Thursday, January 14, 2016

the homecoming

Where do I even begin to tell the story of how Sweet Clementine came to join our family in our home?

I imagined it happening in a thousand ways, but I never imagined it this way.

As you may remember, minutes after delivering Oaklee, I opened an email from our adoption agency with disheartening news: Clementine had TB. (Full details from that day here.) I had a hard time reconciling my emotions as my newborn baby girl was cleaned and scrubbed in the cleanest of hospital rooms while my other baby girl was experiencing major health issues due to inadequate health procedures in a developing country.

She received treatment while we continued to wait and pray for a passport and an actual visa, then an elusive Exit Letter. (We learned that we had passed our I-604 investigation on the same day Oaklee was born and the same day we learned of Clementine's TB, but Clementine still had to have a visa interview, a medical evaluation, and a passport in order to receive her visa. Not to mention the fact that DRC was not--continues not to--issuing Exit Letters to adopted children.)

On the morning of Saturday, October 31, I received notice that DGM (the office in DRC that issues Exit Letters) requested a list of medically fragile children from the Embassy in Kinshasa. We had two hours to get Clementine's info on that list. Specifically, DGM was looking for a list of children with medical issues that were life-threatening and untreatable in DRC. I knew TB was treatable in DRC, but I also knew it wasn't treated as well there as it would be in the US. That said, while we wanted to get her the medical treatment she needed (and we wanted to get her home!), I did not want to take the time and attention of the Embassy and DGM away from children who were truly FRAGILE for medical reasons. I checked with other waiting families to be sure that our submission of Clementine's TB case would not distract from other children who were sick and potentially dying, and I was given the green light from those families.

I submitted her information to the Embassy and waited for next steps. The Monday following the request for info from medically fragile children, we learned the amazing news that 72 children (not medical cases) would be joining their families soon. With that news, however, we received the devastating news that DRC's commission that was reviewing files for Exit Letters had quit reviewing files, meaning no other children would join their families without a vote on new adoption laws. (Full post about that here.)

We weren't sure where to go with all of the news on Monday, so we dealt with it internally (or externally, sometimes) while we waited for more news.

One piece of good news came while we waited: We received Clementine's passport! This was huge for us, as our file at DGM would not be considered complete without it and a visa.

Meanwhile, we received word from the Embassy that we should gather three medical reports from different doctors in DRC to submit to DGM with our medical file. The medical reports should state that her medical issues were untreatable in DRC. We knew that defining TB as "untreatable" was a long shot, as it could be treated in DRC (just not well, in my opinion). Our agency's rep, who lives in DRC, was able to get her to her medical appointments, and doctors wrote up a report stating that she had a condition that could not be treated in DRC. It turned out to be a kidney condition, and it might have been a result of the TB. They said it would require surgery outside of DRC because of the lack of equipment in DRC. That was something. (Details here.) We waited and prayed for favor from the people who reviewed her files (and the files of a few friends of ours who had also submitted for medical exit letters).

Soon after receiving the medical reports, we learned that Clementine had completed her medical evaluation for the Embassy in order to receive her visa. She would have a visa interview the following week and hopefully receive her visa a few days later. (Details here.)

Clementine went in for her visa interview on December 9 with two other children who were also related to our agency. They were pursuing medical exit letters, too. We received word that the interview went well, but the Embassy might have a problem with the TB aspect of her medical report. (The US is allowed to block people with TB from entering the US unless it has been treated for a certain amount of time or shows up clean on chest X-rays.)

We hoped and prayed it wouldn't create a problem for Clementine to get her visa. I even began emailing the State Department and my senators to help us deal with the issue and/or find special exemptions for TB visas if needed. It seemed absurd that the very medical issue that could allow Clementine to come home might be the very thing that kept her from entering the US. I even told the Embassy I'd live in Italy while she received treatment and became clear...just give her a chance to get out of DRC while the door was jammed open for a bit!

One family received word that DGM had promised their daughter a Medical Exit Letter, and within hours they were on a plane to DRC to get her and bring her home! (They already had travel visas ready to go.)

The other family whose daughter went with ours to their visa appointments received word the next week that her visa was ready, and when their file was submitted to DGM they were promised a Medical Exit Letter. They sent in their visa requests to be able to travel to DRC to get her as soon as possible. Learning of this, we sent our visa request in, too, just to be sure we were ready to travel if we received the promise of a medical exit.

Simultaneously, I messaged the family who had recently received the promise of a Medical Exit Letter to see if they would be willing to escort Clementine home, provided we miraculously received her visa, an Exit Letter and the blessing of DGM for someone to escort her home. We still have a nursing baby at home and would wait at least 13 days to receive our travel visas, so it was worth a shot to see if they could be allowed to bring her home sooner than we would have been able to do so (and to forgo the pump-and-dump scenario that would play out for over a week if I had to travel to Africa). They were willing, and we wrote up an Escort Authorization on the off chance that DGM would consider it after also considering giving her a medical exit.

