A Slight Change of Plans...

by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

Remember last month when I said I felt like we were on the verge of greatness? Well, it turns out we certainly are. But that greatness looks a whole lot different than I had expected! Take a moment to read the light grey text at the top of this page... notice anything different? 


Yep, that's right. South Africa. We are switching programs! I know you're probably shaking your head right now, thinking "Will they ever make up their minds?" or "Is this adoption ever really going to happen?" And it's okay, I don't blame you for having those thoughts (we have them sometimes, too!) But I can confidently say that I think this is the wisest decision we've made since starting this crazy journey. 

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, international adoptions in Ethiopia are not looking good right now. Ethical concerns are high, and therefore referrals have slowed waaay down. Some agencies have been shut down. Others have closed due to financial strain. From the beginning of this journey, adoption ethics have been hugely important to Ryan and I. The last thing we want is to unknowingly participate in or contribute to any process that commodifies orphans. Our current placing agency- who we trust and love dearly- shares that same viewpoint. They continue to advocate for ethical adoptions for the orphans in their care in Ethiopia, but even they seem concerned as to whether or not they'll be able to continue placing children in the months ahead. 

For all of these reasons, we've known for awhile now that we wouldn't be able to continue on with Ethiopia. And yet, to walk away entirely from adoption is not the answer for us either. To do so would be to forget about Lulu, and all the other little boys and girls like her who continue to wait for a family. 

 As luck would have it, I recently stumbled upon a small program run by Spence-Chapin, a New York based nonprofit, in partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare in South Africa. The goal of the program is to find families for special needs children ranging from 2 to 8 years old who haven't been able to be adopted domestically (you can go here to learn more). South Africa is a Hague Convention country, which means the adoptions are governed by strict Hague adoption procedures. We scheduled a call with the program director last Monday. After hanging up the phone, neither of us could wipe the smiles off our faces. It just felt right. We quickly called her back and said "WE'RE DOING IT!" then stayed up until 2AM that morning filling out our application. 

Unfortunately this means we're pretty much starting over at square one. We're going to redo our home study with Spence-Chapin, so that we can be approved for a sibling pair (yep, we're going for SIBLINGS!) Then of course we'll also have to complete an entirely new dossier..but I've heard they're a little easier the second time around ;) Our hope is that we'll have everything sent off to South Africa by June. After that, we've been told to expect a referral within about 6 months, and to travel about 3-4 months later to take custody of the children. 

It would be easy to look at this past year as a big waste - the time we spent chasing paperwork, the time we spent waiting, and the thousands of dollars that we paid towards an adoption that will never happen - but, strangely, I don't feel bitter at all. I think this last year was about us getting here, to this very point.

And so, we're settling back into the wait again. And yet, the wait is so different this time, because now we know it will come to an end. And when it does, we'll be a family of four. 

Tiny Elephant

by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

So, the wait is getting harder. I'm just going to come right out and fess up to that. Over these last two months I've finally come to terms with the fact that adoption is not all rainbows and moonbeams. The initial cloud of eager hopefulness has passed. Now, I find myself vacillating between feelings of impatience and exhaustion. The other day I looked at my sweet husband and sourly said, "I'M SO TIRED OF ADOPTION!"

And I am tired. I'm tired of checking my email fifty times a day, and of hanging onto every bit of news that our agency sends. I'm tired of wondering whether or not new kids have arrived at our agency's transition home, and if our child might, maybe, be one of them. I'm tired of sorting through every shred of information on the current state of politics and ethics in Ethiopia, wondering whether or not the country will continue to process international adoptions. And I'm tired of thinking through what our plans B and C will be if this first route doesn't work out for us. 


Life has a funny way of revealing little bits of truth to you when you least expect them. Because although I'm feeling "tired" of this whole adoption thing, I'm also realizing that this wait has been exactly what we needed in order to point us in the direction of our future little ones.

