Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- November 26-29, 2007

We will be heading down to Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family in the morning (we have rented a massive cabin in the mountains of Pigeon Forge and will be celebrating with 30+ of our wonderful relatives. . .we make crazy look good!) so I am going to go ahead and and post the next few days of our Ukrainian memories! The kids and I have been in the kitchen all day working feverishly to get all of our Thanksgiving goodies made! Needless to say, we are ALL exhausted! Last year, Richard and I celebrated Thanksgiving at a McDonalds in Kiev, Ukraine! Although we missed our family and friends, I must say, it was definitely a much more relaxed holiday! We have so much to be thankful for this year, but most importantly we are thankful for a loving Heavenly Father, whose plan for our lives is more beautiful and perfect than anything we could imagine for ourselves, and for the amazing, amazing family that He has blessed us with!

Don't forget to bookmark or link to our new family blog so that you can stay up-to-date with the day-to-day (which will probably be more like week-to-week or month-to-month) happenings of the Rieben family! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Interesting Experience. . .(Pictures at the bottom. . ps-this doesn't mean scroll to the end of the post without reading the blog!!!)

Today it was much warmer than it has been for the past few days and apparently there is an "infection" running rampant through the orphanage (according to our translator it is the chicken pox although I have yet to see any evidence of it), so we spent our visiting hours outside with Evan today. For the first visit we went outside to the "courtyard" behind the orphanage where the play area and the laundry house are located. Evan seemed to enjoy being outside, even though it was a bit cold and windy and we broke major ground today when he let Richard hold him. We could hardly get him to crack a smile today, but he at least seemed to feel more comfortable with us and was even starting to talk a bit more (given, he is 3 years-old and speaking Russian so we can't understand much, but at least he is opening up).

This evening we were directed to a door at the front of the orphanage that is right off the street. This was the third visit we have had with Evan at this location and these visits are always short (usually 5-10 minutes since it is so cold). It starts getting dark here around 3:45-4:00 pm and the sun has completely set by about 4:30, so our visit with him was in the dark, in the cold and wind. His caretaker brought him to us, nice and bundled and signaled to us that she would be back for him in 5-10 minutes. He isn't really a fan of standing out on the street in the cold, in the wind, at night, so he isn't really a happy camper during these particular visits. He likes to watch the cars drive by and the people pass on the streets, but when the wind starts to blow (and there is no hiding from it), he always starts to cry (I don't blame him. . .sometimes it makes me want to cry too!).

Tonight was especially interesting because, as we were standing outside visiting with Evan, an old man passed on the sidewalk in front of us. Evan was crying and the old man looked up at us and started to slow. Once he had passed by us he stopped completely and continued to stare our direction. Evan was very wary of this old man. After a few minutes the man started walking towards us. Great! He slowly made his way over to where I was standing, holding Evan and started to speak to us in Russian or Ukrainian. I told him in Russian that I could not understand him, that I spoke English. I'm not sure what he thought we were doing there out in the cold night in front of the orphanage, but after a few minutes I understood that he wanted Richard and I to follow him back to his house. He actually grabbed my arm and started trying to lead me away, pointing in the opposite direction. Richard and I tried to tell him that Evan lived at the orphanage and that we could not leave, but obviously he did not understand. All the while, Evan is completely freaked out by this new stranger and the chain of events taking place (after all, he could understand what the man was saying and knew that this stranger was trying to lead him away from "home"). After a few minutes he walked around to the back of the orphanage where apparently he told one of the caretakers that we were standing out in the cold in front of the orphanage. One of the caretakers came around front and explained in Russian what was going on (I understood grandfather, cold and evening and assumed that she was telling us that the old man was concerned that we were standing out in the cold at night). She asked us if we were okay and I told her that we were and she started walking back towards the rear entrance. The old man rounded the corner and she explained to him what we were doing. He started to walk back down the street towards us and again, stopped in front of us and subtly motioned for us to follow him and the caretaker, who was still standing there watching, yelled to him to move on. Eventually he did.

At this point we had been outside for at least 20 minutes and had already knocked on the doors after the man had tried to lead us away, in hopes that a caretaker would come and take Evan so that he would not be so scared. No one had come and we weren't sure how much longer they would be, so I decided that I would take him back inside using the rear entrance and that Richard would continue to stand at the door just in case a care taker came before I got back to his groupa (we didn't want them to think we had run off with him). I took him back inside and said good bye and Richard met me at the corner. The caretaker who had brought him outside came out the back door and from what I could tell she was angry that we had taken him back upstairs. We didn't want her to feel like we had disrespected her directions, so we called Masha and asked her to explain to the caretakers that Evan had been cold and afraid and that we had tried to knock on the door to get their attention, but when no one came we felt it would be best to take him inside.

Needless to say, it was a very interesting visit! Definitely one for the books!

The process continues to go well, the orphanage director and lawyer prepared paperwork today and we will be meeting with the social worker and the judge tomorrow afternoon. If all goes well, we hope to send all of our paperwork to Kiev by tomorrow evening or Wednesday morning at the latest. We are still praying for a court date next week!

Many of you have asked for pictures so without further ado, I give you pictures (please excuse Evan's girlie outfit in the second picture. . .he really is a little boy)! Also, if you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.

Mommy and Evan playing our "Hugs and Kisses" game

Mommy and Evan outside the orphanage
Mommy and Evan snuggling on the playground
Daddy holding Evan for the first time (don't mind the cookie hanging out of his mouth)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Leaps and bounds (oh yeah. . .and we have a court date!)

Today we made HUGE progress with Evan! It started this morning when the caretaker immediately handed Evan to Richard upon our arrival (usually we ease into having Richard hold him since Evan is still a bit wary of him). Richard continued to hold him for our entire morning visit and Evan did not cry once! This is HUGE and WONDERFUL! We also got a record number of smiles out of him and he even began to whimper when his caretaker came to get him for lunch. Very, very good visit!

This afternoon's visit did not go quite as smoothly as this morning's visit had, but we are attributing most of that to the fact that he was sound asleep when we got to the orphanage. He was woken from his nap and given to us half asleep, so, needless to say, he was a bit disoriented. He recovered quickly however and we had another wonderful visit with him.

One thing that we have discovered is that he loves when we sing to him (especially when Richard sings). It definitely has a calming effect on him and, even though we don't have the best voices, it seems as though he could listen to us sing to him all day. He does the cutest thing while we are singing. . . . He starts swaying his head back and forth to the music. It is so cute and it just melts my heart!

We also received our court date!!! Thursday, December 6th at 10:00 am we will go to court and hopefully walk out as the parents of five beautiful children! If all goes well, we will be flying back to Kiev on Thursday afternoon, Richard will sign the necessary papers at the US Embassy and we will head home sometime next weekend. My mom will be traveling back to Ukraine with me once the 10-day wait is up to help me bring Evan home and if all goes well with the birth certificate, passport and Embassy, we should be getting home around Christmas Eve!

We are halfway there!!!

Here are a few pictures of Richard and Evan from our visit this morning. Their faces say it all!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

These are a few of our favorite things. . . .

For fun this evening, Richard and I sat down and made lists of the things we love about Ukraine, the things are glad we brought with us, things we wish we had brought with us and things we missed about home. We thought we would share them with all of you (I am a bit more long winded than Richard, so I apologize in advance for the novel).

Richard's Lists

Things I wish i would have brought
-Fewer pairs of Khakis and more jeans - only brought 2 pairs of jeans, should have brought 4 pairs of jeans and no khakis
-More movies & books - I will have exhausted our movie collection and the three books I brought from home - should have brought more of both because hours in the hotel room are horribly boring.

Things I'm glad I brought
-nice socks - I brought about 7 pairs of smartwool socks, more expensive, but can go a few days before needing a wash. Cotton socks would be horrible. Happy feet make for a happy Richard.
-My Columbia parka - hands down the best thing I have here. Waterproof, warm, windproof, and lots of secure pockets.
-A good quality, large backpack - since I'm the packhorse on this trip, it's nice to have a good backpack. Especially valuable when going to market, since bags cost extra.
-Nice shoes - I brought a pair of nice Salomon leather slip-on type clogs. Warm/dry in the cold, easy to take on/off while traveling, and very comfortable.
-My iPod with in-ear earbuds. in-ear earbuds are the key here... they block out noise on the plane.

