Tag Archives: National Adoption Month

Five Reasons to (Still) Adopt from China

Last November for National Adoption Month, I gave five reasons to choose China to adopt from. Since then, two of those reasons are no longer part of the China program. I thought I should update it this year to let you know that despite recent program changes, the China program is *still* a great option.
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November is National Adoption Month! I thought I would kick off the celebration by giving some reasons why China’s adoption program might be a good fit for your family.

1. The process is streamlined and predictable. Unlike adopting from foster care, domestic infant adoption, or programs from some (but not all) other countries, the China program has a clearly defined timeline of steps. Most families will bring home a child 10-15 months after they begin the process. Many people switch to the China program after a failed attempt at adopting through another program, so the stability is appealing.

2. You have the ability to choose your child’s age, gender, and the special needs you are comfortable with. You will not be assigned a child, nor will you be penalized for declining a file which you do not feel is a good fit for your family.

3.Travel is a single two week trip and only one parent is required to travel. Some countries require multiple trips or a lengthy stay in country to complete the adoption. While this gradual approach is undoubtedly better for the child or children being adopted, the fact is that many families could not adopt if that were a requirement. China’s travel requirement is one which most families can meet.

4. The China program still has generous eligibility guidelines. While the guidelines are now more restrictive than previously, the upper age limit is 5-10 years higher than many programs. Allowing five children in the home is more than other programs such as Thailand, South Korea, or India. China’s criteria for single parents or couples with a single divorce in their marital history are more generous than the former guidelines.

5. The China program is well established and stable. Some people have been concerned that the recent changes might indicate an upcoming closure of the program. On the contrary, China has regularly made updates to their program every 3-5 years. This is one of the aspects of the program which has helped it to continue going strong for more than 20 years. Nearly 80,000 children have been adopted to the US from China, far more than any other placing country. Of the other four top placing countries, only the Korean program remains open to American parents now that Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have closed.

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.

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Supporting Adoption

I’ve been blogging this month for National Adoption Month. This past Sunday was celebrated as Orphan Sunday in many churches. Today is World Adoption Day. That’s a big spotlight on adoption this month! Is all of this emphasis simply to get more people to adopt? Nope.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-12-58-31-pmMaybe you’ve seen a graphic like this one. I think this is a great way to highlight the many ways that people can support adoption. However, I think that these are a little out of order. I think adoption should be down at the bottom of the list. So what do I think should be at the top of the list? Family preservation.

Most of the children available for adoption are not true orphans. They have one or both parents living. In places like China, they are available for adoption because of lack of access to medical care. In America, they might be available because of drug addiction. In Haiti, they are available because of poverty. In fact, poverty is a pretty universal reason for children to be available for adoption. They don’t really need a new family. They need food, medical care, access to education, and a functional family who can care for their needs.

A few months ago I saw a local news story being passed around on social media. A church pastor became aware of a woman who could not care for her toddler twin daughters due to poverty. She lived in another country, in a village where his church ran a mission. He helped the woman to go through the process of making her daughters available for international adoption. A couple in his congregation felt called to adopt the girls. However, the congregation pulled together and raised $50,000 so that the couple could adopt the twin girls. Cue the heartwarming happy ending. Only I was left thinking, wouldn’t it be great if we could intervene with families to help them before they get to the point where their children are adopted into another family?

That’s where the “sponsor” part of the graphic above comes in. Even if you never adopt, and people ever will, you can help keep families together. Here are a few charities with a China connection to get you started:

  • Love Without Boundaries– Providing medical care, education, and foster care to orphans in China. LWB’s Unity Fund provides funding necessary for medical care to families in crisis.
  • One Sky– Originally founded as Half the Sky, this organization improves institutional care through training nannies and founding nurturing and educational programs within Chinese orphanages. The name was recently changed to One Sky when they began programs focusing on the “left behind” children of migrant workers.
  • Morning Star Foundation– This charity provides funding for heart surgeries for orphans in China and Uganda. In addition, their Love Project promotes family preservation through funding heart surgeries for families in medical crisis.
  • Holt International– While Holt is familiar to most as an adoption agency, their primary focus is humanitarian aid. Holt has child sponsorship programs in China enabling you to sponsor a child in a family in crisis—usually a single parent or grandparent-as-parent home. The sponsorship provides the child’s educational expenses, allowing the child to stay in school.
  • Unbound is an excellent organization with child sponsorship programs around the world, although not in China specifically.

