Monthly Archives: November 2013

Taking Your Whole Big Family To China

When my dear husband suggested we take our four children with us to China to adopt Leo, I thought he was crazy.  I had a long list of reasons why it was a bad idea.  But he listened to me, and I listened to him, and in the end I came to agree that there were a lot of good reasons why we should take them along.  I talked to several families who had taken a similar amount of children who were close in age to ours.  I remember asking one to write a blog post with her advice and suggestions.  But she never did, so I decided to write that post as my final post for National Adoption Month.  Because you know what?  Several people have asked me for the same sort of information since I’ve been home.  I guess there are a lot of us crazy families out there!

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So let’s talk about what is involved in taking your whole big family to China.  I’m going to talk about the various aspects of the trip and talk about what worked for us, as well as give general cost information.  If you are still trying to decide whether or not you want to take your children, I think what is most important is to consider the personalities of your children.  How easy going are they?  What are they like when they get off their routine?  Are they picky eaters?  This trip is long, there are times where you will spend an entire day waiting around an airport or driving through traffic so you can travel to a different city.  The food is unfamiliar, the jet lag is exhausting, and you’ll be adding a new family member on top of all that!  This will work best if your children are fairly flexible, old enough to understand that sometimes they’re going to be bored, and tend to be adventurous.

1. FlightsIMG_2140

Airfare is your largest expense in the trip, and there really isn’t much you can do about it.  The fare will vary by season, and while most families will prefer to travel over summer vacation, this is the most expensive time to travel.  We were not able to travel immediately due to circumstances beyond our control and the month long delay bumped us from summer into the fall when fares drop.  Airlines started offering child fares again, and it turned out that delaying travel by a month saved us $1000 per person in airfare.  (There were six of us, so you do the math here.) This may or may not be an option for you, but it is something to keep in mind.

Keeping the children entertained for hours on a plane was one of my biggest fears.  In the end, that was the easiest part of the trip.  Before we bought our tickets we made sure the plane had individual video consoles for every seat.  This meant that each child could watch on demand movies or tv shows for pretty much the entire flight.  We tried to get them to sleep, but since we usually have strict media limits, they all kept saying they weren’t sleepy because they didn’t want the tv time to be over.  In the end, this was very helpful in overcoming jet lag.  We didn’t have to keep awake very long once we arrived in China, and we all got a good night’s sleep the first night.

2. Accommodations IMG_0071_2

Your hotel cost is the second most expensive part of the trip.  Chinese hotels have limits on how many people can stay in a room, just like US hotels. While I have heard of people cramming six or seven into a room, most people will probably need to get a second room or maybe more depending on your party size.  Children age twelve and up are considered adults, and usually the limit is three adults per room.  We had one twelve year old, so we averaged two adults and two children per room.  Hotels will bring a cot to fit in an extra person for fee that is usually around $50.

You will have some choice as to what type of room you will be staying in.  You can choose to have a room with two “twin” beds, which are similar to a US full size, or a suite that has one king size bed and a living room area.  Sometimes you can get adjoining rooms, and other times they are not available.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have two adjoining rooms at all three hotels.  For our time in Beijing we did not pay for a suite because we knew we would be out sightseeing most of the day and would only be in the room to sleep.  The other two cities we did get one suite and one standard room.  We thought the living room area would give us more room to relax during nap time or on rainy days, and we were very happy with this decision.  Many hotels will also have an “executive” option where you pay more per day but have access to more free bottled water, a lounge, and sometimes a light food buffet.  We didn’t choose this option and got along just fine without the executive perks.

3. Food OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most families really look forward to the free breakfast buffet included with the room.  At all three hotels where we stayed, the amount of food was extravagant.  American, European, and Asian breakfast foods were provided.  Most people say that after eating the breakfast buffet, they only ate one other full meal a day, with just a snack to get by. One problem we ran into was that not all hotels had the policy that all guests could eat free, or that all children under a certain age could eat free.  Sometimes the breakfast was limited to two guests per room, which left us short a few breakfasts.  We had the option to pay for the buffet but at a cost of $20 or more per person.  Since we could feed our entire group of eight people for less than that at a Chinese restaurant, we opted to take turns going to the buffet and the other people would eat in the room or at another local dining option.

