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International Adoption - Firsthand Experience
This article is about International Adoption, based on numerous interviews with my best friend, Sandi. I’m sharing some of the details of her firsthand experience with adopting a child. Actually, they wound up getting two children – a girl and a boy. Sandi and her husband, Robert, turned to foreign adoption after waiting years to adopt a child in the United States. Believe it or not, adopting a baby in the United States isn’t easy – unless you’re willing to take an infant with special needs, or unless you’re fortunate enough to find a private adoption. U.S. adoption for older kids is easier, however. Since most couples want a baby, older children are not as much in demand. More and more couples are discovering the difficulties with U.S. adoption, and as a result, these frustrated parental hopefuls are turning to other nations. To learn more about international adoption, keep reading!
Robert and Sandi Woodson had always wanted kids. Sandi, however, had experienced a lot of problems regarding her reproductive health. She wasn't about to give up her dream easily, though. She endured months of drug therapy and doctors' appointments in an effort to conceive, to no avail. After weighing and discussing their options, the couple decided on adoption. Sandi herself had been adopted as a baby, through a private adoption, and was eager to get the process started, so they began searching for and checking out adoption agencies.
They went through all the red tape of getting qualified by an adoption agency. This process included numerous interviews, reams of paperwork, home visits, background checks, and testimonies from friends. After months of waiting, the Woodsons were finally approved and were placed on a list for a US adoption.
Months passed...then years. Finally, they were notified that their name was approaching the top of the list. This meant they should have their baby very soon. They were ecstatic. Their dream would at last be realized. They were filled with a sense of happy anticipation. But it was not to be. In an ironic twist, by the time their name rose to the top of the adoption list, they were considered too old by the adoption agency. And they weren't actually old. Sandi was in her late thirties, and Robert was a few years younger.
This was a huge blow to the hopeful couple. Their hopes had been fed only to be dashed in one fell swoop. At this point, they were about to decide that they were just meant to remain childless. Then they discovered International Adoption. Sandi made phone calls to numerous adoption agencies and finally decided on Christian World Adoptions. She told me that of all the adoption agencies she’d contacted, this agency was the most forthcoming with information and the most upfront about adoption cost. She felt more comfortable with this group than she did with the other adoption agencies she’d explored.
Trying not to get false hopes again, Sandi inquired about the age issue. She was delighted to find out that with Chinese adoptions, her age would actually prove to be an asset - not a liability. The Woodsons jumped through all the required hoops, and within just a few months, their Chinese baby was ready to be picked up.
Since it was a Chinese adoption, the Woodsons were pretty sure they were getting a girl, but they didn’t actually find out until they arrived in China. In fact, one set of parents were surprised to find out they were getting a boy. Sandi and Robert flew to China in 1997 with a group of other adoptive parents. Of course, the Woodsons had already named their eight-month-old baby girl - Madison Logan. The couple couldn't wait to see her and hold her.
The group of prospective parents met with liaisons between the orphanage and the international adoption agency at a hotel. The parents' arms were at long last filled with squirming babies, and Sandi and Robert met Madison for the first time. It was love at first sight. There was no awkwardness at all between parents and child. This was what Sandi had been longing for so many years, and she could hardly wait to get Madison back to their hotel room so they could truly bond as she got to know her little bundle.
In all, Sandi and Robert spent two weeks in China to get Madison. Most of the time, they stayed in their hotel room. They never really felt safe on the streets of the big city, and one trip to the marketplace was more than enough for tender-hearted Sandi. I won't go into graphic details. Just suffice it to say that the experience involved cats and dogs.
After days and days of waiting, it was finally time to go home. The little family boarded the plane and flew the twenty-four hours back to the US with their precious cargo. Naturally, Sandi and Robert could hardly wait for the rest of their family to meet the new addition. Rob's parents and Sandi's mom met them at the airport with open arms and a full heart.
Madison was eight months old when the Woodsons adopted her. Of course, she remembers nothing of her life in China. The Woodsons, however, have always been open and honest about the adoption. Actually, it would have been practically impossible not to. Sandi and Robert both have fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Madison looks nothing like them.
