Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Adoption Q & A

It seems as though everyone wants to adopt or is planning to adopt.  At least once a month, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again.  Don't get me wrong!  I LOVE talking about adoption for 3 obvious reasons :) It's just that in an effort to be thorough in my responses, I spend so much time grueling over the same answers as before.  In an attempt to save myself some time and to make sure I don't miss anything, I figured I'd just get a list of FAQs going here and I could add to them over time.  You'll understand when you see the length of this. :)  Happy reading!

*Disclaimer:  These answers will have LOTS of my own opinions.  If you don't agree...I don't judge you.  If I offend you...I'm sorry.  I feel VERY strongly about these things and feel a sense of obligation to educate people about these topics, or at the very least, to get people thinking.  

**Another disclaimer:  I will not give specifics about any of our children or their specific situations.

Questions for potential adoptive parents and those in process:
How do I know if I'm called to adopt?
Right away, I'm claiming Disclaimer #1.  I don't believe people are "called" to adopt any more than they are "called" to birth a child. Sure, the decision to adopt requires lots of prayer and soul searching, but to say adoption is a calling is to make a child--your child--into a ministry project.  Projects are dropped at the end of a season.  They are passed off to another person when the burden gets too heavy. They are canceled when they don't work out or when they get too expensive.  Adoption is not a project. Adoption is tough.  You can't send a child back, transfer your duties to another person, or quit on them.  If you are looking for a way to minister to orphans, work/volunteer at an adoption agency or orphanage, sponsor an orphan, become a foster parent, send formula to an orphanage, go hold some babies, find a way to help birth families stay together, or help widows so they can take continue to care for their children.

Am I cut out for this?
The truth?  Is anyone cut out for parenthood?  Maybe a better question is, "Am I prepared for this?"  There is no quick answer to this question.  I would say that if you've adequately done your research, have talked everything through and have come to an agreement with those in your household, have found a support group, and know where you can go to get help should you need it, you are probably as prepared as possible.

There are so many unknowns in any adoption process.  Some people are great at the parenting part but struggle greatly during the process.  Others do great right up until the child(ren) come home.  Others seem to be completely unscathed until a year or two later when certain issues arise with the child(ren).  Then, there's the small group of people who seem to have the perfect  adoption story with no bumps.  Always prepare yourself for the worst, hope for the best, and always know that you are not alone.

Do I qualify to adopt?
All programs have different requirements, as do all adoption agencies.  Status and length of marriage, age minimums and maximums, weight and health, parenting experience, income or net worth, how many children are in the home, and criminal history are just some of the things that programs have standards for.

Where can I find a support group, and what can I expect from the group?
Most adoption agencies have a support group for each of their country programs, and you will be plugged into that group upon acceptance to the program.  There are also many forums for discussions on Yahoo Forums, and on Facebook that can be found with a simple web search.  Some of these groups are specific to country, age, special needs, agency, skin and hair concerns, etc.

These groups and forums are a good place to share your experience and learn about those of others.  You will often become close friends with those in the group because only they know exactly what this process is like.  It's a good place to ask questions that you don't want to bug your agency with, such as "What kind of food did your child like when he/she came home?"  "How should I dress when I travel next week?"  "Has anyone else had difficulty with XYZ, and how did you deal with it?"  "What kinds of bugs (specific strains of viruses, parasites, etc.) have the children been coming home with, and what meds worked for them?"  It's also a really good place to vent when things aren't going as you expected.

Please be careful though.  These forums tend to get gossipy, and because small problems get blown out of proportion, they can contribute to even more anxiety throughout the process.  There is also no way to know where information is coming from, so be careful taking paperwork, medical, and legal advice.

What are the steps of the adoption process?
Every process is different.  The process is ever-changing.  But simply put, these are the basic steps that apply to all adoptions (with variation in times, details, and order of the steps).

Apply and be accepted by an agency.  Hire a home study agency.  Complete preliminary home study requirements and back ground checks. Have several home visits from a social worker.  Social worker completes home study report.  Obtain permission from US government to immigrate an orphan child. Compile and submit dossier to adoption agency.  Go on wait list, or request a waiting child.  Be approved for specific waiting child, or receive a referral.  Formally accept referral of child(ren).  Dossier goes to be matched with child(ren)'s paperwork.  Child's country must release child for adoption.  Courts in child's country issue an adoption decree. Child's country issues birth certificate with adoptive parents' names.  Child obtains foreign passport, medical clearance from a US approved doctor, and a heap of other paperwork.  Child applies to US embassy/consulate for a visa to enter the USA.  Adoptive parents bring the child home.  Post-placement reports are filed by social worker at various intervals.  Yearly reports are filed by parents till child turns 18.

