Happy Monday, friends!
I’m finally getting around to publishing a post that includes (some) of the most frequently asked adoption-related questions I receive. Hope my answers are helpful to those who may be jumping into the journey!
Q: Do we know of an adoption agency that allows a person under the age of 30 to adopt?
A: It is often the case that countries or agencies will have some sort of upper age limit, typically between 45 and 60, and a specified lower age, typically between 25 and 30. In the Haiti program, for example, parents must be between the ages of 30 and 49. Other countries do not set a lower age limit, but instead specify a required number of years between child and parent. I would definitely recommend checking with the adoption agency you’re thinking about partnering with to see what the age requirements are for the particular country you’re thinking about adopting your child(ren) from.
Q: How did we choose our agency?
A: We did lots of and lots of research and praying, and talked with friends about which adoption agencies they had used. For us, the conversation kept coming back to Lifeline Children’s Services, which is located just up the interstate, in Birmingham, Alabama. (Although they work with families all over the country.) One day, a gal (Christine) whom I had been connecting with through my blog (and who highly recommended Lifeline) invited us to meet her and a social worker from Lifeline (Beth) at a cafe in Birmingham. She said it would be super casual and give us the opportunity to ask questions about their organization and adoption in general. Long story short, we left that lunch feeling SO much less overwhelmed by all of our options, and two months later, we decided to partner with Lifeline! Here is a photo from that day we had lunch together. From left to right is me, Beth (from Lifeline), Kevin, (Iris, from Lifeline) and my blog friend, Christine, who brought us all together. And I do mean ALL of us, because God literally used her to help set our adoption story in motion and find our Steevenson!)
I would also add that it is of great importance that you choose a licensed adoption agency that is certified in intercountry adoption. Also, agencies that are accredited by the Hague Convention (which makes certain that adoption service providers have put in place safeguards to ensure intercountry adoptions that take place ethically and in the best interests of children) may receive greater protections if they adopt from a Convention country. I found this website which allows you to search for accredited agencies if you’re interested:
Use the drop-down menus to choose “Hague Adoption Service Provider” and “United States” and you’ll get 166 options, in alphabetical order, to scroll through. I assume the information there is correct, but obviously you’ll want to check with the agencies themselves to make sure.
Q: How long did our process take?
A: Three years and nine months from adoption agency application approval to homecoming. We were on hold for one entire year of that though as Haiti joined the Hague Convention and restructured their adoption process.
Q: Did we ever try for/want biological children?
A: No and no. I’ve always been most drawn to the idea of building a family through adoption. I can remember, as a young girl, imagining that I’d find my baby, not birth it. But, honestly, I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be a mama. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30s that I felt a *little* less fearful of the enormous responsibility of being someone’s parent, and I was 38 years old when I finally felt God assuring me that it was the right time to go find my son!
Q: Were we both 100% on board from the start?
A: Yes. Although Kevin (also) had fears about what parenthood would look and be like. He always says this about how he felt when I first started talking about adoption, “I was afraid, but not against”. Researching, talking with other couples who had adopted or who were parents, praying, meeting with adoption agencies, etc, all helped to calm a lot of those fears. Of course, some of them are still fears to this very day, but thankfully, the ones that could have paralyzed us from jumping into our adoption process were lessened because of the way God used folks and guided us as we prayed for peace about proceeding. I also wanted to add that we often hear from women whose husbands are not “on board” with their desire to adopt. They ask our advice about how to navigate those kinds of waters and Kevin always suggests they explore the “A or A” question. Is your husband Afraid? Or is he Against? Getting to the heart of that is the really the most important place to start. Additionally, my (late) Grandma Evelyn, one of my favorite people to ever grace this planet, adopted my dad when he was a baby- so she served as a HUGE inspiration to me and shaped the way I look at family,
Q: Why international adoption vs. domestic adoption?
A: I could answer this one with, “because our son was born in Haiti”- but I’ll give you the lengthier answer so that you know the whole story. 😉
Like many other families who partner with an adoption agency without knowing exactly where their child is- we, too, prayed our way through a couple other programs before finally ending up sending our dossier to Haiti. We started in a domestic fost-adopt program, and when that door closed, we moved over to Lifeline’s China program. Mainly because we were still unsure about where our baby was, and our social worker said we could just temporarily select a program (any program) to get our paperwork started. China was their most stable program, and I had just been incredibly inspired by my friend Ashley’s (China) adoption adventure, so that’s why we selected that particular one. Then, clear as a bell, the week before we had to make a firm and final decision on paper, I woke up and, eyes still closed, heard the words, “Look at Haiti“. I sprang out of bed (it was almost like someone had whispered them into my ear from the side of my bed) and went over to the computer to make sure Lifeline still had a Haiti program. They did. As a matter of fact, it was a pilot program…and they had just started accepting families into it.
