Monday, 4 August 2014

Our Adoption Story; a Guest Post

I'm delighted to host a guest post today sharing the adoption experiences of an American-Japanese family. I hope to be able to share more stories in the future~ if you are comfortable sharing your experiences, please get in touch! All opinions expressed are the author's own.

  I found Sophelia’s blog one day, searching for some information about finalizing my son’s adoption.  I read her posts on adoption in Japan with great interest, as it is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I reached out to her via her blog and she wondered if I would like to post our experiences with adoption in Japan.  After mulling it over for a few days on what I might write that people might find helpful or interesting I decided to give it a try.  My wife and I have been blessed with two children, both adopted from Japan as infants.  Our daughter was born in 2009 and our son was born in 2012.  Both children are so very bright and have such wonderful personalities.  They truly go together like peas and carrots. 

  My wife is Japanese and I am from the United States.  We met through a mutual friend and after a few years, I convinced her to give me a chance (it wasn’t easy).  Our desire for a family started out like a lot of families, struggling with fertility issues.  We were not having success with the more scientific approaches and decided to look into adoption.  My wife spent a lot of time on the internet researching the agencies in Japan and the US.  We spent a lot of time on the phone calling agencies and asking questions.  In the end, we went with an American agency on the West Coast that was placing children from Japan, mostly because we were living in the US at the time.  We traveled to their offices, had an interview and were told they primarily placed infants, but there was a possibility we could be matched with a toddler.  We told the agency director we would be happy with, and would love, any child placed with us.  With that, we were told to put together some information about ourselves, along with both sides of our family, into a photo album and given a stack of USCIS forms to fill out.  When birth mothers chose to place their child for adoption internationally, they would look through the albums and, based on the information there, would choose the family they would place their child with.  While that seems like a rather large decision to make based on a small album, that’s the way it was done.  Since we were living on the East Coast, we were also told we’d need to make arrangements with an agency locally to do all the required home study documentation.  With all the USCIS documents, and some uncertainty of the road in front of us, we boarded a plane back home to wait. 

  We finished our required tasks to be eligible to adopt an orphan and my wife made a very nice album of pictures along with some personal notes in Japanese, which we submitted to our agency on the West Coast.  We kept in contact with some of the other families on the waiting list as well as the Japanese liaison at the adoption agency.  It was tough hearing about other families being selected and, while happy a child had been placed into a loving family, we often wondered if our turn would ever come.  We were eventually selected and got a wonderful phone call letting us know our daughter had been born and she was doing fine.  After the call, the Japanese liaison forwarded us the most precious pictures and asked us to make preparations to travel as soon as possible to Japan.  We spent what seemed like an eternity getting our documents together and making travel arrangements.  We arrived in Tokyo and made our way to a furnished, short term lease apartment not far from the US Embassy.  The next day we waited nervously for the women who had cared for our daughter the last two weeks to bring her to meet us.  Oh what an angel!  She was a little small, just a tad under 6 pounds, but she was very healthy with good color and a good appetite.  She immediately stole our hearts.  We spent the next few days getting acquainted with her and wandering around Tokyo, Yokohama and Kawasaki buying every kawaii baby outfit we could find.  We also bought what seemed like a semi-truck full of infant formula.  In hindsight, that was a good idea since there was going to be some stress over the next few days with appointments at the embassy and then a rather long plane ride from Tokyo back to the East Coast.  Since our daughter was doing well with the Japanese formula and was having normal stools it just didn’t seem worth taking the chance with something new.  We eventually switched her to US formula, but it was long after all the stresses of travel and being in strange places had passed.

