Hi there! I have organized this HUGE Q+A post in hopes of helping some families who are curious about or considering adoption.
I decided to break into parts by subject because Jeremy thought it was far too long (and I looked- it was almost 8000 words- yikes!) So here is part one, just questions on getting started and the first steps in the process!
Q: How can I best support others going through the adoption process?
A: Treat them the same as ANY other family who is expecting a child. Just be excited for them. Ask them what you can do to help. I always appreciated people asking me what I needed rather than assuming.
If you recall a negative story about a family who had their adopted children taken away or an adoptee who never recovered from the trauma- keep it to yourself. These stories get passed around so much more frequently than those of happy adoptive families. There are sad stories in every walk of life and it is not your job to warn a friend or family member about the risks of adoption (they already know them).
Q: Where do you start? Adoption seems overwhelming.
A: First of all, adoption IS overwhelming. Our process was eighteen months and we filled out over 100 pages of paperwork, paid around 35k in fees along the way and traveled to the other side of the world to adopt our daughter. That said, when it’s broken down one day at a time it’s NOT that bad. It’s a huge commitment, but it’s doable!
The first step (for couples) is to get on the same page (100%) about your hopes and goals for your adoption. After that, find a local social worker who can do your home study (all adoptions in the US require a local home study, so it doesn’t matter if you’re doing international or domestic or haven’t decided yet). They can help you navigate SO much more like choosing the right agency for your family, hiring a lawyer or whatever you need along the way.
Q: As a twenty something – not ready for a family yet – is there anything I can/should do now to prepare for the adoption process 5-10 years down the road?
A: A few things that I think would help. Spend your money on things that help build your net worth (like buying a car, a house or starting an investment savings account). Keep track of the paperwork in your life (start good filing habits). You will need copies of everything in your adoption from your marriage certificate, to vet records and all of your old addresses if you have moved a lot. You can save a little time later by being organized and keeping important documents all in one location.
Other than that, I would just say stay out of trouble (haha- I sound so old) and work on setting up a life that’s ready to bring a child into!
Q: Were your family and friends always 100% supportive?
A: No. In the early stages, when we first told our family and friends many people showed concern and fear for our choice. There were a few members of our family who were disappointed by our choice not to conceive a biological child. But as the process went on everyone got more comfortable. By the time they “met” Nova ( just seeing her first photos before we had her) everyone was 100% supportive.
My advice here is to give people time. Especially older people. It’s difficult to feel like someone in your family is questioning such an intimate decision that you’ve put so much thought into, but remember that their reaction is probably coming out of fear. There is a LOT of misinformation about adoption in the world and a lot of what people are exposed to is false or overly negative.
A lot of people only know a few adoptive families or they’ve heard one bad story and they’re convinced you’re going to regret your choice. Don’t let this derail you. Expect push back and expect rude questions. Be ready to patiently answer questions and correct false statements (that one is honestly very awkward, but important).
Know that from the first day you start your adoption you become an advocate! It’s your job now to help educate people and normalize something they don’t know very much about. It’s not always easy, but it’s part of your new life as an adoptive family. Over time you’ll get really comfortable in this role. The world needs our positive stories. Be as kind as you can, but don’t be afraid to be honest and stand up for your choices as well.
Q: How did you help prepare the broader family for adoption? Is there any advice you’d share for that?
A: We worked really hard to keep our family filled in throughout the adoption process including what we learned in our classes and books and what to expect from each stage. As we were learning new things, we tried to pass that along. Looking back, I do feel like our families know SO much more about adoption now that when we started. So try to look at your process as a chance for everyone to learn something new together.
Q: What is the worst or most difficult part of the adoption process?
A: For us, the first few weeks of transition were extremely challenging. Taking Nova away from everything she knew was one of the most heartbreaking things we have ever experienced. We were really prepared for the signs of hurt and rejection she would show to us, but it was still very difficult in the moment. No matter how prepared you are, when you’re exhausted it’s even more difficult than you expected.
The wait was also difficult for me. I would say it was one of the lowest points in my life last summer when we were waiting and hoping for a call, but months were going by without one. Our agency was matching the families in front of us really slowly and it was so crushing to not know when we’d get matched. I felt really supported by my friends and family and I did everything I possibly could to stay busy, but it was till extremely difficult to now know exactly when it would happen.
Q: How do you know that this little child across the world is the one for you. Do you get a strong feeling this is the one, were there any that you had to pass by cause it didn’t feel right or any other reasons?
