Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big Brother

Cooper is our Cairn Terrier - he is two and a half years old, 21 pounds, full of sharp, pointy teeth, and the best dog in the world. Ryan will no doubt find him entertaining, and will likely become very attached to him. Cooper will be his very first pet, and maybe one of his best friends.

We got Cooper after our first failed IVF procedure. It was the perfect consolation prize. It was a hasty decision ... but a good one. I have pretty bad allergies (mostly asthma) so we had to find a hypoallergenic breed. Cairn Terriers fulfill this requirement. Friends of ours (in the U.P.) have a dog of the same breed - we liked his personality a lot, so decided to go for it.

Cooper was born in Ohio's Amish country (Apple Creek, OH). We made the trek to pick him up in late November 2008. We had no idea how much he would change our lives. I've never been a dog person, but having lived with Cooper for the past two years, I can't imagine not having a dog. And Cooper's been preparing for his arrival - he often wanders off on his own and just hangs out in Ryan's room by himself. He's been growling at any and all threats (like people walking down the sidewalk, or leaves blowing by) ... but we're hoping he cuts back on this so he doesn't wake Ryan during naps, or at night. I think Ryan will love him.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A New Day....

Shortly after we received our referral for Ryan I came across a certain song on my ipod while going for a run. It was the song A New Day Has Come by Celine Dion. It's a song I have heard so many times before as it has always been a song I've enjoyed listening to. Only this time the song seemed to have so much more of a meaning. As the song played on I noticed that each and every word of the song was describing so many of my feelings and emotions from everything I had gone through. Most importantly, it made me realize that I didn't have to be sad anymore because I was finally going to be a mommy to the most beautiful baby boy. At that point I had to stop running because I started to cry my eyes out. Tears of joy this time instead of tears of sadness. Since that day I have listened to that song a thousand times. It reminds me that I will soon be able to hold my baby in my arms. This song will always be my song to my sweet angel and has given me a gentle reminder that no matter how hard a day can be, a new day will always come. My miracle, my son, I love you so much.

A New Day Has Come....

I was waiting for so long
For a miracle to come
Everyone told me to be strong
Hold on and don't shed a tear

Through the darkness and good times
I knew I'd make it through
And the world thought I had it all
But I was waiting for you

Hush, love

I see a light in the sky
Oh, it's almost blinding me
I can't believe
I've been touched by an angel with love
Let the rain come down and wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul and drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls for a new, new sun
A new day has...come

Where it was dark now there's light
Where there was pain now there's joy
Where there was weakness, I found my strength
All in the eyes of a boy

Hush, love

I see a light in the sky
Oh, it's almost blinding me
I can't believe
I've been touched by an angel with love
Let the rain come down and wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul and drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls for a new, new sun
A new day has...come

A new day has...come
Ohhh, a light... OOh

Friday, January 29, 2010

It came! It came! It came!

The I-600 approval just came in the mail! Saying that I am excited is a complete understatement. I was on the phone with my husband when the mail came. I grabbed it hoping that it was going to be in the mail just as I hope it will be everyday and sure enough it was! When I opened I immediately searched for something that said "approval" I found it right away and I started jumping up and down while shouting "It came! It came! It came!" I am so unbelievably happy right now I can't even think straight! Now, being that our agency is not open on Fridays I have to wait until Monday before I fax the form over to them. Hopefully it will be just a few short weeks before we meet our son for the very first time. Honestly, this just became completely surreal. I can't believe that this is actually going to be happening soon! I can't wait! I can't wait! I can't wait! I'm too excited to write anything else. Will keep you posted on what the agency says on Monday. Today is a great day!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Where we are now ...

So, where are we now? We're waiting - that's where.

Actually, it's a pretty good time. The quiet before the storm, if you will. The shower is done. The nursery is ready. Everything is unpacked and in position for Ryan's arrival. We have a stroller (a Bob Revolution in orange and brown - it's frickin sweet! Nicely engineered and solid! I'm looking forward to running over some stumps with it when Ryan gets here).

