Sunday, August 31, 2008

Goodbye, Vietnam

Night has fallen on my long journey to adopt from Vietnam.

Like countless families around the United States, the adoption in which I invested so much passion, energy, time, sadness, anxiety, excitement and hope is over. This long emotional roller coaster began with a twinkle in my eye almost exactly two years ago. I have heard officially from my agency that I will be among the families who are not able to be matched with a baby before adoptions to the U.S. close on Monday, Sept. 1. Families who will lose thousands and thousands of dollars, but most importantly, families who have left a part of their hearts in a country whose soil they never set foot on.

Truth is, I knew many months ago that my chance of adopting from Vietnam was remote. After a lot of angst and soul-searching, and with the support of family and friends, I opened a concurrent domestic adoption with a different agency. And how grateful, thankful and blessed I feel now to have Emmerson in my life.

But I never closed the Vietnam chapter of my adoption; it had been, until now, a story without an end. Like many families, I switched agencies mid-way through when things looked grim at my first agency. But even after I was able to get my dossier to Vietnam finally, it languished there for more than 9 months. And as time went on, I felt myself becoming more distanced from Vietnam and found it harder to celebrate with adoptive parents rejoicing as their own families grew. I know that the last five months would have been even more difficult had Emmerson not become a part of my family, and I can understand those who have feelings of bitterness or resentment.

I leave the Vietnam adoption process a much more savvy adoptive parent, though. I prided myself on asking all of the right questions, only to learn that I, like so many others, hadn't. And to learn that even if we had, it sometimes didn't matter. And to learn how powerless adoptive parents often are when working with adoption agencies handling adoptions in a country whose adoption process works like that of Vietnam. Not only did the process create the potential for abuse in Vietnam, it allowed U.S. adoption agencies to operate under a veil of secrecy.

Agencies didn't have to tell waiting families how many referrals they had each month. Or even how many babies were actually in their orphanages and available for referral. Agencies didn't have to tell waiting families what number they were on the waiting list -- in fact, both international adoption agencies I worked with insisted there weren't numbers, there wasn't a list. Referrals were often made not in order of DTV status but rather in some (secret) way of matching a baby with a family that meant that someone who was DTV after you may have gotten a referral and you didn't even if your preferences were all the same.

As the situation in Vietnam adoptions grew more tense, the secrecy seemed to heighten, too. Adoption agencies don't appear to function well when the chips are down. And a cleft was rendered in the adoptive parent community, with the relationship between families with referrals and those without becoming more divisive in some cases.

I hope that many of the friends I've made through this trying journey who feel their dreams are now shattered will find new paths. I did, and it led me to Emmerson. And I don't know what other paths may lie ahead yet. Don't get beaten down, my friends. You didn't go through all of this to give up now!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Progress ... Or Not

Emmerson is doing a great job of sitting up, and she loves it. I stick a Boppy pillow behind her in case she tumbles backward -- bad Mama was not fast enough the other night to catch her, and she clunked her already flat little noggin on the (carpeted) floor. So now, the Boppy. Just in the past few days she's gotten so much better at balancing and can now play with toys -- or little friends -- well while sitting up.

Tummy time, on the other hand? Not so much. Still hates it. Hates it! This is the typical position she assumes during tummy time:

I'm also glad to see her sitting up so well because I'm hoping it'll help her head shape. Her head is pretty flat in the back. At her last peds visit, her doc said there is still time for her head to reshape without some sort of intervention (a helmet, I'm assuming). I hope so! I've heard of Flat Stanley, and I don't want a Flat Emmerson.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vietnam Adoptions Update

Here are two articles from VietNamNet Bridge Aug. 25, 2008, about the shutdown in adoptions to the U.S. and how Vietnam plans to change its adoption process.

Vietnam-US Adoption Agreement to end Sept. 1

VietNamNet Bridge - The bilateral agreement on adoption between Viet Nam and the U.S. will expire on September 1, 2008, said Vu Duc Long, the head of Viet Nam’s International Adoption Agency.

This information was released at the conference held by the Ministry of Justice on Friday to review three years of implementation of the adoption agreement between the two countries.

The reason for the termination is that both sides have decided not to make a renewal to the agreement, said Mr. Long

By the end of July, about 1,700 disadvantaged Vietnamese children had been adopted by American families, reported the agency.

