My five-year-old son tells people that his big sister came from the airport. We're trying to teach him that she's actually from Uganda, but I can see why he thinks she magically appeared at Hartsfield Jackson International one evening. I'm kind of glad that my sweet little guy has no idea what all was involved in creating that airport moment. Actually, I find that few people have any idea what families commit to when adopting a child.
International adoption isn't for everyone. Neither is older child adoption. It's expensive, exhausting, lengthy, intrusive, and has no guaranteed outcome. And according to the experts, we did everything wrong. They recommend using a reputable adoption agency. We adopted independently, having met our girl through a friend's ministry. With the benefit of hindsight, and months of agony thanks to a totally inept Ugandan lawyer, I'd say the experts were right about using an agency.
But you're definitely not supposed to disrupt birth order, meaning that the adopted child should be the youngest in the family. Our daughter was 12 when she came home, to brothers aged 16, 12 and 5.
You're also not supposed to artificially twin siblings through adoption. As you can see, we blew that one, too. My middle son was actually our biggest cheerleader throughout the process, and six months later, the "twins" get along well, with just a dash of healthy sibling competition.
Though we had the support of all our dearest friends, and most of our family, there were some who were very lukewarm to the entire thing. Thankfully, everyone is OK with it now.
When I outline all the things we did wrong, we sound like crazy rebels happily bucking the system. But the truth is, we had the courage to do everything "wrong" because we had deep faith that this was what we were supposed to do.
Even so, I tortured myself with the experts' advice while the process dragged out over two years, fretting over every little thing that could go wrong. And a lot of things did.
Fundraising was excruciatingly slow. Our attorney would go months without replying to emails or doing anything at all. The Ugandan courts closed for weeks, then reopened, then closed again before anything could happen. Our assigned judge got stuck on a lengthy tribunal, further delaying our court date.
Parenting from afar isn't for the weak-hearted. We communicated every few weeks via Skype and Facebook instant messenger, as much as we could understand one another. We mostly "spoke" with smiles and nods. Our daughter contracted malaria-not once, but three separate times-while we waited to come for her. Once, she was sick enough to be hospitalized.
We were constantly worried that she might die before we came for her. And she cried herself to sleep, worried that we'd never come.
But things began to improve. Incredibly generous friends donated the funds we still needed to travel. Our January court date was settled. We bought our tickets. We flew to Uganda.
And on a warm, balmy afternoon, in a jet-lagged haze, we met our sweet girl.
Her mile-wide smile and sparkling eyes stole our hearts, and all the stress of what we'd been through faded as we basked in the joy of hope fulfilled.
Sadly, instead of bringing her home as planned, we had to leave her. Due to factors out of our hands, one journey to Uganda ended up becoming three separate trips. The waiting during those last months felt completely interminable.
Finally, the embassy said "Yes" and a few days later, she clutched her new dad's hand as the jet rose up from the red African soil. 24 hours later, my youngest son bonded instantly to her with their very first airport hug.
I often tell people that we won the adoption lottery, because our daughter is funny, considerate, helpful and just about every beautiful thing a parent hopes her child to be. It's uncanny how well her personality melds with ours, as if she's always been here. That doesn't mean we've not had moments of conflict-of course we have. But despite the struggles, her adoption-this thing that we did totally wrong-has felt entirely right.
Older child adoption might not be for everyone. But I think it might just be intended for more families than those who ever consider it.
Kari Apted is a freelance writer, mother, wife, and blogger. You can find more at www.kariapted.com