Adoption – Our Story

adoption
By Amy McLaren

Adoption is a wonderful gift.  But don’t be mistaken, it is also a roller coaster of emotion.

Now before I get started and tell you our tale of adopting Sam, let me start by saying that our situation is NOT the norm.

And I share our story not to discourage you, but to inspire you.

While many aspects of our adoption are common, our eight year time frame is not.

Yes, you read that right.  EIGHT YEARS was how long it took from our initial application to the day when we welcomed little Sam

into our arms.

So let me start form the beginning.

“Why adopt?”

This was by far the number one question we were asked.

And our answer was simple… “we wanted to”.

Yes, I can have children.  But why do people always assume if you want to adopt that you can’t have children?

For us, international adoption was something we always wanted to do.  We can’t explain “why”.  It just felt right.

So off we went researching and looking into organizations that could help make this possible.

Finally when we discovered one that looked great, we “officially” begin our adoption journey.  It started with an interview and then we began the very long process of paperwork.  When I say paperwork. I mean A LOT of it.  From fingerprints, training, social worker meetings, financial reviews, reference letters, police checks.   It was all paperwork all the time 🙂

But it felt right.   We were excited.

Then after about a year, we began to wonder.  How much longer would this take?

We got a few answers.  But it was never anything substantial.  It was just promise that something would happen “someday” while they looked for the right match.

If you’ve ever dealt with international adoption, this is pretty normal. It’s a waiting game.  And sometimes, it’s a long one.

So we waited. 

And time continued to pass.  One year turned into two.  Two years turned into three.  To say that we were getting restless at this point would be an understatement.

“Do you think this will ever happen?” I kept wondering.

All the while, people were asking us the same thing.  So we’d put on our “happy face” and “stay positive” but deep down we wondered… “maybe this isn’t meant to be?”

Then in 2009 a bomb dropped.  Literally.  The day before we were leaving for a two-week holiday abroad, we received a totally unexpected phone call.  Our adoption agency was charged was declaring bankruptcy and had been charged with fraud.

“What does this mean?” I remember asking my husband.

Neither of us knew.

But what we did know was that this was not good news.  If anything, it was going to mean even more delays.

It was bad.

Our hearts were broken.

I cried…  a lot.

The Imagine Adoption Agency headed by Susan and Rick Hayhow was all over the news. They had taken everyone’s money and used the funds for home renovations and luxury vacations to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It was devastating.

And yes, the thought of losing the money stung.  But for us it was the time.

You can’t get time back. Its irreplaceable.

The agency was charged and the government stepped in to help the 400 families that were affected.  Thankfully, an agency called Mission of Tears offered to welcome half of the cases (including ours)

But this came at a cost.  All the money we had spent thus far, was lost because of the Hayhows.    So if we wanted to continue, we had to start completely over from scratch – and that meant another lump sum payment.

My husband and I had many late night conversations about what we should do.  And there was lots of emotions swirling around.

Should we just let it go?

Maybe it wasn’t meant to be?

What if it takes another 3 years?  Do we really want to wait that long?

To make matters worse, our biological clocks were ticking.  We were both about to turn 30 and we wanted to also have our own.  And we felt the pressure of doing it “soon”.  So it was a very confusing and emotional time.

The long story short is that we decided to move forward with the adoption.

But…

While we waited, we also decided that we would try for our own… the old fashioned way (as my husband likes to say 😛 ).

Almost right away, I became pregnant with our daughter Marla (which was awesome).  We were thrilled and we started to think that everything was going to work out just perfectly as we wanted the kids to be close in age.

However…

As soon as Marla was born, we were informed that we would have to put our adoption file on hold until Marla was 18 months old.  No adoption agency will refer a child to you when you already have a baby (for bonding reasons).

So that meant more delays.  But at this point, we felt like we didn’t really have a choice.

As you can probably guess, 18 months to the day we picked up the phone and reactivated our file.

But with all this time that had passed (from both the agency fiasco and our choice to have our own child), our file was now “out of date”.

That meant we were back into the “paper work vortex”.  We had to renew our letters, our fingerprints, our home study and everything else that was necessary.  In fact when we first started the adoption, finger prints were done using the old fashioned ink.  But on our second update, they had since switched to digital finger prints… that’s how long it had been!

Anyway, it was a lot of updating and a lot more sleepless nights.

I felt like this journey would never end. 

