Tag Archives: Inter-Country Adoption

reunion in vietnam

Last September, I was contacted by a very thoughtful 17-year old adoptee from Vietnam. Her email stated that she’d found my blog and that it struck a deep chord with her. I was delighted to hear from her, so I reached out. She told me she was adopted at the age of 2 months from Vietnam and that she believed she’d found her birth mother via Facebook after years of searching. She explained that she’d been attempting to contact her birth mom through other bio relatives on Facebook, but was unsure if her mom wanted any contact with her. Naturally, she experienced a roller coaster of emotions and asked if I could share more of my own journey since I’d reunited with my birthfamily. She expressed she felt it hard for other non-adoptees to fully understand everything she was going through and was seeking support and “words of wisdom.” I understood, as I have also experienced very similar emotions. The tug of war when searching for one’s birthfamily is not easy to articulate and perhaps even more difficult for others to comprehend. There are multiple obstacles, and yet the desire for connection is so strong.

She continued to write to me and one day wrote that she’d finally connected with her birth mom via WhatsApp with the help of her relatives! Her parents were supportive yet urged her to be cautious. Of course they were concerned. I was ecstatic for her and hoped that the reunion would be a positive experience. This young adoptee then traveled a world away to Vietnam to meet her birth mom. The pictures she took of their reunion were some of the sweetest and most telling photographs I’ve ever seen. She captured a bond that erased years of separation and a love that was clearly undeniable. I’m certain the experience was just as profound for her birth mom.

When she returned she experienced a tumult of emotions and felt very torn between both worlds, the one here and the one in Vietnam. I offered support – it takes time to process such a momentous event. She wrote that finding her birth mom really filled a deep hole in her heart and, she felt lucky that it all went as well as possible. Her school newspaper caught wind of her story and asked if she’d write an article describing her journey. I asked her if I could share it with you in the hopes that it would help other adoptees who are searching and adoptive parents to understand why reunion is so important, no matter what age. Furthermore, adoptees need support from their families and friends, and in some cases, professional support to sort through all of the emotions – loss, grief, joy, disappointment, sadness – the whole gamut. This young woman’s story resonated deeply with me. No doubt, her journey is not over. But then again, I don’t think an adoptee’s journey is ever truly over. Here is the article she wrote:

This December, my life changed forever. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would one day find my Vietnamese birth mother—let alone meet her in person. It is a miracle. It all started this summer. Through Facebook.

I was adopted at two months. For the longest time I denied my adoption, but during my freshman year I tentatively came to terms with it, and began to explore my past. I discovered that my parents had a brief letter about my birth mother— name, age, city, and a line about her family—but probably fake. I scoured the internet numerous times, but to no avail.

That summer I returned to Vietnam for the first time, with my parents, eager to search for my mother. It was strange, to say the least. I visited my orphanage, only to leave with a torrent of tumultuous emotions. It was excruciating to be so close—yet so far. What if we walked past each other? I frantically scanned each woman I saw, but it was hopeless. I left discouraged and abandoned my search.

This July, we returned to Vietnam, and my thoughts flew to my mother. The same questions. What would my life have been had I stayed with her? Was she still alive? Out there somewhere? Did she remember me? Would I ever find her? It was agony.

Late one evening, I decided to search her name on Facebook. Nothing. I sat back in frustration. Then, it occurred to me to remove her middle name. One profile popped up. Ho Chi Minh City. My heart raced. I followed the link and almost had a heart attack. I had never seen anyone who looked so much like me. Those eyes. My eyes. The cheeks. Forehead. Smile. Could it be?

I went into a frenzy. I immediately asked a friend to translate a message and sent it to her. I checked all of my photos against hers. I grew more convinced by the second she was my mother. Friends cautioned me to slow down, be careful—we knew nothing about her. I might never hear back. She could be the wrong person. She might hate me. What would I do then?

I ignored them. I knew the risks, but there was nothing I wanted more than to find her. I waited a month, but no response came. I was not surprised; the account seemed outdated. After investigating the profiles of her six friends, I surmised that they were her aunt and cousins. Dare I ask them? I settled on the Aunt.

I added my Vietnamese name to my profile and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted it. I sent a quick message asking to contact her niece. The challenge was that I could not explain why; if she did not know about me it could ruin my mother’s life. I had to be persistent enough to catch her attention, but not enough to scare her, and I had to pretend I spoke Vietnamese, in case she got suspicious.

