We adopted our daughter Olivia from Bulgaria when she was 2 and a half, but we began the process when she was only 14 months old. It was an exciting experience which was also a very nerve-wracking and intimidating one that I wish I had been a little more prepared for. Here are a few of the main things I learned along the way that you’ll want to keep in mind for your own international adoption journey.
1. Other countries play by different rules than the U.S. While this seems obvious, there’s still a major learning curve as you get used to the adoption process, rules, and legal proceedings foreign countries abide by. There is far more information available now because of major advances in the Internet and social networking than when we adopted, so take full advantage of the resources at your disposal and do your research at the beginning of the process to better prepare you for what you can expect to encounter along the way. This will help prevent a great deal of anxiety later on. For example, we knew we had to have at least one court date in Bulgaria (which we did not need to be present for), and probably two, but we never anticipated four over a period of several months!
2. Be ready to keep providing the same things repeatedly. This can be frustrating when you have already taken the time and expense to provide foreign courts with the necessary information ahead of time, but just know that it’s not uncommon. In our case, since the adoption took almost a year and a half, we had to provide three physicals as they had to have updates every six months.
3. Anticipate necessities for your trip abroad to pick up your child before you leave home. Adjust your packing depending on the age of the child. Bring something to entertain him or her and think about any toiletries or extras they may need. Olivia took her very first car trip cross-country with us, from Dobrich to Sofia, and we had no idea that she might need something as basic as Pepto Bismol. We ended up making extra stops within the country just picking up various items as the need arose. This can’t be avoided with the best of planning, but you can certainly minimize it with careful preparations.
4. Bring more money with you than you think you’ll need. Whether it’s adoption-specific expenses or expenses for the child or for you, the exchange rate and/or the price of goods might be a bit of a culture shock.
5. Carry a list of questions with you when you pick up your child. In our situation, we were adopting from an orphanage, but the same applies if you are adopting in other ways. Before you’re under the pressure of a long-distance trip to a foreign land, think of all the questions you can related to your child that the caregivers would be able to answer. In our case, we felt rushed and overwhelmed, so we failed to ask some of the most basic questions including acquiring some much-needed information on Olivia’s toilet training development. You will most likely get only one opportunity to find out many things, so don’t be afraid to ask while you can!
6. If you’re adopting your child from an orphanage, don’t assume she will behave the same way in your care as she did at the institution. This point goes hand-in-hand with asking the caregiver thorough questions. Your child may act very differently when you meet him from when you actually take him home, so try to anticipate potential outcomes and be prepared to put in the love and the work. As an example, our daughter was very friendly and engaging at the orphanage. That was her comfort zone, so she felt comfortable with behaving certain ways. However, almost from the moment she was in our care, and for a very long time afterward, she was prone to prolonged screaming, crying, and tantrums due to her dramatic upheaval. We weren’t prepared for that despite our numerous adoptive parenting classes. You may think you’re improving your child’s circumstances, but he or she might not see it that way. Be patient with them and with yourselves as parents.
7. The language barrier can shut your child’s communication skills down almost altogether. I thought learning some Bulgarian words would help ease our daughter’s transitional difficulties, but the truth is that only the basic words “dah” for yes and “neh” for no helped us. All she did was point and make little noises for the first six months she was in the United States. With all children, especially older children, this will vary, but I did not expect such problems with language as I thought “total immersion” was going to be a fairly easy solution to the language barrier. Even at a very young age, children have learned and retained more language than what most people realize.
8. “Readopting” your child within your state costs extra money, but it’s more than worth it for your child’s benefit. Our agency suggested readopting Olivia in our home state once we returned with her, but I want to emphasize the importance of it. Costs aren’t nearly as expensive as the initial adoption itself, and the benefits outweigh monetary considerations. Your initial adoption validates the adoption as legal, but a state readoption means your child will have a state birth certificate that they can use for all kinds of legal reasons instead of merely trying to use their information from their home country.
9. Keep a journal! I strongly suggest this for all adoptions. Not only can it become a part of your child’s memory book, but you can look back on it to remember details that later you’ll be thankful for. Many people suggested I keep a journal during the adoption process, and I never did. Now I wish I had!
10. Enjoy the experience. I don’t think anyone ever said to me, “Enjoy this!” I got too caught up in the process and its frustrations to actually practice gratitude and joy. Remember that your adoption event is a unique one, so make sure you make the most of your international adoption journey in a way that is meaningful to you and your child.