Thursday, June 14, 2007

Laura, the black sheep

Since we’ve come home from Vietnam, I feel a little like a black sheep. For the last year I have been actively involved in an on-line forum sponsored by our agency to bring together prospective adoptive parents. It has been a great source of support and information, but since I’ve dared to post something less-than-100% positive about my agency, I’ve become somewhat of an outcast. I’ve not been attacked outright, but just little jabs here and there have let me know that it’s really not okay to go against the flow. All of which I totally understand. Over the past 2 years I have defended my agency countless times against well-meaning people who don’t understand the process or the lengths to which agencies must go in order to ensure adoptions take place in the most ethical manner. It’s a lot like criticism against a family member: You can be annoyed to death with your sister/grandpa/uncle/mom, but you’ll defend them to the end against a stranger who might say something disparaging. So I really don’t blame these ladies for getting their feathers ruffled. Some of their comments are probably even my fault, since I’ve never really sat down to tell the whole story of our last few days in Vietnam. Perhaps some people have gotten a wrong impression of what we went through and how exactly everything transpired. So here’s our story…
When we started the process with Vietnam, we were told to expect to spend 15-18 days in country. Since then, we had adjusted our expectations toward the longer end of that time frame, while still hoping that some miracle might bring us back to our two older children sooner. We were, of course, thrilled then when just days into our trip Dillon presented us with a new schedule that would take us back to the 15 days. While they were clear that the schedule was in fact tentative, they said we would know for sure by Tuesday, May 22nd whether or not we had the Thursday appointment at the U.S. Embassy (which was necessary for a Friday departure). So, when we saw our agency’s staff Tuesday morning, we were excited to be told that we did have an appointment for Thursday and could go ahead and change our tickets to come home Friday. We tried repeatedly to confirm that fact with our agency’s lawyer in Vietnam, but he was unavailable. So we changed our tickets, told our families, and pointed our noses toward home. Imagine then our disappointment when at a dinner that night, we were told we did NOT have an appointment for Thursday, but Friday instead. I'm not saying that anyone from our agency lied to us, but there obviously was a miscommunication, and a devestating one at that. Knowing that with the Memorial day weekend we would not then be able to pick up the visa until Tuesday, and also knowing there were no flights available on Tuesday or Wednesday, we instantly felt a little trapped in this lovely, though very foreign, country. We loved our time in Vietnam, but by that point we were ready to go home and unite our now-complete family. Another week, full of no official business other than waiting for what was literally a 30 second “interview” at a bank-teller-type window, would also mean spending at least another $2,000. The most frustrating part for us was the fact that our agency requested a “Thursday OR Friday” interview, without even considering asking for one on Tuesday or Wednesday – free days designated for travel and sightseeing. We would have been willing to let our agency try to fix their mistake, but instead their response was “Sorry, it’s out of our control.” Our intent was not to remove Reagan from the land of her birth as quickly as possible, but rather to unite her with the family who had been loving and praying for her for 2 years as soon as practical. We thoroughly enjoyed Vietnam and look forward to someday showing Reagan just what an incredible country she came from. The people were beautiful and incredibly friendly and we took literally thousands of pictures trying to document all that we experienced on her behalf. However, she is far too young to have any sense of what her homeland is - her world changed as much as she could comprehend the moment we left the orphanage. She is old enough, though, to appreciate the love of her siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, the medical care, and the consistency of a schedule and environment, which we could not provide for her while in Vietnam. All of that, and the fact that our agency’s staff in the States virtually hung up on me when I asked for their help, prompted us to venture out on our own. Since by the time we received the bad news we had only about 12 hours to try to work something out for Thursday, and the Embassy was already closed for the night, we decided to call our congressman. Though a stranger to us, and holding no political clout of our own, his office was incredibly helpful and sweet. Based on the promise that we would bring Reagan in to meet all of them, they wrote a 2 sentence e-mail asking if the U.S. Embassy could squeeze in one more appointment on Thursday instead of Friday. It turns out that was a scheduling change the Embassy was happy to accommodate, and in fact, everyone at there and at the Consulate was very friendly toward us. They even made space on Thursday for the other 5 families we were traveling with, as well as several other families from other agencies who were just sitting around at the Embassy hoping for an interview. So Reagan’s visa was, by God’s grace, ready for us on Friday, we went straight from the Embassy to the airport, and by Friday night we were sleeping in our own home with three of the most precious children in the beds down the hall.
Clearly God’s hand was in all of this. He was in control of each little detail and disappointment, and we would still be confident of that fact even if things didn’t work out as we had hoped. However, we were glad to get on that plane and into the waiting arms of Alyssa and Parker! We’re also glad that we didn’t just sit back and trust our agency, as we had for the previous two years. Generally, I think our agency does a fabulous job. I will forever be grateful for their work in bringing us to Reagan, but a little disillusioned about their travel processes and staff. I firmly believe that with a few minor adjustments to the process we could have been home even sooner with far less stress. There is, of course, value in spending time in your child’s birth country, but travel time and expense is a huge factor in many families’ decision to adopt or not. A shorter stay might persuade more people like us to welcome a foreign child into their home. We were diligent to see as much as we possibly could of Reagan’s homeland, spending very little time in our room, taking every possible side trip. Of course we didn’t see all that we wanted or hoped to see, but I lived in Israel for 4 months and still missed stuff. We were there long enough to get a great sense of what her life might have been like, and to develop an appetite to return some day. I believe that keeping families away from home and family any longer than necessary is a disservice to those individuals and potentially adoptable children. In our case, if we hadn’t stepped out, we would have been gone an extra week simply because our agency was unwilling to try to correct their mistakes. I know that others have stayed in country much longer. I know we probably look a little spoiled to them. But I also know that this process is constantly changing – especially since Vietnam is still a relatively new program. Even our agency’s staff has changed. Many of the same players are still in place, but they are far busier with an every-growing caseload. They seemed to be doing the best they could, but were limited by time and language to be able to accomplish the best result. Another recent change is that up until about a month ago the agencies’ hands were tied by the Embassy. In the past, visa interviews were only granted on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Now that appointments are available 5 days a week, agencies need to re-think their processes and adjust their schedules for the good of the parents, children, and adoption community. We in no way believe that our course of action has made things any more difficult for those following in our footsteps. Rather, I hope that our story will inspire other families to think outside the box and change the process for the better.