Q: How did Steevenson become “the one”?
A: After we had completed our home study, we were tasked by Lifeline to choose which orphanage we wanted to send an application to. They were partnered with two different crèches at the time, and after viewing their Facebook pages and praying constantly about it, we found our hearts being pulled to Three Angels. The same week we sent our application to them, Kevin also saw photos of their newest addition. An 18 month old boy, who looked scared to death as he sat there on a stainless steel medical table, severely malnourished and covered in cuts and scars. We had only checked the box next to the word “girl” when we got to the gender choice part of our paperwork (because I didn’t know if I could physically handle a boy- ha!), but seeing that little guy…so precious and desperate for permanence…moved Kevin in the most inexplicable way. I found him weeping at the computer that day…just staring into that boy’s uneasy, yet hopeful, eyes.
He told me he felt like God might be showing us that we should to be open about gender, so I joined him in prayer about it and the next day we called Lifeline and had them add an ‘X’ in the ‘boy’ box on our paperwork too. We still had no idea if we would be parents to a son or daughter at that point, but the decision to be open felt really right. And in a process that can feel so mysterious so much of the time, those ‘really rights’ really comfort and sustain you. A month or so later, we were (unofficially) matched with the boy in those photos, (by Haiti’s Social Services department, IBESR) and a year and eight months after that, we were officially matched and looking into his eyes in person!!
18 months after that, we brought him home! 🙂
It’s been 18 months (this week!) since that last photo was taken and I can’t tell you how much it means to me that God wrote this boy into my life and made sure I married the man who *knew* he was his daddy! 🙂
Q: Did they give you any information about his birth family?
A: Yes- because Steevenson came to the orphanage around 18 months (which was actually his estimated age because they didn’t know exactly when his actual birthdate was), we knew more about Steevenson’s personal biological family history than most of the kiddos who come to live at Three Angels. They work strictly with abandonment cases which means the children they take in are typically babies and were either abandoned by their birth parent(s) or orphaned because one or both of them passed away. I don’t think there are many orphanages in Haiti that only work with abandonment cases though, so I’m sure there would be more biological family information available to adoptive families at crèches that take in children who come in at older ages.
Q: What is a crèche?
A: A nursery where babies and young children are cared for by an organization of adults who take care of the children in place of their parents.
Q: What is a home study?
A: In a nutshell, it’s a basic overview of your life – including criminal background checks, finances and personal relationships. In other words, it’s an assessment used by the courts to determine if a stable environment exists and if the prospective adoptive parents are suitable for adopting a child.
Q: Do you need a home study for an international adoption?
A: A home study is required for all international adoptions and is valid for one year from the date it is approved. Once you have arranged to work with an international adoption agency, the agency will assign you a licensed social worker to begin your home study. If a year passes and you have not completed your adoption, your home study has to be updated. This is common in international adoption and is a relatively simple thing to do.
Q: What is the hardest thing about having an adopted child?
A: For us personally, the hardest part was our first six months together because A) we had never been parents, and B) Steevenson had no memory of ever being a son before.
He was instantly in an environment that didn’t feel safe or familiar to him. He didn’t understand much English, or how family worked, and the past 3+ years up until that point had been built on relationships that had just been ripped away from him.
Kevin always says, “Imagine what it would be like to be suddenly taken away from everyone you know, love and trust. Imagine being transported to a place that doesn’t look, smell or feel like home AND not understanding the language everyone is speaking. Imagine if you liked the people who took you away, but you didn’t really know them, or if this was just another temporary place”.
We would likely feel so incredibly confused and scared. And in the case of a child (especially one who doesn’t speak the same language), we would likely express our fears in ways that don’t necessarily always look like fear. During that first six months, Steevenson’s fear often looked like anger, aggression, a need to control, and defiance…but we know what was lurking beneath all those behaviors and reactions. Fear. And when you’re intentional about responding to what’s really at the root, you start establishing trust. And when you start establishing trust, you start dismantling fears. And something really beautiful can happen when you work together and through stuff like that. Love!
Another hard thing about having an adopted child can be not knowing all the things you would’ve known about him or her if he or she had been with you all along.
Because of how the first year of his life played out, there are a lot of question marks when it comes to Steevenson’s personal and medical history. But now that I have a mother-son relationship with him, it’s not the questions that I feel compelled to focus on. It’s understanding how I can help him process and navigate the feelings that will likely come along with not knowing the answers.
Q: What is the greatest piece of advice for someone who doesn’t know where to start?
