Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Meeting Jonathan in Kinshasa - Part 1

I am so late in writing down all of the things I want to remember from my travel to Kinshasa and from meeting Jonathan. I think a part of me is honestly afraid that I'll never be able to capture the magic and love and sweet perfection of those two weeks, so I think, "Why bother even trying?" But I do so want to record some of the memories for myself, but mostly for Jonathan. While I was in country, Adam said the most perfect thing - he told me that spending that time in Kinshasa was the closest thing we'll ever have to Jonathan's birth story. Every year, we tell our daughters' about their birth stories, and we can never have those memories for Jonathan. But what we can have is a collection of memories, stories, and items from one of the most amazing adventures of my life - my trip to meet him.

So, on February 28th, Adam and I traveled from Charlottesville via car to Washington DC for my flight from Dulles to Brussels. It was a surprisingly stress-free experience. I'd been packing for so long (ummm... like a year?) and had perfect to do lists of what I would need to do prior to leaving, what Adam would need to do while I was gone, etc etc. I got accused by one of my adoptive traveling mama friends of being Type A... I didn't see myself that way, but it was possible that all the way up until my plane wheels were in the air that I actually was incredibly Type A! Once I had Jonathan in my arms, I promise that all changed.

When we got to check-in at Dulles (no line and we got super close parking - easy peasy!), I had so many bags that the agent thought Adam was flying with me. We got all 180 pounds of my luggage checked, scanned and on its way and then we just had to say goodbye. Honestly, we both did really well considering this was going to be the longest time we'd ever been apart since first meeting, but as I was walking to the escalator, I caught a glimpse of Adam walking away and it hit me pretty hard. I cried a bit, but mostly I was just so freaking excited to finally - FINALLY - be on my way. No more to do lists, no more late night Embassy calls, no more crying over emails! It was the shucking of a burden I didn't even quite realize I was bearing.

At the gate, I met my awesome travel partner, Felice, who'd also been my late night Embassy calling partner for weeks prior, so despite meeting her at that moment officially, it felt like we'd been friends for years. We later said that being a part of one another's adoption seriously speeds up the friend quotient. There is no more being acquaintances when you've cried with someone over meeting their child for the first time.

Our plane was on time, our flight to Belgium was completely uneventful (I watched reruns of Downton Abbey  and the movie Clueless, though I later found out that almost every single adoptive parent had watched Argo on the way over... apparently I was done with drama and needed a little levity in my life - thanks, Alicia Silverstone.) We arrived in Brussels and had to make the long hike (and bus ride) out to the far off terminal that had African flights. There we met up with some other adoptive moms who were going to Kinshasa for bonding trips or for community development. It was so great to start to meet some of the adoption community in person, finally. Thank goodness for Facebook profile photos, because we all basically knew one another right away.

The flight from Brussels to Kinshasa was much more comfortable (the flight was not crowded at all and I got a few seats to stretch out on). It was also easy and uneventful. Seriously, all of my travel to Kinshasa was so easy and almost relaxing. I paid for that relaxation on the flights home, but that's a story for later.

Felice and I weren't sitting together, but later we found out that we both cried when we landed in Kinshasa. There is a phenomenon that occurs on some plane rides where people returning home clap and yell in celebration when they land (this has happened a few times to me in the Caribbean and I've heard it always happens on flights into Puerto Rico). When all the Kinois folks on the plane start celebrating, I started crying. After more than 13 months, I was in the same city as my son. I was going to see his home country, meet his people, and learn more about DRC culture than any website or book could provide me. It was such a great feeling. Nothing could've happened at that moment to take away that joy.

Felice and I were both prepared for a crazy airport experience due to reviews from other traveling families. I don't know if we just got lucky (i.e. arriving at a quieter time of day), but our experience was super smooth. After passing Immigration, we found our protocol right away (I would always recommend a protocol - he was very reassuring to have around) and were able to relatively quickly get our bags (all 360 pounds of our luggage made it! Thanks so much Brussels Air - you're awesome.) After that, we were taken outside to meet our agency's coordinator, D. He was welcoming, if a bit reserved. We got loaded up and headed into the city.

We were told to expect at least a 1.5 hour car ride to our guesthouse... it only took 45 or so minutes. Again, everything really fell into place pretty easily for us. It was dark during the drive in so I couldn't see much, except for hundreds and hundreds of trash can fires on the sides of the main road and thousands of people milling about. Some seemed to be walking home but many were just socializing, it seemed like. The ride was a bit scary, but I'd seriously prepared myself for the driving "techniques" in DRC so I wasn't too shocked by the passing-a-car-in-the-oncoming-traffic-lane thing.