Eating the local cuisine will definitely save you a lot of money because it was much cheaper than eating at the western food places like KFC or Pizza Hut.  Our meals out for seven people cost between $12 and $20.  A good portion of that cost was for soda since we couldn’t drink the water, and we didn’t care for Chinese tea.  If you don’t like Asian food, then you will need to budget more for food each day.  Eating at the hotel will obviously be more expensive than wandering out on the streets to find local restaurants.

Many families pack extra food along.  One woman I spoke with said they packed an entire suitcase of food!   We packed light, but you will definitely want to pack at least some snacks for times when you are traveling or are too exhausted to go out and get food.  Foods that most people pack include oatmeal or cream of wheat packets (there is an electric kettle in the room), granola bars, peanut butter crackers, travel packs of peanut butter, applesauce, pudding, or fruit cups, and tuna in the vacuum sealed pouch with some mayo packets.  Anything you can think of that travels well and can be eaten straight out of the packet or prepared with boiling water will do.  I also packed some of those disposable plastic red Solo bowls and a ziplock with plastic forks, spoons, and knives.  This was really helpful for when we had takeout in the room, and you can take plastic forks along when you eat out for kids who are too young to eat with chopsticks.

4. ToursOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will need to decide if you want to travel straight to your province, or stop in either Beijing or Hong Kong for a day or two of sight-seeing.  If the budget is tight, then this is the best way to cut costs.  However, we felt that if we were going all that way, we didn’t want to miss out on seeing famous sights like the Great Wall!  You will pay per person for tours, and the ones we were offered ranged from $30 to $100+ per person.  This included transportation, English speaking guide services, and often a meal.  Some families will arrange for to use one of the several private guides recommended by others in the adoption community and this can be significantly cheaper than the tour companies.

We decided that touring in Beijing was important to us, and we did pay for extras like the guided tours because we knew those first two days would be rough while we were jet-lagged.  After that, we planned on seeing China without tours.  There are a lot of great things to see in Nanjing and Guangzhou, but we thought that just walking around in the hotel area to see the parks and shops would be entertaining as well.  That is what we did, and we had a great time.  I printed out maps ahead of time that showed the areas around our hotels as well as read up online to see what other adoptive parents said they liked to see and do at that location.  That’s how we ended up eating at the wonderfully tasty but still unnamed dumpling shop.  Guangzhou has a great subway system that is easy to navigate, so you can also try getting around that way.  Bringing Home Holland has very good directions on how to get from the China Hotel to the Safari Park on her blog.

We also felt that doing some fun touristy things on the front end of the tour would give us more flexibility after Leo joined our family.  Many children come with medical issues such as an ear infection.  It is not uncommon for them to grieve heavily through this transition time, and Leo had his sad moments.  We explained to the children that we might end up staying in the hotel all day if it seemed better for Leo, or because of poor weather.  I think we would have been more likely to have one of us and Linda take the older children out or down to swim in the hotel pool if Leo was grieving, but we wanted the children to understand that the trip was not a vacation, and to help them to empathize with Leo.  Things went very smoothly for us, but these are all things to consider when you are choosing whether or not to take your other children with you on the trip.

5. Packing IMG_2120

We packed so light that this picture shows all of our suitcases (minus three backpacks and my mother-in-law’s luggage).  It was great to not have to haul a huge amount through the airport!  Now, we were fortunate enough to travel in warm weather so we didn’t have to pack winter clothes for Beijing/Nanjing and summer clothes for Guangzhou.  My biggest advice here is to remember that you can buy pretty much anything you need in China–clothes, food, diapers and formula are all readily available.

In the carry on bag, I packed one outfit for everyone, medications, and toiletries in case our other two bags got lost.  The two larger bags I designated as the Beijing bag and the Nanjing bag.  I wanted to have everything we needed in Beijing in the Beijing bag so we wouldn’t even open the Nanjing bag until we arrived there.  The Beijing bag had outfits for the two days and swim gear while all of the baby stuff was in the Nanjing bag.  This system worked very all.  All of our important documents and electronics were in the backpacks we kept with us on the plane.

I packed about three pairs of shorts and four shirts for everyone, all mix and match.  Most of the shirts I packed for the children could fit at least two different children, so it was easy to find something that was clean enough to wear.  I mostly packed free activity related shirts for the kids that we could toss at the end of the trip.  For shoes, everyone but myself and my mother-in-law wore Keens.  We wore the same shoes every day, and that saved a lot of packing room.  Again, I know this isn’t possible for everyone due to weather or foot issues, but it worked out great for us.  We packed a reasonable amount of snacks and medicines, trusting that we could buy things we needed in China.  I only took one pack of American diapers, one bottle with two nipples, two sippy cups, and one can of formula.  I took most of the medicines out of their boxes or containers and packed them in snack sized ziplock bags, all clearly labeled with dosing information, and then packed the 15+ snack sized ziplocks into one quart sized one.  It saved a ton of space and kept everything together!  I highly recommend packing Melatonin to take in the evenings to help with jet lag.

