Last weekend, some virtual friends became real friends in my backyard, all because of the internet. We had met online because we all had adopted (and some were again in the process of adopting) children from China, and we lived in the same general area. It was great to put faces to names and meet the real people. We shared stories and information and had fun together. It made me think about how the internet has changed the face of adoption in the years I have been involved in the adoption world.
In 1995, our second son was born, and I started to investigate the possibility of our family adopting. I checked books out from the library and wrote (yes wrote, with pen and paper) agencies, asking for information, and they sent me information packages to look at. I talked to the few real live people I knew who had adopted. I looked at the few pictures of waiting children in the back of one agency’s magazine. And that was it.
When we actually started our first adoption nearly ten years later, much had changed, and then fast forward another ten years, the changes are almost unbelievable. While there are some downsides to the internet and the widespread use of social media, I believe that in general the internet had had an important and positive effect on adoption. Here’s why.
1. Agency research. It is ever so important to practice due diligence in researching your adoption agency. As much as I wish is wasn’t true, the sad fact is that combining money with parents who strongly desire a child can create an environment ripe for abuse. Countries have closed to international adoption because of ethics problems and some are teetering on the edge of viability. It is the prospective adoptive parent’s duty to research an agency’s history to try to discover if the agency is reputable and ethical. Pre-internet, this was a very difficult thing to do; now there are Facebook groups and websites that can help parents with their research, and connecting with people for recommendations about an agency is easier than ever.
2. Personal stories. Pre-internet, it could be difficult to connect with other families who had adopted, and getting a sense of what day-to-day life was like was even more difficult. With the advent of personal blogs and other websites devoted to adoption, the internet helps show the many faces of adoption to a wider world. No longer something to be whispered about or kept a secret, adoption has become more mainstream. It is easy to read personal stories from all sides of the adoption triad and get a glimpse of how life play is played out.
3. Trauma information. As brain research continues to grow in regards to the effects of trauma on the brain, the methods of helping children who have experienced trauma continues to change. The internet has made disseminating this information faster and more effective; it has also provided significant support for parents in the throes of therapeutic parenting. When we adopted our first son, who is significantly impacted by past trauma, I felt very much alone in my feelings towards him, and at an utter loss as to how to do anything about it. Now I am happy to see support groups and good information widely available. No parent should have to experience guilt over the feelings that therapeutic parenting can create, and having safe places to express these feelings goes a long way to learning to manage them.
4. Rare disease support. While the internet has been very good for parents of all special needs children, it has been particularly valuable for those of us with children who are in the rare disease category. Since rare diseases by definition mean that very few people have them, it is difficult to find support and information on the disease. Very often, doctors have never treated the disease and only ever read about it. With the internet, we now have a way to connect with one another. My daughter has Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome. In our newly formed Facebook group, there are now 20 members from around the world who are connecting and sharing stories and information and support.
5. Photolistings. I know that publishing photos of children who need families online is controversial, and I understand that. But I also understand that we would not have our daughter in our lives today if it weren’t for the advocates who write about and try to find homes for these children. I wasn’t even looking for another child when I came across my daughter’s picture. In fact, I believed we were done and our family was complete. Yet, seeing her photograph and a brief description of her made me realize that we weren’t quite done. Not only that, but we would not be in the process of working to bring home two additional daughters if it weren’t for the advocates on the internet.
6. Support through the process. When we adopted our son nine years ago, we didn’t really know anyone else going through the process in the same country. That was the era of agency-supported forums and while they served their purpose at the time, they were not as effective as social media is today. Today, with the advent of Facebook travel groups and country groups and agency groups and orphanage groups, the ability to connect with other parents is greatly magnified. It helps to connect with these families because you can learn what to expect, gather tips for travel, and meet people you will travel with. It is also possible to find connections for your child . . . discover where a close friend ended up, find pictures from their past that other parents took, meet people who volunteered with your child. The internet has helped break down walls of isolation for adoptive families.
As with all tools, the internet is not an unalloyed good, but it has created new avenues for adoption education, advocacy, and support that have benefited us and others. At this stage, the technological skill necessary to take advantage of these opportunities is within anyone’s grasp. I am truly a Luddite at heart and am slow to adopt new technology. (I still use a flip phone!) Yet, our family has been so changed and helped by the connections we’ve made and the information we’ve gained through the internet, I cannot imagine entering into adoption without these resources.