Things I love about Ukraine
-The weather - I love the cold, crisp weather.
-The cars - as a big car guy, it's neat to see all the various types of cars, especially those which are not in the states, or are known because of Rally Racing.
-Speaking of Rally Racing, they drive.... differently. Be ready for it.
-The food. While it's not all that different, it's certainly fun to enjoy local dishes. Remember, here a steak is actually pork. Their salads are very good as well.

Things I wish I'd known before coming
-No one wears khakis... in the winter everyone wears black.
-People here aren't jerks, it's just the culture. (no one holds doors, says hello to strangers, etc.)
-People just walk across crosswalks as they wish and expect cars to stop for them, this takes some getting used to.

Things I miss about home
-my washer and dryer
-water I can drink from the tap
-My car - I wish I could drive here... their cars are so small and utilitarian in nature - exactly what I like

Val's Lists

Things I Love About Ukraine
- CHOCOLATE- If you are a chocolate lover, Ukraine is for you! I lost 10 lbs. while I was in Uzbekistan, I will probably gain 10 lbs. here! Such good chocolate
-People- while the big city people aren't as likely to say hello in passing, the people in Artemovsk are wonderful. Everyone is very friendly and always happy to help us.
-Food- most of the food in Ukraine is fresh, hardly anything is processed, and everything we have had is fantastic!
-Driving- although the driving is a bit scary, it is fascinating at the same time
-History- while there are the obvious historical buildings (churches, monasteries, etc.), there is also so much history in the ordinary buildings as well (houses, apartments, etc.). Everything seems to tell a story of the past. To some it may just look like an old building in shambles. To me, it tells as story. . .I wish we had more of that in the US.
-Walking- Everyone walks everywhere and everything is within walking distance. In the US, we couldn't survive without cars because the way our cities and towns are built. Here, the houses and apartments are intermingled with the markets, grocery stores and office buildings, in the US we live in the suburbs and have to drive into the cities to shop, work, go to school, etc.
-Language- I have always loved the Russian language (Ukrainian is not much different). I love to hear it spoken and I have really enjoyed learning what I have. I hope to become more fluent some day.
-Children- I love to see the children, especially when they are all bundled up in the winter gear! The children here are beautiful (of course, I may be a bit partitial since I am adopting a Ukrainian child!)
-Outdoor Markets- As nice as the "one-stop shopping" and "mass production" in the US is, I have really enjoyed shopping at the outdoor markets that seem to go on for miles! You don't feel as much like a "consumer" when you shop the outdoor markets.
-Sleeping in- Stacey, don't hate me for this (because I know you are not getting a lot of sleep with my kids), but I have LOVED the opportunity to sleep in (or at least lay in bed until I feel like getting up). It has been so long since I have been able to do this and I am sure it will be an eternity before I get to enjoy it again!
-Evan- And obviously my favorite thing about Ukraine is my beautiful boy, Evan!

Things I wish I had brought
-Slipper socks- most of the floors are hardwoord or linoleum and in the winter it gets cold walking around without socks. Also, when you enter someones house (or even the orphanage) it is polite to take your shoes off and having slipper socks would be nice to slip onto your feet.
-Long johns- I wish I had a nice pair of long johns to wear beneath my clothes. . .it sure does get cold walking around town!
-Hot chocolate- Richard and I don't drink coffee or tea of which there is an abundance of here and the hot chocolate selection is slim. It would be nice to have a warm drink to enjoy after walking around town!

Things I am glad I brought
-Clothes that I can layer
-Winter coat/hat/gloves
-Laptop (for movies, music, e-mail, journaling, pictures, etc.)
-Pictures/videos from home (what can I say, I miss my babies!)
-Books and movies- even though we stay pretty busy visiting with Evan and experiencing Ukraine, there is still a good amount of down time. Books and movies have definitely helped to pass the time.
-Back packs- these were nice to use as carry-on's during travel (since they allow you to have your hands free) and continue to be a nice commodity for shopping, taking things to and from the orphanage, etc.

Things I miss about home
-My children- I know, this is a given, but I miss my children so much! They can certainly be a handful at times, but they are my best friends and greatest joy! I miss waking up to their sweet faces every day, cuddling with them and smothering them in kisses (although the tantrums, attitudes and poopy diapers I can live without!!).
-Water that I can drink from the tap
-Being able to brush my teeth without a cup of bottled water
-My blankie- no, I am not ashamed to admit that I STILL have a blankie. Richard does too. . .that's how I knew we were meant to be. . .and while I know he may not admit that he misses his as well, I know he does! Really, there are worse comfort items we could have!
-Washer and dryer- no, I don't miss the massive quantity of laundry that my family accumulates, but I do miss the ease of being able to throw the dirty laundry into the washer and dryer. Not having these luxury items has definitely given me a new appreciation of them.
-English- While I do love the Russian/Ukrainian language, I do miss being able to understand those around me and I especially miss being able to read the signs, menus, etc.
-Christmas Festivities- I love the holidays and I love watching my children experiencing the holidays. I miss not being there to experience all of the festivities with them.

You are the sunshine of my life. . . .

We had another WONDERFUL day with Evan today. He cried a little this morning when we took him from his groupa, but only because one of his caretakers told him not to cry on the way out the door (and being true to 3 year-old nature, he did exactly that). That only lasted about 30 seconds or so and then he was right as rain. We managed many, many smiles today and Richard even had him laughing this afternoon! He is definitely feeling more comfortable with Mama and Papa.

Evan has one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen and the image of his smile stays frozen in my mind all day long. When he smiles his entire face lights up and it absolutely makes me melt. He is such an amazing little boy. There is no doubt in my mind that he will touch many lives throughout the course of his. . .he has certainly touched mine. I feel so privileged to be his mommy. . .well, almost! He is also the best snuggler around! He LOVES to snuggle and cuddle and of course, I do too, so we are a good pair! I would snuggle him all day long if I could and, in the not too distant future, I plan to do just that!

Here are a few pictures from today. We focused more on videos than pictures during our visits today, so the pickings were slim (you will have to excuse my messy, unwashed hair), but here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Ukraine Revisited- November 25, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

We're on the internet!!!

Today marks day 3 in Artemovsk! We finally found a place to stay on Friday. . .in a furnished apartment without a bed. The apartment building looked like many post-soviet buildings on the outside. . .old, worn and looking like it could fall in on itself at any moment. On the inside the apartment had been nicely refurbished. It was a decent place other than the fact that it had no bed (it had a couch that was much like a futon the way it folded down and was only big enough for Richard to sleep on). We found a small cot in the closet which is where I slept (on the cot, not in the closet). Despite the sleeping arrangements, I think we both slept like rocks that night!

We moved to the hotel yesterday. We are now staying in a small dorm-style room with two twin beds. The hotel is two blocks away from the orphanage which is less than a five minute walk. It has been especially nice being so close to our boy.

We have had the chance to visit with Evan twice a day each day since we have been here. He is still very hesistant around us and cries often, but he is starting to warm up to us and is more accepting of his new mama and papa at each visit. It has taken him longer to warm up to Richard, but that is understandable. The children in the orphanage rarely see men, so I can imagine that Richard is a bit intimidating. Evan is starting to open up to him however. We learned on Friday that Evan LOVES cookies, so we make sure to bring some cookies with us at each visit and Richard gives them to him. I think he has learned that Richard is where the cookies come from!

The bear that I made for him has turned out to be the best money I have ever spent! He LOVES it and it has been the source of most of the smiles he has bestowed opon us! He loves it when we press the botton and play our "Hugs and Kisses" game! Our last visit with him was a bit rough. This morning's visit went wonderfully. We got to spend some time with him in a small room right outside of the rooms where his groupa eats, sleeps and plays. Unfortunately the light bulb in that room was out and, since it gets dark around 4 pm here, we couldn't sit in that room for our evening visit. Instead we were taken to a large "playroom" (Kelly, you probably know what this room is called) that looked similar to a physical therapy room or a gym with lots of mats, a ball pit, etc. After we have been there for about five minutes he started to cry and continued to cry on and off for our entire visit. At first I thought he was still feeling wary of Richard and I, but I soon realized that he was most likely feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated by everything in the room. He would look around and then his chin would start to quiver and the crying would begin. He would bury his head in my sweater and the crying would subside, but as soon as he started looking around again, he would start to cry. I could tell he was feeling scared and overwhelmed so we decided to cut our visit short this evening and take him back to his groupa and familiar surroundings. It just broke my heart to see him so upset.