She wrote the next day. I waited with baited breath for the translation—polite, curious, but wary. We had the same last name, but who was I? Why did I ask for her niece? Maybe it was a mistake? I immediately sent the profile, but no response. For two weeks I hesitated, then messaged her again. She agreed to talk to her niece. Then nothing. I tentatively prompted her, terrified to lose touch. She said they did not recognize my photo. It continued in that manner all through August and into September; then she ignored me.

What next? I puzzled through eight weeks, tip-toeing on eggshells, and keeping a low profile. Finally, at the end of October, I plucked up the courage to try my mom’s cousin, who spoke English. I had to try twice before she replied. To my shock, she instantly agreed to help, without an explanation. She would meet her cousin the next day, to help us message each other.

Saturday, October 29th, 11pm. A message from the cousin; she was ready. I panicked. I had no one to help me type in Vietnamese. What if I lost my mother? Thankfully a Vietnamese friend was online to translate. I sent my mother the message from the summer. She read it and went offline. I paced anxiously. Ten minutes later she reappeared, How did you get this information? Could you let me know? It was late and she would talk to me later. Wait! I frantically told her, from the orphanage, when I was adopted!

Pause. Eight minutes later, I am [name]. When I was young I was afraid my family know so I ask to  orphan my child. After giving birth to her I had never see her again. The nanny had already took her…After read those information you gave me above, I believe that you are the child I gave birth to that year. I was stunned. Time stopped.

We talked for three hours. I am so glad to hear your life is good. I think of you always, but couldn’t find you after such a long time apart. Thank God blessed you to find me. I want to meet you again in the near future. I was in a daze. My mother sent me a photo on the beach, and all the tears spilled out. I am crying now! Tears of sorrow, and joy at finding you, I told her. I could picture her smile: I wish I were there to hold you in my hands, I am crying too. Thank God we found each other after all. Goodnight my lovely daughter.

All week we talked. I cried so much, she said. Thinking about leaving you forever felt like someone stabbed my heart into pieces…I’m so happy. You’re my little princess. I am so happy to see your message everyday after coming home from work. I’m so thankful to God and can’t ask more. Now I have you, my daughter. You’re the joy of my life. I love you so much.

On the third day, my mom asked about a video call the coming weekend. My aunts sent a flurry of messages. I was nervous, but desperately wanted to meet her, so I agreed. I will never forget the mix of astonishment, wonder, and bliss on her face when she first saw me, the raw love swimming in her eyes. We were speechless. We could only gaze at each other. Mesmerized. I met my aunts and grandmother, and they all cried and laughed. It felt like a dream.

I begged my parents let me to visit over winter break, and they agreed. We set off, on what was about to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride. The day we met, I was petrified. What if she was a horrible person? Or we could not communicate? Or disappointed each other? What if she was the wrong person? I wanted to hide in the car, but it was far too late to turn back.

My mother and aunt met us on the street. I tentatively stepped out of the car, and instantly found myself wrapped in her arms. I could not think, only smile. We walked to the house. I was met by a barrage of hugs and kisses, watery smiles. It was surreal. To gaze into my birthmother’s eyes. To feel the warmth of her embrace, her fingers stroking my hair. To listen to her soothing voice. To kiss her cheek. To claim each other as our own. After 17 years.

We spent nine days together, with the rest of the family. Leaving her was one of the most painful things I have ever done. Every adoption is different; there is no guarantee how it will turn out. But I am incredibly lucky. I found her, and everything turned out as perfectly as possible. Someone once told me that if you wish for something with all of your heart, somehow it will happen. Perhaps, but tenacity can go a long way.

international adoption connect

It’s been several weeks since my last post. I hate that I don’t have as much time to devote to my beloved blog these days. I’ve started a new job working in memory care with residents who have dementia and their families. Our residents live in a four storied community, and each neighborhood is designed to meet their needs based upon their level of functioning and stage in the disease process. I’m quickly learning more and more about the different types of dementia. My adoptive mom succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, so I feel that I have much compassion for anyone facing such a frightful disease. There is no cure, and the prognosis is grim. I have a long commute to work, and the work itself is challenging. After I graduated with my MSW in 2015, I would never have thought that I’d end up working with the elderly with memory impairments, but I’m grateful to have a job, to be learning and growing my skills, and to be working towards my clinical licensure in social work.