IMG_1299Laundry is very expensive to have done at the hotels, and fairly expensive even sending out to a local place, just because you generate a lot of laundry.  I did all of our laundry by washing in the bathtub or sink.  I used Tide travel packets of soap, along with a bar of Fels-Naptha.  I found it worked best to just wash a few things every day.  We didn’t have any trouble getting things to dry, and you can finish off clothes that are a little damp by using the ironing board in the room.  I packed our clothes in large travel roll-up ziplock bags.  I was able to get one outfit for each of us (a full day’s set of clothing) in each bag.  It worked best if I took the time every evening to sort out what needed to be washed, what could be reworn, and sort clean clothing into outfits to go back into the bags.  It made it much easier to stay on top of the laundry and to have a clean outfit for everyone ready for the next day.

6. EntertainmentIMG_1392

There is a lot of time to fill in a two week trip to China.  We usually went out both in the morning and afternoon but we still had time in the hotel, in the van, and in the airport to kill.

I packed three backpacks: one for Matt and I to share, one for Mary Evelyn and Max (12 and 10), and one for Gregory and Vincent (7 and 4).  Mary Evelyn is wearing the Gregory/Vincent backpack here which doubled as our diaper bag when we went out.  The older two kids took their Nintendo DSes and I purchased a new game for each of them to help keep them entertained.  Gregory and Vincent took iPod shuffles filled with audiobooks.  Gregory loves to listen to audiobooks, and I purchased several new ones for him.  Vincent isn’t as occupied by audiobooks, but we already had an extra shuffle and he would listen to Winnie the Pooh or Beatrix Potter for half and hour at a time if needed.

IMG_1526Besides these bigger electronic items, each bag had items like a coloring book and crayons, word find book, packs of card games, travel play dough, colored pipe cleaners, and other little items that I picked up cheaply at a dollar store.  My mother in law Linda came armed with her own bag of entertainment and she saved us many times by pulling out some new little toy when tempers were running short and people were getting bored.

In the adult backpack we took our Ipad, which I used to blog and was our secret weapon during Leo’s naptime.  We were able to stream Netflix for American entertainment using a VPN to circumvent China’s internet restrictions.  Matt knew how to hook it up to the big screen TV provided at all the hotels so the kids could lounge around on the bed and watch a movie while the adults got some quiet recharging time.  We were also able to Facetime with Grandpa back home using the Ipad.

IMG_1348The last way to keep busy is the hotel pool.  I packed our swimsuits, swim diapers for Leo, goggles, and two swim rings which packed completely flat in the suitcase.  If you are traveling during cool weather, make sure you pick the items up during the summer when you can still get them in stores.  Check to see if your hotels have indoor or outdoor pools.  Many hotels require swim caps in China although we didn’t pack them and didn’t need them.

7. Bringing Extra HelpIMG_1519

We decided to see if my mother-in-law Linda would be interested in coming to China with us and we were so grateful that she said yes!  It was so helpful to have an extra set of hands so that our child to adult ratio was lower.  Our kids are old enough that we could have done it by ourselves, but it was much easier with Linda along.  If you’re thinking of bringing a friend or relative along, I’d recommend asking the same sorts of questions you would ask when thinking about bringing the children along.  Is this person an easy traveler?  Do you get along with them well?  You will be spending two weeks in close quarters, so you want to make sure that your companion won’t add friction to an already stressful trip.  Also consider whether they will be respectful of the attachment process.  Linda made sure she let us always carry, feed, and change Leo.  She mostly cared for the older children, and didn’t give any extra attention to Leo.  She asked me to take this picture as we were packing up to head home because she’d done such a good job of hanging back that she hadn’t ever held him like this before so they didn’t have any pictures together!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I hope this has been helpful if you are thinking of taking several kids with you to China.  If there is something you are wondering about and I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment and I can add to the article.  I’d like to thank Ann from Crazy For Kids, Mandy from Our Bigger Picture, and Yvette from Bringing Home Holland who all gave me advice and encouragement.  While we were on the trip, I met Kristi from Fireworks and Fireflies who is very experienced at taking a large family to China.

