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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Obligatory Pickle Photos
Yes yes I know I have been slacking. But really this isn't for a lack of trying. I have been trying for 2 days to post photos of Pickle, but somehow I keep getting waylayed by a 2 year old. So here you go...

Saturday, November 18, 2006
How to select an agency
With all of my research tools in hand I began the hunt for an agency. I read agency site after agency site after agency site. I sent email requests for further information from those that I thought would work for us. I scoured internet message boards for those that had impeccable reputations. I sent inquiries to some of the bigger agencies. I received packet in the mail. Some were very simple. A few bits of information about the agency, a sample fee schedule. One agency even sent us this very professional packet with a DVD in it and everything. Slowly but surely we began to rule them out.

In the backs of our minds was this thing called accreditation. Sounded fancy and important. Little did we know how much of an impact this little word would make on our lives.

Fancy packet agency was Christian, but were not accredited.
Big Agency #1 had the highest fees out there.
Big agency #2 required families to fly to Pittsburgh to be interviewed before they would be accepted.
Big Agency #3 had a large application fee before ever being accepted.
Big Agency #4 never really told us what their fees were.
Local Agency #1 didn't do homestudies for our area
Local Agency #2 had a bad rep on the boards
We attended an info seminar for Local Agency #3. The lady who ran the seminar was new to the agency and didn't know anything about international adoption let alone Russia. She kept trying to push US foster care adoption. We walked out thinking we knew more about Russian adoption than the agency lady.

Then there was small agency #1. They were mentioned over and over on various message boards. There was never a negative remark about them. I used the contact form at Adopting from Russia and inquired about this agency. I got a nice reply from a few happy clients. The sung the praises of this agency. So I sent an inquiry to the agency. I asked for an info packet. The email I received back stated that they didn't send out info packets, but here were the answers to some of our questions. The contact invited us to join their weekly chat to talk with other families in the process. We made a date for that Thursday to see what this chat was all about. We still have a regular date every Thursday night a 6:00pm.

We were impressed with this agency. Their fees were reasonable, the director was nice through email, they were accredited, they only worked in Russia, they had an impeccable reputation, and what's more... they worked in Khabarovsk.

Any one who has read our story from the beginning knows that we have friends in Khabarovsk. CS's mom (and I) did some work with an organization called "To Russia with Love." They worked to send medical supplies to Khabarovsk post soviet. They did a type of exchange program with Doctors, business women and children's choir. Representatives from Khabarovsk came here for conferences to learn about the US style of business, practicing medicine and sharing culture. It is a part of my life I will never forget. Through that CS's mom hosted a doctor, a music director and became friends with the Russian woman who ran this organization. So to hear that we could be possibly be adopting our child from Khabarovsk was simply amazing to us.

CS and I scheduled a conference call with the agency director. She has a very thick Russian accent and for someone who is hard of hearing (me) she was difficult to understand. However, we got the gist that Russian adoption was not easy. She made that point very clear. Despite this we jumped in. We asked that she send us the formal application and once that was approved we signed the contract.

The agency we selected: Alaska International Adoptions. To this day we stand by our decision. We would not trust the process to anyone else. They are amazing!

What criteria did we use to select our agency?
  • Accreditation. This agency is directly accredited with the Russian government. No umbrellas
  • Upfront on costs. Olga outlined the fees and said they will not change once we signed our contract. They never did despite the fact that we had to make 3 trips.
  • Reasonable costs. Russian adoption is expensive. Very Very Very expensive. Our final adoption cost was close to $42K +. But remember we traveled to Russia 3 times. The 3rd trip tacked on close to $10K (with airfare, visas, hotel, food, and additional paperwork) The agency fees themselves were reasonable or on par with many of the other agencies
  • No huge upfront costs. We didn't pay any big money until we were back from trip 1.
  • Spotless reputation. AIA was the only agency out there we could find that didn't have a single negative comment.
  • Honesty. From day 1 Olga was honest with us. She told us it would be hard. She didn't lie. We trusted her with the life of our child. We have her to thank for the life of our child.

Up next: Live and Learn... the hunt for a social worker.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Go Buy Some Chocolate
I'll get to your questions and on with our adoption story in a minute. Right now we would like your help. Go on over to Sweet Hope and buy some chocolate.

While we were quickly realizing that international adoption was going to be expensive we were also realizing that we didn't have the money to complete the process. We researched way that people finance their adoptions. We found everything from simply saving for years, refinancing their home, 401K loans, fundraisers and grants. I will get to a full chapter on what we did, but for now I want to focus on grants.

