Growing up watching Happy Days, I sometimes felt insecure about the fact that I wasn’t exactly like one of the Cunningham’s. Eventually, I was quite pleased to realize that no two households were exactly the same. Regardless of backgrounds, divorced/married parents or neighborhoods, there was one thing we all had in common: family.
Two mothers open up to Breezy Mama about how their families began through adoption. From financial costs to the emotional pay-offs, Breezy Mama Mindy discusses her experience adopting (“I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen! I got to hold her right away and I just “knew” she was meant to be with us”) in the United States and Lisa, an Adoption Co-Coordinator for San Diego RESOLVE , gives the details (“We knew pretty instantly he was our son. Adoption has completed our family, and brought a new kind of joy into our lives”) of international adoption. –Chelsea & Alex
Mindy’s Story of Adopting Domestically
Starting the Process of Adoption Domestically
General Idea of Fees for Domestic Adoption
The Waiting Period
Getting to Know Her Baby
Telling Her Child She’s Adopted
Mindy’s Book Recommendations for Children
Lisa’s Story of Adopting Internationally
Starting the Process of Adoption Internationally
Resources for Parents
General Idea of Fees for International Adoption
The Waiting Period
Getting to Know Her Child
Telling Her Child He’s Adopted
Lisa’s Book Recommendations for Children
How to Prepare
Was your adoptive child your first child?
Yes, she was.
How did you know that adoption was for you?
We tried to conceive a child for 3 1/2 years. After multiple fertility treatments, including four failed IVFs, we decided it was the right path for us. We were ready to start our family and tired of the heartache.
I would start by doing research on the web. Type adoption into any search engine and you will come up with a lot of information. Visiting message boards helped me as well. I spent a lot of time on adoption.com. Also most pregnancy boards have an adoption forum. It is good to hear other people’s struggles and successes.
When we adopted our daughter in 2004, the total cost was around $30,000. It is all dependent on how you go about it. We adopted through an agency. We had multiple fees associated with that. Marketing fees, birth mother living expenses, traveling, and legal expenses. You do receive a $10,000 tax credit from the state after your adoption is finalized. (I think that may have gone up as well.) Everyone’s cost will be a little different depending on their situation. For example, my brother and sister-in-law have decided to become Foster Parents with the hopes to adopt. In that situation the state actually pays you and your only out of pocket expenses would be diapers, formula, etc…
What made you decide to here in the U.S. instead of from another country?
We wanted a newborn and if you adopt internationally they are older. The international process takes longer and there is a lot more paperwork associated with it. We were very anxious to start our family and wanted the shortest wait possible!
What are the pros and cons of adopting a child from the U.S. instead of another country?
I really don’t know very much about International Adoption. We made our choice to go with the U.S. because we a) wanted a newborn and b) our agency was recommended by a friend who had already been through it. We did an Open Independent Adoption. Meaning, the birth mother chose us and we disclosed all our information to her and had contact. I believe when you adopt internationally it is closed and you never have any contact with the birth parents. This is easier for some even though you get the child at an older age.
From the day we signed up until the day Mia was born it was exactly four months.
I know that some families were told “we have your baby for you” the day a child is born while others get to meet the birth mother and go through the pregnancy with her. Is this a choice that the adoptive parents make?
You are usually given the option. If there is a “baby born” situation and the birth mother chooses you or the agency feels you are the right fit they will contact you. At that point, you can determine if that situation is right for you or if you want to wait.
Were you ever told you had a child only to have it fall through?
We did not experience that, luckily. I do have friends that have and when “their” child finally comes to them they understood why the previous one fell through. It is still heartbreaking though.
Amazing! I was supposed to be there for the birth but missed it by about an hour. When I arrived I went straight to the nursery and saw her. I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen! I got to hold her right away and I just “knew” she was meant to be with us. I did have some conflicting emotions though. On one hand you are so happy for yourself, on the other you are sad for the birth mother and her loss. I was also scared in the very beginning to get to close and have her taken away. Mia was born in Nevada and the birth mother had 48 hours to sign her relinquish papers.
So you adopted a newborn?
