Vietnam to Canada - Our Second Adoption
By Karen Couture
My husband, Jean, and I live in Ontario, Canada. We adopted Marc Thang Trong Le Couture near Hanoi in Vietnam on June 16, 1998. I wrote about his story in "A Canadian Adoption Story".
After we returned from our trip to adopt Marc in Hanoi, we started to talk about returning to Vietnam to adopt a little brother for Marc and Rob who is 15, my son from a previous marriage; however, we were only half serious about it at that time. As we saw Marc grow and flourish we continued to talk of another adoption and got progressively more serious about it. We felt our family was not quite complete.
In the fall of 1998 we made contact with another family, the Phillips, who went to Vietnam in October of that year to adopt their daughter, Sophia. They were one of the first families in Ontario to adopt in Vietnam using an Ontario agency, Access Adoption Services, located in Ottawa, Ontario. The director, Adam Wang , came highly recommended. There had been no agencies here in Ontario when we were pursuing our adoption of Marc and we had used an American agency, Orphans Overseas, who had done a wonderful job, but we had to handle the Canadian immigration process on our own and have some our Canadian documentation redone. Now there was an agency that we could work with that would be familiar with our documentation and assist us with the immigration work. We talked with the Phillips and attended two seminars in January and February, 1999 given by Access Adoption Services. Adam Wang really seemed familiar with the adoption paperwork and told us that we could be looking at adopting a baby boy before the end of the year. We did not expect it to happen that quickly but were definitely encouraged enough by the seminars to initiate the process for a second adoption. We e-mailed Adam that we wanted to start our second adoption and received a booklet from Access that clearly outlined the Vietnam adoption process and gave all the necessary forms with examples to complete our Vietnam dossier. The in-country process would be handled by the International Mission of Hope (IMH) which is well regarded by Americans who have used their services to facilitate adoptions. IMH also does humanitarian work in Vietnam.
Finding the money for it would not be easy and we ended up having to borrow money for part of it. But we felt that having another child in our family would be worth the sacrifices we would have to make. We had indeed reevaluated our lifestyle and decided what was important and what was not. It was a good exercise in realizing what values we shared and what we wanted in our lives. I believe it has brought us closer together as a couple and as a family.
We decided to formally initiate the process for the second adoption by contacting our social worker for a home study update to be presented to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) responsible for giving us a "Letter of Recommendation" for our dossier in Vietnam and a "Letter of No Objection" for Canadian Immigration to allow us to sponsor our child to come to Canada. We contacted her in early March and she came for a visit in early April to interview us and see how we were handling having Marc as a part of our family. She was obviously impressed with how well Marc was doing and how we handled being parents of a toddler. We got the necessary medical reports, police checks and reference letters to her and she completed our update and submitted it to the ministry in the middle of June 1999. We did not expect to receive the two letters from MCSS until the fall. It had taken 16 weeks for them to reach our file when we were in the process of adopting Marc.
As a teacher I had the summer off and decided to use the first part of it to complete the rest of my dossier for Vietnam as well as the Canadian Immigration application to sponsor our new son to come to Canada as a landed immigrant. Those two tasks were completed and couriered off by the end of the second week in July. We decided that nothing much was going to happen until the autumn with either process. At the beginning of August we went on vacation for two weeks.
Imagine my surprise when we returned home at 5 A.M. on August 13 to find that we had received both our letters from MCSS and our approval from Canadian Immigration! Our dossier in Vietnam was now complete and a referral could be made.
At the end of August we received an E-mail from Adam Wang at Access that we had a referral for a baby boy named Dung ("Zoom"), born August 15. Did we want to accept it? Jean and I made a conference call to Adam in Ottawa, saying "YES!"to the referral. There were tears in my eyes and a feeling akin to what I felt when I was told I was pregnant with my oldest son, Rob. A week later I received the formal proposal from International Mission of Hope, the in-country agency for Access, along with the first photos of our baby son and medical information. We signed and couriered the formal proposal to Adam who then sent it on the IMH. Then we waited, and waited, and waited.
We talked about what Canadian name we would give our new son. After much discussion we decided on the name Jean Luc. It would go well with the Couture. We are both fans of Star Trek and felt that Jean Luc Pickard, a leader in the series, was portrayed a fair, sensitive and intelligent individual with a strong sense of concern for others, and as such, a good role model for our son. I also really liked the name Luc. And we would retain his Vietnamese name as we did for Marc.
We had decided that only one of us could go this time for two reasons. Someone needed to stay home with Marc and Rob. Also we would be able to save money with only one person travelling. At first we thought we would not be adopting until late January and Jean would go. But because Jean is working on a Y2K project at work he could not be away in November, December or early January. So...I was the one who was going. We got a Power of Attorney notarized by the lawyer so I could represent both of us in Vietnam to complete the adoption.
