Thursday, October 30, 2008

Busy few days!

We have so many updates! It has certainly been a busy few days!

The IAP (International Adoption Pediatrician) called Tuesday night near the end of Aaron's soccer game, so I ask if we could call him back in 8 minutes (in the event they didn't need to stop the clock, which of course they did). We sat in the car with the cell phone on speaker phone when we called him back. Good news! Everything looks good! He does have some minor needs, but the doctor helped us understand what the options are and how severe (or not as severe) they might be. Aaron and I were both really relieved and after the one hour phone call, we discussed it and decided that we had everything we needed to make a decision. Yes, we will pursue our application with this child, but it isn't a go just yet.

Here is the process after making a decision:

1. Fill out forms to tell Holt you wish to pursue the child

2. Wait to hear back on whether or not other families have requested the child's info. If other families are considering the child, they have 2 weeks to decide if they want to pursue the child's adoption as well. If so, they turn in the forms and we all wait for a committee date (Thursdays).

3. Schedule a phone interview with Holt's WCP (Waiting Child Program)

4. A committee of Holt's WCP meets to decide which family is the best match for the child. There is no first-come, first-serve when it comes to a child's future family. They do consult with each family's social workers and refer back to the phone interviews. If no other families are in process with the same child, the committee does still meet to confirm that the family is a good match.

5. After the committee meets, the families are contacted with the decision.

6. If we are approved, our match will be transferred to the Korea Program at Holt, and we will receive an official referral.

7. Once the referral is signed and returned, the immigration paperwork begins. At that point, though, the wait is only 3-6 months depending on the turnaround time of the various forms.

SO, we have several more steps to go. We completed the forms Tuesday night to tell Holt we would like to pursue this little guy's adoption. Wednesday, we heard back from Holt's WCP and there are two other families who have requested his information. LUCKILY FOR US, when asked if either family was ready to pursue his adoption, both families declined, so it's just us! The WCP just called minutes ago and scheduled our phone interview for next week. The committee meets next week as well, so HERE WE GO!

In addition, they have posted a note on his picture that reads "No longer accepting applications." This is a BIG relief! In any case, we would still prefer not to hear "Oh, you two will be chosen!" And I think this is partially for the same reasons most adoptive moms do not want to hear "Don't worry. As soon as you adopt, you'll get pregnant." There is no way to know. We would hope that there is nothing is our application which would suggest that we may not be ready to parent this little guy, but we still don't want to run out and buy a crib, register, etc. until we know for sure.

I-600A vs. I-600 Forms
There is a slight concern about our I-600A and I-600 forms since one is a pre-approval and the other is the regular approval. To make a long story short, each office around the US has slightly different policies, so we don't know if we should file only the regular approval form, both at the same time, or the pre-approval quickly (in case you need to file them in order). Luckily, an adoptive mom that we met from our training class saved the day and gave me an email for our office. Hopefully, we will hear back soon, so we know what forms to turn in and when regardless of the placement decision.

So all in all, everything is very exciting now. Our social worker is finalizing our homestudy paperwork, so it should be sent to Korea soon!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Little Bit of Korean Culture

On Saturday afternoon, Aaron and I explored Koreatown in Dallas off of Harry Hines and Royal. We have been told that the Korean population in Dallas is one of the largest in the southwestern US, so I was a little surprised when we managed to explore the entire area in only 2 hours. Aaron was suspicious of being able to spend the entire afternoon there, and he was right.

We started with the Ko-mart, the Korean grocery store. I didn't know what to expect as I have only visited Japanese and general Asian grocery stores. Aaron smelled something sweet, so we wandered up and down the aisles until we found a place in the store that makes soft tofu. We still think they were making crepes (or some type of pancake) because it certainly didn't smell like tofu (unless they add vanilla and sugar to soft tofu)! Since we had plans to stick around the area until dinner, I didn't pick up anything that needed to be kept refrigerated or frozen, so I resorted to green tea flavored noodles, a few types of candy that looked interested, kimchi flavored dried squid, a few Japanese drinks (will add more on this later), and persimmons!

Here is the interesting thing, everything you can find in the Japanese grocery store is in this Korean grocery store! I know there is some overlap in the fruits and dishes, but they even had Japanese brands and items that say "Japanese style [insert the type of food here]." Everything from noodles (udon, ramen, soba) to snacks (dried squid, pocky sticks, candy, green tea ice cream). I expected to see foods that weren't originally Japanese, such as gyoza (dumplings), but I now wonder how much Japanese cuisine influenced Korean cuisine and vice versa. I'll let you know as soon as I try a few things in the next month or two.