Some blog posts which were written after we traveled: Nicole at Living Out His Love has a post on her experience taking siblings to adopt.  A more recent post on traveling with a large family is here and they traveled with children in wheelchairs!  Jill Bevan at Hilltop Memories gives some great tips from her trip here. Remember, you can do it, and you will have lots of fun making memories on the trip of a lifetime!

Note: Our trip was in September 2013 so keep in mind that the prices or options may no longer be accurate.

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Family Preservation

November is a month which often finds people contemplating the theme of thankfulness.  Bloggers and people on Facebook will often share one thing they are thankful for each day for the month.  Right after Thanksgiving, the Christmas season picks up in full swing and that is a time when charitable giving is at its highest as people’s gratitude spills over in generosity to others.

November is also Adoption Awareness Month, and includes “Orphan Sunday,” a day when many Christian churches focus on how the church can care for orphans.  Many people will be encouraged to consider adopting, or to support orphans in other ways such as helping other families to adopt or maybe by helping to provide financial support for an orphanage.  You might have seen a graphic like this:

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This graphic meets our idea of an orphan.  A very young child who has lost both parents to disease, or maybe who was abandoned because she was a girl.  But according to UNICEF, only 13 million of the “orphans” in the world have lost both parents and 95% are over the age of five.  People will wait for years in order to adopt an orphan who is very young, particularly a girl, but those children are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the international orphan population.

What does that mean exactly that most orphans are older and still have a living parent?  It means that the reason most children are available for international adoption is poverty, pure and simple.  They have lost one parent due to disease or abandonment and the other cannot provide their child with food, or a place to live, so they make the difficult decision to relinquish their child.

The average orphan looks a lot like eight year old “Brecken” who was available for adoption throughScreen Shot 2013-11-24 at 1.19.44 PM my agency at the time this post was written.  When Brecken’s father abandoned his family, his mother was unable to care for him any longer.  She is still alive.  Maybe she comes to visit him in the orphanage, which is common in some countries.  If someone adopts Brecken, she might be required to show up at court to verify that she consents to the adoption.  Doesn’t that break your heart?  No parent should have to give up their child because they don’t have enough money to buy food, or to provide them with medical care.

That is why I wanted to bring attention to the most important element of helping orphans–family preservation.  Most people will never adopt a child, but everyone can help keep families together.  One of the reasons we chose Holt International as our agency is because they also believe in family preservation.  They offer a child sponsorship program as well, and many Holt families will continue to sponsor children after they adopt.

I hope that you will consider sponsoring a child through an organization such as Holt or  Christian Foundation For Children and Aging (now known as Unbound). For $30 a month, you can help provide a child with their needs.  Some receive supplemental food, clothing, an education, or other things specific to their family.  A few years ago, we received a letter from a child we sponsor in the Philippines telling us that her family’s house had been destroyed during a hurricane, but thanks to our sponsorship CFCA had helped to find them new housing.  Two years ago we also began sponsoring a boy in India.  At first we received letters from his father or older brother thanking us, because now this boy was finally able to attend school for the first time.  This past spring, he wrote to us himself, proud that he had learned to read and write well enough to send his own letter.  We were so proud of him!

For those in the China adoption community, Love Without Boundaries’ Unity Fund is a powerful tool to keep families together.  It is a hard reality that many of the children available for adoption in China were abandoned because their parents couldn’t give the child the medical care they needed.  This heartbreaking photo essay shows devastated parents leaving their children at the “baby hatch” in Guangzhou.  As one parent said “The sole purpose of us sending the child here is its survival. Life is above all things. We just hope our child will be able to survive here.”  The Unity Fund helps parents to not have to choose between keeping their child and giving them the medical care that they need.

So in this season of thankfulness and giving, please consider sponsoring a child to keep a family together.

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Which Special Needs?

When you choose to adopt through the China special needs program, you need to decide which special needs you will be open to. Most agencies will present you with a medical needs checklist and you check all the needs that you are open to. The form for my agency has over fifty different medical conditions listed. The conditions range from familiar scary medical diagnoses like Spina Bifidia and HIV+ to unfamiliar yet still scary sounding medical conditions such as Thalassemia or Tetralogy of Fallot. It’s hard to know what to sign up for, and most people are left wondering “What are the easy special needs?” Answering that question can be difficult, because everyone’s idea of what needs are “easy” is different. Here are some ways to find the best special needs fit for your family.