Overall, things are going very well. Our translator, Masha (Leanna, this IS your Mash and we LOVE her (and she loves you), brought her husband with her today so that he could help Richard establish internet connection through our cell phone. I think we both could've kissed him for helping us with this! We have yet to find an internet cafe in Artemovsk, so connecting through the cell phone was our only option and one that we could not have figured out ourselves (since everything is in Russian). We got several of our documents notarized yesterday and should be meeting with the social worker/inspector tomorrow and getting the orphanage documents signed and notarzied. Our goal is to have all documents signed, notarized and off to Kiev by Tuesday. We are hoping for a Tuesday/Wednesday court date for the following week (we may be pushing it a bit, but Masha and I are both hopeful).

Richard and I are really enjoying our time in Artemovsk! The people here are very friendly and we have enjoyed exploring the town together. We haven't ventured far yet, but we have been to the grocery store on several occassions, a very nice resturant named after moi (okay, so I doubt it was named after me, but the resturant and I DO share a name!), the market and an electronics store (where Richard managed to buy an electric kettle without speaking a lick of Russian). We are looking forward to spending more time in this little town!

Richard here...

Yes, we're having a great time, and although the start of our stay here in Artemovsk was a bit rough (not having a place to stay, not being able to communicate with the orphanage workers, not having a clue what was goign on, etc) we have settled into our new digs here in the hotel and are getting into a routine with the orphanage. Visiting Evan has been very fun, albeit a bit stressful. It's hard to deal with the fact that although we've "known" him for months, and we already have a degree of love for him, that he does not know us and has a hard time dealing with the situation. It is true, he does not like me the way he likes Val (which is hard to swallow) but I have a master plan that involves bribery and lots of cookies. Speaking of cookies - the cookies and other baked goods here in Ukraine are DELICIOUS. I just finished eating some chocolate covered cake balls with cherry jelly in the middle *drool*.

Today we went to the outdoor market and looked for a blanket for me to use on my bed. We found a nice blanket and in broken russian and lots of pointing we determined how much it cost and managed to pay for it. The gentleman and ladies managing the booth asked us where we were from and we said America... they in turn said aaaah... Canada! - We managed to correct them and we tried to explain that were from Ohio... yeah, imagine that! They asked us what we were doing here and it was all downhill from there. We managed to get across that we were here for a baby, but we were not able to communicate to them that we were here for an orphan. The older women kept making motions with their hands like a pregnant belly, we kept saying no, and they we all gave up, smiled and said goodbye.

Val's nagging me to finish up so she can get on the internet, so I'll wrap it up. We're having fun getting to know our boy. The rest of it is interesting.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I have finally gotten my new family blog up and running! It recently dawned on me that I would likely never FIND the time to do it, so I decided to MAKE the time! I will continue to post adoption-related topics on this site, but will be posting updates on our family on the new blog. I hope that those of you who have followed us on our adoption journey will join us at our new home on the internet and continue to follow us through the ups and downs of every day life!

From the Trenches of Motherhood

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- November 23, 2007

Can you believe that it was a year ago today that we met Evan for the first time!?!

Friday, November 23, 2007

I just saw an angel. . . .

Greetings from Artemovsk! We arrived early this morning via a 12 hour train ride from Kiev. It was the first time that Richard or I had ever been on a train so it was quite an experience. We actually really enjoyed it, although I wish it would've been lighter outside so that we could've seen the sights a bit better.

Our translator, Masha, met us at the train station and we quickly learned that none of the hotels in town had any vacancies. So, rather than checking into a hotel, Masha brought us to the orphanage and then had to leave for Donetsk so that she could take care of a passport for another family. The ladies at the orphanage set to work trying to find a furnished apartment for us to rent and it seems like we may have our accommodations sorted out! The orphanage director stopped in momentarily this morning and we had a short conversation using my Russian-English dictionary and hand gestures as well as the few Russian and English words we both knew.

At 10:30 we were finally able to go meet Evan. He immediately began crying when we walked into the room, which, believe it or not, is actually a good sign. He continued to cry and we let the care takers comfort him while we kept our distance a bit. I can only imagine how scary it must have been for him. After he had calmed down a bit we went into the room where the children sleep so that there was less commotion (we had been in the playroom with his whole groupa when we first met him) and we showed him pictures from the small picture album we brought which helped him to feel more at ease (boy I am thankful for the basic Russian that I know as I could tell it helped). Prior to leaving for Ukraine I had gone to Build-A-Bear and made him a teddy bear that says "I love you" in Russian and in English. I wasn't planning on giving it to him today, but Richard brought it up to us and it ended up being the perfect thing. He loved it when we pushed the button and after I pushed the button I would take the bear and say hugs and kisses in Russian and have the bear give him hugs and kisses. We had him smiling and asking for more in no time. He actually seemed a little sad when it was time to go.

He is a beautiful little boy and so sweet. He is talking (in Russian of course) and he just has the sweetest little voice. Every time he would say something to us we would just melt! I really felt like we were in the presence of an angel!

The ladies at the orphanage are wonderful. You can tell they love these children so much! The children in this baby house are most certainly well cared for and the caretakers do the best they can with what they have available. I am glad to see that Evan has been so well loved over the past three years!

We will get to see him again this afternoon! I'm not sure we will have much access to the internet while we are here (we are using the orphanage director's computer right now), but I will try to check in whenever I get a chance and maybe even post a few pictures.

We have had a wonderful day thus far and we are looking forward to many more of them!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ukraine Revisted- November 21-22, 2007

I will be gone for a few days (Philadelphia calls. . . again), so, in an attempt to stay current on my repostings, I am going to prepost the next few installments. I promise that I am still working on my next informational post and hope to have it finished and up by Saturday night! Until then, I hope you enjoy reminiscing with me!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We Made It!

Four flights and almost 27 hours later we finally made it to Kiev last night around 11:30 pm. Talk about exhaustion! The best part is that our luggage made it as well!

We are staying in a very nice furnished apartment in the center of Kiev next to Independence Square and the underground mall. There is also a McDonalds and a TGI Fridays right down the street! We haven't had the chance to get out and explore as much as we would like as we had to wait around the apartment this morning to find out what time our appointment would be (our facilitator had forgotten to bring our cell phone to the airport last night, so we had to wait for the call on our apartment phone). We got the call around 1 pm that our appointment was scheduled for 3:00. We met our facilitator at 2:30 and drove to the SDA. Our appointment took less than 10 minutes since we are adopting a known child. They showed us Evan's file (which included a very cute picture of him at 6 months old) and told us a little about his birth mother (father unknown) and his medical condition. We should have all of the necessary paperwork by 5 pm tomorrow and it looks like we will be taking the train to Donetsk tomorrow night. If all goes as planned (I hope I didn't just jinx myself by using that term) we should be meeting Evan on Friday! I cannot wait!

We are planning to spend tomorrow exploring Kiev! It is a fascinating place and we are excited to really experience it! The internet is much more accessible in Ukraine than it was in Uzbekistan, so I hope to update frequently. Again, we appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers coming our way. Keep 'em coming!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And we're off. . . . again

WAHOO! The necessary paperwork is complete and we are headed to Donetsk by train this evening! We should be meeting Evan tomorrow! I cannot wait!

We spent most of the morning wandering around the center of Kiev and enjoying the sights, sounds, culture and people! Outside of the SDA there are dozens of kiosks where you can buy gifts and souvenirs so we spent a decent amount of time there buying Christmas presents and gifts for friends and family as well as mementos for Evan.

Last night, a couple from Ireland, also with our agency, came back from a different region with their son and moved into the apartment across the hall from us. We spent some time getting acquainted with them and listening to their experiences last night and planned to spend some more time with them today. When we got back from our excursion in Kiev this afternoon we arrived at our apartment to find that the Irish couple and their son were moving into our apartment and that another couple was moving into theirs. Unfortunately we still do not have a cell phone so our facilitator wasn't able to contact us about the "move" so it was quite a surprise to come back and find we had house guests!! We are leaving tonight, so obviously this isn't a problem for us, but we all got a good laugh out of the chaos that had ensued! Honestly, it is nice to have fellow adoptive parents who speak English close by (really close by right now) as it can be a bit isolating when you do not speak the local language.