That being said, I will always have an active interest and passion for international adoption and connecting to other adoptees. I’ll continue to use my blog as a platform to reach out to adoptees and adoptive families and to discuss important issues related to the complexities of international adoption, which are often not understood by those looking from the outside in. Just the other day, I was speaking to someone about a child who was internationally adopted recently. This person expressed how “lucky” the adoptee was to be adopted to America. I cringe when I hear such comments, which tend to be one dimensional, yet know that many are ignorant to the grief, loss, and trauma related to adoption, especially across oceans. Some don’t understand this perspective, but I’m certain that other adoptees know where I’m coming from. On another note, I find it quite interesting that wherever I go, I cross paths with other international adoptees or people connected somehow to international adoption. At Arizona State Hospital, my colleague and social work partner (whom I really miss working with) was adopted from Brazil by an American family, and the psychiatrist I worked with adopted multiple children internationally from Ethiopia and some other countries – I don’t recall which ones. I recently learned that an outside Care Manager who advocates for several of our residents adopted a little girl from Armenia some years ago and went back to the country a couple of weeks ago to adopt her older brother. They just returned to the States. I look forward to talking with her as well as her adopted children in the very near future. God has a way of keeping me connected to international adoption in the most uncanny way.

My hope one day is to further my work in international adoption. To what capacity, I’m not sure, except to finish my book, Beyond Two Worlds: A memoir, at this time. I know I sound like a broken record! I’ve gotten terribly behind in editing my work due to starting my job. It’s a real bummer. My goal is to finish all editing by the end of this month so that my editor, Allyson, can complete her editing process; however, it’s gonna be difficult. We’ll see. My publisher continues to press me to submit the manuscript, but I can only do what I can do. Despite all the setbacks, the book will be published this year, 2017, something I greatly look forward to! It’s the beacon in my crazy world.

Today is my day off. Sigh…We’ll be spending time with our daughter this afternoon over sushi. Can’t wait. The rest of the afternoon I’ll devote to writing. Tomorrow I must go into work for New Hire Orientation – on my day off 😦 Alas, I’m taking a day off towards the end of the month to make up for it and to write. I wish I had the energy after work every evening to write, but I typically fall on the couch and snooze.

Lastly, I came across the quote featured in this post this morning. It was just what I needed. Hope it inspires you too wherever you are in your journey! Oh, and we never found our bed linens (after our move)…

a Korean adoptee’s search

Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.

Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.

When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.

Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.

I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.

It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.

I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.

I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.

I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search. Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.

become

shutterstock_449362561A recent post written by another adoptee caught my attention the other day. The author’s name is Kumar, and he blogs at A Stroll Through My Mind. Kumar was adopted from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India. In this particular post, he discusses a book, Daughter of the Ganges, written by author/adoptee, Asha Miro. Miro chronicles her travels back to India to uncover her native roots. She visits India on two separate occasions, the second eight years after the first. What struck me as I read Kumar’s post was his comparison of the two trips and how the impetus of Miro’s journey seems to change over time. He reflects, “Her first [trip] feels naive, innocent and very good natured. She, as I would do myself, trusts that others have her best interest at heart and ends up receiving information that is not wholly accurate.” I have not read Miro’s books, but could certainly relate to the naivety in which Miro sets out to uncover her roots and the receipt of inaccurate information. Kumar shares that he similarly trusted that others had his best interest at heart, as did I when I first began this blog and the initial search for my birthfamily in Taiwan. I trusted my adoptive parents and the information they provided to me only to find out that the information was hugely inaccurate. Unfortunately, I will probably never know where the lines got crossed. Miro’s second journey to India is quite different. Kumar says, “She pushes people for information, gets the necessary help and is able to create some amazing connections.” Adoptees are constantly pushing others for information. It often doesn’t come easily.