By the middle of October I was getting very anxious about going. I knew our baby son was in Vietnam waiting for us. I discovered that the hold up was with the medical required for Canadian Immigration. The one clinic in Hanoi approved by Immigration Canada for completing the medical was being extremely inefficient at getting it completed. Finally we were told that the medical had been sent to Singapore. However, Singapore had not yet received it. Then we were told the baby needed more tests at the clinic. Jean and I talked and I said that I was going to go to Hanoi anyway to expedite the medical and complete the adoption. I planned to leave on October 28. I told Access and IMH of my plans and asked Adam arrange for my Vietnamese visa. We contacted the agency recommended by Access and booked my flight. I was going!!!
We were still a bit nervous about the medical that needed to be sent to Singapore. We called the clinic in Hanoi on Oct 24 at 11:00 P.M. (Oct 25 at 10 A.M. in Hanoi and 11 A.M. in Singapore) to see if the medical report had been sent to Singapore. They said yes so we called Singapore to find out if it had been received. They apparently did not have any record of its receipt in their computer system but would check. We said we would call back in 24 hours if we did not hear from them. In the meantime we sent off E-mails to our MP, Access and a few close friends to let them know that there seemed to be some unnecessary delay in processing the medical for our son's file and asked if they could do something to facilitate the process. I was in a very anxious state. I might have to stay in Hanoi for an extended period if the medical was not yet approved.
On Monday morning (Oct. 25) at work I received a phone call from Adam Wang saying that our medical had been "found" and approved! What a relief! Now I could go to Hanoi knowing that most of the paperwork was done. I just needed to complete the adoption, get the baby's passport and approved so the Canadian visa could be issued as soon as the immigration people in Singapore as soon as they received faxes of the baby's birth certificate, adoption papers and passport photo pages. Then they could issue the Canadian immigrant visa for the baby and courier it back to Hanoi. I could be on my way home with our new son!
I said goodbye to my Grade 6 class on Wednesday, Oct. 27, and packed my bags. On Thursday Jean and my two sons, Rob, 15, and Marc, 18 months and I drove to the airport in the van that we now had to accommodate all the kids.We had traded in our two cars for the van and Jean is getting fit walking to the train station now to get to work. My sister and niece met us at the airport to see me off. While there we met the other family, parents and three kids, who were also travelling to Hanoi to adopt a baby girl. I said my goodbyes to my family and went to the waiting room with tears in my eyes. I was really going to miss my family. I felt very much alone.
I boarded the plane for the 24 hour journey to Hanoi on Cathay Pacific Airlines which included a two hour layover in Hong Kong. When I disembarked at the Hanoi airport I felt like I had not been away very long although it had been about 15 months since we had left Hanoi after adopting Marc. I quickly found the driver from the Claudia Hotel and we found the other Canadian family and we all drove into Hanoi. Everything looked so familiar. I was back! I never expected to return to Hanoi so soon. And the weather was cooler than the last time we came in June.
We got out at the Claudia, which is only 7 feet wide although very long.We were greeted by Mrs. Thuy, the manager of the Claudia and escorted to our rooms. My room was only 7 feet wide but very long. I got settled in my room and went for lunch. I slept part of the afternoon to recover from the jet lag and then had supper at the hotel.
The next day, Sunday, was pretty uneventful. My husband called at around 7:30 as he did every day throughout my stay. Those calls from home helped keep me in touch with my family whom I was missing quite a lot. I got to meet the adoptive families staying at the hotel when I went to the hotel dining room for meals. Most of them were Americans. I went out to explore the old section of Hanoi on foot and did a bit of shopping. I also spent part of the afternoon sleeping to recover from the jetlag. I was told I would probably get my baby the next day!
On Monday morning at 10:30 there was a knock at the door to my hotel room. When I opened the door Andrew from IMH was there holding Jean Luc Dung! He handed the baby to me and took some pictures of me holding my new son. Jean Luc was fast asleep. And he was absolutely beautiful. The hotel sent up some formula and boiled water to feed him. I spent the rest of the day getting to know him. He was eating and sleeping well.
I spent the next few days getting to know Jean Luc while I waited for the Giving and Receiving Ceremony to be set up in Thai Nguyen province where Jean Luc was born . Finally I got word that it was set for Friday morning. On Thursday afternoon I got a call from IMH saying the birth mother had come to Hanoi from the province and wanted to see the baby if it was okay with me. I was very surprised as we had had no contact with Marc's birth mother the year before. I said that it was fine with me. She arrived a half an hour later.There were a lot of tears as she held the baby and stroked his little head and hands. I showed her pictures of our family. I think she took some comfort from knowing we already had a little boy at home who was also Vietnamese. She had had to relinquish him because she was young and unmarried which is viewed very negatively in the Vietnamese culture. At the end of our meeting I gave her hug. Jean Luc had slept through the meeting.
