Saturday, December 25, 2010

Photo Montage of Our Adoption Journey

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 6 months since we became a family. I had many good intentions to keep our blog current, but family life took precedent. Our life together has been more wonderful than we could have imagined. Zachary is an amazing boy. Every day is a new adventure with him.

As a special Christmas gift, I put together a photo montage of our adoption journey. It brings back many wonderful memories of our first months together.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88C3aqT0jBk

We're looking forward to the new memories we'll make over the coming years.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Family Day

It’s been several weeks since we first met Zachary. It’s been hectic (and a little overwhelming at first), but we are all extremely happy. Now that we’re over the jet lag and have settled into a good routine, I’m able to look back and reflect on our family day.

The night before we met Zachary, a mixture of nerves and anticipation made it very hard for both of us to sleep. At 4:00am on June 29th, we gave up trying to sleep and decided to get up and do whatever we could to make time pass quickly. We tried to make ourselves busy, getting the hotel room as kid friendly as possible and ensuring we had everything we needed in his diaper bag for our first meeting. The hours seemed to pass very slowly. At about 8:30am, we caught a subway train to the Holt Adoption Agency so that we could meet with our social worker and visit the hospital where Zachary was born.

After meeting with our social worker, we took a taxi to the hospital together (about 30 minutes away). As we exited the taxi, our social worker said that it was traditional for us to present a small gift to the hospital for the tour we were about to receive. We were glad to get something for the people that took care of Zachary when he was first born. We went to a store next to the hospital. Our social worker suggested that we get a fruit juice gift pack. She bartered with the store clerk (this is very common in Korea), and got the gift for $10,000 won (about $9).

Zachary was born at the Injung Hospital in Seoul. It is a maternity hospital.

First, our social worker introduced us to the hospital director who would give us a tour of the hospital. We went up to the second floor. First we were shown the nursery area. They had the curtains drawn, but opened them to show us where the babies currently in the nursery area.

We tried to soak it all in, imagining what it would have been like to see Zachary there almost a year earlier. After that, we walked to the maternity area where all the babies are born. It was a large room with many beds, all separated by curtains.

After seeing the hospital, we thanked the hospital director and left the building. As we waited for a taxi, the emotions of what we had just seen started to sink in. We thought about what it was like for him and his birth mother the first few days of his life. Despite our happiness, it made us very sad to think about the separation of Zachary and his birth mother.

After a quick trip back to the hotel, we headed back to the adoption agency for our first meeting with Zachary. In Seoul, most of the subway stops have multiple exits. At the Hapjeong stop (the closest stop for Holt International), there are 8 different exits. When leaving the station, we got confused and ended up taking the wrong exit. We ended up at the wrong end of a large intersection, so we had to wait a few minutes for the signals to change so that we could cross the street. One thing that we noticed while in Seoul is that people very rarely jay walk or cross the street without a walk signal. After crossing the intersection, we walked down the street to the adoption agency. As we approached the building, we saw a taxi sitting in front of the building. A woman that we recognized exited the taxi…it was Zachary’s foster mother. We couldn’t believe the timing. If we hadn’t taken the wrong exit at the subway station, we would have missed them entering the building. When his foster mother saw us, she recognized us immediately. She was holding Zachary and started saying “omma” (mommy) and “appa” (daddy) to him as we walked up to them. Zachary was wearing a one piece shorts outfit and a hat. She pulled up the hat so that we could see his face. It was love at first sight for us (he was still trying to figure out who we were). We entered the building. Zachary’s foster mom went to the left on the first floor as we went up to the second floor to meet our social worker.

After telling our social worker that we had just met Zachary and his foster mother as we entered the building together, she showed us to the room where we would formally meet them and get to spend some time together. The room had two small couches with a coffee table between them. We decided to sit on the couch on the left so that the video camera had the best view of our meeting. We got everything set up, then waited impatiently for Zachary and his foster mother to enter the room.

At a few minutes after 2:00pm, our social worker came into the room with Zachary and his foster mom. We wanted to rush immediately to him, but we knew that this might be too much for him to handle. We had talked about this before our meeting. We wanted to take it slow and let him warm up to us before holding him. We wanted this to be on his terms.

After just a couple of minutes, Zachary seemed to be doing well, so our social worker suggested that his foster mom hand him to me. I took him in my arms and set him on my knee. He looked at me curiously, not sure what to make of me. Thankfully, he wasn’t scared and didn’t cry. I held him as we talked to his foster mother (through the interpretation of our social worker).

He warmed up to us very quickly, smiling and laughing in the first few minutes. After about 5 minutes, I handed him to Laura so that she could have some time with him.

The next hour is a bit of a blur. In between asking the foster mother many questions so that we could find out as much about Zachary as possible, we spent time holding Zachary and playing with him. He warmed up to us very quickly. Shortly after meeting him, he was smiling and laughing. He seemed very content with either one of us holding him.

After about an hour, we exchanged gifts with his foster mother. She seemed to really enjoy the personal gifts that we got for her and the rest of the foster family, especially the locket with pictures of Zachary. As our social worker helped her put it on, we could tell that it meant a lot to her. Zachary’s foster mother also brought a number of gifts for Zachary, including some fun Pororo items (a very popular Korean cartoon about a penguin and his friends) and some of his favorite snacks.

It had been about an hour and a half since we had met Zachary. Everything was going great. Since we didn’t have any more questions for his foster mother, we decided to start gathering up everything and head back to the hotel. Laura put on his baby carrier and we put Zachary in the front, facing her. Our social worker walked with us to the street and helped us hail a cab. She told the taxi driver where we were staying and we gave him a small card with the address (just in case he wasn’t sure).

The ride back to the hotel went very smoothly. Zachary enjoys riding in vehicles. He spent the first half of the ride with his head on a swivel, trying to take in everything as we drove along. He slowly started to close his eyes as the vehicle lulled him so sleep. It didn’t take long for him to fall into a deep, comfortable sleep.

He remained asleep for the rest of the ride and as Laura carried him to the room. We carefully placed him in his crib. He didn’t even stir. We each took a deep breath. It was hard to believe what had happened over the past two hours. We had met our son for the first time and everything had gone surprisingly smoothly. We weren’t sure if it was a sign of things to come or just the calm before the storm, but we were extremely happy that we were all finally a family.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Visit to the Holt Reception Center

Yesterday (June 27), we woke at our usual time at around 4:00am, but for a change we were able to get back to sleep and didn't wake again until 7:00am. We're slowly getting used to the time change.

We decided to explore some of the areas around the hotel earlier in the day so that we would have plenty of time to get back to our room before visiting the Holt Reception Center in the afternoon. We started our day by walking down to Namdaemun Market.

