Deciding to add to your family via adoption is such a big and exciting decision. Not only are you mentally preparing to grow your family and either parent for the first time or add another child to your brood, but you are also now adding on the additional challenge of parenting through trauma. Adopting a child from another country comes with additional challenges such as a language barrier, instantly becoming a transracial/transcultural family, institutionalization if your child was in an orphanage and not foster care, racism, and a possible host of other issues. Opening your heart and your family to becoming a multiracial and/or multicultural family unit can bring such amazing and wonderful experiences into your life. It can be an enlightening journey, not only for you as parents, but also for your child and any other children in your home. Adopting a child from another country opens up so many doors and opportunities for growth and learning. Let’s break it down. Here are five things you need to know about adopting a child from another country.
1. Adopting a child from another country requires money.
In many instances, adopting internationally is cheaper than adopting domestically. Don’t mistake the word “cheaper” for little money. It is still often between $20,000 to $50,000, depending on how many children, country, the month of travel, how many trips, etc.are involved in the process. There are many factors that will raise or lower your total cost, but the majority of your money will go to agency fees (both your agency and your NGO, which is the non-governmental organization working on your behalf in your child’s birth country) and travel fees (like plane tickets, hotel cost, food, and in-country travel). You will also pay for immigration, translation fees (to translate your dossier into your child’s native language), passport fees, medicals both in-country and out. To explain some of these fees more in-depth, please read another article, “Why is International Adoption So Expensive?”
Adopting internationally can be exciting for not only you but also for those within your immediate support circle. So, although you may need to fundraise for a significant portion of your adoption fees, people love donating for international adoptions. Whether they are donating to your puzzle fundraiser, buying a shirt with your child’s birth country’s flag on it, or buying souvenirs from that country, they will be anxiously involved. Since international adoption is also riddled with smaller fees (many totaling around $1,000), it is much easier to fundraise for smaller fees and have those covered by a few people than to fundraise for $30,000 in its entirety at once. International adoption provides an exciting way for people who love you to invest in your story.
There are also many grants that provide a decent amount of money (if you can score them) for international adoptions. Due to the nature of adoption, most of those grants require you to have already submitted your dossier, though there are some that do require you to have been matched with a child already. Once matched, grants are easier to get as well, since you now have a face and a name to your reason for applying. There are many international specific grants, that only accept applicants adopting internationally and only pay for specific fees, such as the non-profit Rainbows From Raya, which pays for airplane tickets only on your pick up trip.
International adoption may be expensive but there are ways to make it happen if you’re willing to put in the time and energy.
2. Adopting a child from another country means you get to celebrate extra holidays and root for 2 teams during the Olympics.
My oldest is from Bulgaria, and we have the opportunity to celebrate the Bulgarian holiday of Baba Marta in our home. My son is developmentally delayed and doesn’t understand what we’re celebrating, but my neurotypical kids do, and that’s just as important. Celebrating their brother’s heritage and cultural ties is so important to his story, and we want to make sure that all of our kids grow up respecting and honoring where he came from. During the Olympics, we cheer for the American team and the Bulgarian team so that all our kids know that we love to support and cheer for the countries that our family is from. We fly two flags outside of our home. It is so fun, and a wonderful way to continually support the concept of multiculturalism in your own home. Although my oldest doesn’t understand why we hang little dolls on the tree out front to welcome the coming of spring in honor of Baba Marta, I am honored to have the opportunity to cherish a positive part of his past. We always want to, as parents, teach all of our kids to be proud of themselves and find strength in their origins, and that includes the honoring and representation of the birth country of our adopted children.
3. Adopting a child from another country means you have to understand institutionalization and the prejudice that your child has faced in their birth country.
In many countries with available intercountry adoption, institutionalization causes many issues with the children placed in the orphanages. Things like abuse, neglect, malnourishment, illness, developmental delays, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. can be the overwhelming nature of the orphanages overseas. Understanding these devastating realities can be the difference between a parent who is able to deal with both medical and mental traumas and one who is overwhelmed and unable to regulate themselves. Understanding that, when you adopt a child from another country, the chronological age that is on their birth certificate is often not the reality in their mind, is the key to understanding how to parent a child with developmental delays caused by institutionalization. Institutional autism, although not heavily recognized in the psychiatric world yet, is a large component in the developmental delays you may see once home.
