Hello. I am returning to share the second part of our Q+A on adoption. You can find part one here.
SPECIAL NEEDS ADOPTION QUESTIONS:
Q: How did you come to the decision to be open to adopting a kiddo with disabilities?
A: After seeing our friend adopt a special needs child, Jeremy told me he would be open to it. I guess we just realized that it was a challenge we’d be happy to take on as a family. It didn’t feel scary to us. We believe that people’s hearts open for a reason, so if you feel your heart opening you shouldn’t ignore it.
Remember that there is a HUGE spectrum of things that qualify as a special need in the adoption process. There are children with issues that have ALREADY been corrected, issues that can be corrected, issues that will be ongoing and so on. I cannot emphasize enough that some of them are very minor and a lot of these children will have completely normal lives.
I know that the term “special needs” scares a lot of people off and that’s so unfortunate because a good number of these children will never need any surgeries or special education in school. Even if you have never envisioned yourself adopting a special needs child, you might change your mind after learning more about these children.
Back to our specific story… we ultimately adopted Nova who has albinism (which isn’t considered minor, but it feels very minor in our day to day lives). It comes with vision issues that are not correctable. Accepting and embracing the reality of Nova’s condition was a part of our story. And it’s a BEAUTIFUL part of our story. Now that we know her and love her with all our hearts it feels silly that we were nervous initially.
One thing that helped us immensely was being able to meet a child with albinism. I would highly recommend finding a way to meet a child with whatever condition you are considering and ask their parents some questions- this is the best education we were able to get. Also, being able to connect with adults who have albinism helped us so much to visualize Nova’s future. Putting real people’s faces and stories with a medical condition erases so much fear.
Q: Were/are you ever scared that a special needs child or unforeseen development problems will be more than you feel like you can handle?
A: Yes, we were afraid in the beginning. But the way our program worked I felt extremely prepared for the special needs we “signed up” for. We had a consultation with a nurse to make sure we fully understood everything on our list. Then, before we were matched, we had a meeting with a matching consultant at our agency where we went over the list again.
With ANY child (biological, adopted, special needs or not) there can and will be unforeseen things in your future. So I tried to always separate that fear, since it’s a general parenting challenge, not specific to our situation.
I think it’s also important to note that we never felt pressured to take on more than we felt comfortable with. If anything, our agency went above and beyond to try to make us feel like we always had the option to say no. I think a lot of people are scared of being pressured, but that’s not something I’ve seen happening. At least not in my experiences.
Q: Will she need any eye surgeries? We’re looking to adopt a child with albinism as well, and have been reading up on the possible issues they might have concerning their vision.
A: We don’t know yet. A lot of people with albinism have surgeries to improve their eye alignment. So it’s certainly a possibility for Nova in the future. The main thing people ask us all the time is if glasses can correct her vision. The answer is no. The vision issues associated with albinism are not completely correctable by surgery or glasses, but there are still a lot of things we can do to help her adapt.
It’s common to be legally blind as a person with albinism. And Nova’s vision won’t necessarily worsen over time. If there is anything her doctor recommends, we will try it. But our main goal at the moment is to help her continue to adapt and learn to advocate for herself and her needs before she begins school.
Q: Is China easier to adopt from than other countries?
A: I haven’t looked into the rules for every country in the world, but out of the ones I looked into China did have one of the shorter waiting periods. Also, since adoptions from China to the US have been going on for decades, it’s a maybe a larger and more predictable program than some since so much groundwork has been laid for the process. I wouldn’t call it “easy” (there is no easy international adoption), but there are definitely other countries that are more complicated to adopt from or take much longer.
Q: Do you know if China is open to gay couples adopting?
A: Sadly no. China is not. It’s only open for straight married couples and single women (everyone has to be over 30).
Q: Why did you pick China?
A: I talked a lot about why we chose China here. It was a combination of seeing a friend adopt from China and developing a personal connection and it just feeling like the right fit for our family in the moment.
