“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
Adoption has placed our hearts in many places. We have adopted our two children. We traveled out of state for our daughter’s open domestic adoption and out of the country to China for our son’s international adoption. So, experiencing both domestic and international adoption, I would like to share our story and tips for traveling while adopting.
There were many different concerns and areas we encountered while traveling where I feel prior knowledge would have helped make the process smoother and less frustrating. Areas that I will address include the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, traveling and adopting between states, travel dates, and some questions you may ask such as, when will you know you will be traveling; what it is like to meet your child; what things to do to prepare prior to traveling; how family and friends can help and support you during travel; and what are packing tips during travel? I will also share my personal travel stories along the way.
When we told family and friends that we were adopting, they quickly asked, how long before we will be placed with a child and what is the process and where would the adoption take place? During the adoption process, the majority of dates won’t be known. The adoption process is filled with unknowns and uncertainties—questions that cannot be answered. This will be very frustrating, especially if you are a detailed planner and like to be in control, like me! Understanding and accepting this prior to starting the adoption process, knowing that the timing and procedures are largely out of your control, will ease the process for you.
Six years ago, we adopted Anna. It was a domestic adoption, however, it was not in the state in which we lived. Our adoption story has a twist. We were matched with her birth mother after Anna was born and while she was in the neonatal intensive care unit. She was born prematurely and had to stay in the NICU for three months. During that stay, her birth mother realized she wasn’t able to give her the dedication and care that the baby would need when she was released from the hospital. We met the birth mother, and she selected us to adopt her baby. The relinquishment paperwork was signed, and the adoption was finalized in Ohio. We also had to file legal paperwork in the state in which we resided.
In an interstate adoption, as with Anna, we needed to stay in Ohio until the paperwork was completed which would allow us to cross state lines with her. This was a requirement of the ICPC, which is a compact between the states. Thus, the state of Ohio, and the state in which we lived, Indiana, communicated through their departments of children’s services. Only after the paperwork was completed in both states were we able to take Anna across state lines. Typically, ICPC takes around two weeks, but that timing can vary.
Six months later, we had to return to Ohio for the court hearing to finalize the adoption.
Traveling between states isn’t a major event. Typically, if you are matched with an expectant mother, you have an idea of when the baby is going to be born, but obviously, babies don’t always follow that timeline! Prospective adoptive parents may have to buy plane tickets on short notice for other reasons as well, such as if the child is being born in a state that is not a drivable distance. If you don’t have family or friends where you are traveling, plan on being in a hotel room for several days. Pack enough for yourself and your baby for that length of time.
Traveling to China was, obviously, a very different experience compared to traveling to Ohio. It is quite far away, mildly speaking. It spans different time zones, people use a different language, and there’s a different culture. Different countries have different requirements. Depending on the country a family is adopting from, you will be required to travel to that country one or two times. For us, China required us to travel only once, for approximately a two-week trip.
Your travel dates are dependent on when the international documentation is completed. For China, we completed an I-800, received China’s approval, and then received travel approval so we could then book flights and travel arrangements. Usually, it is a pretty quick turnaround with families traveling a couple of weeks after receiving their travel approval. Some agencies book everything for you, and some allow the families to book the flights and hotels for themselves. We just had our agency book everything, including guides, for us. I feel it saved me a lot of stress because I didn’t have to try and figure everything out! We also traveled as a group, with other adoptive families, which really offered support.
Traveling to China was an awesome experience. One word that needs to go with travel is “flexible.” I feel that applies to any sort of vacation/travel, but that is not the primary purpose of this trip; only a small amount of time will be spent sightseeing. It is important that the adoptive parents understand that and be realistic with their expectations. Their real joy and expectation should be the gift of their child.
We traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. We flew into Beijing and spent two days there adjusting to the time change and seeing a few tourist sites, including the Great Wall. If you travel, use this time to enjoy the culture, take pictures, and soak in the sights and sounds around you. Once you have your child, you may or may not get the opportunity to explore very much. Therefore, use those initial days to discover your child’s culture.
After those two days in Beijing, we flew to Shanghai, where our son was living in an orphanage. It was a surreal feeling to be so close to him but not being able to go right away and get him. This is the time to utilize your guides. Most agencies will provide a guide or someone that you can ask questions to or turn to if you need something. They will also accompany you to the different meetings and appointments that you have so there are no language barriers. Don’t feel like you are bothering them with anything—they are there for you!
A popular question that is often asked pertaining to traveling and adoption is, “What is it like to meet your child?” And the answer is so varied and so dependent on the child. We traveled with another family from our agency to Shanghai and their son cried, while our son, Micah, didn’t cry but was more of a “deer in headlights” type and was just taking everything in.
Monthly, our adoption agency sends the adoptive families together in groups. Our group had 10 families and we were able to sightsee together in Beijing and then separate to travel to different locations—to different orphanages. We then reunited in Guangzhou where all adoptions were finalized. Over a year later, our group still keeps in close contact. We call each other “our tribe.”
A tribe/support system is one of the most important things you can have during the entire adoption process, but especially when traveling. We were, and still are, so blessed to have the support of our family, friends, and church during our journey with Micah.
So what are some things that your friends and family can do to help someone who is traveling? Offering practical necessities is probably number one. Make freezer meals for the family to eat when they return. Offer to watch any pets they have while they are gone. Offer to mow their grass while they are gone. Offer to go and clean their house while they are gone. Offer to grab some basic groceries to stock their refrigerator before they return. These are just a few basic “gifts” that can mean so much to the family, and one less thing for them to have to think about before and after they return.
Another way to help someone traveling is to become knowledgeable about adoption and the culture of the adopted child. This may be meaningful to the family; if you learn some do’s and don’ts of adoption wording and basic culture do’s and don’ts, the family may be appreciative of your effort.
Another thing that would be appreciated by an adoptive family could be an “adoption shower.” It is a way to show support for them, as well as a way for them to get some much-needed baby items or travel items. One item I was given was a bag full of medicine, wipes, and other miscellaneous items to take to China. Something that may seem minor can be a huge help. It saved me the time of not having to go to the store and buy those items.
For families traveling, what do you do to prepare? It is most important to stay organized. Of main concern is the paperwork and documents that you need to take with you as you travel. I had one expandable binder so I knew where everything was which was calming as we traveled.
Also, document your entire trip, the good and bad. You want to remember it. For us, we created a private Facebook group and invited friends and family. While in China, we added pictures and shared what we did daily. We also created a book with our trip pictures when we returned home so our son will have his adoption book.
We also have a memory box for each of our children which holds special mementos from their birth family or from their country. It is important to have knowledge of their culture and their beginning.
Of course, we know the importance of packing light. How is that possible when packing for two adults, a 5-year-old, and our new son-to-be of 3 years. I am not a light packer, but I had to be for this trip or I’d have to take out a loan. We took a minimum number of bags, as little as we could, because we were traveling to so many different cities, in and out of hotel rooms, so lugging around lots of bags would be tedious, especially after you are with your child!
If your child has been diagnosed with special needs prior to travel and adoption, schedule as many appointments ahead of time as possible. We knew our son had a congenital heart disease and had heart surgery in China. Therefore, before we even traveled, we scheduled an appointment for a cardiologist so he could be seen within a couple of weeks, not a couple of months, after we returned home. Many children’s hospitals also have international adoption clinics that are very helpful and informative.
There is also the emotional side of traveling: the nerves, excitement, and anxiousness. What do I do if my flight gets delayed? What happens if I get sick while in a foreign country? What if my child won’t stop crying when I meet them, or what if they cry on the plane? I tend to be a worrier, so these are all things I thought about before we traveled. For us, we had a flight delay in China, but other than that, everything went fairly smooth. You can prepare as much as possible, but something you didn’t think about will/may happen. Although I said I am a worrier, I tried to enjoy the trip because it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. You are in China to meet your child and you don’t want that to be overpowered with fear.
A topic that many ask about is the packing list: what should they pack and what should they not pack? As I stated earlier, pack the necessities and as minimally as possible. We strictly limited the number of clothes and one pair of shoes (other than the ones we wore). We did pack an assortment of medicine, but in many places, there were stores that you could find some items. Medicine was just one thing we didn’t want to have to worry about finding. We also brought a couple of sizes of clothes for our son as we were not able to receive an update of size prior to us traveling.
Another packing item that is widely asked about is how much cash and currency is needed. Our agency was able to tell us a specific amount to take for the necessary items, such as tipping our guides, and a basic guideline for how much spending money we would need for food, shopping, etc. However, rely on your family needs, eating, and spending habits to weigh in on that decision. In China, there is now an orphanage fee that is not required, but encouraged.
Anna and Micah, any child, are worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the process of adoption. Traveling is a requirement for international adoption, and for some people, traveling is a deterrent to adoption. However, it is important in learning your child’s culture firsthand.
Meghan Rivard is an adoptive mother and a big advocate of adoption and foster care. She resides in Indiana with her husband, their one-year-old daughter who is the center of their lives, and their dog Max. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Social Work. Meghan stays at home with her daughter but is so happy she found this outlet to share her personal adoption story and educate about adoption!