Monday, August 24, 2009

Memory Lane Monday- Deja vu?

While the original design of "Memory Land Monday" on this blog was to share adoption memories not previously shared publicly, I couldn't help but recall the following experience as I made the trip to the county courthouse and state capitol this week to have adoption documents county certified and apostilled. While we are still several months away from being "done" with this part of the process, remembering this part of the experience certainly made me excited about the day that we are, finally, DONE!

Monday, August 27, 2007


Hallelujah, our dossier is DONE! Well, it has been "done" in the sense that we have had all of the documents for the past three weeks, BUT, we FINALLY got approval from our agency to submit it without Evan's surname in the appointment request letter (For those of you who are in the dark about this "issue," in order to request a specific child from the SDA in Ukraine we must include certain information in our appointment request letter to enable them to locate the child's file. We were hoping to submit the letter with his first AND last names, but the director of the orphanage has been on vacation all month (along with everyone else in Eastern Europe) and we have been unable to get it). Rather than using his first and last names in our request we simply used the information that we had available (first name, birth date, city, orphanage) and are hoping that it will suffice (we will still ask the orphanage director for his surname and pass it on to our facilitator just in case the SDA is unable to locate his file with the information provided, however).

Now that I have confused everyone completely with senseless details, let me tell you about my day! On Friday Richard and I took the last of our documents to be notarized. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to run them by the courthouse to be county certified so I decided to add that to my "to do" list for today. I woke up bright and early this morning, got dressed, woke the kids, fed them, dressed them and finished gathering all of my paperwork. Thanks to my wonderful friend Stacey (seriously Stacey, you are FANTASTIC), I was able to run my countless adoption "errands" this morning WITHOUT my children in tow (they are too young to realize how happy they should be that I didn't drag them along for the ride, but I will be sure to tell them how lucky they were someday!).

I left the house this morning around 9 am. My first stop (other than to gas up the mommy mobile) was the Greene County Courthouse. Ohio is one of several states that requires additional county-level certification of documents. These certifications simply state the the notary who notarized your documents is in fact a notary commissioned in that county. I spent about 25 minutes at the courthouse and then hopped back into the mommy mobile with my newly certified documents and headed for Columbus (just over an hour away). Upon arriving in Columbus I proceeded to drive around for 15-20 minutes looking for a place to park. As luck would have it, I managed to find a metered parking space between my two destinations. . .as luck would NOT have it, I had somehow managed to walk out the door this morning WITHOUT my stash of quarters for the meter!!! After rummaging around in my purse, the cupholders, and the floorboards, I managed to come up with about 30 cents which bought me about 15 minutes. With no other options, I quickly said a prayer that the meter maids would skip over the street I was on and I started to head for the Franklin County Courthouse about 4 blocks away.

The Franklin County "Government Center" is an enormous building and I have to admit, after visiting the Greene County Courthouse earlier this morning (very small, very straightforward), I was slightly overwhelmed. The information I had found on their website had instructed me to go to the 23rd floor so I headed for the elevators. Now, I have to say, I generally enjoy a good elevator ride, but these were like elevators on speed. By the time I reached the 23rd flood (which probably only took about 3 seconds. . .seriously) my head was spinning and I felt like I was going to puke. For a minute I thought I had just stepped off an amusement park ride rather than an elevator. So, when I walked into the office labeled "Clerk of Courts" and was told I would need to go back down to the 3rd floor, I was less than thrilled by the thought of getting back onto the warp-speed elevators. I took a deep breath, stepped onto the elevator and held on for dear life. Eventually, with the help of several very helpful people, I found the correct office and was able to get my last two documents county certified.

Once I was done at the courthouse I headed back to the mommy mobile to see if I could scrounge up any more change (by this time the parking meter had been empty for a good 20 minutes), but alas there was no more change to be found. Again, I said a quick prayer that the meter maids would be on their lunch break and unable to hand out parking tickets and walked the 4 or so blocks to the Secretary of State's Office to have all of my documents apostilled. I have visited the SoS several times now, so this trip was old hat. I was in and out of that building (whose elevators, thank goodness, operate at normal speeds) in less than 15 minutes. Stepping out of that building I felt like a new woman. My paperwork was DONE!!! I could just feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time to celebrate as I needed to high tail it back to the mommy mobile before the meter maids came back from lunch. Heaven must've been smiling down on me today because thankfully, my windshield was free of parking tickets when I returned.