Basically, the whole neighborhood consists of shops and food vendors lined up on both sides of the street selling a variety of items.

You'll find clothing, small housewares, souveniers, and a variety of other items. The closest equivalent in the United States is a flea market, though that doesn't accurately reflect Namdaemun. The market is such a popular destination that the city estimates that close to a half million people visit this neighborhood daily. We enjoyed walking up and down the various streets, losing ourselves in the maze of vendors for a couple of hours. We weren't looking for any particular items to purchase, just doing a lot of window shopping and marveling in the experience.

As lunch time approached, we decided to leave Namdaemun and look for a good place to eat. As we left the market, we found ourselves at the base of a very unique building (some people call it the zipper building).

One of the many beauties of the city is the amazing amount of unique architecture that we've encountered. Seoul is a very modern city, much of it rebuilt since the end of the Korean War. We have thoroughly enjoyed the beauty in the old architecture as well as the new.

After a delicious lunch at a Korean burger joint (Kraze Burger), we went back to the room to cool down and relax. Feeling refreshed, we headed out to visit the Holt Reception Center. Walking up the street to the main office for Holt, we started to feel the emotions of the moments that we new would follow. We were visiting the place that has helped connect us to our son. Even though it's a non-descript building, it was a wonderful sight to us. We knew that the following day, we would be meeting Zachary in that same building.

We entered the building and asked for our social worker at Holt. A woman was walking with a little boy that looked to be about 18 months. As she directed us to the second floor, she said good-bye (in Korean) and gave us a small head bow. We returned the good-bye (also in Korean) and also bowed. Then the most adorable thing happened...the little boy also gave a small head bow. It melted our hearts. Koreans are very polite. Greetings are almost always accompanied with a bow. Even something as simple as the exchange of money is done a specific way. Money should be handed over using two hands (right hand on top), not one. It's taken a little while to get used to it, but whenever we do it, we can see that they appreciate that we are trying to follow some of their culture beliefs while visiting their country.

We found our social worker and walked with her down the street to the Holt Reception Center, located about a half mile away. When entering the Holt Reception Center, we removed our shoes and put on slippers. This is another part of the Korean culture. Shoes are traditionally removed when entering homes and many other locations. We walked into the room where Holt cares for the children. Currently there are six children (5 boys and 1 girl) that are at the reception center. Through the Internet, Laura knows two of the mothers of two of the children. We took many pictures of the children so that their parents will get a chance to see them. Pictures of the children are very precious to adoptive parents. Many adoptive parents only have a few photographs of their children (we have 5). We know that we would appreciate any additional photographs of Zachary, so we wanted to try to get as many pictures as possible to give to their parents.

When we walked into the room, the kids were eating some potatoes. We sat down on the floor with the children and started to interact with them. Some were shy and some were not. One little boy in particular was very intrigued with Laura. Over the next 10 minutes, he slowly warmed up to her, giving her some big smiles by the end of our meeting. He was an adorable little 11 month old boy that looked very similar to the son of one of the adoptive families that we know in Maryland. We found out that he currently wasn't being considered for adoption. The social worker told us that he had some medical issues when he was first born, but is very healthy now. We don't know why he isn't being considered for adoption. It broke our hearts to know that he may not find a family. If possible, we would have loved to add him to our family along with Zachary. We spent about 30 minutes with the children. It was a special time that we won't ever forget.

As we walked into the hotel after an uneventful subway ride, we happened to meet the couple from Luxembourg that was visiting to adopt their second son. They met their son that day and had them with him. It looked like he was doing great. Seeing the little boy made us think about what our next day would be like. In less than 24 hours, we would be with Zachary. It was a good feeling and a nice end to the day.

Liquid Sunshine

Sunday morning (June 26th), we woke up at 4am unable to sleep. We were still battling a little jet lag. It's tough trying to adjust to a 13 hour time difference, so I've decided to use that time in the morning to update the blog and make sure I'm capturing as many of our experiences as possible. It's working well, so I'll try to keep up with the routine. I know that if I don't update the blog daily, I may never get around to writing it down.

Actually our morning started even earlier than 4am. We both fell asleep early the night before. We wanted to see the South Korea world cup match which didn't start until 11pm, but new that there was no way we would be able to stay awake. A little after midnight, we were awakened by noise as we heard people cheering on the Korean team. We turned on the television to see what was happening and ended up staying up for the next hour watching the rest of the game. Unfortunately South Korea lost in a very close match. The whole time we have been here, the South Koreans have been very excited about their soccer team. There are red shirts everywhere. They even closed off several blocks around city hall where hundreds of thousands of people watched the game on the big screens. We really would have loved to experience this, but knew there was no way we would be able to deal with that much excitement late at night.

When we awoke the second time in the morning (at 4am), we flipped on the television and watched the US world cup match too. It was another tough loss, just like South Korea. Only after watching both games did we realize that if both teams had won, they would have played each other just a few hours after we arrive back in the US with Zachary. That would have been a fun match to watch together.

The weather forecast for our day in South Korea wasn't good (rain) so we decided to go visit some indoor sites. We decided to use the subway. The subway system in Seoul is huge, clean, and very efficient system. For the most part, it's very easy to use. The system has both Korean and English throughout. You can choose to purchase a card for single use between two destinations or a charge card that you can load specific denominations of money that can be recharged as necessary. Since we were new at using the subway, we decided to start out using the single use card. They machines that dispense the cards have English instructions, so getting the cards was a simple process that we completed in about 2 minutes. We walked to the entrance where you scan your card, but couldn't figure out how to enter our card to get through the gate. After passing our card over multiple areas of the machine, Laura realized that we were supposed to place the card on top of the machine in order to pass through the gate. We walked down to the loading station and encountered our next small confusion...we had to figure out which direction we needed to travel. There are clear signs everywhere, but we knew that if we hopped on a train without ensuring we were going in the correct direction, we wouldn't end up at our final destination. We took our time, making sure that we understood the correct direction to travel in order to connect to catch the next train. We caught the next train without a problem.

At our transfer point, we got a little confused because there were two different loading areas instead of one. In order to get to our loading station ended up exiting the subway system, so we had to get another single use card. The rest of the subway ride to COEX went off without a hitch.

When we arrived at COEX, we met up with Laura's friend Barbara and her niece Hayley. They were the ones that we had met the previous day in Insadong. COEX is the largest underground mall in Asia. To say it is huge is an understatement. In addition to stores and restaurants, there is an aquarium, movie theater, and kimchi museum. We just wandered around without any real plan on what we wanted to see. We checked out a few shops to see if we could find a some small Pororo items for Zachary and found a little Pororo figure that contains a liquid for blowing bubbles. I can see us blowing bubbles in the hotel room, trying to keep him occupied.

