The title up there makes it sound as though our first adoption was some sort of conscious, well-planned, deliberate decision. I’m afraid it wasn’t quite that calculated and rational. On the other hand, neither was it some spur-of-the-moment whim that we followed. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Adoption was never on my husband’s radar in the beginning. I will admit to being the driving force behind the initial decision. As a child, the idea of adoption was always appealing. It was probably a combination of watching Who Are the DeBolts and Where Did They Get 19 Kids? and always wanting to have more children in my family than my one brother. The DeBolts fascinated me—the large family, the diversity, and the way every child was a vital part of the family regardless of special needs. It fascinated me, and I wanted to be part of it.
I carried that feeling with me through to my adult life. My husband and I had our first two children, and the idea of adopting started to dance around in my head again. So I sent away to various adoption agencies asking for information about their international programs. Yes, through the mail; it was that long ago. The brochures came in the mail, and I studied them carefully. And that is where it went, with the idea of adoption sitting there along with the brochures on my desk gathering dust. It didn’t feel right. It felt too big, too different.
We then had three more children, bringing our total up to five. The world had changed a bit in the interim eight or so years, and now I could do research on the internet. The idea of adopting started running through my head again, and this time it was so much easier to find out answers to my questions. I could read about agencies online. I could see the web pages of support groups for parents adopting from different countries. I could read about people’s experiences. And best of all, I could email people asking about their experiences with various agencies. I read and read and read.
As I read, I realized that our family size was going to be an issue with more than a few countries. With more parenting experience under our belts, my husband and I also found the idea of adopting a little less scary. We also realized that we were getting older and that if we were serious about adopting, we really needed to make a decision. Due to my research, we knew which agency and which program we wanted to apply for. We filled out the paperwork and wrote the check with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation.
So why did we decide on pursuing an international adoption? Other than it being international adoption which captured my imagination as a child, I’m afraid our decision was more emotional rather than based on actual reasons. We knew we didn’t want to pursue domestic infant adoption. We had parented five infants and had had that experience. We didn’t want to seem as though we were in competition with other parents who might not have had that opportunity.
We also didn’t want to pursue a domestic older child adoption. In truth, we didn’t actually even discuss the possibility of a domestic older child adoption. In my head (and I was the driving force behind the decision), domestic older child adoption sounded scary. It sounded as though it was something we weren’t equipped to do. I wanted to parent an emotionally healthy child, and international adoption seemed the best way to go about that. It seemed as though the practicalities as I saw them and my little adoption daydream were all on the same page.
Looking back, I can only shake my head at my inexperience and naiveté. In my defense, at that time, there was not a lot known about trauma and its effects on children’s brains. And what little was known was not talked about a whole lot. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that good (i.e. consistent, consequence-based) parenting and work toward the attachment of the child to the parent would overcome any difficulties that child had experienced in earlier life. It’s probably just as well I had no idea of the realities of what parenting a child severely affected by trauma is like, or I might not have had the courage to begin.
That adoption was like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. Some days it felt as though we were barely able to come up for air. We are all in a very good place now, but it was not an easy road to get here. That kind of a journey changes you. It changes what you think is important and how you look at the world. I am 100% sure it changed me for the better.
We went on to adopt internationally four more times. Why? Well, our second adoption was because we didn’t want our first adopted son to be the only Asian in a sea of blonds. We knew we wanted to give him a sibling who shared his ethnicity, so we began our second adoption fairly soon after the first from the same country.
At this point, our view of the adoption world and what we were capable of had changed significantly. We were open to a wider variety of needs, and we were open to older child domestic adoption. It didn’t seem so scary and overwhelming any longer. But along with us changing, our family size had also changed. In our state, adopting domestically was no longer an option; we had too many children.
Our last three adoptions found us, you could say. For none of them were we actively pursuing adoption; we saw our girls on photo listings first. Only after we realized that we wanted to be their parents did we start the adoption process. In order to do so, we needed their country to grant us a waiver for our family size. Thankfully, this was during the brief period where such things were happening.
We consciously chose international adoption the first time. As we continued our adoption journey, our openness to different adoption paths grew, while at the same time, our actual viable choices shrank. In many ways, after that first adoption, the choice between adopting domestically and internationally was taken out of our hands and firmly placed in the hands of various governments, including our own. As with many choices in life, in retrospect, our decision to pursue international adoption was as much the result of what we did not know as of what we did know, and that one decision set us on a path that shaped each future choice.