“My husband, Geoff, and I met in January 1993 at J. Frank Dobie High School during French class. I have to admit, I had a crush on him almost immediately, but the friendship started as a young, organized girl helped a very unorganized football player get it together. He could never find anything in his bag, which looked more like a file 13 than a backpack. We remained friends throughout the remainder of the school year and didn’t start dating until July 4, 1993.
Geoff had just finished his senior year in High School and would begin college in the fall at Texas Southern University in our hometown of Houston, Texas while I would begin my junior year at Dobie High School. We dated for many years and the talk of marriage came up, but we weren’t sure if what we had was love or if we were really ‘in love.’ We made the decision to take a break, date other people, and test if this relationship was in fact, love. It was a moment of ‘it’s it meant to be, it will be.’ After some time, we knew we truly were in love and never wanted to be apart again. We were married on January 16, 2011, 18 years after first beginning to date.
At the age of 36 and 35, we knew we wanted to start a family immediately. We conceived on our honeymoon and were elated to share we were expecting our first child. The pregnancy wasn’t an easy road from the start. I had cramping and spotting almost from the very beginning. Over a few weeks, the spotting increased into a heavy flow and my doctor asked me to come in. Our baby no longer had a heartbeat and surgery was scheduled. We were devastated. I remember the day like it was yesterday as I was in one hospital having surgery and my sister-in-law was in another hospital giving birth to our nephew, son to my husband’s youngest brother.
I remember over the next few weeks asking God why. Why did this happen to us? I prayed and read the Bible and came to peace with knowing that God had a plan and all things happen for a reason. I found comfort in knowing all would be okay through my faith. We conceived two more times in 2011 and suffered two more miscarriages. A feeling of heartbreak, being lost, confused, angry, and asking why over and over again is an understatement to the feeling we both shared. I couldn’t believe we could get pregnant so easily but lose the pregnancy every single time.
Our doctor decided it was time we had genetic testing done to see if there was something between our DNA that just wasn’t compatible. Tests confirmed all was okay genetically, but I did suffer from some ovarian aging. Even though I was now 36 years old, my ovaries and the eggs produced were that of someone older than me. We moved forward with the IVF process after 4 embryos came back healthy and viable. They rated the embryos and we had one girl (the highest rated) and three boys. Medicine and genetic testing are an amazing thing. Did I mention my husband is a DNA/Genetic QC Analyst at a Genome Center? He understood the entire genetic analysis process as we went through it.
We implanted two embryos into me, and one took. I was once again pregnant with what we knew were viable embryos with no genetic defects yet…we miscarried again. My disappointment, sadness, and devastation began to turn to anger, and honestly, had me doubting my faith for a minute. We stopped trying for a while as we tried to heal our spirit and mental state. This was a tough process, and after multiple miscarriages, it was just too much. Our IVF doctor didn’t want us to try IVF after seeing all we had been through and suggested IVF with a surrogate. Having a surrogate was an expensive process, but we made the decision. We wanted a family and it was worth the try.
We sold our first home together as a married couple and used the equity to fund the IVF process via a surrogate. We began the process with an agency to interview potential surrogates. We were matched with an incredible woman who after lots of conversations, I realized her mother was a volunteer at the non-profit breast cancer organization I worked for several years prior. It was fate. After several months, our surrogate became pregnant with our embryo, only to suffer a miscarriage during the first trimester and in turn, jeopardized her own health. The courageous surrogate, who is now a friend, developed a pulmonary embolism and had to be hospitalized. We lost another baby and now had the fear someone else’s life was at risk trying to help us. She made it through okay, but we decided we would not try IVF again. We were done.
After some time, we went to a seminar at a Houston area adoption agency to seek information regarding adoption, but they were only taking applications to foster. Fostering children in need is a beautiful thing, but we didn’t think we were at that place. We wanted to provide a child with a forever home. We also had a friend of a friend whose daughter was having a baby she was considering giving up for adoption and thought we would be a great fit. We truly thought this might be our opportunity to finally be parents, but she changed her mind at the time of the birth. We don’t fault her for that at all, but it was still another moment of heartbreak and disappointment. I think at that point we had come to terms that having children may not be in God’s plans for us. We have so many amazing nieces and nephews, enjoyed our time with them, and maybe that was our purpose, to love other children in our lives and be the cool Aunt and Uncle.
I prayed and prayed for peace of mind and comfort and was okay with it. In 2016, a family member on my husband’s side begged us not to give up and to try adoption one more time, but this time consider adopting abroad from Nigeria where his parents were born. We considered it, decided not to at first, but after a couple of weeks, we decided we didn’t have anything to lose. If it were meant to be, it would be. God’s plan. God’s timing. We developed a relationship with a ministry in Nigeria, completed the application for consideration, and the long wait began. I have to be honest, we continued on with life and truly didn’t have any expectations from the application. It was almost like out of sight, out of mind. I think we had become numb to the disappointment over the years and just didn’t have our hopes up anymore.