Over the past three years, 42 adoption organizations in the U.S. have offered humanitarian supports worth US$5.5 million to a lot of children in many provinces and cities in Viet Nam, the conference was told.

However, a lack of financial transparency and fierce competition among American adoption organizations have resulted in incorrect information that affects the humanitarian nature of the adoption, said the agency.

(Source: SGGP)


[This one is in a Q&A format.]

To protect children, central agencies to manage adoption

VietNamNet Bridge – Speaking to correspondents on the sideline of a meeting reviewing the implementation of the bilateral agreement on adoption between Vietnam and the US, Head of the Ministry of Justice’s International Adoption Agency Vu Duc Long said the management of adoption will be centralised.

The case in Nam Dinh revealed that state agencies, including the International Adoption Agency, respond too slowly and ineffectively, didn’t it?

Our difficulties were shortages of information and power.

What is the direction of this case?

There will be no change for the children who were adopted. The violators in Vietnam will be penalised, the adopted children will not be brought back to Vietnam.

Provincial Departments of Justice are in charge of checking and approving adoption files, so what is their responsibility if violations are detected?

It depends on the seriousness of violations. But it is very difficult to verify adoption documents if they are sophisticated counterfeits, because criminals begin forging documents when children enter orphanages.

So who will be sued by families who lose their children?

If their children are kidnapped, they have to sue the kidnappers or those who lend a hand to the kidnappers. We have the Law on Human Trafficking Prevention. In the case in Nam Dinh, it is very difficult to prove kidnapping.

What do you think about provinces permitting the establishment of orphanages which are very poor in facilities?

The orphanage in Nam Dinh is a district-level unit, while district-level management is very poor. This is a lesson. Some provinces have inspected local orphanages and closed down some units, for example the Viet Lam orphanage in Phu Tho province.

Some orphanages in southern provinces are being inspected. If district-level orphanages don’t have good facilities and are not managed well, they will be closed.

The recent US report on adoption in Vietnam said that some officials of the International Adoption Agency received money under the table or accepted overseas tours. What is your opinion about it?

They overstated officials demanding overseas tours or going shopping. The information is inaccurate. It is necessary and normal for officials to be invited to visit adopted children abroad to check and exchange information between related sides. They were voluntarily invited and Vietnam seriously observes regulations.

They said Vietnamese officials raised difficulties to seek profit. That’s not good. We have asked the US side to send us financial reports of Vietnamese delegations. If they overspent, they will be punished.

As an expert in adoption, what solutions do you think will help solve problems associated with international adoption?

The strongest solution is the issuance of the Law on Adoption. This law will basically change the management mechanism. Accordingly, the direct relations between orphanages and international adoption agencies will be abolished. Central agencies will directly manage adoption activities and relations with adoptive parents.

In addition, a national unified adoption assistance fund will be set up to diminish financial ambiguity and the ability to seek profit from adoption at grassroots agencies.

The power to make decisions currently belongs to orphanages and locations where the orphanages are located. This power will be centralised.

What about the experience of other countries in adoption?

One of the principles of the La Haye Convention asks member countries to control adoption activities, so centralisation is the best solution.

Vietnam should follow the model of China. They centralised everything and none of the power is given to local agencies.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Emmerson Talking

I'm glad I had my camera handy when Emmerson decided to start "talking" tonight after dinner for the first time. She did this for quite a while. Oh, did she have me cracking up. It really sounds like she is saying a word, and ironically, it sounds like "da-da!"

This second one is more "talking," but it's rather embarrassing because it's me encouraging Emmerson to talk -- I have had a bad cold and sinus infection, which is my excuse for how awful my voice sounds. In any case, I couldn't resist posting because she just cracked me up, and she was cracking herself up. Unfortunately, I don't think the videos catch the true essence of the moment, but you can sort of understand.

Sorry about the background noise -- I was getting my news fix.

Sitting Up

Emmerson is getting better and better at sitting up. She's realized that she needs to try to balance herself, so her arms are often spread eagle in the air as she tries to stay upright. She's still toppling over, to be sure -- usually backward now rather than to the side.

She loves being able to play with her toys while sitting upright. This new one from Leap Frog, the Spin and See Alphabet Zoo (on sale at Target for much cheaper than what's shown on the Leap Frog site), is a big hit since she enjoys toys now that she can spin, crinkle or whack.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vietnam Adoption Poll

Here's an interesting poll conducted by Viet Nam News, as the closure of Vietnam adoption to the United States looms.