1. What are you familiar with?

Sometimes the best place to start is what you know. If you happen to be a prosthetist then adopting a child with a limb difference is probably the obvious way to go. Many people who decide to adopt a child with Down Syndrome say that they started on that path because they have a close relationship with a friend or relative with Down Syndrome.  Teachers and medical professionals probably have experience with a variety of medical needs, but everyone can ask around among family and friends.

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The Gilbert family became interested in adopting a child with Down Syndrome because of Stephanie’s close relationship with her nephew.  Her husband wrote a great blog post on A Dad’s Perspective on Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome.

Also be sure to watch this great video profile of the Ayers family in Cincinnati, who decided to adopt a child with dwarfism because both parents have osteogenesis perfecta, a type of dwarfism.  Kara’s comments on the discrimination that parents with disabilities face are eye-opening.

2. How is your insurance?

It sounds obvious, but you should check your coverage before you decide which needs you are open to if finances are a concern. If you are open to hearing impairments, will your insurance cover hearing aids or cochlear implants? Speech therapy is often not covered by insurance but children with cleft palate can need extensive speech therapy. How is your out of network coverage if you choose to travel to have your child treated or seen by a specialist? Many states offer services which can help make medical treatment affordable, or make up for insurance coverage gaps.

3. What resources are available in your area?

If you don’t already have a child with special needs, you might not know what the strengths of your geographic area are. Do some asking around to see what is available. If you have a school for the deaf or blind, then you might feel more comfortable adopting a child with those special needs once you see how much they can help you. If you live in Boston which has the premiere pediatric cardiac center then you might feel more confident adopting a child with congenital heart disease. Shriner’s Hospitals provide excellent care for children with cleft lip/cleft palate and orthopaedics. We didn’t realize until after we were matched that there was a Shriner’s Hospital specializing in orthopaedics near us.

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The Olson family has adopted four children with congenital heart disease. Their local hospital has doctors with a lot of experience treating internationally adopted children with complex heart problems.  Their youngest daughter received a heart transplant

4. What sort of time do you have?

You should expect the time immediately after returning home with your child to be full of doctor’s visits and surgeries, therapies, or other procedures. Once that stage is over, how much time do you have available for medical needs? Some special needs require a lot of maintenance with weekly therapy visits, or maybe you expect the child to be in and out of the hospital during times of illness. Other special needs are the sort where you only check in with a doctor once a year or so. How easy is it for you to get time off work? If you have other children, what sort of commitments do you have with them?  Living in a rural area can present unique challenges.  How far away are the medical facilities you’ll be using and how often can you make that drive?  Is there anyone in your area with experience with some of the less common special needs like Thalassemia?

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Although we lived in a rural area and already had four children, we found several special needs that we thought would be a good fit for our family.  And we then we found this special little boy!

5. How good is your support system?

Having a good support system can make all the difference in the world. Maybe you already have children, but you live right next door to Grandma and Grandpa who love to babysit. Perhaps you have a church with an active meal ministry. But if both spouses work jobs with little flexibility, or you already have children and no reliable babysitter, then you should be realistic about that when you choose which special needs to be open to.

6. Have an honest conversation about looks.

Many adoptive parents are uncomfortable with visible special needs such as limb differences or dwarfism.  However, children with these special needs might be some of the healthiest and require little in the way of medical care.  Sometimes the visible needs aren’t as visible as you might think.  Can you spot the three children pictured on this page who are wearing a prosthetic leg or two? It is natural to feel a connection with a child who is especially cute, but take some time to consider whether a child with a visible special need might be a good fit for your family.  Once you have a relationship with a child, you don’t see their need no matter how visible it is–you just see your beautiful son or daughter!  I especially recommend you read this wonderful and thought provoking blog post by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time on adopting a child with a facial deformity.

On the other hand, many people are moved to reconsider special needs that they thought they couldn’t manage after being drawn to a child’s picture.  I have heard so many people say “Once we saw that picture, we knew we could handle whatever the need was.  We just knew she/he was our child.”  After having the file reviewed by a doctor and hearing what sort of medical care is necessary, you will probably find it is not as daunting as you thought.

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After their youngest biological son was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism, the Kreb family went on to adopt three other children with dwarfism and are in the process of bringing home a fourth. Yvette is a wonderful mentor mom to other families considering adopting a child with dwarfism.  