We ate our Thanksgiving dinner at McDonalds! Never thought I would be dining on such fine cuisine for the holidays, but it was the closest thing we could find to home. We have so very much to be thankful for this year. There just are not words to express my gratitude for all of the blessings that we have received.

Unfortunately, I will have to cut this short as we need to get back to our apartment and get to the train station, but hopefully we will be able to find a place to post from once after we have met Evan tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ukraine Revisited. . . .

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since we made our first trip to Ukraine! This time last year was a crazy, exhausting, chaotic time for our family, but it was also fun, exciting and miraculous and I can honestly say that it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life thus far. In memory of our Ukrainian adventure, I will be reposting the events of last year and will end with a video montage celebrating Evan's first year home with our family! It has been a fantastic year and as I look back on the events that brought us to this place, I can't help but be grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who is mindful of each of us and blesses us beyond measure!

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm Feelin' it. . .

We are leaving for Ukraine this afternoon! I cannot believe how quickly the past two weeks have gone by. I should probably be packing right now (no, I am still not completely packed), but wanted to pop in and give a quick update before we take off.

Things continue to go smoothly on the home front. I am still amazed how well and how quickly Joshua has adjusted. His body clock has made the transition to US Eastern Standard Time and I am VERY happy to report that he is almost sleeping through the night (by almost I mean that he wakes up around 6 am for a bottle, but goes right back to sleep for another hour or so once he has received sustenance). He has also started to eat baby food AND some table foods. . .something that we were very far from achieving while in Uzbekistan!

We also received good news from his doctors this week (after a barrage of appointments and tests) concerning the possibility of a tethered cord. After an MRI and a consult with the neurosurgeon, it was determined that we would not be adding this condition (and subsequent complicated surgery) to our list! Such a relief!

Josh also had his physical therapy evaluation this week and we have already started working on strengthening his trunk muscles and left arm (he favors his right due to a misplaced scapula and there is an obvious difference in muscle mass on the left side, although he does use his left arm quite a bit). We are also working on crawling, which he has developed his own form of, and helping him to sit unsupported (well, unsupported by another person. . .because his legs are so short, it is hard for him to balance, so he has to sit with his arms out in front, which helps him to balance). Honestly, I am amazed at Joshua's physical abilities. He is doing more, or at least trying to do more, physically than my other children were at his age. He definitely has to work harder to achieve many of these things and does so in a different way than most, but he does them! He definitely has the potential to achieve whatever he wants to in life. With his personality and his drive, I don't think his disabilities will ever get in the way of accomplishing the things he sets his mind to!

The other kids continue to adjust well to their new baby brother and I think Josh is finally starting to get used to the noise level and rowdy little people constantly in his face. He is definitely entertained by their antics and the kids love performing for him and speaking his baby language! It does occasionally get difficult to balance the time between all of the kids, but it is certainly doable and I love the special mommy and me moments that I am able to spend with each of them throughout the day.

Amidst all of the doctors appointments and preparations for Ukraine, Richard and I also had the chance to go to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert (a gift from my mom for my birthday)! It was FANTASTIC!!! I could rock out to Mozart and Beethoven any day (not to mention the fact that I LOVE their Christmas music)!

All in all, it has been a wonderful week and I am excited and ready (are you ever really "ready" to travel half-way around the world) for our next adventure! While the Ukrainian adoption process is complicated, I feel much more relaxed and at ease than I did while preparing for our adoption from Uzbekistan (so relaxed that I still have not finished packing!). I am excited to experience Ukraine and am very excited to hopefully be meeting our Evan so soon!

Just as before, I hope to update our blog frequently, so stayed tuned for the latest Rieben Family adventures! As always, it is sure to be a wild ride!!!

Hello. . . . from Dayton, Ohio!

That's right folks! We've been "traveling" for 6 hours now and we are still only about 20 miles from home! We arrived at the airport around noon and our flight was scheduled to take off at 2:30. Unfortunately, due to mechanical problems, our flight was canceled which means we missed our connecting flight to Austria/Kiev as well. There were definitely some tense moments as we tried to find another flight into Kiev with the thought of missing our appointment looming over our heads, but thanks to Laura at United, we were able to get another flight to Dulles with connecting flights to London/Munich/Kiev! We should arrive in Kiev at 10:35 pm tomorrow evening as long as we do not run into any other problems! We hope that our bags will make it as well!

In other news, I received word today that our facilitator was able to confirm that the SDA has Evan's file for us. This was definitely something I had been worrying about. Thankfully I can cross that off the list. . . .at least for the time being!

I told you this would be an exciting journey! Never a dull moment for the Rieben's! Stay tuned. . .hopefully I will be updating from Kiev next time!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New International Adoption Website

I am still miserably behind with my posts, but while I am piecing together my next installments, I thought I would share a new website with those interested in adopting internationally. The US Department of State has put together a new website dedicated to the international adoption process. I haven't had time to browse the entire site, but from what I have seen, they have done an excellent job of putting all of the information you need in one place in a very user-friendly way. Country information, Hague vs. Non-Hague, USCIS and Embassy forms, etc. can all be found on this new site. If you are in the process of adopting internationally or are considering international adoption, this site is definitely "bookmark" worthy!

US Department of State- Intercountry Adoption

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Adopting from Ukraine

I think it goes without saying that I stink at this! Or maybe I should just admit that I might have gotten in a little over my head when promising a new post every day (I also stink at admitting when I am unable to do something)! I have been working on this post for the past three days, a post that I should be able to just breeze through since I have actually adopted from Ukraine and been through that process, but there has been no breezing through this one! Every time I sit down at my computer someone or something suddenly needs my immediate attention. Not that this isn't the case on a regular basis, it is probably just more notable now that I have committed to sitting down at my computer to blog each day! That being said, here is my next installment. . .

Those of you who frequent my blog know that today's topic is one that I am particularly passionate about. The country, the people, the culture and, especially, the children of Ukraine are very near and dear to my heart and for good reason. It just so happens that I have the privilege of spending a good part of each day with the sweetest, smartest, most handsome Ukrainian angel on the face of this earth. . . .my Evan!

In 2007, Ukraine was the seventh largest sending country in international adoption with 606 immigrant visas issued to Ukrainian orphans adopted by US citizens. Ukraine recently reopened it's doors to international adoption in January 2007 after closing down in 2006, citing concern for the more than 500 post-placement reports (required of adoptive parents by the Ukrainian government) that had not been filed since 1996. Prior to the shut-down of Ukrainian international adoption, the central adoption authority in Ukraine was the National Adoption Center (NAC). When Ukraine reopened it's doors in 2007, the new (and current) central adoption authority was the State Department for Adoption and the Protection of the Rights of a Child (SDAPRC), more commonly referred to in the adoption community as the SDA.

When adopting from Ukraine, prospective adoptive parents have the option of working with an agency and their facilitation team in Ukraine or working directly with a Ukrainian facilitator independently. There is generally a slight cost advantage in doing an independent adoption because you will not be paying agency fees, however, many find the assistance of an agency in preparing their documents and walking them through the process to be worth the extra cost. Currently, the average cost of adopting from Ukraine is between $20,000-$30,000.

In April of 2008, the requirements for families wishing to adopt from Ukraine changed. Prior to April 2008, married couples and singles were permitted to adopt from Ukraine. The requirements now state that only married couples are permitted to adopt (this does not apply to Ukrainian citizens). An age requirement has also been included in the amended adoption laws stating that, adoptive parents can be no more than 45 years older than the child they wish to adopt. There are currently no stated income requirements or restrictions on the number of children already residing in the home.

