The End of the Chase
This, my friends, may not look like much to you. However, it represents four months of hard work and determination on our part. Oh, the trees that were felled to produce this mound of documents, and the copies in triplicate, known in international adoption lingo as:
The Dossier is the "package" that is mailed to the foreign government, in our case, China, to represent the family seeking to adopt a child. One might think that after gathering these documents four times now I'd find the whole affair simple, straightforward, effortless. Wrong. I would rather take a toothbrush and go clean Wal-Mart. Blindfolded. If you are an extremely organized, detail-oriented, and methodical person (if you view the term “obsessive-compulsive” as a compliment) you might enjoy compiling the dossier. None of those adjectives describes me. I believe I wrote in an earlier post that these letters, certificates, financial records, signatures, stamps and seals deterred us for seven years before we considered adopting again. Oh yes, I dislike it that much.
Included in this unimpressive pile of papers are the following:
Home Study- The Home Study investigation is completed by a social worker affiliated with a home study agency in your state of residence. Much of the home study document gathering process overlaps and duplicates what you are already gathering for the rest of the dossier, which is mostly good, until you have a déjà vu. "Haven't I already mailed this document to someone else?" This is arguably the most important, frustrating, and time-consuming part of the process. And it's expensive. We had to attend online classes that taught us how to respond to questions like, "Is this your real child?" (As opposed to an imaginary one, I suppose.) We had to read a 500-page book that talks about weird stuff like family beds. We had to bribe three friends to write nice letters about us. It also required police, child abuse, and sex offender clearances in South Carolina. Additionally, we were required to produce child abuse clearance letters for the other three states where we have lived since we were 18 years old. I could write a book about the bureaucracy involved in acquiring those clearances alone.
Personal Statement- This is a personal letter from the parents and includes a brief introduction of your family background, education, and employment history. You explain the reason you want to adopt a Chinese child, your plans to preserve his or her cultural heritage, and that you will never abandon him or her.
Employment Letters- This letter is from your employer and is written on a company letterhead. It includes how long you have worked with the company, your salary and any benefits that you receive. In addition to Tom's employment letter, I had to write a separate letter stating that I elected to remain at home to raise our children.
Certificate of Financial Status- This form, often referred to as the net worth statement, can be completed by you or your accountant. The idea is to show your overall financial situation, in order to prove that you can provide for a child. You list all your debts, all your assets, and hope the latter outweighs the former by a pretty sizable chunk of change.
Certificate of General Physical Examination- Pretty self-explanatory. This is completed by your medical doctor. Full blood work profiles and HIV tests are also required.
Birth Certificates- These can't be the cute ones your mothers tucked into your baby books. They have to be certified within the last year and must be authenticated by the Secretary of State in the state where you were born. For Tom, this is a royal pain, as he was born overseas to military parents and must get his from the State Department in Washington DC.
Marriage Certificate- The procedure for this is the same as the birth certificates.
Local Police Clearance- You ask your local police department for a records check or letter of good conduct. Separate documents are needed for each spouse. This could possibly be the simplest thing we do, and I find this requirement completely amusing. Our backgrounds are checked at all levels of government, from state to federal, for the home study. But for the dossier, we need a little letter from The A-Town Poleece stating we're not criminals. Takes all of five minutes. Go figure that one.
CIS Approval Form- This is issued after the US government has cashed your hefty application fee, approved your home study, and cleared your fingerprints through their national database using infared technology at one of their official biometric gathering locations. When you receive this form, you jump for joy, change your Facebook status, and make a photocopy, in that order. You then swear before a notary that it's an unaltered copy. The original accompanies you to China.
However before you smile and say I'm making a big deal out of nothing, you need to understand that each of these documents must then be notarized at the county level, certified at the Secretary of State in your state, authenticated by the State Department in Washington DC, and also authenticated at the Chinese Consulate in Washington DC.
Getting everything notarized is no big deal. I just do it as I go along and the church secretary and I get very chummy during that time. I can then make one trip to Columbia to the Secretary of State's office and get all the notary signatures certified in one afternoon. So far, so good.
The big, scary part to me is the Washington DC step. After spending months gathering these documents, the dossier becomes like a baby in my mind and I'd basically kill to protect it. So rather than send it to the State Department in Washington, we send it to a courier whose job it is to walk the documents through both DC stops and return the documents to us overnight. Paying a courier, who is also an adoptive mom, adds to our fees, but provides untold peace of mind.
You can only imagine the number of people required to make all this happen. Four to ten people handle each document to sign, stamp, notarize, certify, and authenticate. It really is a wonder it all comes together and these children ever make it home. But God is faithful. He gets us through it. And the joy the child brings completely overshadows the pain of the paper chase. Thus, like a pregnancy, most people are willing to do it all again. And others, who fall squarely in the crazy category, do it four times.
So, today, the documents are all back from DC and I'm FedEx-ing them to Charleston to our adoption agency. Accompanying the official documents are copies of our passports, extra passport photographs, and two pages of photographs showing our family having fun together.
And then we hurry up and wait. We're looking at probably four to six months before we finally meet our boy. But, at least the ball is in China's court now.
He's worth every bit of this and more.