Christine and Dave Nowland of Chicago have been in process with their adoption of beautiful Irma for over six years. When adoptions in Guatemala were shutdown in 2008, Irma’s adoption was “grandfathered” to finish using the process under which it started. Sadly for Irma and the Nowlands, like hundreds of others, the promise of finishing on that path has been cruelly denied.
The Nowlands quickly came to love Irma deeply. Over the years they developed a relationship with her via visits to Guatemala and of course letters and phone calls. They supported Irma from afar while they all dreamed of the day when they would live together under the same roof. This went on for years as the Nowlands patiently waited for the process to play out, confident that the adoption would proceed since the biological mother had relinquished Irma soon after birth and made no attempt to change that decision. Now, almost six years later, their dream of a life together has become uncertain in a very disturbing way.
For the past 2+ years there has been a definitive push by some Guatemalan officials to forcibly reunify children in pending adoptions with their biological relatives. Reunification can be a wonderful solution for children who need a home, but forcing it by using threats and bribery to serve a political agenda is extremely troubling and not in the best interest of the children, biological relatives, or adoptive families. Sadly this appears to be what Irma is newly fighting now. The Nowlands are now working to prevent her from being returned to a family that has chosen adoption for her year after year. Their story:
“Since September of 2008 when our pursuit of adopting now seven-year-old Irma was interrupted by an unexpected turn of events, we have been fighting for our daughter in the Guatemalan court system. Yet, some 6 ½ years and 25 trips later, Irma still resides in a Guatemala City orphanage, and the room we prepared for her in Antioch, IL remains empty.
Most recently, after successfully gaining recusal of the previous judge, we attended our first hearing in the case in almost two years in front of a newly appointed court, only to face still more obstacles. We were legally acknowledged as a party to the adoptability process for Irma nearly four years ago, but then suddenly notified in a hearing on December 2, 2013, that we no longer were entitled to our legal status and would have no voice in the proceedings moving forward. As we and our attorney sat muted by the judge, the Guatemalan Procuraduria General de la Nacion (PGN) filed a report and recommendation for the reunification of Irma with her birth mother, who currently lives with her parents, all of whom were, after years, suddenly and unexpectedly at the hearing.
Prior to the hearing, upon Irma’s arrival at the courthouse, her eyes lit up when she saw us - the only people she has known as mommy and daddy. From May of 2007, when Irma was just five months old, until September of 2008 when she was removed from foster care and placed in “protective custody” in a series of government run orphanages, we visited our daughter every six to eight weeks, establishing a bond that would endure the next five years as delay after delay, and obstacle after obstacle kept us apart.
Our recent trip, despite the new challenges in court, was particularly heart-warming. Due to an order by the previous judge, we had not been allowed to see Irma in over 23 months. Afraid that Irma would have given up, or become distant as a result of our lengthy absence, imagine our surprise when Irma immediately took Christine’s hand, her face breaking into the shy little grin that appears every time we first see each other, as if no time had passed at all! For 30 minutes it was as if we never parted after her fifth birthday celebration in January of 2012.
Since December 2nd, we have filed a number of Amparos (legal protest) with the Appellate court, among other things objecting to our removal as parties to the case. A follow-up hearing, hastily scheduled by the judge for January 9th was also thwarted, but when our legal team appeared to ensure that the hearing in fact would not occur, the judge openly acknowledged that “the Americans will never get this child”, and further asserted “if the Amparos are successful, I know what I have to do”. Separately, even CNA has interfered, illegally advising the birth mother to try and see Irma at the orphanage to try and establish a bond with the child she never once tried to find over the first seven years of her life.
Buoyed by the love and support of our family, and literally hundreds of friends, we have resolved to never give up on our daughter, and have vowed to fight on for Irma despite the challenges and obstacles that continue to plague our journey to become a family.” — Dave and Christine Nowland