So You’re Thinking About Adoption…

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I wrote this about six weeks ago.  One of the social workers from our agency asked for parent contributions for an e-book that will  be used as a reference for parents.  I was asked about what advice I'd give someone just starting their adoption journey.  A few conversations I've had this past week brought this piece I wrote to mind.  Here you go: 

“Follow your heart”. 

“Go with your gut”. 

In the three years I’ve been connected to the international adoption community, I have heard both these phrases more times than I can count.  Becoming a parent through adoption requires listening to your emotions and your intuition, but the single most important piece of advice I can give anyone considering international adoption is this: 

“Use your head”. 

My husband and I have two sons adopted from China.  One of the most common questions we are asked about our adoptions is “why China?”  My interest in the China Waiting Child program began with a tug on my heartstrings but our family’s decision to move forward was more logic driven. 

Why not an American child?

We ruled out domestic infant adoption because at forty-four and forty-seven, respectively, we thought our ages might be seen as a detractor by a birth mother.  We also felt time was not on our side and didn’t want to wait months or even years for a birth mother to choose us.  We knew a birth mother could back out during any part of the process, forcing us back to square one.  If we were starting the process in our early thirties versus our late forties, we might have looked at this differently.

Most domestic infant adoptions nowadays are open or semi open which did not appeal to us.  While knowledge of the child’s health history would have been a plus, the birth family’s presence in our lives was not something we were comfortable with.  Adoption from foster care was not an option for us because we lived outside the United States at the time we started our adoption journey.  So, international adoption it was.

So, why China versus Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Uganda, Haiti (and everything else out there)

We considered several international programs before deciding on China.  China was the first program that grabbed my heart and the one I kept going back to, but it ended up being the best fit for our family.  What we liked:  the stability and structure of the program, the projected length of time for a referral (relatively quick), the cost (predictable, no hidden fees) and the amount of time spent in the birth country (one trip of a finite length) were all things we took in to consideration. 
The children available for adoption were “true orphans”.  Adoptions in China are regulated by the strict rules of the Hague Treaty.  China has no significant problems with child trafficking and “long lost” relatives showing up at the eleventh hour and wanting payment to disappear is almost unheard of. 
Having a plan versus “accidental adoption”

We decided to adopt because we wanted to parent children together.  People adopt for different reasons – this was ours.  We made the decision to adopt, selected our program, our agency, and our children, in that order.  Some families see a child’s file on a photo listing, fall in love and then make the decision to start the adoption process.  I definitely felt a pull in my heart the first time I saw the picture of each of the two little boys that would eventually become my sons, but I allowed myself these feelings with the knowledge that adoption was a given and that we’d already established a relationship with an agency who would facilitate the adoption. 

Understanding “special needs” and what that means to YOU

Most children in the China Waiting Child program have medical needs.  Most children available for international adoption nowadays either have a medical need or are older children.  Medical/special needs range from extremely minor (birthmarks, missing finger) to fairly severe (complex heart disease/pulmonary conditions).  Some medical needs/conditions can be managed easily or corrected altogether once in the United States. 

Do your homework.  Know going in what needs your family can handle.  Some find it very easy to fall in love with a child’s file – a few pictures and a few pages of data describing the child’s health and social history.  Assessing whether or not the family is capable of (or willing to become capable) of handling a need may be eclipsed by emotion.
A complex need can seem like not such a big deal when accompanied by an image of a precious face.  Scary sounding diagnoses can melt away when you see a photo that melts your heart.  Use your head.  Consider your lifestyle, existing family structure, finances and insurance before making a commitment to a child with medical needs.  Make sure you understand the worst case scenario scope of the need.  Talk to medical professionals and other families with experience. 

Accept that you must accept some unknowns.  Accept the potential for the medical information in a child’s file to be wrong.  When we were getting ready to adopt the first time, a friend told me “don’t be afraid to accept a child who has a heart condition.  Sometimes when you get them home, you’ll find they are perfectly healthy”.  While there isn’t anything wrong with hoping for the best, going in assuming a medical diagnosis in a file is wrong isn’t smart.  Does this happen?  Sure, but things go the other way, too. 

“Minor need” can be a relative term.  There are some things that one person might consider minor that would be a major issue for another family.  Cleft palate is something many families consider minor because it can be surgically corrected.  However, a palate closure may involve multiple surgeries, dental work and speech therapies over several years.  What isn’t a biggie for one family might be beyond the scope of what another family can handle.  Use your head.  Apply the particulars of the need to your family. 
Have a financial plan

Be financially ready for adoption.  Know the costs of the program up front and know when you will pay for what.  Any reputable agency will give you a fee schedule up front.  If an agency gives you an ambiguous or vague answer when asked about fees – find another agency.  Most families don’t have the money to finance an adoption hanging out in their couch cushions, but it is important to have a plan for where the money will come from.  Adoptions shouldn’t be held up once in progress because the parents can’t meet the financial obligations.  Use your head.  Have a plan.   

Get smart
Learn.  Get educated.  Take your parent education seriously but don’t stop there.  Read all you can about bonding & attachment, issues facing the post institutional child, the culture of your child’s birth country, and about their particular medical needs or conditions.  Talk to your social worker.  Talk to your doctor.  Talk to other parents.  Read books, look at websites.  Be as prepared as you possibly can while understanding international adoption is something you can never be fully prepared for. 
In summary
Our family’s adoption story started with a tug on my heart when I saw another family with children adopted from China.  The visual of seeing that mother with her children had a significant emotional impact that left a lingering gut feeling that can only be described as “this is my path – I know it.” 
It is impossible to come to the decision to adopt internationally without emotions being involved.  It is impossible to get through the adoption journey without experiencing every emotion that there is on a level you probably didn’t know existed. 
So, open your ears and listen to your heart.  Don’t be afraid to trust in your gut now and then.  But allow your heart and your gut to work in tandem with your brain when making the very best decision for your family and for the child you hope to bring in to your fold.  And then hold on.  This has been the craziest, scariest, most joyful ride of my life. 

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