Sunday, May 31, 2015

Samuel Adoption Update

In case you haven't noticed, being mom to 3 little ones apparently doesn't leave much time for regular blog updates.  I am going to try to do a better job so that Samuel can look back at my posts here and read about the steps we made to add him to our family.

A lot has happened since my last update:
5/5/15:  First home study visit
5/12/15: Second home study visit
5/13/15: Completed 12 hours of online training
5/19/15: Home Study sent to our primary agency (Madison) for review
5/22/15:  10 of 12 dossier documents sealed at the Secretary of State in Austin
5/26/15:  I-800A mailed to USCIS Lockbox
5/27/15:  Dossier documents arrive at Houston courier
5/28/15:  Home Study approved
               Dossier documents dropped off at Chinese Consulate in Embassy to be sealed
5/29/15:  Home Study mailed to us
               USCIS email/text receipt received

This probably looks like a bunch of confusing details to most of you.  Basically it means that we are on our last lap of this stage of the paper chase.  We are getting so close to sending our dossier to China, where we hope for quick processing, followed by more quick processing back in the US, and then a quick opportunity to travel to get Samuel.

Today I emailed USCIS (immigration) to officially request medical expedite status for Samuel's case. They only grant expedites in life or death situations for medical reasons and thalassemia generally qualifies as an expedite for children being adopted from China.  As we start this next step, please pray that we are assigned a gracious officer who is able to work quickly and turn our application around ASAP.  

So what is left to do in the near future?

  • receive a fingerprint appointment with USCIS (immigration) in Houston 
  • get those fingerprints done
  • receive I-800A approval from USCIS
  • have our home study and I-800A sealed by the state of Texas
  • have our home study and I-800A sealed by the Chinese Consulate
  • mail all of those documents to Madison so they can be sent to China
My goal is to have all of the above steps done in the next 2-3 weeks max.  Once we finish these steps we will reach the huge milestone of being DTC (Dossier to China).  That will start our wait for our LOA (letter of approval) that confirms that the Chinese government approves of us adopting Samuel.

I am hoping for the following:
DTC by June 20
LOA by July 24
I-800 approval by August 7
NVC process (GUZ and PDF) done by August 12
Article 5 drop off/pick up by August 13/17
TA by August 28
Travel ASAP in September to get our boy!

We have requested an update on Samuel since his pictures and video are somewhat dated.  We also asked that a photo album of and other care package items be delivered to his orphanage/foster family.  I was hoping to receive an update by my birthday but it did not come yet.  I am hoping that this week will be the week we hear about our sweet boy and receive new pictures of him!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement as we go through this process of adding Samuel to our family.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Home Study Visit #1

Today we had our first of two home study visits.  The visit was scheduled for 11am and all of the kids were required to be present, so we pulled them all out of school to come talk about baby Samuel.  This is our fourth home study in 7 years and we counted and between home studies and post placement reports, this agency has been in our home nearly 20 times.  Soooo.... we were not nervous at all since it is clearly not our first rodeo.  Bryan and I chuckled about our first home study for Caleb's adoption.  I cleaned the silverware organizer in the drawer and made Bryan vacuum the walls of our little rent house.  We scrubbed grout and planted flowers.  Lord have mercy.  Now I always make sure the house is picked up but certainly don't obsess like I used to.  We know what is important-- showing that we have a happy, healthy home and hearts ready to care for another child.  Our kids act like, well, kids while they are here.  I think they had at least one fight over toys and Hannah threw a small fit in the floor.  What can I say, we like to keep it real. 

Once the social workers got here they were immediately apologetic that they have to come at all.  We appreciate that they realize we have experience with adoption but also respect the process and the state laws that regulate what they are expected to do as a home study agency.  The social workers sat at the kitchen table while the kids ate lunch.  They told them about seeing turtles at the park yesterday, and Joshua filled them in on the dead turtle who "had a SKELETON and his legs were stuck like THIS" (insert awkward leg pose demonstration by Joshua).  Ha!  We chatted for about 45 minutes and they took the obligatory tour of the house, led by Joshua.  In his room he showed them his Frozen alarm clock and quipped, "I never even hear it go off and sing 'Let It Go.'  I'm a pretty good sleeper."   

After the visit was over we took the kids back to school for a couple hours.  We have one more required visit next week that just involves Bryan and me.  I don't even know what we have left to talk about at this point.  We are hopeful that the home study will be finalized quickly.  Lucky for our agency, they have our previous China home study on file that they can literally copy/paste and just update various sections.  

Once the home study is done, we will submit our I-800A application to USCIS (Immigration).  This step gets us provisional approval from the US government to bring Samuel home.  We will be requesting a medical expedite for this process.  It usually takes 45-60 days and we are hoping to have our approval in just a matter of days or weeks.  It will all depend on which USCIS officer is assigned to our case.  

We are glad to cross one more thing off the list today and will keep working towards completing our dossier as soon as possible! We are hurrying, sweet Samuel!  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Samuel Luke ChiLe Pickett

I've decided it is time to resuscitate the ol' blog.  It has been clear that for me, parenting 3 young children has not been conducive to regular blog posts.  Now that a new adoption journey has started for our family, I want to be sure to document the story of Samuel joining our family.  

