‘I typed his case number into the box. ‘Refused.’ It had to be a mistake, a processing error. A goof.’: Couple finally adopts son after 2-year wait to bring him home

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This story is a follow up story to Kelly’s adoption journey.  Read the backstory here

“I cracked open my 8-year-old laptop and dug the loosening prongs of the wall charger into the outlet next to our dining room table. The poor thing had seen better days, but I felt a tender kinship with the old girl – we’d been through a lot together in the 8 years we’d known each other: grad school application forms, blog posts, lesson plans and most recently an abundance of adoption paperwork.

Oodles, really. Or maybe it was scads. For accuracy’s sake – let’s go with a buttload.

It was just before 5:30 in the morning; back then my husband and I tried to cram a few quiet, pre-kid moments into each day before our older two boys woke up with the sun – Brian generally spent the time reading or journaling and I usually passed the time plucking away on my laptop, finishing up an article or triple checking something to do with bringing our 3-year-old son CJ home from the Philippines.

It was April 2019 and by my count, we’d been ‘expecting’ for just over 2 ½ years. Which, I learned, is about 6 months longer than the average gestation period of the African Bush Elephant. This is the type of thing you Google when you’re unsuccessfully trying to distract yourself until you can board a plane to go pick up your baby on the other side of the world. You also might also type things like ‘Plane ride activities for kids, 14 hours’ and ‘Beginner Filipino recipes, easy, crockpot,’ into your browser. These are just ideas and admittedly, none of them were that great of distractions, but they did keep me from developing calluses on my command + R fingers from compulsively refreshing the National Visa Center website in order to check on CJ’s immigrant visa status.

No, that was an activity I reserved for first thing every morning, along with my first sip of hot coffee – like a little treat to start the day. Because every morning began with the hope that it could be the day.

For months, things had been progressing at a slow, but steady pace. ‘Hang in there!’ was the mantra of our ever-optimistic social worker. I was beginning to hate the phrase, but I knew ‘hanging in there’ was pretty much all there was left to do. We’d done every conceivable thing on all of my adoption checklists – taken every class, read every book, paid every fee, hell, I’d even begun my leave of absence from my work as a speech language pathologist. But suddenly, after months of business as usual, there had been nothing but unexplained radio silence from the Philippines. The last we’d heard, CJ had been taken by his caretakers for his final visa medical appointment in Manila and barring any unforeseen circumstances, we should’ve been on our way to pick him weeks ago.

But morning after morning when I clicked on the NVC tab in my web browser I was greeted with the same disappointing message:

‘Pending’

‘Pending’

‘Pending’

Until one morning, I typed CJ’s case number into the box, and it didn’t say ‘Pending’ anymore. It said:

‘Refused’

In big, bold, blue letters that stared back at me and singed my eyeballs with the sting that only 2 ½ years of waiting can bring. I hit refresh. It had to be some kind of mistake – a processing error. A goof. Something. I clicked on the link that offered a hope of ‘more information,’ but it prompted me to call a hotline that wouldn’t be manned by human beings for hours.

So many questions flooded my mind: Why would the U.S. government deny a 3-year-old boy a visa? Didn’t they understand all he’d already been through? Couldn’t they see he needed to be with his family?

Enraged, I spun my computer around to Brian and together we tried to make sense of what had happened. Ever the optimist, Brian tried to calm my fears, but rather than let him console me I instead opted to shift into Def Con 1 panic mode and started texting and emailing everyone and anyone I thought might be able to help us.

By 9am I was on the phone with our social worker, who was equally stunned, but promised to get to the bottom of it as quickly as she could. Surely, we both assumed, it was just a clerical error – something that could be easily remedied. She would get right on it and find out an answer for us.

And then we waited.

