Life never turns out how you imagined it, does it? I always grew up thinking that I would at some stage be married to a wonderful man, have some children of our own, and then adopt some children.
I grew up in a family where three of my siblings were adopted and I always liked the idea of doing the same. Well, as it turns out, I haven't met the wonderful man…yet After many years of trying to decide whether to wait, or just to move forward with adoption, I finally took the plunge in May, 2002. I contacted The Family Network as they had been recommended to me a few years previously when I was researching Adoption Agencies. Luke Leonard visited me at my home and discussed my options and gave me some paperwork to get started with. Adoption is certainly not for the faint-hearted, or the "paperwork challenged" - that's for sure. However, as I was positive that this is where God was leading me, I rose to the challenge and checked off the list of forms, documents, references, classes, books to read etc. and returned my package to the agency. At that stage, Georgia Leonard, head of their International Program visited me a few times and asked questions, gave me good advice, and again we discussed my options.
During one such visit, she mentioned a new program that they were starting in Sierra Leone. My interest was sparked and when I saw the children available for adoption and started researching more about Sierra Leone, I knew this was the program for me. My heart broke when I heard about the horrific war that had ravaged these children's country and had disrupted their lives so tragically. I decided to jump-start my family with three boys. The boys had their medical tests, and we started the legal process in Sierra Leone around August, 2002. This is a picture of them about 6 months before I went to pick them up.
Many of the challenges in the process occurred with the US side of the paperwork, shepherding it through the INS and other government agencies, and there were also some challenges with getting paperwork to and from Sierra Leone, the US and Senegal (where the US Embassy processes the final visas). I sent some photos to the boys of me, my dogs and my house. I also sent some tapes of my voice, as well as some little presents for Christmas and their birthdays.
It was really tough waiting, and a little frustrating as there were a couple of hiccups with the INS, and the court process in Sierra Leone. The US Embassy in Senegal were very helpful as were The Family Network throughout the process however so that helped immensely. Georgia also continued to provide tips, advice, and good reading recommendations so that I would be prepared for their arrival and life with children who had grown up in an orphanage. Finally, I received a green light to travel to Senegal in August, 2003, where the boys and the Orphanage staff would meet me. There they would undergo one final medical clearance, and a visit to the US Embassy to be interviewed and obtain the final visas.
Right before a friend of mine and I were scheduled to fly out we heard there was a problem with the boys' flights and they may not make it in time for the medical and the US Embassy appointment. We decided to take the chance and go anyway, loaded down with clothes, toys, strollers and some presents for the orphanage. We flew to New York and then onto Dakar, Senegal. When we arrived, we discovered our bags were lost. It was discovered that they had gone on to Johannesburg, and would be back on Monday morning - we arrived Thursday. We made some visits to the markets to buy some clothes for ourselves and some toys for the boys when they arrived. The boys did finally arrive and one of the US recommended doctors made a special trip to his office to see us at 6:00 pm on a Saturday night. So with medical clearance in hand, we went to the US Embassy on Monday morning and after some running around to get the visa photos, I left there at 5:00 pm with visas in hand. We were scheduled to fly back at 3:00 am on Wednesday morning, direct to NY.
It was a very difficult process to get through the Dakar airport and then our seats were scattered throughout the plane once we boarded. Nonetheless, we endured and arrived in NY to our delight. We all but kissed the ground - realizing how blessed we are to live in this country and not to endure the kind of poverty and hardships we had seen in Senegal. The Customs paperwork went through without a hitch and the rest of the trip back was delightful.
Wonderful friends helped us transition once back at home, providing transport, meals, support and care. A fantastic local pediatrician provided excellent healthcare for the hacking coughs, TB, and some other medical issues we encountered. A great friend provides Occupational Therapy for all three boys to help them overcome some deficits from growing up in an institution without a playground, and other toys that they need to develop their bodies and nervous systems.
The boys are doing so well now almost 5 months since they landed in California. The oldest one is attending school and making lots of friends. He also played in a Fall Soccer league and loved it! They are all jabbering away mostly in English now and understand most words spoken to them. Their hair and fingernails are growing rapidly and their swollen tummies are decreasing steadily. They are growing accustomed to a variety of foods and love playing at the park, and with their toys. They enjoy the two dogs and one cat at our house and they love going most anywhere in the car. Here is a photo of them in their room playing with some Legos and learning their numbers.
In October, 2003 an Au Pair from Austria joined our household and has been a joy and a tremendous help. It has been an adventure so far and though there have been some challenges, there have been so many more blessings experienced by all of us. Thanks to The Family Network for their assistance and support and facilitation as I now have a family…what a blessing!
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Rest in peace sweet boy and please know you will never be forgotten
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Adoptee: "When I look at my family, I find it crazy how strangers’ fates could have been tied together from halfway across the globe."