Will adoption bring orphans a better life?

"Last week, Viet Nam News raised the question of whether foreign adoption was a good thing for Vietnamese orphans. We asked readers to consider how adoption should be managed to avoid negative consequences for both the children and adoptive parents. Here are some opinions we received."

Read the rest here.

On a personal note, I find that most people in adoption circles today consider it archaic, inaccurate and even offensive to refer to children who have been adopted as "lucky" or to consider adoptive parents as performing some noble act of "charity" to help "a homeless orphan." Every adoptive parent I know, hands down, considers himself or herself to be the fortunate one who has been gifted the joy and honor of raising a child.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

3 Things You Don't Want To See At Day Care (And A Few Things You Do Want To See)

Three things you don't want to see at your child's day care:

1. Police cars.

2. Fire trucks.

3. Ambulances.

Oh, and a fourth: Television crews.

For a split second when I got to Emmerson's day care this morning to drop her off, I thought the collection of emergency vehicles in the parking lot and side street was there for a fun demonstration for the kids. Then my brain quickly registered the fact that all of the kids and staff were sitting in neat, calm rows away from the building, and that a few parents were herding their kids into vehicles parked off the premises and hastily leaving. Maybe a fire drill? That didn't make sense either. Too many vehicles with lights flashing.

No, there was an actual fire at Emmerson's day care this morning. Fortunately, and most importantly, no one was injured. I chatted briefly with one of the departing parents who told me there indeed was a fire, and then one of Emmerson's teachers came over to my vehicle to fill me in further. By that time, the fire was out and the damage was being assessed.

As it turns out, it was a small fire. Somehow, a "wet floor" sign got pushed up against the day care's water heater, setting it ablaze. The sprinklers turned on, emergency vehicles were summoned and the day care was evacuated. The damage was limited mainly to water damage to a couple of the children's rooms. The fire department deemed the building safe and free of carbon monoxide, so with a bit of reshuffling of classrooms, the kids returned to carry on with their day. I had taken Emmerson back home, and returned to the day care with her later, giving the staff a little more time to settle things down again.

I had been meaning for a while now to ask the day care staff to go over their emergency plans with me. I wanted to know their plans for tornadoes, gunmen, hazardous spills (they aren't too far from a highway), fires and other calamities. I kept forgetting. Then my interest was renewed this past week when gunshots were fired within feet of a playground crowded with hundreds of children, including youngsters from a local day care. Coincidentally, that day care's staff had just reviewed all of their emergency procedures, which they promptly enacted when the shots rang out. All of the children were quickly moved to safety (although I imagine if gunmen had wanted to target children, they would have been sitting ducks, sadly!).

So today, when I took Emmerson back to day care, I spent some time going over their safety plans. We didn't cover all of the issues that I would have liked because the staff directors were busy calling parents to notify them of the event. But I plan to spend more time going over all of the safety plans with them. What events specifically do they have safety plans for? What is the process for summoning help? How are children evacuated and where are they taken? How and when are parents notified when an incident occurs?

Thankfully, it appears that the staff all reacted quickly, efficiently and professionally during this little fire. They have safety plans in place and are trained in CPR and other first-aid procedures. It was a small fire, but it might not have been.

The fire today was a strong reminder that we really have to make sure that the people caring for our children have planned for every contingency and that they're prepared and capable of keeping our kids safe.

Do you know what the safety plans are at your child's day care? It might be time to find out.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On The Menu: Raspberries & Sweet Potatoes

Nothing like blowing raspberries with a mouthful of sweet potatoes and rice cereal! The splatter trajectory boasts Olympic distances!

Morning Fun

Emmerson, getting ready for our 3-mile stroller walk this morning:

Emmerson, happy after our walk (she took a bit of a snooze):

(If Google video would cooperate, I'll be uploading a video from last night to the private baby blog later.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Five Months Old!

Nine days:

Four weeks:

Eight weeks:

12 weeks:

Four months:

Five months:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Something Old, Something New

It's certainly interesting to watch Emmerson's continuing transformations. She'll learn a new skill, practice it for a while, then abandon it, learn something else, go back to the old skill, get bored with it, and then learning something new again. It's funny how she quickly she might move on from something but then go back to it days or even weeks later.

