Friday, January 30, 2009

We passed the USCIS wringer!

I just want to take a moment to give a shout-out to my agents, both local and in NY, for all their help with our paperwork.

Our caseworker said our dossier was - and I quote - "perfect."

We couldn't have done it without the meticulous proofreading and high levels of competence of our agents. We realize it's especially difficult to be on top of things in the middle of this period of Hague-related transitions, but somehow you've managed to do it. Thanks, ladies! You have our gratitude!

So now what? Now we wait for Feb. 11, our fingerprinting appointment. Once our case worker receives the fingerprint documents, she'll send the whole package out for one quick look-through at the office in Missouri before it heads across the Pacific ocean to China.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

USCIS - moving right along!

It felt like time had stalled.

Today, however, we got a call from USCIS. We have a case worker! She promised to work speedily on our dossier so she could send it to China as soon as we get fingerprinted. Then she made us an appointment to get fingerprinted. In Cranston, RI.

That's not so bad. It's 2 weeks from today, but I can hold out that long. I'm just relieved to know that the process is moving forward.

Q and A Part II

Bookworm, tomboy or girly girl? The three-in-one package deal sounds pretty appealing to me!

I guess we'll have to let her decide who she is. But I hope she ends up having lots of interests. My parents had very few interests, and I took my cues from them, and now I regret it. We want our daughter to experience the world.

You DO have a site set up to overload with posted pictures, right?! ;) And good camera phones? I just signed up for a Flickr account, and Rick has Photobucket. Our camera phone is bad. But we have cameras - a digital camera, a box camera circa 1965, and two broken SLRs that might be fixable. Gotta remember to find a camera repair shop.

How old is the child going to be? 18 months to three years. Definitely a toddler.

what's a good estimate how long they expect this to take, and how will that affect the child's age when you get her? Our wait will be less than a year from the time China receives our dossier. (Which is why we should send it out NOW!!) Maybe as little as six months. Maybe when they match us with a child, they'll choose one who is at the young end of our spectrum so that she won't age past the top end while we wait. Or maybe not!

Why a girl and not a boy? We have a lot of nephews and Rick's mother really wanted a granddaughter. :)

I like boys just fine, but we talked about it at great length and decided that, because we had very few restrictions on our request form, we could stand to add just that little request for a specific gender. The program has more boys in it than girls, but the agency is sure we'll get a match easily because we okayed so many of the possible disabilities listed.

Why did you choose China? We like China. It has a rich culture, and Chinatown is easily accessible. She won't be totally isolated from her culture. And because we really liked this program and we fit its adoptive parent requirements very well.

What's the worst part of the experience been so far? Convincing our PCP's secretary to assist with the paperwork. She's been very resistant throughout it all. But now I have a contender for worst part - getting the dang dossier in the mail! We're so close! Every stupid little last-minute issue that comes up pisses me off more and more.

What's the best part? Well, there's the prospect of being parents... that's the big thing that keeps us going. Also, the support and good wishes from our family and friends. Everybody is being so wonderful, and we haven't run into the problems they warn you about. No family members disapproving of the interracial nature of our future family. We won't run into hostility from neighbors or school system here on the adoption-friendly Cape. Nobody has told us we're idiots for going special-needs. We have had a few people tell us irrelevant horror stories for no obvious reason, but that's just an annoyance.

Have you met others in your community that have adopted from China? Not yet, but partly that's because we haven't shown up to very many social events yet. We did go to one, and did briefly meet some couples with adopted children from China (and Kazakhstan), so if you count that, then yes. And we see families around town all the time. But I don't know anyone by name yet. I shall remedy this by showing up at the events in the future.

Why do you want to adopt? Don't you feel like you're depriving yourself and/or your boy of the chance to genetically propagate? No, actually I don't care either way. I respect that some people value passing on their genes, but don't find it that compelling. I'll be a mommy just as much this way as any other!

Do you really think you're cut out to raise a foreign child? We're going to try our best! We'll be better at it than some, I suspect, because we're genuinely interested in Chinese culture - we're even learning Mandarin. How much do you plan on "Americanizing" your kid? I don't think we have an option - she'll be Americanized all the way. It's not like we can shield her from the culture we participate so much in ourselves. What will be more interesting is how much Italian culture she'll get. My mother has already taken it upon herself to handle that. (Sheesh, I wish she'd done the same for me! Better late than never, I guess.)

What will you do if/when your child begins expressing an interest in finding his or her biological parents? Not much, I'm afraid. We'll help as much as we can, but Chinese custom and policy dictate that the identities of her parents will be unknown. Nearly 100% of Chinese children in the orphanage system are abandoned anonymously. This is because of the one-child policy; in addition, it is illegal to abandon your child (even one you've given birth to illegally), so for parents who are not rich, the best recourse is to not get caught.

While we're in China, we'll take lots of pictures of her home region and learn all we can about it. Then, at least, she'll have information about what her parents' lives must have been like.

That's the end so far. More questions welcomed.

Adoption Q and A

Here's my first round of questions and answers, in more-or-less the order they were asked. There will be other rounds, so feel free to ask me more questions. Maybe some of the answers I give may need clarification. Let me know.