Here in the United States, you can volunteer in several way to help with family preservation:

Now we’re getting down to the adoption part of the list! You can help other families to adopt by:

  • Contacting your congressional representatives and asking for them to make the Adoption Tax Credit permanent. The tax credit makes international adoption an option for many families.
  • Supporting grants for children by donating to Reece’s Rainbow.
  • Supporting grants for families who are adopting through charities such as Brittany’s Hope.
  • Support adoptive family fundraisers by doing some of your Christmas shopping on the Shop With Purpose facebook group.

Finally, you can consider adopting yourself. Here are some resources to get you started:

Many families decide to adopt through adoption advocacy. It can be easier to say yes to adoption when you are saying yes to a particular child or children.

I have been advocating for twin boys in China for over a year and a half now. They are four years old, and I cannot confirm that they are even eligible to be adopted any longer. They were born prematurely but are physically healthy at this point. The reason they have been waiting so long for a family that their orphanage no longer considers them adoptable is that one brother likely has mild to moderate autism. At any given time, there are at least a dozen families in process to adopt a child with Down syndrome. However, the stigma against autism seems to be even greater.

There are SO MANY wonderful resources here in America for kids with autism. Parents now expect their children with autism to grow up to be functional adults. Videos of the autistic twin show many good indictors such as good object tracking, crossing his midline, being held and touched in an appropriate manner. He also handles noise and his play being interrupted very well in the videos. If an interested family were to stop forward, we could convince the orphanage to once again make them available for adoption! You can see some additional pictures here or contact me directly atmineinchina@zoho.com for more information.

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My Favorite Adoption Resources

It’s been about three years since I posted my top adoption resources, so I thought it was time to update that post for National Adoption Month. I’ve read a whole lot more adoption books since then! Reminder: 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 book review. You can order them through Amazon using the Love Without Boundaries affiliate link.

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If you are just starting to consider adoption but not quite sure about what it would look like, I suggest:

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. If you are an NPR fan, you’re probably familiar with Scott Simon of All Things Considered.

No 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.

I highly recommend getting familiar with the  Creating A Family website. 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 PMDawn Davenport’s book The Complete Book of International Adoption is a great resource 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.

 

If you know you are going to adopt from China and want to know more about China’s adoption situation I recommend:

The Love Without Boundaries series Realistic Expectations and The Changing Face of China’s Orphans.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-1-36-29-pmWish You Happy Forever– Jenny Bowen, founder of Half the Sky, writes the story behind the charity.  Her experience adopting her daughter inspired her to change the way orphans were cared for in China, one child at a time.  She writes about the changes in orphan care and population throughout the book.  I was particularly shocked to read about the origin of the AIDS crisis in Henan, which I was unfamiliar with before reading the book.

The Heart of an Orphan by Amy Eldridge, founder of Love Without Boundaries. I absolutely loved this book. However, I can’t say that I couldn’t put it down because I couldn’t read more than a couple of chapters without needing a break. Amy’s book is basically a collection of stories about children she has known through her work with Love Without Boundaries. It’s the heartrending emotional rollercoaster that you would expect.

Each chapter also tells some part of Amy’s story of how Love Without Boundaries grew, but also her personal growth. I really appreciated her nuanced discussion of sensitive topics. She discusses how her view of parents who abandon their children changed as she worked to provide surgeries for children still in their birth families. How she came to recognize the adoptive parent preference for girls as she saw, over time, how the orphanages were filling up with boys but families did not step forward as quickly to adopt them. She even acknowledges the challenges of older child adoption while discussing the plight of children who reach the age where they are no longer eligible for adoption.

I feel a little odd in writing such a short review for a book I want to rave about. It’s simply that it’s hard to describe it in the way it deserves. I think that Eldridge’s memoir, along with Jenny Bowan’s (of Onesky/Half the Sky) Wish You Happy Forever, should be required reading for those in the China adoption program. They are both far more relevant for families in the current process than the frequently recommended Silent Tears.

And, you know, my book. Which I always feel self-conscious about recommending but as far as I know it’s the only book that takes you through the process of adopting from China.

 

If you’re in process and killing time waiting to meet your child, here are the adoption parenting books you should pick up:

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 wrote about her work with children “from hard places” and she was always in demand as a speaker at adoption conferences. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer. The 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.