I set out to find my own native roots anxious to investigate the unknowns and find answers. I held no ill feelings towards my adoptive parents for withholding what they knew about my adoption, although I had a right to know. Finding and reunifying with my birthfamily has been one of the most significant events in my life, one that I continue to ponder. That my sisters and family never forgot me and wanted to reunite is beyond wonder. As I have researched international adoption and read the stories of many other adoptees and birth mothers, I have lost the naivety I once possessed regarding adoption. Although I gather that many adoptive parents approach international adoption with the best of intentions and for a multitude of reasons, the very nature of international adoption is complex and rooted in loss, which is oft misunderstood or minimized. The loss of a culture and language, the loss of parents/caregivers, the loss of everything familiar is no small thing, and this grief and loss cannot be understated nor underestimated. Most internationally adopted children eventually adapt and assimilate, yet for some of us, the unknowns continue to be painful reminders that our pasts are not quite whole.

I know that my adoptive parents loved me, and despite the challenges in our family, I loved my parents. It was not easy growing up in my adoptive family, and I was often conflicted by their expectations and anger, primarily my adoptive mother’s, and my own insecurities. I’ve come to terms with who I am as a transracially adopted person, although there are days when my drive for perfection and neurosis drives even me crazy. I’m no longer the naive, “good natured” adoptee that I once was, which is actually freeing. I can’t help but be a little cynical and sarcastic. With age and maturity, I’ve come to a new knowledge, perspective, and understanding.

I have many friends who have adopted children internationally, and it’s ironic that I somehow end up inadvertently in the company of others connected to adoption in some way…One of the psychiatrists I worked with at the state hospital had children adopted from Ethiopia and I want to say Guatemala, and my co-worker, also a social worker, was adopted from Brazil. On the long plane ride to the adoption initiative conference in NJ, I happened to sit next to a woman who had an adopted daughter from China. She wanted to know about my experiences and how I managed. Her daughter is a second year college student going through her own set of challenges. Go figure.

I find it difficult to discuss international adoption as the only alternative. I know far too many adoptees around the world whose stories are not characterized by the “forever family” rhetoric and whose adoptions occurred as a result of unethical adoption practices (that’s another story). Search and reunion becomes extremely difficult as you can well imagine because of falsified information or lack of information. But no matter, adoptees are resilient. I think it’s in our genes. We awaken, we learn, we evolve, we transform, and we become. Sometimes it’s a lonely, misunderstood road, but we keep going…And we wish our voices to be heard by those in the industry who would otherwise hope for us to be grateful that we were adopted.

another new year

79376012152105987_4xfbuDqm_c_zpsdc63f278 copyHello 2016! I say this every new year, but really, where did the time go? Now that Christmas 2015 has come and gone, I’m a little sad that I was so caught up in my busy life, primarily the new job, that I didn’t take enough time to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Everything seemed like a chore. Wow, that’s pathetic. Family and friends are too precious. I’m trying to accept that work is work. I continually strive to better myself professionally and am constantly looking for learning opportunities to do so. It’s both a virtue and a vice, but perhaps more so a vice. I miss having the time to indulge my creative self…blogging, improvising, coffee with a friend, movies, the symphony. You know, a slower mental pace and flexibility of life and schedule. I guess in many ways, though, I kind of asked for it by going back to school and beginning a new career in a profession where the burnout rate is high.

What are you hoping for in 2016? Personally, 2016 promises to be a year of big changes. My niece in Taiwan is soon to be married! How I would love to be there to see my family. In 2012, I reunited with my birthfamily in Taipei and have wanted to go back each year since. One day, I will return, maybe even in 2016.

Our daughter will be going to college in the Fall. She’s been accepted into 4 different universities, so we’re ecstatic that she has options. We’ll hear from 2 other colleges in the spring. I have moments of grief knowing she’ll be gone soon. She’s our only child. Tears are sure to be shed. Life is certainly going to be different when she’s in college. I have mixed feelings about how much less time I have with her now that I’m working full-time. The energy put into work often renders me emotionally depleted. Isn’t that every working mom’s dilemma? She’s a teen and yes, very independent, yet it’s our last year at home with her before she leaves the nest 😦 That time can never be recaptured. On the other hand, it’s exciting that she’s entering a new stage in her life sure to be full of new adventures and paths to increased learning and growth. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

On the professional front, I’m submitting a proposal to the Adoption Initiative’s 9th Biennial Adoption Conference. The theme this year is Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned. My master’s thesis investigated how international and transracial adoptees manage experiences of racism and racial discrimination. It also focused on strategies adoptees proposed to better equip adoptive parents and adoption professionals to help international/transracial adoptees manage identity issues and racism/racial discrimination. I’ve never attended an adoption conference and am really looking forward to it. I plan to attend the conference whether my proposal is accepted or not and am excited about traveling to the East coast.

