I'm not really sure of what the etiquette in this situation is. I've never adopted before and I certainly have never had a failed adoption before.
So, what to say? How to proceed?
Here are the rules if you choose to read this blog post.
1. I will explain what happened.
2. I will also still be mama bear and will protect my girl.
So, please, if you choose to comment, understand this –
- Latvia is a beautiful country of proud, hard-working people. The language, food, and scenery are all amazing and wonderful. Their history is inspiring. Yes, their economy is suffering, but it is a country with rich culture and I love it.
- Our girl lives in a safe Children's Home. (The words Children's Home translates to “Bernu Nams” if you're curious). It's in a VERY small town west of Riga.
- She's smart, beautiful, strong, and also a bit stubborn. 🙂 I love her dearly and always will.
- Any comments that don't support her in every way will be deleted.
The Background Story.
Last December, we hosted a 15 year old girl from Latvia through a mission organization New Horizons for Children.
The purpose of New Horizons is this…
We are a Christian based, international hosting program, which brings over orphaned children from Eastern Europe twice each year to share with them the love of God and the love of a family. NHFC is the largest, faith-based host program, facilitating orphan hosting nationwide.
The Sad Facts…
Without intervention, upon leaving the orphanage, 60% of girls will end up in prostitution, 70% of boys will be on the streets or in jail, and 15% will commit suicide within the first two years on their own.
One person can revolutionize the life of an abandoned child.
My friend, Steph, introduced me to NHFC.
It was getting close to the deadline for Winter Hosting and there were many kids left who had not been claimed yet. Always so many kids, and the little ones always get chosen first. So, I printed out the list of available children (several pages long) and handed it to my husband and said “pick one”. I didn't ask if he wanted to host a child. I just gave him the papers and asked him to choose. That's how we roll. 😉
I sat down with the papers myself after he went to work. I was going through the photos of one amazingly beautiful delightful child after another, and my heart stopped when I saw her. It was like I already knew her. If you can believe in such things.
Joe came home, and I asked while holding my breath “Which one?” He pointed right to her.
So, we started on this journey to host a child and nothing more. We looked at it as just having a guest for a bit. A fun adventure for her. A fun adventure for us and the kids.
We'd always been open to adoption, but weren't by any stretch actively pursuing it. Plus, we didn't even think it was an option as she was so close to 16 – so we thought that window was closed.
That is, until in walks this sweet, funny, brave girl right into our hearts. And everything changed.
Four Weeks in our Home. (Dec. 2011 – Jan. 2012)
We knew we were in trouble the second night. My Joe was a little afraid to talk to her as he is as he says “big and scary” at 6'3″ and didn't know what her history was. We assumed there was probably some trauma with all of these kids or they wouldn't be in the Children's Home in the first place.
So, he wasn't really talking to her much or making direct eye contact. He'd talk through me (like I speak Latvian or something???) lol.
Anyway, Ivita was in her jammies and socks and she was at the other end of the hallway. Joe asked me to ask her something. I said “no, ask her yourself”.
Ivita said “what?” and I said “Joe wants to say something but he's scared of you.”
She ran dow the hallway, slid on her sockie feet up to the island, looked him straight in the face and said “what you want to say with me?”
Joe laughed, but then he turned and looked right into my soul and I saw it in his eyes “Nik, holy shit, we are in serious trouble… ”
He knew. We both knew at that moment she just fit. We were in for a bigger adventure than we realized.
There are so many amazing memories from those four weeks that she was in our home. Too many to recount here.
I took over 400 pictures and it was easily the best Christmas of my life to date.
Here is one of my favorite pictures from that month together…
She said she was afraid of dogs. But, that didn't last long when she met my wrinkly Luke. 🙂
And, here's a pretty picture of her at the beach.
My favorite memories are too many to count.
I adored watching her English improve so quickly – simply because it allowed us to talk, and talk, and talk.
It was really thousands of tiny moments that added together. For instance, I remembering hearing her giggle and yell “In my pants, I has sand!” when we were at the beach. It still makes me laugh.
We all enjoyed our time together, but the departure date was looming like a dark cloud in the distance.