We found the kimchi museum and decided to go inside to get a little more information about Korea's most famous food. There were some very nice displays about the history of Kimchi, how to make kimchi, and various other pickled foods that can be found around the world.

There was also an area where we could sample various varieties of Kimchi. At the end of the museum, we noticed a couple of children's books (translated in English) of Korean folk tales. The artwork was beautiful, so we decided to get them to share with Zachary as he grows.

After exiting the museum, we continued to explore the mall, making our way back towards where we started. It was around lunch time, so we decided to find a place to eat. Since Hayley wanted to have pizza, we decided to go to Pizza Hut. We heard they had some unique varieties of pizza and wanted to give it a try. We decided to try the bulgogi pizza. It had bulgogi meat (beef that has been marinated) with sweet peppers, onions, and mushrooms. It was very good.

Having seen enough of the mall, we decided to walk around outside a little. It was still cloudy and humid, but the rain had stopped. We visited a Hyundai Department Store, thinking it would be a good place to find inexpensive items. Instead, we found that department stores in Korea tend to contain more high end items. We browsed a couple of floors then decided to leave.

We walked to the subway, trying to decide what to see next. As we stood near the subway ticket machines, a very nice Korean gentleman came up to us and asked us if we needed any help. In many of the subway stations, there are people there to help people find their destinations on the enormous subway system. We decided that our next destination would be Lotte World. The gentleman helped us by letting us know which stop we should use. While assisting us, he asked us where we were from and why we were visiting. I told him that we were adopting a little boy. I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. I know that adoption can be a sensitive subject to some Koreans. When I told him about our adoption, his face instantly changed and you could see the gratitude in his eyes. He reached out his hand to me, shook my hand, and giving me a very heartfelt "thank-you". This wasn't the first time that we had been thanked by a Korean for adopting Zachary. It was a very touching moment in a very public place. It meant much to both of us.

We thanked the gentleman for helping us, then caught the next train to Lotte World. Lotte World is also an indoor mall that also has a hotel, ice rink, Kidzmania, and an amusement park (both indoors and outdoors). We explored the mall area which ended up being very similar to COEX. As we walked into the food court area, we noticed an open area in the distance. Thinking that it was the ice rink, we dedided to go take a look. What we found had all of us staring in awe. Below us was a huge ice rink, but above us was the large indoor amusement park covered with a glass ceiling. It was similar to a small park at Disney World, complete with rides, a stage, and a large parade. It was absolutely amazing and totally unexpected. We just stood there, trying to absorb the experience. It was very surreal for all of us.

Now that we had seen the indoor amusement park, we wanted to take a look at the outdoor one. After a few wrong turns, we finally made our way outside and found it. It looks like a small version of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, complete with a castle.

If we hadn't been so tired from all the walking, we probably would have gone inside. Knowing our limits, we decided to head back to our hotels and call it a day. We grabbed a bite to eat at Seoul Station, bought a few items of food at the Lotte Mart, and went back to the room.

It was a very nice second day in Seoul. After seeing some historical sites the previous day, we were able to enjoy some more modern experiences. We've enjoyed both. The last two days have been filled with excitement and amazing experiences in Seoul. Who knows what the next few days hold for us.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seoul City Tour

Yesterday (June 26th) we spent our first full day in Seoul. Other than our city tour, we didn't have anything else planned for the day. Always trying to be as prepared as possible, I plugged in our camera battery into the outlet to make sure we had a full charge for day and went through the camera bag to make sure we had everything we needed. I didn't want to miss capturing any of the day's moments.


After having breakfast and finishing our preparations, we went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet our tour guide. As we stood there waiting, we noticed a family and their child waiting in the same area. They kept glancing at us, then came over to talk. They asked us if we were from Norway. We said "no", and they walked away. After a few more minutes, we decided to go talk to them to find out why they asked us if we were from Norway. It turns out that they were also doing the city tour and for some reason thought that the other couple doing the tour (that's us) were from Norway. The couple was from Luxembourg. They adopted their 1st son from Korea when he was 4 months old (he is now 5) and were adopting their 2nd son on Monday. Because there were two families, we had two tour guides.


Instead of taking the subway to our first destination, we decided to take a taxi to make it easier. We originally planned to take two taxis, but were fortunate when we found a taxi van that was just big enough for all eight of us. As we drove through the city, we saw two statues with a beautiful backdrop of the mountains in the distance. I pulled out my camera to take a few pictures. I turned on the camera, but nothing happened. As I flipped the on/off switch trying to figure out what was wrong, it dawned on me that I left the camera battery back at the hotel room. I had a sinking feeling that I wasn't going to be able to capture any photos of our tour. Lesson number 1...always double check that you have everything you need before leaving the hotel. Then I remembered that our video camera can also take snapshots just like a digital camera. I pulled out the video camera and started playing around with it trying to figure out how to take pictures with it. Lesson number 2...understand your equipment before going on vacation. Thankfully the video camera is very easy to use, so I was able to capture a couple of pictures very quickly.


Our first destination was Gyeongbokgong Palace and the National Folk Museum of Korea, located in the same area. As we walked onto the palace grounds, we were in awe at the beauty of the setting. The buildings and grounds were framed with a backdrop of rocky mountains covered in lush vegetation. It was everything we had hoped it would be and more. First we toured a couple of the exhibits at the National Folk Museum. We split apart from the other family and went inside with Miae, our personal tour guide for the day. We walked through the "Korean Way of Life" and "Life Cycle of Koreans". Both exhibits had excellent information and displays. We were able to gain a small piece of understanding of the Korean history and way of life. Miae did a great job adding additional information while we also began to get to know each other.


After visiting the museum, we exited onto the palace grounds. We spent the next hour walking through the grounds, enjoying the beautiful surroundings. We learned that the palace buildings are not the originals. After the reign of the last Queen, many of the buildings were destroyed or moved during the Japanese occupation. The location of the palace, it's buildings, and gates all have a significance to the Koreans. The original layout was aligned in a north/south orientation and built in it's location based on the convergence of air and water. There is a Korean word for this convergence, but I can't remember the term. When the Japanese occupation ended, Korea moved or rebuilt the palace buildings in their original (current) location.


After the tour of the palace grounds, we walked to Insadong. This neighborhood is known for it's shops and restaurants. It is what many consider a traditional Korean market.


As we slowly walked along the main street, we tried to soak in all the sights, smells, and sounds of our surroundings. It was wonderful and like nothing we had ever experienced. The crowds were small as we walked through shops and viewed the items sold by the street vendors. Miae took us down a side street with several restaurants so that we could figure out a good place to have lunch. Since we had already had Korean food many times in the United States, we wanted to get the full experience in Korea to see how it compares. She took us to a restaurant that is enjoyed by the locals. The inside was decorated almost exclusively in wood. It seemed very old and rustic...the perfect place to have lunch. Miae recommended a specific meal that consisted of at least 2 dozen different small dishes that are brought to the table and shared by everybody. I can't accurately describe everything we had, so here are a few pictures that show what we had.