Yes, we did. She was released to us straight from the hospital when she was a day old. Every state has different procedures. Mia was born in Nevada which is considered an unfriendly adoption state, according to our agency. So she was initially supposed to be in a foster home for 48 hours until the birth mother relinquished her rights. The birth mother wanted her with us so we arranged with our social worker to have us both at a local hotel together. We were then able to have her in the room with us. Once the 48 hours were over and the papers were signed, we had to wait an additional week and a half for the legal paperwork to go through. It all took a little longer for us because Mia was born on a holiday (New Years Day) and it was over a weekend.
What sort of emotions did you have once you had the child home?
Like any new mother I was exhausted, but so happy. We finally had our baby girl home!
She does know she is adopted. We were always very open about it. We have an adoption poem on her wall and she has quite a few books.
Our favorite books are:
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis ($6.99 –click here to purchase)
A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza ($5.99 — click here to purchase)
Over the Moon by Karen Katz ($7.95 — click here to purchase)
Lastly, what can parents REALLY expect when going through the process (ie. emotionally draining? financially draining?)
We were already so emotionally and financially drained from the fertility treatments the adoption was refreshing. The agency we went through guaranteed a successful adoption. So if one fell through they would continue to keep your birth mother letter on their website until you were chosen again. Knowing we would have a baby no matter what was comforting after all we went through. That is not to say it was easy. Having an agency be your middle man is very helpful. They help with all aspects of the adoption and tell you your next steps.
Anything else you’d like to say?
We had an amazing adoption experience. Mia is a vibrant happy little girl and was meant to be with our family. After adopting her, we went on to have two biological children, Gwen (3) and Noah (2). I honestly never think about Mia as being adopted and actually have to remind myself to mention it to her every once in awhile. It is very important to tell your child how they were brought into your family. If you hide it they will think there is something “wrong” with it. We have quite a few friends who were adopted as infants. Their advice to us is love them unconditionally and be honest with them. You can’t go wrong if you do that!
When you decided to grow your family through adoption, did you also have biological children, or was this your first child?
Our son, Anton, is our first and only child.
How did you make the decision to pursue adoption?
Ever since I was a little girl, I had this feeling that I was going to adopt. I have read that many people who ultimately adopt also share this feeling. When I was advised by my doctors not to try and carry a child after my battle with a very cure-able form cancer, but then unexpected chronic pain syndromes, adoption was a natural leap for me.
What drew you to international adoption? Did you consider adopting domestically too?
My husband James and I both came from turbulent childhoods. At the time we decided to adopt, we were experiencing more peace and security than we had ever known. Because most domestic adoption is open to some degree these days, we were afraid to introduce an unknown variable into our now happy lives. In addition, my cancer had robbed us of a sense of control over our lives. International adoption was appealing because it seemed to restore some of this control. We liked that we would be doing the choosing, and someone would not be choosing us. James and I heavily researched several countries. We wanted a program that was fairly stable and established, and a program that would provide us with a child relatively quickly. Russia provided us with these features at the time (2004).
We did consider domestic adoption, but had a lot fears regarding my cancer history, and were afraid we would never be picked by a birth family because of it. At the time, international adoption was being presented as a sure thing, and in my fragile emotional state I really needed a guarantee. In hindsight, I know that international adoption can be fraught with just as many uncertainties as domestic adoption, including the possibility of the adoption falling through. In addition, I have watched many families in my adoption support group pursue domestic adoption with great success while maintaining boundaries that respect both the adoptive and birth families.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of adopting internationally?
Adopting internationally can be extremely challenging these days, but if you are organized, determined, patient, and can fill out paperwork–you can do it! When people hear stories of international adoption happening quickly and easily, they are most likely hearing stories from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s. This time could be considered the “golden age” of international adoption, with large numbers of Americans flocking to countries like China, Russia, and Guatemala for very young, healthy children with adoption time lines of well under a year. The international adoption (IA) scene has changed dramatically since about 2005, with countries tightening restrictions on who can adopt, qualifications necessary to adopt, and which children are available for adoption. Many of these changes have been made to protect the children–weeding out candidates who are unprepared for parenthood or do not have a child’s best interests at heart, and also to encourage adoption by the country’s own citizens.
Even with the challenges of having to demonstrate our fitness as parents to two different governments, the long months of waiting, and political red tape, we found adopting from Russia to be incredibly exciting, and one of the singular best experiences of our lives. The number one reward was our son. When you are finally united with your child and become a family, all the complaints, inconveniences, and craziness just fades away. International adoption is an amazing experience –a spectacular, life-changing event that ties you forever to both a child and another culture.
