As they got deeper into the Haiti adoption process, the Wilson family realized just how much they would need to “find their amazing” — and how huge an honor this unique path to parenthood would be.
Our son Brody started asking for a brother when he was in preschool. When we realized that another child wouldn’t be possible, we tried to explain that God had made us a family of three. We got him a dog and then a cat, hoping he’d feel like our family was complete.
When he was in kindergarten, he asked us about adoption. I told him I would “look into it.” I definitely wanted a bigger family, too. My heart had ached during our failed attempts to have a second baby, but I was tired of dead ends. And finally, I was content. Life was trucking along. I thought surely our son would get busy with life and forget. Then, maybe a month later, he said, “So have you looked into that adoption thing yet?”
At that point, I promised to truly do some research. We knew two families who had adopted internationally. My husband and I were definitely intrigued by the possibility. After a brief search, I told Brody that the process was very long and in-depth. To my surprise, he said, “That’ll be ok.” I think that’s when I realized God was sending His plan for our family straight to our little boy’s heart.
People who heard about our intention often said, “Oh God bless you” or “Wow, that is amazing.” I wanted to say, “No, not really. We’re just normal people who want to grow our family.” But as we headed down this path, I started to realize how hugely frustrating and heartbreaking the process would be. We would need all of those blessings and yes, we definitely needed to find our “amazing” many times over. Like every type of parenting, this is a very specific calling.
As we started looking into agencies, I remember feeling excited but overwhelmed. Holt appealed to us because they were informative and realistic. We were told that Haiti had just reorganized to comply with the Hague Treaty. The reorganization had caused a back log and there was no way of knowing how long we’d wait for a match. Our Holt contact at the time explained to us that we might, in fact, be entering the program at just the right time. He was expecting the “floodgate” to open at any moment.
So, with cautious optimism, we pressed on.
When I saw the list of documents needed to compile an adoption dossier, my heart sank. It is long and complex. My husband printed it in July of 2016 and we worked through it one item at a time. It was April of 2017 before our dossier was finally submitted to IBESR, the government agency in Haiti that makes adoption matches.
While I was relieved to be in the system, it also felt like tossing a huge, important wish into the wind. We knew that hundreds of families were on the list. While we waited, our Holt case manager, Amanda Colonia, gave us plenty of reading material about both Haiti and adoption to keep us occupied. She was continually forwarding us online modules, reading suggestions and even Haitian cultural information. Those resources helped me feel like I was already learning a bit about our son.
Somehow, the process sank into the background and we were actually caught off guard when we got an optimistic email 12 months later. Amanda wrote that it looked like there might be a match coming our way. Sure enough, a few weeks later, we received a tiny file about a 3-year-old boy named Michael. We only had a few pages of information and a black-and-white thumbnail photo taken of him when he was a baby.
The information in the faded pages we received told us only that Michael was born prematurely, abandoned at the hospital, and that he was healthy at 18 months old. It was so minimal that we initially decided to decline the match. Amanda supported that decision, agreeing that there just wasn’t enough information. The next few hours were full of prayer and debate.
Somehow, my husband and I woke up the next morning on the same page. We were both ready to accept the match and plan our first of two required trips to Haiti. This first visit would be a “socialization trip,” which would give us an opportunity to meet and connect with our son. Not all countries require two trips, but Haiti does so that a local social worker can observe families interacting with the child they are matched with.
As soon as we officially accepted, Amanda was able to contact Michael’s crèche, or care center. He had lived there since he was 6 weeks old. Within days, we had access to hundreds of photos and thorough medical records that we had not previously received — another aspect that is unique to the Haiti process, and that Holt is advocating to change so that families have access to more information before they accept a match. While we have learned (through this process) to forge ahead on faith, it was nice to get on that plane knowing our son was healthy and well cared for.
Thankfully, Amanda had recently traveled to Haiti and was able to give us information on everything from ordering food, to what clothes to wear, and general etiquette. She spent almost two hours on the phone with me to prepare us for travel — although, in truth, there’s nothing that could have prepared me for Haiti.
