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Technically, it’s against company policy to walk and talk on a cell phone at the same time but considering who was calling I answered anyway and slipped into an empty conference room, sliding the little placard over to read “In Use” and taking a seat in one of a dozen chairs. Earlier that morning I’d gotten an email from the adoption agency that they had something they needed to discuss, and after setting up a time for them to call I’d bounced back and forth from hope to dread. Either this was going to be the moment they told us they had a match for my wife and me, or something in the process had gone sideways. The minute I heard the voice on the other end of the call I knew it was the latter and my heart sank.
With a couple of pleasantries out of the way she told me that the ministry in Poland that oversaw adoptions had made an announcement that morning that two out of the three organizations in the country that facilitated international adoption would no longer be allowed to do so, and one of those being closed was one our agency used. She didn’t know what had happened for such a drastic shift in policy, there had been no warning that anything was wrong. There was more to the conversation of course, but to be honest I can’t remember any of it. I was all but speechless for the entire call.
“Do you have any questions?”, they’d asked. Sure, I had questions, dozens in fact, but none they could answer right then, and some weren’t for them anyway. I knew the woman on the other end of the phone, and that she didn’t take any of this lightly. I thanked her and sat in the darkened conference room staring at a bunch of words and numbers on a grease board. It all might as well have been in Greek right then. Ignoring yet another “plink” from my work phone as one more email hit my inbox, I shifted my stare to my personal cell, now I had to break the news to my wife. After all this time, until further notice, all adoptions from Poland were on hold.
A little over a year before that phone call my wife and I started what, at the time, we would have called a journey. It sounded so good! Like standing at a trailhead with a good night’s sleep and fresh pack ready to start an adventure. We’d been planning this for a long time. Even before we married we knew that we wanted to have a large family, but we also knew that due to some medical issues well out of our control we couldn’t have children, save for a miracle of Biblical proportions. We waded into it like I imagine most first time adoptive parents do, trying to get as much done as quickly as they can. A few months later though, after stacks of government paperwork, extremely personal interviews, and large checks for legal fees the word “journey” gave way to “process.” Our hearts were in it of course, but speaking for myself I would oscillate between understanding the need for all of this to protect adoptable kids and seething anger that I had to convince a bunch of bureaucrats that my wife and I weren’t psychopaths and would be “fit” parents, all the while a couple of drug-addled tweakers in any given county in the United States could do it the old-fashioned way.
Eventually, though the preliminary part was done and with that out of the way, we had a short stint of dreaming and planning. We considered the different ages we had said would be ok and how to make our life work in each instance. We considered the different things they would need, issues we might run into and then…well…and then we just sort of ran out of things to dream and plan about. We had our lists and budgets. We’d tried to get clear in our minds that the first few months after coming home wouldn’t be easy like some fairy tale and at some point, “process” gave way to “wait.”
The number of questions that need to be answered before starting an adoption are many, and nearly all of them require soul searching and a bit of reflection on personal philosophy. People who have children using the regular process certainly have plenty of questions of their own, but unless some complication comes up there are a few you don’t have to answer before you start, others that answer themselves, and yet more that don’t even come up. However, adoption requires that all of them be answered up front. Boy or Girl? How many? What ages are you open to? Those certainly take some decision-making, but what about the others? Where are you going to adopt from? How long are you willing to wait? Do you have enough for the legal fees? Those are tougher, and my wife and I certainly had plenty of discussions over dinner and coffee on those before we started.
Then, however, there are the questions that you think about but don’t hit home until you must put a signature on it. What level of disability are you willing to accept? Are you willing to adopt a child with severe issues because they were raised in an orphanage from birth? Are you willing to accept the fact that a child you adopt may never bond with you at all as their parent? What will you do if or when they attempt to find their birth parents? Now we’re into soul-searching. These questions don’t just require a decision, they require a rather deep “why” before getting that decision. Without a doubt, we’ve struggled since the hold wondering if our “why” should have been different.
Six months after that sobering phone call I sat across from my wife at a little coffee spot down the street just so we could get out of the house. The adoption process now nearing the year and a half mark, we talked a little about everyday stuff. Before long, between sips, the conversation turned to something that had begun to dawn on both of us. From the beginning, we knew that life would have to change a little bit for us to prepare. We do ok financially but adoption requires all the money up front. I’d taken on side work turning a hobby into something to make extra money to do some needed work around the house and pay adoption fees. My wife worked extra hours at her job. We ate a lot of black beans and rice and stopped going out for dinner. We even sold our “toy” Jeep so we could get something without having a payment anymore. International adoption also requires that you spend up to two months out of country for their part of the process to complete so with a few exceptions we hoarded sick days and vacation days as if they were gold so we would have at least some income during that time.