The process of adopting from Ukraine can be a bit more complicated and time consuming than many of the other countries with international adoption programs. Unlike most countries with international adoption programs, Ukraine is a "blind referral" country (Kazakhstan also operates on a blind referral system). This means that adoptive parents are not given a referral prior to travel. Instead, prospective adoptive parents must submit their completed dossier to the SDA which includes a petition to adopt. In that petition adoptive parents state their specifications (for example, a girl between the ages of 1-6 with minor, correctable special needs). Upon reviewing and accepting the adoptive couple's dossier, the SDA will then issue the adoptive parents an appointment date. The parents will then travel to Ukraine to meet with the SDA at their appointed date and time. During this meeting, prospective adoptive parents will be shown the files of available children matching the description given in the adoption petition and homestudy. Included in the files are generally a picture of the child, their medical history and information regarding their orphan status. Once the parent's have reviewed the information and selected the child they wish to visit, the SDA will grant them permission to visit the child's orphanage and meet the child. The parents will then travel to the city where the child resides.

Prior to meeting the child, parents must first meet with a social worker and the director of the orphanage where they will receive additional information regarding the child's health and well-being. Parent's will then meet their prospective child. If the parent's decide that they would like to adopt the child, they will then sign the required paperwork stating that they would like to adopt the child. They are also required to get the signature (or approval) of the orphanage director and social worker. Once the official papers have been signed and notarized they are sent back to Kiev where the formal referral is put together, sent back to the region the child is in and submitted to the local court. Parents will then be given a court date. During this time, the parent's are usually able to visit with their child at the orphanage 1-2 times per day. After court, there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period (which is very seldom waived, even in cases of children with special needs). After the 10-day waiting period, parents will then apply for the new birth certificate and the child's passport and pick their child up from the orphanage. Once they have the birth certificate and passport, they will travel back to Kiev for the child's medical exam (a US requirement for all children adopted abroad) and to apply for the visa at the US Embassy. Once the visa has been issued, families may travel home with their child. Upon entering the US, the child automatically becomes a US citizen (they will retain dual citizenship until the age of 18).

It IS possible to adopt a known child from Ukraine. Missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, as well as other adoptive families often bring back information and pictures of children who are available for adoption. Most of these children are older children, sibling groups or children with special needs who might not otherwise be adopted. There are also families who "host" Ukrainian orphans (orphans are brought to the US and live with American families for a short period of time (usually 4-6 weeks), much like a foreign exchange program) and desire to adopt them. In these cases, when you submit your dossier along with your petition to adopt, you include the specific information about the child you desire to adopt (in our case, we included Evan's full name, his birthday, his medical condition and the city he was residing in). Generally, once a family's dossier has been processed and accepted, the SDA will pull the file of the child you desire to adopt. Until your dossier and adoption petition have been submitted and the child's file has been "pulled" there is no guarantee that another family will not proceed you in requesting or adopting that child, so it is important that you complete your paperwork as quickly as possible. At your appointment, they will present you with the file of the child you have requested and from that point the adoption proceeds just as a blind referral would.

Ukraine also operates on a "quota system." For example, in December 2007, the Ukrainian government issued Decree 4939 which limits ALL foreign adoptions (not subdivided by country) to 1, 453 dossiers for the year 2008 (this does not include children with special needs). By March 2008, with the backlog of dossier's from the previous year, the quota had already been met so many families had been told that they must wait to submit until next year when the quota is reset. Fortunately, after a dossier tally, it was discovered that they were actually still UNDER the quota for this year and have begun accepting dossier's until November 27th. For a good explanation of the "quota system" and the availability of children in Ukraine, please stop by the Pretre's adoption blog. This gives you an idea of how "fickle" the adoption process in Ukraine can be.

The time line to adopt from Ukraine is, on average 5-12 months from submission of your dossier to your appointment date. One or two trips can be made. If making two trips, both parents are required to travel for the first trip to meet with the SDA, meet their child/children and attend court. This trip can take between 2-4 weeks (our first trip was 3 weeks). The second trip only requires one parent to travel to pick up their child/children, receive the new birth certificate and passport and process through the embassy. This trip generally takes between 1-2 weeks (my second trip took 1 week). If one trip is made you can plan on an average of 6+ weeks.

The children available for adoption in Ukraine are between the ages of 14 months and 16 years. Ukrainian children are required to be on a national registry for 14 months before they are available for international adoption. During this time, they are only available to Ukrainian citizens. In 2006, 50% of the children adopted were girls and 50% were boys. 44% of the children were between the ages of 1-4. Recently, with the aid of UNICEF, Ukraine began a foster care program to promote the adoption and care of Ukrainian children by Ukrainian citizens. Because of this, most of the young, healthy children have been placed in foster homes and are not available for adoption internationally (there are many, many things that I could say about "foster care" in Ukraine, but I will save that for another time) . Most of the children currently residing in orphanages who are registered for international adoption are older children, sibling groups and children with special needs. If you are looking to adopt a young, healthy child (particularly a young, healthy girl), Ukraine may not be the best country for you. There have been many families who have traveled to Ukraine in the past year, hoping to adopt young, healthy children (or just healthy children in general) and they have come home heart broken and empty handed. It is also important to remember that MOST of the children living in orphanages in Ukraine are NOT available for adoption. Many of the children are in the orphanages due to the extreme poverty of their families and have family that still visits them. Many of the children have siblings that are either not available for adoption or do not want to be adopted (Ukraine WILL NOT separate siblings unless a judge feels that they would not be adopted otherwise. For example, if one child has a severe special need causing prospective adoptive parents to pass over the referral, a judge may rule that the sibling may be separated so that they have the chance to be adopted). Some of the children have never been registered. So, when you see all of those cute little faces in pictures of Ukrainian orphanages, remember that it is likely that only about 10% of them are actually available for adoption.

The following is a video put together by an adoptive mother, after a humanitarian aid visit to Ukraine. It provides a very realistic look at the life of an orphan in Ukraine, as well as statistics. Make sure you have the tissues handy. . .makes me cry every time I watch it (and I have watched it more times than I can count).

For more information about adopting from Ukraine, please take a moment to visit the following links:

Ukrainian Adoption Blogs:
Truthfully, there are more Ukrainian adoption blogs than I have the time to list, so thank goodness for Leanna (3 Journies of the Heart) and the Pretre's (Pretre's Adoption Blog) for keeping up with such great blog rolls! For those who are interested in adopting from Ukraine, there is no greater source for gaining a realistic view of the adoption process in Ukraine than by reading the blogs of those who have been through the process or are going through it now, so please take a moment to peruse the blogs!

As always, and especially in the case of Ukraine, if you have any questions regarding the process of adopting from Ukraine or our experience there, please be sure to leave your questions or comments.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Adopting from Russia

In 2007, the US Embassy in Moscow, Russia issued 2, 310 immigrant visa's to Russian orphans adopted by American citizens, making Russia the third largest sending country in international adoption (with China in first place and Guatemala (now closed) in second). Since 2002, approximately 28,000 Russian orphans have been adopted by US citizens. As reported by US Immigration, 49% of Russian children adopted in 2006 were female, 7% were under the age of 1, 65% were between the ages of 1-4, and 27% were 5 years and older.

It is estimated that there are more than 600,000 children living "without parental care" in Russia (not all of these children are available for adoption however). Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, many families in former Soviet nations are struggling to survive, making poverty one of the most common factors in the relinquishment of children. Approximately one third of the children living without parental care in Russia reside in institutions. The rest of the children typically live with guardians or are under police jurisdiction. There are generally two categories of children available: babies relinquished at the hospital at birth to orphanages and older children who have been removed from their homes due to severe poverty, neglect and/or abuse.

The central adoption authority in Russia is the Ministry of Education and Science. Although Russia is not part of the Hague Convention on Adoption, US citizens who wish to adopt a Russian child must work with an agency accredited by the Ministry of Education and Science in Russia or with an agency who works through another agency accredited by the Ministry of Education (you may also have the option of working with a private adoption attorney in Russia). A complete list of accredited agencies can be found here (click on "adoption" and scroll down the page).

Russia's requirements for adoption are not as strict as many countries. Currently, the Russian government has no age restriction for adoptive parents with the exception that single adoptive parent's must be at least 16 years older than their adopted child. There are also no formal restrictions regarding the length of marriage of adoptive parents or number of children already residing in the home, however these requirements may differ from region to region (for example, some regional officials prefer no more than 3 children already in the home, etc.). Singles are also permitted to adopt.

