‘knowing’, deep inside me, that I had a daughter in Haiti and I would do what ever it took to bring her home.
The first hurdle was convincing my husband. For several months I prayed that God would either open his heart to ‘one more child’ or take this longing from me. Finally in the fall of 1997 my husband told me he knew we were supposed to pursue a Haitian adoption. With elation and a lot of naiveté I jumped into the process. For those of you who have only adopted Internationally it may come as a surprise that one can actually adopt a child domestically after nothing more than having a home study completed. Our previous adoption experiences had basically been a ‘walk in the park’. We’d had our home study done and then waited for the phone to ring telling us to pick up our newborn sons. We had waited 4 months for our first placement and 3 for the second. We had no idea the ride we were in for adopting from Haiti!
We began updating our home study and preparing our dossier and made the necessary application to INS. I felt like a juggler trying to keep all three processes going smoothly. Many days I felt totally overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork! But always what motivated me was the certainty that our daughter was somewhere in Haiti depending on us to bring her home.
By late February of 1998 we were nearly paper ready and knew we were very close to having INS approval. We would then be matched with our baby girl! Although we had no idea yet who she was or where exactly she was she was so real to us. I could barely contain my excitement thinking how close we were to seeing her picture and knowing something tangible about her.
And then we received a phone call telling us the Haitian government was reorganizing the adoption system and all adoptions under the current system must be completed by the end of March. We made many calls to our Senators who were able to get our INS approval rushed through. We held out hope that we could possibly adopt one of the children that was already processed and beat the March 31st deadline. Our adoption facilitator had several toddler boys to choose from, but no infant girls. My husband made plans to fly to Haiti to try to salvage our adoption somehow. In the end we realized the futility of this and he did not make the trip. We were devastated. I can best describe our emotions at this point as feeling as if our daughter were being held hostage in a foreign country. We couldn’t believe we had gotten so close only to have everything fall apart.
The following month, in a series of events that could only have been the Lord, a missionary in Haiti, heard of our desire to adopt a Haitian child. She sent us e-mail telling us she had several babies and children she was preparing to take to an orphanage in Port au Prince and if we wanted any of these children she would help us wade our way through the new adoption system. She offered us a 3 week-old baby girl, whom we accepted sight unseen, and named Janaya Hope. We began working feverishly to bring her home.
There were two other families from our area who found themselves in the same situation when Haiti announced the deadline and they were now also working with the same missionary. There would be a total of four children coming to Indiana to three adoptive families.
John and the two mommies made plans to travel to Haiti in late June with a group from the missionary’s home church. The missionary facilitating our adoptions would be returning to the States with this group for a two-month furlough, but believed she could have the adoptions completed before she left the country. We had great hopes that our children would be coming home with the group at the end of June. It was not to be.
John spent 8 days caring for our 3-month old daughter, falling even more deeply in love with her, only to have to return her to her Haitian foster mother and come home alone. For days after John returned without Janaya I would find him struggling to contain his emotions. He told me over and over that I couldn’t even begin to imagine the conditions where he had to leave our baby. By Haitian standards Janaya’s foster home was better than many, but by our standards it was a nightmare. I tried to comfort myself with the assurance that John had witnessed how loving and caring her foster mother was with her. I knew in the long run that was much more important to her well being than her physical surroundings.
With the missionary now in the States on furlough we faced the next two months with very little information on our daughter’s well being or the status of her adoption. We were greatly relieved when the missionary returned to Haiti at the end of the summer and assured us she could have the children ready to travel in September. At last it seemed our daughter would really be coming home! She was now six months old.
Finally we received word that a mission team from Indiana would be escorting the 4 kids to their new families on September 22, 1998, via Miami. The journey to bring Janaya home had been much more difficult than we had ever imagined going into the adoption. This was really no ones fault; we had navigated uncharted waters. In the emotional glow of believing she was AT LAST going to be home, all we had endured didn’t seem so bad after all. We had no way of knowing there were obstacles yet to overcome.
A few days before the kids were scheduled to arrive home we had dinner with the couple adopting the two toddlers in the group. In the course of the evening the other couple casually mentioned that they sure hoped the hurricane wouldn’t cause any problems in getting the kids home. I felt all the air drain from me as I asked WHAT HURRICANE they were referring to.
