Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How are we doing? ( Home 5 weeks)

Butterfly House at State Fair
Gracie's First Time to Somerset
Gracie with her big brother the "pro".

The three peas in a pod.
Short Answer: FANTASTIC!!!!!

Detailed Answer: Everyone here is doing exceptionally well.
Will, is phenomenal. He is the "professional big brother". I do not think he could adore Gracie more. He loves her so much and is so sweet and patient. He plays with her, helps her, entertains her, makes her laugh, wants to carry her around, feed her. He insists that she is the smartest and cutest baby he has ever met. He regularly tells me he loves her so much. I am so impressed with him. Now, if your talking about how he treats Leo, not quite the same. With Leo, Will is either fantastic or terrible. However, I must say that fortunately, I often see them really enjoying and loving each other a lot. Yet, they annoy each other quite often as well.

Leo, is a "tweener". I have come to the realization that 3 yrs old is a "tweener" stage and having a new sister really makes that more obvious. When your 3, your not the baby anymore and not really a toddler anymore either but it still feels good to be "babied" sometimes. Yet he's not really a full-fledge preschooler yet. He's a young preschooler. Three year olds seem to be a lot like two year olds just bigger, louder and more verbal. We have had some serious tantrums, which we describe as "chimp wars" because when he's screaming it sounds like chimps fighting and sadly it's not really an exaggeration.

Leo still wants to be carried sometimes. He wants to be in my lap when I'm holding Gracie sometimes. He has probably had daily crying spells of "I want my mommy" when I am taking care of Gracie and he has to have Papa help him instead of me. He says to Papa, "I don't want you/ don't like you." Yet on the other side he is proud to be a big brother, to be getting bigger, going to preschool, having his backpack for school, starting to be able to sort of write his name. All of this, I certainly attribute more to his age than having a new sister.

He does really love Gracie, he likes to give her hugs and kisses--which she does not exactly appreciate because they are not always very "loving" or gentle. He is still trying to figure out how to interact with a baby and what it means to be a big brother. He sticks his face about 2 inches from hers and just smiles at her and says nothing. She of course responds with the, get out of my face reaction. He has figured out some games that make her laugh and really is proud when he does make her laugh. There is already some "sibling rivalry" like knocking her over and taking toys, not wanting her to touch him or be in the room with him when he is watching TV--- all of which he has learned by the fabulous example set for him by Will (and I think it's also "instinctual" to some degree).

Gracie is doing so well I feel like I need to pinch myself sometimes. She is the sweetest, easiest baby. She has adjusted very well, quickly and easily. She is well attached to me and has been enjoying everyone else in the family. She loves Papa but will not let him give her a bottle. She lets him rock her to sleep and doesn't protest when he tries to give her the bottle, she just doesn't drink it. Yet when I come in and rock her, she sucks the bottle down. Her signals are very easy to read. She really only cries when she's hungry, tired, wants a bottle or is mad because I am changing her diaper, washing her face or getting her dressed. She says "mahmah" which means food/bottle in Korean so she isn't really calling me mama yet. She has picked up the signs for "more" and "all done" very quickly. She is a very smiley, happy baby. She is very curious and likes exploring and checking out things around the house. She is definitely shy of new people and needs to be close to me (or John) when new people are around. Once she gets used to them she becomes can become very engaging, social and even teases. She sleeps great, naps great and goes to bed early (7-7:30). I can put her down awake and wave "bye" to her and she waves back and if she does "protest" it is done within about 3-5 minutes. She is an amazing and precious little girl. I have moments daily when I am so grateful and honored to be her mother. I an humbled to have the privilege of sharing this life with her.

So all in all, we couldn't be doing better.

I will put up a post for the great Tol party we had for Gracie's 1st birthday next.
Take care.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some photos of life at home.

Having lots of fun playing at 1:00am.

Puppy dogs are fascinating!! ( and a little bit scary depending on my mood)

Will loves his sister.

Probaby Gracie's first time in a highchair. The trick is, put food on the tray first, then she gets the idea of what your trying to do. Otherwise, not so happy about the highchair.

Gracie not quite ready to let others hold her. Just mama.

Gracie on "Seoul time" still sleeping soundly at 10:00 am on Sat morning. (midnight in Seoul)

Friday, August 7, 2009

We made it home!!!

A very bittersweet time. Saying thank you and goodbye. Finally, we get to go home with our baby girl.

Gracie's first night sleeping with us.

Zonked out on our flight to Narita, Japan.

Hanging out during our layover in Narita, Japan during on our way home.

Some of our welcome home decorations.

Both families together.

Well, I am sitting here at 12:30am on Friday evening, with everyone in my family sleeping far. I think I may still be on "Korea time" because I feel pretty wide awake.