I made the drive home and relieved Stacey of her duties (really Stacey I cannot thank you enough. . .just thinking about dragging my children through the streets of downtown Columbus (and taking them on warp-speed elevator rides) makes my head spin. . .you really are FABULOUS) and then collapsed into a pile on my couch and took a few minutes to revel in the elation of having our paperwork DONE!!!

Unfortunately the director of our agency is on vacation this week (a very well deserved vacation I might add) so she won't be able to send our dossier off to Ukraine until next week, but really, I am just glad that it is done. I will be sending it to the agency tomorrow and then I will be throwing myself a little party! For some people, the "waiting" is the most stressful part of the adoption process. While I admit that it is hard to wait, it is probably the LEAST stressful part for me. No, my stress comes from having that paperwork sitting on my desk, knowing that it is still in my hands and that I am still in control of it. Once it is gone, out of my hands, and I have no control over the process, I actually relax a little and it is wonderful!

It feels SO good to be DONE!!!


We finally took a few steps forward in the adoption process last week! We started the week off by mailing our I-800A application to USCIS (with supporting documents and fees). Although I had looked over the application at least 100 times and had received the green light from our agency (who had also looked over the application for us), I still felt like hyperventilating as I walked out of the UPS store. The application was received and the check has been cashed and now we wait (a skill at which we have become quite proficient), with bated breath, to received our appointment to be fingerprinted (again) and ultimately, our approval (which we hope to receive without any delays).

On Tuesday morning we heard from our facilitator again. She had spoken with the Ministry of Justice who confirmed that the files had not yet been returned, but she instructed our facilitator to have us file a commitment application for our girls anyway. She informed us that the other agency had been contacted yet again with a demand that they return the files immediately. Our facilitator was also told that, if we filed a commitment application for these girls, as soon as they were returned to the Ministry, they would be given directly to our facilitator (rather than being given to another agency first). So, we spent Wednesday filling out paperwork and having it notarized and on Thursday morning, Lukas and Jacob accompanied me to have the documents county certified and apostilled (we had a great time and they were excited to be involved in the process of bringing their sister's home). By noon the documents were on their way to Sofia (scheduled to arrive this Thursday)!

While I am excited to finally be moving forward, I think I will remain cautiously optimistic until our facilitator has those files in her hands and the girls are officially placed on hold for our family. In the meantime, I am thanking my Heavenly Father for the progress that we have made and continue to look forward to watching His plan unfold!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Memory Lane Monday

For those of you who frequent my terribly neglected "Motherhood" blog, Memory Lane Monday's will likely sound familiar to you. Over the past few months, I have found that I often find comfort in the memories of our adoption journeys to our son's Joshua and Evan from Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Many of those memories have been recorded in the archives of this blog, but there are many of them that have yet to be publicly shared and so, throughout the course of our current adoption journey, I would like to take the opportunity to share some of those cherished memories with you.

In comparison to our current adoption, our adoptions from Uzbekistan (9 months) and Ukraine (5 months) progressed fairly quickly. As we were going through the process however, time seemed to stand still.

We first saw a picture of our son Joshua in March of 2007. I instantly knew that he was meant to be our son. From that moment on we moved at rapid speed to complete our homestudy and assemble our dossier, which we submitted in June (2007). As soon as we had completed our paperwork, time seemed to stand still. Every day seemed like an eternity and I spent most of the waking hours daydreaming of my beautiful baby boy and the day that I would finally hold him in my arms. That day could not come quickly enough.

(Our first picture of Joshua)

We finally received word in late September that I would be traveling to bring Joshua home in late October. The next month was a whirlwind as I made travel plans, moved my family to a new home and packed my bags for a two week adventure on the other side of the world. I could not wait to meet my son.

The day after we arrived in Uzbekistan, we (my step-father, facilitator and I) traveled by car to Samarkand, where Joshua's orphanage was located. Upon arrival we met with our translator (Sanat), checked into our hotel and then hurried off to meet with the "Mayor" (Hokim) whose signature would finalize our adoption. During my meeting with the Mayor he expressed concern that we had not met Joshua yet and asked that we visit the orphanage before he signed the adoption decree. It was already late in the afternoon and time was running short, so we crowded into the car and rushed to the orphanage. I was so anxious. The moment that I had been waiting for had finally arrived.