The food was delicious. Miae seemed amazed that we tried everything and enjoyed it so much. Having a basic familiarity with Korean food made the meal very special. I know we'll always compare all Korean food to this one experience.


After lunch, we headed back to the main street in Insadong to do a little shopping. We had found a small shop that made name chops. A name chop is basically a rectangular block of material that is decorated and has a stamp on one end with somebody's name etched in it. We found one that had a basic scene of Korean hills on the side and had them etch Zachary's Korean name as the stamp. While walking around the shopping area, Laura noticed a woman that she thought looked familiar to her. We have a running joke that whenever we travel, Laura always sees somebody she knows. From a small town on the coast of Maine to a large city, it seems like once a trip she will see somebody she recognizes. Sure enough, it happened again. The woman she saw was an adoptive mother that she met online who was travelling to Korea to adopt her second child. In a city of millions, Laura happened to see somebody she knew. It was a little bizarre, but not totally unexpected.


We continued to walk through Insadong, picking up a few small souveniers including a silk painting of a Korean countryside and a Pororo DVD for Zachary. Pororo is a very popular cartoon in Korea. Pororo is a penguin and lives in a village with his animal friends including a polar bear, beaver, and dinosaur. We found an English version that he'll be able to enjoy as he grows.


We left Insadong and made our way to Cheonggyecheon Stream. It's a man made stream in the heart of the city that gives you the feeling that your not in the city even though you're surrounding by large buildings. It's a wonderful mix of rural and urban in a small area. It's a very popular destinations for Koreans to relax and enjoy the peaceful sounds of the water.

After relaxing beside the stream, we walked back towards the two statues on the main street at the beginning of the tour. The area is called Gwanghwamun Square. The statues are of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong the Great (King of the Choseon dynasty). We said our good-byes to Miae, exchanged information so that we can keep in contact with her, and grabbed a taxi back to the hotel. When we arrived back in the room, we realized that we forgot to give her the gift that we brought from Maryland. Laura contacted her through facebook and we're planning on seeing her again so that we can give her the gift. Maybe we'll even be able to introduce her and Zachary.


It has only been one day, but I can say that we both love Seoul. It's an amazing city with a juxtoposition of the old and the new. We feel at home here. We can't wait to see what the next day will bring.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seoul Bound

At 4:30am we woke up in our hotel room with our minds racing. We're still a little tired, but the jet lag and time difference won't let us get back to sleep, so I'll step back 24 hours (or was it 36 hours with the time change???) and recount our trip to Seoul.

Wednesday night we were up well past midnight getting everything ready for the trip. As we lay down for sleep, we talked about how things would be changing for us very soon. Our anticipation was high and we were surprisingly calm. Normally Laura gets a little antsy before a flight, but not this time. She said she that it was surprising her that she wasn't "freaking out" (which in turn freaks her out a little). I told her it's because things are right in the world with us and Zachary. We're on the path that we're supposed to be travelling.

We left the house on time Thursday morning and headed to the airport. The drive was uneventful. Thankfully traffic wasn't a problem. As we got near the airport, what started out as a wrong turn ended up working perfectly as we found ourselves at the daily parking garage closest to the airport. We were able to park in a covered area (great for keeping the car temperature lower when we're coming out of the airport with Zachary) plus we didn't have to wait for a shuttle because we had access to the underground walkway that kept us out of the heat. So far, everything was going as planned.

Check-in at the Korean Air terminal took about 15 minutes. Because we got our tickets at the last minute, it looked like we may have to sit apart for the flight. We asked the man assisting us if he could give us seats together. He was able to come up with excellent bulkhead seating (which is what we hope to have for the return flight). After a smooth check-in and quick trip through airport security, we were at the terminal and ready to go with plenty of time to spare.

We boarded the plane and left the terminal on time. As we approached the runway, the plane stopped on the taxiway. An announcement came over the system...we were in a temporary delay due to weather conditions along our initial flight path. We didn't have storms near us, but I was worried that they might roll in before we got off the ground. After a delay of approximately 30 minutes, we received another announcement...the flight would depart in 5 minutes (we breathed a huge sigh of relief).

Other than the flight delay, the weather had secondary impact on our flight. We had to divert our flight path to bypass the storm. Originally we were supposed to fly towards the northwest. Instead we had to fly towards New Jersey before flying north then working our way towards the northwest. Our new flight path brought us over Canada, Russia, and China.

The services on the flight were excellent. We had a very nice video on demand system at each seat. There was a great choice of movies, music, games, and audiobooks. This really helped make the long flight pass quickly. Also, the food was very good. For our first meal, Laura enjoyed a meal of bi bim bap (it was excellent) while I had the beef dish. Later in the flight Laura had a dish similar to chicken parmesan and I had a pasta dish. The flight attendants also did a great job of coming around with water, juice, and soda throughout the flight to help us stay hydrated during the long, dry flight.

During the flight, we had Zachary's little photo album opened to his most recent pictures. Several of the flight attendants commented on his photos, giving us a chance to share our story. The flight attendants were great with all the kids on the flight. I'm sure he's going to get a lot of attention when we return home.

After 14 hours in the air, we landed at Incheon airport. The airport is about 20 miles west of Seoul. It was built 10 years ago, so it's very modern and efficient. Signs were in Hangeul and English, making it very easy to get through immigrations, get our bags, and walk through customs. As we left the customs area, our van driver was waiting for us with a "Townsend" sign. He had parked very close to the terminal, so we didn't have to wait long to get on the road.

Most of the drive into Seoul was on a highway. We sat back and tried to take in all the new sights along the way. We passed a mix of urban areas interspersed with lush green rolling hills and rivers. As we approached Seoul, our driver exited the highway and drove us by the Holt International offices. Holt is the Korean adoption agency that we're working through. In just a few days we'll be back at the office to meet Zachary for the first time.

The remainder of the drive to our hotel gave us a glimpse of the city. It's an amazing mix of old and new...often side by side. Small markets stand beside modern buildings with bright signs. It was a little overwhelming to our exhausted minds, but we're excited to get out and explore it.

Our van driver dropped us off at our hotel (Hilton Millennium) at the base of Mount Namsan. At the top of the mountain is the Seoul Tower which we plan on visiting to get a good view of the city. Our good fortune continued at check-in as we got a free upgrade to the executive floor. We're still not sure why, but it was a very welcome surprise. Included with our room are complimentary breakfasts every morning. This will be very convenient when Zachary's with us so that we have one less thing to worry about.