Finally, I hope this year to be one where I focus more on spending time with friends and on taking better care of myself. For the last 2 years, I’ve been rather isolative. It seems that the older I get, the more difficult it is to stay connected with friends.

To all my family, friends, fellow adoptees and followers far and near, I wish you good cheer, good health and a new year full of personal and spiritual growth. Oh yeah, be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way.

roots

It’s been almost two months since I began my new job as a child therapist. Man, has it been an adjustment. I can’t say that it’s what I expected…much more stressful than I anticipated. I’m often unsure of myself and how to help the client sitting in front of me. That being said, I guess all new therapists feel that to some degree.

Since I began my blog on international adoption, I’ve received emails from other adoptees, primarily adult adoptees from Taiwan, who are contemplating or in the process of searching for their birthfamilies. I’m thrilled to offer my own experiences, support, encouragement, and to connect with other adoptees. Some have found members of their birthfamilies in Taiwan with the help of the Child & Juvenile Adoption Information Center in Taipei. I received an email from an adoptee recently who found her biological brother, but also learned that she has a sister who was adopted to U.S. parents. She now wants to find her sister. I wish that I could make the process easier. It is difficult to conduct a search when there are very few leads. If only we had the information that we long for.

It is truly a journey to begin a search for your birthfamily. It is one that I do not regret. I talk to adoptees often about what it’s like for them to be adopted. Some do not have a desire to search for their birthfamilies. I didn’t for many, many years. A specific event in my life changed all of that, and I never went back. There is something deep inside many of us that longs to know, understand, connect to our roots. It may come much later in life, or it may start at a very young age (or as I mentioned before, it’s not as important to others). Call them spiritual roots, biological roots, whatever you want – we desire a connection to where it all began for us. The kids I work with in foster care no matter how much they suffered at the hand of their parents still want to be with their mother and/or father. Even if it’s explained to them why they are in foster care, in many cases, they still long to be with their biological families. There’s a story that I read to kids, “The Invisible String,” to help them understand that no matter who they are separated from, there’s an invisible string that connects them to those they love. It seems like such a very, very small thing to offer in comparison to the huge hole that’s been created in their hearts, but it is a way to help them feel connected in spirit. I understand that desire to search for your roots or to stay connected. I’ve said it before – I cannot imagine having never found my biological family. I wish that I could travel more often to see them in Taipei. And I wish that I had the time to learn Mandarin.

Lately, I’ve felt so disconnected to my own birth roots. Work, life, busyness complicates everything, and I miss being involved to a greater capacity in international adoption. I was happy to receive that email from the adoptee searching for her sister. It helps me to feel connected to my own roots, to appreciate the invisible string that connects me to my birthfamily in Taiwan and to other adoptees I wish my fellow adoptee all the best in her continued search.

the picture of my birth mother

I finally framed the picture of my birth mother, which was given to me by my sisters in Taiwan. It was one of the first things they gave me at the airport once I arrived in Taipei. It’s a 5×7 black and white photo. My sisters laminated the picture to prevent any damage.

I used to think that my birth mother looked so solemn. She’s wearing a black mandarin collared jacket or shirt. Her hair is short and neat in the style of older women. Her eyes are a little downturned at the outer corners. I thought upon first seeing the picture that she appeared sad. She is not quite smiling, and I often wonder what my birth mother was thinking when the photo was taken. Oddly enough, I never asked my sisters how old she was at the time. I think that I was so overwhelmed with joy to have her picture and to see what she looked like that the thought didn’t cross my mind. My guess would be that she was somewhere in her fifties. My sisters told me that I look very much like our mother in her younger years. Unfortunately, there are no photos left of her when she was a young woman.

It’s a really odd feeling knowing that I was born to two people who I will never have an opportunity to meet. The story of why and how I was placed for adoption is a very sad one. Yet my sisters believe that my adoptive parents were angels and are very happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be raised in a more affluent, stable environment. I understand why it happened the way it did. There are many privileges that I have received because I grew up in the U.S. in a middle class white family. My adoptive parents loved me very much, but there were many challenges, especially when I was a teenager. My parents were ill-prepared to parent an adoptee with identity issues.

