Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The One Where The Cards Hit The Table

I thought that this post would come later. I really thought that all of this wouldn't boil over until our journey was complete. I was wrong. Suffice it to say that I have reached the point where it's not good for me, or anyone around me, to hold it in any longer. The universe has spoken, so now I will too...Buckle your seat belts, keep your arms and legs inside the ride, and please remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop...

Way back when, Himself and I decided to complete our family. Our path first led up to adoption, and then on to international adoption. We attended seminars from different agencies, did the research and talked to people who had already adopted. We did everything we knew how to in order to make an informed decision. We tried our hardest to find the perfect "fit". Ultimately, we chose our agency based on their "seminar" and several personal recommendations. The agency we chose, was, at that time, at the top of the local price range. We ignored the financial end of it, and decided that we needed to "extra, personalized" help that they offered. We were clueless to the mechanics of international adoption. This was in the spring of 2005.

By mid summer, the agency phoned us with the news that prices were due to go up, and if we wanted the lower price, we needed to commit then. Never ones to turn down a bargain, we committed. We were going to anyway, the news just served as the little push we needed. We attended another seminar, with other prospective families, and learned about the intricacies of paperwork. At the close of the seminar we were given a Xeroxed list of all the documents we needed to obtain and forms we needed to submit.

Our "paper chase" covered three states, two marriages and one divorce and at least two federal entities. In between filling out forms and waiting for documents to be returned, we were personality tested, inspected, and the like. We started in August of 2005 and by November, we were inches away from being complete. Throughout all of the paperwork, we never heard from our agency. The only contact we had was during our home study and our personality testing. The advertised "step by step" assistance was nowhere to be found. Late in November, himself called with a question. His call was returned immediately, and during the answer portion of the call, he was told that there was only one more dossier group that was going to be sent out for the year and if we wanted to be a part of it, we needed to get our documentation in ASAP.

So we pushed the last portion of the paperwork. I took time from work, we paid extra fees to expedite stamps and approvals. We met with our agency's "paperwork queen" and had our contents checked. We were given a short list of paperwork that we still needed to attend to, and then the "passport" incident occurred. I had kept my maiden name for quite a while after we were married, and my passport needed to be in my married name for the dossier. I spent a day and extra money to get my passport re-issued in a hurry. "Paperwork Queen" flipped through the newly issued passport, and tossed it at me. "This is no good" she declared. I excused myself and went to the washroom. It was the best choice, my only other choice was to slap her. Turns out, the passport was perfectly good, I just hadn't signed the last page.....

Two days before the deadline, I made my way to the agency to turn in all my paperwork. I had an accordion file filled with at least four copies of every piece of paperwork we needed. I handed the entire file to the Paperwork Queen and told her to take whatever she needed. She went through each section pulling copies as she went. When she handed me back the file I asked her if she had everything she needed. She said she did, and I went on my merry way. Later that evening she called to say that she did not have everything that she needed. She was one document short, and if we wanted to make the deadline, we had a fifteen minute window the following morning, to get her the document. We checked the accordion file, the document was there and Himself made the fifteen minute window. Annoyed, but unconcerned we resumed everyday life and waited for the letter that would give us our log in date. When the letter arrived we were astounded to see that our log in date was for 2006 and not 2005. Even though we had made the "deadline" our dossier was not sent with the others, it was held for two weeks. The real cost of this? 4 months of wait time and close to $1000.00. We never received an explanation or an apology. The stage was set for what has ultimately become a wary and contentious relationship.

Time passed. A lot of time. During 2006, we heard nothing from our agency. There were sporadic updates on their website. Updates that encouraged us to be patient, not to talk amongst ourselves, to give no credibility to rumors or opinions from anyone other than them, to pray. In the beginning, when the snail mail would bring us envelopes with the agency's logo on them, we would tear into them eagerly. They never contained anything other than solicitations for donations. We stopped tearing into them and started laughing when they arrived.
In the beginning, we were told that they would keep track of all the important dates for us. Some of the documentation has/had expiration dates. We would go through our paperwork sporadically, checking the dates ourselves. We weren't concerned, after all, our agency would let us know when/if we had to renew something. Ultimately, we came within two weeks of an important document expiring with no warning from our agency. We handled it ourselves and accepted the fact that we were on our own. Very recently, one of our federal documents was due to expire. We quickly renewed it, paying over one hundred dollars to do so. Only afterwards, did we find out that that fee could've been waived. And no, it wasn't our agency that told us.

If any of you have read the last few posts, you already know that the issues continue. You already know that our translation has come in incorrectly not once, but twice. You already know that our personal friend has done most of the translation "unofficially". The most recent? Reminding our agency that we will need an addendum to our home study due to the age of our child at referral time.
The current "wildest" issue? Our daughter was referred to us from a province that our agency has never dealt with before. It appears that we had all of the Institute and contact information before they did.....

As the final leg of this journey approaches, the families involved are coming together. Past and present, these families are sharing information and supporting one another. The saddest part of all of this is that our story is not unique. Other families have had "issues", other families have had their journey marred by the practices of an agency they turned to for guidance and help. Most of them are quiet and polite, some are afraid to articulate their woes, but so many have had their joy tempered. It shouldn't be that way....

For those of us, past and present, the journey is an onerous one. We plod through, we adjust our lives, we adjust our thinking. We wait patiently for a word, a sign, anything, to let us know that we are on the right path, that we are not alone. It reminds me of being a kid, and graduating from the kiddie rides to the big roller coaster. You knew you could ride alone, but it ride was much less frightening when you had someone to grab onto. Most of us were promised a hand to hold, most of us paid for a nanny (agency) to hold our hand. Many of us were bitterly disappointed.

My agency plays their cards close to the vest. They appear to resent anyone or anything that may give their clients more information than they are willing to release. Their attention seems to focus when the checkbook appears and becomes cloudy as soon as the check clears. They control information and opinions fiercely.

Cards on the table.... you are breeding a culture of mistrust and suspicion and resentment. You're clients are going to get the information, whether you want them to or not. They are going to form their own opinions whether you want them to or not. They are going to share that information and those opinions whether you want them to or not. You're holding my hand now though, not because I need to you, but because you need to. See, my process is holding up your process so now, my every thought is important to you.

I'll let you in on a little secret. I lost my sh*t last night. Literally lost it. The aftermath involves a repairman and some replacement purchases. Thank you agency o' mine for the push. After a loss of impulse control and a cocktail I feel much better this morning. Another secret, I'm polite because I have to be, I'm cooperative because I have to be.

Know this agency o'mine, I may have slapped the cards on the table, but I'm not the one holding aces and eights......

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