Kentucky Families Impacted by Impasse Over Adopted Children in African Nation

Jul 22, 2014

Malachi Meacham, at his orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bethany and Jon Meacham of Louisville adopted Malachi over a year ago, but he remains in the DRC.
Credit Meacham Family

A decision by the government of an African nation is having a big impact on U.S. families trying to bring home adopted children, including at least 20 families in Kentucky. Citing concerns about the health and well-being of children previously adopted children, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last fall cancelled the exit permits needed by adopted children to leave the country and join their new families abroad.

Bethany Meacham of Louisville is one of the mothers caught in limbo due to the decision. Bethany and her husband, Jon, decided to look into adoption after a miscarriage made them think they might not be able to have a child naturally. Bethany has since given birth to two children, now ages 4 and 1. But after learning about the conditions of orphans in the DRC and doing further research, the Meachams decided to adopt a son from that country.

“So we started the paperwork process to adopt from there, three-and-a-half-years ago before we ever set foot in Congo. Since then, my husband was able to go last November for the first time and meet our son, who was legally adopted and who was ours at that time.”

“His orphanage had actually just burned down, so my husband took supplies to the orphanage.”

The Meachams named their son Malachi, and he became their legally adopted son last July. But the Meacham’s hopes of bringing their son to Kentucky were derailed when the Congolese government announced it was halting the issuing of exit visas for foreign adoptions. Since then, Bethany Meacham says she has had to be content with getting bits and pieces of information about Malachi, the son she’s never really gotten to know.

“We get pictures and updates on him occasionally, maybe once a month, or once every other month. But he was not even two when we started the process to adopt him, and by the time he was legally ours, he was about two-and-a-half.

Meacham says while being in limbo has been terrible, she has been comforted by getting to know other Americans who are experiencing the same issues with getting adopted children out of the DRC.

“We’re now good friends with several of the families in Louisville (who have adopted DRC children), that we get to see on a fairly regular basis. And there’s a Facebook group, where we’ve tried to connect with one another, to support one another, and pray for one another, and share updates and as much information we can about advocacy efforts, and how our friends and family can help us advocate.”  

Meacham says many of the estimated 350 U.S. families waiting to bring adopted children home from the DRC have formed an effective support network, thanks largely to the help of social media.  She says she’s met some of the families in her region who have also been impacted by the situation in the DRC.

“A couple of the Louisville families were able to get together, and have our current children together in our homes, and we look forward to the day when all of our children will be home, and we can all have play dates and  play together.”

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell met last week with the DRC’s U.S. ambassador, urging a resolution that allows adopted children to join their new families in America. U.S. families waiting on their adopted children to arrive from the DRC are taking part in a day of advocacy Wednesday, as they and their supporters plan to call the White House and ask President Obama to intervene on their behalf.

Despite the ongoing three-and-a-half-year process to adopt Malachi and bring him to Kentucky, Meacham says she doesn’t regret the decision to adopt from overseas. Her advice to those interested in adopting a child from another country: do all the research you can about the nation involved, their laws regarding international adoption, and the agencies that help facilitate the process.

“Also be prepared that it’s going to be hard,” Meacham adds. “There’s no easy way to adopt, I don’t think, domestically or internationally