I was told that there were curio and book stores in the area as well, so we drove up and down the nearby streets looking for Korean writing. It helped that Aaron knows how to read a little Hangul (Korean characters), but he couldn't read it fast enough to know where to stop. Instead, we just pulled into nearly every shopping center and looked around. I was a little disappointed that we didn't find any stores with Korean items made in Korea, and when we did find a bookstore, we realized it was a Christian bookstore. They did have several novels translated into Korean, but most of the gift items were heavily Christian. I was hoping to find a cute poster with the Hangol characters for the baby's room, but I can order it on Amazon if we can't find one in Korea.

By 4pm, we had stopped by every store we could find and still were not hungry enough to eat dinner. A friend had recommended Seoul Garden, which I think is a Korean BBQ place. Instead, we decided to gradually make our way home and try the Korean BBQ place in Richardson. There's a strip of Asian restaurants and a grocery store off of Greenville (between Beltline & Arapaho) that we generally visit for Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. The Korean BBQ place just opened in the last few weeks in the middle of this shopping center, and it meant we were 30 minutes closer to home (which Aaron liked).

The food was great! The restaurant is split into 2 sections: a large dining room with regular 4-person tables and a small dining area with Korean BBQ grills built into the center of the tables. Aaron opted for the BBQ seating and liked the 2-person BBQ special since it meant trying 3 dishes and cooking it ourselves. I let Aaron choose since it took me a while to navigate the menu. We ended up trying Bulgogi (marinated beef), Pork Bulgogi (pork but with diff. seasoning), and a spicy chicken dish (can't remember the name). I was surprised that Aaron chose the chicken, and it worried me that the waiter even mentioned that it was spicy to get approval before placing the order. I think we must be accustomed to Indian-style spicy food because the chicken didn't take hot at all. The beef was fairly sweet and nearly reminded me of a type of teriyaki (also has soy sauce and sugar). The pork had a dipping sauce with salt, pepper, and something else that Aaron really liked. By the time we cooked the chicken we were stuffed!

Now we did try kimchi, and I'm sad to say that I couldn't develop a taste for it. I nearly picked up some kimchi at Komart, but I thought it might be safer to try it first. Luckily, we know have three dishes I can try to make at home thanks to online recipes. If I can manage the bulgogi recipe I found, I'll fix it as a side dish for Thanksgiving. It would be nice to have a Korean dish at our big family meals. Hey, if my family can handle papad (Indian lentil crackers) with our Thanksgiving, a little Bulgogi won't hurt! :-) I think we're planning to return to the same restaurant sometime with our families and try a few more dishes!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Still waiting but maybe a step closer...

I know that I said we wouldn't discuss the Waiting Child reviews, but several people have asked. (I didn't realize there were many people nearly as anxious as us!) After we applied for the Waiting Child (WC) program, we received medical records and pictures (yes, pictures) on three boys. After a long weekend of discussion and many new medical terms learned, we declined two of the referrals due to medical needs that we felt were far beyond what we could provide as first time parents. On the third child, we didn't feel the medical needs were nearly as extensive as we first thought, and after talking to our social worker (SW), we requested a video for clarification on a few things.

Nearly 4 weeks later (and many phone calls/emails to Holt), we haven't heard back on whether or not the video will be coming. :-( We originally asked for a video of the baby in general but also stated that it would be great if they could videotape his monthly doctor's appointment (also where they assess his development). Since Holt-Korea is not directly related to Holt (in the US), our agency can only go by what they have been told, which at this point is... nothing.

Well, I should take that back. We DID get an update about 1-2 weeks ago. As I was leaving for class, I got an email (labeled UPDATE) with two attachments. Before I rushed out the door, I forwarded the email to Aaron. When I got back, I check my email (no response from Aaron) and then quickly opened the file attachments. The first was a letter from Holt asking for our confirmation of receipt (same as the first batch of medical reports). The second was a .pdf with positive results of a check up unrelated to the medical needs about which we were hoping to learn more. The situation was a little funny, but we were glad to know how thorough the Korean doctors are!

