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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

Our Timeline of International Adoption Paperwork: The Finish Line Is in Sight!

I was reminded recently that we have an adoption deadline approaching—actually we’re a little past due this time. It’s hard to believe that after years of navigating the adoption process and jumping through all of the required hoops, we’re still not quite finished.

Since the very beginning of our adoption journey, my wife, Leslie, and I have found ourselves at the mercy of someone’s judgment call over whether or not we would make good parents. The amount of paperwork required to prove ourselves qualified and begin an international adoption is simply breathtaking. I almost fainted when I saw the initial list of forms and documents we would be required to complete or obtain—it seemed insurmountable at the time.

But we did it, so I know it’s possible. Every step of the way together, Leslie and I faced, embraced, grew frustrated with, and even grew strangely attached to the daunting process of paperwork and interviews involved with pursuing and finalizing an adoption.

And the process doesn’t end when you bring your child home—fortunately, or frustratingly, depending on how nostalgic I am feeling while thinking about it. Yes, after being home with our son, Manu, who we adopted from India, for more than two years, and after the almost three and a half years that have passed since the day we signed our first piece of adoption paperwork, we still find ourselves beholden to the process. Once again we are required to provide more information about our lives to some unknown arbiters of parental fitness, to reassure them we are still a good fit to parent our son: our final post-placement adoption report.

As this is the last piece of information required to bring our formal adoption procedures to a close, I've been looking back on the whole process—which as it was happening was so overwhelming, we didn't have much time for reflection.

The Homestudy

I thought we would never be ready for our homestudy. We had just two weeks to prepare all of the required elements—background checks, fingerprinting, bank statements, letters of recommendation, cleaning the house, notarizing this, notarizing that. But with a divide-and-conquer approach, we assembled all of the necessary materials and awaited our home visits. Though the visits were less intimidating than the white-glove inspection I had imagined, the way in which they were structured—interviews with us together and then separately—made it feel somewhat like an inquisition—trying to get one of us to turn on the other! In reality, our social worker was very pleasant and professional, and our two visits went quite smoothly. We finished up our homestudy about four weeks from the day we decided to adopt and, after saying goodnight to our social worker at the conclusion of her final visit, we popped the cork on a nice bottle of champagne! Having obtained approval from the powers that be in the U.S. to parent, we drank a toast—in blissful ignorance—to the conclusion of the paperwork and having survived the bureaucracy!

The Dossier

But after several months of waiting and finally receiving the referral of our son, we were introduced to a new and seemingly sinister term: the dossier—a packet of legal information that succinctly summarized and quantified our entire existence, required by India to facilitate our adoption. Suddenly, much of the paperwork we had previously completed was deemed inadequate for international legal purposes and had to be redone, re-notarized, verified by our County Clerk, and apostilled by the Secretary of State! All of this had to be done before our paperwork could be sent to India so that yet another committee could judge our worthiness to parent a child.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of completing our homestudy and dossier, there was little time to ponder or contemplate the whys of what was being asked of us—we were simply doing whatever we were told to do to get to our son. But during the periods of long waiting between homestudy and referral, and again between dossier and travel, I started to become a little troubled by the whole process. I thought to myself, What have we ever done to deserve this level of scrutiny? All we wanted was to love and parent a child, yet we were being poked and prodded in an attempt to route out some deep, dark secret we must surely be hiding in our closet—a secret that would render us unfit to parent.

On a mature and intellectual level, I understood that it was all necessary to prevent fraud and child trafficking. But on an emotional level, I was frustrated—because our route to parenthood was through adoption, not biology, our journey would include the kind of scrutiny not dealt most parents, no matter how good or bad a mom or dad they turn out to be. Sometimes, I would find myself focusing on the negatives when news stories of child abuse, abandonment, and mistreatment would appear, epitomizing the most painful parts of this great difference. Why should I have my chance at parenthood delayed, my ability not to abuse, abandon, or mistreat questioned tirelessly, while these parents—albeit not the norm—presumably hadn't been screened before having their kids? The unfairness stung, and still does sometimes, but what else could we do? We had no other choice.

Adoption Finalization Paperwork

By the time our adoption travel date drew near, I'd learned to stop whining and play the paperchase game with a smile. And though the end was in sight, before we could travel to India to bring Manu home with us, we were required to submit additional last-minute paperwork. Then, when we arrived in India, we were interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi about our motivations and our desires to parent our new son. I remember thinking to myself, Does anyone and everyone have a say in my ability to be a good father? At last, we passed the series of tests, and could depart India with our new son.

Post-Placement Homestudy Visits and Reports

After arriving back home, a cycle of post-placement homestudy visits began—three over the next six months—to assure said arbiters that we were living up to our new parental responsibilities. These visits included pretty basic and benign questions about our family's bonding and attachment, doctor visits, and routine building. Additionally, over the next two years, we were required to send post-placement reports to India, to reassure the Indian authorities of our happily-ever-after ending. At times it still felt as if Big Brother was watching and could decide arbitrarily to undo our family if we didn’t walk the prescribed line.

Cut to today: I'm staring at a blank computer screen, the canvas that will become the final portrait of our new family for the adoption authorities—our final post-placement report. When the words finally come to me, they will probably reveal a well-adjusted, well-balanced family, a healthy and happy child, and all of the positive superlatives a report like this is designed to illicit. What else would I, could I, say?

I’m relieved that it’s finally over—the finish line in plain sight. But the ironic twist is that for all of the invasiveness that the process brings and the resulting stress that it can cause, the adoption process itself has become a part of who I am, at least for the time being. And though I’m glad our time under the microscope is over, I can’t help but feel a little sad that this era, the birth of our family, is also coming to a close.

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Jeff, congrats on reaching this milestone! You really brought me back to the daunting and also cherished moments of those paperwork days.(I am reading a book right now called “Three Little Words,” and have been stunned by some of the atrocities in foster homes and adoptive families in my own backyard so to speak. I’m secretly glad for all the hoops in place in the adoption process.) As you so nicely said, when it’s all over, it’s not only worth it, it becomes a part of who you are. Here’s to the next era beginning in your paperwork-free family.

By Stacy Clark on Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm.

When Josi was born, she was early and slightly tenuous and I remember celebrating her finally being “unplugged” and starting our life as a wireless family.  That was only the first two weeks!  I can’t imagine the complexity of your position (although I’m sure I will a year from now!), but I’m thrilled for your family, Jeff.  Truly.  And just think, now you get to do it again!

Congrats to the three of you.

By Meghan on Monday, February 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm.

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