7 Tips For Surviving the International Adoption Process

There's really no way to make it easy, but there are some things you can do to at least make it not horrible.

Elizabeth Curry May 23, 2015
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The international adoption process can be grueling. The paperwork, the unknowns, and the wait can sometimes push the best of us over the edge. I have survived three adoptions and am in the midst of our fourth. While it doesn’t seem to get easier to navigate the process, there are seven things you can do to at least make it not horrible.

  1. Be flexible. I’ve learned the hard way that changes in the process can happen while you are in the middle of it. Wait times can expand, new paperwork can be required, rules can change, and none of it can be predicted. Going into the process with the mindset that you will hit bumps and snags will put you in a better place for navigating them. Just assume it will take longer, be more frustrating, and have more steps than you originally thought. Hold onto to expectations lightly until you have the signed piece of paper in front of you.
  2. Find an agency you can trust. Before you sign on the dotted line and start writing big checks, do your research. Not all agencies are created equal and not all keep the best interests of the child in mind. Facebook pages created to discuss agencies, and queries on internet groups dedicated to the country you are adopting from, will yield a great many opinions. While no agency will have 100% happy clients, if there is an agency that seems to have more than a few unhappy people, please listen to those stories. You want to be able to trust your agency to get you through the hard parts that will come up, whether here or in the country you are adopting from.
  3. Join a Facebook group. I have a love-hate relationship with the social media site. It can be a time waster, feel a little creepy, and tell you things about your friends that you didn’t really want to know. On the other hand, it is a wealth of connections and information related to the international adoption process. You can have your questions answered by others who have experience and sometimes I find answers to questions that I didn’t even know I needed to ask. It also provides a place to lament the setbacks and frustrations with a group of people who don’t need the acronyms explained. I’ve made friends in the adoption community via these groups that have become wonderful real-life relationships.
  4. Take the time to do some research. Research into trauma and attachment is a growing field that is finding new results all the time. Now is your chance to read up on how trauma changes the brain and how you can best interact with your child based on that new knowledge. Don’t stop with books, though. Find some real-life families and spend some time with them. Ask them to tell you the real stories, not the sugar-coated ones, so you can prepare for the worst-case scenarios. It is also the time to make connections with people who have experience so you have resources available to you if you need them. If you are adopting a child with special needs, do the same type of research for that special need.
  5. Learn about your child’s country. Read some books (history and modern culture), cook some food, go to some restaurants, meet people. You will feel more comfortable when you do travel and you will have begun to make connections for when your child is home.
  6. Be careful who you share your news with and when. I know I always want to shout the news of an impending adoption to the world, but doing so comes with a price. Not everyone is going to be as excited about the news as we would like. Is a negative reaction at this point in the process going to steal a little of your joy? Can you wait until closer to the actual adoption to share the news? Are you going to be OK with answering the never-ending question, “So when are you bringing that child home?” even when you know you are months and months away from buying plane tickets? The wait can be trying and, sometimes, having to explain the wait again and again can add to the burden. If, on the other hand, you know you have cheerleaders in your life who are supportive and ready to celebrate each little step of paperwork, then by all means, share away. You don’t always have a choice when to share news and with whom (it’s always bad form for family to learn big things secondhand), but do think carefully about what and when you share and with whom.
  7. Start preparing for travel early. There are a lot of things that are needed for travel and it can feel overwhelming to do them all at the last minute. Will you need any vaccines to travel? Get them now. Do you have proper luggage? Start looking so you can take advantage of any sales. Start asking what others have brought with them that was helpful, and slowly begin to collect these items. You can also start to accumulate items that will help your new child . . . appropriate toys, personal care items, things to aid communication. Will you be using a tablet? What translation apps will be helpful? Research and download them. Or, if like us, you prefer a low-tech approach, you can make laminated picture cards with items which you are likely to use or your child will need to ask about. Learn some basic language. At the minimum, know “yes,” “no,” “thank you,” “I love you,” and “Do you need to use the toilet?” Actually doing things that are for your new child will make the process feel a little more real.

One of the hardest parts of international adoption is the unknowns. We don’t know how fast or slow everything will go. We don’t know if our child’s file is correct and he or she is coming with the stated medical issues, or if he or she will have a completely different diagnosis. We don’t know how our child will react to us and we don’t know how we will react to this child. Agreeing to adopt a child is a leap of faith that whatever is before us will ultimately be OK. The best we can do is to prepare to the best or our ability and learn to be flexible and not hold too tightly to our own expectations.

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Elizabeth Curry

Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing the experiences of her family she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, home schools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.


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