We had the Escort Authorization translated into French by our dear friend Jeffrey Karr, who has been a HUGE help throughout this adoption when we've needed translations quickly. (The guy is as selfless and clutch as it gets!) I then sent out an urgent request via Facebook for the services of a Notary, and a man and his wife from our church pulled through and met us early before church during the great torrential rains and flooding of December 27 in order to notarize the Authorization. I needed to send the documents to our agency reps to have in hand when they submitted our final documents while the family was (hopefully) still there.

In short, we did a lot of planning ahead of time, JUST IN CASE. We threw a lot of Hail Mary Passes, JUST IN CASE. We called and emailed a ton of people, JUST IN CASE.

We kept hearing that Clementine's visa would be issued when the Embassy medical report was returned by the clinic that created it. The Embassy said it needed to be corrected. I emailed the Embassy often, then began calling them to see if they could call the clinic and check on the status of her report. Finally, I received an email stating that Embassy staff had spoken with someone at the clinic, and they had told staff that the report would be ready "tomorrow." I called the Embassy early on December 28 to check on her visa status again, and after leaving a message on a machine at the Embassy I checked my email a few hours later (in the middle of the night) to see that her visa would be ready for pickup the next day (Tuesday, December 29) after 2 PM.

The other family was still there, and they were SELFLESSLY waiting to see if Clementine could come home with them and join us. I cannot even tell you how amazing this family is!!

I notified my agency, who notified the reps in DRC, who then picked up the visa and dropped them off at DGM to complete her file. We weren't told anything official, but the reps felt good about the possibility that Clementine would get a Medical Exit Letter.

The other family had their daughter with them, and they have a son who must remain in DRC because his court paperwork has taken forever (heartbreaking!!). Clementine would go with them the next day, as her foster mamas requested to have her with them another day to clean her up and do her hair.

At this point in the process, it hit me hard: These nannies were saying goodbye to their dear little Clemence. I cannot express to you the amount of sadness I felt for them, even as I was hoping it was true. They love her so much, they have been so much to her, and they had to say goodbye so quickly. I know it is best for her to have a forever family, but I am still so sad for them and for her. It is a scenario I hadn't imagined until that point, and it was devastating.

Meanwhile, the escort family was making travel arrangements, looking at flights to come home and bring Clementine with them. It still felt like a long shot, but it also felt a little bit like hope. Flights were booked for New Year's Eve, with the small hope and chance that she would be given the green light to come home with them by then.

The family who had traveled to DRC still had not received the Medical Exit Letter by the end of the day Wednesday, and we were told that it was because they pushed back their appointment with DGM so DGM could review their daughter's file and Clementine's file at the same time. This was a bit unnerving, because we assumed DGM would close early on Thursday, New Year's Eve, and remain closed for a long holiday weekend. They still didn't have an appointment time by the end of the day Wednesday.

Thursday was a long day. We hoped to hear something early in the morning, as we believed the office would close around noon (5 am our time). I drove to my parents' house later that morning with a huge lump in my throat and a heavy soul of weariness weighing me down.  I was supposed to drop off Oaklee and go get some quick shopping done without my kids, but instead I just sat on their couch and stewed.

I was physically sick, my heart was sick, and I had just received a message from the family in country: The husband had gone with the agency reps to DGM to show them the flight information for their flights which were leaving that night. He was literally going to beg for the Exit Letters that had been promised because DGM was telling our rep (who is AMAZING, by the way) that they would not give the promised letters. Our rep sent for the husband so he could prove that everyone's plane tickets had already been bought.

Things did not look good. DGM had promised Exit Letters that did not seem to be coming to fruition. The family was going to beg, and I did not see that ending well. I was a mess.

After an hour of feeling sorry for myself and waiting for more news, I left my parents' house to get the teenager who has been staying with us (who had stayed with his brother in town the night before). We stopped in Panera for a couple of Frozen Mochas (my drink of choice), and while I waited in line I anxiously checked for a status update from the escort family in DRC on their private adoption page: "We are coming home!!!!!! Praise God!!! Thank you so much for your prayers!!!"

WHAT!?! It took everything in me to not lose it right there in line at Panera. I didn't have confirmation that Clementine was included, so I rejoiced with them and asked for clarification. With all of the hubbub of them packing up and trying to catch their flight, I didn't receive confirmation until several moments later, after I got home to Brad (with other friends who were there to vaccinate our cow, for goodness' sake). "YESS!!!! Same flights."

SHE WAS COMING HOME.

SHE WAS COMING HOME THAT NIGHT. SHE WOULD BE IN OUR ARMS THE NEXT NIGHT.

I was in shock. Happy, but still weary. Still needing confirmation that she had gotten on that plane and left the grounds of DRC.

We rushed around doing this and that and who knows what else (what a blur) and booking flights to meet the family in Ohio.

By that night, my flight check proved it: Their plane had left DRC.

Brad and I were both SO SICK. So much coughing, so many tissues, so exhausted.

But we were going to get our daughter. Nothing else mattered.

Nothing had played out the way we saw it happening, but that didn't matter either.

We were going to get our daughter.

(I will continue more of this story later...I'm sure I'm leaving some important details out!)