Most agencies work within select regions in Russia. Once your dossier is completed, it is translated and submitted to and processed by the Ministry of Education officials within the region you intend to adopt. Once your dossier has been processed you will be issued a referral by the Ministry (usually consisting of a picture(s) and brief history/medical synopsis of the child/children). In some cases a formal referral will not be issued prior to travel. In these cases, once your dossier has been processed, Ministry officials will then extend an invitation to travel where they will present your with your referral face-to-face.

As of April 2000, adoptive parents are required to appear personally before the Ministry to accept their referral. This means that families adopting from Russia are required to make two trips. The first trip is to officially accept your referral and meet your child/children (both parents are required to make this trip). The second trip is to attend court and complete the adoption (in some regions only one parent is required to make this trip, in others, both parents are required). The first trip is approximately 5-7 days. The second trip generally last between 2-3 weeks depending on whether or not the 10-day wait following court is waived (in some regions and under some circumstances (such as in the adoption of a medically fragile child) officials will waive the 10-day wait, however, this is being seen less and less and in some regions, not at all). Following court and the 10-day wait, families will then receive their child's new birth certificate and passport and will register their child with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. They will then process through the US Embassy and receive their child's visa to travel back to the US.

Children available for adoption in Russia are between 8 months and 16 years of age (in order to be eligible for international adoption children must be placed on a regional, and then national, registry for a total of 8 months during which time they are available only to Russian citizens). Sibling groups and children with special needs are available for adoption as well.

Russia is one of the more expensive countries to adopt from with an average cost of $35,000. The time line for adoption from Russia, from completed dossier to referral is, on average, 6-12 months although this will vary from region to region.

For more information regarding adoption from Russia, please take a moment to visit the following links:

Russian Adoption Blogs:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Adopting from China

Because the international adoption process varies so much from country to country, I am going to dedicate several days to providing more information about many of the countries with international adoption programs. Please keep in mind that I am not as familiar with the processes in many of these countries, having only adopted from Uzbekistan and Ukraine, so I will just be skimming the surface here, but I will do my best to provide you with a general overview of each country and offer links to adoption blogs and other information to those who are interested in learning more.


Adoption of children from China to the United States began in 1992 when the Chinese government passed a law ratifying international adoption. In 2007, as reported by Immigration Services, American's adopted 5, 453 children from China, the largest number of adoptions from any country outside of the US. The average age of children adopted from China is 11 months with over 90% of those children being girls (due to China's population control policies). The majority of boys adopted from China are children with special needs.

The central adoption authority in China is the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) in Beijing. Because China is part of the Hague Convention, there is no independent adoption from China. Prospective adoptive parents must work through a US Hague Accredited agency that is also CCAA approved.

The CCAA has placed strict requirements on prospective adoptive families. As of May 1, 2007, the following criteria must be met in order to adopt from China:

  • Only heterosexual married couples (who have been married for at least two years) may adopt from China. In the case that the prospective parents have been married and divorced previously (no more than two previous marriages), the couple must be married for at least five years prior to application.
  • Both husband and wife must be between the ages of 30 and 50. When adopting a child with special needs, husband and wife must be between the ages of 30 and 55.
  • Both husband and wife must be completely healthy both physically and mentally. Individuals with any of the following health conditions will NOT be eligible to adopt:
  1. AIDS;
  2. mental handicap;
  3. infectious disease within infective stage;
  4. binocular blind or binocular parallax or monocular blink and with no ocular prosthesis;
  5. binaural hearing loss or language function loss; adoption of special needs children who have identical conditions will be exempt from this limitation;
  6. afunction or dysfunction of limbs or trunk cause by impairment, incompleteness, numbness or deformation; severe facial deformation;
  7. sever diseases which requires long term treatment and which affect life expectancy, like malignant tumor, lupus erythematosus, nephrosis, epilepsy, and etc.;
  8. post-surgery of major organs transplantation, not yet 10 years;
  9. schizophrenia;
  10. medication for severe mental disorders, like depression, mania, or anxiety neurosis, and etc, stopped not more than 2 years;
  11. BMI over 40
  • The husband or wife must hold a stable occupation. The annual family income must be $10,000 for each family member including the child you intend to adopt with a net value of $80,000.
  • Both the husband and the wife must graduated from high school, completed a degree of higher education or vocational skills training.
  • There cannot be more than five children under the age of 18 residing in the home and the youngest child must be over the age of 1. Those adopting a child with special needs are exempt from this requirement.
  • Both husband and wife must have a clean criminal record with no history of domestic violence, child abuse, substance or alcohol abuse.
  • Adoptive parents must be able to provide a safe and loving home for the adopted child and must agree to provide post-placement reports for a designated amount of time following the adoption of the child.
Adopting a child from China, on average, costs between $20,000-$25,000. Most of the children available for adoption reside in one of China's child welfare institutes, however, there are some children who live in foster care. The timeline from dossier log-in date (LID) to referral from China is approximately 30-36 months (though some agencies are reporting even longer waiting times due to the back log of dossiers). Once you have received and accepted a referral, travel occurs approximately three months later. At least one parent must travel to China to complete the adoption (although keep in mind that, the absence of one parent will effect the child's visa status. . .I will discuss this in a separate post), with the average stay in China being 10-14 days.

For more information regarding adoption from China, please take a moment to visit the following links:

China Adoption Blogs (many of these families have links to other China adoption blogs):

Checking Boxes
Our Journey to Kaelie
Loving Lauren
Jem China
Catherine's Chatter
Waiting for Lexi
Liptacks and Ladybugs

Circle of Love
Salsa in China
Imagine Alyzabeth An
Our Long Journey to Kaelin
Journey to Mary Alice
Baby Izabella
Sunflowers and Ladybugs
Journey to Malia

If you are interested in learning more about adopting a child from China, I highly recommend visiting the links provided as well as joining a support or informational group of families who are currently in the process or have already returned home with their child/children. I have found through my own experience that gathering information from those who have "been-there-done-that" is often the most valuable and "raw" information you will find regarding the process from each country. A great place to start looking for support groups is Yahoo Groups.

Stay tuned for Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries (this will include Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Estonia). If there is a specific country you would like to learn more about, please let me know!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I have not forgotten. . .

Just a quick note to let those of you waiting on my next installment know that I have not forgotten my promise to update the blog with new adoption information each day throughout the month of November! Evan and I had to make an unexpected trip to Philadelphia this weekend (all is well, Evan's new KAFO's just rubbed a sore into the outside of his right foot, so we had to go get the brace fixed and figure out what we could do to maintain correction while the sore heals) and that it why it has been silent here! I am working hard trying to put together a few new posts in an attempt to play catch-up. They should be up tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

International Adoption

I can still remember the first time I started thinking seriously about adopting internationally. We had been in the process of adopting an infant domestically (and by "in the process" I simply mean that we were working very slowly towards obtaining our homestudy) for about 10+ months and we were moving at a snail's pace. I could not figure out why neither of us had the motivation to get through the beginning stages. We knew that there were more children who were meant to be a part of our family and we knew that the wait for a child would likely be long even after the homestudy was complete. So why were we dragging our feet? Something just didn't feel right.

One Sunday, as I was walking the halls at church trying to calm one of my babies, I saw a stack of brochures for an adoption fair lying on a table and I stopped to pick one up. Inside the brochure there were names of agencies (both domestic and international) that would be represented and topics that would be discussed. I tucked the brochure into my diaper bag hoping to find a spare moment to browse some of the agencies' websites and gather information. Up to this point, we had been focused solely on the domestic adoption of an infant through our church. It was our most affordable option and we could adopt an infant (at the time we were hoping to adopt a child 12 months old or younger), but I just couldn't shake the feeling that we were moving in the wrong direction.

I started researching the agencies listed in the brochure who had international adoption programs. I looked at countries, costs, wait times and the ages of available children. I also spoke extensively with my friend Elaine, who had adopted a little boy from Korea and was in the process of adopting another little boy from Vietnam, trying to gather as much information as possible. The more I learned, the stronger I felt that this was the direction we were to move in. Richard and I spent hours discussing and praying about the topic and eventually, we both knew, with surety, that international adoption was the path we were intended to take. The rest, as you know, is history (ah, if it had only been that simple)!