Some countries require parents to travel more than once depending on court requirements.

Your agency will be able to give you a more detailed check list.  Several of the steps may be in process at the same time.

How much does it cost to adopt?
Every adoption is different.  Only your agency can give you an accurate estimate, and it really depends on the country you are adopting from, how many children you bring home, and cost and frequency of travel.  A rough guess would be anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000 per child.

Why is adoption so expensive?
I think most people understand the basic application fees, homestudy fees, and such.  It's the large country fee that people really don't understand.

Much like the question "Why does it take so long?" there is just a lot of paperwork, a lot of applications, a lot of approvals that must be obtained.  All of those cost money.  You are paying for an original birth record, an updated birth record with your name on it, a passport for the child, a Visa for the child, immigration expenses, lots of translating fees, lots of foreign notaries, 6 months to 2+ years of food, clothing, housing, medical and child care, etc.

When do I have to pay?
Your agency should give you a detailed pay schedule, but generally you will pay the initial agency application fee right at the beginning, the home study fee as soon as you find a home study agency, the fee to the US government when you apply (immediately after home study report is complete) for permission to immigrate an orphan,  the dossier fee when you submit it to your agency, the country fee (that's the largest amount) when you accept a referral, and of course travel fees whenever that time comes.   You will also have to pay for post-placement services to your home study agency.  Some agencies require to pay for that along with the home study, some at the time of referral, and some not until the child is home.

All along the way, you will have notary fees, and at the beginning you will also have little things that add up such as obtaining extra copies of birth certificates, etc.

How can I afford adoption? 
Agencies will always tell you not to allow money to get in your way of adopting.  There are many scholarships and grants available, but you should not count on then.  The competition for those is fierce as a result of the current economy.  It is however, quite easy to find interest-free adoption loans.

Many people choose to fundraise for their adoption, and this is an option.  I, personally, do not advocate this.  People who birth children naturally don't solicit funds to cover the bills, nor do people who choose the costly route of in-vitro, hormone therapy, surrogate, etc.  It is a personal decision to grow a family by whatever means, therefore it should be a personal expense.  If someone chooses to help financially without being solicited, that's fine.  My problem is when people expect others to fund the growth of their family.  Another hang-up I have about fundraising is that when taxes are filed, in some cases, much of the money spent on adoption is applied to a tax credit or tax refund.  In the case of fundraising, the adoptive family would be spending someone else's money and then getting it back for themselves, thus financially profiting from adopting.  Unless they plan to give every dollar back to each person who contributed, it's stealing and is tax fraud.

If adoption is something you are serious about, then you will find ways to save money.  From the time I was married, my husband and I lived an extremely frugal life, saving an obscene amount of each pay check for adoption.  We kept our grocery bill below $30 per week (yes, it is possible).  We shopped at Goodwill for our clothes, we survived on Ramen noodles the 2 weeks prior to our biggest bill being due, we went for walks in the park instead of going for a cup of coffee, we walked to the store instead of driving, we rode public busses.  Money was very tight for us for about 3 years so that we could fund the adoption of our boys.  We even took out a loan so that we could have some emergency money in our account.  (We did receive the adoption tax credit after 2 years, and thankfully, that's what put us in a position to be able to adopt our little girl.)  I'm not saying all of this to complain, but to show that it can be done.  I am tired of hearing the money excuse from people who want to adopt, but say they can't afford it.  If you truly cannot do this, then it is my humble opinion that you have no business bringing children into your home...okay, I'm off my soap box now.

The adoption tax credit may or may not help you after your adoption is complete and you won't know till much later if it will, so don't count on that as a payback.

What is the adoption tax credit?
There is an adoption tax credit/refund that comes and goes depending on the tax laws that are/are not  renewed each year.  These are ever changing, and can't be predicted.  You will file for these credits/refunds in the year that your adoption is complete.  There is no way of know what the laws will be one to three years down the road when your adoption is complete.  Do not count on getting your money back.  The most current report that I've seen from Missy Frost Westergard, a CPA with adopted children, is as follows:
During the fiscal cliff debate the adoption credit was going to be severly limited. However with the law that was signed January 2, 2013 here is the updated adoption tax credit information - 
2013 - maximum credit is $12,970
AGI phase out from $194,580 through $234,580
The best part is that the credit now has no expiration date!
The only detail I don't know is if it is a refundable credit for 2013, it was for 2011, but not for 2012.
Even if it is not refundable it can be carried over.
The credit is taken the year that the adoption is finalized, prior to that if you took placement in a prior year, and prior to placement, apply for an ATIN # to file your tax return and claim your adopted child until you can get a Social Security #
As you can see, even CPAs don't understand it all.  Upon filing your taxes, you can ask for a tax advocate.  In fact, most people have little success without the assistance of an advocate.  It's a free service, and in essence, his/her job is to walk your file through the process.  When you request such a credit/refund, there is a ton of paperwork that is requested and it really helps to have one person overseeing your file.  And by all means, keep a file of all your receipts, along with all adoption paperwork.

How do I choose an adoption agency? 
First of all, do your research!  This decision is what will make or break your entire adoption process.  Ask around to see what agencies others have used and get first-hand feedback.  (If you are really serious about this and really want an agency recommendation, contact me privately.) Do a quick google search for "Hague accredited adoption agencies."  Even if you are adopting from a non-Hague country, the adoption agency should be accredited, meaning they have gone through a process to prove that they are functioning ethically.  The last thing you want is to bring a child home only to find out that s/he was unethically removed from a loving family.

Some agencies are big and have been around seemingly forever.  Pros:  They have a proven track record, are more established and less likely to shut down, are more likely to have leverage if something gets held up on foreign soil, are more likely to be there for you after the adoption, often have their own social workers so you don't have to hire a home study agency, can often provide post-adoption services and activities, have adoptee camps for older children, will always have your file stored, etc.  Cons: being they tend to be more politically correct, give you the company line, and not directly answer your questions.  They take more of the "just trust us, we know what we are doing" approach.

Other agencies are smaller mom and pop agencies (still talking Hague acredited).  Pros:  They are more likely to take more time in answering your individual questions, tend to be more personable, aren't as easily bothered by yet another email or phone call ;) , can recall all of your case's information without having to look it up, give you realistic answers and opinions about special circumstances, are less likely to have used up their political capitol.  Cons:  May not have as much relationship established with foreign governments, may not have a standardized procedure, may not be around in 10 years for adoptee services, don't usually have their own social workers.

I feel obligated to mention that you should NOT shop for agencies based on price.  All agencies should have very similar costs for the same programs.  If it seems cheeper with one agency, it's likely that they didn't figure in things like notary costs, background checks, cost of getting birth/marriage certificates, etc.  If it seems more expensive, it's likely because you are being given a high estimate.  There's no way to greatly change the price of adoption as the country sets the biggest chunk of it, and the other costs only have a minimal variance.

If you are an expat, please also see the section specifically for you.

How do I choose from where to adopt?
The first big decision is to choose between domestic and international adoption.  Admittedly, domestic adoption is not something I know much about.  From the beginning we knew we wanted to go the international route. Domestic adoption is definitely less expensive, but the legalities can be drawn out seemingly forever and birth families often have time to "change their minds".  With domestic adoption, you may have access to more of the child's family and medical history, and you may be able to first foster the child.  Medical and social issues differ greatly between domestic and international adoption, so you may want to take those things into consideration.

If you have chosen international adoption, unless you have a specific country in mind, my advice is to choose an agency first then see which countries you qualify for (financial, medical, age, number of children, marital status and length of marriage), and which countries can match the child profile you are wanting (age, gender, race, special needs).  Most likely the qualifications and child profile will leave you with only one or two options.  You may also want to look at prospective wait times and program stability.

How do I choose a social worker/home study agency?
Much of the information about finding an adoption agency also applies to finding someone to complete a home study.  DO NOT just go out and hire someone.  You should FIRST have an adoption agency, as some will only work with certain social workers, and some will provide one for you.  At the very least, the adoption agency should give you a place to start looking for a social worker.

If you do have a choice in social worker, the best option is to find someone based on the recommendation of others.  Look for someone who is knowledgable.  It helps if they have adopted, or at least have kids themselves.  Look for someone you feel comfortable talking with.  S/he will be your #1 resource, cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, and much more.  This is the person that will be finding our all the juicy details of your family life.  You need to feel comfortable enough to open up and also to ask difficult questions.  Many people do not know that a social worker will follow your journey for a minimum of 6 months after placement.  If you aren't comfortable or have totally different ideas about parenting and adoption, it's a long time to have to swallow your thoughts.

And, by all means, make sure your social worker's license is current in your state.

What is a home study like?  Are the visits scary?
In the beginning of your adoption process, you will contact (or be put in contact with) a home study agency.  You will most likely be given the most grueling questionnaire you've ever filled out.  I'm  almost in shivers remembering filling out the 100+ questions about every topic you could ever imagine. Truly, that's the worst part.  This is usually the time when the not-so-serious-about-adopting people are weeded out.  It's like a rite of passage in the adoption world ;)

After the questions and some back ground checks are completed, you'll be assigned a social worker.  S/he will visit your home several times and go over the questions and ask for more details in some areas.  If you are hiding any skeletons, they will be found.   S/he will also spend time making sure that you are as prepared as possible to bring a child into your home and family, and will answer any questions you have.

A small part (but the part most people stress about most) is the walk-through.  The social worker will do a quick walk-through of your home.  S/he is not looking for a dirt-free, perfectly organized, perfectly decorated home.  S/he is looking for safety.  Is it clean enough to be safe for a child?  Are there multiple fire escapes?  Do you have smoke detectors, CO2 detectors (if you have gas heat/stove) and fire extinguishers?  Unless you already have kids, s/he isn't even concerned with things like outlet covers, safety latches, etc.  Social workers know that you have a long wait before a child is actually in your home, and those things can come later. S/he is also not concerned with a room being prepared for the child(ren).  It's unlikely that you know if you will end up with a boy/girl or what age/size they are, so they do not expect a ready room.  S/he will understand that for another year or more, that room can still be used for other purposes, as long as you have a plan for making room.

What kinds of topics are covered in a home study?
Anything and everything.  Your past, your marital relationship, how you were raised, how you plan to raise your children, education plans, plans to incorporate child's heritage, how you plan to address attachment/bonding issues, how your family feels about adoption.

What's in a dossier and how long does it take to put together?
Dossiers are different for each agency and for each country.  Some agencies have a standard dossier that they use so that if a client decides to switch to a different country, the same papers can still be used.  Other agencies require the minimum that the country asks for.

It may include things like background checks, home study report, marriage certificates, medical clearance forms, financial statements, letters from an employer, recommendation letters, US government approval letter etc.  Your agency will have a detailed list.  You can also hire people to put this all together for you.  As long as you are organized though, it isn't that hard to do yourself.

The time it takes to complete is largely in your hands.  You can be "paper chasing" at the same time as your Social Worker is just opening your file.  There's no reason you can't be collecting recommendation letters, marriage certificates, etc while you are waiting on the home study to be finished.  Another thing you will have to wait on is the letter from the US government saying that you have permission to immigrate an orphan.  Some adoption agencies allow you to submit the dossier without this approval, which is nice because it can take 4 months to get back.

How long is the wait?
Wait times are different for each country, each agency, and change from month to month.  When you choose an agency and country program, they will give you an estimated wait time.  Some agencies give very conservative estimates, while others try to lure you in with the fastest times they've seen.  My advice is to get on the support page (yahoo forum, etc) for your chosen program and get a feel for the true times, but at the same time, don't compare your wait time to anyone else's.  I've seen people who begin the exact same program at the exact same time come out with over a year difference in their time-lines.

Our first social worker told us, "Be prepared for a 2 year wait (at the time it was advertised as 6-9 months) and then you can celebrate IF it comes sooner." 

Our second adoption experience taught us to also be prepared (financially, emotionally, in every way) just in case it happens much sooner than expected.

Why does it take so long?
Think about how long it takes to get a drivers license, cancel a bank account, get a copy of an already-existing birth record, sell/buy a home, schedule a doctor's appointment, obtain a passport.  Now think about doing those things in a society without computers, where everything is just on paper.  Then think about all the paperwork necessary to accomplish those tasks, and add translating them into another language.  Many of the countries have multiple languages, and the child's paperwork may be in a combination of these languages, not to mention, all yours is in English.  Think about all the errors that could easily occur and how on official paperwork, one date or name spelling makes all the difference.  Add to all of this a process where a large part of it is in a developing country where there are no standard procedures.  Every time one piece of paper crosses a desk, the person checking it could be looking for something completely different.  There are just a lot of steps, and you are dealing with 2 government agencies who don't always agree.  It just takes time and there's no way around that!

Do I get to choose a child?
Yes and no.  Many programs have a "Waiting Child List".  This is simply a list of harder to place children.  They may have minor to major special needs, they may be a large sibling group, or they may just be a little bit older.  If you see one of these children that you are interested in, you can apply specifically for that child.  Your adoption agency along with your social worker will look at all the applications put in for that child and will select the family with the "best fit".

If you do not want a waiting child, you will give your agency a child profile (it will also be in your home study report) stating an age range, gender preference, and list of medical issues you will and won't consider.  When your time comes on the waiting list, you will be given a referral that matches the child profile you gave.  You may accept or decline the referral, but if you decline it must be for a "good" reason.  You can't just say, "Oh, I don't like her hair." An acceptable answer may be, "I just don't think our family is prepared for a child that is completely blind.  If it was in one eye, that'd be okay, but both is too much." If you decline, be prepared to go back to the beginning of the wait list.

What age child is better to adopt?
This is completely a matter of personal preference, so I'll just give you some topics to get you thinking.  Only you can decide what you are prepared for.  Please know that these are general statements and there are always execptions.

0-1 year old--Bond quickly to whomever is meeting their most basic needs.  Adjustment issues most likely show themselves in sleeping patterns.  Will not have "baggage" of past memories to deal with.  In the long term will grieve the lack of memories and an unknown family history.  Are easiest to find families for.

1-3 years old--Supposedly the most difficult age in the short term because they are aware that their world is changing but lack the communication skills to talk about it.  Once they feel stable in their new environment, they do well incorporating into a new life.  Are young enough to correct behavior.

4-5 years old--Old enough to talk through what's going on.  Will be frustrated because they have cognitive ability to understand, but possibly not the English skills to adequately converse.  In the short term, they will remember their "old life" and will need to grieve that.  Memories will fade over time and they may grieve (or feel guilty about) loosing them.  Will be able to give you a general picture of what their life was like before.  Will remember their birth family and will possibly always struggle with loyalty to them. May be difficult to correct learned behavior

5+ years old--Will have more difficulty transitioning between languages.  Will definitely have memories, both positive and negative.  Will have lots of grieving to do and will need lots of therapeutic communication.  Have the ability to completely understand why they are part of an adoption story.  Can be very difficult to correct learned behavior. Are the most difficult to find families for. Will not have time to do extensive bonding with you before heading off to school.

How is adopting a sibling group different from a single child?
I am a big fan of sibling adoption!  Having 2 or more children who share a common past have a special bond with each other.  They are the only people who can truly understand the story of their adoption.  We found in adopting our boys (then 2.5 an 3.5 years old), they were able to communicate with each other even when they couldn't talk with us.  Our older boy understood what was happening and when he was calm and cool, so was the younger boy.  When they were scared, or unsure, they clung to each other.  They climbed into each others' beds at night, one would try out a new food before the other, if one boy trusted someone, so would the other, etc.  They also held on to their language much longer because they were able to practice with each other.  They only stopped using it (eventually forgetting it) when their English vocabulary surpassed their language. Now, 3 years later, the younger boy looks to the older to tell him their story of when they lived elsewhere.  It's nice that the memories of one can be passed to the other.

I do not feel like the bond between our two boys hindered the development of our bond with them (as some people have wondered about that).  Actually, I think it helped them to feel at ease more quickly, allowing them to drop their guards and let us in.

If you don't have any children yet, adopting siblings provides a built-in play mate.  If you already have multiple biological children, having 2 that share a history may help them to not feel quite as weary of being different.

We have also adopted a single child, but she was only 18 months old at the time, so it's a totally different story.  I will say however, that our two boys have never made any differentiation between her and them in regards to a biological connection. Hopefully that day won't come!

Is adopting special needs children faster or less expensive?
The only way that it speeds up the process is if you choose a "Waiting Child", thus not being put on the wait list which can be months to years long.

Don't count on it being less expensive.  True, there are often scholarships for Waiting Children and children with special needs, but do remember that in the long run, medical bills, and extra accommodations will add up too.

How much information will I have about the child(ren) before bring him/her/them home?
Again, this really depends on the agency and how much information they have.  You must remember that agencies are dealing with developing countries, slow internet in that country, language barriers, understaffing, and much more that most of us will never know.  Many times, the caregivers are so tied up caring for the children, and there just isn't enough manpower to communicate everything that the adoptive parents would want to know.  You will need to be prepared to give grace in this area!

Generally speaking, when you are given a file for consideration, you are given a picture (if you get more than one, consider yourself lucky), a one-page medical/developmental profile, and a one-page history form stating why the child is placed for adoption.  That's it!

Most agencies do their best to get updated pictures every 2 months or so while you wait.  You most likely will not get updated, medical reports--that's a good thing.  Usually you will only receive medical updates if the child(ren) is extremely sick, or if they have severe special needs requiring continuing care.

Are adopted children covered by medical insurance?
YES.  By law adopted children are covered under the parents' insurance plan.  Many insurance companies conveniently forget about this, and you may need to remind them that you know it is the law.  You will need to contact them as soon as you have received a referral and ask them what documentation and medical exams they will require.  Generally you will be asked to submit court decrees, medical records, and initial Stateside medical exams.  You need to know before you pick up your child what lab tests they require, and you will need an appointment with a pediatrician within a week of being home.

What kind of medical precautions do I need to take?
I suggest seeing a pediatrician within a week of being home.  Depending on how much time you've had with the child(ren), you want a few days to build up a little bit of trust just because doctors can be scary, especially when blood draws and shots are involved.  At the same time, you don't want to put it off.  One of our dear friends adopted a child and a severe medical problem until several months later.  It nearly cost her life!

Adoption agencies suggest you see a doctor who specializes in adoptions because they know all the "special bugs" to look for.  We have never done that, BUT we did do our research.  We knew about the "special bugs" specific to our country, and we were prepared to make sure the doctors were checking for them.  Your agency should provide a resource of common, country-specific medical issues.

What do I do while I wait?
Read. Read. Read.  Educate yourself on all things adoption, attachment, bonding, etc. Find a support group (ie yahoo forum for your specific program). Decorate the room.  Knock a few things off your bucket list.  Go on lots of dates.  Spend time making memories with the family you already have (kids/spouse).  Fix up your house.  Finish those projects.  Combat adoption stress by getting out of the house.  

What is the adjustment like?
It's different for everyone.  I've heard horror stories.  I've heard fairy tale stories.  In all scenarios, you can expect some level of adjustment.  There are so many layers of change for all involved.  In adoption classes, you'll learn about 2 triangles.  One is positive and one is negative.  Each point on the triangle represents (1)the birth family, (2) the adoptive family, and (3) the child.  Every party both gains and looses a lot through the adoption process.  Try thinking about this from each perspective, and you can begin to imagine all the change and emotions that will go along with each one.   Each child will react differently to these changes depending on their previous situation, stability, understanding of the situation, trauma, grief, ability to communicate in new language, etc.   Each member of your current home will also experience a whole spectrum of emotions and changes.

The most important advice we received regarding adjustment and bonding was to guard our family well.  For several months after being home, only the parents should be allowed to hold, cuddle, and provide for the child(ren)'s needs.  For several weeks, the family should be prepared to stay home and  resist the urge to show off the new addition(s).  Babies and young children, especially, should not be passed around, and even the closest relatives need to respect this boundary.  It is pertinent that all child's initial bonding energy be put into the child-parent relationship. Generally speaking, this is hardest on grandparents and close family friends as they feel entitled to be allowed 'in', so it's definitely something you want to discuss before picking up your child(ren).   If they understand the reasoning they are more likely to be respectful.

Most people have never heard about PAD (Post Adoption Depression), but I'll tell you that it is a real thing, and much like PPD (Post-Pardom Depression), it's nothing to be ashamed of and it's okay to seek professional help.

Is there any help available to help with bonding or other adoption issues after my child comes home?
Sure!  Your social worker will be your #1 resource.  S/he will be able to talk you through a lot of issues, but will also know when his/her expertise has reached its limit and can refer you to an adoption counselor.  Please do not be afraid to call your social worker with any concerns or questions you have.

Will I "fall in love" just the same as with a biological child?
I strongly believe "love" is a choice.  Each day, you choose to love your husband, your child, your mom, your in-laws.  There will times that you don't feel love for your child, but that doesn't mean you don't love him/her.  Does a mother really feel love for their infant when he is SCREAMING his head off at 2 in the morning even after a feeding?  NO.  Would that same mother lay down her life for her son?  ABSOLUTELY.  I think it's the same way with adopted children.  As long as you don't differentiate between biological and adopted children, there is no reason it should be any different.  The situations may be different (possibly more difficult) with an adopted child, but the love is the same.

How do I talk about adoption with my adopted child?
In one word, OPENLY.  Simply put, you should be completely honest in answering the questions your child has.  This does not mean that you need to tell him/her everything, but what you do tell needs to be honest.  Even if an answer is, just a small snippet of the full story, it's okay.  If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say, "I don't know."

The biggest thing is that you must come to the realization that your child's story didn't start when s/he came into your home.  There is a chapter that was written before you and you owe it to your child to recognize and honor that chapter.  Many people will create what's commonly known as a "Life Book". It's like a baby book for adopted children and may include pictures or biographical sketches of the birth family, a picture of the area where the child was found, sample pictures depicting culture and heritage, character traits nannies commented on, etc.  Some will create this book with their child, including the child's memories and such.  I've also heard of people making several books at different levels as the child grows, adding in more details of the story.

I strongly suggest writing and addressing a letter to your child for when they turn 18 in the case that something happens to you.  In that letter, detail EVERYTHING you know about their past.  You may be your child's only connection to his/her past.

How do I deal with birth parents/family?
In the case that you have a closed adoption, as is the case in nearly all international adoptions, the most you will be able to do is have a single conversation with them when you travel to pick up your child(ren), and send pictures through your adoption agency occasionally.  I say "most" because many times, even that much contact is not allowed/possible. 

Questions for expats:
What is it like living in another country with adopted children?
There are many advantages to living overseas with adopted children.  TCK's (Third Culture Kids-although ours are 5th or 6th) get such a variety of global culture.  By living overseas, they are learning just how diverse the world is and are learning to appreciate everyone and every culture.  They are not just being absorbed into "white America" where they are expected to conform to the American standard.  Another advantage is that we have been extremely blessed to find a huge fellowship of people who share our kids' heritage, and this helps a lot in building their confidence in knowing that there are others like them living here.  This is a huge perk to living where we do, as we know we would not have this in the US.

We find that locals don't understand adoption and they tend to assume that we only adopt because of infertility, though that's not at all our story.  It's a really good chance to share about the many children in the world who need families.  It's an excellent opportunity to educate people on the miracle of adoption.  I've never had a conversation end negatively.  People are always amazed to know that such a thing (as adoption) exists.

Our experience is that people are quite welcoming to children who look different from themselves.  Sure, we get occasional rude comments, but I have heard far worse and much more frequent comments when visiting the US.  The biggest difference overseas is that people spend more time gazing at our family.  They are very curious!  They are trying to figure out our story and how our family came to be.  Every once in a while, when I've had enough, I go out on my own, and realize it's not just my children.  Even when I'm alone, I get the same looks.  We're different, we stand out, and when people are watching us intently, it's usually with a smile on their faces.  We also get a lot of people wanting to take pictures of our children.  Actually, that is our biggest issue, and we quite often catch people trying to sneak pictures with their phones.

We have learned a few techniques for those times when people are overly intrusive.  We don't have to use them often, but I'll share them with you anyway.
  • Body blocking.  One of the parents simply moves to block the line of sight between the offender and the children
  • Calmly staring back.  They quickly get the point that they've "been caught".
  • Fatherly glare.  It doesn't work so well coming from Mama, but a stern look from Papa bear lets people know they'd better back off.
  • Picture permission.  We require every person wanting to take a picture of our kids to get permission from them.  Our kids are allowed to politely say, "No thank you," but in most cases when people are polite, the kids will agree.
  • Picture blocking.  This is the same as body blocking.  One of us just happens to move in the way of their shot.  If someone tries to take a picture without first asking, they are automatically denied picture permission.
  • Ducking.  Our boys have gotten really quick at ducking down when they see someone coming to rub their heads. This has been a great skill, even in America
  • Language.  Having the kids learn a few key phrases such as, "Please don't touch me," "Please stop staring at me," and "I understand what you are saying, so please don't talk about me," goes a long way.  Actually it changes the situation into a conversation about how good the kids' Chinese is. It's also good for them to learn a little stronger language such as, "Hey, stop that," "Leave me alone," and "Don't you dare touch me again," for using with kids or persistent adults.  Ask a local what works best in the culture.  There is always street language that works better than what you learn from a book.
  • Bail out.  Of course, we are trying to teach our kids to to handle their own problems, but we are always there to step in and come to their defense or remove them from the situation.
Is it harder to adopt while living overseas?  Are there any extra steps?
My biggest advice is to search for an agency who has experience working with expats from your country (If you need a recommendation, contact me privately).  There is lots of mailing back and forth, so you'll really need to coordinate with them to minimize the number of transactions required.  They'll need to give you a COMPLETE list of all forms you need so that you can take just ONE trip to the embassy/consulate for notaries and fingerprints.   

