Another Way to Family: The waiting


"You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part."-Tom Petty

We've been expecting for 12 months, and my wife hasn't gained any weight, not even a small pooch of a belly. I put my hands on her stomach and feel nothing kicking. This isn't natural.

Nothing about our house here in Brooklyn would tip you off that a child is coming. There is no nursery, no pack and play, no mobile hanging above a crib. A modern coffee table with sharp glass edges, an exquisite bookcase, a prized antique book stand? Yes, we have those. But we don't own a stroller.

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This child is coming to us through adoption. That means a wait with no definite end. No due date. And after 12 months of waiting, my wife and I are starting to wonder if it's really going to happen. Will we have a family?

When we signed up with our agency, the expected wait time for an infant from Ethiopia was six to nine months. A couple of months into the wait, the agency said wait times had been extended to nine to 12 months. Last month we were told that wait times are now predicted to be 12 to 18 months.

The reason why is complicated. Trends play a role. Here's one scenario. International adoption in one country, say Vietnam, is shut down. Other countries, China, for example, have long waiting lists---possibly a two to three year expected wait. Hopeful parents-to-be then look to another less popular country, say Ethiopia, for a shorter wait. Then, as you have surely guessed, the unpopular country soon becomes the popular country with the long waiting time. This all happens incredibly fast and is sometimes unpredictable. No one knows for certain when a country may close its international adoption program.

Ethiopia---when we started investigating the process nearly two years ago---was one of the faster countries. But since then the number of adoptions from there has gone up dramatically. Don't just take my word for it. According to the website for United States Department of State, the number of adoptions to the United States from Ethiopia in 2004 was 289. By 2008 that number had risen to 1,725. And this, you are thinking, is a good thing, right? Well, yes, it's good for children to get forever families. But in the case of Ethiopia the infrastructure wasn't there to handle so many adoption cases. The government agency there that handled (I say handled, past tense, because word has it that a new or restructured agency is on the way) adoptions on that end consisted of four to five people. A few years ago, four to five people would have been plenty to deal with the handful of adoption agencies working in Ethiopia, but now there is an estimated 70 adoption agencies working in the country. Our agency has 400 families on its Ethiopia waiting list. So now imagine: 70 agencies and four to five Ethiopian officials processing the individual cases.

I could further elaborate on the reasons for the long wait. I could talk about the ways in which Ethiopia has tried to slow the process down in order to root out the seedier elements that have crept in as adoption from Ethiopia has grown in popularity. I could talk about the two-month court closure that happens every summer in Ethiopia. But I think I'll stop.

Understanding the myriad reasons does not really help me wait.

I try to remember a couple of things. First, my gain is another's loss. My child will be losing his or her family and country and culture. His or her parent or parents, if living, will be losing a son or daughter. These are the sad facts. And when I remember them, my desire to have my needs met now---to have a family now!---seems selfish. Second, I'm starting to suspect that this time waiting is doing me some good, that the waiting is changing and shaping me---that God is using this process to make me more patient and humble, that He is preparing me to be a father.

I'm waiting for that day.


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