After a rough start on my adoption journey, I finally felt my prayers had been answered with doors opening to adopt from India. In what appeared to be miraculous timing, the U.S. State Department had updated its international adoption web site, lifting India’s restrictions on new applications from prospective parents in foreign countries. Yet, I would soon find out I still had some roadblocks and obstacles ahead.
Most adoption journeys are a veritable roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Mine was no exception.
I immediately began researching U.S. placement agencies which handled Indian adoptions. I called one of the most widely advertised agencies first, but did not get the rosy picture I envisioned. A counselor, who seemed very knowledgable and had clearly been handling Indian adoptions for several years, warned me it was unlikely I would be able to adopt a young, healthy child. The reason being, she explained, was that priority was given to adoptive parents within India, or at least of Indian descent. I have no Indian in my background.
Most countries follow that same precedent and reserve the healthiest children for prospective adoptive parents within their own culture. I had heard that before, and understood it, but I still believed it would happen for me.
She asked me what type of child I was open to adopt. For months, my mind kept giving me a picture of a cute, dark-haired little girl. I couldn’t see her face, but in my heart I knew she was in India. I told the adoption counselor I was open to adopting a toddler or little girl, probably up to the age of around 5. It’s not that I didn’t want a newborn, but it’s just not what I pictured. Plus, I figured this would greatly improve my chances since most adoptive parents seek infants.
Her response surprised me.
“You need to start thinking about adopting a much older child, maybe around 12 or 13,” she said. “And be open to severe disabilities. The wider you open your umbrella, the better chance you’ll be able to adopt.” She reminded me that India was only accepting foreign applications for children considered “special needs.”
Mind you, I would love my child unconditionally, regardless of any challenges he or she faced, and regardless at what age I was able to adopt him or her. However, as a single parent with a demanding job, this did not sound like an ideal scenario. More importantly, my instincts were telling me not to believe her. I knew I had a healthy, toddler girl out there and I had to find her.
I ended up signing in with another, much smaller international adoption placement agency based out of Colorado. They were honest and upfront enough to admit they hadn’t done Indian adoptions in years past and were just starting the process. Their lack of experience didn’t scare me away. They never promised me I’d get matched with a healthy child, or guaranteed anything. I simply clicked with the counsellors over the phone and went with my gut.
This is how I also zeroed in on the counselor and local adoption agency that handled my home studies. I still work with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois every few months for post adoption follow up reports.
So much of my adoption journey was a pure leap of faith. Somehow, I weeded out a lot of negativity that could’ve stopped me in my tracks multiple times. I kept my eyes on the prize and followed my instincts. It seems surprising to think about it now. It sounds like a simple case of wishful thinking and ignoring things I didn’t want to hear. The truth is, for some reason I can’t explain, I believed in my heart I had a little girl I had to get to in India…and I knew she was healthy. My first taste of a “mother’s instinct,” I suppose.
I have since come to the conclusion that perhaps some healthy children in orphanages around the world are labeled “special needs” in order to facilitate the process of getting them through the system to find homes in other countries.
Another very important point to keep in mind: something as simple as anemia can result in an child being labeled “special needs.” Sadly, many prospective parents may be scared off from adopting these children, not realizing that all they need is a nutritious diet and iron rich foods to reverse the anemia and by all other means, they’re healthy children!
My goal here is to clear up some misperceptions about international adoption. While it is true the most “perfect,” healthy newborns available for adoption are reserved for adoptive families within their own country, there are many other “very close to perfect” children without parents who are also available — many more than couples within their own country are willing or able to adopt.
In places like India, the number of children without families to take care of them is staggering. The poverty is so extreme, many children are living on the street.
Just this week, I covered the story of a baby abandoned at a hospital in Chicago. Police were searching for the parents. The baby was wrapped up in blankets, the umbilical chord still attached. A newborn baby girl. Fortunately, it was a warm night out and the baby was fine. It certainly wasn’t the first time I covered this type of story in my reporting career, but in the wake of my travels to South Asia, the irony struck me that this was a big news story here.
In India, it’s commonplace for children to be surrendered. Well meaning parents who often can’t afford them, drop off their babies at RIPAs (Recognized Indian Placement Agency), which would be the equivalent of what we would call an orphanage in the U.S. These are the more fortunate kids. Their parents cared enough to get them to a place where they’d be guaranteed shelter, food and a chance at a better life if they can get adopted.
I just had my nine month post visit from a social worker following up on the adoption of my (“perfect,” 🙂 by the way) little girl. This is a counselor I’ve worked with for years and greatly admire. I’m eternally grateful to her for the role she played in helping me bring my daughter home.
I learned the sad news that LSSI is cutting its adoption program and all of those associated with this branch are being let go. She explained there are two reasons for this. 1. The state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for months due to a political stalemate and as a result, their funding is depleted. 2. International adoption, overall, is on the decline.
Why would fewer people be adopting internationally right now?
My mind darts back to the original adoption agency I worked with, where I was discouraged from adopting overseas….and then, the first counselor I spoke with specifically regarding India, and her ominous warning about what I should expect. I encountered many players in this scenario, all perpetuating the myth that virtually no healthy children were available. The system is complicated, negativity abounds and misconceptions prevail, sometimes even generated by people who seem to be “in the know.”
Mine isn’t the only happy ending story. While the laws have changed in recent years, I’m pleased to say I have come to know multiple parents, like me, who shared the same joyful outcome after adopting internationally.
I can’t help but wonder how many prospective parents out there explored international adoption and gave up…not realizing they could’ve also had a happy ending.
I also wonder about how many children out there may have come close to finding a family…but didn’t.
More unexpected twists and turns before I get “matched.”