A: I was at a point where I would have said yes to any child, so I wasn’t worried about fireworks going off in my heart or anything. I was just SUPER READY to be a mom. Jeremy was always more reserved than me. He’s typically the cautious one in our relationship and a good balance for me.
He did have a special feeling after seeing Nova’s spotlight email come through. He couldn’t shake the feeling so he emailed for more information. We took over a week before saying the “official” yes after we got her file, because he wanted to feel really sure. But he says now that he knew right away that it was probably a yes, he just had to work through some fears.
We didn’t have to pass on any children, that was my NUMBER ONE fear the entire time. It would have been really difficult for me- but families have to do it all the time for all different reasons, usually because both parents aren’t on the same page.
Q: Curious about how you and Jeremy kept level and supported one another through the wait. What were some coping mechanisms you used to stay sane?
A: There were a couple things that really helped us! The first one is that we celebrated EVERY adoption milestone. In the beginning, when you are just filling out endless paperwork, it can feel so far away and discouraging. But those little celebrations helped me to stay motivated and see past the stage we were in. The other thing we did that helped was we had a private IG account that we used as a journal for our adoption process. We kept all the highlights and journaled some feelings on there as well. It’s so special to look back on now. We’re planning to print the private IG into a book for Nova.
Q: Will you proactively tell her about the process of her adoption or will you wait until she begins to ask questions?
A: We plan to always talk about adoption in our family, starting with some beautiful books we have that are meant for toddlers. Our plan is that we will always tell Nova everything she wants to know that she is old enough to understand. We’re friends with a lot of other families that have adopted children, which I think is really important for Nova’s childhood.
Q: How did you decide on international adoption vs domestic or fostering?
A: We looked into private, domestic adoption and international. We chose international because it felt like the right fit for our family (our hearts were already attached to the idea from a friend’s story we followed).
Domestic can be faster, so halfway though I freaked out and we talked about switching- but ultimately decided to stay with our process. You have to face fears no matter which path you go down, but I was really scared of the idea of being with a baby when it was born and then the mom changing her mind. That was probably one of the things that put us over the edge with choosing China. Obviously- there are no bad choices and both paths are great!
We never looked into foster care to adopt because I wasn’t open to the risk level. I am so inspired by the brave families who adopt through foster care.
Q: What about adopting through foster care?
A: We never looked into foster care, so I am not an expert on it. I’m not trying to leave it out here, but I honestly know almost nothing about foster care.
Q: Do you have any tips on bonding?
A: The most important tip I have is to try your best to go in with low expectations. On the morning of our adoption my friend Ashley texted me reminding me to have low expectations. And although I did my BEST to, it was still an incredibly crushing day. (I will share the full story soon)
You may have spent two years fantasizing about hugging this beautiful little person, but your job in the beginning is to be patient, read their cues and put their needs and feelings first. Bonding can’t be rushed.
Our bond took time. Anytime I felt discouraged or selfish I thought about our situation from Nova’s perspective and felt so much compassion and love. It’s not an easy part of the process, but it’s important to know that a slow bond with your new child is normal and healthy. If they came running into your arms on day one that would mean they weren’t grieving their loss yet.
Some things that helped- LOTS of playtime. Our first form of communication with Nova was definitely playing. In the early days playing the games she chose over and over was very comforting to her.
Food helped, mealtime and snacks were the first things that helped her accept me when she was still very hurt and scared.
Another thing that helped us at first was finding reasons to get out of our hotel room, she seemed to do better when we weren’t in the room while we were still in China. A lot of the other families we met seemed to feel the same way. There’s just some weird juju with staying cooped up in a hotel room for too long.
But bottom line- it takes time. You might need to have a daily private cry-fest or a friend to text and vent to, but you can’t force it to go faster. It taught me a lot of patience and when Nova started to bond with me each step was the MOST rewarding thing I could have possibly imagined.
Q: Were you and Jeremy on the same page about it from the start — equally wanting this path for growing your family? Or was one of you set on it and “convinced” the other? If the latter, how did you ultimately arrive on the same page?
A: We never moved forward without being on the same page, and we feel VERY strongly that this is essential for couples. There were moments when we were decided which program to enter, the medical conditions checklist, ages, genders and when we saw new children in our spotlight emails where we did not agree.
While it’s never a comfortable feeling to disagree, it’s also completely normal and no one is at fault. When it was a no from one of us, it was a no from b0th of us. That’s just how it needs to be. No one should have to be pushed into an adoption commitment.
Q: Was your adoption agency open to families that already had a biological child?