The process of adopting internationally cannot be tied up quite as neatly as domestic adoption because the process will differ greatly from country to country so I will just be covering the basics in this post and will talk more about the specifics throughout the month. As always, if you have any questions regarding the process, would like to learn more about a specific country, etc. please be sure to leave a comment and I will do my best to address it.

Adopting Internationally

In 2007, more than 20,000 immigrant visas were issued to orphans adopted by US citizens. In the past 12 years, international adoptions have more than doubled. While the process to adopt internationally will differ from country to country, there are many requirements that are the same for ALL prospective adoptive parents, no matter where your child comes from.

Choosing a Country

The first step when adopting a child internationally is to determine what you are looking for. By this I simply mean that you will need to sit down and determine (or at least have a general idea) of the child/children you are looking for. Are you open to race and gender? What age range is acceptable? Are you open to adopting a child with special needs? If so, which special needs would you consider? Are you able to travel to complete an adoption? If so, how long will you be able to travel? How much are you able to spend? There are many countries that allow international adoption. Determining your specifications and limitations will enable you to narrow down the number of countries on your list

Once you have determined your specifications the next step in the process is to choose a country. As previously mentioned, there are many countries that allow international adoption. Each country will have their own requirements and restrictions that adoptive families must meet in order to adopt. Many countries impose upper and lower age limits (China; India; Ukraine; Haiti), others may only allow a certain number of children already in the home (Serbia; Korea; some regions of Russia). Some countries have income requirements (China; India) and others have religious requirements (Armenia). These restrictions and requirements, along with your specifications for a child, will likely narrow down even further the number of countries on your list. Most countries require one or both parents to travel for an extended period of time to complete the adoption. Many countries require multiple trips. Some countries are more expensive than others. Many countries only have older and special needs children available for international adoption, while infants are available in other countries. The "wait times" in each country will likely vary depending on your specifications (for example, to adopt a healthy girl under the age of 2 from Bulgaria, the wait is generally 18-36 months, while adopting a boy or girl with special needs or an older child or sibling group could take as little as 6-9 months).

The following are the top 20 countries issuing orphans US immigrant visa's in 2007:

China (5,453)
Guatemala (4,728) (now closed)
Russia (2,310)
Ethiopia (1,255)
South Korea (939)
Vietnam (828)
Ukraine (606)
Kazakhstan (540)
India (416)
Liberia (314)
Columbia (310)
Philippines ( 265)
Haiti (190)
Taiwan (184)
Mexico (89)
Poland (84)
Thailand (67)
Kyrgyzstan (61)
Brazil (55)
Uganda (54)

Choosing an Agency

Once you have selected a country that works for your family, it is time to choose an agency. Selecting an experienced, ethical and trustworthy agency and/or facilitation team can be one of the biggest factors in ensuring a smooth adoption process. Because the selection of an agency and/or a facilitation team is such a vital step in this process, I will be discussing this more in depth in a later post. While some countries, such as Serbia and Ukraine, do not require the use of a licensed adoption agency, others do. In fact, in April 2008, the United States formally entered into the Hague Convention, an important treaty that governs adoptions between the US and nearly 75 other countries. The Hague Adoption Convention protects children and their families against unregulated adoptions abroad and ensures that intercountry adoptions are in the best interest of the children The convention also serves to prevent the abduction, sale and trafficking of children. When adopting from a "Hague country" the use of a Hague accredited agency is REQUIRED. Again, I will be discussing the selection of an agency in greater depth in a later post, so please check back!

The Paper Chase

The next step in the international adoption process is often referred to as the "paper chase" of which the first step is to complete a homestudy. As mentioned in my previous post on domestic adoption, a homestudy is literally an in depth study of your home and family. The homestudy process requires multiple interviews of each occupant of the home, fire and safety inspections, background checks, fingerprinting, a report of your finances and medical reports, letters of recommendation, as well as a specified number of "training" or "education" hours.

While you are in the process of obtaining your homestudy, you will also be compiling your dossier, a set of documents required by the country you are adopting from. The required documents will differ from country to country but generally include your homestudy, marriage certificate, background checks, financial report, letters of employment, medical reports, petition to adopt, a copy of your I-171H approval to adopt, etc.

While you are in the process of completing your paperwork you must also file form I-600A (for non-Hague countries) or form I-800A (for Hague countries) with your local USCIS office (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). These forms, along with their associated fees, are submitted with a copy of your homestudy. You will also submit a biometrics (fingerprinting) fee at the time of filing so that USCIS may issue an appointment for you to be fingerprinted (fair warning, you will be fingerprinted more during the adoption process than most hardened criminals are during their lifetime!!). Upon approval of your I-600A or I-800A you will be issued form I-171H which states that you are approved to adopt from the country your have requested and will also list the number of children you are approved to adopt.

An important note about your homestudy and your USCIS approval: Your homestudy and your approval MUST MATCH the child/children you intend to adopt. For example, if your homestudy states that you are approved to adopt a healthy child between the ages of 1-7 and you adopt an 8 year-old with special needs, the US Embassy may deny your adopted child a visa until your homestudy is updated to approve you for such a child. When your homestudy is written be sure to allow yourself some padding (if you are hoping to adopt a child between the ages of 1-4, you may want your homestudy to state that you are approved for a child between 0-5 "just in case." If you are open to special needs, be sure to state the specific special needs that you are open to such as mild CP, down syndrome, heart conditions, cleft lip/palate, limb differences etc.). It is always better to play it safe than to be stuck in a foreign country or unable to bring your child home while you wait for your homestudy to be updated! Also, if you think there may be a possibility that you will adopt more than one child, please be sure to specify that number in your homestudy so that USCIS can approve you for that number of children. If your I-171H says you are approved for 2 children and you decide to adopt a third at the same time, you will have to wait until your homestudy and your USCIS approval are updated before your children can receive a visa!

Once all of the paperwork is complete you will need to have everything notarized, county certified (this only applies to a handful of states), state certified or apostilled and in some cases it will need to be legalized by the Department of State in Washington DC as well as the Embassy of the country you are adopting from (this was the case for us when we adopted from Uzebekistan). Once the notarizing, certifying, apostilling and legalizing is complete, your dossier will be ready to send to the country officials in the country you have chosen. Once in the country you have chosen, the documents will usually be translated and submitted to the adoption authority in that country.

At this point, the adoption process begins to differ greatly depending on which country you are adopting from and so I will end this post here!!! Over the course of the next few days, I will discuss the different requirements, costs and processes of the many different countries open to international adoption. If you have any questions about the general process or would like to know more about a specific country, please leave a comment so that I can cover it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Domestic Adoption

Some of you may recall how we ended up "in the trenches of adoption." For those of you who are not familiar with "our story," our adoption journey began when our triplets, Maren, Lukas and Jacob, were born in January 2005. After a complicated pregnancy, I delivered our triplets via emergency c-section. Once the babies had been delivered, I began losing blood rapidly and the doctors, unable to control the bleeding, made the decision to perform an emergency hysterectomy to save my life. During my pregnancy, Richard and I were asked time and again if we planned to be "done" after the triplets. It did not take us long to decide that, no, we would not. We knew that there were more children who were intended for our family and we made the decision during my grueling pregnancy, that, at some point, the Rieben family would expand again. Obviously those dreams of bringing more children into the world ourselves were shattered with the news that this would no longer be possible. This news did not deter us however. We still knew that our family was not complete and so our hearts turned towards adoption. (For the more detailed account, please click here and here.)

We did not begin pursing adoption until shortly after the triplets' first birthday (up until that point we were very busy changing poopy diapers, preparing and serving bottles and trying desperately to catch up on our sleep) and, when we did, our pursuit was for the domestic adoption of a healthy infant through our church (the church "subsidizes" the cost of adoption for its members, charging only 10% of a couple's annual income, making the domestic adoption of an infant (which, on average costs approximately $20,000,) a very affordable option). Obviously the original path that we had chosen took a turn as the two newest members of our family were adopted internationally, were not infants (well, not newborns. . .Joshua was still considered an infant at 10 months old) and both have special needs, BUT we learned a lot along the way and I am happy to pass along information on all of the options domestic adoption has to offer!

First and foremost, there are many different "options" when it comes to adopting domestically. The most commonly pursued domestic adoptions are the domestic adoption of an infant (agency vs. private) and adopting a "waiting child" in the foster care system. I will spend most of my time today discussing these two options.