We left for Thai Nguyen province for the G&R the next morning bright and early . There was another woman with me who was adopting a three-year old girl. After a 2 hour bumpy ride we arrived at the local government offices and were led into a room where the ceremony would take place. There was a long table set up with chairs on either side. Jean Luc's birth mom arrived with her dad and brother and held the baby during the half hour or so that we waited while everyone involved in the G&R had arrived. Jean Luc was very fussy after the long ride in the van and spitting up a bit as a result. Finally we were all present and ready. There was the local justice minister, his secretary, the doctor who was the director of the orphanage that taken custody of the child after birth and placed him in foster care, our IMH representative, the birth dad of the three year old girl and Jean Luc's birth family, and us as the adoptive parents.
The ceremony was very brief. Jean Luc's birth mother held the baby while I signed the Proces Verbal to complete the adoption. Then she handed the baby to me. What an emotional moment! Jean Luc was now officially our son. Now I just had to finish the rest of the paperwork before I could travel home.
The birth mother and I hugged before I got into the taxi that would take us back to Hanoi. I promised to write and send pictures through IMH to her after I returned to Canada. More tears from both of Jean Luc's birth mom and myself as the taxi drove off. Jean Luc may never see his birth mom again. At least I will be able to tell him that she loved him very much and found it very difficult to give him up for adoption.
When we returned to Hanoi Andrew took me over to the Canadian Embassy on his motorcycle. What an exhilarating ride! I asked the official at the Canadian Embassy, Margreet Bosma, to fax Jean Luc's birth certificate with English translation and the adoption papers to the Canadian Immigration people in Singapore. After that I went back to the Claudia to wait until Monday morning to apply for Jean Luc's Vietnamese passport which would allow me to take him out of the country. I also needed it to fax the picture pages to Singapore for the Landed Immigrant visa that would allow me to bring him into Canada.
I spent the weekend waiting and looking after Jean Luc who was becoming quite agitated with what I thought was colic but later found out to be the beginning of his allergic reaction to scabies which he must have picked up somewhere before I got him. I did not know then that it takes about three to four weeks for scabies allergic reaction to develop in the skin. I switched Jean Luc to soy formula which seemed to help a bit with the spitting up but the agitation continues and was especially bad in the early evenings.
Mrs. Thuy, the manager of the Claudia Hotel, gave us a Vietnamese meal to celebrate our adoptions. All the families were there that had arrived on the same weekend as me. Each family was given a gift for our adopted child as a souvenir of Hanoi. The meal was different but interesting with a variety of dishes like Vietnamese spring rolls, deep fried shrimp, Vietnamese soup, and mangoes and Asian pears.
On Monday morning just before 9 A.M. I went with the other woman who adopted in Thai Nguyen province to apply for our children's passports. We were told we would probably get them the next day which was a relief to me because I needed to fax the passport picture pages to Singapore by Wednesday morning in order to get the Canadian visa by Friday so I could leave as scheduled on Saturday. Otherwise I would have to change my return flight booking to the next week. With Jean Luc being so upset I wanted to go home as soon as possible.
On Tuesday we went back at 3 P.M. to the police station to get the
passports. I had called the immigration people in Singapore and they said
they would receive the faxed passport on the Wednesday as they would be
closed when I got back from picking up the passport. They also said they could not guarantee that a visa would be issued on the Wednesday. Yikes! That meant I not be able to get home until the following week and I was running out of soy formula. I only had enough to last until Saturday night when I hoped I would be home. I was also not sure I would be able to book a flight for the following week as the seats on flights back to Toronto from Hong Kong were filling up fast. I called the Canadian Embassy in Hanoi and told the contact person about my plight. She did not think there was very much she could do. I also E-mailed people at home to hopefully expedite issuing of the visa.
After I returned from picking up Jean Luc's passport and exit visa I immediately
had the hotel fax the passport pages to Singapore. I was rather agitated
until the next day when I received a fax from Singapore which was
the waybill with tracking number for Jean Luc's Canadian visa. It was on its way to Hanoi and I could pick it up Friday morning. What a relief! We would be returning home on Saturday after all.
Jean Luc continued to be very restless and on Wednesday I noticed a rash which I thought was a heat rash on his tummy. It was actually the scabies rash finally making its appearance. I did not discover that that was what it was until we had been home for two weeks. Then, of course, the whole family had to be treated just in case someone else had the scabies mites.
On Wednesday and Thursday morning I went shopping to pick up some last minute gifts, including two lovely gold chains and crossed for Marc and Jean Luc for their First Communions later on. I also bought myself a beautiful jade ring as a memento of my second visit to Hanoi.