A few weeks ago we came across this video of a little boy in China who needed a family. We had never considered China. We also hadn't ever thought seriously about parenting a child with a visual impairment. That's what those other, more saintly people do, right? But there was something about this boy. We watched the video a few more times. We brought him up in conversation. And before we knew it, we started sponsoring him and his amazing classmates at Bethel China. We knew we weren't yet eligible to adopt from China, but we fell in love with him anyways. Last week, we received bittersweet news; the little boy has been matched with his forever family. Although we wish it could have been us, we're grateful that this child opened our hearts a bit wider than they were before. We now have dreams of partnering with Bethel China for our next adoption. That wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been waiting.

Is it weird to say that I feel like we're on the verge of greatness? Of course we may also be on the verge of complete chaos...but with that surely comes greatness, right? Right :)

And because the wait has gotten long, I finally caved and allowed myself to indulge a little... I bought my first gift to our future child! One tiny elephant and a purple shirt with a simple, yet big message:

Oh, little one. You already have. 


by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

"Andra! Andra! Come here!" I called excitedly over my shoulder. I was standing on our front porch, peeking out the door at the dark and snowy night. It was Christmas Eve of 1989 and I was four years old. My older sister, Andrea, came and stood behind me. "What, Jenny?" she asked. "Look!" I eagerly told her, while pointing up at the sky. "I think I see the Star of Bethlehem!" My sister followed my gaze, then shook her head knowingly. "No Jenny, that's just a street light." "Oh," I said, glancing back once more to be sure before following her back inside.

This has always been one of my favorite scenes from my childhood. The moment is captured on our collection of VHS home videos, so I've watched it play out many times.  I love it, in part, because it so clearly demonstrates my childhood naivety. But I also like it because it hints at a tendency I've had for the past twenty nine years of my life - the tendency to see what my mind wants to believe, rather than what's really in front of me. I've always been a bit of a dreamer. An idealist, some would say. As such, I often leap headfirst into whatever comes my way, believing that goodness will always surface in the end. 

The problem with this theory is that sometimes life gets real. And sometimes real gets tough. And sometimes it's hard to remember the good in the middle of the tough. 

About three weeks ago Ryan and I got a call from our case worker. It wasn't just any 'ole call. It was THE call. A referral call! The moment every prospective adoptive parent dreams of. With shaking knees, Ryan and I sat for an hour and listened to the life story of a boy in Ethiopia. He was older than we were expecting, but we quickly shrugged that off as we learned more about him. We saw his photos and fell in love with his wide smile. We called our families and told them the good news. Finally, around midnight, we fell into bed exhausted. "You should sleep soundly tonight!" our case worker had told us, "now that you've seen your son's face!"

The problem was, I didn't sleep soundly. I didn't even sleep. I tossed and turned all night, unable to fight off the anxious feeling that was slowly creeping over me. Hidden under my covers, I stared at the boy's photo on my iPhone screen. He was beautiful. He was perfect. But for some reason I just couldn't shake the feeling that he wasn't our son. Tears streamed down my cheeks in the dark. I felt like a hypocrite. I - who had fought like hell to get approved for older child adoption- was suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of it all. I knew ideals and beliefs wouldn't be enough to carry us through. After an emotional heart-to-heart with our case worker, we declined the referral and narrowed our parameters. 

So, now what? Of course my crazy over-analytical mind keeps questioning our decision. But when I take a deep breath and quiet myself, I know things worked out the way they were supposed to. We will continue to wait. We still don't know who it is, exactly, that we're waiting for...but we know that we're getting closer to figuring that out. And along the way we're learning to lean into each other and to trust ourselves. Oh, and the boy with the wide smile? Don't worry - he has since been matched with his perfect forever family. 

Goodness will always surface in the end. 

Merry Christmas to all of our friends and family. Thank you for following us on this wild journey. We love you all and can't wait to see what unfolds in 2014.


Letters For You: November 30, 2013

by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

Lately I've been trying to remember what it was like to be your age. Of course I don't actually know how old you'll be when we meet, but my mother's intuition tells me somewhere between the ages of five and seven. Such a sweet age. No longer a baby, but not yet grown.

