I spoke at an adoption training class once a few years back, we did not yet have Joshua but had completed our adoption of Matthew. I created a list which I wish I still had that was about the 10 things no one ever told you about international adoption. I am sure at this stage I would change a few and add a few, but here are the things I have learned over the years that no one really told me:
1) International adoption is a full-time job. The paperwork, the training time, the learning curve, the paperwork, the home visits, the paperwork...hmmm...notice a theme here? LOTS of paperwork! In triplicate, quadruplicate and sextuplet...hahahaha! I had no idea way back when we began just how much time I would spend during the next 10 years on adoption documents of one form or another.
2) No one tells you that you become part of a new community, the international adoption community. Although you may be stared at by many for being a family that doesn't "match", you also feel an instant kinship when you see another family that looks like yours, and the shared shy smiles across the aisle of a store are indicators of the secret that you both know that no one else around you understands...you have both experienced a journey to parenthood that was extraordinary.
Then there is the fellowship of the online community, which was the bigger surprise to me and has also been the first place I turn to for information and support. Online groups, blogs and email have really made it possible to move forward with confidence when at times I was scared to death.
3) Your life will be forever changed, and not merely because you become a parent. It is a spiritual awakening of sorts to things that most of us only read about or see photos of in National Geographic. The poverty, the despair, the eyes of children staring back at you with such longing and hopelessness. Dominick still talks about the children he saw staring back at him in a side room when we visited Matthew, an image he has yet to be able to shake almost a decade later. Seeing a loss of spirit in others is something you can't just forget. Many are moved to action after adopting, many parents find they can not move forward without reaching back and trying to help. Most thought they were going to just go, get a kid, and come back. Some find it is not that simple.
4) Some people will NEVER see you as a "real" family. That one was a surprise to me, as I never thought of adoption as a second class alternative. There are those who can not understand how you could ever love a child that was not of your flesh and bone the way you would a biological child. They view you as somehow babysitting for 18 years. Luckily, these people are few and far between, but it still floors me that they exist at all.
5) Your children will begin talking about adoption at ages much younger than you'd ever expect, as long as they perceive they are safe to do so. Many parents are surprised to learn they need to begin their adoption talks before their child is even two years old! I have been asked over the years by parents adopting infants when to expect to have to have "the talk" with their kids about how they came to be in their family, and I just laugh. The first time they see a pregnant person, the first time they notice their skin is perhaps darker than yours, the first time someone says something in front of them...the secret is out! Haha! It is never too early to have "the talk" and in fact those conversations should be as natural as if you were sharing about the day you went to the hospital.
6) No one tells you how much the referral process hurts. Having to choose a child is as unnatural an act as you can get. You are thrust into a position where you have to really question your motives and make gut wrenching decisions. What if you receive info on a child who has scary medical issues? Are you dooming them if you decline to adopt them? Would you have a choice if you gave birth? Are you prepared to handle it? And what about the children you don't select...were you their last chance at a family? Sometimes, sadly, that answer is yes. Orphanages are filled with older children who were once those younger children who were considered and declined.
I can still remember the young 11 year old boy in Kaz we almost adopted who had lower extremity mobility issues but was a fantastic artist. We saw several videos of him taken over time and I could easily imagine him in our family. Or the infant girl with the congenital amputation of both arms and legs from Kaz whom we discussed for days and made the decision to move forward on with great joy only to learn she was going to be another family's child. Then there were the kids presented to us on videos with both Matt and Josh's adoptions, back in the days when they still send videos out. Did they ever find their families?
7) Even young infants can be terribly damaged emotionally. What happens in those early months can alter the course of who that child becomes. They are not just blobs. The damage that can take only weeks or a couple of months to inflict can take years to undo, if it ever can be reversed.
8) No one wants to tell you that you have no control over anything. None...zilch...zip...nada. Who would willingly walk into something where they can not have even a modicum of control? We have the illusion of control when we select our agency, but as many will attest who have ended up with fraudulent agencies, even that is somewhat out of your control. Give it up, ride the wave, and see what happens. And oh yea, it affects the rest of your life. Don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor when teaching us!
9) You will still find things in your child that you SWEAR are somehow mysteriously biologically connected. It is part of the process of claiming your child as your own, seeing these similarities, but sometimes they are eerily genetic-appearing. We are always joking about just how much Kenny is like Dominick, his personality traits, etc. Perhaps because we don't expect such things, it is even funnier when we discover them.
10) No one can ever impress upon you just how much you will love your child, there are no words to communicate such depth of emotion. We try, but fall far short. Regardless of their shortcomings, delays, unrecognized medical issues, etc. the love you feel for your child will absolutely be real, it will not ever be "second best". It may take awhile to get there, when stranger meets stranger love is not instant...but the day it happens you will be so choked up you will wonder how in the world your life ever felt complete without this little person.