Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Were You Prepared for Adoption?

I picked up the phone one night at 2 a.m. and found myself talking to a father in China who said they couldn't go through with their adoption of a child with cleft.

"When she eats, stuff comes out of her nose," he told me.

"That's perfectly normal in a child with cleft", I tried to reassure, thinking quietly to myself that surely they should have known this before they traveled.

"It's really freaking us out," he said. "We don't think this is the right child for our family." After listening for a few more moments, I knew the decision had already been made in their hearts. They would not be bringing her home despite anything I could tell them.

I hung up from that call troubled, as disruption always makes me sad, but I was also realistic in knowing that if the family felt disgust towards their new daughter, then that certainly wasn't a good situation for the child. But I did have to ask myself how someone could go a whole year of paperchasing and waiting to adopt through the waiting child path and NOT take the time to educate themselves on their new child's special need.

And so that is the question for today's blog. Were you prepared to adopt internationally? What books did you read to get ready? If you adopted a child with special needs, did you do research in advance? Was there anything that you absolutely weren't ready for? Did you have any moments during your adoption trip when you thought, 'I don't think I can do this?" Let's share any and all advice for people considering international adoption, especially through the special needs path.

I am a firm believer that education is essential. What have YOU learned from the journey?

And don't forget to keep following our cleft exchange in Shanghai. Visit our story blog for more details and links to absolutely great photos.



  1. I adopted twice. Both times from foreign countries and both times children who were physically disabled. The first time I traveled blind. I had read every book I could find on adoption. I was given a list of nine special needs children, each with a birtdate, gender and one sentence diagnosis. Because a previous refferal with a limb difference had fallen through I had researced limb differences. So I asked to see those children first. My daughter was the child on the top of that list. The second time I adopted, I knew about my son's physical issues. I was completely prepared. I thought I was also prepared for his possible emotional issues. He was six and came with a host of emotional issues that I don't think I could have prepared for. The first year was hard, but he is healing. I read everything I could find about his issues before and after his adoption. Books, websites, groups, etc.

  2. We have adopted twice. Our second daughter was born with a quite difficult special need, imperforate anus. While we did do TONS of research, talked to doctors and other families, we were not prepared for the issues we faced while in China. There were times that I thought, "I can't do this", BUT I also knew that she was our daughter and that we would face her problems head on and get her the help she needed when we returned home. That isn't to say that there weren't many tears and lots of "what if's" spoken while we were in country. Thankfully, we had arranged contact with a doctor specializing in her SN prior to our trip as well as having phone numbers and emails of several families with children with the same SN. I never thought I would need them but it turned out to be the lifesaver that I needed.... a calm reassuring voice that said we could do this.
    I don't understand the families that enter into a adoption without doing their homework, even for a NSN adoption. At the very least, families should set up a support system at home ... of people who SUPPORT the adoption, to have a voice of reason and knowledge. Often times, those two weeks in China are overwhelming and the need to talk to someone who has BTDT would go along way to reducing disruptions and providing that small reasonable voice in the sea of uncertainty.

  3. I was more frightened of being an inexperienced mother than of the special need of my daughter.

    I was lucky to speak to the best doctors for her condition, the problem was I had NO long term experience with children... How do you understand them if they don't speak yet? How do you now if they are ill? How do you change a diapper?... Fortunately they born prepared to deal with inexperienced parents :-)

    And as for SN adoptions I realized that one of the best ways to overcome fears and prejudices is learning and being informed, but seeing the children works wonders!

  4. We adopted twice. Our first daughter was a 9-month old NSN child. The second was a 2-year old SN child (Hep B+). I didn't have any hesitations until we were in China. Life with our then 4-year old had gotten so easy. The trip to China was awesome -- she pulled her own suitcase like a trooper. Why was I adopting a toddler? Things just got "easy"! On the plane from Beijing to Anhui, about 3 hours before meeting our daughter, I told my husband that I couldn't do it and that I was going to be sick. I was soooo sick to my stomach and thought I was making a big mistake. We got to the Civil Affairs building and waited in a room -- she walked in, and, I kid you not, the moment I saw her I thought, "I can do this!" Seeing her and being with her made all the difference.

    Her special need is one that isn't seen and one that we need to deal with as far as who we disclose info to, etc. We also have no way of knowing if her health will get better or worse -- but I LOVE that I'm the one to be through it all with her.

  5. Our first daughter was adopted at 9 months old, NSN. When we decided to adopt again, she was already 5, so we were open to an older child as a little sister. We knew we could handle certain special needs, but our circumstances would limit the severity of special need. We simultaneously signed up for the NSN and Waiting Child programs with our agency.

    The first call we got was a child that had multiple SNs. Any one of them we might have been able to handle, but the combination would have thrown our family into permanent chaos. We had determine that we could only parent one more child and we needed to be able to do that successfully - this attitude helped us deal with the heartbreak of turning down this child. However, it did open our eyes to needs that we did not previously know about that we could handle. A month later, we got a second call about a waiting child who is now our daughter.