In my excitement and preparation I had not seen the news for several days and had no idea a large hurricane was forming in the Caribbean. The weather channel took on great importance over the next few days as we watched and waited. Sure enough, the day before the group was to fly home all flights out of Haiti were cancelled. Because the hurricane was projected to head towards Miami after hitting Haiti all incoming flights to Miami were cancelled as well. On the night we should have been celebrating our daughter’s arrival we went to bed with the weather channel showing the eye of Hurricane Georges directly over Port au Prince where we knew the kids and their escorts were riding out the storm. It was an incredibly helpless feeling. Once again we could only wait and pray.
In the days after the storm we were unable to make phone contact with Haiti. We relied on information from the airlines to determine when we might reasonably hope the kids could get a flight out. Two days after the storm we were told the first flight out would be headed to New York. We knew none of our group had tickets to New York and that many people would be scrambling for the few seats available on that first flight out. That afternoon I spent a lot of time in the nursery we had prepared for our daughter beseeching the Lord to make a way for the 4 children and their escorts to get on that flight! I felt a calm assurance.
Late in the afternoon my teenage daughter answered the phone and after several moments of confusion hung up saying she thought it was a telemarketer but her English was so poor she couldn’t understand her. I KNEW it had been the Haitian operator and when the phone rang again a few minutes later I scrambled to answer it and nearly screamed, ‘YES!” into the receiver. I understood enough to know it was the overseas operator with a collect call. It was the missionary telling me she had just put the group on the flight to New York and they would arrive in Indiana the following day.
The group was scheduled to arrive at Indianapolis International Airport about 9 AM on September 25, 1998. We live only 10 minutes from the airport and before we could even leave home that morning we received word that there had been ANOTHER snag. The 4 kids and 4 escorts had piled into two separate cabs in New York City that morning. In what I can now appreciate as a rather humorous escapade one cab went to Kennedy Airport and the other to LaGuardia. By the time the mistake was realized and the group reunited they had missed their connection to Chicago. The group FINALLY made it to Chicago, only to learn all flights to Indianapolis were delayed due to bad weather.
Five and a half hours after we arrived at the airport I watched my daughter being carried off the plane. And just as I had so quickly forgotten the pain of bringing my biological children into this world all that we had endured in bringing Janaya into our family seemed so very unimportant as they placed my baby girl in my arms.
The group had left Janaya’s home village five days earlier with only enough supplies for a couple of days. They had thought the kids would be with their new families by the following evening. Janaya arrived with a horrible case of impetigo and wearing the very last diaper they had for her. She looked pretty pitiful and smelled even worse! But she was OURS and she was HOME!
She allowed us to pass her around for several minutes and then began to cry. She was inconsolable for the next hour as we left the airport and went immediately to our pediatrician to find out what the crusty stuff was all over her little body. It was obvious she was in great distress between the itching and her fear of the strangers she had been handed to a short time before. But after doses of an antibiotic and Benadryl and a soothing warm bath she was smiling and cooing and settling into her new family. Janaya slept 12 hours that first night home and all night every night there after. She has been an absolute joy to our family and we cannot imagine life without her!
Each adoption journey is unique and certainly Janaya’s was memorable. We realize that had it not been for the upheaval in the Haitian adoption program, exactly when it occurred, we would never have ended up with Janaya. My heart breaks at the very thought of never having known or loved her. Adopting Janaya was one of the most difficult emotional experiences we have ever gone through, but she was worth it all and more!
With her safely home at last we heaved a huge sigh of relief and swore we would NEVER do another Haitian adoption. But time has a way of changing one’s perspective. On July 31, 2001 I found myself once again waiting at the Indianapolis International Airport. Only 5 months earlier we had come to the conclusion that it would be a good thing if Janaya had a sibling who shared her Haitian heritage While we realize we can’t save all the children of Haiti, we knew in our hearts we could help one more. Natalya Grace arrived home at 23 months of age after a completely boring, uneventful adoption process. We worked with the adoption facilitator we had started out with in 1998 and had a perfectly pleasant adoption experience. No shakeups in the Haitian Adoption program, no futile trips to Haiti, no hurricanes, nothing more ruffling than a missed connection at the Newark airport on John’s way to Miami to pick Natalya up.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The needs of the children there are truly desperate. As with any transracial or cross-cultural adoption it is imperative that you be able to appreciate the beauty of the people and culture from which your child will come. Sadly many children of African descent in our own country, as well as from various other parts of the world, are at the bottom of the adoption totem pole simply because of the color of their skin. It is a fact that breaks my heart and prevents many deserving children from finding loving, permanent families. I would encourage anyone considering adoption to search your heart and consider that possibly your son or daughter is waiting for you in Haiti. Had we not done so ourselves we would have missed two of God’s greatest blessings for our family.