On Thursday, the day we were to get Gracie, John and I made it back to the Guest House at 3:50 from our morning/afternoon at the "Korean Folk Village"..... to meet with the foster family and get Gracie at 4pm. Needless to say we were a bit stressed out on our subway ride home about making it on time. We were riding back in disbelief at ourselves that the most important meeting of our trip we were going to walk in, hopefully, just on time. I would definitely attribute that kind of behavior to being third time parents. We really wanted to get one last sightseeing adventure in before we had Gracie for the whole evening Thursday. We did make it just on time, thank goodness. As we walked up the steps of the building our social worker was walking out of her office to go upstairs and meet with us, Gracie and the foster family for the last time. We quickly dropped off our things and went to the meeting room.

In the meeting room, Gracie's whole "first family" was there Omma, Appa, and their three biological children (ages 8,14, and 15). We took a final picture of Ye Jin with her first family and then a picture of both families together. We said our last thank yous and goodbyes. Gracie was actually quite calm and unaware of all that was going on around her. Of course, everyone else was crying. I started getting teary when I was given the "care package" the foster mother put together for Gracie for the trip home. She gave us her three favorite toys, a beautiful necklace from the family, some clothes, her barretts, pajamas and all kinds of food for her to eat; mandarin oranges, sticky rice, korean soft bread, "corn puffs", and baby cheese. She put everything together with such love and thoughtfulness. I was so touched by how much she loves my little girl. John and I both really lost it when we saw Gracie's "siblings" crying. The three of them were sitting on the couch like three little sad ducks in a row, red faced and heartbroken. To see their love for Gracie and how heartbroken they were letting her go, was too much for me. I was heartbroken, to see their hearts breaking. I think it is something that will forever bring me to tears when I think about it. It is wonderful to know how deeply our Gracie was cherished. Omma and Appa were heartbroken as well, but they held their composure much better then the children. We gave our last hugs and then they left the room. Both John and I sat there with this beautiful little girl, who had no idea how her life had just drastically changed. Of course, we know it is a good thing and all for the best in the end but it didn't make it any less difficult. We both tried to smile through our tears, so we wouldn't freak out Gracie. We played with her for a while and she remained pretty content and calm. She amazingly, did not cry at all. After playing with us for about 15 minutes, she crawled down off the platform and over to the door. The door was ajar, so she swung it open and crawled out into the hallway to look for her first family, and they were gone. She crawled down the hall a little ways toward where she would come in for her monthly checkups. I went over and picked her up and walked with her down the hall to show her that they were not there. She was looking for them. When she realized they were not there, she still did not cry at all.

At that point we decided to bring her up to our room and play with her there, get some dinner and pack to leave for our flight in the morning. She was amazingly doing "fine". We took her down the block and ate some fried chicken for dinner (we had our fill of Korean food by that point, which is pretty much all we ate the whole time we were in Korea, no fast food chains for us). Gracie slept in the baby carrier while we ate our dinner. We then took her to Dunkin Donuts and got smoothies to cool us down and she ate some out of the straw and thought it was fabulous. Who can't win a baby over with sweets? We then walked back to our room and played with her.

She was so cute, smiley and engaging. We just sat half dazed in amazement that she was really with us, for good. We played your typically one-year old games...."pick up and throw things" and "put things up and knock them down". She started exploring, crawling around the room and pulling herself up to standing, but she would not get more than a few feet from me with out getting stressed. For as entertaining as John was during the meetings, and as funny as she thought he was, she did not want him to hold her. If John tried to hold her she would fuss immediately and she actually became this way more so during our travel home. As we were playing with her, we started to realize she was playing a game. It is a common "game" played with babies in Korea. It involves saying "jahk jahk goong" (which means clap your hands), then you say "dori, dori, dori" (which means shake your head), and then "jam, jam, jam" (which means open and close your hands). When we started playing the game with her she "lit up" with pleasure that we knew "her game" and that we were praising her "brilliance". I think she decided we were ok after that. We hung out and tried to pack for a while longer and then Gracie started to get tired. She goes to sleep so far. When she is tired she just lays on the floor and starts to bury her face in her special blanket and sticks her little behind in the air (so cute). I put her in her pajamas and rocked her with a bottle. She drank it and fell asleep immediately. I laid her down in the bed with me and she slept throughout the night. She did fuss a bit, like she was having a bad dream but never woke up. I could tell when she wanted a bottle because would start to suck loudly in her sleep and grunt a little bit. She didn't even cry for the bottle, which I believe is a testament to the foster mother meeting her needs so readily.

Oops... gotta go, I hear her fussing. She's waking up...I spoke too soon.

