Guatemalan adoption is now complete after seven-year wait
Despite many trials and complications, the Kern family of Wentzville welcomed their newest adopted son, Hudson, 7, into America July 25, after a seven year wait filled with frustration and anticipation. Carri and Jason Kern traveled to Guatemala to bring their son home, and are pleased to be decidedly whole for one week today, as they happily settle into their "new normal."
Carri graduated from Mexico High School and her parents, Jim and Sharon Kropf, still reside in the city. They were supportive throughout the adoption process.
"Even after adopting our other three children, there was always this hole that needed to be filled. Now our family is complete," Carri said.
Jason and Carri adopted their first three children, siblings Trenton, 7, Tatum, 6, and Tia, 4, in February, 2013, after fostering the children since 2010. Carrie said adopting their foster children strengthened her resolve to adopt Hudson.
The Kerns are unable to have biological children of their own. They had begun looking into adoption options when, in 2007, they came across the picture of a little boy in Guatemala who stole their hearts.
"My best friend's brother that lives down the street from me adopted from Guatemala and we got to talking," Jason said. "Before I knew it, Carri had filled out eight months of paperwork in a week."
Carri began receiving emails from an adoption agency with potential adoptees. She found her future son in the first message she opened. "We knew we wanted to adopt Hudson the minute we saw his picture," she said.
The Kerns submitted the necessary paperwork to began the adoption process before the conclusion of 2007. They knew it would be much more difficult to complete the process after the beginning of 2008, due to the addition of new laws involving Guatemala orphans being adopted by foreign parents, known as the Ortega Law. Jason said they hoped if the paperwork was submitted before the deadline they would be grandfathered in under the previous regulations. Their hopes were not met.
"The Guatemalan government made us go through the whole new system with investigation after investigation," Carri said. "We spent more than four years in the Guatemalan court system and it took the last year to go through the new process. They decided to call in all the birth mothers again to give their consent for adoption and his birth mother could not be found. That's what made us end up in the court system. We had to search for her to get her consent. It took four and a half years to finally find her and get consent. We actually hired a searcher to go find her."
The Ortega Law was considered necessary due to implications of child trafficking and other alleged crimes.
Throughout the application and court process, the Kerns traveled to Guatemala to get acquainted with Hudson. The first trip was taken by Carri and her parents when Hudson was 11-months-old.
"It was crazy," Carri said. "The first time, he held his arms out at me and said, 'Mama, Mama.' His fosters had been showing him pictures of me and we had an instant connection. I'd never had that feeling before in my life, meeting a child for the first time. I didn't want to leave him, but I had to.
"After meeting him he was our son, so there was never a choice to give up on him. There was no other choice, other than him living in an orphanage or out in the streets. His birth mother was never going to take him back. She lives in severe poverty and has other children that she struggles to feed. She is very loving and made the best choice possible for Hudson to have a better life."
The Kerns had to pay a foster family to care for Hudson throughout the approximate seven years they struggled to bring him home. Those payments and travel expenses for a total of 27 trips to Guatemala made for a very expensive endeavor. Though they don't like to talk about the exact figures, Jason admitted that it was a lot of money.
Carri isn't an avid traveler, but she said the journey became routine. "I've taken the trip so many times that it's not a big deal. It's became a commute, like going to the lake house for the weekend," she said.
Finally, after being approved by the courts and attaining the birth mother's consent, again, it seemed like Hudson would be allowed to come home with the Kerns at last. After a going away pizza party with Hudson's foster family and 50 of their friends and family, there was one more complication requiring a last-minute solution.
"We were cleared by the court system and were allowed to go through their central process," Carri said. "At the very end, we were stuck in Guatemala, because globally the system that issues visas had a glitch and completely crashed. We were scheduled to fly out at 7 a.m. on Friday morning and as of Thursday we still didn't have a visa for him. We were able to contact the White House and got a special letter written for Hudson to allow him to enter the country. That was delivered to our hotel room at 10 p.m. on Thursday night. It was literally the last minute and it was a miracle to get a letter from the White House allowing him to enter the country without a visa."
The letter from the White House was signed by current Secretary of State John Kerry.
The trip home was described as emotional. Carri said she felt immediate relief once their plane left the Guatemalan ground.
"There were tears," she said. "Then we landed in Atlanta and there were more tears, because we were in America. The best moment was landing in St. Louis and the kids meeting each other for the first time."
The Kerns think the trip home went smoothly, especially considering their tribulations up until that point.
"We let him sit in the seat between us on the first flight and on the second flight we had him sit by the window," Jason said. "We didn't have any problems. We had 50 or 60 people that were waiting for us right past security. He had TV cameras shoved in his face. They loved it, the kids meeting. They had got to know him through Skype. We'd do Skype on a regular basis, especially on the kids' birthdays and we had pictures all over the place of him. When we would leave for a week at a time and take the kids to their grandparent's house, they knew where we were going."
A celebration ensued at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport with welcome home signs, first in-person greetings, hugs and kisses from family members and friends. Jason and Carri were excited to see all their children playing together.
Now that Hudson is home, the family is beginning to become accustomed to life with a fourth child, one with limited English-speaking abilities when he entered the country. Carri said the language barrier hasn't actually offered much of a challenge to her children.
"They communicate really well. Hudson's picking up a lot of English very quickly and the kids are actually picking up a lot of Spanish. Kids are amazing like that."
The household is adjusting quickly and the Kerns believe their sons already interact together as archetypal brothers. "Throughout the day the girls gravitate toward each other and play together and the boys play together," Carri said. "The boys like to play soccer outside, play video games, play with their cars and trucks and wrestle a lot. They are typical brothers."
Trenton will be attending second grade this year. Hudson and Tatum will attend first grade and Tia will be in preschool. Hudson will be attending Duello Elementary in the English as a second language program. He also attends Vacation Bible School with his siblings and will be playing youth soccer in the fall. His favorite player is Lionel Messi, who plays for FC Barcelona.
"He's a big Messi fan," Jason said. "They watch a ton of soccer down there. It's all that's on. That will be a big change for him, because he's such a big fan and we don't have the Spanish soccer channel."
Another challenging change for Hudson that Carri is working to enact is weening him off Pepsi Cola, which he often requests. She said he drank the soft drink very frequently in Guatemala. She believes that's too much caffeine for the seven-year-old.
Getting accustomed to a new diet and culture is only part of the new normal for Hudson, along with learning to share video games, communicating with English-speakers and preparing for American elementary school.
Like any household with four children, Jason and Carri have their hands full, but they said the house has been surprisingly peaceful with Hudson around, now that Trenton has another boy to play with: "He's always wanted a brother."