Adoptive Families is a tremendous online resource, which can answer just about any question you may have on adoption. When starting the adoption process, they recommend:
1.) Joining an adoptive parent support group.
I would recommend joining Fortune Cookies if you live in the San Diego area. Fortune Cookies is San Diego RESOLVE’s peer-led adoption support group. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. There are families in our group who have pursued every type of adoption you can think of, and would be happy to help you on your journey. Online support groups are also a great option: Yahoo! Groups has tons of adoption groups–just do a “search” for the country you are interested in adopting from, and join!In addition, there are usually one or two country-specific organizations here in the U.S. that facilitate networks of support for families who’ve already adopted, as well as providing information to prospective parents. Some great examples are FRUA, or Families For Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, and FCC, or Families with Children From China.
2.) Read adoption books, magazines, and websites.
In addition to Adoptive Families’ website, their annual Adoption Guide (click here) is essential reading. I also recommend Adoption for Dummies (click here to purchase) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adoption ($12.89 — click here to purchase). These two book recommendations may seem a little silly, but I find them very well-written by knowledgeable authors who provide great, easy-to-read overviews of the whole adoption process.
3.) Attend a pre-adoption information session hosted by local adoption agencies or conferences.
Most agencies offer free information sessions, however, it is not uncommon for families who are pursuing IA to live in another part of the country. If you can’t attend your agency’s information session, request a phone meeting and have your questions ready! In addition, RESOLVE offers adoption conferences and events throughout the country, year-round. It is a great way to do one-stop shopping for all your adoption options.
Adoption costs vary greatly from country to country. Adoptive Families’ annual Adoption Guide contains reports with the most up-to-date information on all types of adoption, the status of adoption for all major countries, and estimates on total adoption costs for each country.
Our adoption from Russia in 2005 can be broken down as follows:
-Agency Fee: 20K
-Airfare: Close to 10K for 2 trips to Russia with about 4 to 5 days travel notice each time, and for staying in a very comfortable, western-style hotel (The Marriott)
-10K: In-Country expenses, cold-weather gear, baby supplies and clothes, and other miscellaneous expenses I can’t remember anymore.
Most international governments charge a token fee or absolutely nothing–as in the case of Russia–to adopt a child. What you are really paying for is what I mentioned above. In addition, the IRS offers an adoption tax credit of over 12K, and many companies give adoption benefits to their employees (we received $3,500 from my husband’s company). Many of my friends who adopted from China had total adoption costs of around 20K, so when you factor in what you may get back from the IRS and your company–these big numbers seem a lot more manageable. For more information on the Adoption Tax Credit, click here.
Our referral process started in September of 2004, shortly after completing the large amount of paperwork required by our agency. The first three children we were referred to had medical problems that seemed too great for our family to manage on top of my own recent health crisis. Anton was our fourth referral, and we received his information in December of 2004. Our agency sent us three photos of him and a short medical history. After consulting with our International Adoption Specialist (MD), we accepted. A month later (January 2005) we were given 5 days notice for our first trip to Russia to meet our son. We should have returned about 6 weeks later to adopt him, but Russia was having some pretty major paperwork problems during this time, and we ended up waiting 3 months to return in April of 2005.
I have heard that sometimes you can be referred to a child, only to be told later that this child is no longer available for adoption. How frequently do you believe this occurs, if at all?
I have a friend who was pursuing a Russian adoption at the same time we were, and she was referred to a little girl whose Grandmother turned up a few weeks later to claim her and remove her from the orphanage. My friend was sad, but if you are working with a good agency they should be able to refer you to another child quickly (she received a referral for her beautiful daughter about a month later). It is my understanding that Russia requires an attempt at notifying the biological family as part of the adoption process. My guess in my friend’s situation is that this contact was successful.
I was on Russian adoption chat boards and online support groups long before our son was a part of our lives, and I find these stories to be fairly rare. In countries like China, where for cultural reasons the birth family’s identity is almost always unknown, the above scenario would never be a possibility.