We spent about a month looking into options before we chose a program, but ultimately you have to just pick one and start doing the paperwork. There’s no right or wrong. One thing we’ve noticed is that so many families just seem to know where they want to adopt from (whether it’s domestic or international) and I prefer to believe that these instincts are there for a reason and it’s meant to be. Since all orphans need to be adopted equally, I don’t waste too much time analyzing. I’m just happy when anyone adopts a child from anywhere. 🙂
Q: If you adopt again, will you pick China? (and the same agency)
A: We decided to wait until we’ve been home six months to even discuss our second adoption, but probably. We feel like we learned a lot of really specific information that could help us on our second adoption and it seems ideal that Nova could have a sibling with a similar origin and heritage to share. And we are definitely open to adopting another child with albinism.
As far as the agency (We used Holt), we’re not sure. We liked our agency, but we’ll probably look into all the options again if we do a second adoption from China. The biggest strength of Holt was the support that we had from their staff while in China, but it’s a bigger agency- which means a longer line of families who are waiting to be matched. That’s probably the only reason we’d look at smaller agencies next time too. But we do recommend Holt and had a good experience.
Q: How long is the wait to adopt from China?
A: It fluctuates, but I think it’s fair to say 2 years is an average for most of the families we have met. The fastest one I’ve heard of in the last few years was fourteen months. Ours took eighteen months, but we did skip a big part of the waiting period by choosing a child from our agencies “spotlight” email.
Q: How do you plan to honor Nova’s Chinese heritage?
A: We have a lot of children’s books that teach about China (and adoption) ready to go once Nova is understanding story time (her current favorite thing to do with books is rip them up- haha). We plan to observe Chinese New Years with a party at our home every year (it is a really beautiful holiday and we’re having so much fun learning about it). Once Nova is older (we’re thinking maybe around her 10th birthday) we will do a big family trip to China, although she may get to go back with us sooner for an adoption trip…. we’ll see!
We’re also finding ways to keep Nova hearing and speaking Mandarin. Right now she watched only Mandarin cartoons and listens to a lot of children’s songs too. In Nashville we are lucky enough to have a community of other adoptive families that host events for the children to meet up and learn about Chinese culture together.
Q: What is the hardest part about the international adoption process?
A: Compared to a private, infant adoption in the US (which some of our best friends went through while we were working on ours) I’d say there are three big things that were more difficult. 1. More paperwork (you have to do a dossier AND a homestudy instead of just a homestudy). 2. The unique challenges that come with adopting an “older” child (meaning a child who is not a newborn) even if the child you adopt oversees is relatively young (for China under 2 years is extremely young) they will be going though trauma and confusion being uprooted from the orphanage, which for many children is the only home they have ever known. 3. The travel. We stayed in China for two weeks (this is normal, you have to apply for your child’s Visa while you are there and wait for it) and then there was that fourteen hour flight home. There were definitely moments where I wished we could be going though all that initial trauma with Nova at home instead of in a hotel room.
Q: Do you know who her birth parents are and if so, do you plan on ever letting her get in touch with them or telling her about them?
A: A lot of people don’t know that in China it’s still illegal to give a child up for adoption, this is why so many orphans are found anonymously with no note and (not even a name or a birthday).
No, we don’t know who Nova’s birth parents are. I will be honest that early in the process this was comforting to me. I had a lot of fears about raising a child and feeling like someone was watching our lives online. But now that I know Nova, it’s so different. I would give anything to meet her birth parents or even to be able to send them a letter just to tell them how happy we are.
When she’s older if she wants to try to find them, we will help her try. That will be her choice when the time comes.
Q: Have you thought about any possible racial implications and how to guide her through that (like the unique dynamic of Asian-Americans in the U.S. specifically, e.g. the model minority stereotype, and how she may face racism because of being non-white)?
A: Yes, of course! I think any family who adopts children of another ethnicity has a responsibility to learn about the other culture and make it a BIG part of your family. We’re excited to do this. There is also some training you are required to do before adopting. I don’t think anything can completely prepare you- but being aware and as prepared as possible was a big priority for us.