Attaching Through Love, Hugs, and Play by Deborah Gray gives practical advice on how to parent your child in a way which fosters attachment. Writing up a more in depth review for the blog is on my to do list.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not an adoption book, but one I had on my parenting bookshelf already. I find it just as helpful for my adopted children as I did for my biological ones. I find that it goes hand in hand with connected parenting. When my youngest son was melting down multiple times a day because he was frustrated by not being able to communicate in English, I found myself making statements like “That must be really frustrating” or “You are really mad!” Now he has the vocabulary to share what he is feeling. He will say “Dat fwustwating” or more often “I MAD AT YOU!” This is a really easy to read book which will change your conversations with your children for the better.

Love Me, Feed Me by Katja Rowell is a great book focusing on the many food related issues which can be a struggle for children adopted from institutions.

If you want to become familiar with Chinese culture and life:

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran- If you want the back story on how those lost girls ended up at the orphanage, this is the book to read.  Xinran’s book is jaw-dropping and heart-rending, but keep in mind that she collected these stories over 20 years ago so they are not necessarily an accurate account of the situation in China today.

Wild Swans–  This is the story of three generations of women that span pre-revolutionary China to the 1980s.  It is a real page-turner, but will help you to understand the various movements that occurred within the Communist era.  It really helps you to understand the turmoil which went on for decades within China. If you read Wild Swans, read this article as a follow up to see the contrast between those born after 1980 and those who lived through all of the Communist era conflict and hardship.

Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. This is my favorite in the “I went to live in China” memoir genre. Arrington is herself an adoptive mother. Allowing her two children from China to experience life in their native culture as well as to obtain Chinese fluency was a primary motivation in their family moving to China.

153607842This is really a combination of what I liked best about Dreaming in Chinese (my review here) and Awakening East (my review here). Like Dreaming in Chinese, Aminta shares how her quest to learn the Chinese language helps her to better understand the Chinese people and culture. The title refers to the Chinese character for home, which is a roof over the character for pig. Learning the Chinese language, especially the characters, gives her insights into her host culture. Amina is also very interested in the Chinese educational system. She teaches university students English at the same time that her three young children are being immersed in the educational system at a local Chinese kindergarten. She shares the strengths and weaknesses that she observes as both a teacher and parent. The Arrington family continued to live in China for many years. I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful opportunity it was for her children to become bilingual by moving there at just the right time for them to begin in primary school.

Aminta is a keen observer, both of others and within her own family. She narrates the process of acclimating to the foreign culture. She honestly describes a time when she and her husband realized they had somehow taken the habit of using the adjective “Chinese” in a negative way, as well as their awareness of how it might impact their daughter adopted from China. Throughout the book she relates Chinese cultural habits in a way that always treats them with respect and humanity, unlike other “I lived in China” memoirs which can slip too easily into “Let me tell you how crazy everyone here is.” There are plenty of humorous stories included.

Eating Bitterness, by Michelle Loyalka, is about China’s migrant workers. Unlike Factory Girls by Leslie Chang, this book focuses on the personal stories of migrants who are a variety of ages. Most are married, but a few are single. Some live with their spouse and child/ren while others are separated because of work.  It is also a little unusual in that it is based out of Xian instead of Guangdong Province.  Once again, there are the constant themes of the generational attitude differences and the rapid change in Chinese culture in such a relatively short amount of time.  I think this book is a little easier to read than Factory Girls because of the variety of people and because, frankly, it was edited better.

Five Reasons to Adopt From China

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November is National Adoption Month! I thought I would kick off the celebration by giving some reasons why China’s adoption program might be a good fit for your family.

1. The process is streamlined and predictable. Unlike adopting from foster care, domestic infant adoption, or programs from some (but not all) other countries, the China program has a clearly defined set of steps. Most families will bring home a child 10-15 months after they begin the process. Many people switch to the China program after a failed attempt at adopting through another program, so the stability is appealing.

2. You have the ability to choose your child’s age, gender, and the special needs you are comfortable with. You will not be assigned a child, nor will you be penalized for declining a file which you do not feel is a good fit for your family.

3. China is generous in granting waivers for families or single women who do not meet the program requirements, particularly those regarding family income or parental health. Recently, they even approved a single man to adopt making this one of the few countries where it is possible for single men to adopt.

[Note: As of January 2017, China is no longer granting waivers. Most agencies expect this to be relaxed after a few months as has happened in the past, but no one can guarantee the future. If you do not currently qualify, speak to a reputable agency to find the current waiver status.]

4. Travel is a single two week trip, possibly longer if you are adopting two children, and only one parent is required to travel. Some countries require multiple trips or a lengthy stay in country to complete the adoption. While this gradual approach is undoubtably better for the child or children being adopted, the fact is that many families could not adopt if that were a requirement. China’s travel requirement is one which most families can meet.

