Adoption Q & A, Part 2

This post is a part of our Orphan Awareness Month series in November 2014 to advocate, educate, and spark discussion about topics relating to adoption and orphan care.  To check out the other posts in the OAM series, click here.


Last week, I shared that because November is Orphan Awareness Month, we will be using this month to talk about all sorts of things related to adoption and orphan care.  On Wednesdays, we’ll be focusing specifically on the topic of adoption.  We thought we would begin the first two Wednesdays with some common questions we have received from people in our community who are considering adoption.  Last Wednesday, we shared Part 1 which included thoughts about the initial questions you must ask yourself when starting the adoption process.  Today, Part 2 goes a little deeper into some of the controversial and nitty gritty topics that come up during adoption.  Just so you know, unless specifically stated otherwise, this information reflects the international adoption process.

And as a disclaimer, know that although we have researched these things a great deal, we are by no means experts on adoption or orphan care.  This information is a result of our own research, personal experience, and conversations with other adoptive families and adoption professionals.  We hope that helps bring clarity to decisions that need to be made about adoption, but it shouldn’t substitute for your own research and conversations with adoption professionals.


Are there rules about adopting out of birth order?

Birth order is oldest-youngest lineup of kids in your family.  In a family grown biologically, birth order is never disrupted – each new child is the new youngest in the family.  A common question in adoption is whether it is wise (or allowed) to adopt outside the birth order, meaning that an adopted child might not be the youngest in the family as a newly born baby would be.  There are a LOT of strong opinions floating around the adoption world about this topic, supporting both sides of the coin.

Some countries and agencies have specific regulations about this, and prohibit adoptions that redefine the birth order.  This would mean that any child you adopt must be younger than any of the children currently in your family, to maintain the already established oldest-youngest order.  If you already have children in your family, this would be an important question to ask of your agency and about the country you are interested in.

The reason why this is such a controversial topic is because birth order is considered to be an important tool that shapes the identity of children, and it is uncertain how disrupting this might effect a child’s identity for better or worse.  Before making a decision about this, we recommend hearing from families who have done it each way (there are tons of articles and examples online), checking out the rules of your agency and country, and carefully considering the little personalities in your home.

Personally, we have decided that we can’t make a decision about this until we know the kids that will be ours.  All we have decided at this point is that we do not want to adopt a child that would be older than Baby W – we want him to always maintain his place as the oldest.   In our families, Alex is the youngest and Jessica is the oldest.  Reflecting on our own experiences in these family positions, we think being the oldest child had a huge impact on Jessica and disrupting that would have been very confusing and traumatizing.  As the youngest, Alex feels that his position in the family was much less impactful to him, and disrupting that wouldn’t have effected him nearly as much.  Because of this, we feel it is important for at the very least the oldest child to remain consistent, and we will cross those other bridges when we come to them!


Are there rules about changing an adopted child’s given name?

This is another hot topic in the adoption world, one that also has strong supporters on either side.  As far as we know, countries and agencies leave this entirely up to the adoptive family (let us know if this isn’t the case!).  Some adoptive families prefer to not give the child a new name, as a link to the culture they were born into and out of respect to the birth parents.  Others view the giving of a new name as a symbolic representation of the child’s new life, perhaps as a symbol of starting fresh after a painful or abusive past, or just as a part of welcoming them into their new family.  Families adopting older children often allow the child to guide this decision or pick his/her new name, if that is what they would like to do.

In our opinion, there isn’t a right or wrong answer on this, at least not one that would apply to every child in every instance.  For us, the most important part of this decision was evaluating what would be best for our child, and setting our own personal feelings/desires aside.  At the start of our adoption, we decided that we would NOT give the child a new name, unless their given birth name was exceptionally difficult for our American tongues to pronounce, or if it included characters from the native language that we don’t have in our English alphabet.  Basically, if it was at all possible to keep the birth name as a tie to his/her country of origin, we wanted to do that … as long as the child wouldn’t grow up hating his name in America because everyone was constantly butchering it.

This actually led us to two different outcomes with each of our two referrals.  Baby M’s given name was a derivative of the English name “Michael”.  It was spelled slightly differently and pronounced slightly differently, but we didn’t think that would be too much of a hurdle for most people and thus decided to keep his given name.  Middle names are not common in Poland, so we would choose a middle name for him (which we did).  When that referral fell through and we were matched instead with Baby W, we were faced with this same question.  However, Baby W’s name was a derivative of … nothing we could think of in English.  It is very Polish and very difficult for our English-speaking tongues to pronounce.  Because of this, we decided to choose a new name for Baby W (and no … it doesn’t start with “W”).  As a recognition of his Polish name, we plan to celebrate his Name Day each year (a Polish tradition similar to the celebration of birthdays that is based on Polish names) and keep his given name as a nickname (at least, as best as we can pronounce it!).