As we got closer, Joe and I started to panic. “What if we never see her again? What are we sending her back to? How can we just let her go? Will she be safe? What about when she is sick? Will she be cared for? Will she be warm? Where will she live when she ages out of the Children's Home?”
It's also the time we both started to hear the whisper in our ears louder. “Mine”.
She felt like she was ours and we were absolutely in love with this child.
Legally of course, we couldn't just keep her. Charges of International Kidnapping were not on our wish list.
The day came. I won't tell you how horrible that day was for Joe and I. We'll just say we managed to keep our stuff together to get her on the plane but not a second longer. We drove 5 hours back home in total silence.
To Adopt or Not? That Was the Question.
So at this point, we had to very quickly decide whether to pursue adoption or not.
The problem was threefold.
- We didn't know if she even wanted to be adopted.
- We didn't know if she could be.
- Even if she did and she could be, we had only 3 months until she turned 16 – which was the date she would no longer be able to be referred to us for adoption. We were told that it would be next to impossible to get the referral from Latvia in time to even be ABLE to adopt her unless we moved some serious mountains.
We asked her if she wanted to be part of our family, and while it was a difficult decision to leave her friends and her language and culture behind, she said “Yes”.
We started pushing mountains – I had Congressmen and Senators on standby, I begged and cried at the Biometrics Office in New Orleans to please let us in early (they did not). Joe grayed. A lot.
Those of you who saw me at the February 2012 NAMS, I apologize. I was a mess. We were in the middle of our home study and I was tears on feet. So, if you were at NAMS and walked by me in tears more than once, this was why.
BUT… with a whole lot of massive action and mountains of paperwork overnighted all over the place, we got her referral just 2 days before her birthday.
Our Trip to Latvia. (June 2012)
When adopting from Latvia, you go on three trips overseas. Our first trip started June 3rd and was a few weeks long. We brought our kids with us, so the four of us headed off on our adventure.
When we showed up at the Children's Home, Ivita squealed and jumped into our arms. We're not sure if she was that happy to see us or shocked that we actually came. Either way, we were thrilled to see her again. We scooped her up and took her to our apartment in Riga.
But she looked skinny. Too skinny. The stress of being in limbo – stuck between two worlds was a lot on her. Heck, the stress was a lot on us. And we weren't the ones uprooting our lives. So, we were concerned. For her. For the odds of our success of bringing her home and being a family. For all of it.
Here are the kiddos in front of the Latvian Freedom Monument. It's basically their Statue of Liberty. (Look at how blue the sky is!)
Joe and I agreed to push down our worries and focus on the time we had together.
We quickly got back into family mode and we had the best little translator in Latvia showing us around.
Funny side note. We went into a shop to get Ivita's Visa pictures taken. I watched Ivita and the lady talking and Ivita was looking frustrated. I was confused, so I just waited. We turned and walked out with no pictures. I said “What happened? Can she do the pictures?” Ivita looked at me with exacerbation and said “I don't know. She speak Russian!” lol. I almost fell over, I was laughing so hard. I just thought she had a really weird angry Latvian accent. Ivita does speak some Russian, but apparently the two were not in sync.
During our time in Latvia, we did a ton of stuff. One of my favorite things to do was to hop on the train and go to Jurmala – which is an adorable beach town near Riga. Jurmala is on the Bay of Riga, which is part of the Baltic Sea. On one of my favorite days, we rented bikes and rode all over town.
Here's a picture from Old Riga that I just love.
Oh, and a picture of the infamous “Cat House” building. The builder designed it to point the catt's butt at the building behind it to prove a point.
Anyway, suffice it to say, the three weeks in Latvia were life altering in many ways, and Ivita was a huge part of the best summer of our lives. We fell even more in love with our girl.
The last day we went to “Orphan Court”, where Ivita signed the papers stating that she did, indeed, want to be adopted.
The entire time we were there, we kept saying “we will see you in a few weeks”. That was, we thought, the plan. A few weeks. She could make it a few weeks. And then we'd be back.
But — on the drive to take Ivita back, the adoption coordinator mentioned that our next court date in Latvia was scheduled for October 5th. FOUR MONTHS.