Ok, I'm back, two nights later....

She is really a good sleeper she has just been waking up a few times in the evening for a bottle and also to play. Yes, I said play. Her body is still on Seoul time, especially her digestive system. Last night I took some video of her very actively playing at 12:30 am.
Anyway, back to our trip home:

We woke up the next morning and she was fine when she saw me in the morning instead of her Omma. She was actually quite happy, smiley and playful... as long as I didn't leave her sight.

We got ready and brought the bags down to the van. That morning, the President of the agency, Mrs. Dr. Kim was there to meet us and say a goodbye prayer for Gracie and another little boy that was leaving with his family that morning as well. We tearily, watched that foster mother separate from her little boy and drove off in the van to the airport. Both babies fell asleep in the van on the way. It was a very quiet ride to the airport, no crying. We were amazed.

We checked our bags and got on our flight. Gracie did very, very well on the flights home. No crying or screaming. She was actually quite a happy, content and active baby. She slept in my arms a good 6-7 hours of the trip. She had a pretty active couple of hours during dinner service where she was wanting to climb all over and grab things, so I took her to the back of the plane so John could eat without her grabbing and pulling the food in his lap. When he was done he came to get me and we switched so I could eat. At that point, Gracie did start crying because she was not with me. These were the first tears we had seen from her. From then on, Gracie did get upset and cry if John would hold her, like when I went to the bathroom on the airplane. So unless I had to go to the bathroom, I was holding her the whole trip, which was fine. I actually slept when she slept so I did get some "decent" sleep...if that's possible on a plane. Overall, the flight home went amazingly smooth, it was dragging all our luggage that stunk.

Grandma Kathleen picked us up from the airport. Gracie did not enjoy the car ride home from the airport at first because it was her first time in a car seat and she was not happy being restrained. I sat next to her and held her hand. She wanted outta that thing. but she did end up falling asleep on the way home.

Once we arrived home, we were greeted by two elated boys (with Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Bill) waiting outside with balloons and a huge welcome home sign that they made. They were soooo excited for us to be home and to meet their sister. They looked at her sleeping, then we took her out of the carseat and woke her up. We brought her inside the house to a kitchen decorated with streamers, stars and butterflies, decorated by Will and Leo, welcoming their sister. The welcome home celebration was all sweet Will's idea. He commissioned his two grandmas to help. They went to the dollar store, Michael's and Cub Foods to get flowers and all the other supplies they needed to decorate the house. Grandma Kathleen had a fabulous time bringing them to get everything and both grandma's helped them decorate the kitchen.

We showed Gracie around the house. Leo wanted to show her his big boy bunk beds. We sat in Gracie's room and Leo started reading Gracie Mae stories right away, making up the story as he turned the pages.
It was a wonderful homecoming.

So this is where our magnificent and mundane story of a family of five begins.......

I want to say thank you soo much to everyone who sent us well wishes, warm thoughts, your prayers and holding us in your hearts. Your warm and generous support and excitement worked magic. Our homecoming, was as perfect as I could've ever hoped for. I tried to prepare for and accept the possibility of a difficult homecoming, and am deeply grateful that it didn't happen.
Your positive energy made a difference.

It has been wonderful sharing our story with so many of you.

I will continue to add more posts about how our transition is going and how everyone is adjusting.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Our Second Meeting with Gracie Mae

Gracie didn't like the horsey very much.
John's whiskers are very amusing.

What baby doesn't love bubbles. These definitely helped break the ice.

Well, we had are second meeting and it also went very, very well. Gracie was more unsure of us for a longer period of time during this meeting. She is definately curious about John, she was staring him down. At first just looking at me she'd start to get anxious and fuss. John was again very entertaining and she really liked him and his whiskers, they made her smile and laugh a little bit. He helped her relax a little. After a while we took out the bubbles and they were a hit! What baby doesn't love bubbles? She was very curious about them. By the end of the meeting, she did sit in my lap and let me hold her without crying. Every once and a while she'd "whip" her head up and look at me, like who is this lady holding me. I'd worry she was going to "lose it" because I wasn't Omma, but she just eventually turned back and looked at what John was doing to entertain her, then a minute or two later she'd do the same thing and check me out. She did this about four or five times, each time it was like she was checking to make sure that weird lady was still there. She didn't end up crying and let me hold her.
We are going to be able to get Gracie the night before we leave, Thurs at 4pm (2am at home). So Thursday evening should be a very interesting night. Apparently, tonight is my last night of good sleep for a while.....but of course, I do not care. I am so excited to be able to spend some time with her and hopefully she will have some time to adjust before we get on the plane.
That's all for now.
See you all soon.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Best Day Ever!!!