This was another portion of my research. I hunted all over the internet trying to find grant organizations that we could apply to. THIS was the most comprehensive list I could find. It has nearly every grant and loan organization out there trying to help people finance their adoptions. In recent months the list has been updated and now has little notes that say if they are, what I will call, discriminatory. By this, I mean they are for people adopting through a certain agency, from a certain country, adopting children with special needs, or are a certain type of Christian. Out of this list of 50 or more grants CS and I qualified for 6. Six. That is it. We didn't use a Christian agency, we are not what you would call "born again" Christians, we felt we could not parent a special needs child and we were adopting from Russia and we live in Washington state. Of that list of 50, and of the 6 we qualified for (we applied to all of them) we received one grant. And it was a discriminatory grant. For Washington State residents only. We will be eternally grateful to IBSEN Adoption Network for their generosity.

As I was doing my research I got angrier and angrier. How could so called Christian organizations be so discriminatory? I understand it is to keep people honest and mainly because they just can't give money to everyone, but why on earth did I have to write my "salvation" story? As Lutherans we believe by grace we are saved through faith. It says it right there in the BIBLE!!! "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—" Ephesians 2:8. See! IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD!!! Why do I have to be broken down and born again? I don't get it.

CS and I made a deal. When we were finished with our adoption we would work to start a foundation that was non-discriminatory. People could apply without regard to race, nationality, or religious affiliation. Of course starting a foundation takes time and money. Neither of which we have right now. But we are willing to work.

We also held a fundraiser at Valentine's Day selling handmade truffles. I think we sold somewhere around 28-30 boxes of chocolates. I got email after email telling me how good they were. I have made these chocolates for years and get the same compliments. I also got emails asking me to sell them again. I can only stand making them so many times a year. They are labor intensive and they fill our refrigerators to the brim. (We make 6 varieties at a time)

We felt the time was right to start making chocolates again. They make fantastic gifts for the holidays or a little indulgence for yourself. I thought about just pocketing the money. My paypal account is a little slim after purchasing some upgrades to my computer and that cuts into my online shopping a little. But, seeing as it is the season of giving I felt it was more appropriate to follow through on the commitment we made when we started this journey. We want to help other people.

So we are inviting you, dear readers, to help families in need. This holiday season give the gift of Sweet Hope. Purchase some chocolates for someone and help raise money for an adoptive family. 50% of the proceeds of candy sales are going to be set aside to give as a grant to an adoptive family. The remaining 50% will go to purchase supplies for Simple Wishes Quilts and to buy graphics for adoptive family's blogs. (I give those away for free) You can also apply for Sweet Hope Financial assistance by visiting HERE. The deadline for chocolate orders is December 1st. We will be shipping chocolates on December 11th. The deadline for financial assistance is December 11th. We will be informing Grant Recipients on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006
How I went about researching Russian adoption
One of the first things CS and I did when we decided to adopt was to go buy a journal. We had grand intentions of journaling everything about our journey. We didn't know what the heck a blog was at the time. We agonized over a dumb journal. Eventually the journal would become a catch-all for my little tid-bits of stuff. I have our timeline written down, email addresses of people, quotes and verses I have found, and sure... a few journal entries thrown in there. I used it as a resource for things I found on the internet. I am pro at writing things down on little scraps of paper and losing them in the abyss of my desk.

I am (was) a stay at home wife. I worked when the mood suited me or someone called asking me to design them a garden. Mostly I researched. I spent nearly every free waking hour researching Russian adoption. I would type in Russian adoption, Russian orphans, international adoption, adoption grants, anything adoption related into google to find as much as I could. And would you believe it I never found a single blog. I did find all kinds of websites with info. I found FRUA, Adopting from Russia, lots of Yahoo groups, APRuss message boards (of which I don't suggest), websites by different families. Elizabeth Case is one in particular. If you haven't read her site do it. She explains (in graphic detail) exactly why you do your research about the country you want to adopt from AND the agency you select. I also found Karen's Adoption Links. This is linked on our side bar for a good reason. She has tons of info out there.

I was a reading fool. CS was too. He spent countless hours reading also. He would be at work and I at home and I would get an instant message with a link attached. This was my cue to read that page. I would do the same to him. (We still IM each other all day long) We wanted to be the most informed parents we could be.

