ADOPTION: A LAWYER’S STORY
Matthew Mastrogiacomo posted on March 19, 2013 13:54
It was in the winter of 2005/2006 that my wife and I decided to adopt a little girl from China. As an attorney, I was already familiar with the adoption process, having handled a few adoptions over the years in the Androscoggin and Oxford County Probate Courts. However, I learned very quickly it was very different when the “client” was you.
Once we chose to do an international adoption, we were given the first pile of what would eventually grow into a mountain of paperwork. Fortunately, thanks to my previous experience with adoptions, I had seen several of these forms before, but it made me realize how intimidating the application process must be to someone who has no familiarity with adoptions. After all the documents were finished, our home study completed, and our backgrounds cleared, we were ready to submit our dossiers to China. A month or so later, we received confirmation that our dossier was received.
When we received our confirmation on April 19, 2006, the wait to receive a referral was averaging about 1 year. However, over a year passed and we heard nothing. We were told by our agency that for various social and political reasons, China was attempting to reduce the number of children adopted overseas. As the years went by, it appeared less and less likely that we were ever going to be parents.
It wasn’t until June 7, 2010, when we received the call that would forever change our lives. Our child referral had come in! I received a call at my office from my wife, sobbing. All she could say was that she had just received a photo of our daughter, and she was beautiful. My e-mail notification then chimed, and I saw a picture of my daughter for the first time.
The rest of that day became a blur as we rushed to the adoption agency to review and sign documents. We were told we would be travelling to China within the next 8 weeks. We went from waiting for 4 years to suddenly having to prepare our lives to welcome a child in less than 2 months. The list of things that needed to be done, from the logistical to legal, was truly daunting. Luckily, my degree served me well again as I was able to quickly navigate the red tape.
After a dizzying month, on July 23, 2010, we boarded a plane. We had three suitcases, two for us, and one filled with books, toys, diapers and baby clothes. In addition, I kept a backpack that would not leave my side for the entire trip. In that backpack I had 2 folders. Each folder contained crucial documents that we needed to present, one set of documents to the adoption authorities in China, and the other to the American Consulate. Somewhere over Siberia, it finally hit me that I was travelling to the other side of the world to become a father. I felt scared and excited, all at the same time.
After a 15 hour flight, we landed in Hong Kong. Unlike most couples going to China to adopt, we did not travel in a large travel group. We were our own group; a product of coming from a smaller agency and luck of the draw. This meant we had a guide to ourselves, hired by the agency, but it also meant that when he was not there, we were on our own. He welcomed us and brought us to our hotel. We were immediately shocked by how many other Americans were there for the same reason: to welcome brand new family members.
The following day our Guide picked us up. We were rushed into a non-descript office building where we immediately noticed several other families waiting in line looking as nervous and excited as we were. We were brought up a long elevator and taken into a loud, chaotic room filled with happy people and crying babies. We heard our guide say our daughter’s Chinese name to a man who disappeared into another room. When he reappeared, he was carrying the baby we had only seen in pictures. To say we were emotional at this moment is to put it mildly. Mia was placed into my sobbing wife’s arms. Mia looked as confused and shell-shocked as we did. After a meeting with the orphanage director to check our paperwork, we were rushed out of the agency and back to the hotel. In the span of one hour, we went from being childless, to the parents of a 10 month old baby.
Over the course of the next 4 days we went from one appointment to another. We met with the Government Adoption Bureau chief to approve our final application. We had a medical appointment for the US Consulate. We applied for Mia’s Chinese passport. Any free time we had, we used to bond and play with our new baby. Mia became a part of our family nearly instantly, and by the 3rd day it was as if we always had her.
Our first appointment of the second week was to obtain Mia’s visa to allow her to travel to the United States. Our guide was going to drop off our paperwork at the Consulate for us, so we waited in our hotel room. About an hour before the appointment, I received a call from our guide who sounded frantic. He had lost a key document required by the US Consulate. Fortunately, I had another copy readily available. In fact, I had 3 copies of every document, just in case. He instructed me to head down to the concierge who would have a taxi waiting for me. After a harrowing cab ride across Guangzou I arrived at the Consulate and delivered the missing document.
After a few more meetings, we were given the famous “Brown Packet” from the Consulate. This packet contained all of Mia’s immigration documents that would make her a United States Citizen as soon as she entered the United States. We then spent the next few days packing to make the long trip home. When we touched down in Washington D.C., we handed the packet to a very friendly Customs Officer. She smiled, looked at our daughter and said, “Welcome to America, you are now a citizen of the United States.” The significance of the moment was undoubtedly lost on Mia, but not on us. One short flight later, we were back in Maine and Mia was at her new home.
A few weeks later, I completed the last bit of paperwork necessary to finalize the adoption on this side of the world. I drafted the necessary documents to have Maine recognize the foreign adoption and filed them with the Androscoggin County Probate Court. Less than a week later, I had the Probate Court decree. Six weeks later, Mia had her new Maine Birth Certificate and United States Naturalization Certificate.
My law degree and adoption practice experience proved invaluable in this process. I know it would have been an even more daunting and discouraging process without them. It was after adopting my own daughter that I decided to expand my adoption practice so I can use my experience and knowledge to help other families like mine.
Any family considering an adoption should know it is a difficult process that can be greatly helped with experienced legal counsel. However, I speak from experience when I say that it is worth it. Adoption was the best decision my wife and I have ever made.