Gracie fell asleep in my arms!!

opps! don't know how to fix it.

Gracie's "sister" (foster mother's daughter) and foster mother opening gifts

We got a few smiles!!!

Well we are here and we finally made it!!! Sorry it took so long to post, getting access to the computer was not as easy as I thought. We had our first meeting with Gracie on Friday and for as much as I was trying to prepare myself for the worst, I didn't need too. The meeting was about as perfect as I could've imagined it!!

When we first came in the room Gracie fussed a bit but didn't even cry. We just hung back at first and then gradually started interacting with her. John was awesome and started playing with her and she was very interested in him. Eventually, she reached out and touched his wiskers and it made her smile. She thought it was funny how they were prickly. We played some more and it ended up that the foster mother left the room and the three of us were in there alone together and she didn't cry. Gracie was a bit tired because our meeting time is usually her nap time. By the end of our first meeting, unbelievably Grace feel asleep in my arms holding her blanket, the one we sent her in March!!!

The whole meeting was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The foster mother is a loving, sweet and kind person. We can tell that the foster mother's children really love Gracie too. We gave them our gifts and when the foster mother opened our gift and read the note we included, she burst into tears... then of course, I did too. We hugged. Gracie's foster mother gave us a photo album filled with pictures of Gracie as a little baby and over the past year. There are so many wonderful pictures that show what a wonderful first year of life Gracie has had with her foster family, she has been dearly loved and she will be terribly missed. It makes me sad to know that, yet at the same time, I am thrilled to be coming home with our daughter.

We have been having a WONDERFUL time in Seoul, it is an amazing country. The food has been awesome. We will be seeing Gracie again on Wednesday at 4:00 pm (2 am your time) and then coming home on Friday. I could of course say lots more but my time on the computer has come to an end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gracie's Room

Here's some pictures of Gracie Mae's room. We finished it about a month ago.

Getting Ready to Go

It's 3:15 in the morning, both John and I are still up packing and getting ready. We're pulling the true all nighter. However, right now in Seoul it is dinnertime, 5:15pm. We're being proactive and trying to get on Korean time....actually, we're just trying to finish packing and I'm writing a small novella of information for Grandma and Grandpa, to try and cover every detail I can think of regarding the next 9 days. We will be getting on the plance in less than 6 hours. Yay!

Friday, July 24, 2009

We Got "THE CALL"!!!

Yes, the moment has finally arrived. Today on Friday, July 24th we received "the phone call" that we are able to travel to Seoul, S. Korea to get our baby girl!!

We will be leaving on Wed, July 29th at 9:00am. We will arrive in Seoul at 4:00pm (their time) on Thursday, July 30th. We will hopefully get to meet Gracie for the first time on Friday, July 31st. We will then get to see her again at least one more time the next week. We should have lots of time to sight see. We will be in Seoul on Aug 1st, our 11th wedding anniversary...not bad place to celebrate an anniversary. We will be leaving Seoul at 11:00am on Friday, August 7th and arriving back in Minnesota at 1:20pm on Friday, August 7th (only a two hour flight on the way home??......I wish ;-) We will be home right before my birthday on August birthday ever!

I called DC on Tues, 21st to see if Gracie's paperwork was at the US Embassy in Seoul. I was expecting them to say, nope, nothing yet. I was just calling to satisfy my need to "do something" while we were waiting. Much to my shock, I was told that they did have her documents and the review of her visa paperwork was going to be on Wed. 22nd. I was told that I could call back on Wed. 22nd to check and see if her travel visa was issued. So when I called the next day, they said that yes all the paperwork was cleared and her visa was issued. I knew that once the visa was issued, we would be getting a call any day. Well today was that day.

I was expecting to have a few more weeks to get ready to go and now I am running around to get everything ready. My parents will be staying at our house with the boys while we are gone. We are so fortunate to be able to keep the boys at home while we are away. It's going to be a long time to be away from my boys, but it will be so wonderful to finally have our whole family together. Well, I could say a lot more right now, however, I need to get a move'in and a pack'in....

BTW...Thanks so much to everyone for all your kind thoughts and well wishes. It is such a joy to be able to share our excitement with so many friends and family.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We recevied an update on Ms. Gracie Mae!!!!!

We are sooo excited to share the newest pictures we just received today of Gracie Mae Ye-Jin Lee Sagstetter!!!!

In these photos, she is about 9.5 months old.

We also received some info on how she is doing and she is doing great!!

She weighs about 17 pounds.

She is crawling and scooting herself on her tummy. She is also pulling herself to standing and cruises along low furniture. She is described as "fast and active". She has a blanket we sent her that she likes, she holds onto it and sucks on it. She mostly likes to play with people, more than toys, but she does like stuffed animals.