  Our appointments at the embassy went rather well.  If you have never been to a US Embassy overseas, it is quite an experience.  The line for Japanese citizens was very long and it was very cold that day.  Since we were applying for a US visa for our daughter, we had to wait in the Japanese line.  Once inside, we turned in our paperwork, answered a few questions and made an appointment to return in a few days.  If everything was in order, our daughter’s Japanese passport would then be given back to us with the proper visa required for her to enter the US as a legal immigrant.  Our next appointment went smoothly and we got all the documents back, in a sealed envelope, which we would have to turn in to USCIS once we arrived in the United States.  One important thing I did prior to traveling was to arrange all our documents in an accordion style folder, with labels, for each form.  With the number of documents required, and the rush, rush, rush atmosphere at the embassy, organization was the key to success.  The embassy staff seemed to appreciate that we were organized and had the required documents quickly available after they were requested.  With our embassy appointments completed, and every cute article of girl clothes in Japan purchased, we spent the last few days getting our fill of Japan.      

  Flying with a newborn is quite an experience.  We flew on a Japanese carrier, ANA, and they were really great.  The flight attendant would go in to the lavatory first and got the diaper changing table ready every time one of us got up to change a diaper.  What service.  We arrived at the airport and were directed to the USCIS holding area where they processed newly arrived immigrants with visas.  My wife brought a thermos from Japan in her bag and made sure it was full of hot water before we left the plane so she could make formula.  What a great idea, especially since we were there in the holding area for a while.  With our required stamps and paperwork completed, we bundled up our daughter, got in the car and drove home to start our life as a family.

  Over the next few months, we completed our homestudy and did the required paperwork to finalize our adoption.  I hired an attorney to do the documents and work with the court.  It was not a requirement, and I could have made it through the process by myself, but in the end felt it was a good investment because it was a stress reducer.  When our court day arrived, we went to Family Court and the judge made it legal and with some judicial pomp and circumstance thrown in for good measure, our adoption was finished.  We still needed to do two more things however, get a social security number and then a US passport.  Our daughter had an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number) assigned by the IRS but you must have a social security number to apply for a US passport.  Our family was preparing for a move to the West Coast so I pushed the passport application to the back burner as we packed up all our stuff and headed to a new home.

  Once in our new location, I headed down to the social security office and applied for a social security card.  It was not easy since the adoption documents were from the state where we previously resided, with some of them in Japanese (with translations) and that kind of blew the mind of the nice person helping us.  After a bit of back and forth, they processed our application and we eventually got a social security card in the mail.  Armed with my daughter’s social security card, completed passport application and very cute passport photo, we applied for a US passport.  It came in the mail about three weeks later and on that day, our daughter gained dual citizenship.  There is a document you can get from USCIS (Certificate of Citizenship) that confers official US citizenship but at the time, it cost over $700 to process.  A passport is the only stand-alone document that is recognized by the US as a form of identification and if it is a US passport then, according to the US government, the bearer is a US citizen.  Since I had already shelled out a lot of money to USCIS, I just couldn’t see forking over more just to get a document that did the same thing as a US passport.   So I didn’t and it hasn’t been an issue yet.   The official portion of our journey had come to an end.  Our daughter was legally our child and a citizen of both Japan and the US.  She had been placed on my wife’s koseki (official family tree in Japan) and we had a birth certificate from a US state.  My wife and I both thought it was time to relax.  
  As we progressed through the adoption process for our daughter, the Japanese liaison from the agency we used had become a very close family friend.  She had asked us once, in the course of a conversation, if we had ever thought of adopting again.  We told her we were interested, but as a couple, really didn’t give it too much thought.  There are very few infants available for adoption in Japan and there is a long list of both Japanese and international families waiting to be selected.  We were told early in our adoption journey that adopting from an orphanage, when not living in Japan, was problematic so that was not an option.  Our Japanese friend asked if we would fill out the required paperwork anyway, update our family album, and get ready for the call notifying us we’d been selected.  I am a pro at filling out USCIS documents, so I filled them out and filed them.  We would occasionally call and discuss with our Japanese friend what was going on in Japan with adoptions and she would always end our conversations with “be ready”.  Life went on and we were preparing for another move, this time back to the Far East, when I got a call on my cell phone, from our old friend, letting me know our son would be born in the next few weeks.  As a family, we were floored and very excited at this wonderful news.  Our furniture had already been packed, plane tickets bought and the three of us were living in a hotel waiting to travel.  Now, we really had a reason to get moving back to the Far East!  Our son was born 15 days after we arrived in Japan.  