7. Educate yourself about special needs that you are considering, and maybe some of those that you aren’t.

Once you begin to do a little research you may find your perception of a special need isn’t correct. I, like many people, assumed that a cleft palate can be repaired with a single surgery, but it is a special need which is more involved than that, often requiring two or three palate surgeries, lip or nose revision procedures, and speech therapy.  This is still a manageable need for most families, but you don’t want to be surprised by what is involved after you get your child home.

On the other hand, you might more open to reviewing spina bifida files if you learn that in mild cases the child is able to walk.  More people are considering needs such as spina bifida or anal atresia when they learn that people with these issues can achieve social continence through self-cathetarization and a bowel management program. The category of limb differences can be huge, and maybe you would be open to a few missing fingers (or extra ones) but not a child who is missing both arms.  Most children with a particular special need might be more than you think your family could handle, but you could be open to milder cases.

Finally, make sure you aren’t deciding based on an outdated understanding of what a special need involves.  Through medical advances, children with hemophilia can lead active lives.  Drugs are available to strengthen the bones of children with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease).  Similarly, through new pharmaceutical advances, children who are HIV positive can live completely normal lives with the viral load at undetectable levels in the bloodstream. (Here is a Facebook group for those considering adopting an HIV+ child from China.)

When considering special needs, I found several of the podcasts from Creating A Family to be helpful:

Should you adopt a child with special needs? (8/13)

Evaluating special needs to see which one is a good fit (12/12)

Health issues to consider when reviewing an adoption referral or potential match (12/09)

Other good resources are the No Hands But Ours blog, where you can get information on various needs and be connected with the blogs of families who have adopted children with those special needs and the Rainbow Kids website.

I found this blog series on adopting a child who is deaf to be particularly informative.

Bethel China is provides an education to orphans in China who are blind.  They have several resources on their website about adopting visually impaired children, and you can also see which children at Bethel are available for adoption.

8. Consider the worst case scenario.

Finally, remember to take the worst case scenario seriously. Files from China are generally accurate, but often minor issues are not disclosed. Sometimes children are misdiagnosed. Heart issues are rather notorious for “minor” being more “major” than was thought.  A few people will find they have adopted a perfectly healthy child while many more will find they are dealing with a need that is far more complex than they thought. If you have a file reviewed by a doctor, it can be easy to focus on the positives, especially if you have already fallen in love with the photo. Be sure to spend some time asking yourselves how your family with cope with the special need being worse then presented, or if the situation turned out to not be correctable, or if the “institutional delays” turned out to be true cognitive delays. There are no guarantees in adoption, any more than there are in life in general. You have to have a certain amount of flexibility and the ability to be comfortable with unknowns.

Along the same lines, it is common to feel guilty about not being open to some needs, or having to decline a referral.  Remember that the best family for a child is one that can meet their needs.  If you know that your family honestly cannot meet their needs, medical or otherwise, then try not to feel guilty about it.  Families will answer all of these questions differently, and a need that is too much for one family will be another families’ “easy special need.”

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The Greatly Blessed family includes two girls with limb differences, but their son’s special needs were much greater than they anticipated.

9. If you’re looking for an “easy” special need, consider adopting a boy.

Because adoptive parents overwhelmingly prefer girls, many boys who are young and have minor needs wait three times as long to find a family as girls with the same age and need. For this reason, I’ve heard adoption advocates say that the most common special need is being a boy. Take some time to consider how important each of the factors of age, need, and gender are to you.

10. Worrying about “what if?”

I started this post talking about how to find the “easy” special need.  Don’t we all want an easy special need because we’re scared about the how our life could change?  So much of special needs adoption is facing the “what if” and realizing that it doesn’t matter anymore.  What if you take a leap of faith, and you realize the child you adopted is so much more than their special need label?

I think Amy said it best on her recent post on the New Day Foster Home blog:

What if it changes everything?
 
It did. It absolutely changed everything. We didn’t just survive the changes, we thrived.. . . As I look back and remember all of it I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness that  we didn’t let the “what if’s” of fear speak over the “what if’s” of hope. I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on the chance of loving someone deeply whom we’ve never met and making her our daughter. It still blows my mind all that knowing her has added to our life and to our family.
If you are just beginning your adoption journey and found this post helpful, you might consider buying my book which has all of this information and more, including several chapters on travel.