This will be the last set of info and pictures we will get about Gracie before we leave to travel. We still have no more detailed info on when we will be leaving, just a "guesstimated" date around August 17th- give or take a week or so. (Kinda like a "due date". :-)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How do the babies handle the flight back to the US?

Short Answer: Usually lots of crying.

More detailed answer:

Well, I can also sum it up by saying.... "Although, we have been anxiously awaiting Gracie's arrival, she has not been anxiously awaiting us."

Gracie has been with a loving foster family. As far as she understands, her foster mother is her MOM/Omma. She has no idea her world is going to be turned upside down. Granted, she will adjust eventually, and she will be happy but it will take some time. Gracie will be deeply loved in her forever family, however she has had to pay a high price to join our family.

At 11 months old, Gracie will be very well attached to her foster mother and her family. When she comes home with us she will have lost all she has known and all that is familiar. She will have lost her "Omma"(Mama) and the biological children of her foster mother, "her siblings". She will have lost the familiar sounds, smells, and language. We will look very different, and maybe even scary to her because all she has seen in her life are probably only Korean faces (not blonde hair, light blue "big" eyes, "long" noses and a hairy face(that's John :-).

It is a very bittersweet time... it is joyful that she will be with us, her forever family that cherishes her already, however, it is also a time of deep loss for her. She will experience grief and we will be there to help her work through it.

So all that being said, you can imagine that a 20 hour flight with a grief stricken child is not going to be fun. Apparently, there is likely to be lots of crying on an airplane full of people (like 4-5 hours maybe). Yikes!! We've heard from some families the babies cry until they fall asleep of exhaustion and once they wake up they seem "fine" or at least a lot better. Other infants just "shut down" from the grief. Although this is heartbreaking, it is a healthy response, it shows they were well taken care of and were attached to their foster parent. Even with the grief, attachment to a foster parent is best because if you have attached to a caregiver in your infancy, it means there is the best chance that you will be able to attach again and trust again.

So John and I are trying to mentally and emotionally prepare for the "worst" on the flight home and anything better than that will be a blessing....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Meet Ms. Gracie Mae

This is our beautiful, Ms. Gracie Mae. In this picture she is 6 months old. She is now 9 1/2 months old, so she definitely would look older now in a picture. We do not have any other more current pictures. The little chair she is sitting in is "the chair" that all the children have their pictures taken in.

Gracie Mae Ye-Jin Lee Sagstetter was born on Sept. 12th, 2008 at 2:59am and weighed 6.2lbs.

Her Korean name is Ye Jin Lee. (pronounced "yay jeen eee" - we say Lee but in Korean it is pronounced "eee", the L is silent)

Ye-means plant, Jin-means treasure, Lee is the family name of her birthmom.

She is currently living with her foster mother and her three children, 2 boys in 6th and 7th grade and 1 girl in 1st grade. She has lived with her foster family since birth.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How do the boys feel about having a sister?

Both boys are very excited.

Will can't wait. He had a brilliant "revelation" a few months ago, he said, "Wow mom, with three kids that's going to be even more chaos!" I thought to myself... how true that is.

When we told him that we were going to have to wait longer before Gracie came, he was almost in tears.

Leo obviously has a limited understanding of what is about to happen and the impact it will have on his life. He mentions his sister often in conversations. He tells people that his sister's name is Gracie Mae and she lives "at Korea" (South Korea). He knows she has a room in our house. However, to some degree, I think his understanding is also that his sister is a very unobtrusive picture of a little girl on the kitchen cupboard. How quickly that understanding will change in the near future.

Overall, it will be a "stressful blessing" but as most families do we will all adjust to our new life as a family of five.

What will happen when you travel to South Korea to bring Gracie Mae home?

Once we arrive in Seoul, a driver will pick us up from the airport and bring us to the Guest House at Eastern/ESWS-the agency in Korea. We are hoping there will be space for us to stay there during our trip because it's inexpensive and then we are also right there. On the first two floors of the building is the agency, on the upper few floors is the guest house for families to stay. On the second floor, is the nursery where all the babies have stayed temporarily, until they are placed with their foster family. There are about 50-70 babies in the nursery at any one time. One of the exciting opportunities that comes with staying at the Guest House, is the chance to help take care of the babies in the nursery --to feed, change, and hold the babies that are still waiting for their foster family and their forever family. I can't wait to help with the babies and whisper in their ears that they are loved and their family is out there waiting for them, like I hope someone did for Gracie. If the guest house is full we will stay at a local hotel within walking distance.

