By: Kathy | Baby Boomer Super Saver
When it comes to money mistakes, my husband and I have made some big ones. Yet, there was one money mistake in our past that I don’t regret. We have nothing to show for it except a memory, and hope.
It’s been 12 years since we embarked on a journey to adopt a baby. Ultimately, we did not get to bring our baby home with us. Yes, I still think of him as “our” baby. Jonathan never really belonged to us, but it felt like it for a while. His memory is forever etched in our hearts and we hope the best for him.
Our adoption story ended abruptly inside a hot, stuffy Guatemalan courtroom. The translator sat next to me, along with a lawyer hired by our adoption agency. Also seated around the table were Jonathan’s birth mother and her new boyfriend, the birth mother’s parents, a court reporter, and the judge.
The translator explained that the judge wanted to know how much we had paid to adopt this baby. Thoughts raced through my mind. I didn’t know what the judge was getting at. Did he think we were trying to “buy” a baby? How could I answer without making it sound otherwise?
I tried to explain that the money was used to provide diapers, clothing, formula, and care for the baby while he was in foster care. That the fees included a home study conducted by a social worker, to make sure we were suitable parents. The translator whispered, “He’s getting angry, just give him a number.”
“Thirty thousand dollars,” I said. It was vastly below the amount we really spent.
Adoption agency fees vary widely, depending on the country. The average adoption cost from a private agency in the US is about $43,000. For international adoptions, agency fees range from $30,000 to $48,000.
Adoption is expensive, although there are ways to reduce costs. For example, adoptions through the US foster care system are practically free. Most foster care adoptions are limited to older children because child welfare agencies try hard to help families successfully reunite.
It can take years of parenting classes, drug treatment, therapy, etc., before parental rights are terminated in the US.
Did we make a money mistake by not adopting through the US foster care system? It would not have cost as much, but we would not have been matched with an infant.
We wanted a baby and chose to go with an agency that specialized in infant adoptions from Guatemala.
Other Adoption Expenses
We spent money to make our home look inviting, for professional photos of our family, and for application and home study fees. Additional funds went to notarize forms, obtain passports, pay dossier and legal fees, etc.
There were repeated trips to Guatemala, which of course included costs for airfare, other transportation, hotels, and food. We did some sight-seeing, too, to learn more about the wonderful Guatemalan people and their culture. It was hard to resist spending money on the lovely Guatemalan textiles!
Our emotions got the best of us (money mistake?) and we purchased adorable outfits and supplies for Jonathan that we left with him while he was in foster care.
Initially, we traveled to bond with the baby. Our final trips were made to attend court proceedings.
No Emergency Fund (Huge Money Mistake)
During one of our trips to Guatemala, we were stranded due to a hurricane and had to stay at our hotel longer than expected. We had no financial cushion, no emergency fund. It was another serious money mistake! At this low point, I asked a friend to loan us money until we could get back home.
My husband and I had not learned to save money. We pretty much spent everything we made, and then some. It would be another seven years before we corrected this money mistake.
The general recommendation for an emergency fund is 3 – 6 months of living expenses. If an unexpected emergency occurs, you need a financial cushion. We sure could have used one back then!
Having an emergency fund gives you options.
Money Mistake Warning
We were warned by other adoptive parents not to go to Guatemala until the adoption was ready to be finalized to avoid making a big money mistake. It was suggested that we wait to meet the baby until he or she was approved for travel to his or her new home.
This was also to avoid getting our hearts broken by bonding with a baby that could not be adopted for some reason.
We didn’t listen to that advice.
Financial & Emotional Risks
Shortly after we signed the adoption agency contract, paid a big chunk of money and completed our home study, the political climate for adoptions from Guatemala changed. The US State Department was putting pressure on Guatemala to comply with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
Our adoption agency informed us there was a very real chance that all adoptions from Guatemala would stop and asked us to carefully consider if we wanted to move forward or not.
We considered our options.
I’d already had several miscarriages. We realized that we could spend a massive amount of money for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments with no guarantee that we’d get a baby.
The financial risks of continuing with the adoption despite the changing political climate was a risk we decided we were willing to take.
Was this a money mistake? If we received a referral for a baby, there was a chance the adoption might squeak through before the doors were closed for good. There was also a chance we would lose our money and have no baby to show for it.
What About Refunds?