It was like an episode of Quantum Leap. When the adoption coordinator said that, Joe and I locked eyes in the back seat of the car and we both knew to make this good-bye a good one. The odds were shrinking rapidly that we'd finish the adoption, let alone see her again. I saw Joe's eyes fill with tears, and I was holding back my own. I just kept reminding myself that this was 1000 times harder on her than it was on us. And it was So. Damned. Hard.
So, basically, we had nearly four months between trips. This is obviously not good when dealing with a teen who can let fear and doubt build in her mind.
And, that's exactly what happened.
To protect Ivita's privacy, I won't get into details here, but at this point, we knew that she was having serious doubts about coming. It wasn't because of us. We know she loves us dearly. It is the whole picture of leaving what's safe and small and known – for a big city, big schools, and a difficult path.
While we were waiting to hear what was going on, I was posting in a private Facebook group that I have for our closest family and friends.
Here are a few things that my Joe and I had posted as we were waiting to hear…
And, my husband posted.
As we were going through the waiting stage, several friends told us that it would happen as it was meant to be. Which to be fair, is a saying that I despise, especially when I'm hurting. Because I think it's a pretty crappy thing to say to someone who is hurting.
But my husband is more gracious.
This was his response.
We found out for sure that our adoption is over.
My opinion is this.
- She is in a safe place now and has a good life… now.
- If she had come here, she would have had to struggle now, but would have probably had an easier life as an adult – with a much bigger safety net, having a large family behind her.
She's 16. She chose now over later.
Regardless, the adoption process was over.
We are ok.
- She's not dead. She's just 5000 miles away in Latvia.
- She loves us. We know that for sure.
- She wants to still have a relationship with us.
- It gives us an excuse to go to Latvia and see her – and see her older brother and sister who we have come to love dearly, too.
Negatives (There are Too many to count.):
- No keeping her safe.
- No making sure she has pineapple juice in the fridge. (Her favorite.)
- No big big hugs.
- No cooking and baking together.
- No painting her ticklish “feet fingernails” (There's no word for “toes” in Latvian, if you didn't know. There are just hand fingers and feet fingers.)
- No watching her swim in the pool when it's too freaking cold for me to think of getting in.
- No taking care of her when she's sick. I can't make her soup or bring her a blanket or sockies if she's cold.
- No Christmas morning together by the tree.
- No Birthdays or Latvian “Name Days” spent together.
- I don't get to bring her up to Wisconsin and introduce her to all of the people who have been waiting to meet our girl and who already love her.
- I really really wanted to be Mother of the Bride at her wedding and to be Gramma to her beautiful Latvian babies someday.
ok. Well, that all sucks, but I guess it's good. I just love my girl so darned much. Part of what I adore about her, though, is her bravery, optimism, and stubbornness… which is part of what's put us in this position. She's optimistic about her future and she loves Latvia.
The good things to come of this is because we chose to host her and pursue the adoption…
- she got to come to the United States, see the ocean, fly on an airplane, try new foods, and experience tons of new things. Her world view has expanded.
- her english is ROCKING. Lots and lots of practice.
- she was “chosen” to come and got to feel special when she went back.
- she knows she's loved because some crazy Americans spent months doing paperwork and got on an airplane to see her.
The gifts through this process were…
- I met many incredibly remarkable friends through the adoptions groups who inspire me to be a better person.
- I am a completely different person than I was earlier this year. I have a new-found sense of peace, learning through this experience to let go of things outside of my control.
- I am so thankful that I didn't do fundraising so it's only our money that we're losing. I would feel awful if others had contributed to our adoption. Thankfully no one else had.
- This experience has brought my husband and I closer together. He has jumped through hoops, sweated blood, and done everything asked of him to bring our girl home. He is my personal hero. And he is our glue.
And, most importantly…
- If she hadn't said yes, we would have missed out on the BEST summer vacation of our lives – with the best little translator in Latvia.
Regardless, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.
ok. Enough rambling. I'd better get to work and let you, as well.
I would also like to personally thank everyone who prayed for us and sent lots of love to us. (Please direct those prayers to the 178 million orphans on the planet. They need the prayers more than I do.)
Thank you for reading.