So now that it has been several weeks and the baby's first birthday is approaching, we starting to get a little attached and a little less concerned about the medical needs. Our plan was to wait on the video and then take the medical records, pictures, an MRI (on CD), and the video to an International Adoption Pediatrician (IAP) for a consultation on this child. IAPs are required by some agencies to accept a referral and among those that do not require one, an IAP is still strongly recommended. They have more experience with the medical records from various countries and can decipher some medical terminology generally not used by American physicians. When we first discussed this child with our SW, she suggested that we have our IAP consultation while we wait on the video and just forward the video along once it is received. Aaron thought it made more sense to wait on the video. Now we're thinking that the consultation may be a good idea, especially if there is something we missed in our original review.

After getting feedback from several families who have been in our situation, I called our IAP and asked what he preferred. He saw no reason to wait, espeically since we can have as many consultations as we need (at no additional charge) until we return with the baby. So on Friday, I drove to his office and dropped off everything we have so far. We should expect a phone call from him sometime next week, and from there, we can determine how much more (if any) information we need to make a decision. In the meantime, the wait for the video is a little more bearable.

Oh and I nearly forgot: Our homestudy is done! Well, our SW is waiting to hear on our decision for this child. If we choose to adopt a waiting child, she needs to write an approval in our homestudy for his particular medical needs. If the homestudy is completed before we decide (which would be the case if we do not accept this referral and wait for another), the homestudy needs to be updated and re-sent to Korea. So once we decide, regardless of our decision, our homestudy will be ready to send to Korea.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In Memory of Masayuki Akimoto

Last week after what appeared to be a promising recovery from a horrible stroke, my ojisan (uncle) Masayuki Akimoto passed away in his sleep. Masayuki Ojisan was the oldest of six brothers in my mother's family, but as he aged, he looked more and more like her father (my grandfather) as you can see below.

(Masayuki Ojisan on far left)


I spent the most time bonding with my family in Japan from the time I was born until I was about 3 years old. Ten years ago, we visited Japan for 17 days, but my loss of the language meant communicating through my mom or through gestures. Even so, this was a short trip, and I spent most of the time with my cousins who spoke a little English.

When I returned to Japan this year for my fieldwork research on Japanese summer festivals, I spent as much time with family as I could. Masayuki Ojisan, by this time, had had a stroke and was in a hospital left sitting in a wheelchair with one hand paralyzed and the other in a glove to stop him from pulling out a feeding tube. We were warned that he most likely would not respond to our presence and could barely speak. He looked up at my mother with sad eyes as she spoke to him softly in Japanese. This was very hard on my mother who visited him less than one year ago when her second oldest brother passed away from pancreatic cancer.

With dictionary in hand, I waited patiently to say a few basic phrases in Japanese, but nothing in my dictionary could prepare me for Masayuki Ojisan's reaction to me. I could not tell if this was due to my long absence or some other thought I could not read, but when my mother pointed to me and whispered my name, tears streamed down his face while he nodded. Needless to say, all of us were in tears.

On our second and last visit to the hospital, he looked at up my mother from a hospital bed and stared at her while she spoke to him. When she pointed to me this time, tears streamed down again, but this time he whispered my name. I asked how to say "Take care and get better" in Japanese and repeated this over and over.

We were in hopes that his release from the hospital was a good sign of his recovery, but Masayuki Ojisan passed away last week in his sleep late last week. I will always remember him as a hardworking man with a kind heart, and although we cannot return to Japan for his funeral, I hope my prayers at my altar at home with reach him and his family.

“Death is a part of all our lives. Whether we like it or not, it is bound to happen. Instead of avoiding thinking about it, it is better to understand its meaning. We all have the same body, the same human flesh, and therefore we will all die. There is a big difference, of course, between natural death and accidental death, but basically death will come sooner or later. If from the beginning your attitude is 'Yes, death is part of our lives,' then it may be easier to face.” - Dalai Lama

Monday, October 6, 2008

Welcome Family & Friends!

After viewing many adoption blogs and attempting to keep everyone up-to-date by phone and email, I thought it might be easier to share this information with our very own adoption blog.

