January 2001 to June 2001
Josh: Rose calls: It's time to do the second chunk of paperwork—our referral could be as little as six or eight weeks away. If the quantity of paperwork seemed crazy the first time, the amount required this time around is simply mind-boggling. We have to get a "good conduct certificate" from our local police. We live in a city of 8 million, and I daresay the local police don't have the slightest idea what our conduct is like.
What makes the forms difficult—besides the sheer volume—is the rules dictating how each must be filled out, signed, and authenticated. Each signature must be notarized, with the notary stamping his seal on a gold sticker we provide for that purpose. And then the notarization must be certified by the clerk of the county in which the notary is qualified. And then that certification of the notarization of our signatures must be registered by the office of the secretary of state of New York.
February 15, 2001
Christina: We finally have everything ready to go. I FedEx our "dossier"—as it's officially known—to the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, DC, for further authentication. When that's done, the package will go on to the IMH office in Hanoi.
Christina: We learn that our dossier has arrived in Vietnam. Now everything is in place for a referral. I start out waiting in a fairly rational state of mind, which slowly devolves into near insanity as the weeks pass. Whenever the phone rings, my heart races and I steel myself before answering it.
I call Rose at the end of the month, and she explains that the referral waits have increased, as the number of applications IMH received last fall was at an all-time high. She can't say exactly when we'll get our referral, just that we will. Eventually.
This kind of noncommittal answer is clearly a well-rehearsed, routine part of the agency's day, much of which is spent fending off desperate, hysterical parents at various points in the waiting game. I can't say I blame Rose for the way she handles my questions; still, I begin to view anyone who works at the agency as the enemy.
April and May 2001
Christina: These months have been pure torture, an unremitting roller coaster of hope (as in: Today could be the day!) and despair (as in: It wasn't). When I'm away from home, I call my voicemail twice an hour. I spend an embarrassing amount of time on my e-mail listserv, Adoptive Parents of Vietnam, which is a great resource for families. I become obsessed with how long other people have been waiting and am thrilled, though envious, when someone gets a referral. I find a cyberbuddy named Lisa, who expects her referral right around when we expect ours. We share our anxieties many times a day.
June 1, 2001
Christina: Still no referral. I have almost given up hope.
Josh: The wait for our referral is longer than we expected, but for me time passes quickly. Maybe it's a guy thing, but I don't feel as anxious as Christina does. It's a relief to be finished with the paperwork; now that I know we'll get a baby and the only question is when, it's possible to relax.
June 11, 2001
Christina: Finally, it happens. The telephone rings while Olivia and her friend are playing dress-up. Rose tells me we have a referral—a little girl named Nguyen Nhu Thu Lien, born March 4 and abandoned at a health clinic in Hanoi. There's no information at all about her birth parents. Rose wants us to come to Spence that afternoon to see her photo and other documents.
I'm flying! The excruciating wait is finally over! I immediately call Josh to tell him the news.
When we arrive at Spence, Rose actually makes us wait to see the photo while she explains the next procedure: We'll have two days to have the baby's medical info looked over by a doctor and to decide whether we will accept the referral. I am trying to listen politely while doing everything in my power not to grab the photo from her.
Then she shows us the picture, and within seconds all the months of anxiety and waiting and preparing myself to love a monster-child vanish. I'm amazed to be looking at a baby who's truly beautiful. (Did someone go out of her way to accommodate my shallowness?) She's lying on a quilt, wearing baggy orange-and-yellow striped pants and a white T-shirt. She has bright eyes and a perfect little turned-down rosebud of a mouth. She is looking off to the side—alert, maybe a bit skeptical. She is unquestionably adorable.
Many adoptive parents claim they fall in love with their child the moment they see the photo. I can't say this is true for us—she's still just a two-dimensional image—but it's a joyous moment. I feel relieved, similar to the way I felt when I gave birth to Olivia. After so much anticipation, everything is finally resolved and better than expected.
Josh: Christina and I toast our new daughter with overpriced glasses of wine at a nearby bar. That night we have a phone consultation with Dr. Jane Aronson, a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption. She reviews Thu Lien's medical chart and photo and says that from what she can tell, our little girl looks just fine. We officially accept the referral, send an $8,000 certified check to IMH to cover what's vaguely referred to as the "country fee," and begin counting down the next two- to three-month wait to travel to pick up our daughter, whom we decide to name Lucy Thu Lien Lerman.