The the day after we arrive we will probably get to meet Gracie for the first time. It will be our BIG day, THE moment. Her foster mother will bring her to the agency and we will get to spend some time with Gracie there. That day we will also meet her social worker and the other agency workers that have been instrumental in Gracie's care. We will also meet with the president of the agency (Eastern). The president of the agency is the daughter of the man who founded Eastern. After we meet with Gracie, her foster mom and the agency workers, we are free to tour, travel and explore. Gracie will go home with her foster mother. A day or so later we will be able to meet with Gracie and her foster mother again. After our second meeting, Gracie will again go home with her foster mother.

Other than the couple meetings with Gracie and the agency workers, John and I will be free to sight see. I hope to go to the Korean market, eat lots of delicious Korean food, go to the Koryo Bookstore which is apparently unlike any bookstore there is, go to the Korean folk village and visit some of the many beautiful palaces. We still need to work out all the details of our sightseeing plans. Apparently, there is an extensive subway system that is quite easy to use.

On the last day of our stay in Korea, we will wake up early and meet with the agency president, foster mother and social workers. We will all gather together and a prayer will be said for Gracie and all the children leaving-blessing them in their new life. At that point, we load up our things, get on a van and are transported to the airport. We then get on our plane and fly back to MN on what will be a VERY long flight home (20-23 hours including layover).

As you might have gathered from this description, we do not take physical custody of Gracie until we leave for the airport. From what I understand, the reason for this is because CHSFS (Children's Home/our agency) is actually the legal guardian of Gracie until we finalize the adoption back in MN, 6 months after we arrive home. We are Gracie's parents during that time and make all decisions regarding her care, but the adoption will not be finalized until 6 months after we are home. We will finalize through the Ramsey County courts. It is because we finalize the adoption back in the states that we cannot have custody in Korea until we leave. It is also the reason we will have so much time to sight see while we are in Korea. While we are in Korea there is no legal paperwork or procedures to take care of. This is one aspect of Korean adoptions that is different from most other international adoption programs.

So that is what I understand will happen when we travel to get Gracie. Of course, I will fill everyone in on the details of our trip as we are there because we will have Internet access at the Guest House. I can't wait!!

How long do we need to stay in S. Korea?

Short answer: A minimum of 3 business days.

More detailed answer:

When parents decide to travel, the requirement is that we need to be there a minimum of three business days. However, we are going to be traveling half way around the world, literally Seoul is 12 hours ahead of us. Our day is their get the idea. So John and I are hoping to be there around 7-8 days (which will also give us some time to adjust to the extreme time change). It is a fabulous opportunity to tour, travel and experience our daughter's birth country. We will also have the irreplaceable opportunity to meet her foster mother and the people at the agency (Eastern Social Welfare Services) in Korea that have given Gracie such a loving, stable first year of life. We will also have the honor of thanking them personally for all they have done for our daughter. It will be a great blessing for us to be able to share information with Gracie about the people who cared for her and S. Korea from our personal experience. We are looking forward to this once in a lifetime opportunity and a mini "vacation" before we take custody of Gracie and travel back to the US.

When are we leaving?

Short answer is: We don't know exactly what day we are leaving.

More detailed answer:

We do not have an exact departure date. We anticipate that we will get our "travel call" somewhere during the last two weeks of August. Once we receive our "travel call" from our adoption agency, CHSFS, we will need to book a flight and be in Korea within 7-10 days from "the call". Now, most people have a reaction to this answer, like... wow that's crazy that they expect you do drop everything and go immediately and second reaction is --that's an expensive flight.

Yes this is true..... however, unless you schedule a C-section no one knows exactly when any child is going to arrive. We do know the "ball park" for when we are traveling and keep that in mind when making any plans during that "window" of time. We do have the 5-10 days to make flight arrangemnts and get things settled. I'll probably be packed the by the first week of August, waiting to go. We also fortunately have my parents available to come and stay with the boys (no we are not taking them on a 17+ hour flight to the other side of the world and then try to fly back with 3 kids) whenever we need to leave. Also, it is not a "requirement" to travel to S. Korea. Parents can choose to have their child escorted to the US, but it is discouraged unless there is no other options. Also, both parents don't have to go, one parent could travel and go alone or with a friend or relative. Lastly, my response is, this is our daugther, I'll drop everything any day to go and get her. I can't wait.
Regarding flight cost, there are "adoption rate" flights that are discounted similarly to family emergency flights. However, we are hoping to use our stockpiled frequent flyer miles to "rule bust" and get two buisness class seats. So we'll see how the logistics all go when the moment really arrives.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When Did You Start this Process?? --Our Timeline and Referral

Short answer---August 2007

More detailed answer:
Here is our timeline. Depending on whether a family adopts internationally or domestically the timeline can be very different and when adopting internationally each country has their own procedures and timelines. The following was our timeline, in relation to the international Korean adoption program with Children's Home Society and Family Services. I cannot speak to other international adoption programs or other adoption agencies.

