As we’ve previously mentioned: November is National Adoption Awareness Month. In the spirit of bringing awareness to adoption, our agency mission and the successes of families we serve — we are filling our blog with guest stories throughout this month. Chrysalis House, Inc. believes in the power of sharing experiences and in learning from the stories of others. We present this series, realizing the words might be the insight that an adoptive family, adoptee or birthparent is searching the internet for!
Our sincerest thanks to the families who have put their lives into words. We are still accepting submissions through the month of November! Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please enjoy the story of a family’s: Journey to the Philippines and Back Again. In the event you wish to discuss our Philippines program, please contact the office at 559.229.9862. Qualified families throughout the United States can access this international program.
John and I were married in 2006 and began the adoption process in December 2009. After attending an orientation at Chrysalis House, we decided to pursue an international adoption from the Philippines. John is half-Filipino and has a large extended family both here in the United States and in the Philippines. We thought sharing a heritage would help a child’s adjustment to a new country and had one to two children up to age six in mind.
The international application is daunting. The application makes you reflect on your childhood and life experiences. Going through old tax returns and credit card statements is tedious. After parenting classes, psychological testing, medical evaluations, background checks, fingerprinting and more, you begin to wonder whether you’ll qualify to be a parent.
John learned the hard way that the Philippines is serious about the physical requirements. He is an active guy in his mid-40s who was not overweight. In fact, his Body Mass Index (BMI) was within the Philippines’ acceptable parameters. After a physical in 2010, however, John’s doctor put him on high blood pressure medication. In July of 2011, the Philippines placed our application on hold and told John he needed to lose 10% of his body weight based on his BMI and history of high blood pressure. (Thank God they didn’t tell me to lose weight!) John lost the weight over two months and the Philippines went forward with our application.
Many months later, we were finally approved for referrals of available children. The first referrals we received were “hard to place children.” I looked these over before John not expecting to find an appropriate match because most of the children had special needs we couldn’t meet as we both work full time. As I read over the heartbreaking stories of the children who needed a home, I came across a sibling group of three older children; two boys and a girl, ages 8, 10, and 11. This was not what John and I had discussed or even considered, yet I knew almost immediately these kids were for us. I showed John the information and, after careful reflection, we were both all in. We had to amend our application as to the number and age of children we’d been approved to adopt and endure still more bureaucracy, but we’d found our family.
About a year later, it was time to go get our family from Manila. That last year of waiting was the hardest. Picturing them growing up while the months passed was difficult. We wondered how they received our photo album and what they were thinking. Then, all of sudden, we were at the Mandarin Oriental in Manila. We arrived a day or so early to get the lay of the land. We were as ready as we were ever going to be.
Everything we had been told led us to believe we would go meet the children and spend some time together over a few days before taking them with us. On the drive to the orphanage, however, the Filipina Social Worker told us we’d be taking the children that day. That moment of truth made my stomach sink. All the anxieties and fears that I’d been repressing hit me at once. Did we do the right thing? Are we qualified? Will they like us?
We arrived at the orphanage which was not at all what Americans typically envision. It was warm, cheerful and home to many children. The next thing I remember is our youngest greeting us with the traditional “Mana Po” which is where a child places their parent’s hand to their forehead as a sign of respect and love. Words can’t really express the overwhelming emotions running through us. The other children both greeted us next. They showed us their home for the last six years and we sat down to a celebratory spaghetti lunch. John and I had so many questions for the house parents, but were so overwhelmed we forgot to ask most of them. As we were still talking with the orphanage staff, the kids climbed into the back of our taxi – they were ready to go.
We took them to the hotel and spent the next week exploring the area and teaching the kids how to swim. It was surreal being in a foreign country with three kids we’d just met who spoke a different language. Before we knew it, we were on a plane flying from Manila to San Francisco. The kids already had many firsts – first time in a hotel and first time in an airplane. After eleven plus hours in the air, we made it to San Francisco. The last hurdles were customs and a three hour drive home. Finally, at 1:00 a.m., we made it home.
The next few months were a whirlwind. Time seemed to go by quickly and stand still all at once. Getting to know three kids and establishing trust on the one hand and setting boundaries and being a role model on the other is a tall order. John and I struggled as all parents do with whether we were making the right decisions; we started calling ourselves “Parents of the Year” to make light of some things that we would now do differently. The kids started school two weeks after we arrived and were placed right into their corresponding grades. They adapted amazingly well especially considering all the adjustment and English being their second language.
The family bonding has progressed wonderfully. We don’t speak our children’s first language. They were learning English in the Philippines, but were far from fluent when we met them. We became really good at reading non-verbal cues. We didn’t push and decided to just let the conversation come naturally. Even though we wanted to just hug and kiss our kids all the time, we respected their boundaries and have gradually incorporated these displays of affection.
The kids seemed to adapt so well it was deceptive. One experience made us mindful of the incredible adjustment. Our elementary school had a father daughter dance about six weeks after we got home. Our daughter, by all appearances, wanted to go. My mom and I bought a great dress. Right when it was time to go to the dance, I found her sitting on the edge of her bed with tears welling in her eyes. It became clear she had been trying to please us and do what she thought was expected, but it was too much too soon. I reassured her she didn’t have to go to the dance and told her to change her clothes. All five of us then watched her favorite movie; it was an important bonding moment.
Our kids are going through different stages of homesickness; they miss the Philippines and their friends. Time is helping the adjustment process. The kids are making friends at school and are able to keep in touch with their friends in the Philippines through the computer.
It has been a little over seven months since we met our kids. We have had four post-placement social work visits and the Philippines recently consented to the adoption. We know our choice is not for everyone (and certainly not for the faint of heart). For us, it was meant to be.
***We’ve chosen to change the names of stories running in this series, to preserve privacy and confidentiality to our fullest ability.