One Family's Journey: The Referral
The moment you receive your referral is a special time in your life. For my husband and I, it was a very joyful and encouraging experience. And I urge all of the waiting families to enjoy that moment because the waiting that follows is far more difficult than the work leading up to that moment. One of my greatest fears was that when we received our referral I wouldn't feel any connection to our child, but I have to say that seeing his picture for the first time was one of the most intense and wonderful experiences of my life. I was blessed with an amazing certainty that he was meant to be our son. Everyday since we "met" him back in September has been an excruciating wait. For those of you who are still waiting, here is how the referral process works from the day you receive that file to the day you leave for Colombia.
1) Receive referral file. Because we are a Colombian family we received our referral very quickly -- 2.5 weeks quickly. I received the news at 8:30 in the morning at my desk at work. I promptly hung up with my agency and started hyperventilating. I opened the files and started crying. Then I suffered through eight hours of the work day because Arnold is a teacher and there was no way to call him at school.
2) Tell your spouse. This is an amazing moment. Take your time. Do it right.
3) Decide whether or not to tell other people. This is a highly personal decision like announcing a pregnancy. The news is very exciting, but I would urge you to consider waiting a bit because you have a lot of decisions to make before you are on your way.
4) At this point you have some time, maybe about a month to decide whether you want to accept. You can also choose to request an independent medical examination on your child. I highly suggest this for your child's sake. I was ready to take him home the second we received his file, but we did this because it would be a huge disservice to him if it turned out he had a medical situation that we could not care for. There are also clinics in the US that will examine adoption referrals for red flags. We chose to do an independent medical exam and gave the results to my cousin who is a medical professional. Another bonus of the medical exam is that you are allowed to send a friend or your facilitator who can take additional pictures and videos for you. Because of the med exam, I have video of Elian walking just days after he took his first steps. If you choose to get a med exam you must send a formal request to IBCF. Just write a letter to Bienestar, sign it, scan it and send it to your facilitator and they will take care of the rest. It will take about 3-4 weeks from sending the letter to getting your med exam results.
5) We felt fairly confident that we would accept so we started the next step. Having the referral file translated -- some agencies will do this for you. It must be translated by a certified translator. If you need one, I would suggest Melinda (the author of this blog), she did ours and is top-notch. I have an M.A. in Spanish, but translation is a specialized skill that not everyone can do.
6) Once you get your med results you make a final decision and send in your formal acceptance. Same process as the medical letter. Write a letter to Bienestar, sign it, send it to your facilitator. Once you do this you can request the Article 16 report letters from your agency.
7) When your agency sends you the letters you will pair them with your translation and your I-800 form and send them to USCIS. Send them via FedEx so you can track them. USCIS will send the letter to the lockbox and then forward it to the Hague Unit in Missouri. It takes one week to go from the lockbox to the Hague unit. Your adjudicator at the Hague unit will turn it around in 1-2 business days once they receive it and send it to the National Benefits Center. They in turn will issue approval and cable something called the Article 5 letter to Bogota. This entire process took about 3-4 weeks for us. I called the Hague unit every day of the waiting period. I would not be surprised at all if my adjudicator hates me. He was very nice though.
8) Meanwhile you send your facilitator the DS-230 with your child's birth name. You will e-mail this to them. Then your facilitator will take it with them to the embassy in Bogota to get your article 5 letter.
9) Once your facilitator has the article 5 letter in hand he/she will take it to Bienestar and work out a date for your Encuentro. Your facilitator should also let you know if you need any updated documents like new FBI clearances.
10) Next you will buy round trip plane tickets and if you are not Colombian you will have to get a visa at the Colombian consulate. More on that process tomorrow!
Note of Advice: Pushing along this process is most important to you. Make sure you stay on top of EVERYBODY involved in order to move things through quickly.