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Face of Defense: Military Couple Extends Family From Africa

By Army Sgt. Adrianna Barnes
16th Combat Aviation Brigade

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Sept. 26, 2012 – Adoptions can be both challenging and rewarding, but the challenges military couples face can be uniquely different due to frequent changes of duty station. For Army Maj. Peter Hathaway, 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, and his wife, Kristen, overcoming those challenges was a must in completing their family.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Tshion, daughter of Army Maj. Peter Hathaway and his wife, Kristen, poses for a photograph Sept. 1, 2012, as she waits in Ethiopia for her adoption process to be complete in October 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Adrianna Barnes

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Both Kristen and Peter wanted to adopt a child even before they met. When the couple first began dating, they said, one of the things that attracted them to one another was their desire to adopt a child with a special need for a family.

“We knew there were a lot of kids out there that need a family, and we just want to provide a family for a child,” Peter said. “We were lucky enough to find someone to fill that need for.”

Choosing the right time to take on the many challenges of adopting was essential. With their biological daughter, Amelia, now 2 years old, Kristen and Peter decided they were ready to adopt.

“So when we were married, we prayed about when the right time would be, and about seven months ago, we felt like God opened the doors and we began the process,” Kristen said.

While there is great need of families for children both domestically and internationally, the couple decided to adopt from Ethiopia, because Kristen had done missionary work in Kenya for seven months. She fell in love with the people and culture there, she said, and saw an immense need for adoption due to the orphan crisis in many African countries.

In Africa, a large majority of the children are orphans due to poverty or illness -- the most prominent being HIV and AIDS. Ethiopia has more than 100,000 orphans in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and more than 5 million in the country. About 800,000 are AIDS orphans.

“At that time [during missionary work], I knew Africa would be where I chose to adopt,” Kristen said. “Pete felt the same way about Africa, so it was natural for us to move in that direction when considering adoption.”

The couple began researching adoption agencies and identifying which programs they were eligible for, which brought on its own set of challenges due to Peter being in the military and the family moving so frequently. “Although all adoptions have some significant loss or grieving process, we felt the international route might be a better match for a military family,” Peter said.

After deciding on an agency, the couple began the adoption process with what many adoptive parents affectionately refer to as the “paper chase.” Essentially, they laid their lives out in paper form. Documents included birth certificates, marriage licenses, financial worksheets, letters of reference, and background checks from every state in which they had lived for the preceding five years.

A licensed social worker met with Kristen and Peter three times to assess them as prospective adoptive parents. Findings from the home study were put into a document that was sent to Ethiopia. Once the dossier was approved by the agency, the couple then waited for a referral.

For couples requesting to adopt an infant from Ethiopia, the waiting time is two to four years. For families wishing to adopt a child who is older or who has special needs, the wait ranges from one month to four years. The fastest way to adopt a child is to choose a child from a “waiting child list.”

Kristen and Peter said they chose to adopt a child from the list because they felt those children were most in need of a family. They chose an 8-year-old girl named Tshion, pronounced “See-on.” Once the referral was received and accepted, a court date was set to award them custody of the child. The court date was the couple’s first chance to meet their new daughter.

“She is a bright, funny, vivacious, caring, kind 8-year-old that has been through more things than most people can imagine,” Kristen said. “She is athletic and has a dream right now of becoming a supermodel. Seriously, she has her own runway walk made up. She is so excited to have a family, and we feel honored that we are going to be that family.”

When the Hathaways met Tshion, one of her first questions was “Where’s my sister?” Peter said Tshion and Amelia both seem very interested in being a sister. “She had a little pair of sunglasses she wanted us to give to Amelia,” he added.

The Hathaways’ process has been simple and easy compared to what some families have experienced, they said. Their biggest challenge was the quick time frame -- from the start of the process to bringing her home will be right at nine months, they said.

Going through the process so rapidly has created some financial strain, they acknowledged, but they said they receive support from their family and friends, and had set aside savings just for the fees associated with adoption.

“Right now, the hardest part is the waiting. We will hopefully have her home by the end of October,” Kristen said. “It is hard being away from a child that is legally yours. It is hard not being able to care for her when she is sick and not being able to remind her every night of how loved and desired she is.”

At 8 years old, Tshion is very aware of her situation and circumstances. She speaks little English, so Kristen and Peter want to keep her close to home for a while before sending her off to school. They said they are as eager to teach their new daughter English and American culture as they are to learn and embrace her Ethiopian culture.

“Family is not just about blood, color or anything else that we like to separate ourselves by,” Kristen said. “It is about loving another human being. It is about living out your life sacrificially for another person so that they might see their worth or beauty.”

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