This is the updated version of my previous blog post of the same name, which appears as the third chapter in the Mine In China book. The pictures do not appear in the book.
This book is a compilation of all the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out. Much of it is the collected wisdom 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 include in this book will quickly become dated, as China is constantly tinkering with their process. Processing times slow down or speed up. Social network sites and online groups are probably the number one way people get their information. While you can adopt without being involved in these online groups, choosing to participate will guarantee that you are getting the most up-to-date information and even access to tips for speeding up the adoption process. If you aren’t on Facebook, I suggest you consider starting an anonymous account specifically for participating in adoption groups. If you are on Facebook but hesitate to join adoption groups for privacy reasons, be aware that any group you join which is “closed” or “secret” will not show on your profile, nor will friends see posts that you make in the groups. Because I will refer you to these online resources throughout the book, I wanted 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 a Facebook group for people who have adopted through my adoption agency 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 to figure out which responses are currently accurate. Include qualifiers with your question. You want to specifically ask “Has anyone recently gotten a waiver for this situation?” or “How much did you pay for your home study within the past year?”
This is especially important to keep in mind when you are looking at resources on the China adoption program. Many people watch National Geographic’s China’s Lost Girls or read Silent Tears by Kay Bratt or The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans. These are excellent resources as long as you keep in mind that they do not reflect the current state of adoption in China. The gender and special needs of the orphan population have changed, as has the care the children receive in institutions.
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 source 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 to 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” is the response. 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 for 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 adoption process, too. On my agency group, people constantly 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! Even if someone has adopted from your agency within the past year, they might be unaware of policy changes. It is best to contact your agency directly regarding wait times for a match, how to complete necessary forms, travel arrangements, and many other important aspects of your adoption.
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.” Do you mean how long did it take to get your referral for a boy or for girl? Are you open only to minor needs or to a variety of needs? Even the agency you use will make a difference because the wait time for a match can be months longer at some agencies.
Similarly, another common broad question is “How much did your adoption cost?” It is normal to try to compare prices to see how expensive other 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! One common question many people ask is “Should I adopt out of birth order?” and usually there are 10 to 20 responses, all glowingly positive. In a recent discussion, I brought up the issue of adoption dissolution in conjunction with adopting out of birth order. 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. Th0se parents who had adopted from an adoption dissolution shared that they thought disrupting birth order was a major factor in failed adoptions. 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 who is participating in the discussion. While it is possible to have difficult and honest discussions about the hard parts of adopting, it doesn’t come easily. Many people will gloss over the hard parts so they don’t scare others away from adopting. 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/or agency can also be a great resource on the pros and cons, and will likely be a more impartial resource than the adoptive parents in online support groups.
Be wary of the cheerleader & the naysayer
This one mostly relates to choosing an agency. People can get very personally invested in the agencies they use. 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 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 five 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 had such a great experience that she has nothing but good things to say about her agency, but remember that most agencies will get you 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 saved 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 WONDERFUL! 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 policies or personnel that caused negative feedback, but they are still stuck with the negative perception. This can work in reverse when an agency might be skating along on an outdated good reputation while they really aren’t that great anymore due to policy or staffing changes. I’ve found that sometimes the loudest naysayer doesn’t even have personal experience with the agency they really dislike. They only know that “everybody knows” the agency is in it for the money or whatever. It can be really tricky to sort out 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.
Don’t believe everything you read
I know this should be self-evident, but it bears including in the list. People can sound so authoritative when they share information on the internet that it is easy to believe them. It is very important to try and verify information or use someone’s comment as a jumping off point for additional research. For example, I have seen countless posts advising that you do not have to declare the cash you carry out of the country as long as you and your spouse are not carrying more than $5000 each. However, when I researched this I found it was not true. I included a link to the form you must complete if you will jointly be carrying more than $10,000 out of the country in the travel chapter. It is especially important to consult with a medical professional in addition to anecdotal information given by adoptive parents when you are considering special needs. Adoptive parents have the tendency to emphasize how easy a need is because they love their child and want other children with the same need to have families too. However, people being unprepared for the care that a special need will require is sometimes a risk factor for adoption disruption.
Watch out for the wishful thinking fairy
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 to in the end. Hearing the experiences of others can be really helpful in gaining understanding of the range of possibilities. However, it can never give us guarantees. You can ask how long everyone else’s 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 he will need, or if she will need a transplant. They can tell you how quickly their child overcame orphanage delays, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that your child’s delays are truly developmental rather than orphanage related. 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 you will encounter in the China program are relatively rare. There might not be anyone else in your community with dwarfism or thalassemia 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 help you to ensure that your child is getting the best medical care possible. It can be an especially wonderful place for the opposite of wishful thinking–gaining support. If you ask “Is anyone else struggling with this?”, you will find that you aren’t alone. When things aren’t going as expected, you can ask others who have dealt with the same struggles how they got through the difficult times.
