Feb 9 2010

Some thoughts on adoption

I don’t often write about very personal topics on this blog (although hopefully my personality shows through in my writing some) but with my wife 8,500 miles away adopting our third child (2nd adopted child) I thought that I might take a post or two to talk about our experience.

I wrote about adoption after we came home with our now 5 1/2 year old daughter a few years ago and was turned off by the experience after receiving some annoying comment traffic (mostly challenging me on why we didn’t adopt domestically – none of their business, of course, but especially in the way they commented about it). I expect I’ll see some of that again, but I’m hoping to do a better job ignoring it this time.

Why adopt? Of course this answer is different for everyone who goes through the process. For us it was a very personal decision about what we felt would be the best way to grow our family. We love being parents to our biological daughter and we equally love being parents to our two adopted children.

Why Ethiopia? Both of our adopted children are Ethiopian. There’s no formula for how this works – it was a decision that my wife and I came to after looking into programs from a number of countries and after considering a domestic adoption (I don’t really want to get into our reasons for choosing an international adoption over a domestic adoption but I’ve found that there’s a certain group of people in the US who think that adopting a foreign born child is somehow unamerican. As I referenced above this can often be pretty mean spirited and xenophobic. I don’t run around asking people why they chose to have biological children vs. adoption – I expect people to give me the same privacy around why we adopted and why we adopted from Ethiopia).

How long did the process take? What’s it like? For us, both of our adoptions took a little under a year, but it varies (often quite a lot) from country to country and on how well organized you are in pulling together the volumes of information that adoption agencies and the government require as part of the process. My wife jokes sometimes about the process that “no one every accidentally adopted” – a reference to the multiple finger prints, government clearances, reference letters, financial statements, etc that adoptive parents have to provide. And then there’s the home study, which involves a social worker making several visits to your home and interviewing you, your spouse (together and separately), your kids and checking out your home. In some states (Colorado included) you are also required to take “parenting classes” – in our case 24 hours of classroom time.

Can you really love an adopted child as much as a biological child? I thought I should just get this out there. I don’t get asked this question much, but I have the feeling a lot of people wonder this. I also expect that it plays a roll in people’s decision to adopt (or not to adopt) as well.  Our experience is a resounding “of course!”. This may sound stilly because our adopted kids have a different skin color than we do, but sometimes I truly forget that they’re adopted. I just don’t think about it that way at all.

Aren’t there a lot of really religious people who adopt? Is that weird if you’re not religious? I’ve been asked this a few times as well and it has occasionally been a bit challenging for me. We participate in a number online forums and groups about adoption and yes, there are many very religious people who choose to adopt. And some of them can be pretty evangelical about their beliefs (although many are not). And for someone like me, who is not religious, it is at times a little over the top. I mostly just tune out the religious stuff. We’re friends with plenty of devout people so it’s not that. But there can be something a bit “in your face” at times about the way religion works its way into adoption circles and I do sometimes feel a bit like the odd man out. I’ve heard from some people that this has turned them off some from adoption and I’d encourage you to not let that happen if that’s on your mind.

Baby or older child? Again, a very personal decision. Both of our adopted children were toddlers when we brought them home. There are a lot of adoptive families who prefer younger children but there are also a large number of wonderful older children who may have to wait longer for a family because of their age and would love a great home.

How did the first months go? Although this is not always the case my sense is that the first few months for most families is really really challenging. For us it absolutely was, made worse by the fact that we thought at the time that we were pretty much the only family in the history of adoption that had a rough time coming home (the transition period is something that’s being talked about more now in adoption circles but at the time was pretty much a taboo subject). We now joke with our daughter about her early aversion to ice cream (she loves it now), her insistence on wearing her shoes to bed and her absolute fear of our dogs (she now wants to be a “doggy doctor”). These are just surface examples of what was really going on at the time which both my wife and I found extremely challenging. Fortunately with a little time things eventually eased up and the challenge of those early months has faded to a distant memory.


Next post – things you shouldn’t ask an adopted family. Stay tuned!