That first meeting lasted less that ten minutes. Once we arrived at the orphanage, we were invited into the director's office and a caretaker was sent for Joshua. She brought him into the room a few minutes later and placed him into my arms. He looked right into my eyes and held my gaze. A flood of emotions rushed over me. Love, excitement, fear, trepidation and relief all washed through me as I stared into Joshua's eyes. A moment later he was taken from my arms and we were rushing back across town so that the Mayor could sign the decree declaring Joshua our son. I would not see Joshua again for several more days (for the complete saga, please click here).

A few days later, we were back at the orphanage to pick Joshua up. I was so excited to take him from the orphanage. Walking out of those doors with my baby in hand brought with it a huge sense of relief. He was mine. . .forever. That first night was amazing. The following in an excerpt from a blog post following Joshua's "Gotcha" day:

"It was hard to sleep on Friday night because, after almost 8 months of looking at his picture and wishing I could hold him, love him and smother him with kisses, I was in awe that all I had to do was roll over and there he was, just inches from me! I laid there for hours just watching him sleep peacefully." (click here for the entire post)

(My sweet, sleeping, Uzbek angel the night I took him from the orphanage)

I have since spent many, many more nights watching him sleep peacefully and marveling at how much my Heavenly Father must love me to have blessed me with such an incredible little boy. Every time I watch him sleep I am reminded of the sweetness of this day, of this moment and I look forward to making similar memories with my girls. I know that when that day comes, as I am watching them sleep peacefully beside me, I will know that every stress, frustration and difficulty within this process will have been worth it a thousand times over.


Did you know that Bulgaria is one of the top producers of sunflower seeds in the world? As you can imagine, to be ranked 11th in the world in production of sunflower seeds, you can find, throughout Bulgaria, vast expanses of sunflower fields. Although I have not witnessed this for myself, the pictures I have seen are absolutely breathtaking.

(A sunflower field in Bulgaria)

Without realizing the connection to Bulgaria, we planted sunflowers in our garden this year and, after being blessed with their beauty (and symbolism) for the past several weeks I have decided that they are my new favorite flower (and that they will always grace my home and garden). As most of you are aware, the sunflower follows the sun from sunrise to sunset, continually seeking its warmth and light. Like the sunflower, we have continually looked towards the "Son," placing our trust and our faith in Him, throughout this adoption process, knowing that it is in our Savior, Jesus Christ that we find our comfort, peace and joy. On the tough days, I simply have to look out my window at the sunflowers, faithfully following the sun, to be reminded in whom I should place my trust.

This week we made a wonderful Bulgarian bread in the shape of a sunflower. It was fairly labor intensive, but it was fun to make and absolutely delicious. I have a feeling that this bread will grace our table for many special occasions.

Bulgarian sunflower bread

We have received the last documents needed to file our I-800A application with USCIS and we will be sending it on it's way first thing tomorrow morning! It is currently taking up to 90 days to process the I-800A application so we are grateful to finally be able to begin the process. We are praying that we will have the girl's files as well as the rest of our dossier documents by the time we receive our approval so that we will be able to submit our dossier immediately.

As of last week, the agency who has been in possession of the girl's files throughout the year, still had not returned them to the Ministry of Justice, despite being contacted multiple times (as of this evening, they were still listed on a US agency's Waiting Children's list, although we are hoping that simply means that they have not had the opportunity to take them down). Our facilitator was unable to get in touch with the Ministry today due to phone troubles, but we are hoping to receive an update on the status of the files tomorrow or Wednesday. Unfortunately, we were informed last week that, despite our desire to make an immediate commitment, two of the girls we have requested must be given to another agency before they will be given to our facilitator (fortunately our facilitator is next in line for "D" and will receive her file as soon as it is returned to the Ministry). We are disappointed that we will not be receiving the files of these two little girls, but we recognize that, if they are meant to be a part of our family, things will work out so that they will be. In the meantime, we have also informed our facilitator that we are open to learning about other children on the current waiting list and recognize the possibility that we have not learned of our other children yet. We are anxiously waiting to learn who will join "D" as the newest member(s) of the Rieben family. So, stayed tuned. . . .the best is yet to come!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When it rains. . . we stomp in the puddles!