We arrived at Sunny Day Guesthouse, I was prepared for some big check-in procedure - not so much. The gate guard staff grabbed our bags, opened a few rooms up, taught us how to cut on the AC and the WiFi passcode and we were set.

So by this point, everyone who knows me well expected I would be immediately jumping the shower (I take two showers each day on most days, and by this point I'd been about 30 hours without one). Well, I didn't. First, I skyped Adam to let him know that I'd arrived. Apparently, he got next to no sleep because he kept checking the flight tracker through an app on his iPad. When we finally spoke, it almost 10pm my time, so they'd all been waiting (anxiously) to hear from me. We were lucky to have a fairly good Internet connection at Sunny Day, for most of the time, so we could use Skype and FaceTime fairly often.

After I spoke with Adam, I was so excited to unpack and organize my room (okay so possibly some of my Type A-ness came to Africa with me). All I could think about was getting the room, food, clothes and toys perfectly organized before I went to sleep, because I didn't want to have to deal with it the next day (bad choice - I had A LOT of time the next day that needed to be filled and I'd already done everything!). Unpacking 180 pounds of luggage was no small task, but I got everything organized and put up and finally got to take a shower (I have a picture of what I looked like at this point, but it's definitely not something to be shared... yuck!). I was in bed by 11.30 or so and even took sleeping medicine... but I was back awake by 4.30am. Not fun and definitely not good considering the next 10 hours would probably be the longest of my life (possibly excluding labor, but that's only because labor includes pain and at least during this wait, I got to put my feet in the pool!)...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

For Zia Francoise

This information deserved a post of it's own... Through my adoption journey, I've met a few people with whom I felt a connection that defied the fact that we'd never actually met in person. Bonding through the trials and tribulations of adoption is pretty common, but there are some people that you just know you would love and befriend, with or without the adoption crazies. One of these people is my friend Brenda... she and I had hoped we'd travel to DRC together to pick up our children, but right after she got her final I600 approval for her four year old daughter Zia Francoise (and only a week after we got ours for Jonathan), the US Embassy instituted a new investigation procedure that set her case back by at least 3-6 months. I was devastated for her, and when I went to the Transition Home to get Jonathan, I spent a special moment with sweet Zia telling her that her momma was coming soon.

Since my time in country, some alarming medical issues have been discovered about Zia, culminating in emergency surgery and hospital stay in Kinshasa, all while her mother is across the ocean, aching to be with her daughter. Despite not yet securing an emergency medical visa for her daughter, Brenda is taking the colossal risk of leaving her job, home and family here to temporarily move to Kinshasa to be with Zia in the hopes that she can ensure she gets the best possible care and attention.

It could be an additional three months or more before the paperwork in finalized (though we are hoping and praying that is not the case - Zia needs to be home now), and Brenda will be living in one of the most expensive African cities. She'll also be faced with mounting medical costs, all of which will need to be paid in cash at time of service (this is not like the healthcare we're used to... if you can't pay, you aren't treated).

In an effort to help relieve one of Brenda's many concerns and uncertainties, I requested that she allow me to create a webpage to raise funds for Miss Zia. I knew that any donation or contribution could literally affect Zia's quality of life and well-being. How often is there a cause to which we can contribute and actually know that every dollar will be spent in the absolute best of ways? How often can we contribute to something and see the results smiling back from her mother's arms? I don't often fundraise, and never asked for contributions for our adoption, but this is one little girl who I can get behind helping.

So, if you are able, could you read more about Zia's story below and consider donating? She's a beautiful little girl who's faced more in her four short years than I ever have. She deserves to be under the care of awesome US physicians and to be able to literally breathe easier every day.


A Family...

As of March 13th, that's what the five of us are... a family. A whole, complete, on-the-same-continent, over-the-moon and happy-as-clams family. I left on February 28th for DRC, arrived on March 1st, and had Jonathan in my arms on March 2nd. It was, in so many ways, one of the most life-changing experiences I've ever had. I want to write more about Kinshasa and about our first few weeks with Jonathan, but, not surprisingly since I now have three children, I'm a bit short on time.

That being said, I had to put a few photos up of our first ten days all together. And I wanted to just check in and say that we are are doing so well and are so happy. Jonathan is seriously the perfect match for our family. If I were to have invented a child in my mind that would slot right in like a missing puzzle piece, I don't think I could've created a more perfect personality for us. He smiles often, laughs loudly, plays constantly, and just makes me tear up with joy sometimes when I realize how lucky we are to have him here, safe and happy.

