Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back in Ethiopia by Patrick

Back in Ethiopia. The familiar smells of burning diesel and rich coffee are uncanny. New friends include the Africa sun and mosquitos. This morning we attended a non-denominational church with other adoptive families that were staying at our guest house. While not my path, I was inspired by the congregation and reminded of the passion that can exist in one's life.

Later we drove 45 minutes to the first break in the treeline that overlooked Addis Ababa. A small path diverged from the road, and invitingly wrapped around a corner into the woods. Our teenage driver stopped and our montley crew of four adults and two kids exited the vehicle. The driver was nervous and began asking us what we were doing in his native tongue. Maybe telling the guest house that we didn't need a translator wasn't the greatest idea. He started pointing at the path and saying "No road!" He was adiment. He started pulling in expert witneses to build his "No road" arguement. We were convinced. I would be sure to even tell my friends and family that this path into the woods, should indeed, never be classified as a road. While the belief that our friends' particular concern was proper geographic classification, even I am not that void of common sense. Then it clicked, he thought we were going to walk back to the guest house on this road, I mean, whatever. We were able then to calm him down and let him know not to leave us behind while walked down, uhm, the path?

The walk was invigorating. Full of unique vegetation, and impressive views of the capital. As we continued our surroudings became more remote. Since the road was no longer visable, we decided not to assume that our driver was going to wait for us long.

Back at the van, we were mobbed by a group of kids looking for candy. We were reduced to handing out vitamin c drops. At least we did our part for the day to battle scurvy.

Pictures and video are proving to be harder to upload. They will come, but may be another day or two. Tomorrow we reunite with Acacia. From that point forward we take the next step in our path to Acacia. Thank goodness, we didn't choose the name "Road to Acacia."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ethiopia, Trip #2

3 days 'til takeoff! ...Help!

We have been non-stop for the last week. I watched other cleared families get on a plane the VERY next day, and still have no idea how they did it! We could have flown out over this past weekend (which is what our agency was expecting us to do) but we felt it best to have a full week to prep, and to leave just after the holiday.

Amongst the packing, booking, planning and cleaning, we have also been doing our best to revel in the last few days with our firstborn, as our family is about to change forever. Sunday morning we all snuggled in bed, reading and tickling and laughing like crazy before going out to breakfast with some of our best buds on the planet. It was a great pause in the hectic weekend to truly enjoy life just as it is in the present, while finally having the peace that Acacia is about to assume her rightful place within her forever family.

The day after a very thankful Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle's house, we'll leave Manchester and fly to Dulles in DC. From there, we stop in London for a few hours (meet us for tea, MJ???) and then continue on to Addis with a 10pm arrival (which is 2pm on Saturday, our time).

We're staying at the Ethiopian Guest Home , and will be driven there upon arrival. I wish I could say we'd wake up Sunday and have our long awaited moment of taking her in our arms forever... but the transition home where she lives is closed on Sundays! Our entire first day in Ethiopia, we'll be ten minutes away from her, and unable to see her. Irony at it's finest. The nannies are there with the children of course, but other supporting staff gets the day off, and well they should. We will spend Sunday drinking the best coffee on earth, and shopping at Merkato. Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people.

Monday will be the day we've been waiting for since we first saw that little face in a photograph on April 27th. When we met Acacia for the first time, I marveled and delighted and all that, but always in the back of my mind was that I'd have to leave her. This is the trip I've been dreaming of.

When Acacia comes into our custody, she's ours, and ours to care for. It will be a wake up call! The guest house will be filled with other adoptive families, so I'm sure we'll all be swapping hair care tips, asking feeding questions and trading too-small and too-big clothing.

Tuesday is our Visa appointment at the Embassy. So far, every family has made it through the appointment smoothly.

Wednesday, we will go visit Numan orphanage (and leave Acacia with the Nannies at the Guest House). It's a three hour drive south to rural Assela Town, and I hope our van has a huge "oh-shit" handle - Ethiopians drive fast, and there aren't any lines on the roads. We will be bringing all your donations with us, and spending some time around Acacia's home turf. I can't wait.

Thursday is wide open for whatever the week brings us, and I'm hoping we can travel somewhere noteworthy with another family or two. We depart Thursday night, again crossing through London, then to Newark and into Manchester at 3:53 pm on Friday afternoon.