You can find a DTC group composed of other families adopting within the same timeframe as yourself by typing “DTC” into the Facebook search bar. I suggest many other online adoption groups for specific situations in the Additional Resources section found at the end of a chapter.
Acronyms and Terminology List
If you wade into the online adoption community you will encounter a specialized vocabulary. Here is your guide to the acronyms most commonly used in China adoption groups.
A5- Article 5, a document issued by the US Consulate in Guangzhou which verifies to China that your paperwork is in order. It takes 10 business days for the document to be prepared by the US consulate. Once this document has been sent to the CCCWA your travel approval will be issued.
CA- Consulate Appointment, your appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou where your child’s visa will be processed.
CCCWA- Chinese Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption, the agency which oversees China’s adoption program.
CWI- Children’s Welfare Institute, the name China gives an orphanage which houses only children.
DS260- This is the online application for your child’s immigrant visa.
DTC- Dossier to China, when your dossier is mailed to China.
GUZ number- Applications for immigration visas are assigned a number which replaces the SIM number you had with USCIS. Those visas, which will be issued from the US Consulate in Guangzhou, are issued a number which begin GUZ. This is a small step in the immigration process which requires no action on your part.
Hague- An international treaty governing international adoption which was signed on April 1, 2008. Because adoptions from China operate in accordance with this treaty, your home study agency must be Hague accredited.
HS- Home study, the first step in any adoption.
I800A- The first immigration document you must file asking permission to adopt from China. Your I800A approval grants you general permission to adopt a child or children from China.
I800- The second immigration document you must file. Your I800 approval grants you permission to adopt a specific child or children.
LID- Log in Date, the date when your dossier is logged into China’s system.
LID only file- A file which is reserved for families who have a dossier already in China’s system.
Lockbox- Both I800 forms are sent to a USCIS lockbox facility in Texas. The lockbox facility will open the forms, make sure your payment is included, and mail the forms to the USCIS branch in Kansas which handles adoption.
LOI- Letter of Intent, a letter you send to China petitioning to adopt a particular child.
LOA- Commonly referred to as the Letter of Approval, this is a Letter of Action sent by China to confirm that you are approved to adopt the child you are matched with and seeking confirmation that you wish to proceed with the adoption.
LSC- Letter Seeking Confirmation, alternate acronym for the LOA. See above definition.
MCC- Medical Conditions Checklist. A form which tells your agency which special needs you are open to adopting.
NBC- National Benefits Center, the branch office of USCIS in Kansas which deals with adoption immigration benefits.
NVC- National Visa Center, processes the visa your child will be issued to enter the US after the adoption is completed in China. Your child will fly home on a Chinese passport; the visa will verify that they will become a US citizen once their paperwork is processed by immigration at your port of entry.
PA- Provisional Approval or pre-approval, an initial approval granted by China after you have sent a Letter of Intent to adopt a particular child.
Partnership- When a specific agency is paired with a specific orphanage. The agency will provide material aid and training to the orphanage in exchange for being the first agency to receive all the files prepared by the orphanage. They will advocate for the children at the institution and sometimes bear the cost of preparing the files.
Partnership files- The files an agency receives from a partner orphanage. The agency agrees to place at least 80% of the files or they might not be able to keep the partnership. LID files will be designated to the agency for only three weeks, but special focus files are designated for three months to give the agency a longer amount of time to advocate and find a family.
Referral- Your agency will refer a child’s file for you to review. When someone says “We have a referral!” it means that they have been matched with a child.
RTF- This is an acronym for rich text format. You will request an e-mail version of your NVC approval letter and they will send it to you in RTF.
SIM number- The number assigned to your immigration application by USCIS.
SF file- Special Focus file, a file which does not require a dossier to be in China for a match. Special focus files are those which China considers to be more difficult to place or they were LID files who remained unmatched after a certain number of weeks. You do not need to have started the adoption process in order to send a Letter of Intent.
SWI- Social Welfare Institute, the name China gives an orphanage which might also be home to elderly or adults who are unable to live independently.
TA- Travel Approval, a letter issued by China inviting you to enter the country to finalize the adoption. You have 90 days after the TA is issued to complete the adoption.
USCIS- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the American government agency which approves the Chinese adoption and grants citizenship status to your child.