Chances are, you are reading this because you are somehow connected to the international adoption community. You have adopted, are in the process, or are thinking about it; or you are a family member or friend of someone who has adopted. This means you probably know far more about international adoption than I did when I started at MLJ Adoptions five years ago.
Like most people, I knew that people adopted from China because their one-child rule caused so many baby girls to be unwanted by their parents. I know of a family who adopted two girls from China. I never heard all the details behind the adoption process, but I did learn about one of the unfortunate experiences that families sometimes encounter: just weeks before the family was set to travel to bring home their first daughter, China shut down intercountry adoptions for several months. I saw firsthand the anguish of waiting, knowing that your child is stuck in a crowded orphanage when she should be thriving at home with your family. Other than this, I only knew about celebrities like Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopting from countries in Asia and Africa. International adoption didn’t sound like something “regular people” did. How wrong I was!
I also thought couples typically adopted because they were unable to have biological children—wrong again. Many people (couples and singles) know about the overwhelming number of orphans in the world and feel called to be the forever family for one or more of these vulnerable children. This includes people who are already parents to biological or adopted children and want to grow their family through international adoption. They may be adding a child younger than the one(s) currently in the home, a child older than one or more of their current children (called adopting out of birth order), or one very close in age to a current child (called artificial twinning).
I have learned that you can adopt from almost anywhere, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—if you qualify and if the country’s laws allow intercountry adoption. Most countries have a central adoption authority with laws governing international adoption. In addition, the United States has a federal governing agency (U.S. Department of State) and each state has its own requirements. To determine whether potential adoptive parents meet the criteria of each government entity, they must have a home study prepared by a licensed agency and submit a dossier to the foreign government. This is not a quick or simple process. You might think, “Why doesn’t the other country just recognize that any home in the US is going to be better than an orphanage where the child does not get individual attention and love, or have his medical and nutritional needs met? Of course, they should let this child come here to live with these people who want to provide those things.” The rules are designed to ensure that the child truly is an orphan legally eligible to be adopted and that the adoptive parents are able to provide for the child, have sufficient living space, and have realistic expectations and the tools to help the child (and themselves) deal with this significant life-changing event.
I was quite surprised to learn that some people seek out children with special needs for their adoption journey. The typical parents who have a biological child born with cystic fibrosis, for example, were not expecting this, but will educate themselves and consult doctors for the treatment options which will help provide their child with the best life they can offer. In international adoption, there are adoptive parents who choose a child because he or she has these additional needs and they feel called to provide a forever family for such a child.
The best things I have learned about international adoption are how attached a person, couple, or family can get to a child on the other side of the world they have not yet met, and how exciting and satisfying it is to play even a small part of this wonderful process and celebrate every time an orphaned child joins their forever family.
Julie Conner works as the Staff Accountant for MLJ Adoptions. She is proud to work with a wonderful group of women committed to helping the most vulnerable children find a loving family.