We closed out our evening by taking a short walk near the hotel then grabbing a bite to eat. As we stood looking out our hotel window at the beautiful city lights with the Seoul Tower in the background, we were thankful that the first leg of our trip had gone so well. We were exhausted but content. We knew that many adventures awaited us over the coming week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Travel Call

Yesterday (June 21st) we received the call that we've been awaiting since we first received Zachary's referral...we have been approved to travel to South Korea to adopt our son. It took a little longer than we originally expected (5 1/2 months), but we're grateful that we're very close to seeing Zachary for the first time.

On Thursday (June 24th), we depart for Seoul, South Korea. We'll spend a couple of days sightseeing in Seoul, then on Tuesday at 10:00am we will meet Zachary for the first time.

Even though our son is half a world away, he has been in our hearts from the first day we saw his photograph. We love him dearly even though we haven't met him. In less than a week we will finally bridge the divide that has separated us and welcome him into our arms.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Incomplete Nursery

This will be a post heavy on photos and light on words.

The most important news is that we are very, very close to our travel call. Last Friday, Laura received a call from our social worker. When families are this close to traveling, they are always expecting that a call from a social worker may be "the call" saying that they can travel. The social workers at our agency are sensitive to this, so they let us know right away whether it's "the call" or not. When Laura picked up the phone our social worker started by saying, "This isn't the call". This wasn't the news that she wanted to hear. Our social worker had called to let us know that we needed to complete an additional piece of paperwork (Class B Waiver). Basically, the waiver is to acknowledge that Zachary had a medical condition at birth. This was something we already new about and had been corrected surgically, but we had to sign a form stating that we were already aware of the medical condition. Unfortunately, the form had to be signed in person and notarized at our adoption agency in Baltimore. We were told that if the form was completed before 2:00pm, it would go out with their normal courier delivery. Otherwise it would have to wait until next week. Not wanting any additional delays, Laura called me at work to let me know. I rushed home from work and we drove up to Baltimore, arriving with 1 hour to spare before the courier arrived.

When signing our paperwork, the associate administrator gave us some good news...she handed us a copy of his medical examination for immigration. Up until that point, we didn't know that Zachary had completed his physical. The physical is normally the final step before a child is allowed to travel. It sounds like the physical is what generated the need for the Class B Waiver. When the Class B Waiver arrives in Korea and is added to his paperwork, that should complete everything. We estimate that we'll receive the travel call this coming week or early the following week. We'll be cutting it close, but we should be home with Zachary just in time for his first birthday.

Now for the photos...

We've been getting many questions about Zachary's nursery. Everybody was interested in seeing how we decided to decorate. Over the past several months, we slowly worked together to get it just right, pouring all our love into his room. From top to bottom, we did a total makeover. Here are the results...

Jungle Theme with Yellow and Green Walls

East meets West: Korean Lantern and Quote from Winnie the Pooh

Quilt Won at 2009 Adoption Picnic

We Can't Wait to Read Him Stories

Artwork from Laura's Childhood

America and Korea (flip it over to see the difference)

The nursery turned out even better than we had hoped, but the room is still incomplete...it's missing our son Zachary. We're hopeful that in a couple of weeks he'll be home with us and the nursery will be complete.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Have you heard anything yet?"

"Have you heard anything yet?"

This is the most common phrase we've heard over the last few months. When I wrote our last blog update, I thought that we were within a month of getting the call to travel to Korea, but little did we know that everything wouldn't go as expected.

Since our baby shower, much has changed. First, Laura had her last day at work. When we received our referral for Zachary, we starting discussing how much longer Laura would remain at work. We knew that at some point we would receive our travel call and would have to quickly drop everything to travel to Korea. Knowing that Laura wouldn't have enough time to give her two week notice after our travel call, she decided that she would decide on her final day of work in advance so that we would be able to travel as quickly as possible once we received our travel call. She had her last day of work on April 10th. It was a difficult time for her because she loved her job very much, but knowing that we would soon be united with our son helped reduce the pain of her loss.

Shortly after Laura had her last day of work, we had to deal with our second loss...we had to say good-bye to our precious cat Critter. At almost 21 years old, Critter had a great life and brought us immense joy and happiness. Two years earlier we said good-bye to our other cat, Gizmo (nearly 19 years old). We never thought that Critter would survive her by 2 years. We were thankful for each additional day we had with her, but still miss her and her sister very much.


Critter

Gizmo

After a tough month of two losses and continued adoption delays, it became more and more difficult to hear the words..."Have you heard anything yet?". We knew that people were asking us this question because they loved us and wanted more than anything for us to be with our son. Even though it wasn't always easy to hear those words, we knew that we had the love and support of all our friends and family that would help carry us through.

Despite our losses and setbacks, we continued to remain positive and decided to start our "mini adoption journey" as we waited for news about Zachary. We knew that at some point we would want to have pets again, but we originally thought that we would wait until Zachary was home before adopting a pet. As the days went by, we knew something was missing from our empty home. There was no way we could replace Critter and Gizmo, but there was room in our hearts for other pets. We slowly started looking for a new addition to our family. After searching, we decided that we wanted to adopt a sibling pair. We found two beautiful female cats. Here are the newest additions to our family (Zachary's furry little sisters).


Maggie


Sophie

Though much had changed over the past two months, one item had remained the same..."we haven't heard anything yet". But finally that changed today. After a wait that was longer than expected, we finally received some great news. Today we were notified by our social worker that the Emigration Permit (EP) has been completed for Zachary. I won't go into details about the EP, but basically it means that he is very close to receiving approval from the Korean government to travel. Our social worker told us that we can expect to travel in 2-4 weeks.

After many months of hearing the words "Have you heard anything yet?", we're finally able to say "yes". We know that there are only a few weeks separating us from our son. The first part of our adoption journey is almost at an end. Before we know it, we'll be meeting our son for the first time, holding him in our arms, and bringing him home.

After that, the parenting journey begins. We can't wait!!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Early Shower For An Early Flower?

As the saying goes, "April showers bring May flowers". In our case, we're hoping that a March shower may bring an April flower...our son Zachary.

On Sunday, March 21st, we had our baby shower. It was a wonderful day that we won't soon forget. But before I describe the day, I'm going to go back a few months to set the stage.

Shortly after we received our referral for Zachary, Laura and I started talking about what we would like to do for our baby shower. Our dear friend Candy had already told us that she wanted to plan our baby shower, so we didn't have to worry about anything. Very quickly, we decided that we didn't want to have a traditional baby shower. Since our adoption of Zachary was the beginning of our family, we wanted to celebrate this by having a baby shower that I call a "family style" baby shower. We decided that we didn't want our baby shower to include just women or be a couple's baby shower. We chose to have a baby shower with families...women, men, and children.