And obviously, Nova’s identity is even more unique because of her albinism (I actually have to correct people on her ethnicity all the time- even medical professionals). So we’re working at connecting with other families with children with albinism, which will be a huge resource for her as she grows up.
Q: How are you managing the language barrier?
A: Before we traveled to China I was really nervous about communication. Other adoptive mamas (my preferred source for advice on ALL things adoption) told me NOT to worry about language. They kept telling me it would happen so fast and it was a non-issue. And I’m happy to report that they were correct.
I know it seems terrifying to bring home a two year old who speaks another language, and it was, but we were able to understand what was upsetting her super quickly. We were 100% able to care for her needs before we could speak to us. And she started to say her first english words (real communication, not just mimicking what we said) within our first week together.
Teaching Nova English has been one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. We don’t take any credit because her little brain is such a sponge, so it’s VERY easy to teach her new words and it’s so fulfilling to watch her English develop at such a rapid pace.
We teach her english by remembering to talk out loud about everything we are doing throughout the day. We over-explain things. We talk above her level and then wait to see if she understands by responding with the correct actions (she does so often). It honestly feels like a miracle how quickly she is learning. She picks up new words and phrases almost every day that we weren’t actively trying to teach her. Lately, we’ve been teaching her more intentionally…. I may write another post about this because it’s been so incredible and we’ve learned a lot.
Hopefully this will be reassuring for someone. Watching her language develop was by far on of the easiest and most fun parts of adopting a toddler internationally.
Q: Is there a special “ceremony” when you meet her for the first time? And at 2.5 years old, how do you make her say goodbye to everything she has ever known?
A: Yes, there is a vows ceremony. I think it’s usually a day later, but we did ours the same day because it was going to be closed the following day. You also get a family photo taken and a certificate.
To answer the second question, it’s SUPER traumatic for the child. Really internalizing that fact helped us to be there for her and have compassion when she was initially rejecting us so hard. We knew that ultimately we were giving her a better, permanent home. But that didn’t make it any easier to take them back to your hotel for the first time. It was one of the most raw and devastating experiences of our lives. But it it was more than worth it in the end.
Q: What, if any, supporting care/counseling do you have at home to help her (and you? I don’t know..) through the bonding process?
A: After the adoption you will have follow up appointments with your social worker for several years. They, along with your pediatrician, can refer you if you need more support.
For us, other adoptive families who had walked in our shoes was the biggest help and support to us in the first few weeks. We even called our friends back in Tennessee on one particularly difficult day in China. Finding your support circle is so important.
Q: How much did your adoption cost?
A: In total, our adoption cost around $35,000. There were no hidden fees or surprises. Our agency did a good job of preparing us for all the payments.
When we were in China a new law was passed that eliminates the requirement for the orphanage donation fee (around $5,000) and that is now optional.
Do you have to meet a certain income level to adopt? China requires minimum annual income of $30,000 plus $10,000 for each child currently in the home, and net worth of $80,000 for couples and $100,000 for singles. (you can read all the current requirements for China here).
For those curious- the prices I’ve heard on private domestic adoptions (with a lawyer) are between 25,000 to 30,000 (it can be more if you agree to pay more of the birth mother’s expenses). Foster Care to Adopt is free.
Q: Was being self employed an issue?
A: No, it wasn’t an issue at all. We had to show our tax returns, but everyone does.
Q: What does cost goes towards and how it’s broken down?
A: You can read about the breakdown here. When it says “third party” a part of that is the local home study you have to pay for and also you write a lot of (smallish- hundreds or less) checks to government agencies while you are doing paperwork. The fees may be lower now that the orphanage donation is no longer required.
Q: What would you recommend for a couple who doesn’t have $20-$30K sitting around to put towards adoption fees?
A: This is one of the most asked questions. First of all, I want to say that through my experience I have met MANY lower or medium income and one income families who have adopted. I know it is a major roadblock for many, but there are also MANY families make it though those roadblocks with determination, hard work and creativity. It can be done!
I don’t like it when people say negative things about adoption just because it costs a lot of money. I realize that on the surface level people are thinking they are doing something charitable by adopting a child so it should be free. That’s not realistic, though, because private adoptions are not government funded (although there are some awesome tax credits I will list below).