International Adoption Laws
International adoption laws vary from country to country. In a few very large countries, different regions might have different laws, rules, and requirements for adopting a child to non-residents. Some countries, including some African nations, don’t allow their children to be adopted by non-residents. Others, like Romania, for example, will allow international adoption only by relatives.
In the last decade, U.S. citizens wishing to adopt a child often turned to China, Russia, South Korea, Kenya, Poland, Haiti, Ethiopia, Columbia, India, Ukraine, Congo, Uganda, Taiwan, Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, Cambodia, and Bulgaria. Now, however, many nations have banned international adoption, and in at least one case, Nepal, the United States has banned adoptions from other nations.
The list of countries allowing international adoption is in almost constant flux. For example, Guatemala now forbids international adoption, and Russia doesn’t allow American families to adopt its children now. My recent research shows that countries still involved in international adoption include China, Thailand, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, India, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Ghana, Kosovo, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Haiti. There are probably more nations that allow international adoptions, but the nations listed are the countries most often dealt with by adoption agencies.
The Woodsons were so thrilled with their international adoption that a few years later, in 2000, they got a little brother for Madison, adopting him in Cambodia. His name is Hunter Jacob, and he is 110% typical boy. I asked Sandi why they didn’t use Chinese adoption for a second child. She told me they wanted to adopt from China, but there were no infants available at the time. They could get a little girl, but the baby would be eighteen months old. They learned about Cambodia adoption on the internet.
The Woodsons were hoping to use the same adoption agency they’d used for Madison, but unfortunately, it wasn’t handling Chinese adoption at the time. Sandi did some research and found Seattle International Adoption. The group handled Chinese adoption, and Robert and Sandi were hoping to get an infant. That’s when they found out they couldn’t get an infant from China at the time. The adoption agency informed them that they could get a male infant from Cambodia, so they “switched” countries. Doing so cost $2,500.
Sandi said that Cambodia was much more open about the adoption process than China had been. They knew in advance that they were getting a four-month-old boy, and they were even sent photographs of the baby. The agency even asked if the Woodsons would prefer a light-skinned child or a dark-skinned child. None of that had happened with Madison.
Sandi and her mother-in-law, Nancy, flew to Cambodia to get Hunter. The stay in Cambodia was shorter than the China visit had been, lasting just six days. This time, Sandi and Nancy didn’t travel with a group. They traveled alone, and the adoption agency had arranged for them to have a private car with a chauffeur. When they arrived at the orphanage to get the baby, he wasn’t there. He was being cared for in a foster home, so they picked him up from the foster family.
Adoption cost for Hunter was around $12,000 – a little less than the adoption fees for Madison had been three years earlier. Fees vary somewhat from country to country and among different adoption agencies.
One of Sandi’s best friends, Jan, along with her husband, Mike, adopted two boys from Russia and named them Nicholas and Alexander. Nick was adopted in 1997, and Alex was adopted in 2000 – the exact same years Sandi adopted her kids. Jan had originally wanted to adopt a child from Romania, but before the adoption took place, Romania closed its doors to international adoption.
Like the Woodsons, Jan and Mike had hoped for a US adoption at first. After waiting fourteen months for a baby, however, the adoption agency they were using went out of business. They turned to international adoption. Once they were approved for a child, they had to travel to Russia twice in order to get Nick. They stayed with a Russian family the first time. To get Alex, they had to travel to Russia just once.
Nick was eighteen months old when he was adopted. He’d been kept in a crib for practically his whole life, and he couldn’t walk. It didn’t take him long, however, to catch up to other toddlers his age. Alex was a year old when Jan and Mike adopted him.
Adoption cost for Nick and Alex was more than what the Woodsons paid in adoption fees. The two Russian children were about $25,000 each. Like the Woodson’s adopted kids, both boys are doing well now and are thriving as Americans.
Adopting Madison through Chinese adoption was not cheap. The entire process carried a price tag of roughly $15,000, but several lives were changed forever - for the better. Because of China's one-child rule, Madison would never have been adopted in her native country. She would have grown up in a poor, crowded orphanage, with very little attention or love.
