8 Things You MUST Know Before Adopting Internationally

Understanding these things in the beginning will save you, and your children, a lot of heartache in the future.

Elizabeth Curry August 30, 2017
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Making the decision to adopt is not one to be made lightly. It is also not one that is always full of clear and concise information. There are many options . . . domestic infant, foster to adopt, direct placement, international, special needs . . . and it is often difficult to sort through them.

When you add international adoption into the mix, it is further complicated by the differences between countries. While each country does have its own rules and regulations regarding intercountry adoption, if you are thinking about adopting internationally, there are some thing you must know, regardless of which country you are interested in.

1. Corruption does happen.

It doesn’t matter the country, it is there. As a prospective adoptive parent, your job is to do due diligence in every step of the process. Have you really checked out your agency? Go to the many Facebook groups which exist for doing agency research. Ask questions. Be willing to listen to the hard stories. While no agency is going to have 100% of its clients satisfied with it, an agency with a significant number of clients raising red flags should be regarded with concern. And it can sometimes be the “nicest” agencies that have the most problems. They are the ones telling you what you want to hear by sharing stories of fast timelines, healthy infant girls, and easy processes. Educate yourself about the face of corruption in adoption and learn to look for it.

2. The face of international adoption has changed.

Healthy infants are extremely rare. If you are choosing international adoption because this is the way you think you will find your healthy infant female baby, I am asking you to think again. International adoption is mostly populated with children who are older or have special needs or both. If you cannot see yourself being a parent to this particular demographic, international adoption is not for you.

3. We do not have the right to any country’s children, even children living in an orphanage.

It is a privilege granted by a sovereign country for any foreigner to be allowed to adopt one of its children. We need to respect the rights and sovereignty of the country from which we are adopting to make its own rules and decisions. We may not like them. We may think they are wrong or unfair. But we have no power over these decisions. It is not our place to lobby our government to put pressure on another nation to make rules we like better. To adopt internationally is to agree to abide by another country’s laws.

4. Be sure that once you adopt your child that you can bring her or him home.

In order to get your newly adopted child home, that child must have a visa issued by the Immigration Department that allows them to immigrate. Without this visa, the child will be denied entry into the US, even if this child is legally yours. Not every country has an agreement with the United States for intercountry adoption. The US does not grant visas to adopted children from countries which do not meet US standards for policies or safeguards against child-trafficking. It is the parents’ responsibility to do their own research and be sure the visa will be issued. These rules are plainly stated on the USCIS Website.

5. The lack of knowledge about birth parents is not a plus.

I know many people choose international adoption because they are afraid of knowing who the birth parents are. They somehow feel that by not knowing, they have more right to the child. The child will be more “theirs” because they are the only parents known. I can tell you that for your child, not knowing can be a big black hole that they can never fill. So many parents start out by not wanting to have any birth parent contact or knowledge, and when their children get older, and they see their pain, they would give just about anything to change that. Know from the beginning that not knowing does not mean that your child will not care or grieve for the lost parents. In some ways, it makes it that much more difficult because you have no answers to give them.

6. You may not have accurate medical information.

Some children come with no medical records whatsoever. Other children will come with medical files, but upon arriving home, you will discover these files are incomplete or just plain wrong. Some children have files that are accurate. The trouble is, there is no way to know in advance what type of situation you will have with your child. If you cannot love and care for this child even under the worst case scenario, then do not go into international adoption. No one can guarantee medical file reliability, and if an agency is telling you they can, they are wrong.

7. Trauma is real.

Trauma is also a human issue and not an ethnic one. You do not dodge the trauma bullet by adopting from a certain country. One country does not produce more emotionally healthy and resilient children than another. Losing a first family, living in an orphanage, changing caregivers, changing countries, and changing languages is traumatic. Not all children will react to these experiences in extreme ways, but all will be impacted by them in some way. If you are adopting internationally, you are adopting a child who has experienced trauma. Educate yourself about what that looks like and how to best parent such a hurt child.

8. When you adopt a child from another country, you are adopting that country as well.

It is a part of your child. If you cannot love and appreciate that country’s culture and heritage, how will you be able to communicate these things positively to your child? No country is perfect, and the mere fact that your child is here and not there is an indication of that fact. But your child also needs to feel a sense of connection to and pride regarding the place they were born. If you do not like the country, your child will be quick to connect the dots and intuit that you do not like him, either.

Adoption has some hard aspects to it. International adoption can be even more difficult and complicated because of the legal issues as well as those of culture and language. Stretching our understandings and our own assumptions about our place in the world can also be uncomfortable. The list above can seem overwhelming, and I realize it doesn’t sound terribly positive. In order to get to the positives (and there are a lot of them), you have to know the hard and be willing to move forward being fully informed. It will save you, and your children, a lot of heartache in the future.

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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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