A decade ago, I felt like everything was rainbows and lollipops for me. My wife and I had just completed the adoption of our son, bringing him from Guatemala to Washington, DC. I had a terrific job, doing the work I loved for an awesome company. For the first time in a long time, everything was making sense and everything seemed to be happening as it should.
Sure, I started spending a little too much time traveling for work, but that was just part of the job. Going in, I knew that providing public affairs counseling to not-for-profit organizations and universities meant I would sometimes have to leave the confines of my office. But it was a small price to pay for the normalcy and stability our new family had.
Then my wife and I received a bombshell phone call. Our son’s birth mother had just given birth to a little girl. As was the policy of the adoption agency, they looked to place siblings together. So the big question to us that September day was whether we wanted to adopt this little girl.
We had spent a lot of time deciding to become an adoptive family. And anyone familiar with international adoptions knows all of the hoops one must jump, red tape one must cut, and commitments one must make to get there. We were fortunate in the adoption of our son, facing minimal bumps in the road. We brought him home seven months after his birth.
It took us all of two minutes to decide we needed to bring this little girl into our family as well. But we also knew that this process would be far from easy. In the 10 months between getting our son home and our daughter’s birth, the Guatemalan Congress decided to outlaw international adoptions. We were now working against an ominous clock, knowing that much had to be done in a very short period of time. Everything done in preparation for our son — every background check, every financial check, every interview, every home visit — would have to be redone. We were starting from scratch, only we didn’t have the half-year head start we had had to do all the paperwork before our son was born.
With the holidays approaching, we almost didn’t get our ICE interview and approval in before the end of the calendar year, an approval essential to officials in Guatemala. We faced local bureaucrats in Guatemala that decided to reject and delay our case again and again.
Knowing all of this was going to be in our future, I faced a very serious reality. There was no way I could keep my fantastic job and still have the flexibility to bring our daughter home. From our son, I knew that we would have to head down to Guatemala on 48 hours notice. And with the clock ticking, we knew that anything could happen, and we could have to be in country for two days, or two weeks, depending on what was happening with our case. Trying to manage those sorts of demands with a full roster of clients with their own needs and own expectations was just untenable. So I quit my job.
It took us 13 months to bring our daughter home. We were one of the fortunate ones. It’ll be 10 years this fall, and there are still children born when my daughter was born whose cases have not yet been finalized. They still remain in foster care or orphanages as issues and red tape continue to bog down.
Why do I tell this story, and why do I tell this story here? Earlier this year, Joanne Boyle announced she was “retiring” as head coach of the University of Virginia’s women’s basketball team. Boyle is a top coach in the NCAA who has achieved significant results with the Cavaliers. She is at the prime of her coaching career, working for a top ACC program. Surely there must have been more to the story that a “retirement.”
Today, The Washington Post wrote an important piece telling the rest of the story. Boyle resigned because she needs to go to Senegal, and she doesn’t know how long she will need to be in country. Four years ago, Boyle brought her daughter home from Senegal, where the now six-year old was orphaned as an infant. But instead of bringing her home after completing the adoption process, it seems Boyle brought her daughter home on a tourist visa, seeking to ensure that the young child had access to the medical care and general caregiving she needed, but wasn’t able to get in her home country.
The Senegal courts completed the adoption process back in 2016. But the United States hasn’t stepped up. Because the tourist visa her daughter arrived in had lapsed, Boyle and her daughter need to go back to Senegal until immigration clears the six-year old. And Boyle must put family over career.
I don’t know a single parent who has been part of an international adoption who wouldn’t do the same thing. And I know far too many adoptive parents who have learned, the hard way, about what happens when all the paperwork isn’t complete.
With both of my children, my wife and I visited Guatemala several times. Yes, we did this to spend time with our son and daughter. But we also did so to ensure that when they first arrived in the United States, they would be U.S. citizens (that was the law). With each child, the moment we landed at the airport in Houston, TX, our first stop was the ICE offices in the basement, where our infants were “sworn in” as citizens.
It is a shame that U.S. immigration law doesn’t see the craziness in sending a six-year old back to Senegal by herself to wait for an adoption to be finalized. It’s a shame that the only choice available to Boyle was to have to choose between career and child. And it is a cryin’ shame that many will just shrug off this story, not seeing how it is relevant to them or their lives.
After all, every day, mothers and fathers are forced to make the choice between family and job. We just do what we need to do. Sometimes, we fail to show up for a game, because putting our job first means we are able to pay the rent or keep the fridge stocked. But sacrificing a job – particularly one you love and excel at – is the ultimate measure.
Hopefully, Boyle will be back court side soon. And hopefully, none of us will be faced with such a choice.
(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)