Tag Archives: National Adoption Month

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.


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.


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?


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.


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.  Developmental delays as a special need is often excused away as “orphanage delays” by potential families when it is often a very unpredictable file diagnosis. 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.”


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.


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!