To those whom we have not kept more informed about our adoption process, we are excited to share this information with you. Early on in the process, John and I never really felt like there was a "good time" to announce our decision to everyone. We in no way were trying to be "under cover agents on a secret mission". In the beginning, we talked to people and said it was something we were thinking about pursuing. We started to check into it and just kept moving forward with each step of the process. Our lack of announcement, if you were looking for one?-- I sort of compare to a couple announcing to family and friends. "Hey, everyone just wanting to let you all know were going to start trying to have a baby. Thought we should let you all know." Rarely, would any couple make that kind of announcment. In the early stages of the process there just wasn't much to say other than..."Hey everyone, we filled out an application today." Needless to say, I want to apologize if anyone has felt "left out" of this process, but the following info should fill you in on all the "exhilarating" administrative details......

July 2007- We attended an adoption information session.

August 2007- We filled out our basic initial application for the adoption process.

August 2007 - More detailed paperwork to begin adoption process. This paperwork included getting fingerprinted, background checks, medical check-ups and 3 personal references from non-family members. We received approval and there were adoption programs we were eligible for.... next step....

Oct 2007- PAC- Parent Adoption Classes- During these 3 days of classes (some 15 hours) we were given MUCH information about many aspects of adoption both domestic and international adoption. We learned about attachment, grief, cultural awarness and the additional considerations of raising a child that is of a different race than their parents. We listened to several guest panels of adult adoptees, new adoptive parents, and birthmoms. It was a very educational, overwhelming and valuable weekend of classes. Next step........

April 2008, Homestudy- From the time of our PAC classes we had 9 months to turn in our homestudy questions. We chose to wait about six months before turning in our homestudy questions because if we continued along with the process in Oct. there would've been a very good chance that Leo, our then 16 month old son, would've been 2 1/2yrs old by the time his sister would've joined our family. I wanted more space between children, so we waited until April 2008 to turn in our homestudy. The homestudy is all the questions that you are asked about your upbringing, family of orgin, marriage and parenting perspectives. There were 10 questions we were suppose to answer that included about 5 sub-questions withing each question. It was a... "describe your whole life in 10 pages or less" kind of assignment. Also included in that was a cultural worksheet about how we would prepare to raise a child in our family that came from another culture and/or was of a different racial background. Once we turned in these questions in April 2008 (before turkey hunting started) we had two meetings with our assigned social worker, Mary. We met with her once at the agency, to discuss our homestudy questions. We then had a second meeting with her at our home. She met Will and Leo and we had more discussion. We had to offically decide what adoption program we were going to work with - the Korean adoption program. We also had to turn in at that time a "medical checklist". In the medical checklist, we had to choose what kind of medical conditions we would be able to parent. The agency, CHSFS, does a very good job of supporting you in being realistic about what kinds of medical needs we would be able to parent. They wanted us to take into consideration what emotionally, practially and financially we would be able to knowingly handle, all things considered, especially the children we were already parenting and their needs. Once you We were pretty conservative about our choices. We were asking to parent a healthy, full-term infant girl.

At that point we had been approved by the agency, CHSFS to adopt a child. It was at that time that we were offically "waiting" for our referral. On May 6th, 2008 we were #33 on the "girl list". Next step........ live life and wait (and for, read, read- you know, control what you can when you really don't have any control :)

August 27th, 2008- We went and had our fingerprints taken ( for the second time) for a background check and to receive federal approval to adopt internationally.

THE DAY!!!!!! The BEST Day!!!-Feb 20th, 2009- Our Baby Girl

The most wonderful phone call of my life came on Friday, Feb 20th ( a belated Valentine's Day present from the universe/God). We received a call that there was a referral that matched our critera (our daughter) and I was given all her background information. When Gracie was referred to us, I KNEW she was OUR child!! John had just left out of town with the boys for Chicago to see his brother for the weekend. He had only been gone for a hour or so. I called him and said, "We have a baby!!" He said, "You mean we have a referral." I responded, "No, we have a baby!!!" I knew she was ours. That evening when John got to his brother's house he looked at her picture. Immediately that afternoon I sent all the background information on Ye Jin Lee (yay jeen eee)to the International Adoption Clinic, IAC. At the IAC it is their specialty to reveiw referrals. They have seen thousands of Korean adoption referrals, they know what is typical or not for that particular country. All the information we received about Ye Jin/Gracie Mae was positive. The IAC did make a request for a picture that was closer up so they could do a better facial screeing for FAS, fetal acohol syndrome, which is a standard thing they do for all adoption referrals. The picture we had of her was too far away for them to do their best evaluation. We then went back to the adoption agency to request another set of photos that were closer up. The director of the Korean adoption program then contacted the agency in Korea, Eastern Social Welfare Services (ESWS). More waiting...... at Ye Jin/Gracie Mae's next monthly check-up they took another set of pictures and sent them to us. However, in the mean time, I was going crazy during the two week wait for the additional pictures. I really believed she was just fine. I knew she was my child. John and I discussed it and we were comfortable "accepting the referral". She was our child. We turned in the acceptance paperwork on 3/17, St. Patrick's Day (hoping for good luck of the Irish for our Korean baby girl ;-). Later that same day we received her additional pictures and forwarded them to the IAC. The next day, we receieved our response from the IAC. The IAC had confirmed what we already new, she is a beautiful, healthy baby girl...our daughter. That then begins our wait to travel........