When I was five, I loved to chase bunnies around our back yard. When I wasn't chasing bunnies, I was trying to touch the sky with my toes while swinging high. At six I loved to make forts. I would drape a blanket over a chair and climb inside where I felt cozy and safe. At seven I set off on my bicycle, cruising around town for hours on end. Every day felt like an adventure. Sometimes I'd put a stuffed animal in my front basket to keep me company on my ride. To this day I can still feel the wind on my face as I sailed down the hill behind Fairview School, feet off the pedals and giggling from the rush of it all. Afterwards, I'd park my bike and lay on my back in the grass with my eyes to the sky. I could lay for hours watching the cloud shapes dancing in slow motion.

When I think of these memories, it reminds me that you, too, have a childhood that needs to be played out. But it also reminds me that you are already shaping into your own little person. A person who has probably put your eyes to the sky many times yourself while trying to make sense of the world around you. A person who has ideas and secrets and dreams. A person I can't wait to get to know. 

Let's just hope you have a better sense of fashion than I did at your age.


'Tis the Season

by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

This week has been full of good, sweet happenings. To start, my little niece Meryl was born early Thursday morning. She's the first girl to join the family, and my oh my is she ever darling. I fell instantly in love. Before meeting her, my husband and I wondered if holding an itty bitty newborn would make us question our decision to adopt an older child. But it didn't at all. Instead, we felt this amazing sense of peace. Peace that we get to be in Meryl's life and watch her grow, and peace that we will get to cradle and love a child who has undoubtedly had to grow up way too quickly.

Following Meryl's birth, we decided to put up a few Christmas decorations. We're not typically the "festive" holiday type, but seeing as it's our fist Christmas in our new home and Ryan's father is coming to visit from Portland next week, we decided it couldn't hurt to string a few lights. My sweet mama also stitched us some new stockings for our growing family. If you look closely, you'll see that the one in the middle doesn't yet have a name. Wouldn't it be amazing if we knew who our little one was before Christmas? We're not counting on it and are content to wait, but it does make me smile to think that one day soon my mama will be stitching the name of her newest grandchild onto that stocking.

The goodness continued on Friday when we received an update from AGCI's Ethiopia program. Included were photos of three older children recently referred to their forever families. It made me incredibly happy to hear that they were able to place them so quickly. The update also said that AGCI is pursuing new partnerships with orphanages that place children with special needs and/or HIV. Yes, yes yes. This is what we've been hoping to hear for the past few months. Finally, we also got word that a new little boy who fits our parameters recently arrived at our agency's transition home. It's too early to know whether or not we'll receive his referral, but our hearts are full of hope.

'Tis the season! 

Living Between the Questions

by Jennifer Quinn-Carl

I'm a person who questions things by nature. Maybe 'questions things' is putting it lightly. I am an analyzer, and usually an over-analyzer. I will question something to death if you let me. I'm pretty sure this tendency drove away countless boys of my youth. Luckily I've found a husband who defines the word patient. But this adoption journey is certainly testing both of us lately.

So, what have I been questioning? Everything. When will we get our referral? Will we feel at peace with the referral we get? If our child has special needs, will we be able to meet those needs? Should we be fighting harder to increase our age parameters? What will happen if Ethiopia decides to halt international adoptions while we're in process? Should we have just pursued foster-to-adopt domestically instead? Some of these questions I'm okay not knowing the answers to just yet, but others keep me up at night wondering.

Lately we've felt particularly unsettled by our age parameters. Although our social worker finally agreed to approve us for one child age 0-7, she was adamant about only approving us for a sibling pair ages 0-5. The thing is, we really want siblings. Like, really really. We know there is a huge need to bring home older siblings, and we feel like we have the heart, space, and resources to do that. So we've decided to talk with our placement agency this week to see if they will allow us to get another social worker's opinion. We've found an experienced social worker who is willing to approve us for siblings age 0-7, but only IF our placement agency agrees to the change. We're not certain if they'll say yes, but it's worth a try.

Oh, and in case you're starting to worry, in between all of this questioning we've also been busy having a whole lot of fun! This fall has already been so full. Here's a look at how we've been living lately: