My blog’s tagline is “Navigating motherhood, adoption, and the world with heart and humor.” This blog started out as an adoption journal and has, over the years, evolved into a parenting and lifestyle resource. Most people who see pictures of our family get that our family was built through adoption but through the growth of this website and some questions I’ve received, I thought this would be a good time to share our adoption story.
There’s a lot of adoption content on this blog. Like..a lot. If you want to check out all of the adoption posts, you can check out our adoption archive. Disclaimer: we have adoption posts on the blog that aren’t listed here. I did a reorganization with blog posts headings a couple of years ago and some were lost. They’re still on the blog, waiting for me to find them and properly pull them into the adoption category. It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt. I’ll find them all eventually.
We went from two empty nesters to a family of five in 11 months
And yes, it was as crazy as it sounds. So, here we go. Our adoption story.
Because our kids are Chinese and my husband and I are not, we typically get a lot of questions about our adoptions. While this doesn’t answer all of them, it does give some of the story behind how we became a family.
My husband and I adopted two boys from China, a two-year-old in 2012 and a three-year-old in 2013. The boys are not biologically related and they’re four months apart. In adoption circles, this is sometimes referred to as “virtual twins” or “artificial twins.” We didn’t “twin” them on purpose but with our second adoption, we knew we wanted to adopt a child close in age to our youngest son.
I also have a biological daughter. As of publication she is 27 and the boys are 10.
I had a hysterectomy in 2008 and started dating my husband about two months after that. Timing, man. In hindsight, I probably would have waited on the hysterectomy if I thought there was any possibility of my getting married again. My daughter was in high school and I’d resigned myself to being single forever and focusing on my career. I had just turned 40 and I thought the baby ship had sailed, even though one of my big life regrets was (and sort of still is) not having more kids.
We vaguely talked about adoption after our wedding but our first year of marriage brought a lot of changes, so the conversations about adoption were not very deep or detailed. We moved from Illinois to England before our first anniversary so much of our energy was focused on our move, our new jobs and the new travel opportunities we suddenly had.
I’d done research on all types of adoption, so I had a basic knowledge of the costs and most of the particulars of all types of adoption but we’d never really sat down as a couple and talked about what might work or even if we really wanted to pursue adoption at this point in our lives.
I have been asked this question tons of times. Sometimes, it’s followed by “And why not an American child?”
I don’t really have a great answer, other than that China is what made sense to us at the time. We were American military stationed outside the United States. Adopting from foster care or domestic infant adoption might have been feasible if we had an established, shared home state, but we didn’t. I was a Texas resident, my husband was a Michigan resident and we owned property in Illinois.
My new boss had a daughter adopted from China and shared with me that he and his wife were in the process of adopting a second child from China, a little boy. Like a lot of people, I knew adopting baby girls from China was common because of China’s then one-child policy and Chinese families wanting sons in lieu of daughters to carry on their bloodline. And, that’s an over simplified version of things and no longer current. That’s another conversation.
I asked the question that I’ve since been asked dozens of times “A boy? I didn’t know you could adopt a boy from China!”
“He’s special needs,” explained my boss, and went on to explain that their son-to-be had a condition called Microtia of the Ear, which meant his outer ear hadn’t formed properly.
That didn’t meet my mental definition of special needs and I began to ask more questions and do more research on the China special needs program.
It made sense to adopt from China as a family living overseas. We found an agency that specialized in working with military and expats and our lack of shared state of residence in the U.S. wasn’t an issue, as it would have been with a domestic adoption. Logistically, the process worked for us.
We did look at other international programs besides China and chose China for it’s stability and predictability. There’s a lot of paperwork and red tape to wade through but there’s very little ambiguity to the process. Also, the in-country stay requirement is fairly short. We were both active duty military at the time of our adoptions and we didn’t have the resources or the leave time to stay in another country for weeks or months.
China special needs
Keep in mind, our most recent adoption took place seven years ago, so if you’re reading this as a guide for how to proceed with your own adoption, please seek out more current info because processes change. Our experiences in 2012 and 2013 are likely very different than what your experience would be if you started the process today.
Once we had decided on China special needs, our agency gave us a questionnaire to fill out to list what types of special needs we were open to. There were lots of things on the list that most people wouldn’t consider a special need, such as birthmarks, missing digits, extra digits, etc. Also, deafness and low vision were considered special needs. There were also more severe conditions that met our threshold of special needs, such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida and more. We talked about what we thought we could handle and filled out the questionnaire that would help our agency match us with a child.
Do my kids have special needs?
Zack has a limb difference, which for him means his right hand didn’t fully develop. He has nubs where most people have fingers and cartilage where most people have bones but that hasn’t limited him very much. Some things, he has to figure out a different way to do and some things he needs adaptive equipment for, such as a canoe paddle that’s specially equipped for him. He has a 3D printed prosthetic hand but he hardly ever wears it.
Kyle was born with a few GI issues the required corrective surgery at birth and during his first few years of life. Out of respect for his privacy, we don’t disclose more than that. He needs a little bit of diet modification and regular follow-up care.
I think my kids are extraordinary but their lives are pretty ordinary. I don’t consider my kids to be special needs and they do pretty much the same things other kids their age do.
How long did the process take?
We were matched when Zack was 17 months old. We adopted him shortly after his second birthday. We were matched with Kyle when just shy of his third birthday and adopted him five months later. The process for Kyle was shorter because we re-used our adoption dossier.
