Thursday, June 05, 2008

Samren's Story: Part III

He was ours. Forever ours. The G&R Ceremony was complete. I had the blessing of the woman we believe to be his biological mother (we will never know for sure). There was nothing more to ask for.

Directly from Hung Yen, after our goodbyes at the orphanage, our entire group headed back to Hanoi to immediately hop on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Hanoi/Northern Vietnam was beautiful, but it was also a sad place to me. The Vietnam war (or as they call it, The American War) still felt heavy in the air there. We received some not-so-nice looks and comments from Vietnamese people as we walked down the streets with one of "their" babies. The country side (and even the orphanage grounds where Samren lived) were littered with what looked like small ponds. We found out later these were craters from bombs. It was all just very sobering to me. So I looked forward to seeing what S. Vietnam would be like. To me, N. Vietnam "felt" very communist and "big brother."

The flight was short and uneventful. Samren wasn't eating well and basically slept all of the time. So in that way, he was the "easiest" baby ever! We weren't worried about him at that point. We just figured it would take a few days for him to pick a nipple he liked and figure out how to suck from a bottle.

It was immediately apparent that HCMC was nothing like N. Vietnam! There were modern high rises, and supermarkets, and capitalism was everywhere! HCMC never felt as communist as Hanoi, despite the fact that the government tracked our every move in both areas! It was so fun to see all of the street sellers. Smiling faces...more English was spoken...and everybody seemed much more welcoming of us adopting one of "their" babies.

Another reason I may have liked HCMC better was because my boss was there. I would no longer have to play "adoption specialist." I could just be a mommy! Yea!!!!

Our hotel was very nice. It was nice to have a good breakfast buffet in the morning, and good continental room service whenever we didn't feel like eating out. The funniest thing about the hotel rooms was the air conditioning. Your A/C worked with your room key. You put the room key into a slot and the A/C came on. This meant that if you left your room you had to also turn off the A/C. BUMMER! HCMC was MUCH hotter than Hanoi so we were constantly fighting the hot/humid and the cool/dry in our room.

On the adoption front we had several tasks to complete. We needed to get Samren's Vietnam passport, file his I-600 with DHS, and (after approval) file for his visa with the Consulate. All of this was supposed to take 7-10 days if I remember correctly. We really didn't have anything to do with the passport (just gave the money and our facilitator made that happen). Before we knew it it was time to visit the DHS office.

In HCMC the DHS office is a huge multi-story modern structure, like any office building in the U.S. Very sleek. Very cold. Our facilitator refused to go into the building with us and sent her assistant instead. Should this have been a red flag? YEP! We walked in and handed the officer our I-600 and supporting documents. After a very silent few moments and a few cursory questions, we were told they would contact us with news regarding the case. Could be a few days. Stress!

At this time in Vietnam adoptions there were lots of dirty things going on. This facilitator we were using didn't hesitate to "cut corners" on the Vietnam side of things (we learned AFTER were were in Vietnam--or of course we would have never used her to begin with). That made me nervous. She didn't do anything illegal (as far as I could tell) but she manipulated the system in a way that wasn't appreciated. I had heard that certain US agencies were being highly favored by DHS while others were being "punished." All of this made for a very nervous few days.

During this time, Samren's health was going downhill. The kid just couldn't suck a bottle. He didn't want it. Didn't want anything to do with it! By this point he was probably sleeping 20 hours a day and laying inactive most of the time he was awake. At the same time the baby girl adopted with him (by my friend Linda) was doing great--very active and perky. Samren just seemed sickly. It got to the point that we began to feed him formula with a dropper with a goal of getting 10 ounces in him every day.

Two days after our visit to the DHS office we received a letter under our hotel room door. I don't remember the wording, but the jest of it was that they were putting our case under investigation with a strong possibility that they would issue a NOID (Notice of Intent to Deny an I-600) at a later date. The letter said that their investigation could take months. That we should leave our children and go back to America. Ugh. My hands started shaking just as I typed it. It was so scary. The tears. The confusion.

By this point Samren was our son--not just legally but in our hearts. By this point he was the cutest baby boy that ever did live and I would give my life for him just as I would for Taevy. And he was sick. And there was no way we could just turn him back over to somebody (we had no idea who) while we went back to the US!

I had to call my mother (who was an absolute nervous wreck about us being in a communist country to begin with) and tell her that I was trying to figure out how I would live in Vietnam with Samren AND Taevy until this was sorted out. I could no more leave Taevy in someone else's care for that long than I could leave Samren in someone else's care. Eric had to go back to work after 3 weeks, so that wasn't an option. I remember my mom being so scared when I needed her to be brave for me! There was no perfect solution--but it was the best I could come up with. So we started making plans.

