Thomas Rhett and his wife, Lauren, have been on a rollercoaster ride of a year as they pursued adoption of their daughter, Willa Gray. Now that she has come home, they are overjoyed and all feels as it should be, but it wasn’t that way for many months.

Rhett and Lauren opened up to People about the challenges they faced trying to make Willa their legal daughter. "I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for the journey of adopting someone, especially from a third-world country where there are so many different laws," the star says. “Every day you wake up with a whole new set of challenges that you never even heard of.”

Lauren met Willa over a year ago when she visited Uganda with the organization 147 Million Orphans, and she immediately connected with her.

“She was a total orphan and didn’t have any biological relatives, no one. Her life was going to be at the children’s home unless someone else tried to give her a home,” Lauren says. “So I thought, ‘We need to find her a home.’ I thought we’d be the helpers — and then Thomas Rhett said, ‘We’ll do it!’"

With that, the two began pursuing her, but ran into a lot of red tape along the way, including the requirement to foster her in Uganda over the course of a year prior to adoption. Each time they were there, they were unsure of when they’d return.

"I went over with Lauren in December for about seven weeks, and the room we were staying in with Willa almost started to feel like home," the singer says. "The hardest part was never knowing when it was going to end. I’m pretty sure every flight was booked a day before we left either place, because you can’t plan it. We’d get there and realize we had to be there another two weeks. Things moved at a snail’s pace."

Even Lauren’s most recent visit — originally intended to be the trip that would bring Willa home — was unexpectedly long. After a month, they got word that the adoption would be official. "I think the judge knew my time was running out," Lauren says. "Bless his heart, I’m so thankful. I wanted to run up and hug him so hard when he gave us the court ruling."

Thomas Rhett + Lauren Show Off Her Baby Bump on the Red Carpet

“He changed her life and our lives,” she adds. “He knew how long we had been working with the children’s home and he knew that our family is a family and that our roots are in Uganda too and that we’ll be back. But for a while, I thought I’d be there forever.”

Even so, Lauren had to travel back to the States without her daughter … again. She was far overdue for a pregnancy checkup. The couple are expecting a biological child — another girl — on Aug. 8, which will make Willa Gray a big sister.

“It felt weird leaving one daughter and making sure the other one is okay. But I couldn’t do it another way,” Lauren adds. “It killed me not being able to bring [Willa] home, but looking back, I think it was a blessing in disguise because I got to be home and nest before she got here — and catch up on my sleep so I wasn’t so jet-lagged!"

Willa, who is 19 months, has embraced life on the road already, having recently gone on her first trip with the family for daddy’s job, joining Rhett on stage during a performance.

Watch Willa Gray Onstage With Her Dad

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