Jose from Guatemala finds his forever family in the UK
Alex and Dominic's touching story of their Guatemalan adoption journey to find their son Jose.
“OUR SON FROM AFAR – The Long Road to Adoption” by Alex Bemrose
It took us three and a half years to adopt a child; three and a half years to realise my life-long dream of becoming a mother and having a family of my own; three and a half stressful, tortuous and frustrating years of form-filling, cross examining by social workers, battles with authorities and governments – at home and overseas – and of doubts and fears as to whether we would ever bring our son home; long years of doubts and fears which disappeared completely the moment my husband and I stepped off the plane holding our little boy in our arms, home at last. It was a long journey, but as we reached the final stage, I could feel only immense relief and happiness. We were a family; at long last a family.
In October 2005 we started on the long road to adopt. We initially spent six months trying to adopt a baby or young child – siblings or one child - domestically in the UK, but were turned down by several local councils, largely due to our ethnicity (white), even though, as we told the authorities, we were happy to adopt a child (or children) of any “race, colour or creed”. Local authorities have long-followed guidelines to place children in families of the same ethnicity as the child, and hence we would only be considered for a white child. We found ourselves coming up against insurmountable obstacles and eventually decided to look overseas.
It was hard to make a decision as to which country to approach. So many children out there were in need of a home and we received no guidance from our local authority or other government bodies. Eventually we narrowed our search to Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, which has a large number of babies and young children who are relinquished by their birth mothers, largely due to poverty. Guatemala seemed to be a “tried and tested” route with a number of other UK families having adopted children from the country – there was even a support group in England for families who had adopted from Guatemala.
We placed a postcard of a Guatemalan boy on a shelf in our kitchen and called him “José” – the focus of our dreams. One day the postcard would be replaced with a photograph of our real son, our little “José”. We wondered what name he would really have.
Meanwhile, in order to acquire a Certificate of Eligibility (to adopt) – the essential “ticket” without which no-one can adopt - we first had to pass the Adoption Panel in the UK. A team of “panel judges” went through the lengthy home study report (written by our social worker following nine sessions of three hours intensively picking over every aspect of our lives), and voted on our eligibility to be adoptive parents. Fortunately we passed.
We found an adoption agency in the US which handled adoptions from Guatemala. The agency had attorneys in Guatemala who were referred mothers who were relinquishing their babies, and handled the legal arrangements for inter-country adoptions. We commenced the long process to arrange a legal adoption from Guatemala.
Finally in July 2007 we received the long-awaited news: we had been “referred” a five-week old baby boy for adoption. His name….José! We immediately accepted. “José” really was called José ….he was obviously meant to be our child. His birth mother had to undergo various interviews (with the British embassy and Guatemalan Family Court) and a DNA test to ensure against child trafficking, and we were then able to fly out to meet our son. We visited twice (in November 2007 and in March 2008), falling in love with our beautiful little boy at first glance.
Potential disaster struck in the autumn (2007). The President of Guatemala announced that as of 1st January 2008 he was suspending inter-country adoptions from Guatemala, and the British Government followed suit with a statement saying that they in turn were suspending all adoptions from Guatemala into the UK, with immediate effect. We were desperately concerned that we would not be able to bring José home, and the latter part of 2007 was largely spent fighting battles with both the Guatemalan and the British Authorities.
Cutting a very long story short, following a lengthy campaign, we were one of only a handful of lucky families that were allowed to bring our children home in spite of the fact that inter-country adoptions had ceased to take place from Guatemala to the UK. We were incredibly lucky but the future remains bleak for many babies and children in Guatemala – It is a real humanitarian crisis.
At the end of March 2008 our adoption was approved in Guatemala. Six weeks later, once we had received José’s entry paperwork to the UK, we flew out to bring him home and on 14th May 2008 we arrived back in England, our little boy in our arms. A family at last!
It took us nine further months to complete the re-adoption process in the UK – more social worker visits, forms to be filled in and court visits to be endured – to ensure that José was our son in British law, as well as Guatemalan law, and in March 2009 we finally received José’s adoption certificate and were able to apply for a British passport for him.
Our journey to adopt was an interesting one. We discovered a beautiful but impoverished country, Guatemala; a country ravished by years of civil war, and currently still suffering from corruption, violence and poverty; a country full of cheerful people, breathtaking scenery and fascinating historical sites. We met some wonderful, selfless people who dedicate their lives to helping the children of Guatemala and we will never forget the amazing experiences we had in this stunning, colourful country.
We discovered a network of adoption systems round the world which can successfully unite children in need of families with couples or individuals wanting to adopt, but which, for a variety of reasons, so often fails to do so. I feel frustration, anger and a very deep sadness at this system which so often fails to improve the desperate situation in which so many children in this country, and throughout the world, find themselves.
Even now, as José grows up with us in England – an energetic, affectionate and happy boy – I frequently pause as I look at him and think …. Our futures could have been so different. I could so easily have missed out on the wonders of motherhood and more importantly, what would have happened to José if we had not been allowed to complete our adoption? We were so close to this happening; so close to being prevented - by the changes in the adoption laws of both Guatemala and Britain - from bringing José home. What struck me most about the transcripts that we received of the interview José’s birth mother had with the British embassy, was that her primary reason for relinquishing José was not a better life for him, but to ensure his survival. This is a desire for the best for your child at its most elemental. What would have been his future if the change in adoption laws had prevented us from adopting him? José’s birth mother had already relinquished him, and like thousands of others, he would have had nowhere to go. At ‘best’ he would have been sent to an orphanage, but this is not a good option for the healthy development of any child, and the alternative? … The streets of Guatemala City would have become his home. These thoughts terrify me. To think how close we came to this being the future for our son and how lucky we are – how lucky he is – that this was not the outcome. To us, he will always be our miracle child and for José? He will have a loving family, a secure future, sufficient food and an education, but most importantly he will, God willing, survive.
The journey was long; the road was arduous and there were more lows than highs along the way, but there is certainly no doubt in my mind, it was a truly worthwhile journey and a fascinating and interesting experience. My husband and I now have a family and José is a total joy and a delight to us. We are so very lucky to have him, our little miracle, and we feel we are the luckiest parents in the world.