5. China allows families to adopt two unrelated children at the same time. While I would urge families to carefully consider this option before deciding to do it, it is something which appeals to many families. [Note: As of June 30, 2017 this is no longer an option in the China program.]

 

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.

More considerations when choosing special needs

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Categorizing the special needs

This post is a continuation of my post Which Special Needs? which discussed choosing which  special needs are a good fit for your family.  Now that you’ve taken some time to consider what resources you have in your area, what sort of time commitment you have, and other practical factors let’s look at some other considerations.  

For the majority of people, the question might be “What are the easiest needs?”  However, other people might want to adopt a child who is considered difficult to place so they might be asking “Which are the needs which few people are willing to accept?”  Here are a few different ways of categorizing the special needs which are found in files:

What are the most common needs people are open to when they are looking for a child with minor needs?

  • Minor and correctable heart conditions
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Club feet
  • Birthmarks
  • Treated congenital syphilis
  • Missing or extra digits

These represent special needs which are correctable, do not affect intellect or mobility, and are generally less visible once corrected.

What are the most common special needs in the files made available for adoption?

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Heart conditions
  • Down syndrome
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Cleft lip/cleft palate
  • Limb differences
  • Spina bifida
  • Anal atresia

This list is pretty much a list of the most common birth defects in any human population with the exception of anal atresia which has a higher incidence in China than in the US.

What special needs do the children have who are most difficult to place?

  • Being a boy
  • Any intellectual/cognitive delay
  • Urinary or bowel incontinence
  • Uses a wheelchair
  • An identified syndrome
  • Visual impairment
  • Disordered Sexual Development (genital malformation or intersex disorder)
  • HIV+
  • Cancer, or a history of cancer, such as retinoblastoma

Other than being a boy, these are all things that cause people to go “I just couldn’t handle that!”  We will discuss some of these needs later on because often they are not so scary if you have a better understanding of what is involved in the need.

Which special needs are matched fairly quickly for girls but cause boys to wait for families?

  • Albinism
  • Giant congenital nevus
  • Dwarfism
  • Ichthyosis
  • Microtia
  • Deafness
  • Age*

Girls with these needs are so easily matched that their files are often labeled LID only if they are young.  What is interesting about this collection of needs is that with the exception of deafness they are all visible needs.  In some ways you might expect this to have a greater impact on girls than boys.  Perhaps similar to the impulse people feel to adopt “unwanted” girls as a way to show that they have value, people also decide to adopt a girl with a visible special need because they want to teach her that she is beautiful in her own way as a reaction against a society which prizes beauty in girls.  

*Older girls are not matched quickly in the way that young girls with the medical needs listed are.  However, it is substantially more difficult to find a family for an older boy than an older girl. There are twice as many boys as there are girls over age 10 on the shared list.

Which special needs will lead to a shortened life expectancy due to the limitations of health care available in an orphanage if the child is not adopted?

  • Cancer
  • HIV+
  • Thalassemia
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Hemophilia
  • Spina bifida

These conditions really have nothing in common.  Children sometimes receive heart surgery or chemotherapy in China, but the quality of medical care is usually much better in the US.  However, congenital heart conditions and cancer are still potentially lethal for the children even if they are adopted and receive the best treatment available.  

Chronic blood shortages mean that children with Thalassemia are not infused as often as needed causing their life expectancy to be only age 10 in China, while they are expected to live normal lives in the US.  The clotting factor given to people with hemophilia in the US is not available in China, so the life expectancy of a hemophiliac there is only to age 24.  

Children with spina bifida or other diagnoses which can cause incontinence who are in orphanage care in China are often left in diapers rather than using a catheterization routine.  This can lead to routine bladder infections and over time cause the kidneys to stop functioning.

China has a strong stigma against HIV+ individuals.  Medication may not be as readily available and HIV+ individuals, even children, are often turned out of hospitals when they are ill because of their status.   While the long term life expectancy of children living in the US who are HIV+ is uncertain due to how recent the medical advances have been, those whose viral load remains at the “undetectable” level is currently assumed to be the same as the general population.

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What parents want you to know

This final section should not be considered medical advice.  Rather, I’m going to pass along some information shared by parents of children who have some of those “I could never do that” special needs.  These are the needs that I often hear people saying “I never considered this need but there is a child I am drawn to who has it.  Can you tell me what daily life looks like?” If this information helps you to think a need might be a possibility for you, I would encourage you to do more research.

