In October 2005, Heidi Schlumpf and her husband, Edmund, started the process of adopting a daughter from China.
Nearly 4½ years later, they will leave this month to bring home the little girl they have decided to name Sophie.
While waiting for Sophie, they brought home Sam, now 2, from Vietnam in September 2008. They received him just as Vietnam was closing its doors to international adoptions.
The long delays and the uncertain outcome is what makes adoption different - and often more agonizing - than waiting for a child to be born through pregnancy, Schlumpf said.
She shares her joys, frustrations, hope, pain and the faith that sustained her during the adoption process in her book, "While We Wait: Spiritual & Practical Advice for Those Trying to Adopt."
Schlumpf, an associate professor of communication at Aurora University and a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said she wrote the book during her wait.
"It helped me to write it, but the idea is that I wanted to help other people going through it because it turned out to be a lot more challenging than I thought it would be," she said.
Even some people who are not adoptive parents have found it helpful, she said.
Published last fall by Acta Publications, the 189-page softbound book contains hope-filled reflections on practical issues surrounding adoption. Topics include infertility and the choice to adopt, the paper chase and cost, dealing with holidays and the unknown "due date," extended family and rude strangers, coping strategies and spiritual resources.
For Schlumpf, the decision to adopt came after a year of infertility. Having children had long been her dream, but she had given up a son to adoption as a teenager and a previous marriage had ended in divorce. Happily remarried, she learned pregnancy at age 40 wasn't going to happen for her.
Choice to adopt
She and her husband decided to adopt internationally. They chose China because Edmund had lived in Asia for several years.
"We really like the idea of being an international family," she said.
They were told initially that the adoption from China would take six months to a year. When the process bogged down, they decided to adopt what they had planned as their second child first - a son from Vietnam.
The Vietnamese adoption was supposed to take six months, but it took two years. Schlumpf started hearing unsettling feedback about the agency handling the adoption when an adoptive mother from Asia she had been in contact with over the Internet called her to talk about the agency.
The conversation confirmed Schlumpf's concerns. She and her husband switched agencies and lost money in the process. But she saw the hand of God in the call she had received.
"I believe that person was put in my path by God to help me through that hard time," she said.
The Vietnamese adoption cost $30,000 to $35,000. The Chinese adoption was supposed to cost $20,000 to $25,000, but will run more than that, Schlumpf said.
The costs include a home study, agency charges, immigration papers, travel and donations to the orphanage in the child's home country.
The adoption process often feels more like applying for a mortgage than preparing for a baby, Schlumpf said.
"It's a lot of work. Every piece of paper has to be notarized," Schlumpf said.
Through the process, Schlumpf experienced her share of insensitive comments. The joke that "this is the longest pregnancy ever" quickly grew old. Acquaintances have asked, "How much does your child cost?"
Even well-meaning friends sometimes unintentionally inflicted pain. A friend who loaned her a crib asked for it back to loan to another friend who had become pregnant after the adoption process took longer than expected.
"Basically, it said to me, your child is a maybe," Schlumpf said.
But Schlumpf found support in friends who understood and in her faith that God did intend her to be a mother.
"God doesn't give you this intense longing for something that won't be filled," she said. "I really feel like I'm called to be a mother."
When the moment finally came, Schlumpf first saw her son from across the room in the orphanage. Distracted by the other children, she made her way to him.
"He came right to us and he didn't cry," she said.
But Schlumpf said adoptive parents are warned that meeting their child for the first time is not always a Hallmark moment. The realization that he truly belonged with them came a bit later, she said.
"Within two days of returning to the hotel room, I was madly in love with him," she said.
The first couple months were challenging. Sam wasn't - and isn't - a good sleeper, Schlumpf said. Slow to speak at first, he quickly caught up developmentally with speech therapy.
"He's chatty, chatty, chatty," she said. "Sam is doing so well. He was so clearly meant to be our child and we're meant to be his parents."
Sam was 10 months old when he was adopted. Sophie will be about 14 months.
Having Sam to care for has made waiting Sophie a little easier, but not much, Schlumpf said.
"I've been imagining a girl from China for four years," she said. "It's hard still knowing that child is over there and you can't get her yet."
In some ways, the disappointments that come with adoption delays are like any loss, Schlumpf said. Friends and family who are uncertain how to react might ask the adoptive couple what would be most beneficial, she said.
"Don't ignore it. Don't not mention," she said.
The adoptive couple themselves need to hang onto hope and faith, she said.
"As somebody who has been through it and made it to the other side, I can say it's all worth it," she said.
Schlumpf's book may be ordered through Amazon.com.
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