My Top Adoption Resources

I know I left you all hanging as far as Leo’s surgery, so I want to reassure you that it went well and Leo is recovering very well. My current plan is to post updates on him at 3, 6, and 12 months home. I know I told people I wasn’t going to keep blogging, but I realized I had a few more adoption related posts that I wanted to write.

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When Matt and I started thinking about adoption, we only knew one family who had adopted. We had a lot of questions, and we didn’t know where to start. There were so many resources available, that it was overwhelming. Maybe some of you have followed along on our journey and you are at a similar place. You’re thinking, “Well, we used to think about adopting, but we don’t even know where to start.” Since November is National Adoption Month, I thought it would be a good time to make a post of my favorite resources. I’m not an Amazon affiliate, so when you see a link for a book, it just takes you to an author interview or a page that allows you to read an excerpt.

The best place to start is to read a few adoption memoirs. I had no idea this was a whole genre. These are easy to read stories of one family’s adoption experience. I generally found myself getting a little irritated by them because many of the authors had a tone of self-congratulation for how great they were for adopting, or spoke very disparagingly of their child’s birth country. It is hard for me to take someone seriously when they write about how changed they were by the poverty they witnessed when they follow it up by four pages of complaints about hard beds and the lack of air conditioning. With that complaining on my own part out of the way, here are my two favorite adoption memoirs:

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.04.54 PMNo Biking In The House Without A Helmet by Melissa Faye Green is laugh out loud funny. While Melissa and her husband are probably not your average adoptive couple since they adopted mostly boys and older children, everyone can enjoy her humorous look at her large international family. She doesn’t shy away from reality though, talking about her difficulty in bonding with her first adopted son, the challenges of “virtual twinning” when they adopted a son the same age as a son already in the family, and even religious issues such as sitting down with the two older Christian boys they were considering adopting from Ethiopia and explaining that their family was Jewish. Melissa will really make you feel that adoption isn’t just for the super parents, but is something that even the average parent can do.

If you are an NPR fan, Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.11.40 PMyou’re probably familiar with Scott Simon of All Things Considered. He wrote a book called Baby We Were Meant For Each Other. Simon writes the story of he and his wife’s adoptions from China, but he also includes the narratives of several other families so that a wide variety of adoption experiences are included. Simon adopted back when adoption from China meant healthy infant girls, so keep in mind that his experience is not going to be typical of today’s China adoptive parent.

After you’ve read those two, you’re probably ready to start looking into more specific adoption information. The resource I’ve found most helpful is Creating A Family. I listened to hours of podcasts from Dawn Davenport. I started with podcasts on how to decide whether foster, domestic, or international adoption was the best fit for us. I listened to a podcast on adopting when you already have biological children, toddler adoption, and how to consider which special needs to be open to. While we were waiting to bring Leo home, I listened to more specialized podcasts such as language development in internationally adopted children, feeding issues and nutrition in adoption, and bonding with your child while still in country.

IScreen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.29.49 PM also highly recommend Dawn Davenport’s book The Complete Book of International Adoption if you decide that international adoption is the best fit for your family. Davenport is very systematic in taking you through the various factors to consider. She includes lots of narratives from adoptive parents, and I love that she always includes an even amount of pros and cons on issues like deciding if you should take your child(ren) with you on an adoption trip. Because this book is older, some of the country information is out of date but most of the information is very helpful, even if you know that Russian adoption is closed down for Americans.

 

When you’re starting to get really serious about sending in an application to adopt, it’s time to start looking at some resources for when adoption doesn’t have a happy ending. All of the children who are available for adoption have experienced loss and many have endured abuse, trauma, malnutrition, and prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.44.08 PMWhen parents in online adoption groups are asked for book recommendations, Karyn Purvis’ The Connected Child is always mentioned over and over again. Karyn writes about her work with children “from hard places” and she is always in demand as a speaker at adoption conferences. Her Empowered To Connect website is a wealth of information, with many videos and articles. I appreciated the science heavy information in The Connected Child which explained how things such as prenatal drug and alcohol exposure, trauma, or malnutrition cause chemical changes in the child’s brain. She gave many ideas on how to work through challenges, and many of them were very simple such as offering the child chewing gum because chewing reduces stress.

EMK Press is another website with many good articles available. They offer a free ebook called Realistic Expectations which many adoptive families have found helpful.

While you are educating yourself about adoption, you might want to listen to the experiences of adult adoptees.  I review two films and link to a few other resources in this blog post.