If you've made it to this point, then you've read a LOT about this adoption. Thank you! Though we will be laying low for the next few months, I do want to invite anyone who so desires to meet us at the airport when we arrive home. I am not one to enjoy a lot of fanfare, but the moment that my two daughters meet for the first time as sisters chalks up there with the most important moment in my life to date. I keep imagining that moment much like a bride imagines her walk down the aisle. Even if both kids are screaming, it will be the happiest moment of my life! So, naturally, anyone who wants to share in it is invited. No need for rsvp's or anything... just show up to Manchester Airport before 3:53pm on Friday, 12/2.

Next update coming at you from Africa!

XXOO, Killeen

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The post I've been waiting 2 years to write.

November 21st, 2009, we attended a Q & A adoption meeting. A darling set of parents, with a twice-as-darling daughter from China, sat with us and a few other couples in the community room of a little church. They showed us a video, talked about the agency they represented, and spent about 10 minutes covering each country with an open adoption program. We left, saying "seems pretty cool." A few weeks later, we were plopping our initial paperwork in the mail with a non-refundable $100 deposit.

We always wanted to adopt, but honestly, we hadn't put a lot of intense thought into it. It just seemed right, we simply both agreed it would be a great way to grow the family we wanted. We knew there were all sorts of challenges that came with adoption, but we didn't really know what they were. No risk, no reward, right?

Never in a million, trillion years did I think I'd find myself, almost exactly 2 years later, on my knees on my kitchen floor, crying "Thank you... Thank you... Thank you..." after four months of pure uncertainty that my baby girl would ever come home.

As covered in my last post, on Oct. 11th, our case was deemed "not clearly approvable," and forwarded to Nairobi, Kenya's Central Immigration Office (CIS) for further review. When we found out that CIS was instead coming to Ethiopia to address the problem in country, there was a glimmer of hope. 11/7 - 11/18 was the slated length of their stay, and they committed to reviewing all of the cases that had been flagged for Kenya.

I went to Baltimore on the weekend of 11/5, to be with 4 other adoptive mamas stuck in the same mess. Out at lunch, only having met each other in person the hour before, you'd have thought we'd been friends for 10 years. We dissected and analyzed and ruminated over our cases and our predicament. We flip-flopped between hope and fear and back again. It was so amazing to be able to talk so freely about something so complicated, because all 5 of us knew exactly how each other felt, without having to explain one word of the story. I sat there, rather impressed that I'd just put myself on a plane to spend the weekend with strangers. I don't do that! But then it hit me: No, I don't do that. But Acacia's Mom does.

It was a really powerful realization. I sat in the airport waiting for my departure flight back to NH on Sunday eve, and I wrote the kid a letter to give to her when she's ready to hear her story. It was the first time I'd really let her back into my heart since I left her, versus trying to block her out of it because it hurt too much to be so far away. Then, it occurred to me that this, that all of this, was preparing me for what I'd naively set myself up for two years ago. If this had been easy, my perception of adoption would remain inaccurate, and I probably would have floundered when it came time to step up to the challenge of being an adoptive parent. Instead, I've had to reach deep to get through feelings of loss and grief; the very things I will have to help Acacia get through in the future.

News from USCIS has been filtering in this last week and a half. I've cheered for the families who cleared, and cried for the families who got unfavorable news regarding the need for more lengthy investigation. Each day that passed without news of my own wore me down a little more. Yesterday, the new friend I stayed with in Baltimore received the dreaded, not-so-good email. As soon as I got that word, I fled work, devastated for her, and knowing I couldn't just sit at my desk and await the formidable email myself. I knew it was coming; we'd had a hunch that our cases were grouped together.

So when it came, not 20 minutes after I'd reached home, I called Patrick before opening it. (His email is blocked at work, thus I was appointed messenger.) It was a password protected PDF, and though it was only 5 characters, I managed to mess it up twice. Poor Patrick just sat there on the other end of the line, shouting "What is it, what is it??!!"

There is nothing like opening an email that changes the course of your life. When I saw the clearance, it knocked the wind out of me. A four month question had just been answered.

There's so much more I could say, but I haven't slept in a week. :) Regardless, I HAD to write something tonight, because I know how many of you have been admittedly stalking my facebook page (which means there's plenty of you that I don't know about!) This has been hard for those of you who care about us, too. We recognize that, and are so, so thankful to be able to give you the good news I believe we've ALL been waiting for. Followers, your investment in our lives is clear, and held dear.