It was the early part of Easter week and the idea of spending yet another holiday with a part of our family missing felt like a bummer none of us wanted to take on (even with promise of plenty of bunny-shaped chocolates) so we cashed in some frequent flyer miles and flew from Nashville to Boston to spend the holiday with my family. It was a much-needed respite for our family and after a few days eating Cadbury Eggs and lots of casserole-themed meals, we boarded the plane back to Nashville feeling like we could tackle this next leg of our adoption journey head on.

As I sat down next to Archie, my 4-year-old and buckled up our seat belts, I heard my cell phone vibrating inside my purse. I reached down to silence it, but saw that it was Sue, our social worker calling.

‘Hello?’

‘Hi Kelly, it’s Sue. I heard back from ICAB.’

I could hear it in her voice. This was not going to be the happy phone call I hoped for – one that would end with me sneakily firing off a group text full of good news to my family, even after the fight attendants had asked me to have my phone in Airplane Mode. No, this phone call was going to end with me in tears – I could feel it.

‘I hate to have to tell you this news. It looks like CJ’s visa was denied because he tested positive for Primary Koch Infection.’

‘Primary what? What’s that?’ I asked, plugging one ear to muffle the sound of a passenger jamming her definitely-too-big-to-fit carry-on into the overhead bin directly above my head.

‘It’s tuberculosis. They are saying that in order to be granted a visa, CJ will be required moved to a new orphanage in Manila and receive antibiotic treatment every day in the Philippines for the next six months.’

Six months. It might as well be a lifetime. I thought of the elephant. She would have a six-month-old calf with her right now. Tending to it day and night, keeping it safe, playfully spraying it at the watering hole – it sounded nice. I hung up the phone with Sue and craned my neck to see Brian who was sitting behind me with our oldest.

‘CJ has $%*&-ing tuberculosis, ‘I let myself whisper yell to him, because there really isn’t a tactful way to share that kind of news. He looked back at me helplessly, trying to convey sympathy, but also trying not to disrupt his pre-takeoff game of tic-tac-toe with Oliver. Our other boys didn’t need to know about this – not yet. Not until we could formulate a plan.

The whole flight home to Nashville, I held Archie’s hand and cried the super quiet cry of a mom who doesn’t want to upset her kids. The kind of cry with the tears that sit on the rim of your eyelids, but never spill over so that you can continue playing Eye Spy with your son, while you wait for the beverage cart to serve you your ration of a full cup of ice with a splash of consumable liquid.

For the next several months, every day was a firestorm of emails, phone calls and letters trying to figure out the best way to get CJ home. After learning about his diagnosis in April, we assumed his medical treatment would begin quickly, but unfortunately we discovered that there was insufficient staffing to allow for CJ to have his own caregiver to travel with him to daily medical appointments- so after nearly three months after being diagnosed with TB, he was still no closer to being able to come home.

We decided to take things into our own hands to try and get medical treatment for CJ in America. We petitioned the U.S. government to grant a waiver on CJ’s behalf and met with the health department to come up with a stateside treatment plan. We spoke with adoption attorneys, international pediatricians, advocates, fellow adoptive parents and even our senators’ offices to triage the mess and get CJ the medical attention he needed. Everyone who could help, was trying to help – we had an all-star lineup and felt sure that something had to give.

But the weeks and months continued to tick by, and every promising road seemed to lead to a big, fat dead end. By August, the whole thing was starting to feel like a bad joke and our attention shifted to getting our older boys ready for heading back-to-school.

I would be kind of nice, I reasoned – to have a little time all to myself once Oliver and Archie were in school full time, for the first time. Maybe I’d work on the book I was writing or get super cut up at the gym or maybe even start all those podcasts in my queue. It actually started to sound pretty good.

The week before school started, I was lying in bed early one morning, thinking about all the cool stuff I was going to get to do with my daily allotment of eight free hours, when I decided to take a couple of moments to pray. I’d been purposefully distant from God throughout the last couple of months. I think I felt upset with him for not following the timeline I’d laid out for our adoption process and I’d pushed him away, figuring if He wasn’t going to get CJ home, then I would do it all by myself.