We are currently renting a small home in Birmingham, but we are hoping to buy a home in Clarkston as soon as something attractive comes on the market. Why Clarkston? It's close to Kari's parents, it's a nice community and you get a lot more house your money there (relatively speaking). We fully expect to be in Birmingham for a few months after Ryan arrives, so we've fashioned a cozy little nursery with one of the bedrooms in our home. Here are a few photos. Some of the nicer features are the leather chair in the corner (we picked one up on ... not too bad, but not the nicest chair in the world ... but, it was 1/3 of the price for something from Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel). His crib, dresser, changing table, etc. came from JC Penney. Nice stuff I think, and very reasonably priced. We grabbed an ipod dock (JBL Soundstage) from Best Buy (for bedtime tunes) - also pretty nice (we're planning to drop our iPhones on it while streaming Pandora's "Children" channel). It's a nice little room. Cooper has been walking in there on his own just to hang out. He's excited for "the baby" to get here.

We're waiting anxiously for our I-600 approval. Based on information we've found online, and based on what our agency told us, we expect to receive the approval in about two weeks. That means we'll be traveling to Korea a few weeks after that.

An Adoption Poem

Just love this poem....

The Gift of Life

I didn't give you the gift of life,
But in my heart I know.
The love I feel is deep and real,
As if it had been so.

For us to have each other
Is like a dream come true!
No, I didn't give you
The gift of life,
Life gave me the gift of you.
--- Unknown

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Referral!!!

After we completed the home study process we were told by AIAA that it would take 3-4 months for a referral to arrive. The wait times for a referral from Korea are a fraction of those for other countries. It was just over three months when we got the call that our referral was in. Even though it was a relatively short wait, patience were difficult to find some days (nothing has changed on this front!). All of this anxiety went out the window the day we got our referral call.

We received an email from our case worker late on Tuesday November 9th. Her email indicated that she did not have our new phone number, (even though we updated it with the agency) and needed us to call her ASAP. For a brief second I thought to myself that maybe this could be our referral but I didn't want to get my hopes up. When I read the email to my husband he immediately said, "it's our referral!" I completely froze and couldn't breathe and had to make my husband call our case worker. I could hear our case worker through the phone when she said that she had a referral for us for a little boy. I was stunned that it was actually happening and was SO excited to see his pictures. However, we had to wait until the following evening before we would be able to view the referral and see his sweet face for the first time. The rest of the night I was so excited and my mind was racing! I didn't want to wait another minute. I just wanted to see his face.

Our case worker invited us to her home the following evening, November 10th, where she would have our referral waiting for us. The day couldn't have gone by more slowly. The time came and we headed to her home (which is just ten minutes from our own). My heart was pounding the entire way there and my palms were sweating. I just couldn't wait to learn about our son and to finally, after so long, see his face. As soon as we got to our case worker's home, she sat us down and asked us if we wanted to see pictures first or view his file. We both wanted to look at his pictures first. She handed us 8 pictures of the most beautiful little baby boy that I have ever seen. At that moment, all I could think was that I was looking at my son. It is a feeling I can't really put into words. Our case worker then handed us a packet of all of his information. I first saw his birth date which is June 10th, 2009. Being that it was November 10th, he was exactly 5 months on that day. We quickly learned that he was a healthy and very happy baby. I was so happy that one of the pictures was a picture taken with him and his foster mom. I felt so much better being able to see the woman who is taking care of him. Our case worker walked us through the rest of his information, but I was so fixated on his pictures that I missed most of what was being said. I couldn't get over the fact that this beautiful baby was going to be my son.

Before accepting his referral we had to have his medical history reviewed by a doctor within the U.S. Our case worker gave us a list of doctors that could review his information. As soon as we got home that evening I called one of the doctors on the list and we scanned and emailed her all of his information. The following day she called us to inform us that he is very healthy! That was a great relief. Later that day we called the agency to officially accept this beautiful, sweet, and healthy baby boy as our son. We are so lucky!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Home Study

The home study - probably the most over-hyped portion of the adoption process. In reality, it is one of the easiest parts of the process. Here's what you do: Sit down and talk about adoption with your case worker. That's it. Dead simple.

