A few years after their son, Ben, was born, Amy and Spencer Slack decided to add to their family. At the time, they couldn’t foresee that their journey would include the heartbreak of conception struggles, the hassle and expense of fertility treatments, the difficult decision to adopt, eight months of paperwork and home visits, agency and attorney fees, and finally, joyously, a “match” with a three-week-old girl in Guatemala.
That was five and a half years, tens of thousands of dollars, eight long flights to Central America and countless phone calls, emails and letters ago. And yet, the Slacks have yet to deliver their child home.
Every Christmas, birthday and anniversary, my cousin Susan, who lives in the Philadelphia area, sends me a lovely letter with news and photos documenting her daughter Amy’s efforts to bring Lilly into their family. Each time those notes arrive, my heart aches even more.
I’m one of the lucky ones: four easy conceptions and pregnancies, four live births, four healthy kids. However, knowing countless others who have struggled with some or all of the above, I don’t take my good fortune for granted.
I don’t know anyone who has struggled for parenthood as much as Amy has. At the same time, I am incredibly impressed with her persistence, patience, dogged determination and years of sacrifice, all to give a little girl a family and keep the promise to love and educate her.
In 2007, Amy and Spencer decided to adopt from Guatemala because they appreciated the Guatemalan foster care system, they hoped the process would be speedy (they were told six to nine months) and they knew that their child would feel welcome in their community.
That year, more than 5,500 children were adopted from Guatemala, 4,700 of which went to homes in the U.S. So, the Slacks had reason to feel optimistic.
In fact, they didn’t have to wait long. They still remember the call about their “match” with Lilly, on Oct. 17, 2007, and the excitement of rushing home to open the official documents that were mailed the following day. “I remember taking the pictures into work [that day] to show everyone our beautiful daughter,” Amy recalls. “We named her Lilly Mireya.”
Six months later, Amy traveled to Guatemala City to meet her precious new baby, who was living with the foster mother that, to this day, still cares for her.
At about the same time, the U.S. initiated the Hague Adoption Convention, an international adoption agreement intended to maintain the best interests of children and their birth families, and to prevent the abduction, exploitation and sale or trafficking of children. However, because Guatemala was not in full compliance by Dec. 31, 2007, the U.S. closed its adoption program with Guatemala.
Fortunately for the Slacks and others, Guatemala passed the Ortega Law, stating that any adoption in process when the law changed should be completed under the laws in effect when it began. So, all adoptions set in motion before the end of 2007 should have been expedited.
Nevertheless, the number of completed adoptions plummeted, and last year only seven Guatemalan children were adopted by U.S. parents, leaving about 100 U.S. families, according to the Guatemala 900 organization, waiting to be united with the children they had formed bonds with. They are “stuck” in the process, yet continue to fight to bring their children home. (Click here to see a trailer for a documentary about these families.)
The Slacks and other families that are “stuck” have formed support groups, Facebook circles and coalitions. They have hired an attorney and urged Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to Guatemala to expedite the “in-limbo” adoptions. They also have enlisted the aid of members of congress.
Amy and Spencer can’t comprehend why Lilly’s adoption has been stalled. The birth mother is still alive; she has attended a handful of court hearings, and has been interviewed and given psychological evaluations on several occasions, to reaffirm she wants the adoption to take place.
After one court hearing, the birth mother joined Amy’s group for lunch, and when asked if she had any questions for Amy, the woman replied, “No, I just want her to love my daughter and give her an education.”
For all intents and purposes, Lilly’s adoption has received a green light. In 2011 Amy received a court approval stating the case should continue under the old notarial process. However, two years have passed, and the adoption has yet to be processed.
Amy has traveled to Guatemala to visit Lilly eight times: with her husband, with a good friend, with her mother, with her mother-in-law and even alone.
Amy and the foster mother are “Facebook friends” and message as often as they can. Amy and Spencer call Lilly on birthdays, holidays and other special occasions, and have lively discussions with the foster mother and Lilly, even though two of them speak very little English, and the other two know only rudimentary Spanish.
Amy, Spencer and other relatives send care packages, clothes, toys, birthday and Christmas gifts and photos to keep their connection to Lilly vivid. The foster mother inserts every photo into an album, and looks at it often with Lilly, so she feels close to the family that awaits her. “Lilly can tell you who everyone [in the photos] is,” Amy reports. “In fact, on the phone she will ask for every single one of them by name – about 10 people in total.”
However, these connections are a poor substitute for adding a sweet five-year-old to their home in New Jersey. For now, the Slacks have nothing but memories of short visits to Guatemala City, an album full of photos and arms aching to welcome Lilly into their lives.
Please come back to Permission Slips on Wednesday, June 26, for Part 2 of Amy’s story.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 24 June 2013
- International adoptions: slow, expensive, rewarding (miamiherald.com)
- Foster mothers offer homes, hugs when needed (stltoday.com)
- So, You Have a Question About My Choice of International Adoption (persephonemagazine.com)