After deciding on the type of baby shower, we started searching for the perfect baby invitation. We chose an invitation that was a cross between a baby shower invitation and a baby announcement. The invitation wasn't just a way to invite people to the shower; it was a way for us to introduce our son to the family and friends that we love. The invitation included a magnet with a picture of Zachary sitting in his bumbo seat (taken at 5 1/2 months) and the following wording:

Zachary Holden Se-hun Townsend
Born July 9, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea

A little boy born in a far away land,
God has chosen us to hold his hand.
Our new little boy has so much love to share
a little blessing forever in our care.

Join us in a couples baby shower for
Daniel & Laura Townsend

Sunday, March 21st, 2010 (2:00– 4:00 p.m.)

Hampshire Neighborhood Center
6006 Hampshire Circle
Waldorf, MD 20603

Hosted by Candy & Jason Vestal
RSVP to Candy by March 7th

* Children are welcome *


Once the invitations were sent, all we had to do was wait for the special day to arrive. We knew the baby shower was in capable hands with Candy and her family of helpers. Over the coming weeks, she started receiving responses. She kept most of the responses a secret so that we would be surprised when everybody arrived at the shower. About a week before the shower, Laura started to wonder if her parents might try to surprise us by arriving even though they said they weren't able to make it. She knew that her dad said that he had to work that weekend, but she began to suspect that she wasn't getting the truth. She talked to them several times during the week and they continued to deny that they would be at the shower. The Friday before the shower, I received a call from Laura's dad. He asked me what we were doing that evening. Now I was starting to wonder if they were planning something. At this point, my curiosity overcame my good senses. I decided to do some online research to see if the story that her parents told us really checked out. I found that the reasons that Laura's dad gave for not being able to attend the shower were not true. I told Laura. I won't go into all the details of the next 24 hours, but in the end her parents and brother showed up at our house on Saturday afternoon. Their plan had been to show up at the shower and surprise us. Unfortunately, I ruined that surprise.

Now that Laura's parents were here, we decided to make the most of our time together. Since it was late in the afternoon, we started to discuss going out for supper. I'm not sure who made the suggestion, but it was decided that we should go to a Korean restaurant. Laura's parents had never tried Korean food, so we wanted their first experience to be a positive one. We chose to eat at Han Gang in Annandale, Virginia. Laura and I had been there several times and always enjoyed our meals. Since it was her parent's first time eating Korean food, we suggested that we all share a Korean barbecue...a good introduction to Korean cuisine for people that want to start slowly. We chose several meats including bulgogi (marinated thinly sliced beef) and galbi (beef short ribs). While the waitress was cooking the meats at our table we also had a variety of panchan (a variety of small dishes of food) including the most famous dish in Korea...kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Laura's parents were very open to trying all of the foods. Their favorite was the bulgogi. We had a nice evening and were happy to share a little bit of Zachary's culture with Laura's family.

We awoke on Sunday morning to a beautiful sunny day...a perfect day for a baby shower. The shower was at 2:00pm. We gathered up everything we needed for the shower and headed over to our community center about 30 minutes early to get ready. When we walked in, we were both overcome with emotions. Candy and her family had done a great job setting up the room. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Table at the room entrance (everybody signed the mat around his picture)

Table decorations

Notice the small cards containing words written in English and Hangul

The cake table (including a couple of photos of us)

Close-up of the cake

Gift tables

The baby shower started a little late (we couldn't help mingling with everybody). Candy kicked things off by welcoming everybody. Next, we got to enjoy some great food. We had sandwiches, chips, meatballs, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, vegetables, and home-made punch. Laura and I ate first then made our way around to all the tables to get our pictures taken with everybody. After that, we started opening our gifts. As you can see from the pictures above, we have very generous family and friends. We received many cute outfits, fun toys, and practical items too. It was a great mix. There were also a number of cards that had some special messages that brought tears to our eyes on more than one occasion. In particular, my sister, her husband, our nieces and nephew sent us a hand-made card with the following poem...

Family Tree
We've add to our family tree,
a stronger one to make...
A child from another plant,
has become our new namesake.

Just as a limb is grafted
from one tree to another...
It alters and improves the plant,
making it uniquely, like no other.

Our family tree has been improved,
adoption made this so...
For love, much more than bloodlines,
makes us thrive and grow.

You chose to share your life and love,
and all the joys to come...
Our "Family Tree" has blossomed,
with the arrival of your son!

It took us quite a while to open the presents, so at 3:30 we took a little break to play a quick game. Candy handed out a piece of paper to everybody and asked people to correctly spell Zachary's Korean first name. To our surprise, 7 people got it right. We were impressed that so many people not only knew his Korean name, but were also able to spell it correctly. For the record, his Korean name (and the name we will use for his second middle name) is Se-hun. The shower ended around 4:15 as we gave our tearful thanks to everybody.

It was a very special day that was everything we hoped it would be and more. As we sort through the gifts and finish getting his room ready, we realize that we are another step closer to traveling to be with our son. We're hoping that our wonderful March shower will bring us our little April flower.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two Whirlwind Months

Just over two months ago, we received our referral for Zachary. I intended on updating the blog with the latest information, but it always seemed like there was something more important that needed to be done. I'm sure all of the parents reading this will tell me it's great practice for what is to come...too much to do and not enough time to do it all. A few days ago we received updated information on Zacharay so I figured it was time to get everything down in writing as soon as possible.

After receiving our referral, we scheduled a meeting with our social worker to discuss what we had to do for the next phase of the adoption. We met with her on January 15th. The majority of the meeting was used to explain the next round of adoption paperwork that we would need to complete. We also talked about some of the things we would need to do when we bring Zachary home (for example, writing status reports and a visit to our home from our social worker). After the meeting, we knew that our first priority was to get our paperwork completed as quickly as possible so that it wouldn't slow down the process of bringing Zachary home. While the paperwork wasn't as extensive as the initial adoption paperwork, there was still much to do. To give you an idea of what we had to do, here's a list of the primary documents that we had to complete:
  1. Acknowledgement of Child Information (acknowledgement that we received specific informaiton about Zachary)
  2. Adoption Placement Agreement (list of policies and items that we agree to abide by in order to proceed with the adoption)
  3. Parent Escort Travel Form (statement that we intend to travel to Korea and escort Zachary home)
  4. Statement of Adoption (statement that we intend to adopt Zachary...this is used to assist with the issuance of his emigration passport)
  5. I-864 Affidavit of Support (form filed with Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) that is used to sponsor Zachary's immigration)
  6. Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificate
  7. Tax Returns
  8. I-600 Visa Petition (form filed with CIS to classify Zachary as an immediate relative)
We were able to complete the paperwork quickly and send it off. The majority of the paperwork was sent back to the adoption agency. We also had to send some of the paperwork to CIS for processing.

