We have been done adding to our family several times. Our plate was full; our life was good. We were done. And without seeing three of our daughters’ pictures on advocacy web pages, we would still have been done and content with our nine children.

The first time this happened, I truly wasn’t looking at all. A friend had sent a link to an article about language acquisition in older adopted children, and I found it highly interesting. So, I started poking around the website it was on. I had no idea it was primarily an advocacy website. I suddenly found myself confronted with the faces of many waiting children. And I saw one picture of a little girl who I couldn’t get out of my head. In her description, it said that she wanted a mommy and daddy who would love her, and sing to her, and feed her good food. She also had a significant facial difference. I had been around the adoption world long enough to know that her chances of finding a family were slim. I thought to myself, “Someone should adopt her,” and moved on.

But I didn’t move on. I found myself returning over and over and over again to look at her pictures and read her description. It was crazy, I told myself. We had our hands full already. We didn’t have a lot of money. She had a very scary sounding medical diagnosis. We didn’t even qualify for her country. And we were done. Yet, every day, at least once, if not more often, there I would be, staring at her picture.

Eventually, I mentioned her to my husband, who, calm as always, said, “Just tell me what we’re going to be doing.” Eventually, after much soul-searching and many phone calls, we found ourselves being pre-approved to adopt this child. Now began the hard work of scrambling to start a home study from scratch. Over a year later, we brought her home.

And then we were done again. Really, really done. Along with ten children, we also were on a first-name basis with our plastic surgeon and our neurologist. Tissue expansion, along with my new found abilities with injecting saline into balloons in my new daughter’s head, and seizure education became our new norm. We were done, and our plate was abundantly full.

This time around, I was keeping an eye on the advocacy sites, so that I could advocate for children needing families. If it worked for us, it should surely work for other people. Eventually, I saw the picture of a little girl who looked for all the world as though she had the same rare genetic condition as our daughter. I had watched our new daughter blossom in a family and knew that this child needed a family just as desperately. So I advocated and advocated and advocated. Crickets. I was so frustrated that one day, as I was kvetching to my husband about this, he turns and says, “Well, when we win the lottery, we’ll go and get her.”

The next day, the very first thing I see when I turn on my computer that morning was that this little girl had a $25,000 grant towards her adoption. It was the adoption equivalent of winning the lottery, so I called our agency again. The story becomes rather convoluted and long at this point, so to shorten it, I’ll skip the details and say that there had been another little girl whose picture I had seen who I hadn’t been able to get out of my head. A lot of nail-biting and a change to our state’s adoption laws later, we also receive permission to bring her home at the same time. Both girls joined our family because I saw their pictures on a photolisting.

Now, I want to clarify some things. While we had no up-to-date home study completed when we asked their country to give us pre-approval to adopt them, we already had two home studies completed and approved. We knew what the process was like. I had also spoken to a local home study agency to be sure I could find an agency who was willing and supportive of our large family adopting again. I didn’t want to find ourselves in the position of being approved to adopt a child, and then not being able to get a home study written. I also knew nothing about any of these adoptions was written in stone until we signed those papers which legally made us their parents.

Was I a great big ball of stress during the years we were scrambling to complete home studies and wait for approvals? Yes. Oh yes, I was. It’s tough to fall in love with a child so much that you are willing to make that child your own, and know that at any time, things can fall apart. Really, really tough.

I would hate to see photolistings go away. However, some people are concerned that current changes to international adoption policy being considered by the Department of State could do away with photolistings. As long as a child’s privacy is not compromised (and this would mean, no real name, no personal history or detailed information, no specific location given on the public photolisting), then a photolisting is often a child’s best hope for finding a family. We are not unique in not knowing there was another child out there until we saw her face. I know dozens and dozens of people for whom this has happened. And when you have a surprise adoption, one that isn’t planned and that you were not expecting, you certainly are not keeping an updated home study in your back pocket. They are just not that fun, and they are expensive.

But the adoption placement agencies and the prospective parents also need to realize that this is a gamble. Until every ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ is dotted, it is not a guarantee; things can fall apart at any time. A family may not actually be approved for a home study, the placing country might decide that they don’t really approve of what they are seeing in that home study, personal crises can arise, etcetera, etcetera. A pre-approval is just that: a tentative approval subject to future evidence. Agencies should certainly advice their clients as to this aspect as part of the pre-approval process.

We took the gamble that things would work out three times. Having these girls in our life was worth every ounce of worry and stress we experienced.