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Where is Our Child?
By Amy Coray
The decision to adopt is not one that couples usually make lightly. It often comes only after years of suffering through invasive fertility treatments and equally intrusive questions or comments from relatives and neighbors. Once a couple begins thinking about adoption, they have lots of their own questions to answer: Will I love him as if he were born to me? Will our family accept her if she doesn’t look like us? And usually most daunting—How will we pay for all the adoption fees? Financial hurdles and other scary questions prevent many couples from pursuing adoption at all, or at least significantly delay the timing of an adoption.
Our two boys came to us by what most people see as the “usual” route. But they came to us with difficulty. We came to see that a 3rd pregnancy was not an option, and entered a stage of mourning, because we knew we still needed a daughter in our lives. Looking back now, I can see adoption as an obvious solution to the problem, but it was a new and unexpected thought at that time. We spent several months researching the issues and looking at agencies and programs before making our decision.
Six years ago, in the spring of 2005, we signed on with Premier Adoption Agency for their Latvia program, had our home study completed, and put together our adoption dossier. The expected wait time for a girl up-to-age-4 from Latvia was 2 years. We thought we could wait two years for our daughter. That would give us time to prepare financially, physically and emotionally for adoption of a child.
By January of 2006, in a few short months, our expected wait time for Latvia adoption had nearly doubled. Imagine a 4-year wait for a child! Think of all the things you can do in four years: earn a bachelor’s degree, or move to a new town, or change jobs more than once. . . . We could not imagine waiting at least 3 more years for our daughter, all the while with our sons getting older and our lives changing around us.
It felt like having a miscarriage, but we decided to withdraw our dossier from Latvia and start over elsewhere. Once the tears dried, we started looking seriously at programs again. China had been the most stable adoption program for years. The process was smooth and predictable. So in early 2006, we started a new home study, put together a new set of dossier documents, and sent them to China. At that time, the wait time to complete a China adoption was 13 months. Perfect. We hadn’t lost too much time toward our 2-year goal of having our daughter.
For those familiar with China adoption, our Log-in-date was June 20, 2006. I can hear you laughing. Just as our dossier arrived in China, adoptions there were slowing down significantly, to the point that if we had kept our dossier active in China, we would still be waiting for our daughter five years later, and seven whole years after we started looking at adoption!
About the same time our dossier went to China, I started working for Premier Adoption, both helping other China adoptive families and fine-tuning the agency’s packets and written materials. As an employee of the agency, I had a constant eye on what was happening in China, and as the China program became interminable, I was rocked by the heartbreak. With each month that went by, I was worried I would go crazy, or drive my husband crazy, or both. I tried not to share my pain and frustration with my sons, who were in the habit of praying each night for their sister’s arrival.
Since that time I have had the privilege of working with many families who started into China adoption in 2006 and 2007 and who were caught by the long wait. Many of those families are still holding on—hoping for a child. Some families switched to other programs. A few families gave up. Some families couldn’t stay together in the face of the stress that expecting a child for such a long period of time puts on a couple. I have been told of several couples who divorced. I can understand that pain.
When a woman is pregnant, her friends and family are expecting with her. There is a limited time before the baby will arrive. But when a couple is adopting, friends and family may not be patient with an ambiguous timeframe. They may not recognize the emotional needs of an expectant couple. Or they may not understand circumstances that are out of the couple’s control. Every birthday, every Mother’s Day, every family party, every Christmas is painful when you’ve been waiting for a child for an extended period of time.
So what factors lead to an increased wait for an international adoption? The truth is, the factors can be many and varied. In our case, the Hague law had an impact. The Intercountry Adoption Act (better known as “Hague”) is a treaty aimed to protect children and families. Its heart is the “prohibition on child buying,” which helps ensure ethical adoption practices in the countries that ratify the treaty and put its principles into effect. One of those principles is that countries will make “every reasonable effort” to find a home for a child in the child’s country of origin before looking to other countries for adoptive parents. Latvia and China had both ratified the Hague law and put its principles into practice before it entered into force in the US in 2008. In doing so, they had to document their efforts to find homes for children in their own country before looking abroad. There were other factors that likely led to the slowdown for us as well. Countries that had long been open to adoption closed or slowed down their programs. At the same time, China adoption became increasingly appealing for untold numbers of families who all sent dossiers to China at the same time, so that the number of waiting families significantly outnumbered the children available for adoption. Over the years, some countries have closed or slowed their programs because of reports of abuse or neglect by US adoptive parents, or because US adoptive families have refused to send post-adoptive reports on their adopted children. Guatemala was closed for adoption to US families because in spite of its accession to the Hague convention, Guatemala did not take the necessary steps to put the law into effect.
Are there truly fewer children in need in the world, or has it simply gotten harder to adopt them? This is a question worth asking. While we are searching for an answer, it is the children who suffer the most.
The world of adoption is constantly changing. That is good news for families who are still waiting for a China adoption. In the last two years, the China Center for Adoption Affairs has made significant strides toward placing children with minor to significant medical needs. Families who have been waiting a long time, and who are willing to switch their dossier from the “healthy child” program to the “waiting child” or “special needs” program can complete their adoption in anywhere from 4 to 7 months. Families who begin a China adoption in 2011 recognize that they will be adopting a child with at least some type of medical need. But new adoptions through China’s special needs adoption program can be completed in one year.
In 2009 I started working for West Sands Adoptions for their China special needs adoption program. I spend part of each day looking at children in China who were born with various medical needs and who are in need of a permanent home. I am always searching for potential families for those children. I have been blessed to meet wonderful families who open their hearts and homes to children in need. I also work with colleagues who are serving the children of Ethiopia. I have been saddened to hear that Ethiopia adoption may face a slowdown not unlike what happened in China in 2006 and 2007. If such a slowdown happens, families, and especially children will suffer.
Where did we ultimately find our child? Here in the US. In 2007, I told my director at Premier that I was reaching a point of desperation. She encouraged us to have our home study updated yet again and put our profile in the pool of families who were waiting for domestic adoption. Our daughter was born that summer, after we had been waiting and praying for three years for a little girl. When I look at my daughter, I am sure she is the most beautiful girl in the world. She is constantly in motion, and surprises me both with her intense stubbornness and her immense delight. Do I love her as if she were my own? She is my own. I don’t question that.
Today at lunch time we were telling her adoption story. It’s a story she already knows and loves. I say “You’re my girl, but you were far.” She says, “You’re my mom, and you came to get me and sing me songs.” When we got to that point today, she got a sad look on her face and put her head on my shoulder. I asked if that story made her sad. She nodded. I said, “It made me sad too. I didn’t want you to be alone, and I missed you.” She wrapped her little arms tightly around my neck.
Not everyone is as fortunate as we were to find a placement in the US, and there are significant needs among children in other countries—needs that aren’t being met, meaning that many children are still alone.