International Adoption Story: A Family’s Journey to Rwanda

international adoption

It is with so much excitement and gratefulness that I share the story of Desmond’s journey from Rwanda to the Watson family.

I had such a privilege of seeing Desmond’s adoption process unfold as his parents, Suzanne and Brian, put in an incredible amount of work to make an international adoption happen. Here is their story.

A Heart for International Adoption

What led you and Brian to decide that you wanted to grow your family through adoption?

From the time I was a little girl and understood that you don’t have to be biologically related to be a family, I knew one day I wanted to adopt! Luckily, I married someone who welcomed the idea of growing our family through adoption. I think every kid deserves a family to love and support them, and we could offer that.

I always thought that we would have biological children first and then adopt second. Perhaps that’s because it’s what you see the most often in adoptive families. But Brian felt very strongly that we should go through the adoption process first. He wanted our adoptive child to know that this was our first choice. I’m so thankful for his intuition on this suggestion.

What drew you to international adoption and specifically the country you chose?

We adopted from Rwanda, Africa, through an international adoption program called America World Adoption Agency (AWAA). International Adoption has always been close to my heart. AWAA had a long positive track record with overseas adoptions, so that was an easy fit.

When we submitted our application in 2009, Rwanda was a pilot program with the agency. The genocide the country endured during the ’90s led to an orphan crisis, and we felt like this is where we should go. It was risky because a pilot program doesn’t have a track record. At any moment, the country could close, or the timeline could get much longer.

Beginning the Process of International Adoption

There are so many different roads to adoption and many barriers of one kind of another. Can you share challenges that came up for your family during your process?

For international adoption, our process was actually pretty seamless. We started the application process in December 2008 and were matched with our son by December 2009. We were in Rwanda meeting him for the first time on January 23, 2010.

The process was complicated, and we had to jump through a lot of hoops. We had to fill out so much paperwork and pass many interviews, in addition to background checks. It took over six months to get all of this paperwork (also knows as the dossier) together.

Once we completed the dossier, the California Secretary of State had to approve it. Then they sent it off to D.C. for official U.S. government approval and to translate it into Kinyarwanda. Then it could make its way to Rwanda. I often feel it’s a miracle the dossier didn’t get lost.

What was the matching process with Desmond?

Once the Ministry of Rwanda approved the dossier, they then sent it to the head nun at our son’s orphanage. She is ultimately the one who read through each family’s file. She prayed about which family should be matched with each kid. I must say, God definitely spoke to her about our match with Desmond. Our family wouldn’t be a family without him in it. He is such a Watson!

Gotcha Day

Can you explain what a ‘gotcha day’ is and what that experience was like for you and Brian?

“Gotcha Day” is the official term in the adoption world for the day you and your child meet for the first time! For some families and their children, this might be their actual birthday. For many others, it’s not. I’ll never forget sitting in a small conference room at Home of Hope (Orphanage run by Sisters of the Poor, Mother Theresa) in Kigali, Rwanda on January 23, 2010, with Brian, his parents, and one other family who were also there meeting their kids for the first time.

We all just sat there anxiously waiting and waiting. After what seemed like forever (probably like 10 minutes, ha), I saw Nyanja (our adoption agency representative) and a nun walking towards me with the cutest little guy I had ever seen. It was Desmond! They had woken him up from a nap, and he was in a total fog and very confused by all the fuss we were making over him.

That moment will forever be etched in my memory because it’s the day we became a family! Motherhood is one of the greatest joys you can ever experience in life, and at that moment, I got my first taste of it.

international adoption

International Adoption: Strength in Numbers

Were there any challenges you and your group faced after Gotcha Day and before you were able to come home?

In our travel group, we had nine families (from all over the U.S.) who adopted 12 children. So, we were a pretty big group traveling around town. We spent one week in Rwanda and one week in Nairobi, Kenya. We had doctors’ appointmentsand a lot of paperwork to get approved before we were able to fly back to the states.

Since we were such a large group, there were multiple instances of us having to wait for very long periods. There was one day where all of us went to the Office of Family and Gender, where we needed the minister’s signature on all our paperwork. They told us she wasn’t available and that we should come another time, perhaps another day or even better next week. We told them we didn’t have anywhere to go and would be happy to stay and wait. After a while, it became clear they needed to get all these kids out of their waiting room as quickly as they could. Miraculously some time opened up in the minister’s schedule. Who knows how many days we would have had to keep trying if we just left?

It was hot and we were all trying to figure out how to be parents to brand new kids, but thank goodness everyone stayed healthy. Honestly, it was an amazing bonding experience not only with our new children but also with these other families. We all share a story and an incredible memory.

Bringing Baby Home

Describe what it was like walking into your home for the first time with Desmond

It was surreal!

We left Los Angeles just the two of us and returned with a 10-month-old son who was starting to walk! I remember walking through a long hallway after we passed through customs at the airport and seeing many of our friends who had been a part of this journey with us standing there with signs and flowers bursting with joy to meet Desmond!

We went from zero to a hundred and fast! Six months after we adopted Desmond, we got pregnant with our daughter Charlie. Three years later, we had our son Duncan. The last 10 years have been a total whirlwind but in the best possible way.

International Adoption Words of Wisdom

What would you tell someone considering adopting a child?

Expect the unexpected. Adoption can be a long hard process with lots of twists and turns. Even though it’s hard when you’re in it, don’t compare someone else’s journey or story to yours.

I have so many friends who have adopted, and we all have completely different journeys and timelines. It’s important to connect with other families who have adopted and/or are going through the process. You’ll need the support system from people who get it!

international adoption

Interracial Adoption

When it comes to interracial adoption, you have to self-examine your motives. Every kid needs a family, but kids of color do not need “white saviors.” If you’re going to have an interracial family, be willing to put in the work to see your child’s life and the world through their minority lens. You can’t just see your white lens. Seek out resources available from adults that were adopted as children into interracial families. I wish I had done more of this on the front end, but am thankful that it’s never too late to listen, learn, and be an advocate.

With all of the civil unrest and renewed racial justice movements worldwide, international adoption can be uniquely tough on your adopted child and family. That’s why it’s essential to connect and stay connected with other adoptive families.

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