And as more months kept passing by, Stu and I started to get discouraged.  We both wanted our kids to be close in age.  And with no match or even an update, we could see what was about to happen… another year would slip by.

So after a LOT of back and forth combined with plenty of tears, we finally made the decision that we would end our attempt at an international adoption.

The next step was to then inform our adoption agency.  So on a cold December day, Stu and I made our way into agency’s office for the last time.

…or so we thought…

Almost as soon as we sat down across from the Director (and before we could explain why we were even there), he began giving us an update on the Ethiopian adoption program.  And he explained that the wait times were worse than expected.

In a way, this was encouraging.  It confirmed that we had made the right decision.

But then he threw us a totally unexpected curveball…

He suggested that we change our country of choice.  He explained that South Africa had just opened their adoption program again and things we far more efficient.  In fact, he said that he thought there was a good chance we could be matched and home with a child in less than 6 months!

6 months?

6 months?

That was SUPER fast.

I didn’t know what to think.  I was speechless – and so was Stu.

But almost immediately, our emotions kicked in.  It had been a long, hard journey up to this point and we had come in to end our adoption… and now we were being told that if we changed the country there was a good chance we could be home with a child in 6 months?

Tears started streaming down my face.  As I looked over at Stu, tears were streaming down his face too.

We were a bag of mixed emotion.

Was this too good to be true?

Would this lead to more unexpected delays?

Or could this actually be our dreams coming true?

Could we actually have our son or daughter in the next 6 months?

I didn’t know what to think.

What I did know was that my heart couldn’t take another roller coaster ride.  Stu and I needed to talk about this.

If we were to go through with this, we had to set some boundaries.

So we left his office and asked for some time to think things through.

As soon as we got in the car, neither of us could stop. 

We were excited, hopeful and thrilled.  But similarly, we were also cautious, guarded and protective of each other’s emotions.

But it didn’t take long.  We both wanted to go for it.  So we called the Director on our way back and said we would like to change the country to South Africa and proceed with our adoption.

What a day.  We went in with the intent to cancel our adoption and we came out more hopeful and excited than we ever had been before.

But now came the hard part… explaining to others that we had changed our minds AGAIN.

It was hard.

People kept talking and whispering.

People thought we were insane, silly, and were almost scared to talk to us about it.

Our own family even said we should just walk away.  And I know it was because they saw how much this experience had pulled us in so many different directions.

BUT, we didn’t let it stop us.  We couldn’t.

So we soldiered on.

3 months passed.  Nothing.

6 months.  Still nothing.

9 months.  Still no match.

A full year went by and we still hadn’t heard anything.  Our life was at a complete standstill.  We were putting a whole bunch of things off “in case” we got a call… and yet, we weren’t getting anything.  No call.  No updates.  Nothing.

To say we were discouraged would be an understatement.  All the hope we had when we switched countries was gone.  Now we were fed up, frustrated and even angry. And as each night went by, my emotions started to get the better of me and I found myself randomly crying and sobbing as I went to bed.

So midway through December of 2015, after nearly 8 years of waiting, we decided that this was DEFINITELY it.  We arranged a meeting with the Director of the adoption agency to once again explain that we were going to back out of our international adoption once and for all.

It was like deja vu all over again.

And I remember that ride to the office like it was yesterday.  We had had enough.  And we promised each other that no matter what was said, we would be strong and stick to our decision so that we could move on with our lives.

However, the moment we sat down in the Director’s office, my stomach starting twisting in knots.  We explained our situation and he listened.  But we could tell there was something he wanted to tell us.

Finally, he looked us straight in the eyes and said, “I’d strongly encourage you to hold on just a little longer.  Legally I’m not allowed to say anything about a match until it’s confirmed.  But I’d strongly encourage you to hold on”.

At first we said “no”, but then there was a little feeling inside me that thought that maybe he was trying to tell us something.  Something was different about his tone.  He had a look in his eyes… and both Stu and I felt like there he wanted to say more but couldn’t.

Did this mean we were in the final stages of being matched?

But how much longer would this be?

I mean, last time we were here, he said if we changed countries it would only take 6 months.  But it’s been over 12.

On the flip side, we’ve been trying for this adoption for nearly 8 years at this point.  It would be gut wrenching if we gave up and found out later that we were so close.

Stu and I were wrestling so many thoughts and emotions at this point.   So we asked to have some time to think on it.

