The following excerpt is from the recently published book, 'Instructions Included - A Paraguayan Adoption Story' - Our adventure began after we were unable to conceive. Many years of effort, heartache, and resources were spent in the pursuit of a child.
We had met with fertility doctors peddling remedies that worked for some... but not us. The doctors will tell you about and try new techniques for years – in what may prove to be less and less successful the longer you try.
Ilene and I had been trying to conceive for a few years. The emotional roller coaster of hope and failure had taken its toll on us during this time. We gave up for a while. A few months later, we tried again... but with no success.
Our last attempt was in vitro fertilization. This particular procedure was fraught with risk since it involved the surgical retrieval of an egg with re-implantation into the womb after laboratory fertilization. We were optimistic but when this also led to disappointment, we decided to take another break from all fertilization drugs and surgery.
Ilene was not willing to go the in vitro route again since it was draining emotionally and physically.
During the holiday season, with the city blanketed in a soft pillow of snow, and me in the holiday mood, I decided to browse in the FAO Schwartz toy store located in the GM Building where I worked. I perused the aisles for gifts for other people’s children, feeling as though I would never buy for my own, a sad prospect since my wife and I felt we had much love to give.
Adoption Support Group
Ilene had mentioned previously the option of adoption. I had not given it much consideration because of pride or fear or some other irrational emotion – it had to be a growth curve for me.
Ilene has always been the one to grab a situation with both hands after surveying all of her options and deciding on her best course of action. She mentioned an adoption help group in Westchester, New York whose members specialized in international adoptions. I agreed to go and listen.
My uncertainty dissolved that night. We were a small group listening to a talk from the very engaging couple who ran the program. They had a very nice home, and we sat in their den by a small and cozy fire. They placed that magic spark of excitement and anticipation in us. They talked about many things that night and, for me, the words “the adoption process will result in a child” stuck in my mind. Finally, a process, as we were about to find out, that would lead to a success.
We had one more surprise that night, when their two daughters, both from Chile, came bounding in the room. These two girls were precious – light brown complexions, expressive dark brown eyes, and the delicate features so prevalent in Latin countries.
Adoption support groups would be of continuing interest to us after our adoptions. These groups are a wealth of information from people and organizations that have been through all the joys and problems encountered by prospective parents. The groups also provide support in the form of self-help groups, education sessions, and social activities for both parents and children. In the years following our return with Sam, we continued to be active with Christian World Adoption (CWA), going on retreats to South Carolina, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania where we would rekindle old relationships, see how everyone's children had grown, trade stories and listen to guest speakers and seminars. At one retreat in Pennsylvania we were asked to speak with government representatives from Mexico, who were interested in our stories and perspectives regarding our experiences in Paraguay.
These retreats provided an avenue for the free expression of emotions and questions that arose in pre and post adoption situations we encountered.
Our meeting that night ended with us leaving with a lot of information to absorb.
On the drive back to New Jersey, Ilene and I both talked about how the same thought had struck – we were going to adopt internationally from South America.
We had both traveled to many South American countries over the years and had fallen in love with the culture and people. The people of Costa Rica, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic had offered warm welcomes, interesting customs and fabulous food during our previous visits.
International adoptions have historically been safer from the standpoint of protection under the law, both domestically and internationally. Domestically, there have been a few cases of birth mothers coming back months or even years later claiming custody, or worse, having the courts rescind the adoption – those stories led us to adopt internationally.
Ilene then put forth a plan. We were going to review and interview several adoption agencies to get the “feel” of the relationship. This was very important to us because we would be working with a group of people through a long and sometime arduous process, putting our trust and faith in them. Another point of faith was that we would be relying on this agency in a country whose laws and cast of characters could be different and challenging, to say the least.
We reviewed four different agencies based in four locations in the US. We settled on Christian World Adoption in South Carolina because the “feel” was there – you will know through instinct when you have found the right agency.