Is it possible to adopt a “typical” child internationally?

“Typical” refers to a child that does not have any form of special needs or health concerns, and is developing as you would typically expect a child to do so.  The short answer to this is “Yes, but ….”.  YES, there are kids waiting around the world who would fall into this category, BUT … not many.  The reality is that kids with special needs or health concerns are the most likely to end up in orphanages or be abandoned.  In Baby W’s part of the world, there is a very low tolerance for disabilities of any kind, and it is considered socially and culturally acceptable to give a child like this to an orphanage and severe parental rights for no other reason.  Even Baby W, who was described by our agency director as one of the healthiest kids she has seen in awhile, potentially has a genetic disorder that would require a severely strict, lifelong diet and needs at least two surgeries upon arriving home.

As we mentioned last week, going into to international adoption with the goal of adopting a “typical” child will probably mean you will have a longer wait than others.  The fact is, there are just aren’t that many healthy children waiting, and the list of families who want them is already long.  If this is you, we recommend talking to your agency about even minor or correctable special needs.  Sometimes kids only need a type of healthcare they can’t receive in their birth country, or just corrective surgery.  Others, like Baby W, might just require a lifestyle change that, though daunting, is definitely doable with some education.  You will be surprised at just how capable you are, and how worth it widening your parameters to include these kids can be!


What about those movies and TV shows that have people adopting healthy newborns internationally (and in super short time frames)?  Isn’t that an option?

This is a question we get asked OFTEN.  Unfortunately, movies and television often do not portray an accurate view of the international adoption process.  Recently, we watched the movie “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I (Jessica) bawled my eyes out when JLo and her movie hubby were handed their baby in Africa (spoiler).  But after the movie, Alex and I joked about how unrealistic that whole thing was.  They did their homestudy and then were getting a call about a baby immediately?  Practically every word in that sentence is misleading.  Where were the months and months and months of paperwork after the homestudy?  And a phone call about a referral days after the homestudy?  Don’t even go there.  A weeks-old baby already adoptable?  HA.  And they were on a plane traveling just days later?  Girl, no you you didn’t.  And a magical ceremony where a line of healthy newborns are paraded out and then handed to their waiting parents?  You know something fishy is going on there.

Friends, do yourselves a favor.  Watch these movies and bawl your eyes out because you just want them to hand you your baby.  But don’t use any of it as education about the adoption process.  An actual movie about adoption would be two hours of footage of a man crunching numbers on a calculator, a woman pulling her hair out and crying on top of a mountain of paperwork, and would conclude with them being handed a screaming toddler who immediately throws up on them.  Let’s be real.  Ain’t nobody watching that movie.

The important thing to know is that although there are always exceptions to the rule (everyone knows someone’s sister’s cousin’s hairdresser who adopted a perfectly healthy week old baby from Africa), but these are rare situations that you should not expect to happen to you.  The rule is that most adoptions take a year or so, most waiting kids have some type of special need or health concern, rarely are the kids newborns or even babies, and adoption is a traumatic event for a child that should be considered a special need in and of itself.


How accurate is the medical information you are given on a child?

This entirely depends on the child’s country of origin.  The best predictor of this is experience, so be sure to ask your agency what they have noticed about this with past families.  The amount and detail of health information given can vary greatly per country.  For example, when were just starting our adoption, we were approached about the possibility of adopting a brother and sister from Latvia.  The medical information we were given was one typed page for them both, so only about a half a page of information each.  It had no doctor’s signature, no hospital letterhead, no charts, nothing.  It could have been written by anyone, and barely gave any information at all.  We were ultimately ruled out as a potential family, as there were other families further along in the process who were interested.  It wasn’t until recently that we learned that these two are still available, because more health information surfaced that scared off other interested families.  You just never know.

In contrast, we have more medical info about Baby W than we have about ourselves.  We have been given pages and pages and pages of copied medical records directly from hospitals, doctors, specialists, and therapists.  It includes reports that were made at his birth and his initial hospital stay, check-up he has had since then, reports from specialists such as neurologists and geneticists, and progress report for physical and speech therapists.  He is fortunate that he is in a very developed country that takes excellent care of him and that he lives with a very caring foster family that ensures he is getting excellent care.  Furthermore, he has been in the care of the state since birth.  You can see how this might contrast with an abandoned child who was left at an orphanage with no medical history, in a third-world country with limited healthcare for the general population, let alone orphans.

