A Fresh Twist on a Modern Family, Part One

Editor's note: November is national adoption month.

Part One: Adoption Process Insights

We have four children. Our oldest two are both 13 but they are not twins. They are adopted and we also have two younger biological children. We call ourselves a blended family. Adopting kids is more common than ever and the stigma associated with being adopted is largely eroded here in the United States.

I am a risk taker and I married a risk taker. We are both from families with five children and were the first to move far from home. We have lived and worked in 5+ countries, took on career roles with enormous challenges, travelled to countless exotic places and tried to absorb the local cultures. Each time we take a risk, we are cautious, analyzing the situation and creating a sensible plan. Perhaps our biggest risk was building this blended family and we did it with very little actual planning.

My husband and I met in Europe working for GE. I was a recent Harvard MBA grad, and one of our shared passions was a love of travel and cultures. We both had big jobs at GE and were moving ahead in the organization, open to new assignments. It was quite exciting and we were not considering having children. Then, he had a big job opportunity in the U.S. so we moved to the Connecticut suburbs.

As we waited for our furniture to arrive, we were on the floor of our first house watching our new TV. A documentary about Chinese girls in orphanages came on and we found ourselves mesmerized by these adorable little girls with limited futures. We looked at each other and decided on the spot to adopt a little girl from China. We could still keep our big jobs and she could travel the world with us. After all how much work could a cute little Chinese baby be?

We started assembling all of our paperwork immediately. It took four months to complete the required documentation, and get the finger printing, police background checks and home study done. Every document has to be original, then it must be authenticated, notarized and accepted by the Chinese consulate. It is a labor intensive process that takes a long time. And, we wrote some sizable checks for different expenses. Here we were trying to save a beautiful Chinese treasure and we were drowning in paperwork and intrusive personal character checks! And once we sent off the package, we were told to sit tight for at least eight months and not call. Then radio silence for nearly a year.

Our home study agency encouraged us to consider a domestic adoption. We heard so many nightmare stories about domestic adoptions and were not interested! We weren’t really “adopter types” anyway; we just wanted to adopt our little Chinese daughter. But then, we met a young pregnant woman through the adoption agency who wished to place with an Irish Catholic, educated mother. We were hooked!

My work mentors were a little confused and we were confused too – this was a very impulsive and emotional decision for us. We didn’t run the numbers and didn’t really weigh out the pros and cons. We just couldn’t resist the baby boy who could possibly enter our life. And then the waiting started.

Anyone who has adopted a baby straight from the hospital knows the feeling on the morning you are told whether the baby will come to your home. I could not imagine my life without him in it. The morning we picked him up was one of the happiest of our life but in the back of my mind I knew the birth mother still had 30 days to change her mind.

Given our surprise addition, we wanted to put off the Chinese adoption for a year; however we received notification a child had been assigned to us and we needed to let them know if we accepted the “assignment” or not. If not, to we would be relegated to the bottom of the pile and it was typical to lose files of difficult people who had rejected a child for whatever reason.

We stared at the little photo of her sweet face. She was an actual person and we could never refuse her. We worked it out with a truncated maternity leave, new nanny, and a position with less travel.

We went to China to pick her up the week after her first birthday. She came out to the meeting place. She was a bright light, dancing around unsteadily on her feet and charming everyone. She was outgoing and happy. I held her tiny hand through the hotel’s borrowed crib bars as she slept through the night. Life was good.

When we picked up our son, who had stayed at my parents, he was shocked to see this unwanted addition. He did not want his mommy to hold another baby. When we left to drive home, we had to pull over to the side of the road as he wailed and wailed once he realized she was coming with us. It was our first hint of a big wrinkle. We now had a 1 year-old and a 9 ½ month-old and each viewed the other as an interloper.

Upon returning, we had a routine pediatrician appointment. We were surprised when the pediatrician recommended we take her to a pediatric cardiologist. In fact my husband was already back at the office and I had allotted 90 minutes for the appointment and then I was headed to work. I numbly made an appointment with Yale.

We were out of our depth, out of our league and I was completely distracted at work. After the appointment and some extensive testing, they let us know that she had pulmonary artery stenosis. The arteries were too small to adequately carry blood and oxygen. She would require an angioplasty. Anyway, fast forward, the procedure was not successful as her veins were too tiny to transport the node. A second and third were attempted in successive years but not successful enough. We needed to pursue a surgical solution. I took a leave of absence from work; GE was great about it. A major shift in priorities had crept in.

Did we regret adopting her? She was certainly not helping my professional career. And her brother was turning into a biter! What was going on with the gene pools? Would our own gene pool have yielded better results? Well, we found out the answer to that one later on…

We were in the trenches together and we could not imagine our lives without her. It was a very scary time, especially just prior to her major surgery. But we were closer than ever and the surgical procedure was a success. A month later, I learned I was pregnant. I reassessed returning from my leave of absence. Baby #4 came along 14 months after this one and all of a sudden we had a big family. This was our new reality.

Families are built in different ways and any adoption process is filled with uncertainty and worries but it is worth every ounce of sweat equity you invest.

So what would we do to somehow get some order in our now chaotic life? Well, we decided to move to Korea with our four kids, aged 3 months to 5 years old to keep things exciting! Watch for my next essay on Tuesday, November 29 about raising them in a foreign country.

Eileen Wacker lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and four children. She is the author of the new children's book, "Pink Hamster and the Birthday Surprise," the fourth installment of the award winning Fujimini Adventure Series. For additional information on the series, please visit www.oncekids.com.