Your child may have also received a large amount of prejudice in their home country, either due to the color of their skin, their special need(s), or being deemed an orphan. Each of those can carry a lot of negative weight depending on where they are from and that can make a huge impact on how your child develops. For instance, there are some countries with intercountry adoption that have been known to abuse, refuse medical care, and neglect the orphans with darker skin within the orphanage. Often, those children in orphanages with special needs are not adopted by the citizens in their home country due to the stigma that comes with special needs overseas; therefore, those children with diagnosable differences are listed for intercountry adoption. These things are happening today all around the world. As internationally adoptive parents, you will need to be aware and ready to meet the consequences of those prejudices head-on.
If your child was neglected medical care, even in infancy, they could mentally be riddled with developmental delay, recognizing and dealing with pain inappropriately, irrational fear of people in the medical field, or people with gloves, or people touching their face; the development of fear possibilities could be endless and unknown. If your child was cognitively aware of the snark comments being made about their skin color, then they could struggle with a family that doesn’t look like them, or significantly struggle with self-confidence once home. Going into international adoption with a better understanding of what your child could potentially have endured will help you parent through trauma more effectively, with more compassion, and with more self-regulation at home. Learning how institutionalization affects childhood development and how that can impact their new family will be critical to learning regulation techniques to help your child learn to self-cope.
4. Having an open adoption may happen, but isn’t likely.
When you adopt internationally, sometimes your children will have unknown birth certification information. Sometimes your children’s parents are unreachable. Sometimes your children’s parents are not able to be found. Occasionally you can hire a private investigator within the country you adopt from, but even that does not guarantee any type of openness. Communication with birth parents is often near impossible when trying to send letters or photos overseas; I know I personally have paid hundreds of dollars to just have the letter deemed undeliverable. It is a difficult journey parenting your child when you know they were birthed by another and, often, not being able to have even a small relationship with the birth parents. The rare situations do exist, where the birth parent was found, receptive, and the adoptive parents were able to keep contact via the internet or phone. But they are far and few between it seems. So, preparing ahead of time for the moment in time when your child comes to you and asks for more information about their past is critical while you’re in-country. Take photos. Hire a private investigator. Ask all the questions while you’re there. Ask for extra paperwork and beg for the old photos that may be tucked in a file cabinet somewhere. Gather and save any memorabilia you can. This will help ease the intensity of the questions that may come since an open adoption is rare when adopting a child from another country.
5. Adopting a child from another country means you get to brush up on your linguistic skills.
Adopting a child from another country, in most cases where intercountry adoption is available overseas, means that they will have a different native language than you do. That means, especially since most international adoptions include adopting children who are over the age of 2 (there are exceptions, but we’re talking the majority here), they will have heard and possibly acquired a few words, either receptively and/or expressively. So, what will you do when your newly adopted child comes at you screaming a word you don’t know? Preemptively preparing for that moment will benefit you ten-fold. Learn some key phrases before you head out on your pick up trip. Ask your NGO (non-governmental organization) some words that would be beneficial to know; they will be extremely familiar with your child’s orphanage, language, and possibly even with your child in particular. You will be spending a decent amount of time with your NGO agent so learning some words that would benefit you beforehand will be beneficial. These little bits of linguistic gold may help diminish the shock of gaining a family who looks and sounds different than them, lessen tantrums, ease frustration, and help encourage positive attachment. There are so many creative ways to ease the transition into having a bilingual home including techniques like utilizing sign language, technology, routine and narration, and so on. So, learn a little bit of your child’s native language, even if they are nonverbal. It can really help lessen the blow of culture shock.
Adopting a child from another country can be an amazing journey. Like the book, “Babies Come From Airports” by Erin Dealey, it can really create a unique family story that you can share with your children. International adoption comes with its’ share of difficulties and unknowns, but it can be completely and overwhelmingly wonderful. There is beauty in the ashes, and with proper preparation and mental readiness, you can begin your new life as a bigger family with more confidence. As a parent of an internationally adopted child, you can be trauma-informed and help create a safe space once home by learning what you can about raising a child who has experienced trauma. Spreading the trauma-informed ripple can help create a world where our adopted children and their behaviors aren’t odd or the minority. We can help create a world where families who don’t look like they physically match isn’t an eye-catching phenomenon. We can create a world where our children grow up feeling empowered and proud of who they are, strong and unbelievably brave children who happened to be adopted by their parents.
Here’s to a beautiful life, full of bilingual word stickers and bigger Olympic parties to host.