  We arranged to meet our friend in Tokyo and met our son for the first time a week after he was born.  After a cup of coffee and some discussion about how our son was doing, we pushed our newest family member out the door, his big sister in tow, into a brisk spring Tokyo day.  He was very healthy, was bigger at birth than his sister was, had a monster appetite and was very alert.  He was also a really good, sound sleeper.  I know that because his (three year old at the time) sister loved to go in and check on him all the time.  It seemed as if there was a bond between them almost immediately.  

 I am not an expert on what is required to finalize an adoption in Japan (or the US for that matter).  Honestly, my wife did most of the work.  I will say, from my point of reference, the adoption process in Japan was easier than it was in the US.  There was less paperwork and fewer home visits.  We sat with the social worker in his office once, he came to our house once, and he visited our son’s birth mother to make sure she was doing what she felt was best for her child.  With that information, he filed a report with the family court judge, who signed an order, and that was that.  Our son was added to my wife’s koseki and, according to the government of Japan, he was legally our son.  The difference in the process might be because we weren’t immigrating anywhere with our son (yet).  In our daughter’s case, we were taking her to the US as a legal immigrant and needed a ton of USCIS documents to do that.  There was also FBI background checks, state background checks and fingerprinting requirements in the US.  There were more home visits, more office visits, more e-mail and more phone calls.  The level of complexity is obvious in this little tome, since my son’s adoption process could be condensed into one paragraph.  None of these extra steps, or any Herculean efforts to line up lawyers and court dates and paperwork, was required in Japan.  Later this year I will apply for an I-130 visa for my son to enter the US.  Once his Japanese passport has an entry stamp into the US, I can return to Japan with him and apply for a US passport at the embassy in Tokyo.  He will then be just like his sister, a dual citizen.

  I am biased, but our children are great.  Both are very smart and are in the upper percentile in the Japanese growth charts for kids their age.  They are in the upper middle on the US growth charts, which is a good place for them to be.  Our daughter is bilingual and switches between Japanese and English like flipping a light switch.  She is doing kumon for math and Japanese and can read and write in both hiragana and English.  She has a stubborn streak that can be exasperating, but I love it so.  Our son is growing and developing on the same trajectory as his sister and is such a joyful little soul.  His presence brightens a room.  He isn’t as vocal as his sister was at the same age but he is stringing words together into simple sentences.  He has recently taken quite an interest in small toy cars and also the tools in my tool box.   Sometimes he uses the latter to fix the former, much to the displeasure of his dad.  They are both in love with each other and play together very well (seriously).  My daughter shows so much concern and empathy for her brother.  As a father, I couldn’t be more proud of them.

  Well, that’s our story.  It was quite an adventure and my wife and I learned a lot about each other and this tragicomedy we call the human condition along the way.  We learned that some people (especially Americans) can be totally oblivious to the blindingly obvious.  Most Americans were mildly surprised to hear our daughter was adopted, mostly because, in my opinion, my wife is Asian.  Our daughter is very Asian in appearance and I always found it humorous when I told people about her adoption they would say “really, she looks so much like you and your wife”.  Really.  We also learned a lot about what Japanese thought about adoption and how different it is from how people feel in the US.    I will not be negative; I will just say I find most widely held Japanese beliefs about adoption personally disappointing.  On the positive side, we had no issue adopting our son through the Japanese family court system.  We were treated fairly, with decency and respect at every juncture.  That may be because we live in a big city, which has many foreigners, so my Japanese adoption experience may be different based on location alone.  In closing, my wife and I are the two luckiest people we know.  We beat some long odds and adopted two fantastic kids.  If you’re reading this, that means you might be either somewhere along the path to adopt a child, are considering it as an option, or know someone who may be considering it.  While it may sound rather simplistic, the only worthwhile advice I could offer is to stay positive, remain hopeful and work towards your dream.  Our family wishes your family the best of luck on your journey! 
  Thank you so much for sharing your story! ~Sophelia 
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