I know that many people feel that international adoption is financially out of reach for their family, so I wanted to leave you with this article from my agency which shares the stories of three families who used a variety of means to afford to adopt. The article includes links on the adoption tax credit, as well as grants which are available. There are many resources which make adoption affordable, especially when you consider that the international adoption process takes between 1 and 3 years, depending on the country, so don’t let cost scare you away from international adoption!

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Two months

Someone mentioned my blog today and I realized it has been a month since I last updated. I took some time to read over the old entries and it was great to remember the trip to China. But when I look back, Leo was such a stranger. Now I know him so well. At the two month mark, we have definitely reached the settled in point. Leo has continued to blossom. He loves everyone in the family, and he seems to learn new things every day. IMG_2273

This month we were able to get Leo evaluated for early intervention through the First Steps program. We will have weekly visits to help get him caught up from his orphanage delays. He is very curious, and I love watching him practice new things he has learned, such as how to color. He was so confused the first time I read him a book, but now he will bring me board books to read. He especially loves stories where I make animal noises for him.

Speech therapy is one service that will be provided by First Steps. Leo seems to have forgotten his Chinese. He no longer says Chinese phrases like “wa wa” for baby nor does he show any recognition if we use a Chinese phrase. But he hasn’t started speaking much English. For a while he really only said Mama which is the same in Chinese and English. He calls both me and Matt “mama.” But last week he seemed ready to start trying new words. He has said hi, bye, cat, and doggie several times. He also will say Max, but that is his only sibling name.

IMG_2292I looked over my last entry about what our life was like, and I see so many changes since then. No one has been sick for awhile and that really helps! Leo no longer cries before he goes to sleep. He is still a picky eater. Matt is still his favorite parent, but I have seen a big change in our relationship. He has figured out that I’m not just the house nanny, and he will smile when he sees me, and spontaneously give me hugs and kisses. He is still scared of the dogs, but he is getting used to them. It’s getting too cold to keep them outside, so he’ll have to get used to them being inside soon! While he is still withdrawn and fearful when we go new places or he meets new people, he has come a long way in feeling more secure and trying new things. For example, he had never really been exposed to grass in China since he lived in an institutional and urban environment. Grass feels really funny if you aren’t used to it! It took a few weeks, but he has started to venture out in the grass now.

I can tell that he is feeling most comfortable that he knows what is going on in his life. The first week when I tried to do laundry it was difficult because he cried when I set him down to pick up the laundry basket, and I couldn’t figure out how to carry both him and the basket. Now when I go to the laundry room he runs ahead of me while I carry the basket to my room to fold the clothes. When I say it’s time for a diaper change, he runs to the changing pad. He has started to tug at the door when he wants to go outside or the refrigerator door when he wants a drink or snack. He likes to show us that he knows where things belong. I have a spot on the counter for the children to keep their cups so we don’t dirty up 5274 cups each day. Sometimes I will walk by and see Leo has parked his sippy cup right there in the line. Another day when I couldn’t find his shoes, Matt told me that Leo has started putting them in our closet with the rest of our shoes. Because he knows that’s where shoes belong.

IMG_2334We missed out on most of the first two years of Leo’s life, and many people are hesitant about adoption because you miss so many of the “firsts.” The first smile, first tooth, first step. But there are still so many firsts left to enjoy. I can assure you that I was just as excited when Leo took those first steps on the grass as I was when any of my first four children took their first steps! This month we have enjoyed so many firsts with Leo. In October he enjoyed eating pumpkin muffins, drinking cider, wearing his first Halloween costume, and picking out his first pumpkin. It was great to be over jet lag, take a break from the various medical appointments, and enjoy life together. It’s also wonderful to see how excited the other children are to share in these moments. Oh, and I can’t forget to add our first photo session as a family of seven!

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Another special milestone this month was Leo’s baptism. He is much too big for the gown that all our children have worn, so I bought him a traditional Chinese outfit when we were in Guangzhou. We had planned to have him baptized next month on the feast day of St. Leo the Great, which falls on a Sunday this year. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfortunately, after his surgery was scheduled it fell just two days later so we moved the baptism date to an earlier weekend. Leo’s cleft palate will be repaired this Friday, November 8th. His cleft is considered minor, but as his surgeon said, it won’t feel minor to Leo. We were able to schedule a few other things to be done at the same time so he won’t have to be sedated again. For example, he came to us with a front tooth that was crumbling from decay, so the stub of the tooth will be removed. Please keep him in your prayers for a smooth surgery and quick recovery.