The greatest gift: Couple cuts through adoption red tape
Roy • For about 20 months, the Jensen family's gift was wrapped in a tangle of bureaucratic red tape.
But if Christmas is the time for gift-giving, the governments of the United States and Malaysia couldn't have done better for the Jensens this holiday season.
Miriam, a 20-month-old girl Jhan and Farah Jensen adopted in 2011, is home with them in Utah now a full five months before they expected to have her with them. She arrived Wednesday and, in her first five days, has already seen Christmas light displays in Salt Lake City, felt the chill of winter like never before in the tropical climate of Kuala Lumpur and checked out Santa Claus from afar, though.
She also has her own room, though her "world is upside down" right now. Jhan Jensen said she is most comfortable sleeping with them. And when she gets up in the middle of the night, her parents will dutifully change diapers or lull her back to sleep. It's a marked contrast to the life the Jensens knew while they fought to bring her to the United States through late-night emails and more than $46,000 in travel expenses between the two countries to hear her first words and see her first steps.
When they cleared immigration and customs in Los Angeles, Jhan Jensen said, the whole thing took about 30 minutes.
"It was kind of weird," he said. "All of this time and effort and then at the end, it took about 30 minutes."
'It feels nice' • Adoptions out of Malaysia are among the most difficult to navigate successfully. According to the State Department, there have only been 16 successful adoptions from Malaysia between 1999 and 2011. By comparison, Japan saw 462 adoptions in that same period and Thailand had 846. Vietnam had 5,578 in that 12-year stretch.
Farah Jensen is from Malaysia and is a legal permanent resident of the United States one of the key considerations the Malaysian government looks at before allowing an international adoption.
While the couple fought through the process, Miriam lived with Farah Jensen's family.
But both parents worried about bonding with the child. They set aside time to Skype on weekends and both burned through paid and unpaid leave from their jobs to visit as often as possible.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian government's policy is to have a fostering period for children awaiting adoption in order to give birth mothers a chance to reconsider their decision and to ensure the prospective parents will create a stable home for the child.
That meant, in the government's eyes, the Jensens weren't legal parents. Because of that, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services won't grant citizenship to the child because full parenthood hadn't been bestowed on them. And the State Department wouldn't issue a tourist visa to Miriam because the Jensens had no intent of returning her to Malaysia.
But in December, Tini Zainudin, working on behalf of the Jensens in Malaysia, let them know the good news: The government believed it was in the best interest of the child to allow Miriam to be with the Jensens in Utah.
"You suddenly realize you don't have to do all of that fighting anymore," Farah Jensen said. "We don't have to check the latest emails at 3 a.m. for updates. You don't have to worry about whether it will all fall through or not."
Sitting with Miriam in their kitchen, she paused.
"It feels nice."
'The greatest gift' • The whirlwind of having Miriam in their house has been an adjustment. Things were so hectic, the Jensens never even got a chance to put up a Christmas tree. But family and friends have been giving the little girl presents, and they will spend Christmas Day with close friends in Salt Lake City.
The little girl is quiet and still greets people with a kiss on the back of the hand the custom she grew up with in Malaysia. She has picked up a bunch of Disney items and on Christmas Eve was sporting a Minnie Mouse T-shirt and pink pants.
She has oversized pink sunglasses she likes to playfully put on her and her mother's face.
Jhan Jensen said he spent so much time imagining what it would be like to have her in their home, it's been a strange transition to finally seeing it all come to pass. He said he's got big plans for her as winter turns to spring and they celebrate her second birthday in April.
It will include trips to Lagoon, the recreation center and a few baseball games. As self-described Disney fanatics, there will be a trip to the Magic Kingdom soon.
Mostly, though, he and Farah are most excited because Christmas came a few days early for them.
"This is, by far," he said, "the greatest gift we've ever gotten in our lives."