I would also suggest finding someone to compile your dossier for you.  Of course, you will be sending this person the forms and such, but it's good to have a US address for the various certificates and forms to be sent.  You'll have people sending you refrence forms, birth certificates, marriage certificates, bank letters, back ground checks and more.  You'll also be adding medical checks, letter of intent, and more. It's just really nice to have a centralized place for all those forms to be gathered, and since most of them are coming from the US, and will eventually need to be sent to your agency in the US, it just makes sense to have someone there do it.  There are agencies that will do this for you, but the price is quite steep.  Our agency did it for us for a small fee.  Also, many of the forms need to be notarized, but you may want to ask if you can use an "Attestation form" notarizing an agency representative's signature rather than having them notarize your signature.  The form says something like, "To my knowledge all information is true."  I can't remember the exact legal language, but your agency should know what an "Attestation form" is.  This won't work for all country programs, but for some, just seeing a notary stamp is enough.  

The extras are things such as getting back ground checks from the local police.  Often there is not a procedure established for such a thing.  We had some difficulty in getting medical clearance as doctors here aren't willing to fill out forms or write letters.  They don't understand why you'd go to the doctor if you don't have a problem.  The hardest thing for us came in dealing with our consulate and having them forward our I-171H (Approval to immigrate child to US) the correct place.  Because they don't have a lot of experience with a person living in one country and adopting from another country, they don't know how to do it differently than if we were adopting from this country.  You will need to really stay on top of this and cc all correspondence to you adoption coordinator from your agency.  The coordinator will know all the embassy/consulate lingo and will be able to better instruct them in how to do their job.  Also keep a copy of all correspondence you have with your consulate/embassy and take it with you when you travel.  

Questions for friends of adopters:
How can I help my friend during the adoption process?
Adoption is exhausting at times and the truth is, that unless you've personally adopted, you won't understand what your friend is going through. Make yourself available for when your friend wants to talk, but don't bring it up every day.  I suggest telling your friend that you'd like to know when any news comes (good or bad), but that you don't want to nag him/her.

Many times, adoptive families are not thrown baby showers.  You may consider throwing a baby/toddler shower.

How can I help when my friend first brings her adopted child home?
If the child is older, maybe a welcome home party would be in order.  You should wait to plan this until you know how the child is adjusting and may react to a crowd of people, and should plan it for no sooner than 3-4 weeks after being home.

You should also give your friend some space once he/she is home with the new addition(s).  Bonding takes time, and the more new people that are introduced, the more difficult that process can be.  If you are granted a visit, keep it short and low-key.  Many children are frightened by things such as loud noises or too many people.

You could also volunteer to be "on-call" for grocery runs, or to bring freezer meals.  Anything you'd do for a family just home with a new baby is probably something that would be appreciated for an adoptive family.

Be respectful of the child's story.  It's not the parents' story, but because you are their friend, they may feel pressure to share it with you.  Don't go fishing for explanations.  Most adoptive parents do not share their children's history because they want to leave it for the child to share if he/she wants. If the child is older, don't go asking him/her either.  If the child starts to talk to you, just listen and don't pry for more information.

Are there certain words that should be avoided?
YES!!! Thanks for asking!

Children are not given up for adoption, they are relinquished, available or placed for adoption.
They were not abandoned, but rather found.
They do not have real parents, but birth parents.
Don't make a differentiation between biological and adopted children.  Just saying children is sufficient.

Questions from adopted kids and how to answer:
These are just some sample answers.  Every situation is different, and only you will know how much your child can handle at any point.  

How much did you pay for me?
I've always answered this question with, "We didn't pay for you.  We didn't buy you.  We paid for your care, your diapers, your clothes, your food, your rent, your nanny's salary, your passport, your medical care, and lots and lots of paperwork."

Why can't I go back to see _____ or to live with ______?  What about just to see where I used to live?
The law (or adoption agreement) does not allow it.  We promised that we would never have any contact, and your birth family promised the same.  When you are x years old (15, 18, etc) if you want to go visit the area you are originally from, we will take you there.

How could someone just drop me off somewhere?
I don't know.  For some reason, they just were not able to care for you in the way they wanted, so they hoped that somehow you would be given a better life.  In the case of found children, usually the birth families know that international adoption will be the ultimate result, and that accomplishes the goal without them having to be drug through the legal process.  In the case of relinquishment, the options are thoroughly examined (assuming you are using an ethical agency) and adoption is the only viable option.  Either way, all your birth family wanted for you was a better life.

If you have any other questions, please let me know, and I'll do my best add them here.

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