Blindness/Vision Impairment– More people are open to albinism as a special need than to other vision impairments, which is a confusing phenomenon when you consider that most people with albinism are legally blind.  So many parents find any special need associated with vision to be very scary because they can’t imagine what their own life would be like without sight.  What parents who have adopted visually impaired children want you to know is that they find it so easy, they feel it really shouldn’t be a special need at all!  These kids compensate in so many other ways for their loss of vision.  Most attend public schools and will grow up to marry and lead productive lives.  I had a friend in high school who was blind.  He taught me to play chess, was the marching band drum major, walked across four lanes of traffic every day to take calculus at the university near our high school, and is now a professor of music.  However, children with VI who are adopted from China will need time and therapy to overcome the delays they experience due to caregivers who don’t understand how to give them the non-visual stimulation they need to grow and develop.

Deafness– Surprisingly, what I heard from parents who have adopted children with this special need was kind of the opposite than that of blindness.  Parents want you to know that the communication is a greater challenge than they expected, but it is worth the effort.  It is vital that you have access to resources to learn ASL, something you should begin doing before you even meet your child, because they will soon surpass you.  Ideally, your entire family would sign all the time, even conversations which don’t include your deaf child. Being unable to take part in routine conversation, even indirectly, will over time cause your child to feel excluded.  While hearing aids and cochlear implants are helping children to hear, they sometimes fail so having the ability to sign will insure that he or she always has a way to communicate.  Finally, be aware that there is a deaf subculture and topics such as whether or not to implant children, or send them to a school for the deaf versus mainstream education are all very loaded topics.  As with any special need, it will be up to you to educate yourself and be your child’s advocate.

Disordered Sexual Development– This is a very large category of special needs which means that there is an abnormality in the systems which affect a child’s sexual development.  Some of these children have hormonal abnormalities such as with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) while others might have physically ambiguous genitalia, often labeled by the antiquated term “hermaphrodite” in Chinese files.  These files will often be listed as “sensitive special need” on advocacy photolistings.  Parents who have adopted children with these special needs want you to know that these kids are healthy and normal!  Their greatest need is for a loving family who will support them as they develop a sexual identity as male or female, protect their privacy, and help them to navigate peer and romantic relationships as they grow.  Being within travel distance of a specialized DSD clinic is important to make sure your child is getting the most modern treatment options.  Be aware that surgery to assign a gender to a child at a young age is not medically necessary.  The current recommendation is to wait on surgery until the child is old enough to want it, and many adults with DSD have chosen not to have surgery at all because they are happy with their bodies intact.

HIV+– Parents want you to know that dealing with people’s ignorance is the greatest challenge about adopting a child who is HIV+.  Thanks to new medications, the virus can reach levels so low that they are “undetectable” in a blood test.  This means that as long as they are taking their medication twice a day (sometimes dropping to once a day after age 12) they can expect to have a normal life expectancy.  Many HIV positive adults are married and have biological children with an HIV negative spouse.  Insurance companies will pay for the medication and there are many programs available which will even cover the cost of the copayment.  Most families pay only $30-$60 per month for their medication.  China currently considers HIV+ children to be unadoptable so few files are made available.  This will change if more families request HIV+ children, so let your agency know if you are open to this need.  Be aware that most of the  HIV+ kids available for adoption are usually older and have come into care after the death of their parents.  These files will often be listed as “sensitive special need” on advocacy photolistings.

Hydrocephalus– This diagnosis literally means “water on the brain” and it is a condition in which there is excessive fluid in the brain.  It is sometimes the result of brain damage or occurs in conjunction with spina bifida.  Hydrocephalus is most commonly treated by a surgical procedure to shunt the excess fluid away from the brain.  Hydrocephalus can cause brain damage if left untreated but it is typically not a condition which affects intelligence.  Parents of children with hydrocephalus find this condition to be very manageable.

Incontinence– Parents want you to know that yes, you will deal with pee and poop.  However, this doesn’t mean your child will be attending prom in diapers!  There are many modern medical advances which make it possible for people with incontinence to achieve “social continence” which means that they wear normal underwear.  Urinary incontinence is usually managed through a catheterization routine.  Children are able to self-cath by age 8 and sometimes younger with girls usually becoming independent before boys.  Bowel management can mean routine enemas or surgical methods which ease the process.  Social continence isn’t achieved instantly, so you should have a flexible attitude and a good sense of humor as you work with your child’s doctor to find the management system which works best with your child. 

