My wife and I had heard that international adoption would be one of the most difficult and rewarding things we'd ever do. We found that to be true when we adopted our daughter Laura from Colombia. We can't believe it's been more than five years since we first saw our baby girl, who was 6 months old at the time. She's grown up so much since then.
Though there were days we wondered if we'd ever become parents, we found that Laura was definitely worth the wait. We can't imagine our lives without her.
She has truly brought joy to our lives.
Many challenges tested us during our adoption journey. Whoever said adoption isn't for the faint of heart wasn't joking.
The process taught us a lot about perseverance, handling disappointment, relationships and depending on God.
Here are five lessons we learned along the way:
Lesson 1: Adoption takes passion and a little obsession.
When we first returned to the United States, our daughter received a lot of attention. Most people commented on her black spiky hair and big brown eyes.
There have been some who have casually mentioned to us that they may like to adopt someday. When we hear this, we wonder if they are serious or just caught up in the idea.
One thing we've learned through our experience is that there isn't anything casual about adoption.
The adoption process takes a 100-percent commitment and then some. Without a passion and a do-whatever-it-takes attitude, we never would have gotten through the hours of paperwork, unanswered phone messages, weeks of no new information, personality tests and interviews not to mention the expense.
An adoptive couple needs to have their heart in the process. Without that, they're wasting their time.
There is definitely a romanticized view of adoption. People often seem to see it as a higher calling that only the "chosen few" accept or as a project or opportunity to save the world one child at a time. But that wasn't what it was about for Stephanie and me. People will comment on how wonderful Stephanie and I are for adopting or how blessed Laura is for being adopted. When I hear this I can't help but think, "Hey, we're the blessed ones. We're just an ordinary couple who wanted to have a child like most people." For a couple unable to have a biological child, adoption gave us that opportunity.
Lesson 2: Accept the fact that you are not in control.
Nothing went the way Stephanie and I expected during our adoption process.
There were many times during this journey when we threw up our hands and said, "God, we don't know what's going on, but we hope something positive is going to come from all of this."
There were times we felt God had let us down.
We occasionally wondered if we were on our own.
We wondered why it was so difficult for us to start a family or if we'd ever have one at all.
We thought, "God, what purpose could you possibly have for us not being able to have a child?"
During the adoption process, we had to complete a home study and one-on-one interviews with our social worker. We were asked many personal questions about our marriage and family. Naturally, there were times we wanted to answer, "This is really none of your business."
It seemed so unfair. "Most couples don't have to go to a counselor's office and fill out paperwork to start a family," we thought. "Why doesn't their house have to be inspected for safety locks on the cabinets and a fire extinguisher?"
We had to accept the fact that God has a plan for our lives and Laura's life even if it didn't make sense to us at the moment.
Lesson 3: Just smile and answer the questions.
When you decide to adopt, you'll hear it all.
People are going to say and ask things that encourage, surprise, frustrate and disappoint you. They'll make funny comments. They'll ask odd questions. And occasionally they'll ask or say something that seems insensitive at the time.
Try to remember that most people are just curious, interested and want to help in their own ways.
It's important to stay composed and answer these questions the best way you can. Getting upset, being rude and storming away won't help matters. At the end of the day, just go home and talk about it with your spouse. You'll feel much better and probably be able to laugh about it later.
There will always be those who won't understand why you are adopting. Adoption isn't for everyone, and that's OK.
Lesson 4: Support your spouse.
There were times Stephanie and I weren't at our best with each other. We definitely let the stress of the process get to us at times.
There were times I should have been more supportive of her and listened and done more to help.
My wife is the organizer and chief of logistics in our household. She has a way of coordinating things so much easier than I do. I often decided to let her tackle most of the details and the bulk of the adoption paperwork. I feared I'd just mess it up and that she'd do a better job.
But I know now that wasn't right. This often left her feeling overwhelmed, alone and frustrated.
It wasn't until later into the process that I realized she needed more support; usually she just needed me to be by her side.
Looking back, we couldn't have gotten through it without each other.
Lesson 5: It's worth every crazy moment!
When we finally welcomed Laura into our home, all of the headaches, tears and frustrations we experienced no longer mattered.
As parents, we cherish every moment with Laura story time, playing at the park, meals and saying prayers every night with her. We look back and are thankful everything worked out exactly the way it did.
As I've said many times before, we wouldn't have it any other way.
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of BP news.