The New Faces of International Adoption?

For several months, I’ve been thinking about a blog series on unrealistic adoption expectations. Off & on, I’d draft rough notes on the topic. But in the last week or so, I’ve really gotten motivated to move forward with the series. One of those motivators was seeing the new movie “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”.  I knew that one of the couples in the movie adopted a child and I was eager to see how that was portrayed in the movie.

Wow. What a disappointing, unrealistic portrayal of international adoption. I know it’s Hollywood, and we shouldn’t expect much, but still, this kind of thing only serves to increase the unrealistic expectations of first -timers thinking about adopting internationally.

(Slight spoiler here for anyone concerned.) The desperate-for-a-baby mother and the freaked-out father choose Ethiopia.  Just a few days or weeks (!) later they get a referral for and a picture of an adorable, six week old, perfectly healthy baby boy. There’s an “awwww,” from the audience, of course.  Months later they travel to Africa and arrive at the care center with a large group of other adoptive families (each and every family carrying an infant baby carrier!). There is a short ceremony where they all stand in a line and repeat an oath about caring for the child and keeping them in touch with their Ethiopian heritage. They then exchange a lit candle for their baby and are pronounced to be a family. More awww’s from the audience.

Easy enough right? Apparently many people assume so.

Here’s a (paraphrased) conversation I had with a prospective adoptive family not too long ago. This is a conversation I seem to have over and over again:

Excited Family: We are really interested in providing a family for a baby girl from Uganda!

Me:  Well, baby girls aren’t usually available for international adoption in Uganda unless you are open to fairly significant special needs. Are you open to adopting a child with special needs?

Somewhat Less Excited Family: Ummm…no….I don’t think we’re equipped to care for a special needs child. We’re really hoping to adopt a healthy baby.

Me:  OK, well, that isn’t possible from the Uganda program. Most orphaned baby girls in Uganda are now able to be adopted in-country.

Deflated but Insistent Family: Umm, ok. But you know, we really feel called to provide a family to a child in need, and we feel like we are supposed to adopt a baby who is sitting in an orphanage waiting for a family. Cause, you know, there are 147 million orphans in the world. We want to make a difference. What country should we be looking at…? 

You see where this is going?

I have absolutely nothing against this family or other families who start out their adoption journey the same way. We shouldn’t be mad at them. Most of the time, they are sweet, concerned families who truly don’t understand that these aren’t the children that are waiting to be adopted.

Many of these well-intentioned families have seen their friends bring home healthy infants for the past 10 years from China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Vietnam, etc. They’ve heard the statistics that there are 147 million orphans in the world. Perhaps they went to a Christian conference where leaders were shouting from the rooftop that it’s a Christian’s duty to rescue one of the millions of children waiting in orphanages. Certainly they’ve watched the popular “gotcha day” videos where teary-eyed moms hold their babies for the first time and read the popular blogs. Understandably, they dream of similar videos and blogs of their own. It’s no wonder these families are fired up and ready to rescue a baby. Except that in reality, these waiting, adoptable “healthy” babies just don’t exist.

Friends, it is time to paint a more realistic picture of what international adoption looks like today.

I am not aware of any adoption program, anywhere in the world where healthy, adoptable infants are sitting in orphanages waiting for families.

The fact is that there are far more families wanting to adopt healthy babies than there are adoptable healthy infants. In the U.S. I have heard that right now, for every healthy, adoptable infant, there are 20 – 40 families waiting.  That’s right, families waiting for babies, not the other way around.  I’m assuming this statistic is for white infants. I have recently heard that the wait is less for African American infants.  I don’t have numbers on internationally adopting families, but I know typically they are waiting several years for the “popular” countries.

I suppose there are always going to be families lining up for years to adopt babies, and I’m not going to tell someone that it’s necessarily wrong to do so. I tell the families who contact me that if they are completely set on wanting to adopt a healthy baby, and only a healthy baby, they need to get on a waiting list with a reputable, ethical agency and be prepared to wait a long time.

Or, they can shift their mental expectations from a “perfect” baby  to one who might not make Hollywood’s casting call.

I don’t feel that it’s ever right to try and guilt-trip someone into adopting, but it is good to offer people different perspectives and to challenge preconceived ideas. Not every family can or should adopt a special needs or an older child, but I would ask those families who say they “really want to make a difference” to think about ways in which they can make the biggest impact on one of the thousands of desperate, adoptable children who are waiting, waiting, waiting, right now.

Some of the conditions in which these sweet children wait are unimaginable, and it’s not difficult to find their heartbreaking stories online if we really want to know what life is like for the less than perfect. These are the children with the lists of diagnoses you didn’t check off on your home study checklists. They’re the kids with the not-so-cute referral photos, but who are often old enough and bright enough to understand that they aren’t wanted because of their age or special needs.

Many of them live a tortured existence in adult mental institutions. Some of them are diapered and tied to their beds for the rest of their shortened lives. Can you imagine any child tied to a bed for years? No love or caresses, no kind words, no intellectual stimulation of any kind. And all because they are considered “retarded,” untreatable or sometimes even cursed in those countries.

These children are waiting right now. While people are lining up to adopt babies who won’t even be born for three more years, these children are growing up without a family and some of them are dying because no one will consider them.

Why? Why aren’t more families saying yes to these children?  Without passing judgment, without blaming anyone, I’m just really feeling that it’s time we in the international adoption community begin to bring this issue to the forefront of our discussions.

I’m interested in what kind of ideas and discussions a series on special needs adoption will stimulate. I’m thinking that a follow-up post might be on the most common reasons people give for not being willing or able to adopt older/special needs children and how regular families, just like yours (and mine), have gotten past these obstacles and are providing families for waiting children. I’m really interested in hearing from all of you.

