If you’re reading here you probably know that we’re waiting for our referral—waiting to receive The Call saying we’ve been matched with our child, for our turn to ooh and ahh over a couple unflattering photos of a baby in an oversized diaper and off-gender clothes being propped up in an orange plastic chair. But after that glorious day when we officially accept our referral, a few more things still have to happen before our little episode of Bringing Home Baby.
A big variable is Ethiopia’s three-month rule: if a child was found abandoned, they must be in the orphanage’s care for three months before being adopted in order to allow time for any extended family members to come forward and say they will take care of the child. Many of the children—perhaps most infants, though I’m not sure—have been abandoned, but I’ve never heard of anyone coming forward. Ethiopians do highly value children and many families care for extended family members, so if a child is abandoned, most likely the options have been exhausted and none of the family are able to help. An abandoned child is not left to die but left to be found—being taken in to an orphanage care center being by far their best chance at a better life. Babies can be legally relinquished to the government, such as at police station, but I believe this is culturally stigmatized, so they are often simply left somewhere busy where someone will find the child quickly. Perhaps the mother watches from a distance to make sure. I cannot fathom a life where this is your best option, but if you are dying in abject poverty, the unthinkable becomes an act of love.
An abandoned child must be in the orphanage for three months before court can take place. If a parent or other family member brings in the child, this waiting period is not necessary because they sign papers legally relinquishing their rights. When we accept our referral and any necessary wait time is up, documents are sent to the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) and a court date is set.
This court date is when we officially, legally become the child’s parents. It normally takes place about a month after referral, but Ethiopia made a new law in January (without warning—I’m pretty sure this is Madonna’s fault) saying that if the parents relinquished, they must appear in court date to confirm their relinquishment. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this, but it’s apparently slowing things down a bit because agencies/orphanages have to find the parents again and bring them to Addis Ababa, even if they live days away. I’m not sure what happens if they can’t be located, are too sick to travel, or have died; perhaps other family members can appear instead. A court date can be unsuccessful if the case isn’t heard when scheduled (just happened to a bunch of folks I know) or more documents are requested for some reason. So once we get our referral we will start praying like crazy for successful court!
After a successful court date, we are legally parents, but an embassy date must be scheduled. When we travel to Addis, we will spend one day at the U.S. embassy getting a visa for our child. I believe this can’t happen sooner than twenty days after court. We plan our travel around this date.
The estimate used to be that we travel six to eight weeks after referral. Now court seems to be taking a little longer, so we’d better figure two months. Then there is the possible three-months-wait complication . . . and let’s not even talk about the fact that the Ethiopia courts completely shut down in August and September! This is why I quit counting weeks—it was actually the estimating and re-estimating of when we might travel that was making me nuts. Now, I am as optimistic as anyone, but do you see why I am shifting my expectations to June travel instead of May? Of course ye of greater faith are welcome to still root for May! But an awful lot of things will have to go right for that to happen. Some of them must be in motion already. I wonder what’s going on there on the other side of the world.