We plan to leave the day after Thanksgiving, and will come back the first weekend in December. I will post official travel dates when the flight is booked.

In closing, the picture at the top of this post seemed a little silly at the time, but in essence, that's me holding up my positive pregnancy test. Two years later, I am being rewarded for the risk I hardly even knew I was taking.

Oh, and Happy National Adoption Month. :) May you be encouraged, not discouraged, by our story, should you ever find adoption to call to you. I can assure you, it's the most meaningful choice I will ever make.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Long Overdue Fill-in


It has been a rollercoaster of a month for the McGowans. I'm not sure I can say that I want to ever relive what will forever be known in New Hampshire as Snowtober. Yet it's safe to say that the storm that led to a multi-day power outage was the least of our concerns. It felt like a rather fitting way to finish off what's usually a gorgeous month in autumn; in darkness... with little information as to when light might be restored.

The last day of September held good news. We were submitted to the Embassy! We were one email away from bringing home our sweet, sweet girl. Well, in early October the email came... but it didn't quite say what we'd expected.

"...insufficent evidence... cannot approve... sending to Nairobi for review..."

Wait. WHAT? It was like that email was in another language. But it wasn't. It said, pretty clearly once I could find the power to comprehend it, that more proof was needed to classify Acacia as an orphan. The entity to do this? The closest Central Immigration Office (USCIS)- in Kenya. It would take 1-2 months before Nairobi even RECEIVED the case, never mind beginning an investigation on it.

As I'd heard it before, very, very few cases were ever forwarded to Nairobi. It seemed dire... until I signed on to my trusty Facebook group of other adoptive parents to break the news. Turns out, the news had already been broken by one, two, three families. We made four. Another had gotten the news a few days prior. How could this very unlikely outcome be the fate of FIVE families from my very own agency?

One of the moms started a new Facebook Group for those of us in this predicament (from all agencies, not just our own). A few weeks later, that group grew from 5 members to 50. To date, there are 87 of us there, and we have learned that Nairobi has about 60 cases awaiting them.

USCIS had to react. Instead of the cases going to them (via diplomatic pouch, I might add, which is like snail mail in the pre-Pony Express era), THEY are attempting to expedite their lengthy process by going to the Embassy where our cases lie. I'd like to think it was a mixture of their common sense, and our relentless questions and rallying. We contacted our Senators, we berated the Embassy with emails. We created enough of a stir for USCIS to hold a 90 minute conference call with over a hundred stakeholders, including ourselves, and a rep from our Senator's office on our behalf. We have challenged our agencies to change their processes to be proactive rather than reactive. And we got somewhere with it.

The team of USCIS officials from Nairobi arrives in Ethiopia on Monday, 11/7. We have all our ducks in a row. We have faith they just might look at our case, and just might find the 51% proof they need to deem Acacia an orphan and let us, her lawful family, bring her home. They stay for two weeks. We will be holding our breath the whole time. Should they not find enough proof to rule our case approved, we have 90 days to gather their requested evidence to again attempt to get our kiddo home.

So, these next two weeks are pretty big. Those thoughts and prayers and energy you've directed our way? Please, please keep it all coming now more than ever. Not just for us, but for all the amazing beautiful children I've come to know through sharing photos and swapping stories with their parents. Children whom are being held in institutions while their loving families are left at the mercy of the US government. The process is meant to protect the children, I get that. However, for the stage we're in, we're truly caught up in messy, inconsistent processes that are still being defined. We pray that the USCIS swoops in on 11/7 and sorts it all out.

So, there's a light at the end of the tunnel... and we just have to hope that we can reach it before another outage hits. If October brought snow, perhaps November will bring sunshine and rainbows.

And now, if you haven't read enough already... I want to share the words of a fellow adoptive parent with a true gift for erecting a window into the world of adoption. So many of you have written us, or timidly asked us how to help us through this. This blog entry not only addresses that, but also explains what life is like from our current perspective, and what it will be like going forward. (Funny enough, the waiting is apparently the "easy" part!) Enjoy:

Jen Hatmaker - How to Be The Village*

* Don't get caught up in the Christian nature of her writing should you not be of Christian faith. I'm not, but I still relate to the true essence of her speech on every level.