Spina bifida– This is a very common birth defect with a wide variation.  The most common associated conditions would be reduced mobility, incontinence, and hydrocephalus. Please refer to the entries related to those conditions. Club feet is another associated condition, so if you are open to club feet as a need you might want to research spina bifida as well because you could learn once your child is home that they actually have a mild form of spina bifida.   Children with spina bifida are intelligent and grow up to live independent and productive lives.

Wheelchairs– Parents want you to know that children are not “limited” by a wheelchair.  It gives the child mobility that they are lacking!  If you are adopting a younger child then you probably do not need a special house or van, although many parents find these helpful once the child is too heavy to lift.  Depending on their special need, your child can probably get him or herself up and down stairs, into a vehicle, in and out of their wheelchair, and live a fully independent life as an adult.  Most parents say the most difficult aspect is visiting private homes which do not have a wheelchair ramp to enter, but portable ramps can be purchased to take along when you visit friends and relatives.

Many parents begin their journey into the world of special need adoption tentatively, and asking “what are the easiest needs?”  However, my hope is that this post will cause you to consider the many children who are waiting because of their particular special need.  You might be scared about a need being too difficult for you, but also consider how much more difficult life will be for that child without what they need most–a loving and supportive family.  For more information on these or any special needs, please join the Special Needs Resources group on Facebook.

 

 

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.

November is National Adoption Month

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Last year I did a series of posts for National Adoption Month.  This year I kind of regretted not saving my How To Choose An Agency series to dole out during November because I don’t have any ideas for new posts.  What can I say, I’m only an occasional blogger.

I thought instead I would share with you some of the best posts I’ve read lately.

–Many people choose to adopt from China because it seems to be a well run program with little corruption.  I know that is one of the reasons why we chose China.  Brian Stuy has published his research on widespread corruption in the program which is important to read and acknowledge.

–Amy Eldridge wrote on the Love Without Boundaries page about why parents in China abandon children with medical needs.

–I love reading the blogs of families who are in the adoption process and I found Mom of 4 Boys blog when she linked to my blog.  I was so excited to hear that they are adopting an “older” boy but I especially loved how her youngest son started a campaign for them to adopt a brother for him.  He even had a name all picked out.  I love it!  Sounds just like my house.

–If you remember, I shared some of my struggles with how to view Leo’s birth parents and the role God plays in adoption.  I ran across this post from Mommy Means It which I think better explains the concerns I have with saying that God planned for Leo to be our child.  A good discussion in the comments too.  We need to remember that all adoptees will process things differently and we need to take our cues from our child and not assume that they will feel a certain way about their adoption.

–I followed along as the Munn family raced to adopt Michael in a few shorts weeks before he turned 14 and was no longer eligible to be adopted.  There is a great article on how Michael is running the Marine Corps Marathan with the help of a guide less than six months after being a US citizen and part of the Munn family.

–I’ve been reading Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones which is difficult to describe since it’s such a hodgepodge of China.  But it’s fascinating and hard for me to put down, so go read it.  Anyway, Hessler spends a lot of time talking about the Uighurs, which are an ethnic minority who used to be an independent nation but were taken over by China.  They are generally persecuted, and in fact, China canceled Ramadan this year in the Xinjiang province.  I found this photo essay in the Atlantic that put a face on this group of people.

–You know that Family Preservation is near and dear to my heart.  As I’ve been reading through all of the National Adoption Month posts that come through my reader I am glad to see more people posting about family preservation.  Love Without Boundaries is raising funds to provide cleft bottles and information on feeding a cleft-affected infant to families in hospitals.  Hopefully if families are educated about cleft care and know that they have options for low cost treatment then they will be able to stay with their family.  Most people will never adopt a child, but anyone can help families stay together.  A donation of only $3 will provide a family with the necessary bottle for their child’s health and survival.  Please consider donating to this important project!

–I tend to save up the adoption podcasts from Creating A Family to listen to on road trips so I haven’t listened to this one yet, but I am really looking forward to hearing Growing Up Black In A White Family.  Listening to the experience of adult adoptees is so important for adoptive parents.

–And in case you’ve been really considering adoption and National Adoption Month is the last little push you need to take that leap of faith, I’d like to mention that there are more than ONE HUNDRED waiting children from China on my agency’s photolisting right now.  Mind-boggling isn’t it? Over 100 kids just with one agency in one country program.

 

 

 

 

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.