A year or so later, we were notified by my husband’s Aunt in Nigeria that the ministry had called. They had not one but two children available to be fostered to adopt, a boy and a girl, and wanted to know if we would be open to adopting two children. WHAT? Could this be real? It was. We were moved to tears. We had tremendous joy. We were in shock. We couldn’t believe it. We were excited yet cautiously optimistic. We were in the USA and the children were in Nigeria. How was this going to work? I had never been to Nigeria. God would guide us through. We kept the faith.
We began searching for an attorney to guide us through the legal process in Nigeria as well as an international adoption agency in the USA to guide us and oversee the process. We made our selections and the process began. In late January 2018, my husband’s Aunt picked up our children we named Grace and Kaleb (Grace with a G like Geoff and Kaleb with a K like Kristi), and she cared for them in Nigeria with the help from a Nanny while we began the long process from the USA. We began extensive background checks including criminal (local, state, and FBI), CPS, and a detailed home study, so we could be approved to adopt. While waiting for this process, I had to renew my passport and apply for a Nigerian visa as I had never been.
I traveled for the first time to Nigeria in April 2018 and got to hold my babies for the first time. TEARS upon tears of joy came upon me the first time I held them. These are actually our babies and we get the honor and privilege of adopting them. We couldn’t wait to love them for the rest of our lives. We only had a two week stay and the day we had to leave crushed me. I broke all the way down, just heartbroken that I was having to leave them behind. I knew my husband’s Aunt would take care of them, but I had a difficult time saying goodbye.
After going through the background check process, we were cleared and approved to move forward with the legal adoption. In July 2018, we traveled back to Nigeria, went to court where the adoption of Grace and Kaleb, now last name Okwuonu, was granted and final. To God be the glory. The feelings we both had were tremendous. Is this even real? Are we actually parents? Finally, after years and years of patience, heartbreak and loss, our Aunt and Uncle titles had been upgraded. We now had two precious and beautiful children to call us Mommy and Daddy. I think I cried for days and days and certainly every time I held our children. We were finally parents.
Now that the adoption was final and legal, the process to have our children declared as our immediate relatives began. We applied for the I-600 with USCIS. The I-600s were approved in November 2018 and the appointment for their immigrant visas (IR-3) was set for December 2018. This type of visa allows them to become US citizens as soon as they land on US soil because they have been classified as immediate relatives and adopted children of American citizens. We traveled back to Nigeria in November 2018, on Thanksgiving Day, to bond with Grace and Kaleb and prepare for the visa interview.
At the end of the interview, the officer decided that their cases needed further investigation and therefore were placed in administrative processing. At this point, all of our family who had cared for Grace and Kaleb had traveled out of the country and we no longer had any one to care for our children but us. We had to stay in Nigeria. Between January and July 2019, we flew multiple times from Abuja to Lagos (where the US Embassy is located for visas) and had two additional interviews. We continued to wait and wait and wait but never had a decision made.
In August 2019, we learned our children’s visas had been denied as they didn’t meet the definition of orphans under USA law. Our cases were sent from the US Embassy in Lagos back to USCIS with the intent to deny the previously approved I-600. In March 2020, we were given the opportunity to provide additional documentation in order to keep the I-600 approval as is. We have submitted the information and await a decision. In the meantime, we have other options that will become available towards the end of the year. We can apply for the I-130 and if approved, apply for a different visa type (IR-2) which requires that you live with the adopted children for two years prior to applying. November 2020 will make two years that we have been living in Nigeria as a family of four.
For a period of time, things were scary. We weren’t able to work and we thought Geoff would have to return to the United States of America, leaving us behind. Family and friends stepped up in a HUGE way and supported us via a GoFundMe page to help keep us together. We prayed continuously for a miracle and not only a way for us to support ourselves but to stay together as a family. The bond that we have created can never be broken. God answered our prayers in a huge way. Geoff has been working for the genome center for almost 21 years and they have allowed him to work remotely. As Texas Realtor, I am supporting my clients remotely with the help of colleagues and a fantastic brokerage, Keller Williams Houston Preferred. We are beyond grateful that God has answered our prayers and we are doing well, together.
We are waiting for what the next steps will be and hope one day we will be able to return home to the United States and have our children, Grace and Kaleb, now almost three, hug the necks of their grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends who anxiously are awaiting our arrival.
If you asked us years ago if we thought this is how we saw our journey, we would unequivocally say no. However, we believe it is His plan and happens in His time. God’s timing is the best. We stand strong in our faith and believe one day soon, our children will be granted their visas and we will head ‘home’ to Houston, Texas where our journey of true love will continue. Regardless of the journey, regardless of the obstacles, regardless of life’s trials and tribulations along the way, we know this was God’s plan has been for us. We are blessed, happy, and healthy…together.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristi Okwuonu of Abuja, Nigeria. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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