Domestic Adoption of an Infant

Each year there are approximately 30,000 domestic infant adoptions. There are essentially two different options when adopting an infant domestically. You have the option of enlisting the help of an agency or adopting privately with the help of an adoption attorney (unless you happen to live in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware or Massachusetts where private adoption is illegal). Of the 30,000 domestic infant adoptions that are finalized each year, approximately half of them are agency assisted and half of them are private. The following is a short description of each of these options and their general process:

Agency-assisted Domestic Infant Adoption

Private agencies have the ability to set criteria for who they will serve. Some agencies are more restrictive than others (an example of an agencies criteria might be "must be married a minimum of 2 years, cannot have more than 3 children currently in the home, single applicants not accepted). Once you have chosen an agency, you must first complete a homestudy (required for ALL prospective adoptive families regardless of whether you are adopting domestically (an infant or from foster care) or internationally). A homestudy is very literally a study of your home and family. If you are a very private person, this part of the process might be difficult for you as a social worker is required to look into every nook and cranny of your life! As part of the homestudy, most states require that prospective adoptive parents complete 30+ hours of adoption training. Families will also be asked to fill out a form specifying what you are looking for in a child (race, sex, healthy vs. special needs, which special needs you would be willing to accept, etc). Once the homestudy is complete, most agencies have their families put together a biography complete with pictures and a "Dear Birthmother" letter (this letter addresses the birth mother and essentially gives her information about your family, parenting style/philosophy, your thoughts on children and family, your hopes and dreams for her child, etc.). When a birth mother contacts the agency hoping to make an adoption plan, the agency generally presents her with several different family profiles to review and she then selects the family she feels will be the best fit for her baby. In most cases, once the baby is born and the mother has relinquished her rights, the adoptive family may take the baby home from the hospital. In other cases, the baby may come to them after spending a short time in foster care (this will differ from state to state, depending on what your adoption laws are). Obviously this is the very condensed and simplified version of the process, but it gives you an idea of what the process of adopting an infant through a private agency is like.

Private Domestic Infant Adoption

When a family decides to pursue the private adoption of an infant domestically, it is up to that family to locate a birth mother and develop an adoption plan (usually through the help of an attorney). How does one go about finding a birth mother? Many couples mail their adoption "resumes" to obstetrician's offices or adoption attorneys, advertise in newspaper classified sections, set up an adoption webpage or contact family and friends about their intentions to adopt a newborn in hopes of making a connection. Once the prospective adoptive couple and the birth mother connect, they generally sit down with an adoption attorney and set up an adoption plan. Many adoptive couples will provide food, housing and medical care for the birth mother during her pregnancy. In most cases the baby goes directly home from the hospital with the adoptive family. Again, an oversimplified description of the process, but it gives you a general idea of how adopting an infant privately works.

A few things to keep in mind when adopting an infant domestically:

  • Adopting an infant domestically through an agency, on average, costs between $15,000-$25,000. This includes agency fees, homestudy, counseling for the birth mother and prospective adoptive parents, medical expenses (for the birth mother and the baby), travel (if adopting an infant from a state other than your own) and foster care if needed. Adopting an infant privately typically costs between $7,000-$9,000 in legal fees for the adoptive and the birth parents, with additional fees including advertising, the homestudy, medical expenses for birth mother and baby, living expenses for the birth mother and travel (if adopting an infant from a state other than your own). Generally, private adoption of an infant ranges between $20,000-$30,000 with expenses typically being less predictable than adopting an infant through an agency.
  • Between the agencies criteria, the birth mother's preferences and your own specifications for a child, the length of time it takes to be matched with a child and complete the process can be lengthy. The domestic adoption of an infant on average takes between 1-18 months once the homestudy is complete.
  • The birth parents can change their minds at any point prior to their baby's birth or until the adoption is final. While statistically most birth parent's change their minds prior to the child's birth, many will decide to parent during their time in the hospital immediately following the birth. In some cases, a birth parent or relative will change their mind and decide to parent the child after the child has been placed in the adoptive home, but before the adoption is finalized (although the length of time a birth parent has to change their mind differs from state to state, birth parents generally have between 10 days and 6 months to step forward and decide to parent, so there is always a degree of risk involved).
  • If you are adopting an infant in another state, you must clear ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children). ICPC is an agreement between all 50 states and the District of Columbia that controls the lawful movement of children from one state to another for the purpose of adoption. Both the originating state (where the child was born) and the receiving state (where the child will live) must legally approve the child' movement before the child can leave the state. This is the case for ALL interstate adoptions in the US (infant and foster/adopt).
Adopting a Waiting Child from Foster Care

Foster care adoption involves adopting a child/children who are currently living in the foster care system. While most children who are adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents or relatives, there are still thousands of children waiting for their forever families in the foster care system. Here are some current statistics about foster care:

  • There are approximately 513, 000 children living in foster care in the United States. An estimated 114, 000 are currently available for adoption (meaning, parental rights have already been terminated).
  • In 2005, approximately 51,000 children were adopted from foster care.
  • 68% of people who adopt from foster care are married couples, 27% are single females, 3% are single males and 2% are unmarried couples.
  • The median age of a child in foster care is 10.6
  • Race/ethnicity of a child in foster care: 41% Caucasian, 32% African-American, 18% Hispanic, 1% Asian, 8% Other.
  • The average child in foster care goes through three different placements and stays in the system for nearly 29 months.
  • Each year, about 20,000 children age out of foster care.
Most children placed in foster-to-adopt homes are children who are deemed "legal risk" or likely to be available for adoption within a reasonable time frame. In these cases, you foster a child until parental rights are terminated and then you adopt (as long as there are not relative interested in adopting). There are also many children who are already available for adoption living in the foster care system (these children are generally older, sibling groups or have special needs).

The Process of Adopting from the Foster Care System

The first step in adopting from foster care is to locate an agency. In most states, the Department of Public Welfare or Department of Social Services (also known in many states as the Department of Job and Family Services), handles all foster care and adoption cases (you can usually find contact information on your state government's website). In some states, public agencies contract with private agencies to handle foster and adoption cases.

Once you have contacted the agency you must submit an application (this is where you will state your specifications regarding the child/children you are interested in having placed in your home) and complete your homestudy. As with infant adoption, adopting a child from foster care requires you to attend and complete "parenting classes." I often hear people say that, "anyone can have a baby, but to adopt you have to be "taught" how to be a good parent." Although some may roll their eyes (typically those who already have children in their home and feel they are experts in the art of parenting), I assure you that, parenting an adopted child, especially a child who has experienced physical or emotional abuse or trauma, is much, much different than parenting a biological child raised from birth (this will be addressed in another post because it is THAT important). These classes are important and will give you A LOT of insight into parenting a child who has been living in foster care. These classes typically take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to complete.

After you have completed your homestudy and required training, you wait for a child to be placed in your home (unless you are adopting a child who is already available for adoption, at this point you would be able to submit your homestudy to the child's case worker for consideration). Wait times vary greatly depending on your specifications for a child. Once a child is placed in your home you wait for them to become available for adoption. Once the child is legally available for adoption, the finalization process typically takes 6+ months. If you are adopting a child from foster care who is already legally available for adoption at the time of placement in your home, most states require that the child reside with you for 6 months until the finalization process can begin (this gives the child and the family the opportunity to make sure that the placement is a good fit).

A few things to keep in mind when adopting from foster care:

  • The fees to adopt from foster care are minimal to non-existent (most fees can be reimbursed following finalization), wait times can often be shorter than in private or international adoption (although this is not always the case), and there are many young children, toddlers and even infants, available for adoption (although wait times for younger children are generally longer). In many cases subsidies are available for the child's living expenses and medical care even after the adoption is completed (these subsidies generally must be applied for and approved PRIOR to finalization, however).
  • When accepting a "legal risk" placement there is always a chance that parental rights may not be terminated and the child may never become available for adoption. There are also many instances where family members step forward to parent the child when parental rights are terminated. When accepting a "legal risk" placement there is a great deal of emotional risk involved. Some families go through several placements before they are able to complete an adoption.
  • ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) is also a factor when adopting a child from foster care who is already legally free for adoption.
The following are some wonderful websites with more information on domestic adoption, both infant and foster care: