If you ask most families who have adopted overseas how they came to choose their child’s birth country, I’m willing to bet that a majority will respond that their research led them in that direction, the country chose them, or they were driving purely by gut instinct. At least that was the case for us. We honestly had no intention of adopting outside of the states to start, nor did we have a country in mind even when it became an option, but as research rolled along, what we were looking for eventually found us instead of the other way around.
Realizing you’re going to adopt outside of the states is an article unto itself. Sharing the news with family and friends could make for an Emmy-winning half-hour drama or comedy episode, depending on the audience receiving your news. Attempting to fully prepare yourself and your extended family for what to expect is pretty near impossible with changing international laws and codes as well as world events. And yet, it is not mission impossible, although it may feel that way at times. For those who do choose to adopt internationally, it can be an extremely rewarding experience, despite the complexity of the situation. As your research turns from statistics and facts to the realization that a child is waiting somewhere out there in another country, on another continent, most certainly in another time zone, to be united with a family–you do what needs to be done to make it happen.
Aside from the obvious focus of international adoption (the child and that long-awaited, gut-wrenchingly distant-seeming moment where you can finally wrap your arms around him and call him your own), there are tedious and real considerations to be made when choosing a country. In fact, some adoption agencies may even recommend choosing more than one in case circumstances change during your wait. While it sounds dire, nobody said the adoption process was an easy one. First and foremost–
1. Ask yourself: Am I ready for international adoption?
Forget choosing a country. Before you decide to adopt internationally, have you fully considered what it means to adopt outside of the USA? International adoption can be intimidating no matter what country you choose. Check out Adoption.com’s International Adoption Guide to learn more. Realize that just like snowflakes, no two countries are alike. Starting a family is no easy task under the best of circumstances; are you prepared to step outside of your comfort zone to take guardianship of a child in a distant land away from your support group of family and friends for an undetermined amount of time? While most countries these days do have adequate technology to keep you connected and will offer some of the same comforts you are used to so far as accommodations go, be ready to take on extra tasks (e.g., double sterilizing bottles and eating utensils depending on the circumstances), familiarize yourself with the lay of the land (locate doctors, pharmacies, laundromats, shops, banks, nearby and in safe areas), make sure your domestic service provider is willing to support you while you’re abroad should things get complicated (you never know when a court may shut down due to a national holiday and/or because a judge heads out of town, meaning your paperwork must be put in front of a new court, or transportation agencies may go on strike), and be aware of current world events. Stay on top of adoption regulations and requirements so that there are no surprises—they can change quickly. When the time comes that you are in your child’s country, you’ll want the focus to be on getting to know your child, not dealing with a paperwork nightmare.
2. Make sure you meet the requirements.
You should familiarize yourself with the different types of international adoption, including Hague countries vs. non-Hague countries. Hague was put into place to help ensure the needs of the child are best being met, from first finding homes for orphans within the birth family, to staying within country, to protecting against and avoiding adoption fraud, both domestic and international. You will need to do some research to determine whether or not you are even able to adopt from a specific country, no matter how badly you have your heart set on it. Your adoption service provider should be able to help you to determine whether or not you qualify to adopt in your chosen country. Your adoption service provider is going to play a major role in your adoption process—do your research and choose wisely. Make sure they are accredited to adopt in Hague countries if that’s the route you’re going to take. A good provider will be intimately familiar with the country you’re choosing to adopt from and should have years of experience in bringing families together, as well as contacts in your chosen country who will help you to make your way once abroad. They will be your lifeline, so to speak, from the time you submit your home study, to the moment you receive approval and are matched with a child, to traveling home safely with your child.
3. Learn about legal proceedings.
Research your chosen country’s court system and social welfare systems regarding adoption requirements. Every country is different and will require different paperwork and fees. Your adoption service provider SHOULD notify you of the specifics, as well as prepare you for what to expect ahead of your trip. They should also help you to obtain a local lawyer to take your case in country. This site provides a list of attorneys in foreign countries. It is important to note that whatever country you choose, you must abide by its laws. The United States has no authority over foreign adoption courts. In addition, most countries require a period of residence through the adoption process, which differs by country. While this may create some financial hardship, it also provides an opportunity for families to bond and become more familiar with their child’s birth country. Most Hague countries as well as some non-Hague countries also will require post-adoption follow-up visits to be conducted by your adoption service provider.
4. Research the culture.
No matter what country you choose, realize that your child will forever be connected to his country of birth—his homeland—and as his parent, you will be as well. It will be important for you to respect for his birth country and to ensure he grows up to learn about and understand where he came from. Although the beginning stages of the adoption process may seem like it’s all about you and your comfort zone—from home study and fingerprints and questionnaires and paperwork, to travel arrangements and preparing to become a parent—at some point the focus will change to your child and recognizing his place in the adoption equation. Make sure you research and become familiar with your child’s country in advance. Know its culture and traditions. Are you comfortable with the politics, people, history, religious aspects, and what this may mean for your child growing up in your household? Will you be ready to answer questions or help him to do research of his own when the time comes? Will you be comfortable integrating some of his birthplace identity into your family life in order to let him know how much you value his past and help him to grow into a strong and well-adjusted adult?
5. Consider race issues.
Although it may not matter to you, your child’s race will most certainly matter to her. Adopting from a foreign country may mean your child will look different than family members or neighbors and classmates in the area which she will live. You should consider if you are prepared to support your child as she transitions into her new home and have a support system already in place if she or you need help adjusting. Chances are, you may not look like your child, and the reality is, you should be prepared for stares and questions to follow. If you haven’t already, seek out groups or make friends in your community who have adopted from your country of choice and/or organizations and individuals of your child’s race. If you hope to open the minds of others, you need to begin with your own. Support groups are a wonderful opportunity not only for you to share, but for your child to see that she is not alone—if you’re not aware of one in your area, but are aware of others who may be interested, consider starting one. Although nobody likes to talk about race factors, they do exist. This does not mean that you shouldn’t adopt from a certain country for fear of race issues, but you should be prepared to deal with them should they come.
6. Find out about travel requirements.
While this is no vacation, you should feel safe and be comfortable with your destination country and become familiar with where you will reside for weeks or possibly a month or two to come. Check online for travel advisories or warnings. What is the United States’ relationship with this country? Check local weather conditions and pack comfortable and appropriate attire in respect to the culture and climate. It may not seem like a big deal, but with an already-expensive adoption at hand, you will want to prepare for your situation—both for yourself as well as your child. Depending on the situation, you may need to bring necessity items for your child as well—from bottles and diapers to clothing and toys. Should you adopt a special needs child, you should speak with the orphanage and your pediatrician to ensure you will have access to obtain any devices that you will need. Ask about local commerce and shopping options. It may be easier to pack light and purchase what you need in-country. Again, the object here is adoption and the more prepared and aware you are of what you are walking into so far as day-to-day necessities, the more time you will have to spend focusing on your family (rather than worrying about the details.) Make sure to ask about where the court proceedings will occur (if it’s in a different city than where your child currently resides), accommodations, in-country travel arrangements/drivers, translation assistance, medical facilities, etc. All of these things should be determined before you travel.
7. Ask questions.
One of your greatest resources may be as simple as reaching out to other families who have adopted from your country of interest, be they in your community or online. Check out the international adoption support forums here. There is no better way to figure out if a country is a good match for you and you for a country than to hear from someone who has been there and done that. Not only will you be able to ask pointed questions concerning the process itself, but most families will be happy to share their experiences, both the good and the bad, offering information and tips that you may not find on formal websites or through your adoption service provider. Other families can tell you what to expect both during the process as well as long after you have come home and finalized your international adoption in the states. This will be important not only in determining if a country is of interest to you, but whether or not you will be able to give your child what she requires post-adoption in her forever family.