For the first time in over a decade of marriage, we skipped visiting family on holidays for a year and a half. That morning over coffee we had a small but powerful epiphany. What had been gnawing at the back of our minds for at least a few months is that it wasn’t just the adoption that was on hold, we’d put our entire life on hold. When we said it out loud I stared into my coffee and grunted, “humph…” Neither one of us had really wanted to talk about it but other than the impending adoption, which felt so much like an abstraction at that point it almost wasn’t real, we really had nothing to look forward to. No plans, no vacations, just work and a growing list of things to do and books to read for an adoption that felt like it was never going to happen. Right then we broke our no phones over coffee rule and pulled them out. Other than a little backpacking we hadn’t looked for somewhere to go and something to do that wasn’t just around the corner in over a year, it was time.
Having had that little breakthrough and made a couple of plans for the two of us the discussion turned to the adoption as it often did over coffee on the weekends. Did we make the wrong decision? We already wanted to adopt siblings but should we change the number? We could, but which direction? We didn’t know if switching to one child would help any and switching to three siblings? Not completely out of the question but going from zero to three intentionally sounds like signing up for a reality show. We then finally talked about a heartbreaking choice that could be made but had been left off the table until now. “We could change countries,” my wife said. So much time had passed since we’d chosen a country to adopt from it seemed almost like breaking a promise to change now. In our hearts, somewhere in Poland were two children that needed parents, our kids. We couldn’t just abandon them now, not when we were this close. Still, having put it on the table as an option, we had to consider it. After discussing the pros and cons of going back almost half way to the start of the process we left the idea to be considered later. “Let’s give it another month,” I said. We could talk to the adoption agency then.
A week later the adoption agency had scheduled a call with us to touch base and give us an update. We tended to speak with them about once a month to ask any questions and to be reassured that they hadn’t forgotten about us. Sitting down on our couch we answered the call and put it on speaker readying ourselves for the minor changes and movements that Poland had been making in the adoption department.
Nothing in the lead-up to the call had prepared us to hear the phrase, “We have a referral for you.” After so many months of hearing, “we just have to wait,” neither one of us knew what to say. In an instant adoption went from being a process to having a face. Two of them in fact, she wanted to send descriptions and short histories of each for us to read and discuss any questions with her on the phone. Within a few seconds, there on our screens were two little boy’s lives, brothers, summed up on a page each. There were questions of course and minor medical concerns, but overall it just read as likely the best scenario you could hope for in an international adoption. The next question was probably the most difficult one we’d made in a while. “I have some pictures and a few videos of the boys. I can send them to you now if you want, but I can tell you that once I do you won’t be able to say no.” My wife and I always sleep on decisions that have big consequences. We considered it at first, just this once we could skip that but no, we should wait. At that moment both of us wanted to get on a plane to Poland but would those descriptions read the same to us tomorrow morning? There were some things in there that concerned us a little, would they concern us more when we got up the next morning and the excitement had worn off a little bit? “We’d like to give you a yes or no tomorrow, and then get the pictures if we decide to accept.” I don’t think I’ve ever hated being an adult more than in that moment.
Having slept on it, if that could be called sleep, nothing had really changed for us. We were ready to pursue the adoption of these two little boys. Work starts early so I would send the email to them as soon as I got to work and let my wife know when I got them. After typing up the email we waited. The agency is a time zone behind us so it would be at least nine in the morning our time before they got there. Nine came and went, then ten, as we neared eleven in the morning I got another text from my wife asking if I’d gotten anything. I would have figured we’d have gotten something by then so started to send another email when I realized the first one I’d written was sitting in my draft folder. I added my confession to the email and sent it off, double checking this time.
Within a few minutes, I got an email and a phone call. She recommended that we look at them together. It sounds simple enough until you both have to break away for lunch and that can’t happen for another hour or so. For an hour and a half, the weight of my phone dragged as I went about my day until we could both meet for lunch. There, sitting in a Zaxby’s parking lot we looked at what we’d put our lives on hold for. Despite the frustration and waiting, if all of it was to cross our paths with these two boys without a doubt it was worth it. We still find ourselves waiting. The gears of bureaucracy that still need to turn do so slowly. We could still be a few months from going to get our boys and bring them home but eventually all the paperwork will be translated, fees paid, and dates set. Regardless of that wait, life isn’t on hold anymore.