Some families questioned whether refunds would be made by our adoption agency. My husband and I did not pursue this, because we felt we had been warned to drop out if we were not willing to risk losing our money. We went into it with our eyes wide open.
The agency and their staff worked hard to move the last adoptions forward and we believed they should be paid for their work. On top of that, the agency paid for searchers, investigators and lawyers after our case ended up in the Guatemalan court system.
How It All Unraveled
Despite corruption in the Guatemalan adoption system, suspected cases of stolen children, and other wild rumors (the Vice President of Guatemala was even quoted by the newspaper as having accused US citizens of adopting Guatemalan infants just to harvest their organs, wait, what?!) we believed our adoption agency was following the rules and doing everything correctly.
Yet a mistake was made.
The photos of our baby and another baby were somehow switched on their respective case files. Although it was no doubt a simple human error, it became a huge red flag to the Guatemalan adoption authorities who swooped in and snatched both babies from their foster homes without warning.
Both infants were placed in an undisclosed orphanage. Our agency had no information so were unable to reassure us. This happened while we were in Guatemala visiting Jonathan, so it was even more horrible for us to go through.
Our hearts were grieving right along with the hearts of the two foster families. It seemed senseless to rip the babies from the only home they knew to place them in an institution where they not only would not know anyone, but they would not receive the one-on-one care they were used to.
We ended up in family court. The birth mothers had to be searched for and brought forward to confirm they had given up the infants without pressure from anyone. Ironically, we later learned the Guatemalan adoption authorities placed intense pressure on the birth mothers to take back the infants.
Why We Stuck It Out To The Bitter(sweet) End
When the babies were whisked away from everyone they knew by the adoption authorities and placed in an undisclosed orphanage, we were still hopeful that things would work out. However, both birth mothers disappeared, which made resolving the case impossible.
As time dragged on, we began to fear the babies would grow up in the orphanage! We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, so we showed up for every hearing.
Things moved very slowly in Guatemala, especially when it came to the PGN (Procuradoria General de la Nacion), the government agency in charge of adoptions. Our adoption agency told us not to interfere in the process and instructed us not to try to find out where the babies were.
The other adoptive mom spoke Spanish fluently and she discovered where the babies were by chatting up the orphanage workers who delivered the babies to one of the court hearings. We didn’t tell our adoption agency, but we were able to visit the babies at the orphanage! There were many hugs & tears of joy during our visits.
At the final hearing, I also met Jonathan’s family of origin. I had a picture of the birth mother, but even before she showed up, her parents arrived in the waiting area. It was easy to recognize Jonathan’s grandparents, as he had their same facial features.
I was able to meet and talk a little with the family before court began. They didn’t speak English and my Spanish wasn’t very good, but we found a way to communicate with each other. It was obvious the grandparents were desperate to bring home their grandson.
What Happened To The Babies?
The other little boy’s adoption was finalized, and he got to go home with his new adoptive mother. His birth mother had insisted she wanted his adoption to go forward.
Jonathan didn’t go home with his birth mother, or with us. The judge awarded custody to the maternal grandparents. It turned out that the grandparents hadn’t know about Jonathan, but once they found out they had a grandson, they wanted to raise him.
During the hearing, Jonathan’s grandfather pleaded in Spanish “Please, Judge, he’s my blood.”
It hurt me to hear those words. My selfish wish to bring Jonathan home was hard to let go of, but I knew deep in my heart that it would be best for him to grow up within his biological family. Even if it was his extended family.
Moving On With Grace
Our family set an intention and embarked on a journey, but life doesn’t always unfold as expected. Adoption is very complex. In the end, the best interest of the adoptee is what really matters.
Jonathan was the baby we met and loved as our own, yet fate had other plans for him. We had wonderful times holding, caring and loving Jonathan when he needed it most. There was a gap between the moment of his birth and the moment his grandparents were able to step in.
I’m glad we were there to fill the gap, even if it was terribly painful to say goodbye.
Although we were crushed that Jonathan didn’t come home with us, it was comforting to know he was wanted, loved, and would be raised by his grandparents rather than having to grow up in an orphanage.
It’s human nature to look back and say we could have made better decisions with our money. I don’t feel we made a huge money mistake by trying to adopt a baby, though. We did the best that we could, in faith.
We hope that we made a difference in Jonathan’s life during a critical time in his development.
I think we did.
Republished with the permission of BabyBoomerSuperSaver.com.