I read info on the state of Russian orphanages, the life expectancy of Russian orphans, info about the process and what it entailed. It was only after we had exhausted nearly every resource on the internet that we finally decided that yes... Russia was for us. Once that decision was made I ordered the "Bible." It is the only book I suggest for people going through a Russian adoption. It is The Russian Adoption Handbook, by John McLean. I have read it over and over and over. I read it cover to cover in about a week after receiving it. And it is a pretty hefty book.

One of the things that I did as an ongoing research measure was to read about what could go wrong with a Russian adoption. What are the things that we need to be aware of and where could we avoid these pitfalls. We learned that you could lose a referral (happened to us), you could be asked for countless bits of paperwork (happened to us), you could have to complete an 8 doctor medical form (happened to us) and we learned that there could be unexplained delays (also happened to us).

At the time we started our adoption research things were moving fine in the world of Russian adoption. Unfortunately things were about to take a very wrong turn. In late 2004/ early 2005 the Russian government slowed things down to do yet another rework of the system. This is when they decided that orphans must remain on the databank for a longer period of time. Immediately this upped the age of our child. We were still hoping for a baby.

I spent hours reading posts on FRUA about this whole delay thing. What did it mean? Would it cause us any problems. This is when posts about reaccreditation started cropping up. At the time I didn't think anything of it. The handbook said that reaccreditation wasn't really that important. Of course they didn't say anything terribly negative about AMREX either and we all know how that worked out.

So set with our decision to adopt an orphan from Russia and knowing full well what we were getting ourselves into we started the hunt for an agency.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
To adopt or not to adopt
Adoption: a retrospective; part 1

Obviously adoption has always been a part of my life. Domestic and international. I am the domestic and I have quite a few second? cousins that are international adoptees from Vietnam, Korea and I think Cambodia. So the thought of adoption, even international adoption, was never out of the realm of possibility for us.

I do believe at some point I have posted our "infertility" story, but as usual I am too tired and mostly too lazy to go back and find it. So since it happens to be a part of the beginning of our adoption story you get to hear it again.

Somewhere around our 7th wedding anniversary we decided we wanted to start a family. This little tid-bit of information was kept to ourselves. We thought we wanted to be one of those couples that says, "surprise! We're pregnant!" Good in theory. The underlying part was that we didn't want the upcoming months to be filled with, "well... any news yet?" Oh how little did we know what would be in store for us in the next 3 years.

I made an appointment for my annual exam. This is a new doc to me since we now live in a new city. He was recommended by a friend who I trust. He delivered her 2 kids and she really likes him. We'll call him Dr. Uncaring. I proudly proclaim that we want to have a baby. His reply is that 80% of couples get pregnant in the first 12 months. OK. Off I go with a clean bill of health and the doc's "blessing" to get pregnant.

12 months later... nothing. Not even close. Although, I do think there were a few miscarriages in there. So back to Dr. Uncaring. Now he tells me that 90% of couples get pregnant in the first 18 months. I inform him that I am in alot of pain during my cycle. Pain not during my cycle and a whole host of other problems with me. He brushes them off and says, "well if you'd like to get your husband tested that would be great. Otherwise what you are describing for yourself sounds like endometriosis and we would do a laproscopic surgery to determine that. Here are some pamphlets. Let me know what you would like to do."

WTF? Surgery as a first option? Uh no. I come home to CS in tears. I place the sample cup he gave me in a drawer and we decide that we'll try 6 more months before starting any testing.

Sometime around October 2004 I was starting to get really discouraged. This whole TTC thing was really not working. We had discussed adoption in the past. I am so anti-doctor that I did not want to subject myself to being a lab experiment with tests, surgeries and medications. On a whim I did a google search for international adoption.

I came up with a fairly well known adoption agency. I started looking at their programs: China-too young, Vietnam-closed, Ukraine-too long of an in-country stay, Russia-...

At that moment it was like someone shoved me in the back and said, "I gave you your child. I put him in Russia." I knew at that moment where our path to parenthood would take us. Little did I know that it would take so long.

Up next... researching Russia. Is this for real?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Halloween fun
I decided to go back and read the post I wrote from October 31st last year. October was a horrible month for us. We hadn't been to see Sasha in 5 months and it looked as if there was no hope. This was the point in which we asked the question, "should we switch agencies?" That was a very little known fact about us. I remember sitting at our church for the annual Halloween party thinking that my child would be home then. Little did I know what plans were in stall for us.

This year was a little different. We had a subdued afternoon yesterday to prepare ourselves for the pandemonium that is our church halloween party.

For those of you who were wondering what costume I selected for Pickle it was the turtle. I can't remember if I ever said. So without further ado... here are our Halloween photos.
Established March 19, 2006