Mark and Julie always knew that they would adopt; even before the couple married, they discussed adoption and they both felt that, “[it] was a beautiful way to expand a family.” So the option was never far from their thoughts, even as the couple wed and had three biological children. But, a few short years ago, Mark and Julie renewed the conversation.
It was the fall of 2013 and Mark and Julie started gathering information about local adoption agencies and the types of adoption they might pursue. “We just had a feeling that it was about the right time,” Julie explained. “So, one night, we just prayed like crazy, asking for a sign of what we should do.” The next morning, while attending services at their church, the pastor spoke about international adoption –
something he had never preached about before. Mark and Julie knew they had their sign.
In September 2014, Mark, Julie, and their three sons accepted the referral of a little girl named Ellie. They travelled to China in March 2015 to meet their daughter. The whole family then spent a little time in her native country before returning home to Wisconsin.
Building a Tool Box
As with any adoption, there is so much to think about, consider, prepare for, and plan for. For an international adoption, there are the added steps of travelling and language barriers to consider. The process is long and can test even the strongest of resolves, so having a fully stocked “tool box” is one way to get through each step of the adoption journey.
Friends and family. Mark and Julie found a support network of other families through the training classes they took from their agency. “There were about five families who got really close,” they explained. “We sort of formed our own mini support group.”
Faith. An important part of Mark and Julie’s tool box was – and is – their faith. The couple shared their belief that they were called through faith to adopt internationally and that they leaned on this particular “tool” a lot throughout their journey. Prayer was a source of strength and comfort for their whole family from beginning to end.
International adoption contains three big steps that can be daunting and may seem overwhelming – accepting a referral, preparing for travel, and making the transition into everyday family life once back home in the U.S. We asked Mark and Julie what was in their “international adoption tool box” and what tips and information they would share with other families adopting from another country:
Accepting a Referral
- While waiting for a referral, try to focus on the blessings all around you rather than the big question mark of when the call will come. “I know,” Julie acknowledged. “Easier said than done! But try to cherish the moments you have in the current stage of life; before you know it, everything will change.”
- Decide on an international adoption medical clinic to consult with while waiting for a referral. Some referrals come with only a few days to make a decision, so you want to have your doctors lined up ahead of time and
know their procedure. Send your child’s file to them as soon as possible, after you receive it. This is a tip that proved especially important for Mark and Julie; when they received their first referral, they had only five short days to provide an answer.
- Be honest with yourself and your spouse/partner about what you think you can and can’t handle, particularly when accepting a referral for a child with special needs. For Mark and Julie, they knew they were open to a child with special needs, but it’s important to know what’s right for you, your spouse/partner, and your children.“It’s tremendously difficult to turn down a referral, but sometimes it needs to happen,” Julie said. The first referral she and Mark received was one that they turned down. “Trust your gut,” she said. “Just like falling in love, when you read the file of the right child for you, you’ll know. Don’t let your excitement over the beautiful child in front of you prevent you from having honest discussions over what potential medical treatments lie ahead.”
- If your child has special needs, do all you can to research that need. Understand that neither the best case nor the worst case scenario are very likely. Be sure you’re comfortable with something in the middle, hope for best case, and prepare for worst case.Having completed their adoption of daughter Ellie, Mark and Julie say that, in retrospect, they wish they would have insisted on some additional medical testing for their daughter. “It wouldn’t have changed our acceptance of her referral,” Julie said. “But it would have allowed us to do additional research and line up her specialists sooner, rather than later.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask your agency questions! Consult with the international adoption medical clinic and add the doctor’s follow-up questions to your own. Gather as much information as possible! Looking back, Julie says she wishes that she and Mark would have been a little more assertive in looking for answers to medical questions. “I don’t know if we necessarily could have forced the issue or not,” she said. “However, when questions came back unanswered and medical tests were not run, I would have pursued the issue a bit more. I realize you’ll never get an
answer to all your questions, but I still wish we had forced the issue more.”
- When it comes time to book flights, Mark and Julie recommend Adoption Airfare, as well as cross-checking with multiple travel agencies; there are big variations in airfare prices available.
- Pack as lightly as possible. “My husband made me downsize packed items three times,” Julie said. “And he probably should have made me do a fourth!” It can be challenging to make it through all the airports. If at all possible, you might consider traveling with carry-on only.
- Apply for your VISA early! Don’t wait until the last minute. “The adoption process is filled with lots of paperwork and lots of waiting,” Julie said. “Just when you think you’re done with paperwork, you realize how wrong you are!” She shared that, five days before they were scheduled to travel to China, she and Mark received a packet of papers that needed to be filled out for their home study. Thankfully, nothing hindered their plans, but it’s best to plan and apply for those travel documents as early as
- Stock your freezer. Spend some time preparing crock pot and other freezer-friendly meals so that, after you return home from travelling with your new child, you don’t have to worry about cooking for a little while.
- Line up your child’s first pediatrician appointment and appointments with any specialty clinics they may need. Many doctors book several months out, so start now while you have time and aren’t sleep deprived.
- Prepare your friends and family members for the possibility that it may be a while until your child is ready to meet them and/or accept affection from them. Let them know your anticipated plan of how you’d like them
to interact with your child and also let them know that it may change once you return home.When Mark and Julie returned home, they slowly began introducing Ellie to the rest of her new extended family. “She acted pretty shy, but generally enjoyed the interactions for a short period of time,” Julie said. “However, we noticed that she got overwhelmed quickly, so we kept visits very short, calm, and spread out.” They knew Ellie had so many people who wanted to meet her, but followed their daughter’s lead
and simply asked friends and family members for patience and understanding.
- Get together with friends, go on date nights, or take a quick get-away with your spouse if you can. Life will change drastically when you come home and it might be a while until you can do those things again.
Transitioning back home
- At the top of Mark and Julie’s list? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”Treat your return home like arriving with a newborn. Julie suggests enlisting the help of friends for things such as:
– Leave money and a grocery list for someone to stock your kitchen the day before you arrive home
– Set up play-dates at a different houses for older siblings; it can help keep a sense of normalcy the first several weeks home
– Arrange for friends to transport older kids to/from extracurricular activities or practices so you can focus on slowly transitioning your new child into your regular schedule
– Accept offers of meals. Depending on how your child responds to others, either welcome friends into the house with open arms or have a cooler waiting on the front porch
- Take time to just simply have fun with your child. It’s okay to turn down invitations and simplify life for a while.
- Follow your child’s lead when it comes to integration into the community and guests to your home.
- Stay in close contact with your social worker, other adoptive parents, and other support or resource groups to help you as you encounter unexpected behaviors.
- Let friends and family know how your child is doing. Be very clear about how they handle meeting new people, how you’d like them to interact with your child (e.g., can they pick up your child, should they wait for your child to approach them, can they give your child food, etc.). Mark and Julie kept friends and family members updated on their adoption journey and Ellie’s progress through a closed Facebook group. They posted updates before travelling to China, photos while there, and progress reports after they returned home.
- Take care of yourself! Make time for each spouse/partner to exercise and have a little downtime.
Perhaps the best piece of advice that Mark and Julie shared was the last one:
“Enjoy the process and do your best to cherish even the hardest days. As you and your child transition through the challenging emotions and behaviors, you’ll grow closer to one another and you will both appreciate your bond even more. Remind yourself on the hard days that each stage is temporary.”