On Saturday morning, for instance, she rolled over from tummy to back three times in a row. She had not done so for nearly a month - she last rolled over in July. But since yesterday morning, nothing again. She has, however, started grabbing toys and banging them together while doing tummy time.

In fact, banging toys together is her latest passion. She goes crazy. In her zeal, she's bonked her own noggin a few times, to be sure. Because I'm concerned about lead and phthalates in toys, I've tried to focus on getting her natural wood toys with higher safety standards (more about that later), and those make an especially good racket. Here are a couple videos of the little noise maker.

By the way, this is the only thing about the baby that has freaked out Sophie Dog so far. When Emmerson starts her racket, Sophie acts as if we're under siege, tucking tail and looking for an escape route. This, from a dog who's not fazed by fireworks or thunder. Go figure.

Also this week, Emmerson traded her infamous high-pitched scream, capable of shattering glass, for a husky, low-pitched scream that sounds more like Lauren Bacall being strangled. I can't imagine what the neighbors think is happening over here!

Emmerson is back to sucking her fingers like crazy, too. And she is enjoying her new Fisher Price Laugh and Learn "Fun with Friends" musical table, especially when she can bang a toy on it.

And just for fun, here are a couple pictures of Emmerson being her cute self. The first two are of Emmerson in her party dress, ready to go to the first birthday party of her little friend Kim, who recently joined her forever family from Vietnam. Then there are several of her playing with her favorite doll, and the last was taken one evening in our backyard.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

National Night Out

My area held its annual National Night Out gathering tonight, and it was great to meet new neighbors and reconnect with old ones. There were a lot of kids running around on a sugar high after root beer floats -- what's better than a root beer float on a pleasant August evening?! Emmerson publicly debuted her screaming talents and was immediately swooped up by anyone who could get their hands on her. (One of my neighbor friends, who is African-American and has a beautiful 16-month old daughter, gave me some hair clips for Emmerson, along with some hair care advice, which essentially amounted to: "You won't need to do anything for quite a while yet, so chill out.")

I'm fortunate that I live in relatively nice neighborhood, where I don't have to worry every day about violence, meth houses, gangs and drive-by shootings. Not that those things don't exist in my town -- they do. But thankfully, I -- and most importantly now, Emmerson -- are a few layers removed from that kind of stuff. Can you imagine being a child in a neighborhood where you can't go outside to play because of gun violence? (Actually, from the stories I've seen in the news lately, there are also a lot of little kids tragically finding their parents' unlocked, loaded guns and unwittingly shooting themselves or a sibling.)

There are a few bad apples in my neighborhood, and I wish the police would do a better job of moving them into those cozy little communities that have bars, communal showers, lockdowns and armed guards. But overall, I really like the street I live on. It's a street where friends and neighbors watch out for each other and help each other out. That sort of thing does still exist in America. Some people do want to get involved, and they act on it and follow through.

The other night, I almost didn't, though. It was late, I was tired and hot, and I just wanted some "me time," when I heard loud trucks rumbling down the road and realized that fire trucks had pulled up across the street. At first, I stood inside watching, but not acting. Then I realized how ridiculous that was. They are neighbors and friends, and if I had fire trucks at my house, I would want my neighbors to come and check to see if I needed help (especially with two cats, a dog and a baby -- I don't have three arms, afterall). So that's what I did, along with two other neighbors. In the end, it was all OK, and everyone was safe.

It would be awful to live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe. Studies show that feeling unsafe in your neighborhood can exact a physical and emotional toll, and of course, it can be fatal. By participating in the National Night Out, you have the power to make neighborhoods feel safe again -- so that little kids who are innocently playing outside don't have to worry about being gunned down.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Summary

After a rocky couple of weeks (starting day care, colds for both of us -- mine is stubbornly holding on and has transformed into a sinus infection as it always does -- poor eating -- Emmerson, that is, not me -- and poor sleeping) things seem to be getting back on track. Er, I suppose I should just say "on track," as the one thing that is not back on track yet is my back (and related to that, my sleeping).

