Recently, I've gotten a lot of questions from friends and friends of friends wondering about how to start an adoption. There are lots of options out there for adoption and it is hard to know which road to head down. So I thought I'd share a bit of what I wish we had known when we first started on our way to adoption. To start, there are a few broad lessons I think we've learned about adoption.
It may not go as you think it will go...
If you know our story at all, our experiences to get to where we are today were definitely not "go from point a to point b" experience. It was more like start at "point a, stop and wander around somewhere by point 3, zig zag over to line xy, and find yourself next to point b." We started with domestic infant adoption with a low cost agency in our state and were told we didn't fit their criteria. We then signed on to be trained as foster parents to do foster to adopt situations, with the emphasis on adopt and no plans to do foster care. We waited for almost 2 years on the list in our state with essentially no potential placements all while looking into children who were available for adoption in other states. We took on an emergency foster placement and struggled with the experience but learned a lot. We spent a lot of time discouraged. The dream of kids, bio or adopted, was just not happening. In the end, we ended up adopting from Haiti, something I was pretty sure we would never do. And in a lot of ways, it was a great fit for us.
Our story is not unique. There are a lot of families who have adopted who found themselves facing false starts, having to let go of one plan and make a new one, and in general, praying about a lot of things that never happened. If I could name all the potential adoption situations we've prayed over, the list would certainly be long. And these are situations involving real children with names, not just mulling over what country or program we should be a part of.
Public perception differs from reality...
It's also hard to know what way to go simply because there is so much a family beginning adoption doesn't know. For example, many assume that there is a huge need for families willing to parent infant girls from China because for so long, that was the story being put forth in the news, in adoption circles, well, just in a lot of places. The reality is there are not healthy infants available for adoption in China unless you are willing to take on a 5 year plus wait. There is a need for people willing to parent special needs children of both genders.
Even that word "special needs" is something people who are new to adoption might not understand. People hear those words and think of things like a child who is wheelchair bound or who has Down's Syndrome. While there are of course children with those disabilities who need families, there are many children with much more minor special needs who need families. People who are new to adoption might not realize that the label special needs can be used to describe children who have an extra finger, who have crossed eyes, who have low birth weights, or who have a cleft lip. I think most of those are concerns that people would say "I think I can handle that." (As a disclaimer, people often say that about cleft lip and cleft palette; I personally would not consider those a minor special need as they often require multiple surgeries, extensive therapy, and can also involve hearing loss.)
Another perception is that it is very easy to adopt from foster care. The reality is, in most places, it is not easy if you are desiring to adopt a single child under the age of 5 or 6. There is a strong need for people willing to parent a specific type of child: older kids, most often boys aged 8 on up. Older girls and sibling groups with more than 3 children are probably also on the list. Yes, there are people who have adopted an infant from foster care. However, what people don't realize is that most often this infant is placed with a family as a foster child. It often takes from 1-2 years before that child is ever available to be adopted. That 1-2 year time span almost always involves a plan to reunify the biological family. Many children who are younger than 5 also fall into this type of of situation.
Financial perceptions can also be wrong. There are lots of people who have no idea of what it actually costs to adopt. Foster care is free (or almost free depending on what the family needs for an attorney). It also involves subsidies where the state pays for ongoing needs of the child even after the child has been adopted. It is basically the only low to no cost option available. Many families will probably encounter sticker shock when they start researching domestic adoption options. Without spending too much time on this, know that domestic adoptions and international adoptions, on average, are similar in the amount of financial investment.
In other reading, SisterHaiti recently blogged a bit about perception and reality in her post titled "The New Faces of International Adoption." It's a great read that hopefully will help people understand international adoption better, specifically that adopting internationally as a way to parent a healthy infant may not be a great strategy.
So what does that mean? It means be gentle with your plans. Give yourself the freedom to change plans. Don't count a change in direction as a failure. Know your heart but be willing to consider other options. Investigate and make sure you are making your decisions based on reality. Don't just trust the social worker or the agency or the one story you know about someone who adopted. Join Yahoo and Facebook groups. Read adoption blogs. Talk with adoption workers. And know that there is a good chance, it will happen. Maybe not in the way you imagined, from the place you envisioned, or in the time frame you thought, but it will happen.