Even though we had a lot of paperwork to complete, we still had many other things we wanted to do. Most important to us was sending a small care package to Zachary and his foster family. As soon as we received his referral, we knew we wanted to send him a few special items that he could enjoy and be his first connection to us. After much searching, we came up with the following items...
  1. An infant photo book that contained photos of us, Critter, the house, and Zachary
  2. A small stuffed moose (a little touch of Maine) with rattle and teething rings
  3. A fleece blanket that matches the bedding in his room
  4. Two disposable cameras (with the hope that we'll get some photos of him and his foster family)
  5. A beautify book of watercolor images of the DC area for his foster family
We sent his care package out on February 1st with the hope that he would get it in a few weeks. Laura even made sure she had a tracking number to follow it's progress. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the information provided by the post office so the tracking number was invalid. We had to hope that the package would get there safely. It took over a month to find out the status of the package, but I'll save that story for later in the post.

With our receipt of Zachary's referral, we realized that we had to get on the ball and get his nursery put together. We had already ordered his furniture (see earlier post) and received a call from Great Beginnings that the furniture was ready for deliver. Before they delivered everything, we wanted to make sure that we cleaned all of the "junk" out of his room so that we could get it painted. We decided to go with two wall colors with the facing wall sharing the same color. We took his bedding with us to the local Lowes store to make sure we got the exact colors that we wanted. We settled on "dusty yellow" and "guacamole". We brought home all the supplies and over the next week, we spent most of our free time getting the room ready. I started by putting a fresh coat of white paint on the ceiling and installing a ceiling fan. After that, Laura and I worked together putting down a coat of primer than two coats of paint on each wall. We finished up by repainting the closet doors, room door, and window trim. We completed it near the end of January, just in time for his furniture to be delivered on February 3rd. Now we're working on all the final decorating to make his room is extra special. Once that's done, I'll update the blog with photos.

Amidst all the happiness of getting everything ready for Zachary, there was also a tiny bit of sadness. A while ago, Laura and I talked about whether she would like to go back to work or not after we bring Zachary home. Because our journey towards parenthood has been a long one, we knew that we wanted to be there as much as possible to experience every part of Zachary's life. After discussing it in depth, we decided that the best choice for us as a family was for Laura to be a stay-at-home mom. At the end of January, she decided that her last day at work would be April 10th. It was a bittersweet moment when she gave her notice to her district manager. Even though she was sad that she was losing a job that she had loved for over 8 years, she knew she was gaining so much more with our son.

As the reality of the referral continued to sink in, we realized that there were a lot of items that we would need in order to take care of Zachary when we bring him home. We made several visits to a couple of baby stores and did a lot of research in our Baby Bargains book so that we could figure out what we needed. We had a lot of fun registering for all the essentials (and also some fun items) as we imagined what it would be like to have Zachary with us. At the same time, our close friend Candy started planning for our family baby shower that will take place in just two weeks on March 21st.

During the last two months, we also received a couple of updates that provide information about Zachary's development. In some ways it can be sad to see this information because we know we're not there to witness and share in all of his progress, but it also brings us so much joy to read about his accomplishments. Each report is another connection between us. The first report was written on January 15th. It started out with information about his height (24 inches) and weight (17.2 pounds) from late December. His development is going well. Here are some of the more interesting comments:
  • Lifts up chest lightly if laid on tummy and pushes around the entire room
  • Sits up briefly if helped to sit but falls sideways soon
  • Keeps standing with good force in legs if helped to stand and tries to bounce up and down
  • Laughs and giggles when he feels good
  • Recognizes his bottle and likes (that's evident based on the pictures of our chubby little man)
  • Does not sleep deeply during the day and frets before going to sleep (this may be our biggest challenge when he comes home)
The second report was written on Laura's birthday (February 18th) when he had his well baby check-up. He had grown to 25 1/4 inches and gained a little over 2 pounds to 19.4 pounds. He's still eating well, drinking 6 ounces every 3 hours plus enjoying Gerber baby food and rice. His development continues to remain on track for his age. For his gross motor skills, he rolling over, crawling, sitting alone, pulling to a standing position, and walking with the support of furniture. It sounds like he's already very mobile, so I'm sure we'll be chasing him all around the house. He also responds when he hears his name and enjoys playing peek-a-boo. His language skills are also progressing. He says single syllables, imitates speech sound, and can say dada and mama.

On top of the updates, we also received another photo of him. As I said earlier, we sent a care package to him at the beginning of February. When we received his photo, we knew that the care package was received because the picture was of him, his foster mother (this was our first chance to see a picture of her), and his "exploration" of the items in the package.

The first thing we noticed in the picture was the wonderful smile of his foster mother. You can just see the pride and happiness in her face. I know that when we travel to Korea and she has to say good-bye to Zachary, it's going to be an extremely emotional time for everybody.

Our experience of the past two months closed out last week as we attended our monthly PIPs meeting and also celebrated a Korean holiday. The PIPs meeting was last Tuesday (March 2nd). Prior to the meeting, we attended a Korea travel meeting that was led by several families who had recently traveled to pick up their children. They shared a wealth of information about what they learned including airline reservations, places to stay, and the experience of meeting their child for the first time. After the travel meeting, we had our regular PIPs meeting. We started out be welcoming home three children (2 from Korea and 1 from China). It was extra special for us because one of the couples lives close to us and we've quickly become good friends with them. It was great getting to see little John for the first time. The final part of the meeting was a presentation about adoption lifebooks. A lifebook is a book that you put together to share with your child to explain his/her adoption story. It's meant to be a private book that contains information about the child's birth, birth parents, country of birth, and other information about their adoption story. The focus of the book is on the child's story, not the adoptive parents story. The lifebook helps the child to understand their personal adoption story and gives them a sense of identity, showing them that their life didn't just start when they were adopted.

We ended up this week as we celebrated the Lunar New Year at a local Korean church. The celebration was supposed to occur in February but was rescheduled to yesterday due to the blizzard we experienced in February. It ended up being a perfect day. We decided to invite Laura's brother so that we could share a little bit of the Korean culture with him. The celebration was organized by a group called Korean Focus. The group promotes Korean culture with a focus on the Korean-American and adoptive family communities in the Washington DC area.

As soon as we arrived, we felt right at home. There were many adoptive families with Korean born children. We could imagine what it will be like when we bring Zachary in future years. We started by mingling with everybody, getting to know some of the families. Zachary quickly became the topic of discussion as Laura shared her "brag book" with his photos. Even Uncle Pat got involved as he kept suggesting that we share Zachary's pictures with anybody that was interested. It was wonderful experiencing the joy and excitement of family, friends, and total strangers. It's amazing to have so much support.

