“Is international adoption easier?” the literal part of my brain says “Easier than what?” Is it easier than natural childbirth or a c-section? Is it easier than foster care? Is it easier than domestic adoption? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. There is simply no comparison.
There is nothing about adoption— albeit international or domestic that is easy. There is nothing about childbirth—regardless of the modality—that is easy. There is nothing about foster care that is easy. There are definitely differences among each of these that make pieces of them easier than others, but as a whole, none are even a little bit easy.
International Adoption and Childbirth
The obvious difference in difficulty when considering international adoption and childbirth is the general lack of physical pain with (international) adoption. Becoming parents through childbirth or adoption involves the parent(s) learning as much as he/she/they can about the age range of the child they expect to bring home. Another similarity they share is having a timeline with details completely out of your control. Just like an expectant mother can’t typically pick the exact day and time her baby will enter the world, families are at the mercy of their own government as well as the government of the country where they will adopt from. These organizations control the details about when they can travel to meet their child, how many trips they must make to their child’s country, and how long they must stay in the country with their child before completing their adoption. Paperwork solidifying the legally binding relationship between parent and child typically happens as a seamless process from the hospital after childbirth (parent completes birth certificate application, and hospital staff signs in all the right places and mails it where it needs to go). Depending on the country, this process may vary with international adoption. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has information about obtaining a certificate of citizenship and other possible requirements once arriving home.
International Adoption vs. Domestic Adoption
When families begin the adoption process, one of the first decisions they will be faced with is do they want to adopt internationally or domestically (from their own country)? The goal is often the same with both— becoming a family to a child who does not have one, whose family has relinquished their parental rights, or whose parents had their right terminated. However, the process to reach that goal is very, very different with international and domestic adoption. Both international and domestic adoption both generally start with starting an adoption home study, which is essentially a document prepared by a social worker culminated by examining every aspect of a potential adoptive family’s life—. It includes health, finances, safety and space of the home, parenting ability and philosophy, and what particular children you are capable of parenting. It often includes medical exams, home visits with social workers, references, and financial statements.
Once a home study is complete, a family is approved for certain characteristics/situations. For example, my husband was clear that he wanted to add only one child to our family, so we were approved for only one child (per his request/preference). We were not able to be considered for twins or siblings, as a result. This section of a home study often outlines the number of children, the ages of the children, and the potential special needs of the children that a family is approved to adopt. Both potential adoptive parent preference, in addition to recommendations of social worker based on the actual situation, is accounted for when making this recommendation.
Although there is no guarantee of any timeline with any adoption, the timelines for international adoption can be a little more reliable than with domestic adoption (the Covid-19 pandemic, however, did cause delays and made traveling problematic). Being very limited on age, gender, and special needs can increase the time it takes to match with a child. However, a timeline can be estimated based on patterns with other families who have recently adopted from the same country. This part of the adoption process is the one part that I do think is easier with international adoption. For domestic adoption, it is unknown when you could match with an expectant mother. There is no way to estimate how long that process will take.
An incomplete adoption is essentially when the adoptive family intends to adopt a specific child, and are unable to complete this process. This result is much less common for international adoption because before you are matched with a child internationally, their birth parents have probably already relinquished their rights to parent the children. For domestic adoption, this process is not possible in most states until after the baby is born. For international adoption, a failed adoption is much less likely unless there are situations where there are changes within the country they are adopting from, natural disasters, or possible death of the child. Generally, it is a much, much smaller fear for families adopting internationally than domestically.
In order to adopt internationally, one must travel internationally. This, in itself, is not an easy task. Having one’s passport up to date, vaccines up to date for the particular country, and obtaining transportation once within the country are all considerations you must have arranged prior to traveling. Add in the extra steps associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, and this travel makes international adoption much more complicated. Potential travel bans, testing and/or vaccination prior to and after travel, and quarantine requirements are all things that must be considered and factored into planning international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open and Closed Adoptions
Proximity to your adopted child’s biological family can be considered a pro or a con for international adoption depending on your stance on open adoption. When I first started dreaming of adoption as a little girl, I only wanted to adopt internationally, because I did not want any part of open adoption. The idea of not knowing my potential child’s birth family and not having the fear of “bumping” into them was a huge pull for international adoption for me. You can get really angry with me, but before you do, take into consideration that I was probably ten years old when I was starting this plan in my head. Now, the idea of not being able to share my daughter’s biological family with her would be heart-shattering to me. Although more difficult with international adoption, the ability to have somewhat of an open relationship with your child’s biological family is becoming more of a possibility for some countries.
Imagine sitting in a foreign country with a malnourished toddler. Imagine not having the language needed to navigate this country. Imagine this toddler having spent months in a sterile environment without love or basic needs being met. Imagine a toddler who doesn’t know how to let you comfort him or her. Imagine now taking this beautiful and terrified toddler to a loud, busy airport which you are expected to navigate in order to start your journey home. Imagine getting on an airplane and spending the next 4-20 hours (depending on your starting point and destination) with this overstimulated, terrified, confused toddler. This, my friends most definitely does not sound easy. It sounds like the very definition of chaos.
Sometimes, the beginning of your domestic adoption journey can be equally daunting. Unfortunately, there are times when newborns have been exposed to harmful substances prior to birth causing something called neonatal abstinence syndrome and their little bodies must go through withdrawal from this exposure. Imagine holding your precious newborn in your arms at midnight while his or her body trembles. Imagine knowing your baby is hungry, but he or she is unable to eat due to withdrawals. Imagine this tiny baby tensing up and crying a high-pitched cry for long periods of time. Imagine the helplessness you feel as you are unable to comfort this baby as a result of the withdrawal its body must endure.
After imagining these scenarios, was one of the first words that come to your mind “easy”? I didn’t think so. Is it possible to have to experience cultural differences and long travel with domestic adoption? Sure. Is it possible for an internationally adopted child to have been exposed to sedatives while in an orphanage and experience withdrawals? Absolutely. These are just examples to illustrate the idea that, in some ways, international adoption can be easier. In other ways, it can be difficult.
Let’s Define Easy
According to Oxford Dictionaries, two definitions of easy are“achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties.” and “free from worries or problems.”
Anyone who has ever adopted, internationally or domestically, will likely laugh out loud when they see these definitions and compare it to the adoption process. When my kids were younger, one of their favorite things to do was declare it Opposite Day, and say things like “It’s dinner time” (as we were on our way to breakfast). They would die laughing and proclaiming, “It’s opposite day!” Looking at these definitions of easy in the context of adoption made me think it must be Opposite Day.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
Two previous presidents of the United States who are different in so very many ways both had similar things to say about things that come easily:
“Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy.”
― Barack Obama
“Nothing is easy. But who wants nothing?”
― Donald Trump
There is no easy journey to parenthood—not biologically or through adoption. Pregnancy, childbirth, and adoption (both international and domestic) are some of the most difficult journeys a family will endeavor. However, it will absolutely be one of the most meaningful journeys you may ever embark on as well.
If you have decided adoption is the path your family wishes to take, I advise you not to look for which type of adoption will be easiest. Consider this your warning that no matter which path you take, it will not be easy. But, as we all know, rarely are worthwhile journeys easy, but they are still so very worth it.
Instead of trying to find the easiest option for your family to take, I recommend you speak with reputable adoption agencies about the differences in international and domestic adoption. Speak with adoptive families who have been through this process—some have experienced both and can help you weigh your options. If you have other children, speak with them about the pros and cons of both types of adoptions and how they feel about it. Consider your family in the best case and worst-case scenarios for both, and consider “This may not happen to me, but if it does, can I handle this?”
Chasidy Brooks is a nurse practitioner married to her best friend and high school sweetheart, Ben. They are mom and dad to 4 kiddos, who are equal parts crazy and beautiful, ranging from preschool to middle school. Chasidy was born and raised right outside of Atlanta, Georgia, so it’s only appropriate that she cheers loudly for the Georgia Bulldogs and that her drink of choice is Coca-Cola. Her passion is for being an advocate and a voice for those whose voices might not otherwise be heard, and this is evident in everything she does. Chasidy is the founder of Rainbows from Raya, a nonprofit organization that supports adoptive families through grants and mealtrains.