But on this particular morning, the sun was shining through the trees in that mystical kind of way that reminds you that you aren’t the one who created and designed the entire universe and so I managed to say the one little, measly prayer I could eek out: Let your will be done. Whatever it is, I’ll be okay with it.

Up until that morning, I’d always been the type of person whose prayers sounded more like an eloquently worded wish list than an actual prayer – God, please grant me healthy kids, a healthy marriage and an end to suffering around the world and also maybe good weather for our baseball game on Saturday, Amen. So, to say the words, let your will be done and mean it even a little bit, that was a big deal for me. It was the first step toward letting go of my vice-like grip on our adoption process and after nearly three years, it kind of felt good to release the reigns.

It felt even better, when just a few hours later I received a phone call from Sue.

‘I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I just got a notice that CJ is flying to Manila for another visa medical appointment.’

Neither of us could wrap our heads around what was going on. Why, after nearly 6 months with no treatment for his TB, would CJ need to fly across the country for another visa medical appointment? As far as we could tell, all of the outreach from our adoption advocacy heavy hitters had fallen on deaf ears, so for ICAB to take it upon itself to initiate another attempt at an immigrant visa seemed all but impossible. We ended our phone conversation resolving not to get our hopes up, but to remain optimistic while we tried to figure out what was happening.

Later that afternoon while I was in the shower trying to decide if I was dirty enough to commit to a full-blown hair washing, I froze. The NVC website! I hadn’t opened it or thought about it since I saw the word ‘Refused’ plastered across it nearly half a year earlier, but I knew right away I had to check it. Sopping wet, I wrapped a towel around myself and reached for my phone. I had to scroll back through old emails to even find the direct link to the website, but all the while I knew – I just knew once I got there, I would find what we’d been waiting for.

The page loaded – and there it was:

‘Issued’

Our son was coming home.

In just a few short weeks, Brian and I flew to Manila and on to the province of Leyte to meet CJ for the very first time. The moment we met felt expansive and intimate all at once; like the end and the beginning of something all wrapped up in one fully loaded moment. CJ took to Brian right away, running his hands through his thick beard and calling him ‘Dada.’ I had to work a little harder to get him to warm up to me and took to crawling around on the floor of the orphanage, hoping a dramatic game of peek-a-boo might be the key to his heart.

Courtesy Kelly Bandas

And as nervous as he must have been, CJ was a doll from the start, with a smile as wide as the ocean that had separated us. He put Brian and I both at ease with his confident, but gently playful nature that loved making silly faces and wiggling his eyebrows Groucho Marx-style. With his hearing loss, communicating wasn’t exactly easy, but soon we learned his love of Chicken Adobo and Congee and he began to pick up some American Sign Language and after a week in country, the three of us flew the 20 hours together back home to Nashville to begin our time together as a family of five.

Courtesy Kelly Bandas

We still don’t know exactly what the catalyst was for CJ’s immigrant status to change so suddenly.  We learned from the wonderful caregivers at his orphanage that his second visa medical appointment revealed he never even had tuberculosis to begin with. A subjective X-ray reading from a single physician suggested he may have been infected with latent, inactive TB, but a quick and conclusive blood test cleared his communicable status.

We may never technically know why things went the way that they did. But whenever I catch myself feeling down about the time we missed with CJ (or really anytime something isn’t going just the way I’d like it to), I like to remember that our family’s trajectory changed the day I stopped trying to force things to happen and accepted that there are a lot of things in life that are not within my control.

Courtesy Kelly Bandas

It’s not always the easiest thing to lean into, but on those mornings when the sun hits just right, it can feel so good to let go and let your life happen.”

Courtesy Kelly Bandas

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Bandas. Follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read Kelly’s full backstory here: 

‘Then he said it, ‘So what should we do now? Adopt a kid or something?’ My chin dropped to the floor. Our family had JUST gotten our heads back above water.’

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