We enjoyed some Korean food for lunch, then went to watch the opening ceremonies which included both the Korean and American national anthems, a Korean traditional fan dance, and a Korean pop music dance performance. After the opening ceremonies, we decided to explore all of the activities that were offered. We learned about Sebae which is a New Year's bow that is performed to elders to show respect. A little 3 year old girl dressed in a traditional hanbok performed the bow and wished us a happy new year (speaking in Korean). She was so cute!!! After that, we went to see Korean calligraphy. We told them our American names and they wrote them for us in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). We also asked them to write Zachary's Korean name (Se-hun) which led us to sharing his pictures with a Korean woman. When she saw him, she got very emotional and thanked us repeatedly for sharing the pictures with her. As she handed the pictures back to Laura, she bowed, kissed the photo book, and thanked us. We could tell it really meant a lot to her. We're not sure if she had a previous experience with adoption or if she was just thankful that a child of her heritage was going to be loved and cared for. It was a very emotional moment that we didn't expect to experience but will always remember.

As you can see, the last two two months have been filled with wonderful chaos. We continue to stay busy getting ready for the big changes that will come and hope that in another two months we'll be travelling to see Zachary to bring him home.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Quick Update

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we got an email from our adoption agency with the title "Picture of your little one". We had requested to get the originals of his birth pictures, so originally we thought that's what it was. When we saw that there was only one file attached, we started to hope that it might be a new picture. Sure enough, it was a picture taken in the past month. Here he is...

We're definitely biased, but to us he's the most beautiful baby boy in the world!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Happiest New Year

Originally I thought this post would be just a "normal" update about what's happened to us during the holiday season. We thought we still had many months ahead of us before we were matched with a child, but instead we received the best news we could have hoped for at the beginning of the year...we received the referral of our son. This was a huge shock that has us both extremely excited. I can't find the right words to express our happiness. It's still sinking in.

The week started out a little rocky. Late Sunday afternoon, our furnace stopped working. It was a cold day for southern Maryland (highs around freezing), so I hoped we had just tripped a circuit. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I called a repairman, but he couldn't get here until Monday morning. We pulled out a space heater, turned on a bunch of lights, and started the oven for a while to help generate heat. This kept the temperature steady, but we turned everything off when we went to bed just to be safe. By the time we woke up, it was in the 50s. Thankfully, the fix was quick and easy. A fuse inside the furnace had blown because of a loose wire. The repairman got everything going quickly and by the end of the day the house was back to a normal temperature.

Because of the problems with the furnace, I decided to stay home from work. As I was running around town doing errands, I received a call in the truck from a number I didn't recognize. It was our social worker. We had our monthly PIPS meeting planned for Tuesday, so I thought she was just calling to see if we would be there or not. She asked me if we were going to the PIPS meeting. I told her that we would be there. Then, she asked if we could come early because she wanted to talk to us. This was very unusual. She said that it "wasn't anything bad" and that she "wanted to talk to us then take things from there". She wouldn't share any additional information. Of course my first thought was that she might want to talk to us about a referral, but it just seemed too early. It had only been about 6 months since our paperwork had been sent to South Korea. Based on recent referrals, we thought it would take about a year before we received our referral.

I called Laura and let her know about the conversation. This started a very long 24 hour period where continued to run various scenarios through our heads. Was this a referral? Is there some reason she didn't tell us over the phone? Was it a referral for twins? So many thoughts ran through our heads. Needless to say, we had a very restless night of sleep.

As we drove to our meeting, we continued to talk about things. We were hopeful, but a little worried that we might not receive a referral. When we arrived at the adoption agency, our social worker wasn't ready to see us, so this added just a little more drama to the situation. We waited quietly but very impatiently. After about 30 minutes, our social worker came out and let us know she was ready to see us. As we sat down in the conference room, she set down a stack of paperwork and a couple of folders. She started by asking us a few questions then handed us paperwork that provided more information about a little boy that was available for adoption. It was hard to contain our emotions. We had been trying to start a family for many years with several sad experiences along the way, but all of it had led us to this one moment in time.

We went through his file, learning about his birth parents, his foster parents, and his medical history. We quickly felt a special connection. Even though we hadn't seen him we were already starting to form a bond with our son. After looking through the paperwork, our social worker asked if we would like to see pictures of him. We both answered yes immediately...we couldn't contain ourselves. As she handed us his pictures, the emotions of love overwhelmed us. This was the first time we were able to see our son. It's a moment we will never forget.

Here's the first picture that we saw. We really love seeing him stick out his tongue! It makes his picture so unique.

He was born in Seoul, South Korea on July 9, 2009. He was born 3 weeks early weighing 5 lbs, 8 oz and was 18.4 inches long. His birth mother named him Han Se-hun. In Korea, the first name is written last. Se-hun means "world merit" and is pronounced "Say-oon". His birth mother gave him his name in hope that he would grow up as a nice person contributing much to society. We feel very fortunate that his birth mother named him. It's common for the birth agency provide a name instead of the birth mother. It's great to know that he will understand how much his birth mother loved him and wished him a wonderful life. We have named him Zachary Holden Se-hun Townsend.

He had his most recent medical exam right before Christmas. He was a little over 5 months old. Everything looked great. He was described as a "cute and chubby baby". He was over 17 lbs and almost 24 inches long.

Yesterday he turned 6 months old. We decided to celebrate by going to our local Korean restaurant. Laura brought her little baby book that has his pictures (she doesn't leave home without it). She shared them with the waitress and owner. They were very happy for us. All of the reactions we've received have been overwhelmingly positive. The support has been amazing!
I'm sure that everybody is wondering when Zachary will come home. Right now we have to complete some additional paperwork. It should take about 4 months for all the loose ends to get tied up before we travel to pick him up. Right now we're hoping to travel by early May which is a great time to visit Korea. While we wait, we'll have plenty of things to do. We need to get his room ready, purchase baby items (stroller, car seat, etc.), baby proof the house, and have a baby shower. We hope that staying busy will help make the time fly by.

On a side note, we have created a photo site (http://zacharytownsend.shutterfly.com/) so that it's easier for everybody to see photos of Zachary. Right now we only have a couple of images. We don't know exactly when the photos were taken, but we believe it was some time in the first month. The images are scans, so the quality isn't very high, but we're happy to have any photos of our little boy. We're hoping that we can get the original images soon so that we can update the site with higher quality images. Also, the adoption agency in South Korea normally takes a picture at about 6 months of age, so we hope to have a more current picture soon.

Now that we have a referral and know what our son looks like, we can't wait to see him in person and bring him home. We're excited to be nearing the end of this part of our adoption journey and starting the next part with Zachary as a part of our family.