On Thursday afternoon I went with some other adoptive parents on a tour of some interesting sites around Hanoi. This was arranged by the hotel. We saw the residence of Ho Chi Minh, a pagoda on the West Lake, the Temple of Literature and the Museum of Art. They were all very interesting. I had visited the last two on our first trip to Hanoi and now had an opportunity to learn even more at each one. It was Nov. 11 but the weather was quite hot and very humid by Canadian standards. I could not believe it was late fall.
I walked over to the FedEx office in the rain with Jean Luc in the Snugli on Friday and picked up Jean Luc's Canadian visa. What a relief! I spent the rest of the day packing for the return journey home. That night I went out with another family to the Mama Rosa Restaurant where Jean and I had taken Marc on our first trip. I even took a picture of Jean Luc held by the same waitress who held Marc in the picture we took when we adopted Marc.
On Saturday morning I was up bright and early to finish my packing and have my last breakfast at the Claudia. Finally the cab arrived. My luggage was stowed in the trunk and I said my goodbyes to the staff of the Claudia and the other family still there waiting to travel to HoChiMinh City the next day to complete their US immigration process. As we drove off through the streets of Hanoi I had tears in my eyes. How long would it be before I returned again? I wanted to capture the memories crystal clear in my mind. But I knew that they would fade with time. I said a silent thank you to this country that had given me two beautiful sons. Jean Luc was fast asleep through my departure strapped into the Snugli.
The trip home was relatively uneventful. Jean Luc slept through most of it after he had a bit of a cry, probably because the scabies were bugging him. The flight from Hong Kong to Toronto was non-stop and only 14 hours in the air, most of which was spent by me sleeping and eating. The other family who had travelled from Toronto with me was on the return flight as well. The Canadian visa for their daughter was issued on the Wednesday as well.
At about 5:30 P.M. Toronto time we landed in Toronto. It took about a half an hour to complete the immigration process, luggage claim and customs check. I then stepped through the sliding doors to see my family and friends waiting for me. My first glimpse through the doors was of my older son, Robin, who was very glad to see me back. What a relief to be home with my family! I cried tears of joy as I showed off our new son to everyone. Marc was glad to see me but not sure if I was going to stay or leave again.
I have been back home for almost two months. It has been a time of adjustment for me and Jean Luc as well as the rest of the family but we are returning to a new normal routine. It took Marc over a month to really believe that I was home to stay. He needed a lot of hugging and holding from me and had trouble going to sleep at night. He is back to normal now and goes to sleep by himself most nights. Rob loves the new baby and is a big help in keeping him amused. Rob loves holding him and making him grin and laugh.
It took some time to get Jean Luc settled into his new home. We had to try different formulas to help with the spitting up and treat the scabies. For two weeks after the scabies treatment we had to give him Benedryl for Kids as well as use cortisone to help relieve the itching. Jean Luc is now a happy and contented 4 month old who is learning to roll over and grab things. He has the most beautiful grin and giggle. He has settled into a routine, eats well and sleeps 6 to 8 hours during the night. He is a much more contented and easy baby than Marc was. He is able to get himself to sleep unlike Marc who would not fall asleep unless someone was holding him. He is eating well and loves to play with his brothers.
For Jean and I life will never be the same as before. There are plenty of conflicts and stresses at times with two young kids, one who is now a very active toddler and into all sorts of mischief. Our house is a busy place with the kids but it is all worth it to be able to hold our two babies, cuddle them and see them grow and develop. We really savour that quiet time when the two younger boys are in bed and Rob has gone downstairs to his living space and we are alone together. And to peek in at the sleeping babies is such a sweet experience. All the aggravation and worries connected with their adoptions fade away with the reality of what is here right now.
Hanoi seems to be a distant dream now even though it has only been two months since I was there. But I do still remember the rain falling heavily in the streets as I explored the city on foot, the sight of people crowding through the streets in the late afternoon and the water buffalo tromping through the rice fields outside the city. Nothing can compare with the exhilaration I felt during my motorcycle ride through the streets of Hanoi to visit the Canadian Embassy.
People have asked when we are going back for our third adoption. I think at this point that this is it unless we win a lottery! Even so I do feel twinges of envy to read E-mails from others getting ready to travel to complete their adoptions in Hanoi or HoChiMinh City. My next challenge now is to return to work.
I am still very much involved with other parents waiting to travel to adopt with our second adoption agency. I can empathize with their emotional ups and downs. But it is worth it in the end! It is my hope that at least some of the parents who have adopted children from Vietnam here in Ontario will be connected so their children in the future will know others who were also adopted from Vietnam.
I have a bookmark that we got from Robin's school when we were in the process of adopting Marc, stuck on a cupboard door in the kitchen. It says it all for us: "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child." That's why we went to Vietnam twice and may go again sometime in the future. Who knows? I leave the possibility open.
© Jean Couture
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