Each of the four meetings we had spanned about 1.5 hours - they were tough to squeeze into my work schedule as I was involved in a fairly intensive project at the time, but thankfully, the client was local (i.e. no travel) and I had a very understanding boss (at the time).

The first meeting was purely introductory in nature and took place in our house. We gave our case worker a brief tour around our little bungalow rental. She paid little attention to the actual structure and condition of the home only remarking that it was "nice". We were worried about Cooper (our dog) and how he would react to her. He's excited to meet new people - a little TOO excited. But, he behaved pretty well for this one, and quickly paid no attention to her.She settled into our couch and began to ask us about why we wanted to adopt, having us recount our struggles with infertility and directing questions at each of us (it wasn't just an interview of the mother-to-be). She then gave us an overview of the adoption process, from beginning to end. That was about it.

The second, third and fourth meetings, which took place at the AIAA office were more of the same, but introduced the layers of adoption that are less glamorous. The best analogy she gave us (in my opinion) was one of a layer cake. Being a parent is the foundation of the cake - adoptive parents have it no different than traditional parents. The second layer is adoption - adopted children face a variety of obstacles that most people don't (intense feelings of loss, abandonment, confused self identity, etc.) The third layer relates to cultural diversity, and the topic of becoming a "conspicuous" family (i.e. it will be quite obvious that Ryan is not our genetic child ... and this will be true every single time we're in public). Parents of adoptive children from other racial backgrounds have to balance all of these layers, and deal with issues from each. Not an easy task, and there is no amount of preparation that can make you perfectly suited for it - but, the case worker provides myriad resources to help in that preparation.

As part of the home study process we were required to take a number of online courses on each of the topics described. They were very helpful, but only scratched the surface of each topic. We were referred a huge collection of books that we've been reading through ever since (again, we've only scratched the surface of these books).

At the end of the fourth meeting, our home study process was officially complete. That's really all it was - just a series of conversations about the challenges of adoption, our reasons for pursuing it, and our dedication to ensuring we prepare ourselves on all fronts. It was a good experience that helped to open our eyes while firming up our decision to move to the next steps.

Our case worker "wrote up" her findings and comments on the home study. This document was a critical part of our adoption application. It was filled with errors (some were baffling), but we quickly corrected them and filed the final version with our agency. Our case worker lost the actual dates we met (somehow) - so, we had to provide this information to her (again, sort of baffling) ... since the home study, we've only heard from our case worker when the referral arrived (more to come on that topic in a future post) ...

So, not too bad. In brief: If you're just starting the process, don't worry about the home study. It's easy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paper Work

Now for the least exciting part of the process - the applications and forms. This process was actually much less intensive than we were expecting. The first step was the application to begin the process with AIAA. This one took less than 10 minutes to complete. They basically wanted to collect basic background information, and to ensure we were financially capable of completing the process. The bulk of the work was contained in the formal application and I-600. We had to provide documentation of all assets (401k, IRAs, stocks, cash savings, cars, lawn mowers, wood piles, etc.), marriage license, birth certificates, social security cards, former addresses, etc. The real pain was that we had to complete 5 copies of all forms (one for the U.S. agency, one for Korea, one for U.S. government, one for agency records, etc.) Really, it wasn't that bad. Other than this application we had to fulfill a few small requirements. We had to go into the city of Detroit to have a full set of fingerprints taken (for a federal criminal background check - which was clear for us). We also had to have a letter from our local police department (Birmingham) issued showing any and all criminal activity that might not have been picked up in the federal system. This was also clear. The home study didn't require any documentation - only a series of meetings in which the unique requirements of adopted children were described, and our intended parenting style probed. Our case worker talked more than we did throughout most of it.