I have never been to an underdeveloped country. The living conditions in Haiti are appalling. I was unsettled by the sights and smells of true poverty. I felt outraged and helpless as we rode through the streets. Despite the conditions, the Haitians we met took care of us with big smiles, huge hugs and great pride.
Learning a tiny bit of Creole definitely helped our comfort level and our connections on the ground. Even when I knew I was failing miserably with the language, the folks I spoke with encouraged me and taught me new words. They absolutely appreciated our efforts.
Meeting Michael for the first time was indescribable. I was nervous and thrilled. Fortunately, our little guy has never met a stranger. He ran into our arms and happily shared the bag of Skittles he’d been eating. We traveled with bubbles, books, stickers, treats and glow sticks. Michael wasn’t super verbal yet so the extra activities and snacks helped us play and bond. We took many walks and spent hours jumping on the campus trampoline. When the four of us had moments alone, it started to seem like we were made for each other.
Being at the crèche, however, was awkward. I felt like Michael was already our son, but I had to take a back seat. We dug deep for patience and trust in the process. Leaving Haiti was extremely sad, there was no guarantee about the timeline for when we would return to bring our son home. We knew it would be at least a year. I focused on the joy of being matched with a healthy, funny, beautiful boy. There was plenty of “nesting” to do at home. It’s also possible that I set a record for the number of times one person can check their inbox in a given day…. Many, many days.
Over the next few months, we followed closely as Haiti’s unrest ebbed and flowed. The chaos there affected our process at many points, and it was frustrating, but I kept thinking, ‘That’s why we’re here. That’s why these kids need families.’ It’s clear that even children living with their families in Haiti may not have the basic human right to flourish. When not in the care of safe, ethical crèches like our son’s, abandoned children can still be bought and sold in Haiti. Meanwhile, children who age out of crèches have absolutely no hope. Many adults wander the streets with nothing to do. There is no industry and little opportunity.
This is the only country in the history of the world that has carried out a successful slave rebellion. Their faith runs deep and their joy is fierce. Given the chance to grow with love, health and education, I feel like these kids we adopt are among those who will fix their nation.
Hearing from and praying for other adoptive moms I’ve met there keeps me grounded. We all agree that this is a challenge. It’s a unique calling, but more importantly, it’s a huge honor.
Michael has been home for almost 5 months. As we follow the Haitian news and my mind leans towards hopelessness, I can definitely look at our new son and see hope. Since he’s been home, his ramp-up has been incredible. Our four-year-old boy who only knew two letters in July now knows almost every letter and understands that letters form words.
He points out letters and numbers everywhere we go. He is constantly soaking up chances to listen and learn. Opportunity and support combined with his energetic, bold, happy roots will make him unstoppable at whatever he decides to do.
My mom heart hopes that he’ll never move back to Haiti. But no matter what he decides to do, I hope and believe that Haiti will always be important to him and somehow his passion will create ripples of progress back home.
Today, when he was quiet in the car, I asked him what he was thinking about. He said “Santa and camping.” That’s where we are right now. He actually understood my question and obviously he’s pursuing childhood. He’s doing amazing.
Our transition home has been as awkward and frustrating as the process itself, but the joyful moments are beyond my expectations. I have relied on the advice of Holt’s social worker and the books they suggested for us. Social media has been a lifeline too. Hearing from and praying for other adoptive moms I’ve met there keeps me grounded. We all agree that this is a challenge. It’s a unique calling, but more importantly, it’s a huge honor. I am so grateful to our older son for speaking his heart and showing us God’s vision. I’m super blessed to be mom to these two.
Lauren Wilson | Holt Adoptive Mom
Adopt From Haiti
Many children in Haiti are waiting for a loving, permanent family.
This is written so beautifully and honestly. As a Holt Social Worker, thank you for presenting your story to others who may be considering adoption too. Every child deserves a home. Cindy Schuman, Iowa Holt Social Worker