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2.05.2008

motherhood, adoption and Guatemala

I wrote the following a few weeks ago. I'd heard that Guatemalan adoptions were to be the subject of a Dateline show and wanted to be share some of our story.

On being a waiting parent...

Haydee has been home just about a year and a half now. Doubling the number of children more than doubled the amount of time, energy and patience I need to make it through each day. Broo and I always knew we’d grow our family through adoption. We discussed it long before we were actually ready to be parents. In September 2005, we learned we’d been waiting for Haydee. Six months passed from the time we first met with the adoption agency to the day we were matched with Haydee. We’d done all the required steps - from an evaluation by a licensed social worker, comprised of three visits to our home and interviews of our friends, to mailing over 50 certified documents to three different government agencies. We were fingerprinted by Immigration and had current passports so we could travel at a moment’s notice. Doctors verified that we were fit to parent and we sent pictures of the local Catholic church to the Guatemalan government agency charged with making the final decision on our adoption. Hoop after hoop - we jumped through it. Every step of the way we met people whose lives are touched by adoption.

We first felt the warmth of the adoption community at an adoption education class required by our adoption agency. Here we found a forum to share how it feels to be “waiting parents”. I tried to liken it to how I felt as an “expectant parent” before Liefe was born but couldn’t. Being pregnant, on a good day, I felt invaded and huge. Even after a series of ultrasounds, I had trouble connecting with the baby inside. The disconnect vanished the first time I held Liefe. With Haydee, from the very start, I felt the connection and the distance. It troubled me to know that somewhere out there was a child waiting. And I wondered who, if anyone, was holding her, talking to her, kissing her good night, telling her how much she was loved. This past summer we attended a mini-reunion with the group to celebrate the fact that each family was finally complete, with four long-awaited children - from Guatemala to Kazakhstan - now home in Maine.

Adoption regulations and requirements vary by country. Guatemala, at the time, allowed parents to once the child had been formally relinquished. This means the child’s DNA test results identified her as the biological child of the birthmother who had signed the necessary court documents relinquishing her parental rights. The time came for us to visit Haydee when she was six months old. We spent a long weekend in Guatemala City. Our time with Haydee was amazing. We snuggled, bathed, fed and played with her. We told her stories of home and all about her big sister. We gave her a cloth book with family pictures. It was so hard to kiss her goodbye and hand her back to the orphanage director.

When Haydee was 8 months old, her visa still in limbo, we couldn’t be without her any longer. The final adoption decree had been signed six weeks prior, making her legally ours in Guatemala. At that time, typically,a visa would have been issued within 10 days of the adoption decree. The visa is a sticker for her passport, allowing her entry into the United States. Back in March, the US Government began talking about requiring all Americans to have passports to re-enter the US from places such as Canada and Mexico which created a rush in passport applications and caused significant delays in processing visa applications. The reason for the delay in Haydee’s homecoming was, at best, a Homeland Security issue.

Mothers Day came. Liefe and I went to wait for the visa with Haydee. We arrived in Guatemala City, unpacked a few things at Casa Grande, and took a taxi to Vida Nueva, the hogar (orphanage) where Haydee lived since she was a few days old. Haydee was in her crib, with the fabric book clipped to the side open to the page with my picture, just as Broo had left it 8 weeks ago when we last kissed her. She responded to my voice but her eyes lit up when she saw Liefe. She immediately bonded with her big sister. We were no longer a “waiting family” at this point. We were together, mother and daughters. And like the day I first held Liefe, this day, when I held Haydee, knowing we’d go home together, my fears lifted, and we’ve been kissing her goodnight, instead of goodbye, ever since.

The day that Haydee left Vida Nueva was a wonderful one. The sky was clear blue. That time of year, it rains almost every afternoon in Guatemala but not that day. The weather was warm, the sun shined brighter than any other day I remember. It felt like the world was on our side. My hesitations as a second time parent were gone. With Haydee in the maya wrap and Liefe holding my hand, it was hard to believe I doubted having enough love to go around.

The girls took to each other immediately. In the coming days, I’d learn how strong the bond was - initially Haydee refused to let me feed her, accepting the bottle only from Liefe. At the hotel, I spread a quilt over the marble floor and they’d play together: Liefe “reading” to Haydee who’d lie on her belly and look up at Liefe with those dark, beautiful eyes, I imagine trying to figure out how this had all happened. We spent the next three weeks at Casa Grande while Broo remained in Maine, keeping our businesses going and doing what he could from home to advocate for Haydee’s visa.

We explored as much of Guatemala City as we could. Our days began with breakfast in the courtyard. A fresh fruit plate worked worked well - no sharing was required as we each preferred different fruit. By the second day, the waiter noticed I needed ‘cafe con leche’ to start the day so he’d have it ready when I snuck down in my pajamas before the girls awoke. We’d stock the diaper bag with ‘agua pura’ (boiled water) and Haydee’s formula ‘nan uno’ and head out. Our first stop was the bank where we’d have to show the contents of the diaper bag to armed guards before we could exchange our travelers cheques for quetzales. Liefe’s favorite part getting a ‘dulce’ from the teller. Mine was, even thought I had to empty the diaper bag each time, they never once asked me to take Haydee out of the sling. With a few bucks in my pocket, we’d walk until our feet hurt, have lunch, and take a taxi back to Casa Grande where we’d nap while it rained. We got to know the walk from the hotel to the grocery store chain EconoSuper, visited a church, the children’s museum, the zoo, bookstores and bakeries. We marched in an anti-hunger parade and visited Safe Passage again. It was a pleasure to spend these days with my daughter in her birth country.

At Casa Grande we formed a community with others in similar situations. Children played together. Parents shared the best deals we’d found at markets for formula and baby bottles. We met informally at the hotel’s open courtyard cafe or on the metal swing set in the yard, shaded by fruit trees. In the evenings, we shared drinks and our stories. I learned there are many reasons why people adopt. And just as much thought goes into choosing the country of origin. Most of the parents we spoke with had chosen Guatemala for some combination of the following reasons. The travel requirement was flexible (some parents live in Guatemala while they are waiting for the adoption to go through, others come for a brief three day pick up). Most waiting children are placed in private foster homes, rather than orphanages. It’s fairly easy to travel to Guatemala, given its proximity to the US. Children whose adoptive parents visit before the visa have American citizenship upon entry into the United States. Guatemala was open to single and/or older parent adoptions. To me, Guatemala evokes images of a strong maternal culture, where mothers wear their babies and children grow up next to generations of strong, hard-working women. I witnessed that strength in the caregivers at Vida Nueva, particularly, Raquelinda, whom we lovingly refer to as Super Nanny, as she could literally do it all. During those three weeks, I found my strength from both ‘cafe con leche’ and in making time to honor Haydee’s birth mother. As adoptive mother, actress and author Jaime Lee Curtis explains, “We look at adoption as a very sacred exchange. It was not done lightly on either side. I would dedicate my life to this child.” And I have. That dedication ties us to Guatemala and to Haydee’s family of origin forever. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

2 comments:

birthingmothers said...

Jennifer,
I sit here reading your story with tears pouring down my face.
Thank you for sharing your story. I had not heard what those days were like for the three of you in Guatemala.
I cannot believe that it has been almost two years!!
Wow!!
Leah :>)

Rachael and Nate said...

Hi, I found your blog when I was searching for an orphanage called Vida Nueva in Guatemala City. A little girl we know and love is being moved to the home, and we were wondering if there was any information available online. I would like to contact the home, if at all possible. Is there any chance you could help point me in the right direction? Thanks for your help and for sharing your story!