After all of this was completed, we simply waited. And that's where we are today. Kari watches the mail frantically every day awaiting our I-600 approval. The last correspondence we received was from the Detroit office responsible for processing our I-600. This form states that processing time for I-600 forms is currently running around 3 months. We don't really believe it as our agency, and several other blogs we've been following have shown the actual processing time to be closer to 1 month. Let's hope that's the case ... we want to get our little Ryan home, where he belongs.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Agency, and The Country

Having made the decision to move forward with adoption, our next step was to decide on an agency, and a country. Having done a bit of preliminary research, we knew that the two variables were somewhat tied to each other- each agency only works with a handful of countries. With some internet research and tips from friends, we identified two agencies in the metro Detroit area: Americans For International Aid and Adoption, and Bethany Christian Services and made appointments with each.

The meeting with AIAA was held on March 24, 2009. One of the case workers sat down with us to review the various programs they offered, including Ethiopia, Russia, Jamaica, Korea, China, and several others. We learned the China program was limited to parents over the age of 30 (a requirement that I didn't, and still don't meet). AIAA was kind enough to show us an actual referral from Korea. Seeing the picture of the little baby made the whole thing very real, and really exciting for both of us.

Later the same day we met with Bethany Christian Services. This was a much less intimate setting as we were one of 5 couples in attendance, but it was still very nice. They played a video which provided an overview of the adoption process for each country they worked with and an older lady spoke about each. The wait times described at Bethany were much longer than those described at AIAA. That combined with the one-on-one attention provided by AIAA were really the only variables we used to ultimately decide to work with AIAA.

Upon learning about the pros and cons of each program (and much conversation following the meeting) we decided on Korea. The foster care system there is excellent (the children receive a lot of one-on-one time with their foster parents), the children are placed with adoptive families at a much younger age than most other countries (average age of children placed is currently 9 months) and the wait times are relatively short (less than 18 months).

So far, AIAA has performed incredibly well. They have held true to all of the time lines described and have been very responsive to all questions. The only down side so far is that the social worker assigned to our case has been less responsive than we would like, but the staff at the agency, and the speed with which they are processing our case has been incredible.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Our First Post

We intended to start this blog a while ago. A "while ago" was sometime in the spring of 2009 when we were nearing the point of actually acting on our many discussions about adoption. The process has moved along between there and here - slower at times, longer at others, but always decisively, and in the right direction.

Here you will find a collection of anecdotes including recollections of things we've already done, thoughts on events that have yet to pass, and vivid descriptions of the inception of our family. Our family will literally form its first roots in the weeks and months to come. Sometime soon I will post a photo of us holding our son on Korean soil. And soon thereafter, you'll see a photo of the three of us in our home in Michigan. And on the heels of that momentous occasion you will read about our life with our son, Ryan.

Until our process takes its next step (which will be the receipt of our officially approved I-600 form), we will step back in time to briefly describe the steps we have taken to get to this point in the adoption process. We intend for our audience to include family, friends, parents of all types, adoptees and anyone who has adopted, is adopting, or is nearing the decision to adopt. We hope to learn how to be the best parents we can be, and how to face the lighter and darker sides of adoption with grace and responsibility so that our son can have the best life possible. But first, some facts ...

We are 31 and 29 years old, were married in 2005 and reside in Birmingham, MI. I am a consultant in the automotive industry, and my wife a teacher by trade (but currently, a stay-at-home-Cairn-Terrier-mom-slash-mom-in-training). Our dog is awesome. His name is Cooper. You'll see a lot of him. We set about trying to start a family a few years after getting married. Before doing so, we had always talked about the possibility of adoption. Little did we know what fate had in store for us. We followed a difficult road of infertility (two failed IVF cycles, many more failed IUI cycles ... injections, medications, surgeries, etc.) before coming to this great conclusion - we would adopt a child from South Korea.

So that's where you find us. Thus far our family and friends have been incredibly supportive and open-minded. We truly consider ourselves lucky to be following the road we have before us. We hope you enjoy the show, and hope that you will contribute tips and advice on the topics of parenting, adoption, Korean culture, or anything that you think might be of use for us.