Cindy said...

Thanks for sharing Laura! I can understand both sides. I will also be leaving two children at home but also want to explore the culture. I lived in Japan for two years but I'm sure it's much different and I don't know how I will handle this trip. I will say I have always assumed Vietnam wants us to stay a long time to spend money. Even though I don't have much money to spend I would like to be there long enough to "get my moneys worth." =) Don't worry about it too much. We are all different and have different expecations. This is a free country! Thanks be to God!

erinlo said...
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Tricia and Kirk said...

I was unaware of all that transpired in Vietnam,and I'm sorry you haven't felt supported. With such a new program I hope that soon they can get the system as efficient as possible. Thanks for being open and honest.

Leigh said...

I'm glad you waited until you were home and settled to rely your story thoughtfully and calmly. I appreciate your honesty and maturity. Too often, in forums and blogs, we write with raw emotion and opinion and that type of post seems to alienate, offend, and hurt rather than inform.

We share this internet experience because we crave information about the process and the experience. It's not all roses...everyone (including our agency) will tell you that. We all seem to do a good job of complaining about the wait but there are other things that suck just as much. Fortunately, there are gifts like precious little Reagan at the end of the journey.

You wouldn't be honest, and you wouldn't be helping our community if you weren't forthcoming about your experience. If anything, you remind us all (again) that this process isn't perfect and we all need to be flexible, yet strong, and patient, yet persistent.

As always, wishing Peace to you and yours!

Dianna said...

Every family has a black sheep :) Our family has gone into this process understanding that our stay in Vietnam will most likely be three weeks. Of course, anything shorter would be great, because it does save money and gets us home to our other kids faster. And I can certainly understand your frustration at bring in Vietnam over a long weekend with nothing 'official' happening. We all have to do what we feel is right throughout this process, just as we would in managing any other family situation, and I'm sorry you feel ostracized because of it. I'm glad you were able to get home to your kids early.

Nadra said...

Laura..thanks for sharing. I'm sad that you had a difficult time. But, please know that I am totally supportive of you and your family. I know that I'll be insane while I'm in Vietnam and if I have to be away from Ian one minute longer than necessary, I'll go completely nuts.

Sending hugs your way :)

Willis said...

Thanks for posting the explanation. I don't feel like you owed it to anyone, but maybe now those who had ill feelings toward you will understand what happened. I'm just thankful that you were able to come home early. We, too, felt so ready to come home after so long in Vietnam. It was good to see our child's birthland but we were so ready to get to America.
Heather in SC

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It was well written and I appreciate your honesty. Your story reminds me that we are all human and that even good agencies have times when things do not get handled the way they should. I'm sorry that your experience wasn't as positive as my experience was. I'm very happy that you were able to get home before the holiday and that you were also able to help several other families do the same.

God Bless you and your family. I am so happy for you all!

S. said...

Thank you for being honest and sharing--every PAP with every agency can learn from your experience. I will be leaving my son here, and we will also be incredibly anxious to get home to him, so I can identify with your feelings.

Anonymous said...

You, your husband, and your children are so precious. Such a beautiful family.
After reading your post, I agree with you 100% of what you did and feel sorry for some people who criticized you.

Some may call me "shallow" and a "drama-queen" but:

SIX more days of stay (fly-out on Wedn. versus Friday) would literally make me die for real (and I do mean dead, no more breathing, cold for eternity).

Also, the cost of these 6 extra-days to stay there would also make me die. Some people just will never know how much I can buy makeup and other essential things like that with $2000.

Your happiness, kindness, patience, being grateful, etc, are models to us all !!

God Bless you and your family.
I'm sending big hugs your way :)

Kathy said...

You shouldn't feel badly about sharing your feelings and experience. They are valid. I think you were more than fair in the way you expressed yourself. Whether people agree with you or the course of action you chose doesn't matter - what matters is that is what you needed to do for you and your family.

I'm glad to see you getting some support here and am sorry you were criticized.

I'd say that 98% of my online experiences with the adoption world have been positive -- then there's the other 2% -- the judgemental,self-righteous percent. Don't let them get to you.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

I realized during our time in Vietnam adopting Zeeb that people really shouldn't see that trip as a tourist/vacation trip but simply and adoption trip... the main goal and focus is to adopt your child, bond with your child, and finish the necessary paperwork to bring your child home.
I absolutely believe every family should spend time in their child's birthcountry getting to know the place of their heritage, but I think it's best if people go back in a few years when there are no government-set timelines or the stress of bonding with a new child to complicate things.
We loved Vietnam too but we were also frustrated by our timeline. Our agency stayed exactly to the schedule given us when we arrived but I felt they easily could have sped things along once we had the VN passport. I think it's just easier for the VN staff to maintain their own schedules than to think about expediting things when possible ... which is too bad because as you say it can cost families thousands of dollars and much unneeded stress.

Kelly said...


I appreciate your candor about the process. I am sorry that you haven't felt supported. It's important for all of us in the waiting process to know what we are headed towards. While our experiences will all be a little different, it's always better to expect the best and prepare for it not to happen. I'm so glad you were willing to share your experience and that you were able to take the actions necessary to get home and reunite with your children there.