In the meantime, our facilitator just shrugged the thing off. She would fix it, she said. I didn't know what that meant. I just wanted her to fix it. I don't know if it was the same day, or a day later, or two days???? Eventually she came to us and said that everything was alright now--that we would have an interview with the DHS officer the following day and he would approve our I-600s. She explained very non-chalantly that the Vietnamese national at the DHS officer wanted money in order for our cases to go through. Without our knowledge or consent, our facilitator said paid this money to the DHS officer. I need to add here that we don't KNOW that what she told us was the truth. We never spoke to the DHS people. We never gave any money for a bribe to be paid. All we know for sure is that our cases were no longer going to be investigated. The rest is heresay.

As you can imagine, I was a complete wreck. Here I am with this sick baby that's getting sicker each day....with a facilitator that is LESS than an ethical role model....dealing with what I believed to be a corrupt US GOVERNMENT office. I felt like a zombie. I had given up any hope of having control or raising a fuss. I just did as I was told. I couldn't emotionally handle anything more than that.

The day came when we were to meet with the big bad DHS officer (and really, he was known for being a seriously BAD person). Eric and I walked in. He asked us lots of tough questions that we answered honestly. He explained to us that if we answered anything dishonestly we could be brought up on charges for perjury and could go to prison. Then he asked, "Were you asked and did you pay, or to your knowledge did your facilitator pay, any fees that were unofficial, as a bribe?" [Or something to that effect.] Holy Moly. Eric and I hadn't exactly rehearsed whether or not we would ever lie. I know we weren't planning to lie--especially not at risk of imprisonment! But we both looked him straight in the eye and said, "No."

There was nothing pre-mediated. There was no intent to lie when we went into that room. I guess self- (and child-) preservation mode kicked in. After all, WE hadn't done anything wrong (except maybe to trust the wrong person). We didn't have proof that anybody else did anything wrong. I have thought about that day a million times since then. Would I do the same thing again if given the chance? Did we make a mistake? What was the RIGHT thing to do in that situation (not just black and white "right" but "right" considering all of the factors)? I don't know. But I know that day changed me. That day is the reason I am so abhorrently against any sort of "cutting corners" in international adoption. I hope that more good has come from that day than any bad that came from it. I pray so.

This was about losing our son. If we would have said yes, we would have lost Samren. And us saying "yes" wouldn't have changed the fact that Samren was a real orphan under US immigration definition. He did need an adoptive family. And he was becoming more ill by the day. So we compromised our own ethical code and said "no" for our son's sake.

I still struggle with it. I'm still paranoid about it. What if some mean-hearted person reads this blog and tells Vietnam that 6 years ago we said "no" when we should have said, "yes?" But I put it out there because I want other ethical adoption parents to know that there are situations you could be put into that will challenge your ethics. Choose an agency and a facilitator (if the country you're adopting from uses them) that would NEVER put you in that position. Choose an agency that would rather your adoption take twice as long as everybody else's than put you in a position where you have to perjure yourself to protect your child.

The I-600 was approved. There was so much relief. I wouldn't be living in Vietnam after all. But it wasn't the joy it should have been. Just relief. Just another step to getting out of the country (which was all I wanted to do by that point).

Next (and final) step was the US Consulate. After our DHS experience we weren't exactly relaxed about the next step! Nevertheless it went well, and we received Samren's visa.

I will never forget the very hard-looking consular officer that did the visa interview. It was during a time with Samren was actually awake. The woman looked like she hadn't smiled in month and today was not going to be the day! But then there was Samren. I'm telling you...since the kid was a tiny baby he has a smile that you just HAVE to smile back at! Samren kept giving her this great big round-faced toothless smile over and over and over again. Finally, as she was looking down at paperwork she busted out with a laugh and a smile. She composed herself quickly and then apologized. "I'm sorry. He's just so...smiley." LOL!

Our time in Vietnam was thankfully drawing to a close. I would like to say that the stressful experiences we had there didn't influence how I think of the country today--but they did. I know it's an amazing country and so many adoptive parents feel a very strong tie. But for me it is not as strong a tie as it is with Cambodia (Taevy) and Ghana (Samren). The Communism "big brother" stuff...the unethical stuff on the Vietnam side of the adoption...the corrupt stuff on the American side of the just stort of traumatized me I think. I often think that I should go back to Vietnam...that if I did I could fall in love with a country that deserves to be fallen in love with. And I will. Someday.