A: Yes, you are not penalized in ANY way for having biological children. I can’t speak for every agency, but at Holt they are extremely fair about the order in which they match families (it’s borderline annoying how fair they are about the matching process- haha).
Q: Do you know if the process goes quicker if you are “declared” unable to carry/have children on your own? And if there are different rules, such as having to be married for so and so long?
A: No, it doesn’t make it faster.
From our experience the only things that CAN make your match wait time faster are- choosing a child from the photo listing (these would be kids with more serious medical needs since they aren’t matching with any of the waiting families), being open to more medical conditions, being open to both genders and being open to older ages.
As tempting as it can be to want your wait to be “really fast”, I do have to say that you should never sign up for someone you are unsure of just to make your wait quicker. That’s obviously unfair to the child.
As far as the other rules- you have to both be 30 years old and you have to be married for two years. In the China program only straight married couples and single women are allowed to adopt. You can read the rest of the criteria here.
Q: What did your agency want to know about you/Jeremy personally? I’m assuming they ask about income, careers, education level…? What about other things like hobbies, parenting styles, politics, religious views, your family backgrounds, if you’re musical, if you have pets…??
A: In the home study we were asked about every facet of our lives I can recall except politics (I never remember being asked a political question, but it came up for us a lot because it’s something we are both interested in). I never felt discriminated against because we don’t go to church (a lot of people asked about this- and yes, I was nervous about it before we started). We had to disclose a LOT of financial information, everything about our education, our childhoods, medical reports, and personal questions about our marriage. They pretty much ask about everything. It felt like a LOT at first, but we got comfortable with it really fast.
In domestic versus international this is a HUGE point of difference. Because in domestic the birth family is choosing the adoptive family based on this information. But in international they are mainly just making sure you are qualified to adopt.
Q: Was one of you much more pro-conception/having “your own”? how did you agree on adoption?
A: Not really. We were trying to get pregnant for a couple of years- so we were definitely open to having biological children, but we were always open to both. When the time came that we decided to only pursue adoption for building our family it was an easy choice for both of us.
A lot of people private message me and basically ask, “how did you get your husband to be ok with adoption?” The answer is- I didn’t. He came to it on his own. I think that exposing your partner to more adoption stories is a positive thing to do since some people really haven’t had much exposure, but you can’t make someone become ok with adoption. There are a lot of people in the world who aren’t open to adoption, and I don’t think guilting or shaming them helps. Some people just aren’t open to it.
Q: Were you worried about how you’d bond if you hadn’t met before the adoption took place.
A: I got this question a lot and even, “can you back out if it doesn’t feel right when you meet in China”. The answer is, yes, by the way. You can back out in China, but you can’t switch kids. If you backed out you would have to go home, get re-matched and go back to China for the second child.
To answer the question- no I wasn’t really scared we would never bond and I expected it to be rocky at first and did my best to keep my expectations low at first. That said, I think that it’s TOTALLY normal for anyone who is about become a parent to have these fears. I’ve heard my pregnant friends say things like that before.
It’s so interesting to me how we all have these really specific fears, unique to all of us and then most of them never even happen.
Q: What were your first steps after deciding you wanted to begin the adoption process?
A: The first steps were to find a local social worker and begin the home study. We started saving up. We bought a bunch of books to read about parenting in general and adoption.
Q: What made you want to adopt? Did you have fertility issues, or was it just something you’ve always wanted? And if it was the latter, do you think you’ll ever have a biological child? Do you plan on adopting more children?
A: Short version- No we did not have fertility issues. We spent some time trying to get pregnant and then decided to start our first adoption after five years of marriage. After we started the adoption we realized it was a great fit for us and began to prevent pregnancy. Now we plan to adopt exclusively, so no, we never plan to try to have biological children.
Q: How did you decide what adoption agency to use? What resources did you rely on when you were doing that research and deciding?
A: We found our agency through a personal recommendation of a family member. One of Jeremy’s siblings had a cousin-in-law that used our same agency.
Q: Do you happen to know if Holt works with non-Christian parents?
A: Yes, they do. Like I said above, we don’t go to church and we never felt discriminated against for that in ANY way. We were asked a few questions about our faith during our home study, but we were told that China isn’t a country that wants to know anything about your religion.
Incase you don’t know- the China adoption world is primarily made up of conservative Christian adoptive families, agencies and organizations (on the US side of things). There were moments we felt VERY outside our bubble, but ultimately we felt it was a GOOD life experience for us to be outside our bubble. We want to encourage more people like us, who are liberal, to take this path because this kind of diversity is healthy and needed in the China adoption community.