To be quite honest, about 5-6 weeks ago the idea of a fourth child was not really on our radar.  On any given day, at least half of my news feed on Facebook is about children in China who need families or about other adoptive families who are in the process of growing their families through adoption.  It is hard not to have it at the front of my mind on a regular basis.  In all of our adoptions, I've always been the 'gas' and Bryan is the 'brake'.  We have always been unified in our decision to adopt but God seems to prepare our hearts at different times and at different speeds.  This time, my heart was ready first and Bryan had agreed to have an open heart.  

In March, a fellow adoptive mama (and thalassemia mama) posted about a little boy being called "Wyatt" whose file would be ready soon.  I noticed how precious he was and began to research thalassemia to better understand what his needs would be.  I spoke to Bryan about what I learned and about what life would look like managing this medical need.  Bryan and I discuss medical needs (most often with him fielding questions from me) on a regular basis.  He always knows I'm looking at a child's profile or researching when I ask him what something means and I butcher the pronunciation of the word ;)  

By the end of March, advocates for "Wyatt's" adoption agency posted that his file was ready.  I asked Bryan if I could ask to see his file.  He agreed and I emailed to inquire about seeing the medical file of this sweet boy.  I quickly heard back from the agency that several other families who were already signed up with the agency were in line in front of us.  I assumed one of them would be matched with him and that we had no chance.  I chose not to get my hopes up and put it in the back of my mind.

Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I checked my email and see an email from the agency sitting in my Inbox.  Included was a message saying we were next in line to review the file for "Wyatt" -- and his file and photos were attached.  I was floored.  This was the picture included with his advocacy posts and medical file:

We reviewed the medical file and while it was clear that this sweet baby boy had thalassemia, his development and health were otherwise on target.  We had agreed that *if* we were to adopt a fourth child, it would be best if the medical needs were relatively clear cut.  Based on our research of thalassemia, his needs would be significant in that they are life-long and frequent, but we felt like it was fairly clear what kind of care he would need.

It took us almost 2 weeks of thinking, talking, and praying about what to do.  As we considered what to do, we could see many reasons to say yes and only one possible reason to say no-- and that all revolved around if we thought we were "ready" or not.  This process felt so different from previous adoptions, where we decided to adopt, filled out paperwork and waited to be matched with our child (or birth mom in Joshua's case).  To find our child first and then begin the paper chase caught us off guard.

We gave ourselves a deadline to make a decision and decided to seek out medical opinions.  In the past we have paid big bucks for international adoption clinics to review medical files for us.  This time, other thalassemia parents told us the Chief of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins was a hematologist who would review the file for free.  On a whim, I emailed it to him and to the top pediatric hematologist at Texas Children's on a Wednesday afternoon.  Within 30 minutes, the Texas Children's physician had replied back with his (free!) assessment.  I received a similar (free!) response from the doctor at Johns Hopkins within 2 hours.  Unbelievable.  Both physicians agreed that this little boy had beta thalassemia major, would need blood transfusions for life, and needed regular medical care from a hematologist.  While the medical file didn't include every piece of information we wanted to have, it had enough information to determine his needs.

We prayed, talked, and prayed some more over the next few days.  That weekend, we let our families know we were considering saying YES to this little boy.  Our parents were surprised but, as usual, incredibly supportive of us.  We are so blessed to always have their support and encouragement.  At this point, I chose to give Bryan some time to think over the decision and feel certain without me talking his ear off.  This took a lot of self control on my part but I did it!  On Monday of that week (April 13) I realized I was preparing my heart to have to say no.  I told Bryan that I respected his leadership in our family and would be ok with whatever decision he felt we should make.

When we had our final conversation and decided what to do, we both realized that adding a fourth child through adoption will certainly not be easy.  We are not naive to the challenges that come with adoption, specifically special needs adoption of a toddler from a foreign country.  But at the end of our days, we know with confidence that we will never regret giving this beautiful little boy a family.  We know that the medical care we are able to provide will literally save his life.  We feel confident that he will bless our family and are hopeful that he will form a strong bond to both us and his siblings.

We know that even at times when there is uncertainty, God always shows up in our adoption journeys.  He shows us again and again that He is faithful to the fatherless, that He sets the lonely in families.

We are racing to complete our necessary paperwork to bring Samuel home. He desperately needs regular blood transfusions that he is not receiving in China.  Our home study will hopefully be finalized by the end of May and we are setting our sights on bringing him home in September if all goes well.

We covet your prayers for Samuel- for his physical health, for his emotional well-being and for God to prepare his heart to join our family.  We ask that you pray for us as we complete piles of paperwork and prepare for the joy and challenge of adding another child to our family.  We ask that you pray for our 3 children at home, that God would continue to help them feel secure in our family as we grow yet again.

Thank you for the overwhelming support and encouragement we have received as we announced this big decision for our family.  We are honored to share Samuel's Story with you and to have you be a part of what God is doing in our family.