It was a lot like a first date with your future husband or partner. There was definitely sparks of love! When I first saw our son in photos, I thought he was a very cute baby, with brown hair like James and me. In person, I thought he had some serious eyebrows on him, and discovered (after pulling his little cap off) that he actually had spiky blonde hair! Thank goodness my husband had the sense to tape this moment, or it would all be a blur! We have a beautiful little movie of me holding and playing with Anton for the first time, and you can really see magic happening.
Is it possible to adopt a newborn in international adoption? How did you find the bonding process to be once you brought your child home?
As a general rule, newborns are not available in international adoption. In countries whose IA programs are growing, such as Ethiopia, it may be possible to receive an infant, but for most established countries the children are around 9 months or older. Our son was 13 months old when we brought him home (a toddler), and I can’t say enough good things about the experience.
Bonding, or the attachment process, began well before we brought our son home, and is continuing to this day. Some significant early events for me were: 1.) When we received our son’s referral photos. We knew pretty instantly he was our son, and sent out an Email announcement to all our friends and family, introducing “Our Son” even before we met him in person. 2.) When we met Anton for the first time at the Baby Home in Russia. 3.) When I carried Anton on my lap without a seat belt for the bumpy, 8-hour car ride back to Moscow. I put my chin on his little head and swore nothing bad would ever happen to him again. 4.) When I made a bib out of a burp-cloth and a Breathe-Rite nasal strip in a restaurant. James looked at me in wonder, proclaimed me as “awesome” and “a Mom.”
What sort of emotions did you experience once you had your child home?
Becoming a new parent to a child of any age is difficult. We experienced what I imagine most parents do who have just brought a child into their lives: joy, excitement, exhaustion, frustration–you name it. In addition, Anton was a fully-formed, mobile little person when he joined our family, with his own personality, likes and dislikes, habits–all things we had to learn about and adjust to quickly. I have a joke about adopting toddlers which I tell my friends (who also adopted toddlers): “It is like jumping out of an airplane at low altitude without a parachute: it is going to hurt real bad at first, but you will probably live.”
Most current adoption wisdom encourages families to be open with their child about their adoption history, and to be proud of it! Adoption is simply another way to build a family. We told our son he is from Russia from the moment he could understand, just like Mommy is from Arkansas and Daddy is from San Diego. He knows he is adopted, and at age 5 we are now moving into just exactly what that means. We plan on sharing everything we know as he expresses interest, and in an age-appropriate way.
Do you find children’s books helpful in explaining the adoption process to your child? Do you have any recommendations?
I can’t say enough good things about children’s books for explaining the adoption process to ANY child, not just to those who are adopted. Chances are you and your children have connections to someone who is adopted, and the more we can get the word out on the happy truths about adoption- not just what people see on “the movie of the week”–the better.
We Belong Together by Todd Parr: Great for the earliest reader and beyond. Bold illustrations with simple concepts. ($10.87 — click here to purchase)
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz: A couple take an airplane trip to adopt a baby girl in another country. ($7.95 — click here to purchase)
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis: Very accurate account of domestic adoption, with illustrations and humor even adults will enjoy. ($6.99 –click here to purchase)
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose A. Lewis: An international adoption classic. A mother’s account of her journey to her little girl in China. ($11.55 —click here to purchase)
Horace by Holly Keller: Great for introducing the concept of trans-racial adoption. Horace has spots, while his parents have stripes. ($11.55 —click here to purchase)
Go into IA with both an open heart and an educated mind. Prepare yourself for the challenges a post-institutionalized child may face. Make sure you have both the time and resources to help your child heal if necessary. Children are remarkably resilient, and many of my friends who have adopted internationally have children who needed very little (if any) help in adjusting, and are thriving with their families. Our son did need some physical and occupational therapy for developmental delays.
Keep in mind that at the end of the IA process, there is always your child. They are worth every hassle, every hour of waiting, every piece of paperwork and every therapy session. Internationally adopted children are amazingly strong, and have survived conditions that would be difficult for most adults. We are honored to call such remarkable children our own.
How has international adoption changed your life?
Adoption has completed our family, and brought a new kind of joy into our lives. Being a parent is difficult. It is the most difficult thing we have ever done, but it is also the best thing we have ever done. If I could tell you one thing it is this: don’t hesitate to adopt. If international adoption is calling you, then listen. Children can come into our lives in many ways, and adoption is such a remarkable way to build your family.
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