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.....