When my husband and I first began the journey to adopt, I had a lot of questions and a lot of doubts. Neither my husband nor I had any previous experience with adoption, and for as far back as we could remember, our family tree clearly marked one generation of DNA on to the next. Adoption was foreign to us. How exactly would the process work? What if the child didn’t like us? What if we didn’t like the child? And what would our family and friends think?
Six years and two adoptions from two different countries later, I can unequivocally say adoption is one of the most beautiful journeys I have ever experienced. It is not an easy path, and it is not without its moments of real struggle, but so many of the fears I had surrounding adoption evaporated the further we journeyed. Here are ten of the top reasons I was afraid to adopt and, more importantly, why I shouldn’t have worried.
- It’s Not a Biological Child
For our family, choosing adoption meant closing the door to the hope of biological children. We would never have children whose baby pictures looked just like ours or whose dimples were in the exact same places as ours. We would never look down at a mini mirror version of ourselves, and that was hard. It took a lot of time and grief to move on to the idea of adoption, but once we did, it was like a huge weight had been lifted. Giving up the hope of a biological child meant opening the door to a child in need of a forever home.
I will never forget the day I was sitting at my son’s preschool graduation, and another mother leaned over to me. “He has your smile,” she said. “I know he is adopted from China, but your eyes twinkle exactly the same way when you smile.” I will never know what it is like to have a biological child, but I cannot imagine a child more my son and more my daughter than my two beautiful, adopted, children.
- What Will Our Friends and Family Say?
I will never forget the day I “broke the news” to my parents that we would be adopting. They knew we had been struggling with fertility, and I feared they would be disappointed in our choice. They were surprised at first, but as we continued our journey, we found ways for our family and friends to support us. We kept them apprised of where we were in the process to adopt first our son from China and then our daughter from India. We held fundraisers, we educated our community about adoption, and we sought out other adoptive families whose background and makeup were similar to our own. When we returned home, we embraced our children’s rich cultures and traditions and made them our own. Today our family, friends, and neighbors come to our house to celebrate Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Holi. We weave our children’s cultural traditions into our own unique family’s fabric and we are the richer for it.
- We Won’t Love Each Other
At first glance, it can be difficult to think about raising someone else’s biological child, but the concept of adoption dates all the way back to ancient Rome. It is true that adoptive families are formed after the child has been born, and as such, it can be difficult to establish a bond. All around me, I heard stories about the births of friends’ babies. How they felt that instant connection when they looked at the ultrasound and how fiercely they loved their children the moment they were placed in their arms.
The truth is, adoption is different. Maybe you are in the room when your child is born, or maybe you meet your child at the age of two, four, or eight. The first time I saw a photo of our son I thought, “Huh. He’s a cute looking Chinese kid,” but I didn’t feel a bond. And when my son screamed through the first two weeks he knew me, I did not feel a bond. But when we returned to the United States and slowly found our routine, our bond started to grow. Love didn’t happen overnight, but when it did it took my breath away. Remember, attachment is a two-way street and it takes time, both for you and your new child.
- We Won’t Look the Same
While I was growing up, every Sunday at church I would study one particular family in our parish. They were two white parents with a daughter from South Korea. They weren’t like anyone else in our social circles, and to be honest, as a child, I found them fascinating.
As an adult, while considering adoption, the image haunted me. I thought a lot about what it would look like when my husband and I went to the store or to a baseball game with our son. Then we adopted a daughter from India, and we got even more conspicuous! We turn heads everywhere we go, and I can’t count the number of times strangers have asked about my children’s origin with them standing right there.
There will be off-handed comments, and there may be covert racism. As a transracial adoptive parent, you will need to find racial mirrors in your community. You will need to learn that there is no such thing as color blindness and that as a transracial adoptive parent you will need to be color-aware. You will need to talk openly about racial differences and find other families that look like yours and find ways for your children to socialize with children that are like them through meet-ups and adoption camps. It’s not always easy but I treasure the connections we have made with other transracial, transcultural families. And though our family may look like no one else’s, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
- The Wait Time Is … ???
The fact is the process to adopt comes with a large unknown timeline. I remember staring enviously as family and friends’ bellies grew month after month. I dreamed about a known due date when in three months and ten days (give or take a few), I would hold my child in my arms. But adoption is different. In domestic adoption, there is the wait to be chosen by a birth mother, then the wait to see if the birth mother will give consent.
In international adoption, there is a wait for a match, and then the wait as your case makes its way through foreign court systems. And it is hard. When loving friends and family whisper, “any news yet?” it will be hard. When you try to plan a baby shower (which is something every adoptive parent should have), it will be hard to pick an exact date. Or maybe you wait to share the news that you are adopting because there are so many unknowns with the birth parents’ plans. And that will be hard.
Two very different adoption timelines have taught me that there is little you can do to control the situation, and surviving the wait can be brutal, but it will pass. When you meet your child for the first time, all those months of waiting for a call or an email or a text will seem like a dream.
- What If They or I Say No?
Adoption is a choice. Birth parents have to say yes to prospective adoptive parents, and prospective adoptive parents have to say yes to the birth parents or to a referral they receive. There is an evaluation done on both ends, and finding the right match can be difficult. There may be times when a family matches with a birth mother and she turns them down, or there may be times that after evaluating a file, a family chooses to decline a referral. It can be extremely painful to navigate a failed match, but because adoption is a choice, it is important for all parties to make the best decision they can for both themselves and the child. Know the right match will come along eventually. It just may take a little more time.
- There May Be Unknown Health Issues
One of the concerns of many prospective adoptive parents is the unknown health issues they may encounter with their newly adopted child. Children adopted domestically may have suffered poor prenatal care or been exposed to substance or alcohol abuse. Children adopted internationally may face similar conditions as well as suffer the after-effects of institutional care. International medical files may be missing or incomplete, and translations of medical forms may be incorrect. Though scary, at the end of the day adoption is a leap of faith. Special needs adoption can be particularly daunting, but by educating ourselves and connecting with medical professionals in our area, we were prepared for when our son and daughter came home.
- Adoption Is Expensive
There is no question that the process of adoption is an expensive endeavor. Whether you choose to adopt domestically or internationally, the costs can be overwhelming. Domestic costs range from $15,000 to $40,000, and international costs range from $25,000 to $50,000, but you don’t have to pay it all at once. Most agencies and adoption facilitators have families pay in increments depending on where they are in the process. Experience has taught me that there are a lot of adoption grants and loans available to help prospective adoptive families afford adoption, and some agencies even work directly with grantors. And then there is the Adoption Tax Credit (ATC). Adoptive families can claim up to $13,000 in qualified adoption expenses over five years. The ATC may not help with upfront costs, but it can offset adoption loans.
- What If the Adoption Is Unethical?
One of the biggest fears I had when we began our adoption process was “Will our adoption be ethical?” The answer is that, for the most part, it’s hard not to be. In the United States, each state has rules and regulations in place to monitor the payment of birth mothers and the facilitation of consent. Any expenses paid must be submitted to a court of law, and any expenses that may cause a red flag will be subject to investigation. With international adoption, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption ensures that every child eligible for intercountry adoption is indeed an orphan. Every prospective adoptive child is evaluated by United State Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Embassy in the child’s country of residence, and then a ruling is made. Even if families choose to adopt from a non-Hague Convention country, the child must still be found eligible for adoption under U.S. law.
- I Don’t Know Where to Begin
I vividly remember the night my husband and I decided to take the plunge and explore adoption. Three hours of google searching later, I was more confused than ever. Should we adopt domestically, from foster care, or internationally? Do we need an agency? How do we find an agency? What makes a good agency? Our questions led us to an adoption fair, and then onto another. We connected with prospective adoptive parents groups on Facebook and slowly learned the type of child who would be a good fit for our family. The more we searched, the more excited we became. We interviewed agencies, we looked at country programs, and the day we signed a contract with our agency we knew we had made the right choice. One year and three months later, our son joined our family. Then four years after that, we boarded a plane to India to bring our daughter home.
Choosing to adopt is a huge decision. As I am fond of saying, it is a bit like walking on the moon: a long journey, which not many others can relate to, but the end of which is out of this world. And all those fears I had prior to our adoption? They evaporated when I met my son. And then they were joyfully replaced by all the fears of every new parent.
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.