It has been a stormy week in the adoption world, but we have our umbrella's out and our goulashes on and are trying our best to hold our heads high in the face of adversity.

On Monday morning we got the final thumbs up on our homestudy and were informed that the letter that needed to accompany the study to USCIS with the I-800A would be in the mail that afternoon. Unfortunately the elation that I felt with that news was short lived. About an hour later I received an update from our Bulgarian agency who explained that she had just spoken with the Ministry of Justice and had learned that, two of our girl's files were still with the original Bulgarian agency who had requested them. Before I go any further I should take moment to explain how the rotation of files is SUPPOSED to work in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice (the central adoption authority in Bulgaria) maintains a list of 700+ children who are older, special needs or part of a sibling group. All Hague-accredited US adoption agencies must work in partnership with a Bulgarian agency. Bulgarian agencies are allowed to request the files of up to 20 children at a time. Those files are then given to the Bulgarian agencies who have 2 months to try and find families for those children. They do this by sharing the files with their US partner agency (or agencies in some cases). At the end of the 2 month period, they must return the files to the Ministry of Justice who then gives them to the next Bulgarian agency who has requested them.

The Bulgarian agency that originally requested the files of two of the girls is one of the bigger agencies in Bulgaria and they work with several US agencies. Rather than returning the files of the children who they had not found families for at the end of their 2 month period, it appears as though they have simply been rotating those files between their US partner agencies every 2 months (after doing a few minutes of research I was able to find both girls listed on another agency's "Waiting Children's List"). At this time there is no monitoring system that the Ministry of Justice uses to keep track of when files must be returned, they simply trust that the agencies will abide by the rules that they have set, so, until our Bulgarian agency pressed to find out where the girls files were, the Ministry was unaware that the original agency was still in possession of them (and have been since the beginning of the year). Unfortunately, there is also no real penalty for not returning files in a timely manner other than not being able to request new files until the previous files have been returned, so this agency likely felt no pressure to return them. Our agency informed us that the woman at the Ministry who is helping with our case was quite upset that these files had not been returned and informed our agency that she would be contacting the other agency and sternly requesting that the files be returned. How soon that will be, we do not know, but our facilitator has been a strong advocate for our family and for our girls and she follows up with the Ministry every week. And, although I know that the Lord's timing is perfect and I have seen the "wisdom in the wait," it is still hard knowing that we could have had these files MONTHS ago and that our girls would be closer to coming home.

In addition to that news, we were also informed that, the file of the third little girl that we had requested (who is in the same orphanage as "D"), was at the Ministry but is incomplete and cannot be given to any agency until it has been updated and completed. We were also told that, once the file is complete it must go to the first agency that requested it before it will be given to our agency. This was possibly the most difficult news of all because we are ready to commit to this little girl TODAY. If we could do it without her file we would, but we have to wait until it is in the hands of our agency. So the thought of that file being given to another agency, who may or may not be able to find a family for her, is difficult to take. The thought of her sitting in an orphanage without a mommy and daddy to love her for two months longer than is necessary is heartbreaking. We have asked our agency to make one last plea to the Ministry to give us this little girl's file first because we are ready, right now, to make a commitment. We hope and pray for this little girl's sake that those pleas will not fall upon deaf ears.

The icing on the cake (yes, there's more. . .when it rains, it pours!) was learning Monday evening that there is a new Hague requirement for homestudies, effective immediately, which means that we must add an addendum to our homestudy before we can submit it to USCIS with our I-800A. We are hoping that this will be quick and easy (it is just one sentence clarifying our understanding of domestic violence and child abuse) and that we will still be able to send off our I-800A within the next week, but it is a speed bump that hit us hard on an already difficult day.

In the end, no matter how hard it pours, we simply raise our umbrellas of faith and know, without doubt, that our Heavenly Father's plan is perfect, that His timing is perfect, and that, the children who are meant to be with our family will be. Rain brings growth and, although weathering the storms can be difficult, we welcome the opportunity and blessing to be refined by our trials.

Not all things in the adoption world have been bad. In our quest to become more familiar with Bulgarian cusine we experienced this wonderful, rainy day, Bulgarian soup this evening. It definitely hit the spot!

Chicken Yakniya
(Chicken soup with tomatoes, green peppers and rice. . .FABULOUS!)