So here are a few photos... more information about Kinshasa, my travel, meeting Jonathan, and our bonding to come soon-ish :)

Monday, February 25, 2013

We have a visa!! (and 150+ pounds of luggage)

Well, tonight/this morning will go down in history as possible the only time I have literally run laps of happiness around my home... I finally heard the magic words - Jonathan's visa was issued!!

Here's the craziest part - we didn't even expect it to be issued until at least tomorrow, and possibly not until later. We were merely calling to get an update on our investigation and to gently prod (possibly, not so gently) the US Embassy in Kinshasa to get a move on our case (we have been waiting four weeks since Embassy appointment today). There was a lot of drama over the last few weeks about when/if our agency's visas would be issued for about ten waiting families. The US Embassy in Kinshasa is apparently extremely understaffed right now and some of the things that needed to happen prior to these visas being issued just weren't happening.

So tonight we expected, at best, a detailed update. At worst, to not get through at all. And we had a lot on the line with this call because I decided a little over a week ago to travel, with or without visa. I basically decided that we'd waited long enough and I would just tough it out in Kinshasa and maybe try to make best friends with some Embassy employees during my extended stay.

So now, instead, I can spend my first days with Jonathan getting to know him over the hundreds of handheld applesauce snacks I packed versus trekking it over to the Embassy each day to hang out until we got that one, oh-so-important stamp. And I can be almost absolutely assured that we will be back in the US in a relatively short time. The day that my entire family is under the same roof is, finally, not that far away.

I'm so happy that we've finally come to the end of this journey and can now begin our way more important journey of knowing, loving and raising Jonathan. This thirteen month pregnancy has gone on LONG enough!

Oh, and yes, please don't judge me - I do have over 150lbs of luggage. In my defense, much of it's donations, and the rest is food (I'm not sure gluten free is a very supported lifestyle in DRC, so I am packing to be on the safe side!). I should be pretty prepared, though. This might be one time where my over-packing actually is very useful.

So in less than a week, I can officially say I'll be holding my son. That is the most surreal and wonderful thing I could ever type on this blog. After years of dreaming of adopting, and over a year of looking at one sweet little face, we will all finally start the next phase in our lives. I cannot wait.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Embassy Appointment - Check!

Today was our Embassy appointment and everything went well, according to our caseworker, who emailed this afternoon. We were a bit concerned because Jonathan's birth mom was required to travel thousands of miles from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa to be interviewed. This step is a relatively new one, so she was not informed of it when placing Jonathan for adoption. We were worried about her ability or willingness to travel so far, but we found out today that she made the trip and her interview was a success.

We are beyond grateful to this woman that we will probably never meet. Not only did she have to do one of the most difficult things a mother would ever have to do, but over a year later she had fly across the country to be interviewed about her reasons for doing it. She is an amazing woman, and I would hope that one day I can say thank you to her directly.

So now we wait for our final okay to travel! This is finally, actually and seriously our last and final step. It is sort of surreal as we have been in this journey for over two years now, and I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the fact that we will probably meet our son in less than a month. So happy, so nervous, and so, so, so many things to do (seriously, we've been making lists all day - if, say, 90% of that stuff gets done, we should be good to go)! Hoping for mid-February travel, but it's all in the hands of the Embassy workers right now.

Not much longer now! Can't wait to meet our little man :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program...

... for our first non-adoption blog post. Right now, we are in a really great stage with the adoption - I am waiting on a specific date (January 28th), not just waiting with no end in sight. This means much less email checking, much less (overall) anxiety, and much more productive days.

On that note - Adam and I recently launched a new online skin care, beauty, fragrance, and bath store that I had to announce online because a) I am so excited that it's launched and live, and b) it doesn't hurt to advertise on any platform (even if that platform is generally related to adoption, and not to skin care products :).

Elements Beauty Shop is the online portion of our local, Richmond, VA-based retail store we opened back in November. We partnered up with my aunt, Sherry Burgess, and her wife, Jeanie Rule, to create a business that we not only (hopefully) profit from, but also that we could enjoy running each day. Those thoughts led us to the niche beauty product world. 