I had a formatting issue earlier. The first question got misplaced. It's fixed now.

How do you even get started? Past the decision to adopt, I mean. Where do you look, who do you ask, how does it work? We went to a DSS (department of Social Services) seminar to start with. We found DSS a little intimidating, so we decided to research international adoptions too. A group called ACONE holds a yearly conference, so we attended that, and joined ACONE ourselves. We got a list of local adoption agencies and interviewed the agents we thought we'd like. Then we picked the agency with the programs and connections that were best for us. Lots of people help and guide you on the way. Once you sign with an agency, your agent walks you through the process step by step.

I know your daughter will be from China -- how much of the culture of her genetic heritage will you be keeping as standard? As much as we can manage. Since we're not Chinese, we have to learn everything as we go. We're learning phrases in Mandarin. We can study the art, music, and literature alongside her. We have a couple of Chinese-American friends who will hopefully spend some time with her now and then. Boston's Chinatown is a convenient daytrip away, and someday we want to travel back to China with her as tourists. It seems likely she'll come from an area where Confucianism is popular (in spite of being essentially illegal) so we'll learn what we can about it. And of course I'll learn to make dumplings.

I've been curious, but didn't want to ask because it IS a personal thing... if you don't mind answering (even if not public) what were the reasons for the decision to adopt? It is a sensitive question, but I've decided to be open about it. I've wanted to adopt ever since I was a small child. While the other kids taunted my classmates who were adopted, I went the other direction and became enamored with the prospect. (Maybe my parents explained it to me well.) I always assumed I'd have maybe one biological child and then adopt my second. But here I am in my mid-thirties with no children. I can't wait forever! Besides, I'm not picky about whose genes my child carries. I just want to be a mommy.

Will you have more children (either birth or adoption)? Could happen! I'm leaning toward 'yes' at the moment.

What are the general policies and criteria for adoptive parents and how long is the waiting list? Who's banned from the list by default? China tightened up their policies and criteria a few years ago. Then last year, something called the Hague Treaty was signed by several countries, including the USA, to regulate international adoptions and prevent problematic practices like kidnapping or record tampering. Each country's policies are still different, but they're now more similar. Parents' ages are required to be between 30 and 55, with some variation. Many countries prohibit openly gay couples and/or single parents from adopting, although some US adoption agencies will find ways around that. Many countries have specific health requirements of the parents.

Here's a blurb from our agency's website:

China will accept dossiers from couples married at least two years (or 5 years following a divorce) up to age 49 in the regular adoption program and from couples up to age 54 in the Waiting Child program. Applicants must be at least 30 years old. Prospective parents should be in good physical health and mental health, have adequate resources to care for a child, have no significant criminal history, and have a body mass index of under 40.

Many of the regulations are eased when the child has special needs.

Is it difficult to adopt from China with them having a communist government? The Communist regime does complicate the process in some small ways. But in other ways it makes things easier. China controls everything so heavyhandedly that we're not likely to encounter many unwelcome surprises. There's less risk of officials wanting bribes, of paperwork being lost, or of someone's anti-adoption opinions dragging out the process. The Hague regulations barely created a bump. China does want to control the process even more, so it's leaving less and less power in the hands of the American officials. That means our agents have less power to ease things through for us. But it's a pretty stable system at the moment.

You mentioned special needs are a possible-to-probable -- which ones are in y'alls "range"? Actually, it's definite. We chose to sign up with an agency that helps special needs children exclusively. Here's why: no child is 'easy' - they all have health emergencies and emotional struggles. Adopted children nearly always have additional issues, such as grief and bonding issues. The special needs in question are mild to moderate, and most can be repaired with simple surgery or medical treatments. The rest are not debilitating in any way. In many cases, the parents find the bonding issues or typical children's growth and development problems are more significant than the original disability.

So if we're going to experience parenting ups and downs no matter what we do, we're free to choose by other criteria. The China SN program has an average wait of less than a year. The non-special needs program averages four years. Other countries we considered are closed, or are revamping their systems to comply with Hague and their waiting times just got longer. We'll take the shorter wait, thank you!

We received a form that listed various special needs and were asked to check off which ones were acceptable to us. We okayed albinism, amniotic banding, mild heart conditions, cleft lip/palate, certain eye/vision conditions, mild spina bifida, scoliosis, and a few others I don't remember now. I wish I'd kept a copy of the list.

There's also the fact that special needs children have special needs. Have you talked with the agency, local government, Rick's job, or whoever else about tapping into whatever assistance networks you may have need for? Our agency works with a very good pediatrician in Boston who specializes in adopted kids. She supposedly has a whole network of resources, depending on our child's needs. We haven't contacted her yet, but we will when we get our match.

Our insurance will cover our child; we already checked. The school Rick teaches at would be excellent for her to go to. If she needs more support than they can give her, we may have to turn to the public school system. I'm hoping it won't come to that, because although public schools are obligated to provide special needs support, you sometimes have to fight like hell to get any. I'm fully prepared to homeschool if necessary.

Additionally, our agency has playgroups, parents' meetings, and seminars we can go to. We are also members of ACONE, the regional adoption association, which offers access to general and specialized resources.