A: Be intentional about ask friends or family who have adopted about their experience with their adoption agency. Settling on an adoption agency, and actually partnering with one, seemed like such a daunting task before we did it. Partly because it’s a big decision, and partly because we weren’t just trying to decide which adoption agency to partner with. We were overwhelmed by all the other steps that come after you choose an agency. But here’s the thing, and this is also my advice, all the other steps that come after choosing an agency won’t seem nearly as daunting with the help of a great agency. Remember, you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step. A great agency is the first step, and they’ll help you climb the rest of them as you walk together to the top!
Q: How do you narrow your list of adoption options?
A: If you’re a prayer, I would suggest reeeeally leaning into the Lord so that you can hear which direction He’s calling you in. Talk to other adoptive families about their experiences in all kinds of different programs. Read adoption blogs and follow folks’ journeys to their children on Instagram. Eventually, you will likely start to feel certain feelings about a particular route and once you partner with an adoption agency, you’ll have the help of professionals who can, no doubt, answer any questions you have about that specific program.
Another thing that helps, if you’re feeling called to international adoption, is to look at the guidelines for each country. See how long you’d be required to stay in-country. See how many times you’d be required to travel back and forth to certain countries. The age requirements, costs, and timelines vary too, so be sure to look at all of those things (and more) to see which programs may or may not be the best fit for you. A lot of folks’ lists are narrowed down fairly quickly (ours included) once you check out all those specifics.
Q: How can I help my spouse deal with these fears?
- the cost
- the possibility of the journey not leading to a child at the end
A: The cost of international adoption can feel like a closed door when you’re researching your adoption options. I mean, most of us don’t have $20-$40K sitting in the bank, right? But here’s the important thing to know: you do not have to pay the total amount all at once. You pay it in several small chunks along the way. I don’t think we ever made a payment over $3000 at one time, and ours were spread out over three years and nine months. The biggest payments fell under the “travel” category. We flew back and forth to Haiti three times to visit our son before we made the final trip to bring him home. International flights (especially if they’re booked last minute, which some of ours were) are costly, and staying in a hotel or guest house for a week or two can add up as well. I would say, of the $40K that our adoption ended up costing, at least half of that was spent on travel…some of which wasn’t required.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that if God calls you to it, He’ll get you through it. He just will. So, if you really feel like your babe lives on another continent (or somewhere else on this one, for that matter) you just need to make it your mission to bring them home.
Sell things, save money, spend less money, host fundraisers, and by all means, accept donations from your friends and family, and let them host fundraisers on your behalf. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe that sometimes it takes a village to bring one home, too. It is often very easy for the folks who love you to chip in, or encourage others to chip in, and you’d be surprised how quickly all that chipping in adds up and help out!
I know it’s hard to ask for help, but I also think it’s incredibly easy for most folks to give. God created us for relationship, and I love that he wrote so many kind and supportive folks into Steevenson’s story. They may feel like they only helped us bear part of the financial burden, but they truly helped build a family, too!
Here are just a few ways to raise/save/acquire adoption funds:
- Apply for adoption grants at ShowHope.org or LifeSongForOrphans.org.
- Start an online fundraiser at AdoptTogether.com, GoFundMe.com or YouCaring.com.
- Sell t-shirts through an organization like Bonfire.com.
- Check your local restaurants to see if they will let you host a fundraiser event there, work clean-up duty, and collect a percentage of the sales.
- Have garage sales and check with friends and family to see if they have things they’d like to donate to your sale.
- Organize and host a silent auction where donors can bid on rare items and experiences also donated by folks who want to help.
To answer the second part of your question, (how to deal with the fear of the possibility of the journey not leading to a child at the end) I would say it’s really a matter of trusting that God is truly calling you to find your family. That possibility exists in every single scenario, including starting the process of growing your family biologically. There are no guarantees when you decide to grow your family no matter what route you go. International adoption actually has a really high success rate though. Out of all the families we know personally, that have adopted internationally, we only know one couple that had to switch programs because the one they were originally in got really complicated, but they’ll be bringing their child home (from Haiti!) within the next couple of months. (PTL!)
Q: I’m wondering if family members (parents, siblings, etc) had to be involved in any of the home study process? What role, if any, do they play in a couple’s adoption?
A: Not really. From what I remember, we talked about them in one of our home study interviews, but none of them were contacted unless we had listed one of them on the ‘references’ section of our paperwork.
Last but not least, here is a short video Kevin put together a while back that includes video of the first day we met Steevenson. Click the play button to watch!
Feel free to add more questions in the comment section below, and I’ll keep adding answers as they’re things are asked! 🙂