Yes, we are in process through Holt International to adopt a baby boy or girl (or sibling group) from Korea. Based on our age, we are only eligible for a child under the age of 2 years old, but most children upon arrival to the US are approximately 10 months old. We are not (and cannot) give preference to one gender over another, so you'll notice that we are decorating slowly with a gender-neutral theme of animals and puzzles (more later). Although we did state that we are open to a "sibling group" (which is most often twins since both children must be under 2 years old), we have been told that this is very rare. Even so, we'll be prepared in case we are bringing home 2 instead of 1. :-)

In addition, we are eligible for the Waiting Child Program (WCP), and due to this parallel program involvement, we may be receiving a child referral much earlier than we originally anticipated. The WCP is a separate program which finds families for children with any form of medical condition (from small birthmarks or prematurity to more significant needs, such as down syndrome). It is important to note two things: 1) Families indicate which needs and the level of severity they believe they can handle before any child is referred and 2) Holt's WCP staff choose the best family for the child with his/her needs. We thought originally that we were not eligible for this program, but after a small website mistake, we were considering the program once again after our social worker (SW) mentioned something during our first interview. Aaron and I sat down for nearly two hours researching the needs on our checklist and making decisions carefully as to what needs we thought we could meet as first time parents (with little experience in some of these medical conditions). Yes, we did say "No" to the more severe conditions, such as Down Syndrome, but said "Maybe" to generally minor conditions, such as birthmarks and prematurity.

I have included a timeline that will hopefully provide a general indicator of where we are in the process, but here is the summary:
1. Application
2. Homestudy (HS)
3. Wait for Referral (both in regular Korea program or WC Korea program)
4. Review Referral (includes consultation with International Adoption doctor if considering a WC)
5. Accept Referral
6. Wait for Legal Paperwork from Korea
7. Process Visa Applications & Other Paperwork
8. Wait for Travel Call (TC) For Approval to Travel to South Korea
9. Travel to South Korea (at least 3 business days)
10. Return Home with New Family Member
11. Post-Adoption Interviews by SW (6 months after returning home)
12. Finalization of Adoption (Celebrate US Citizenship!)

At this time, we have already completed our part of the Homestudy (HS) and have already received referrals from the WCP. I should probably explain that the WCP referrals begin arriving much earlier but require more research, thought, and MD consultation before we can make a decision. The standard Korea program will not begin sending referrals until approx. 10/2009, but these referrals are generally accepted more quickly as there are no known reasons to decline the referral. That being said, we did not apply with the WCP to adopt faster. The decisions are much more difficult, but we could not justify declining the entire program when there are such minor needs that we feel we can meet. We firmly believe that you do not have a choice of "acceptable needs" when you give birth to a child, but at the same time, we do not anticipate putting a child's future at risk if we are not a good match.

Thus far, we have reviewed some files and have made the difficult decision to decline some referrals due to medical needs we thought we could not handle after all. It is difficult to make a decision when a child's name and picture is disclosed, but we're both careful not to get too attached until we can make an objective decision. For this reason, we won't be disclosing detailed information of our decisions until we are formally placed with a child, either through the WCP or standard Korea program. (Then, you'll see pictures, details, and daily posts!)

In the meantime, we're having fun spending time with other people's children as our hands-on practice; reading some of the MANY useful resources we have on adoption, Korean culture, and parenting; and slowly getting our home ready for a new family member(s). We have most of the baby's room cleaned out, although we need to make a delivery at Good Will or schedule a pick-up. Also, after a remark Aaron made about not knowing where some of these Asian countries are we have been studying, I picked up a World Map puzzle that we've decided to frame and use to decorate in the baby's room. We spent the weekend (Sept. 20-21) putting together the puzzle and now know where these countries are! (Yes, we did know where South Korea was!) Aaron made me laugh when he turned down the puzzle display and said we would figure this out without the map. I must say, I had no idea where most of the countries in Africa were, and Aaron was suprised by the exact location of many islands. It's sitting on our dining room table now, so we need to quickly find a frame before the cats help us start all over again. :-)

I hope this blog will answer many of the questions and keep our family and friends posted! I promise future posts will be much shorter!

Thank you all for your support and love!

Caption: Aaron & Lucy work on the puzzle while I break to take pictures.

Lucy is especially helpful!

Caption: Aaron installs the over-the-toilet cabinet for the baby's bathroom. I insert my 2 cents-worth by asking, "So how do we get the CD tower out from under the cabinet once it's bolted to the wall?" :-)

Oh and it looks like Kobe & Lucy will be quite involved in all of our projects!