As promised, this is Part 1 of what’s likely to be a three-part story about adopting our daughter, Maliah, from Rwanda.
I met Maliah on Fathers’ Day last year, but our journey really began two years earlier, on a different Sunday morning when friends of ours who’d been to Rwanda started describing an orphanage with a room full of infants. Shawna and I were both captured. This was March 2007, only a month after our second son, Oscar, was born. So we put adoption aside for almost a year. But the thought never went away.
In January 2008 we met with other families from our church who were interested in adopting; our friends Dale and Adrienne decided to go for it too. My intrepid wife Shawna did most of the legwork, poring through government websites and internet chat groups trying to figure out what we needed to do to bring a baby home from Rwanda.
It turned out we were pioneers of sorts in our province. There had been a handful of Rwandan adoptions in Canada, but only one other Nova Scotian had ever done it—a nurse from Antigonish who’d worked in the country several times and adopted a teenager on one of her trips. No one had ever approached the provincial government about adopting an infant. When we did, the response we got was “Why?”
In fact, the province’s adoption service folks weren’t keen on the idea at first. Understandably, the local government wants to make sure international adoptions are legit and there’s no child trafficking on. They were wary of dealing with a country where they weren’t familiar with the adoption process, and we had to produce a ton of information along the way to satisfy the provincial authorities.
The other unique thing about Rwanda is that its government refuses to deal with adoption agencies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I’m not criticizing all agencies, and there are many wonderful organizations out there, but as soon as large amounts of money start exchanging hands, the potential for corruption and abuse creeps in at so many different levels. So Rwanda only deals directly with prospective parents or their representatives.
That meant we had to do all the work ourselves, and we hired a lawyer in Rwanda to help us on that side. Thus began a year-long slow dance of paperwork and home studies and visa applications and notarizations and shipping reams of files to Ottawa and Kigali and back. And in the middle of this, we had a Valentine’s Day celebration that left Shawna with a surprise case of morning sickness.
To make an already long story much shorter, we received approval from Rwanda to adopt on March 19, 2009 – coincidentally enough, my last day as a reporter. On April 23 we found out our little girl’s name: Teresita Akimpaye. Her Rwandese surname means “The One God Gives Me,” which sounded perfect to us.
Then the real rollercoaster began. On two separate occasions in May, we got great news one day and then literally the next day it looked like the whole thing might fall apart.
We received our official approval from Nova Scotia to adopt on May 6; a day later, Shawna was talking to the provincial head of adoptions and mentioned that our travel plans had changed and I’d go to Rwanda alone because she was pregnant.
The line went silent. “You’re…pregnant?”
In the province’s mind, this changed everything. Our family dynamic was shifting, so they felt they had to re-assess our home study.
For the record, home studies aren’t much fun. You have to hire someone to ask you a ton of personal questions and come to your house and essentially critique your parenting abilities. An understandable step in the process, but not one we wanted to repeat. Adoption had just moved from abstract to concrete for us—we knew our future daughter’s name!—and now we were terrified that our caseworker would come in and change her mind and the whole thing would be off.
But after some panicking and tears, we pulled it together and managed to convince a professional psychologist that, yes, we could handle raising four kids… aged four and under… without a full-time job between us.
Adoption back on. All is well; Lucases are happy. After conferring with our lawyer in Rwanda, who assured us the process was going smoothly, we booked my plane ticket to fly over with Dale and Adrienne on June 19.
Two weeks later, on May 27, we got our first pictures of our little girl. She was gorgeous. Oscar carried her photo everywhere and Xander pinned one to his bedroom wall. She was real now, to all of us.
The very next day, our lawyer emailed us. The nuns at the orphanage were concerned: Teresita wasn’t growing much, and she didn’t respond to sound. She seemed to have health problems. The nuns would gladly pick out another child for us, but they didn’t want us to adopt her.
We were devastated. Even if we wanted to switch, we didn’t think there was any way we could get all the paperwork completed and court documents filed for a different child by the time I was due to arrive in Rwanda on June 20. But switching wasn’t really an option. Teresita’s picture was hanging on her brothers’ bedroom wall. She was our daughter.
So we cried, and we told friends, and they prayed for us. And then we got up at 3 a.m. to call a man named Antoine, a pastor at the church our friends started in Rwanda. He agreed to take our daughter to a Belgian doctor to be checked out. After a very stressful week that involved a few more 3 a.m. phone calls and several cryptic emails—Antoine is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and he speaks about seven languages, but written English is not his strength (though it’s far better than my Kinyarwanda, spoken or written)—we were assured that probably, maybe, our daughter was fine.
We decided we didn’t care either way at this point. We were all-in. If she had hearing problems, we’d sort it out once we got her home.
So we gave our lawyer the green light to proceed. On June 8, the court hearing went through in Rwanda and Teresita, soon to be Maliah, officially became our daughter—though there were several hurdles left to clear before we could bring her home.
And on June 19, I set out to do just that.