It’s also important to realize that people have careers to bring families together in the quickest, most efficient ways. These professionals are there to walk families through one of the most complicated and most difficult things you’ll ever do. They spend years walking through your adoption with you. This is a service that costs money. It’s not a scam.
That said, I understand that many families who are perfectly qualified to adopt don’t have the cash on hand to cover the entire expense of an adoption. Here are some things that can help:
-Saving. We saved slowly for a year for our adoption. Most of the expenses done come until the end of the process, so you don’t have to have all the money already saved when you start the process. Even if you can’t save for your entire adoption, you can save for some of it.
-Tax credits. Talk to your accountant or social worker. Depending on your household income, most families who adopt from China quality for a SUBSTANTIAL tax credit.
–AdoptTogether.org This is a crowd funding website for adoptive families. A great resource!
-Fundraising. Many families fundraise for their adoption by selling something. This is a great option.
-Grants. Since Jeremy and I were able to save for our adoption we didn’t apply for any grants, but most families do! This takes time and research, but your social worker will be able to help you get started.
-Adoption Loans. Just like anything else in life, there are loans that exist for families who aren’t able to save fast enough for their adoption.
Q: Do you know of any resources for same sex couples who want to adopt?
A: I asked our friend John from Gunner + Lux and his agency actually went out of business after they adopted their daughter. But he did have some really beautiful advice from their adoption journey that I wanted to share here.
“All adoptions are different. (straight, gay, single….) So don’t compare your journey, your road to your special child to anyone.
One day, we were matched with our birth mother….who made us fathers to our daughter Riley. The greatest day of our lives.
If anyone has helpful resources for same sex couples, please email me and I will add them here.
Q: Did you name Nova or did her birth parents?
A: We named Nova. I received a LOT of questions about her new name and a lot of judgement, if I’m being honest. We were even called “unfit” to be parents for not “keeping” Nova’s name. So this is a little more of a sensitive subject for me. Most children who are adopted internationally get a “new” american name. I never expected it would be such a thing.
In our specific situation, Nova didn’t have a name from her birth parents (most Chinese adoptees don’t- this is extremely common) and so she was given a name by her institution. When we had it translated it basically meant her province, gender and then the most common Chinese last name. We felt that her name was given to her for the purpose of paperwork, without a lot of thought put into it. She was also never called this name- they had been using different cute nicknames with her. So we did not feel bad AT ALL giving Nova a new name. I think that giving her a name full of love and meaning from her new parents who love her is a beautiful thing.
In the transition we tried using her nicknames but she never responded to them. She acclimated to the name “Nova” super quickly, so we just continued calling her that. It was honestly the smallest challenge compared to so many other she had to go through to be adopted.
Now, I am sure there are many other children (probably mostly older than Nova) find comfort in their Chinese names and I’ve met families who chose to keep these names as well.
As with anything online, I would say that it’s important to realize that the parents probably have more information than you do and never jump too far in your conclusions or judge.
Q: I’m curious how/if your adoption journey lines up with Nova’s life. As in do you know which point of the process you were in on her birthdate or when she was placed in the orphanage? Were you still just thinking about it, researching, started the application process, etc.?
A: Nova was born right around the time we bought our current home and started remodeling it. It makes me so happy to know that while we were preparing a home for our family our little girl was being born, even though we had no idea yet!
Disclaimers: I can only speak from my own perspective and experience. I got a lot of questions from people outside the US that I honestly can’t begin to answer. If you are outside the US I encourage you to look for a local social worker or adoption agency and ask them all the questions you can!
Every adoption is different. Don’t take my experiences as truth for everyone. And if you are reading this post it’s been a few years, the rules for China have probably changed. They changed a couple times while we were working on our adoption.
If you are considering adopting a child with albinism, feel free to email me your questions. I didn’t get many questions about albinism here, but I would love to help support anyone I can. elsie AT a beautifulmess DOT com Thanks for reading! The reason we share our adoption is to help other families who are going through it.