However, it is important to understand that until you personally take your child to be examined by a doctor, you will not truly know the state of their health, no matter how accurate you think their medical information is or has been in the past.  Even with the exceptionally comprehensive records we have been given about Baby W, the basic fact about whether he does or does not have a permanent genetic disorder is still unclear, and something we won’t know for sure until he is home.  We have heard of families discovering that the health information they received was wildly inaccurate, making wrong observations on even basic things such as whether the child is deaf or hearing, blind or sighted, vocal or not.  It is important to take it all with a giant grain of salt.

When you are given medical records for a child, it can be very helpful to take them to an adoption doctor to be evaluated.  For the Latvian siblings, we found a local adoption doctor (your agency can help you locate one near you) who was trained in evaluating and interpreting international medical records for adoption.  This was a huge help!  For our Polish referrals, we were lucky to find a local pediatrician who was born, raised, and educated in Poland and could not only translate the records for us, but explain any cultural nuances in the interpretations.  This was invaluable.


Why do some countries require multiple trips?

This mostly depends on the country (do I sound like a broken record yet?).  Some countries require multiple trips because different steps of the paperwork must be completed in person, which requires a visit to the country.  Poland, in particular, recommends (but does not require) two trips.  The first trip is called a “meet and greet”, and is entirely for the purpose of the adoptive parents meeting the child(ren).  Particularly because so many waiting kids in this part of the world have special needs, this trip is designed to allow parents to take a leap from seeing kids on paper to in person, to help solidify whether or not it is a good match.  It also helps begin the bond between parent and child to make the coming trip easier.  The second trip to Poland is much longer, and involves all of the official paperwork and court proceedings necessary to finalizing the adoption.

From what we have seen, most countries require anywhere from 1-3 trips of varying lengths of time, from a few days to a few months.  This site we shared last week about country requirements can help you understand the travel involved with each country.


I’m hesitant to adopt because of things I have heard about unethical adoption practices.  How do I know that a child is ethically “adoptable”?  Is it possible to adopt without risk of this?

This is another hot topic in the adoption world, and one that is profoundly important.  Adoption, like so many other things, is a good thing that has been sadly exploited and corrupted in the past (and in the present).  In recent years, adoption as been in the news for all the wrong reasons, when it was discovered that children from particular countries were being adopted by international families illegally.  Unethical individuals were kidnapping children from their birth families and taking them to orphanages for profit, or convincing unknowing birth parents to sign away their parental rights under the guise that their child was only going to another country for “awhile” to support their birth family from afar.  Friends, this is not adoption.  This is human trafficking.

When this was uncovered, many of these countries’ international adoption programs were shut down temporarily or permanently.  Although this is truly a horrible and disturbing issue, what is also sad is that this caused many people to turn against the idea of adoption entirely, throwing their hands up and declaring the whole thing a wash.  The truth is that there are millions of legitimate orphans who are in need of a willing family, and there are many agencies and adoption professionals with impeccable ethics and standards.  While it is infinitely important that you and your agency go above-and-beyond to make sure everything about adoption is above board, I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Here is a quote about this from a blog I will share at the end of this question:

“When thieves run into a bank, point a gun and steal money, we don’t call that a bank withdrawal; it’s a robbery. Our response shouldn’t be to close banks or criticize all bankers but to step up bank security. In the same way, criminal activity should be described as such and not as adoption.”

No matter how well-intentioned you are, it is 100% your responsibility to do your due-diligence to make sure you are participating in an ethical adoption.  When you choose an agency, do everything you can to research it.  Read past reviews, check out their accreditation, ensure they are Hague-certified (see Part 1 for tools to help with this).

One of my favorite bloggers and adoptive mamas, Jen Hatmaker, wrote a fantastic series about adoption ethics that is FULL of helpful information on this topic.  I recommend reading the whole thing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but Part 2 in particular includes a list of questions to ask your agency about their ethics, as well as a list of potential red flags to watch for.

When were were choosing an agency, we had one in particular that was full of red flags: promising lots of babies, promising completely healthy kids, promising our adoption would take six months or less, dodging important questions, refusing to answer questions, insisting on large payments up-front, insisting that they had “connections” that allowed them access to healthy babies quickly … etc.

A truly ethical agency/country will not make promises about age, health, time frame, etc.  Remember what we have already talked about regarding knowing the difference between the “rules” of adoption and the “exception”.  If everything the agency is talking about sounds too good to be true and like they are claiming to work only in the “exceptions” … RUN AWAY.  Do not let your own desire for a child sway you into falling into the trap of an unethical adoption.


Waiting Child of the Week!


Name: Rachel

Age: 13(ish)

Location: Africa

Special Needs:  HIV Positive, Older Child (in danger of “aging out”)

Rachel is a smart, independent young woman in need of a forever family. She says that her favorite subjects in school are English and Math. She can read, write and speak some English and she can do subtraction, addition, multiplication and division. Her favorite sports are volleyball and soccer.  To learn more about Rachel, click here!

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