Some questions to have in mind when interviewing agencies include:
- Are you licensed in the state?
- What is your fee? How much goes to the agency and how much to the foreign country?
- Does the fee include the home study, follow up visits, legal counsel, agency fee, prenatal care, counseling for the birth mother, counseling for the adopting parents, birth mother support, and medical costs at delivery?
- Where and by whom are the children cared for once placed for adoption?
- Does the fee include childcare at the temporary foster care or orphanage?
- What is your success record for placements?
- How many children have you placed during the past year?
- What is the waiting time for a child?
- What is the schedule of payment?
- What happens if the adoption is unsuccessful?
- What are the country’s adoption laws and restrictions on adoption?
- How long and under what living conditions must you stay in the country?
- What types of documents does the foreign country require?
- What are your rights if, for some unknown reason, you must reject the child?
- What are the parental age restrictions in the country you wish to adopt from?
Most reputable agencies will have all the information listed above documented and ready to send to you. It also may be prudent to check an agency’s credentials through the state licensing board in the state where it is located.
We contacted CWA and they sent application forms. We quickly filled these out and returned them. Shortly thereafter, we were contacted and assigned a caseworker. Pam Dunning led us through the process and would prove invaluable during our pre-adoption planning here in the US and guidance/handholding in Paraguay.
We had not placed any potential roadblocks in the way of our adoption by limiting our choice to only a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’. In our research, we learned that the demand for girls vastly outweighs the demand for boys by close to a 5 to 1 margin. The reasons for this are numerous but chiefly center around the perception that girls are easier to raise than boys are. Another factor may be that the first contact with the adoption agencies and the eventual caregiver is the mother – with the prospective mothers being more comfortable requesting a girl.
Even by not limiting our choice, we thought we would have somewhat of a wait for the agency to select us. In reality, our wait was only a few days.
We received a phone call and referral letter in the mail for the little boy who would become our son. I remember feeling excitement and that disconnect you get during a momentous occasion in your life when time seems to slow down. Ilene and I sat at the kitchen table after work and opened the envelope from CWA.
The first words we read were “Please meet little baby Richard Guzman Montiel, born April 15, 1994.” The letter went on to say, “I’m hoping that this little boy just feels right to you. He is such a little thing.”
Ilene then said to me, “You know, as soon as we take a look at the photograph, he is the one who will be our son.” And, of course, she was right. He was absolutely gorgeous – beautiful small face, curly brown hair... just a button of a baby.
Also enclosed in our package was information on Sam’s biological mother and her reason for releasing Sam for adoption. She had stated that she “had no economic resources of her own and had made this decision in hopes that the child will benefit from a home of economic and moral solvency.”
We also received a laboratory report for Sam showing his blood type and negative tests for infectious disease.
Part of the paperwork was a copy of Sam’s birth mother’s driving license. This document had a picture of her that we are sure Sam will appreciate having later in life. His birth mother couldn’t have been more than in her early twenties with shorter brown hair and a devil-may-care smile – she was quite pretty.
Sam was born in the town of Fernando de la Mora, Paraguay. Being a geography and history enthusiast, I knew of Paraguay. Paraguay is set almost at the epicenter of the South American continent, landlocked between much larger neighbors. It is a country that Paraguayan author Roa Bastos described as “an island surrounded by land.” It is also a country that Ilene and I would become intimately involved with – and whose people we would come to admire and love.
To get our process moving, we had to sign a Paraguayan document called the Poder (Power of Attorney). This allowed our Paraguayan attorney to petition the courts for the adoption.
At this time, we also made payment to the attorneys in Paraguay for half their fee. These fees can be expensive – depending on circumstance and country – perhaps in the tens of thousands of dollars. This money is for attorney time, court filings, law firm expenses, and the attorney’s support of the private orphanages.
From the time Sam was referred to us to when we ultimately traveled to meet him and complete our adoption was consumed with numerous mandatory's from the US and New Jersey governments, as well as officials in Paraguay.