    Education is key, but going special needs is also a process. We changed our SN profile multiple times as we learned of needs we could handle. Knowing ourselves was as important as knowing the various special needs. Talking to others who have children with the SNs we were considering was critical to both our knowledge and comfort level.

  6. We have adopted 4 times and our first two were nsn daughters and our second were two sn boys; first one adopted at 17 months with unrepaired cleft lip palate and second adopted at 7 years with a repaired cleft lip palate. When we first decided to go the SN route and ask for a cleft affected boy, we had to write in the Letter of Intent our "plan to rehabilitate" which was when we had our eyes opened. We weren't sure if our son's lip would be repaired before we arrived and I was concerned that I would have a hard time loving him with a "not pretty" lip. I was afraid of food coming through the nose and that he would be able to eat and drink properly. We even left our girls home (cost affected us also), but thought we might need to spend more time with him. He was great and our easiest child to adopt. He didn't cry when we adopted him, and we got him in for a dr.'s app't when we got home and about 2 months later had surgery. We got him into speech therapy right away and he's doing GREAT. Our eldest daughter has speech issues and she is nsn but is a tongue thruster and has a lazy tongue, so she's had speech since 3 years (we waited thinking her late speech was related to learning Chinese first.) She is still somewhat difficult to understand. I mention this to say there are no guarantees with SN and NSN. Our oldest son at 7 was our hardest adoption and we knew that there might be attachment issues (there are/have been). His cleft was repaired, but he had never had speech therapy, so he is very, very difficult to understand (3 years since adoption). He also became our oldest child and was our last adoption. Adopting an older child was harder than I thought it would be, but we absolutely believe all 4 of our children were meant to be our children and we are a grateful, blessed family. Having a biological child doesn't guarantee there aren't the same problems we have dealt with (speech therapy, surgeries, and adjustment/obedience or behavior issues. Adopting a special needs child is gaining a child and we have such joy from each of our children!

  7. I do believe it is imperative to talk to as many people as you can with various experiences and experience with the special need (and age) that you are considering, read as much as you can, and talk to not just your pediatrician but also the specialists you would potentially be using regarding the needs you are considering (also if you are considering an older child adoption, talk to your schools regarding services ahead of you have more to think about). I think it is imperative too that you discuss all these things with your spouse or have them read it all too and hear the discussions from others. Despite overpreparing myself, I still felt overwhelmed in China as the jet lag hit me, my spouse was too excited to sleep well up until Gotcha Day, and sometimes you just have something seem to hit you out of the blue with regard to your child's condition. We both went into two different adoptions knowing we were not going to leave China without our child (either time)...lots of determination to help each child. One thing we definitely were not prepared for at all was a child who at 2 1/2 would refuse to sleep the night before leaving China, sleep very intermittently on all the plane rides home, screaming and crying(with nothing helping to stop it--not offers of various kinds of food, not drinks, not toys, not walking up and down aisles, etc....she stayed awake almost the entire 48 hours (that's counting the night before leaving China and riding back home), and nope she was NOT sick. She just was nervous and very strong willed (and probably had learned how to cry that long in an orphanage and was strong enough to do so)...I think. She slept fine in China until that last night. I think the sight of a suitcase set her off that last night as we were packing. That was something I would like to have known how to deal with better. I have raised many other children and never seen a child who could go for so long without much sleep and keep up the crying for long periods. We made it though. We are enjoying being her parents (but it was the most difficult thing to go through during that initial adjustment period). Parenting takes a lot of have to be willing to make it through all the good and all the hard stuff (even the unexpected stuff). Think about special needs in this way too: If you were giving birth to a child and were suddenly surprised with how they looked or had a birth defect, would you give up your child? If your child or spouse were in a bad car accident at some point in their lives, would you give them up because of their disability or the way they looked? Life is full of just have to learn how to deal with the curveballs. Have more than one plan in place in case Plan A fails. Have a Plan B and C available. Try to always remember that things usually will get better in some way over time and try to think of things to help it get better. Use humor. Don't fight inevitable things...learn to just accept them and make the best of the situation. Okay, I have just rambled on too long.

  8. Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I do think it is imperative that adoptive parents share honestly with each other on what those first few days in China can be like. Often it is only the good that is posted and people are afraid to post their feelings if they have fears or doubts. I remember being handed my first daughter literally within minutes of arriving in China, jet lagged and exhausted, and it wasn't that perfect adoption moment that I had read about for over a year on the main adoption board. It is so helpful to have friends you can call for support, and I think everyone should have a list of at least 3 people they could reach out to in case they feel overwhelmed.

    I also agree that parents adopting through the NSN path still need to prepare themselves for special needs, as institutional care is not the same as being loved from birth in a family. Another thing that surprised me on my last adoption trip was how many families I met who weren't online, and so they didn't realize how many great resources are out there now for each special need. I am so thankful to the people putting together the resources on special needs adoption, so that even more families might educate themselves and decide whether this path is the right one for their family.