Madison was certainly worth much, much more than the adoption cost. Today, she’s a bright, happy, well adjusted seventeen-year-old honor student. As an added bonus, she's also beautiful. She's a typical all-American girl - into clothes, sports, and friends. Her delightful Southern drawl belies her Asian looks, but her parents strive to help her remain in touch with her Chinese heritage. They keep in contact with other Chinese adoption kids and often attend related functions, including Chinese New Year celebrations. Madison knows a lot about her native country, and her parents have purchased numerous items to help Madison learn more, including an outfit, a jacket, a tea set, and a jade bracelet. They also bought her a handkerchief with an embroidered rat, along with a stone stamp of a rat – Madison was born in the year of the rat. Several times over the years, Madison has shared her cultural history at school. She’s proud of her Chinese heritage, but she loves being an American.
Madison was adopted in 1997, and adoption cost has risen since then. International adoption agencies might charge between $10,000 and $15,000 – and that’s just their cost. The country from which you adopt also charges a fee. This varies somewhat, but the average cost is usually around $10,000 to $12,000. Other fees might include travel cost, third party fees, orphanage donations, and post adoption fees. The total adoption cost is usually between $18,000 and $40,000.
Most middle class American families would have a difficult time coming up with such a large amount of money. Fortunately, those interested in pursuing international adoption might be able to get financial help with grants, subsidies, standard loans, interest-free loans, and tax credits.
International Adoption vs. US Adoption
From what I’ve read and have been told, US adoption has changed somewhat since the Woodsons attempted it in 1997. Please bear in mind that my international adoption vs. US adoption is based on how the processes compared for the Woodsons. For them, international adoption was much quicker, as the process was more streamlined. They also knew about how much time each step would take. They also knew that once they were approved by one of the international adoption agencies, they were practically guaranteed to get a child.
In most cases, international adoption requires traveling to a foreign country. The Woodsons saw this as an adventure and as a chance to learn more about their children’s native cultures. Neither Robert nor Sandi had ever traveled much before, and they would probably never have visited China or Cambodia under any other circumstances.
Another plus with international adoption is that adoptive parents will never have to worry about the biological mother’s changing her mind. We have some friends who recently accomplished a US adoption, and the birth mother had a specified amount of time to change her mind. The adoptive parents went through hell waiting to see if they’d get to keep the baby or not. The Woodsons never had to worry about that.
With international adoption, you might have a wide choice of countries from which to adopt. Of course, that results in lots of kids of different races and ethnicities. If you want to “match” a child to your race, you can. For example, if you’re white, you might want to adopt from an Eastern European nation, if you’re African American, you might prefer to adopt from an African country, if you’re Hispanic, you can adopt from a Latin American country, and if you’re Asian, you’ll have several Asian countries from which to choose. The race issue isn’t important to a lot of hopeful adoptive parents, though. They just want a child to love and nurture.
International adoption has its disadvantages, too. For one thing, Madison and Hunter both came from large orphanages, and they weren’t handled much. In fact, Hunter had been left lying on his back for so long that the back of his head was completely flat by the time he was adopted. He was also very thin, although Madison wasn’t. The Woodsons have no information about the health of the birth mothers or their families. Although these kids might have gotten a slow start, they’re both healthy and completely “normal” now, and both are honor roll students and athletes.
Is International Adoption Right for Me?
Only you can decide if international adoption is right for you and your family. It’s not a simple process, and it’s usually very expensive. It also takes time, so you’ll have to be patient. If you adopt a child from a different race or ethnic group, you might be worried about negative responses from your community. The Woodsons live in a small rural town in South Georgia, and the citizens there are extremely conservative, but for the most part, the community has been very accepting of Madison and Hunter. In fact, the kids have enjoyed sort of a “celebrity status.” The Woodsons did, however, get some strange questions about their children when Madison and Hunter were still babies. A few people asked if Madison could speak Chinese or if Hunter could speak Cambodian. Really? How many kids speak any language at the age of four to eight months? Both kids know all the details about their adoptions, and they’ve never had any qualms with them. They feel fortunate, loved, and happy. I can’t imagine a US adoption working out any better for the Woodson family than the international adoption has.