It took us about six months to prepare our adoption dossier. Ours was a little extra complicated because we lived outside the U.S. and because we’d lived so many places. We had to get criminal background checks from every place we’d ever lived and since my husband and I had both served in the military, we’d lived more places than most people.
We signed up with our agency in May 2011 and brought our son home in August 2012. While it seemed like an unbearable weight at the time, looking back, it wasn’t really that long.
Going to China
At least one parent has to travel to China to complete the adoption. The first time you meet your child is when you take custody of him or her. It’s a really weird and surreal way to add to your family, let me tell you!
Procedures will vary from province to province, but in general, you will travel to the capital of the child’s province. Most people enter China via Beijing – as we did – or Hong Kong. Since both of our kids are from northern provinces, we flew in to Beijing both times. We spent a few days in Beijing exploring the city.
We met Zack in a government building and we met Kyle in our hotel. Zack had been brought to us by the director of his orphanage and he’d taken a long train ride to get to us. He was not into us at all at first and he gave me some of the strongest two-year-old stink eye I’ve ever seen. He bonded with us pretty quickly and with the exception of sleep issues, he was a pretty easy baby.
Kyle was a lot more sociable and willing to get to know us at first. We had crayons and fruit snacks and there was another child his age present. The downside was that he didn’t fully understand what was going on. Our first moments together included the people from his orphanage and in looking back, he probably thought we were just a fun family with some cool treats. Things were a little harder when his familiar people left and he was stuck with a room full of people who he didn’t understand.
Our family dynamic
When we adopted Zack, my husband and I were living together in England and my daughter was living in Illinois. Shortly after we adopted Zack, Laura came back to live with us for a while. When I say I we went from a twosome to a family of five in 11 months, I wasn’t kidding. Even though the kids came to us one at a time, it was still a really wild ride.
Today, my daughter lives with her husband (who is also in the Air Force) in Spain. They have a two-year-old son and, while it is hard to be so far away from them, I love that they’re having overseas adventures like we did.
Coming home and U.S. Citizenship
China adoptions are in line with the Hague Convention. I know there’s more to it than this but for our adoptions, this meant our kids became U.S. Citizens upon entering U.S. soil for the first time.
Although part of our adoption took place in our kids’ home province, the U.S. part takes place in Guangzhou, which is where the U.S. Consulate is located. Guangzhou is a city in southern China, near Hong Kong. Families who are adopting kids from southern provinces usually enter the country through Hong Kong or even directly through Guangzhou.
All Americans who adopt from China must go through Guangzhou. After we had our consulate appointment, we were given a sealed envelope to present to immigration when we flew back home.
The wrinkle for us was that “back home” wasn’t the U.S. For our first adoption, we made an extra trip to the British Consulate in Guangzhou and were able to get a visa in Zack’s Chinese Passport for him to enter England. We made a trip to the U.S. a couple of months later once we were more settled, had a visit and took care of his citizenship and passport paperwork. A little more wickets to move through but hey…paperwork was something we were used to by now.
With Kyle’s adoption, things worked a little…ahem…differently. We weren’t able to get a UK visa for him as we had with Zack. The process had apparently changed in less than a year and we were told that his visa would take an additional 2-3 weeks to process. We didn’t have the resources or the leave time to stay in China for that amount of time. The Brits seemed very concerned with how our three-year-old was going to support himself in England – keep in mind he was three – and long story short, we ended up having to cancel the return leg of our flight and fly directly to the U.S. Fortunately, we had relatives and a place to stay near Detroit and we were able to visit the passport agency there and get Kyle’s U.S. passport pretty much on the spot. We returned to England less than a week later, several thousand dollars lighter due to the airfare changes. We had family and friends help us out financially, which was a huge blessing.
Normally, families are in China a total of about 10 days for an adoption. If any U.S. citizens who live outside the U.S. happen to be reading this please learn from our mistake and plan to return to the U.S. directly after your consulate appointment.
Today, my kids are both U.S. Citizens with certificates of citizenship and U.S. passports. They do not have U.S. birth certificates, which is always super fun when we sign them up for something or renew their passport. We’re working on getting them an American birth recognition, which some people refer to as “re-adoption” although it isn’t really that. It will make things easier on them when they apply for college financial aid or marriage licenses, or things like that.
Life After Adoption
I think our life is pretty regular. My kids have different thoughts and feelings about their adoptions and their beginnings and we have a lot of different conversations about it. I don’t know what they’re going to feel in the future or how they’re going to feel or see things in five years or in ten.
We don’t have a lot of information about their birth families and that’s the one drawback to China adoptions. We accepted this when we started the process and by default, our kids have to accept this, and I foresee that being harder as they mature. Or not. Like any aspect of parenting, we just do our best, try and keep the conversations open and fly by the seat of our pants, not knowing what’s around the corner.
We do celebrate Gotcha Day…sort of. We celebrate the day each of our kids came to be in our family and we call it “Zack Day” and “Kyle Day.” What we do to celebrate has varied over the year, but it is usually pretty low key, such as getting ice cream or going to a water park. Both days are in summer so we usually have some different options available to us.
I know some adoptees and adoptive families see this day as something that shouldn’t be celebrated. At the root of all adoption is loss and some feel that having cake and balloons isn’t appropriate. We give our kids the option every year and have never forced anything on them. Each year, they have opted for some sort of small celebration and we’ll keep going as long as they want us to. As I said, it’s pretty minimal and usually planned at the last minute and it wouldn’t hurt our feelings if our kids develop other feelings about the day as they get older.
For now, we celebrate.