* Emmerson is once again drinking her formula like a champ. For those keeping track (um, that is, me, since I'm very bad about doing baby book type tyings - no time!), she's drinking about 5.5 to 6 ounce bottles at a shot now. Boy, I remember the days when she would drink only two ounces at a time, and she'd be getting up four times a night to eat. That was so hard. Right now, she's drinking a bottle about every three hours, sometimes even less. That compares to the last two weeks, when she couldn't care less about bottles. On the other hand, she still's firmly holding on to her solids boycott, even though she once opened her mouth for sweet potatoes, bananas and rice cereal like a starving nestling. Go figure!

* She is sucking her fingers like mad, and chomping on anything she can sink her sharp little gums into. Both her doctor and day care teachers asked if she is teething, but I don't see anything yet.

* She loves grabbing her toes and feet.

* She still loves belting out heavy-duty, high-pitched screams that could wake the dead.

* She is starting to sit up on her own, although usually after a minute, sometimes a few, she either pitches forward onto her face or tumbles to the side.

* She is starting to stand holding onto something (for several seconds).

* She is getting a little frustrated that she can't sit and stand better, as I think she realizes her limitations with just laying around on the floor.

* She has not rolled over since that day she did it twice back-to-back so many weeks ago now.

* Yesterday she started banging toys together to make a loud racket.

* She still L.O.V.E.S her crib mobile.

* She has adjusted well to day care.

* I have introduced three sign language words to her: more, milk and eat.

* She spent the better part of a couple of days endlessly saying "mamamamama" a week or so ago -- and not once since then.

* She visually follows Sophie Dog's antics and has even grabbed a few handfuls of hair and whiskers (Sophie has been unflappable.)

* And ... drumroll ... her great sleeping habits have returned, after a brief hiatus. When she's tired at naptime, I can simply put her down in her crib, tell her "night-night" and she's generally asleep within moments. As in general, she rarely uses a pacifier at all. We have a pretty good bedtime routine. While I'm very open to some flexibility, it's clear that she does well on a routine (and I do too). We normally do a bath, bottle and then books and music. Then, as with naptime, it's off to bed with a "night-night" and she is usually asleep within minutes, usually sometime between 8 pm and 8:30 pm. In the past week-plus, she has started largely sleeping through the night. While she may wake briefly anywhere between 3 am and 5 am, a quick pat or two on the tummy can get her back to sleep right away. She is also learning to soothe herself to sleep well. Today when I snuck a look in at her during naptime, she was playing with her feet. But a few minutes later, she was back to sleep for another hour. I really hope that working to establish good sleep habits now will carry over into toddlerhood and beyond, and that they will be especially helpful during trying times. (I, on the other hand, still have not been sleeping well because of my back injury, and there certainly have been a few days when I feel like a Zombie. This is also the reason I have a tremendous backlog of unanswered email.)

* She tried out a sippy cup for the first time this weekend.

* She is wearing mainly six-month size clothing.

* I got out of denial and she officially went up a diaper size (leaving me with LOTS of too-small diapers!) after a little leaking incident recently.

* She can't wait to watch track, gymnastics, diving and marathoning during the Olympics!!

By the way, when I talk about Emmerson's baths, what I mean may not be the same for a non-African-American baby. Emmerson likes to splash in the tub (and especially the naked part afterward) but she is by no means getting her hair washed every day! While I'm still learning about AA hair care, some information I've read recommends shampooing only once a week - and some recommend even less. Emmerson doesn't have a lot of hair yet, so I'm not too concerned, but I do want to be informed. I did just order our first batch of hair care products for AA children, from Curls. I ordered a sample pack and will let you know how they work out once we actually start using them. I have found that the stuff you find in Target, Wal-Mart or your local grocery store that is geared toward "curly" hair really doesn't cut it for AA hair. Poor Emmerson -- hopefully I'll do right by her!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Photos

"Danger For Rent: Car Rental Agency {Advantage Rent A Car} Puts Infants At Risk"

This is the sort of thing that sometimes never occurs to me. On the other hand, it's precisely why I like to be the one in control, rather than putting myself -- and now my baby -- at the mercy of large companies that don't care about my family's safety. I especially like to drive when traveling if possible, rather than fly, and it's problems like this that reinforce my preferences. Shame on Advantage Rent A Car (a car rental agency I have used in the past, before Emmerson). They ought to be fined or otherwise penalized for putting babies and toddlers at risk.

I also wonder if there are more blogs like Delicious Baby that report on the seedier side of the consumer baby business. I'd like to know about them!