I am happy that my sisters and family wanted to reunify. They have very big and generous hearts. The picture of my birth mother is now sitting in a place where I see it every morning. Framed, she appears happier, if only in my imagination, and it makes me smile.

at the heart of adoption

Heart_ExtraSmallI’ve been interning since August at an adoption and foster care agency that specializes in placing children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned with foster and adoptive families. It’s been interesting. I think what I’m gaining the most at this time is a broadening perspective on adoption. In the past, I’ve been primarily concerned with inter-country and transracial adoption, especially adoption from Asian countries. At the agency, I’m learning about the foster care system and families who want to either foster or adopt children under the care of child protective services (CPS), otherwise known as the foster care system. It’s a very different institution than that of international adoption in many ways. However, in other ways, it’s similar. The similarities between international adoption and the adoption of a child  through CPS are primarily that children have been traumatized and need permanency and adoptive parents need education and support.

It’s been interesting, too, at the agency to encounter different views on adoption. For instance, some have difficulty comprehending why people would adopt outside of the U.S. when there are so many children here in foster care who need loving families. I don’t share that same attitude, however, the number of children in foster care in the U.S. is tragically high. In Arizona alone, one of the highest-ranking states of children in foster care, there are approximately 15,000 children in out-of-home care. On the other hand, it was estimated in 2005 by  UNICEF that there were over 132,000,000 children identified as orphans, children who had lost one or both parents, globally (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). UNICEF statistics do not include abandonment or sold and/or trafficked children, and I’m sure that number has increased over the years. According to data released in 2003, an estimated 8,000,000 boys and girls worldwide lived in institutionalized care (http://www.orphanhopeintl.org/facts-statistics/). Alternately, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are about 123,000 orphans in America (http://www.orphancoalition.org/new/foster-care.php). The U.S. population is around 317,023,906 (U.S. Census Bureau). Any way you shake it, the number of orphans and children in out-of-home care world-wide is staggering. It’s an enormous issue of social and political concern.

Within child welfare circles, we often hear the phraseology, “in the best interest of the child.” But what does that mean exactly? Essentially it means that the health and safety of the child physically, emotionally and psychologically come first and foremost. I say that because I think that there are misconceptions about adoption. It is a way to expand families and is an option for couples who have experienced infertility, but, more than anything else, adoption should be for the child, not the adoptive parents. In other words, the motivation for those seeking to adopt should be to care for a child who has, through no fault of his or her own, come into adoption due to the circumstances of abandonment, relinquishment or maltreatment. That is and should be at the heart of adoption.

Adoption is often an exciting endeavor for families, yet there are many risk factors to consider beforehand. Most adopted children have experienced trauma and may have difficulties with bonding and attachment and/or problems with behavior and emotions. It’s a fact. As an adoptive parent, are you prepared to handle such challenges long-term? Are you willing to go above and beyond BEFORE the adoption to educate yourself on issues of race and culture if your adopted child is of a different race and ethnicity? How will you handle rejection, bonding and attachment difficulties, caring for a child with a physical and/or psychological disability? What tools and strategies will you equip yourself with  to help your adopted child face racism and discrimination, and how will you as a family respond? What opportunities will you seek to help your adopted child stay connected to his or her birth culture, and how will you respond to your adopted child’s curiosity about his or her birth family? How will you foster open communication with your child so that he or she feels comfortable approaching you about such issues? Most adoptive parents I talk with are unprepared for the task of raising a child adopted internationally, or taken by surprise by some of the challenges they’ve experienced, and some parents I’ve spoken to who have adopted children through CPS express similar sentiments. Parenting in and of itself is obviously a difficult task, but parenting an adopted child has special challenges. Proactive is always better than reactive.

November is National Adoption Month. Adoption provides permanency, love and stability for children who have been orphaned, relinquished or abused. But, what is disturbing is the naivete surrounding adoption and the lack of substantial support for adoptive parents post-adoption, at least for those families who have adopted children internationally. I’m happy that stricter policies have been put into place for inter-country adoption to ensure ethical practices by adoption agencies. But so much more could and should be done to educate adoptive families pre-adoption and support families post-adoption. It is my hope that positive changes will continue to be made legislatively for international adoption and that adoptive parents will proactively seek education and support both pre- and post- adoption.