We each focused on product lines that meant something to our own shopping patterns and skin care needs. I insisted on having natural beauty products, both organic and of natural ingredients, which led us to product lines like Weleda (which I use on my girls now, and will use on Jonathan once he gets home - Weleda Baby Soap is supposed to be great for Black skin!) and Jurlique (a feel-good line because all the ingredients are grown on an organic and sustainable farm in Australia). Jeanie loves fragrances, perfumes and just anything that smells great. She spent months researching fragrance families and the most exclusive fragrances available. Sherry had a passion for anti-aging skin care and snagged us authorized distributorship with some of the world's most exclusive and advanced skin care lines, like Erno Laszlo (quite seriously, skin care to the stars... for more than 40 years!). Adam ensured that we carried a good selection of men's products (which, as I found out over the last few months, means a lot more than just shaving cream or cologne!), with lines such as Jack Black (no, not the actor), Grooming Lounge, and AHAVA for Men (a dead-sea salt based line that is sooooo good).

So, as of this past month, we are now open, online and taking orders! Such an accomplishment, because most days, I feel like I get 10% done compared to my old working style. The other time is spent (obsessively) checking my adoption board and day-dreaming about all the work I'll be able to get done once Jonathan is home and in my arms (ha! wishful thinking, maybe?).

Thanks for your attention during this "interruption" - now back to waiting on Embassy and pre-packing our suitcases! Won't be long now... Oh and for your patience, a new picture of Jonathan :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This is what my face is doing right now!

Well, after 11 months and 25 days, we've finally seen a true smile from our son! Thanks to an amazing family and their unbelievably kind daughter, we have picture after picture of our little man smiling, laughing, snuggling his friends, and just generally having a great time! It makes me happier than I could've imagined and makes me want to see that little smile in person as soon as possible.

Not only did this family shower our kids with love and attention, they also raised money and purchased lots of outdoor playground equipment... apparently, Jonathan loves the slide:

So we have other reasons to be joyful, too... We received our I600 approval earlier this month and were able to (almost immediately) snag an Embassy appointment for January 28th. We've spoken with our agency and confirmed that Jonathan's docs are all in order for that last and final appointment, so we hope to travel 2-3 weeks after that date, when Jonathan's US visa is issued. Things are really, finally and truly coming together now, and we couldn't be happier or more excited!

Oh and here are some more pictures of our sweet, smiling boy! (P.S. Okay, so that outfit is probably not what I would've chosen for him, but I can look past the Minnie Mouse tank top if it makes him that happy and smiley :)

Man, what pretty teeth... so happy that intense dentist
visits are probably not in our near future!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Well, since our last blog, we've had some major setbacks and some major progress. I was too blah to blog after the setbacks, and too cautious  and/or superstitious to blog about our progress. Basically, this is how it's happened over the last two months - we got all of our paperwork and prepared to file our I600 (mid-November), and then we found out that Jonathan's birth certificate had a different date than the rest of our adoption paperwork (January 6th, 2010 versus the original birth date we received, January 6th, 2009). Originally, our agency thought it was a typo, but after contacting our lawyer, they found a birth judgment dating back to the month directly after our referral that also had that date, so it was now a matter of figuring out which date was correct and how to correct the documents accordingly. I think this was a pretty rare occurrence for our agency, so there was some lag in figuring out how to move forward.

To add to the complexity of the issue, Adam and I had always thought Jonathan was younger than his given age. He is extremely small, though that can be due to malnutrition or just environmental factors, and he just looks less mature than the almost-four we thought him to be in many of his photos. That being said, our agency confirmed with the lawyer and birth mother the 2009, so we moved forward with that date on our paperwork (I don't think we'll know his actual age, for sure, until I am able to take him to US doctors and dentists for their opinion, but that's okay). Last week, we finally got the corrected birth certificate, so, paperwork wise, I think we are finally done.

While waiting for the corrected paperwork, Adam and I made the decision to go ahead and file our I600 application with the paperwork we had. We received information the day after Christmas that we needed additional paperwork (not relating to the birth certificate), and that was sent in last week as well. We hope to have our I600 approval sometime this week.

Once we get our approval, we can make our Embassy appointment (the last appointment made from our agency was for January 18th - hoping for a date around there). After Embassy, we expect a 2-3 week wait before we travel. If everything goes perfectly (and that has not been the theme of our adoption to this point :) we should travel February 3rd or February 10th.

And while it's been really tough with the holidays and with Jonathan's (3rd or 4th) birthday coming up, we have been so lucky to receive lots of pictures and updates of our little man over the last few weeks. Lots of agency families are traveling and they've been kind enough to post photos of our little guy. He seems to be doing mostly well... a little bit of respiratory issues (the air in Kinshasa is very bad, so this is not surprising) and a little bit of distended belly. Minor issues that will respond well to the cleaner air and better diet he'll have when he gets home.

Keeping our fingers crossed that these last few steps go off without a hitch... we're coming for you soon!