Q: One thing I think would drive me crazy is anyone suggesting that I couldn’t possibly love my child in the same way as them because she/he isn’t biologically mine — Have you experienced this (i hope not!) and what are your feelings on the matter?
A: Yes, people have said offensive things to us (usually because they are clueless, not cruel). As an adoptive parent you become an advocate. Every day when I share bits of our family on the internet I feel happy that our story is normalizing adoption for some people and helping to melt away fears, bias and misinformation.
I honestly don’t get offended very easily anymore and I think it’s clear to everyone who looks at our little photos and videos that we ADORE our child and could not possibly love her more.
Q: What do you recommend having prepared at home for the child’s arrival after adoption?
A: We had everything (full nursery, full closet, stroller, high chair etc….) and I don’t regret any of it, even though there were a few things that we had to modify after we got home. I just can’t imagine the pressure of having to buy all of that and decorate with a new kid at home- I prefer to take my time with things like that and feeling rushed would have given me anxiety. I made sure all of our thank you notes were done before we left for China, our house was the cleanest it’s ever been- we tried to do everything we could think of to be prepared.
One of my close friends did the opposite, though, she prepared very minimally because she felt superstitious of it falling through. And it would be truly horrible to have an adoption fall through with a totally decorated nursery in your home. I totally get that, so, to each their own!
Q: From some research I’ve learnt that adoptive children are twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues. Do you have a plan as to how to help Nova should she struggle in adolescence with her identity, abandonment issues and attachment disorders?
A: First and foremost- seeking professional help. Most people I know have benefitted from therapy at one time in their lives or another. You don’t have to be a professional in every field as long as you trust and seek help from the right people when you need it.
The other thing we feel very strongly about is separating adoption based problems from problems any child could face. We don’t like to assume that every issue that comes up with Nova is a result of trauma or adoption related. That said, it’s important to keep your eyes open and seek support when you need it.
Q: My question is based on already having my own child, and having to wait a little while until the ‘love’ came… Did you worry that you wouldn’t love or even like her? I find it hard to imagine how one could instantly fall in love with a complete stranger, and feel pressure to do so because they are yours.
A: I think this is a general parenting concern and not adoption specific. A newborn baby is a completely stranger too. So any parent could go through this and yes, it’s completely normal.
Personally, I am quick to love (almost to a fault) so I wasn’t worried about it. Jeremy was prepared by some of his close friends who took time to bond with their (biological) children so he was anticipating the worst case scenario. That’s just his personality and how he approaches parenting in general though- he gains confidence from knowing what the worst case scenario is and then everything else seems like a bonus to him.
I was mainly concerned I would experience post-adoption depression (same as postpartum) because I had been on such a HIGH being so excited to become a mom. It didn’t happen to me, but I was totally prepared to go straight to therapy when we got home. I’ve heard a lot of adoptive moms say that they needed that.
But yeah, these are normal fears and there’s nothing wrong with love taking time to grow. Prepare your support system. I have a few special friends who I can be really, really honest with, with no fear of judgement. This is so important.
Q: How did you overcome the fear of loss? Of an adoption not going through at the last minute or being reversed?
A: Ultimately, I had to accept that becoming a parent in ANY way opens me up to the greatest fear- losing a child. A few of my close friends have been through this and it’s horrifying.
In the weeks and days leading up to our adoption, I was pretty nervous that something would go wrong and we wouldn’t be able to adopt Nova or even meet her. It was scary because we were already so attached to her and she was already our daughter in our hearts and minds.
But this is a fear every parent has to face.
As far as it being reversed, it’s not possible for us. I know some adoptions are more risky in that way, but in our adoption from China almost all the paperwork and immigration is done on the front end so it’s already official when you arrive home.
Q: (regarding paperwork) What would you do differently to avoid mistakes or speed up just that process?
A: Get organized and set time limits for yourself. For example, it took us two months to do all the paperwork to submit our homestudy application. There were doctors appointments, vet notes and things we had to request from Missouri because we had misplaced documents. Having a big master checklist will help to prepare both the homestudy application and the dossier documents.
Ask your social worker how long they need to prepare your home study. There was a big difference in the time needed for different social workers in our area. It could save months to find the fastest person.
Never feel bad calling your agency to ask every little question. Having to redo papers that get rejected is so annoying, so be proactive on the front end and try to make sure you’re getting it done right the first time.
I’ll be back soon with part 2!
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. Thanks for reading! The reason we share our adoption is to help other families who are going through it.