But as soon as we got in the car, we looked at each other and knew.  He was trying to tell us something.  We had to see this through.

So we did.

The crazy part is that less than one month later we got the call.

I honestly had a hard time writing this part of the story because it brings me to tears thinking back to that moment.

I was teaching part time, and was just going for a break when my old blackberry showed an email from the agency.

All the email said was “Call me.  It’s important.”

I remember looking at my friend’s eyes not knowing what to say.  Yes, I was afraid to call.  I didn’t want to be let down again.

But I thought “maybe this is it”.

And with that thought, I started to get nervously excited.  So I told a few close friends and they all encouraged me to call right away.

So I did, with my office door open, and them standing outside.

It was the most surreal conversation I’ve ever had.  This was the moment we had been waiting for.  Eight long years.  And in just a few minutes, all the weight of those years was lifted.

We were going to be the parents of a little boy named Sam.

To be honest, I don’t recall much of the phone conversation.  As soon as I heard “you’ve been matched”, I just started to cry.

I was crying so much that I asked the Director if my husband could call him back to get all the details because I was so overwhelmed.

All the waiting.  All the documents.  All the time vanished away.

It was FINALLY our turn.

Later that day I was emailed a portfolio with several pictures and some more information about our son.

It was hard to process it all. I remember standing in the shower for an hour crying and wondering if it was a dream.  Had it finally happened? It all felt so surreal.

I immediately called Stu on FaceTime as he was actually away on business.  We were both in tears.

Finally 8 Years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 3 days melted away within seconds.

We did it.

His full name is Samkelo.  But the crazy part is that everyone called him Sam.  And when you take the first initial from each of our names, they spell SAM.  Stu, Amy, Marla.  It was meant to be.

So another chapter was about to begin.  This would mark the start of our family of four.

Literally three weeks after that phone call, we boarded a plane and headed to South Africa with our four year old daughter.

Little did I know, I was in for a whole other set of emotions.

The first day we laid eyes on Sam we fell in love.  In the pictures he seemed so big, but in real life he was so tiny.  To be there with him was another surreal moment.  It took SO long but now, everything was happening so quickly.

As with any adoption, we had small visits that led to longer visits.  And eventually, he stayed with us over night.

While we were in South Africa, we also had to attend court to sign all the papers and “officially” become his parents.

In total, we were in South Africa for two months as a family. It was honestly one of the most memorable times together.

One of my favourites was seeing the love our little Sam got from the two incredible ladies who cared for him during the first year of his life.  They were incredible care givers and we will forever hold a special place in our hearts for them.  I truly believe without all of their love and support, Sam would not have made the transition into our family as well as he did.

This little guy has always been loved by many.

His eyes and personality bring you in as soon as you meet him.

Another special memory was the day we were leaving.  The two ladies gave us a scrapbook of everything related to Sam.  All his firsts, pictures of friends, his hospital bracelet and more.

I think all four of us cried more that evening.  It was truly a special moment.

Returning home was hard. Harder than I thought it would be.

I thought everyone would welcome our new family with open arms. And everyone close to us did.  But there have been a few incidents with strangers blurting out some unfortunate comments or situations on the school playground of kids asking who Sam’s “real Mom” is.

I can’t keep the little guy in a bubble his whole life.  And we are very open about him being adopted.  We embrace it and encourage questions from our kids and others.

Fast forward to today, and it’s been three years that Sam has come into our life.

We love him with all of our heart and couldn’t imagine our family without him.

It was a long wait, but it was worth every minute.


Wow, what a beautiful story of love. If you want to know more about this sweet family, here are a couple of ways to get to know them better!

Amy is the founder of  www.villageimpact.com

Amy and her team build schools in Kenya…and you will not believe this awesomeness…but she is on her 12th school! AMAZING!!! Ya, you want to get to know Amy!

Also, Amy runs a Mastermind for entrepreneurial ladies…yes, I am one of them…and I can’t tell you how much this means to me and my business! You can find out more by messaging Amy at

https://www.facebook.com/amydowmclaren

Stu, Amy’s hubby, is only one of the greatest entrepreneurs out there, building success story after success story by teaching people how to love people…well, there is way more to it, like building membership websites…but it really all boils down to how much he loves on his TRIBE! Check him out at www.stu.me 

This is one beautiful family, inside and out! I hope you get a chance to connect with them soon!


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