Many of you have come by to read my series on how to choose an adoption agency. I appreciate anyone who made it all the way through that daunting series. When I sat down to write it, one of my sons came by and read over my shoulder a bit. “Mom? Shouldn’t you let someone else write that since you’ve only adopted from China once?” There you are, my secret is out! Now you know all of that information, which I wish I’d known when I was starting out, is a compilation of all the tips and tricks I’ve learned from other adoptive parents on the internet.
The internet is absolutely one of the best and most educational tools you have as you start your adoption journey. Anything I write here on this blog quickly becomes stuck in time. My one and only adoption was a year and a half ago. Recently, China has changed some of the rules again! Social network sites and online groups are probably the number one way that people get their information. I thought I would write this post to give you some guidelines to keep in mind when you sit down to ask the internet a question.
Are you in the same time zone?
International adoption has been around for decades. In my agency group, we have people who adopted 30 years ago. You can ask a question about meeting your child for the first time and one of them might pipe up with “Well, when we got to the airport to meet the flight . . .” Interesting, and maybe you feel a tiny bit jealous, but not really relevant to your situation.
For some of the questions you want to ask, you need to try and figure out which responses are currently accurate. You might want to specifically ask “Has anyone recently gotten a waiver for this situation?” “How much did you pay for your homestudy within the past year?”
Sometimes it’s better to suck it up and ask
I have a theory that the internet is populated by introverts. It is SO MUCH easier to ask a question anonymously, or at least without making eye contact, from the comfort of your computer chair. But sometimes you need to ask yourself if the internet is the best person to be asking. This is particularly true for those who are choosing an agency and have a question about agency policies.
For example, you might ask which agencies will allow you adopt out of birth order. Someone will say “Not agency X! I really wanted to use them but they told me they don’t allow it.” But I happen to know that agency X has changed their policy on adopting out of birth order so I ask when this situation occurred. “Oh, it was three or four years ago.” Agencies change policies all the time sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. If you want to know what an agency’s current policy is on adopting out of birth order, two at once, pregnancy while adopting, refunds, or anything else, the best thing to do is call or e-mail the agency directly. You wouldn’t want to miss out on working with a great agency because you got outdated information.
You should keep this in mind during the process, too. On my agency group, people ask questions such as “How do I fill out this form?” or “What hotel will we stay at?” during business hours all the time. This is what you are paying these people money for, don’t be afraid to ask them questions!
Don’t compare apples to oranges
When you are asking questions, make sure you aren’t being too broad. A common question to ask is “How long did it take to get your referral?” Answers will be all over the board, from “We were matched before we started” to “We’ve been logged in for over a year and still waiting.” How long did it take to get your referral for a boy or girl? Minor needs or open to a variety of needs? Even the agency you use will make a difference.
Similarly, another broad question is “How much did your adoption cost?” People often try to compare prices to see how expensive agencies are. People will name off numbers, but some include travel costs while others don’t. Even if you’re just comparing travel costs, how many people went on the trip and what time of year? Before you make major decisions based on general responses, you’ll want to make sure your comparisons are valid.
Remember that your data pool is skewed
If you have concerns about big topics such as the challenges of attachment or special adoption situations like adopting an older child, it is great to learn from the wisdom of the adoptive parents in these groups. However, keep in mind that most of the people in these groups are there because they love their adoption experience and they want to help you to decide that you should adopt, too! I have seen many people ask “Should I adopt out of birth order?” and usually there are 10 to 20 responses, all glowingly positive. Recently, I brought up the issue of adoption dissolution in conjunction with adopting out of birth order (something discussed in Special Adoption Situations) and I was very surprised that multiple people chimed in saying that they had adopted a child from a dissolution and it was because the child had disrupted birth order in the original adoptive family. Where were these people in every discussion on adopting out of birth order I’d seen before?!