Our paperwork reached the US National Visa Center on 4/10/09. Our paperwork left the National Visa Center on 4/13/09 and was sent to South Korea. Our paperwork has been with the Korean Adoption Authority, this process takes about 14 weeks. From what I understand, this part is getting her visa to leave the country, her passport etc. Once the paperwork is sent back to Washingtong DC it will be about a 3-4 week timeframe for traveling. So here we are, June 27th, our paperwork has been on the "Korean side" for 10 weeks and counting. Mid-July the paperwork should be back in the US. So in the meantime, I do more reading, reading, nesting, organzing and getting her room ready..... more controlling the things I can when really I have no control. :-)

Many people have a a reaction when I tell them about the our process - the classes, personal references, homestudy, two sets of fingerprints and background checks we went through during this process. The common comment reflects that "parents don't have to do all this to have children biologically" and this is of course true. I personally, was never bothered by all the "invasion" into our personal life... for us there wasn't much to "invade" in to. Overall, I am grateful that they do as much as they do to make sure that children are going to safe and loving homes. CHSFS says that they are there to provide children with families, NOT families with children. I believe their approach is "best practice" and one that tries to protect the vulnerable children they are serving. I was fine with providing what ever information was needed. I am grateful for it.

Why Isn't Gracie Coming Until August???

Here's the short answer.....paperwork.

Here's the more detailed answer:
When we started the adoption process, back in August 2007, the standard wait time from "referral" to travel was about 3 months.

The Korean adoption process is a very well established and stable process compared to may other international adoption programs. Korean international adoptions with the US have been in place for over 50 years. Korean interational adoption started after the Korean War in the 1950's. However, one of the "mantra's" with adoption is "expect things to change". Thus, that is some of what we are experiencing.

Back in fall of 2008 Children's Home Society and Family Servies (CHSFS-our adoption agency) was seeing an increase in wait times from referral to travel. At the time, CHSFS was anticipating that this increase in wait times would be temporary. During the New Year, there are traditionally slow downs due to changes in job positions and the important Korean New Year celebrations. CHSFS was hoping that the paperwork process would start to speed up again.... that has not been the case. Ultimately, the slow down is due staffing cut backs. So as of March 2009, the "new normal" for the CHSFS Korean adpotion program will be a 6 month wait from "referral acceptance" to travel time (previously it was a 3 month wait). We just happen to be at the "cusp" of that change were it could've gone either way. We were told that this longer wait was a possiblity, but CHSFS was hoping they would be able to honor the original timeline we were given when we started the adoption process. In the end, we have to wait about 8 weeks longer to travel than we originally expected. The increased wait time puts us at a projected travel time of mid to late August. So..... we will not be traveling to get Ms. Gracie Mae until some time toward the end of August. The increased wait is difficult emotionally, however, practically speaking it has some benefits. We are anxious for her to be with us, yet we are handling it in stride. So that is when we expect to travel to Korea to bring our daughter home.

You Should Start a Blog.....

So I start with crediting this idea to my cousin's wife. I sent her a post on FB to update her about the timeline for Gracie's arrival. Her response was...why don't you start a blog about your adoption process to let everyone know what's happening. At first I thought to myself... that would've been a good idea, but we are almost at the "end" of our adoption process, no point in starting one now. However, after thinking about it for a while, I realized how many times I have had the same converations with people -OR- how often John and I have NOT had the detailed conversations with some people we wish we could've had. So, I decided a blog might not be a bad idea. So here it is... well over half-way through the adoption process, I am starting a blog to help keep family and friends updated about the latest happenings. I will also end up "back tracking" a bit and answering some questions that John and I never had the time or opportunity to discuss with people - friends and family that we want to share this incredibly important journey with in our life. So for those of you that are interested or curious, here it is.....