The fact is, it can be hard to bring up the negative aspects of adoption. It can be hard to be the one to speak up and say “That didn’t work out for our family” when you see that it seems to have worked out beautifully for everyone else in the discussion who is participating. While it is possible to have difficult and honest discussions about the hard parts of adopting, it doesn’t come easy and many people will gloss over the hard parts so they don’t scare you off. While you shouldn’t discount the positive responses, keep in mind that the negative responses will be underrepresented. Particularly for discussing some of those special adoption situations, remember that your social worker and agency can also be a great resource on the pros and cons, and will probably be a more impartial resource.
Be wary of the cheerleader & the naysayer
This one mostly relates to when you are trying to choose an agency. People can get very personally invested in their agencies. You give this organization thousands of dollars and trust them to bring a child into your life during a very stressful and emotional time. When someone doesn’t like an your agency, it’s easy to feel personally insulted.
When you ask people opinions on agencies, you will get TONS. And usually, the longer the comments go on, the more pressure people start to apply. “I’ve adopted through Awesome Agency 5 times and I would NEVER use anyone else! They have never had a dossier declined from China and I wouldn’t trust anyone but their guides!” It is wonderful that the cheerleader has nothing but good things to say about their agency, but remember that most agencies will get your through this in one piece and with a new son or daughter (or two) at the end. I’ve seen a cheerleader tell a story about a rough trip in country where the agency saves the day by moving heaven and earth to get last minute medical tests/providing middle of the night translation/talking China out of canceling an adoption. Actually, I’ve seen this story told multiple times and about different agencies. You know what? It turns out there are MANY different agencies who will go the extra mile for your family and that is GREAT! So count the cheerleader’s vote as a positive but be a little skeptical that you will be in trouble if you don’t use Awesome Agency.
A little less common but still surfacing at times is the naysayer, who had a bad experience and wants to let you know it. There are some lousy agencies out there, and it’s good to be forewarned. There are also times that agencies have changed things that gave them negative feedback but they are still stuck with the negative perception. In fact, I’ve found that sometimes the loudest naysayer doesn’t even have personal experience with the agency that they really dislike. They just know that “everybody knows” that the agency is in it for the money or whatever. It can be really tricky to sort out what is inaccurate information versus an agency that consistently provides lousy service. Good luck on that, but remember not to make your decision based on one person’s bad experience.
Watch Out For the Wishful Thinking Fairy
We humans don’t deal well with uncertainty. We want desperately for someone to tell us that everything will work out exactly the way we want it in the end. Hearing the experiences of others can be really helpful in gaining understanding of the range of possibilities. But it can never give us guarantees. You can ask how long everyone’s else adoption took from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean yours won’t take twice as long. You can ask how long it took for everyone else’s school aged child to gain English fluency, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take your child longer.
This is especially important to keep in mind when you are in love with a child’s photo and are asking other parents for medical information. Other parents can only tell you about their child’s situation. They can’t tell you how often your child will need a transfusion, or how many surgeries they will need, or if they will need a transplant. Try to be honest with yourself–are you asking a question because you’re looking for reassurance that everything will be fine and you’re going to end up with the best case scenario?
As long as you keep that in mind, the adoptive parent community can be a wonderful resource. Many of the medical needs that you will encounter in the China program are relatively rare. There might not be anyone else in your community with dwarfism but your child. You can learn which doctors or hospitals are most knowledgeable about your child’s medical condition. You can get honest opinions on whether or not you should disclose your child’s Hep B or HIV status to their school. Being able to connect with other parents will give you support and even help you to get better medical care.
It can be an especially wonderful place for the opposite of wishful thinking–gaining support. If you ask “Is anyone else struggling with this?” then you will find that you aren’t alone. You can ask others who have dealt with the same struggles how they got through the difficult times when things aren’t going as expected.
Ready to connect with other adoptive parents? Here are some great Facebook groups to get you started:
China Adoption Questions– For people wanting general information on adopting from China
Rate Your China Adoption Agency– Get feedback on agencies you are considering
China Adoption Special Needs– Connect with parents who have experience parenting a child with specific special needs, or to get info on needs you are considering
China Waiting Child– Children currently available to be adopted from China
Considering Older Child Adoption From China– I think you can figure this one out
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.