Thanks so much for reading –and considering.

(Please take a look at this beautiful video recently released by Rainbow Kids! )


77 Responses to “The New Faces of International Adoption?”

  1. excited for this series!

  2. Salem, I’m thrilled about this post and the ones that will follow. Praying for you as you will, I’m sure, get a lot of negative feedback. Thank you for being brave to say what is true (and modeling it in your own family).


  3. I think that this is a very important post. It does concern me when people think that they are “saving” an infant when there is a waitlist. I have no problem with people wanted to expand their family through adoption, but you aren’t saving anyone when there are hundreds of other people waiting for that same baby. We foster in Colorado. I have had people ask me if there are healthy newborns to adopt through foster care. I usually start with the fact that adoption in and of itself is a “special need event.” Something bad has happened to this child for them to come into this system. In a way I think it is easier to adopt an older child. You have a better understanding of the needs of the child at that point. All the babies that come into our care are born exposed to drugs and alchohol. Some parents need to be open to unknowns. That being said, as a bio parent we need to be open to unknowns too. I have a child with Noonan syndrome. We didn’t know what that meant for her when she was diagnosed. Life is a learning experience LOL We now have seven kids through biology, foster care and an older teenager joining our family. Life is never dull. Thank you for educating people about the reality of adoption!

  4. Praying that this post opens MANY eyes, minds, and HEARTS!!!

  5. this is so well put. thank you for being brave enough to write this.

  6. I really appreciate your tone in approaching this topic. How do we know if someone does not tell us?! But so often there is a superior tone, or a certain spiritual arrogance that I don’t believe is in Father God’s heart. May we all be led by the Holy Spirit and open in our minds and spirits to be stretched to live by faith. I look forward to reading more. Thank you!

  7. What a challenging thought – opening your heart to the lost, hurting and unwanted child. So what is your advice for a family adopting where the parent has special needs? There are some physical conditions that require extra money or therapies (which we can pay for) and others that require some intense physical labor on behalf of the child. You don’t need to answer that right now, but it’s an idea for your future posts. I would love to know more about some of the conditions that keep children from adoptive homes that really only require patience, love, education, extra healthcare, and prayer from the adoptive parents.

  8. THANK YOU!!! When we started our adoption journey in 2010 we just didn’t know! We thought we were going to ‘rescue’ a child. When we began looking at the list of Special Needs, God really made us look at ourselves and ask ‘are we doing this for them or for us’? We prayed and fasted and realized we needed to step out of our comfort zone and say ‘yes’ to a child who desperately needed a family.
    And for the parents who think they are getting a ‘healthy’ child, you need to consider how broken your child is on the inside. And I can tell you from experience the injuries to the souls of broken children are much more difficult to deal with than a lot of ‘physical special needs’!

  9. Very good points. I don’t know all that much about adoption, but I do know about special needs, as one of my three sons has autism. No one is guaranteed a ‘perfect’ life. That baby that looks perfect could be in a wreck one day and be a paraplegic, or go blind or deaf, etc. It’s past time we valued ALL children equally, not because of what they look like or what we think they will be able to become, etc. Children are not ‘trophies’. I am thinking here of the phrase in regard to ‘trophy wife’, a beautiful woman a man wants to marry to show off for instance. Children are the gift of God in every form that they come in, abled, disabled, whatever. Unless you are willing to accept imperfection, you probably are not ready to adopt any child, or even to have a child. No one knows what the future will bring, but love can cover all situations and good can come from them and from any child given a chance. We are all ‘temporarily abled’ no one knows what will happen in their lives.

  10. love this, and the candid perspective you offer. we are learning so much, even nine years after bringing our son (then two) home. kelly nailed it on the head: something bad happened for this child to enter the system.
    parenting kids who come with broken hearts is a different experience. no doubt about it. and it’s one that is not often spoken about in this world of adoption. while i believe more people should adopt. . . it must be done with eyes wide open to what exactly is taking place. a new and loving home for the child? yes. a forever family? absolutely. free of struggles along the way? no way. it’s not different from the rest of life. we’re guaranteed plenty of hardship along the way.
    but for God. . . and that is what makes it worth the effort each and every day.

    blessings to you!

  11. Thank you for sharing this reality so honestly. I look forward to following your future posts. We have 4 biological children (ages 3-13). Having waited through 4 years of secondary infertility, I think I understand what a mother feels when she is desperate to have another baby. It is hard to make the leap from that mindset to the willingness to bring an older or special needs child into a home. What changed my heart was going to a fundraising dinner for a crisis pregnancy center and being faced with the reality that my pro-life beliefs should go beyond just saying that all life is precious and worthy of love. The babies born to mothers with drug addictions and children with medical condition and emotional scars are worthy and valuable. I felt convicted to stretch my heart and not be fearful.

    But, what I am finding when we look into the possibility of adopting a child from the foster system is that almost all of the children have “special circumstances that require then to be the only child in the home” or “must be the youngest child in the home” . This is often listed with their photo/information. Anyone have thoughts on this? We have 4 healthy, loving children, a comfortable home with plenty of space for more children. Before staying home/homeschooling my children, I worked as a pediatric nurse. We are aware of the risks of adopting a child with additional needs but feel like we might not be given the chance. Are these types of limitations common in international waiting child programs as well?

  12. Thanks for sharing. When we came to adoption as a childless couple in our 20’s, we really didn’t feel like we could parent a child older than 5. And we really wanted a younger child. We did look at a handful of situations for children who were preschool age but nothing clicked. We ended up adopting our son from Haiti, a healthy child. He was 3 months when we accepted his referral and we thought he would be home 9-15 months after that. It turned into over two years and we brought home a 2 1/2 year old. That experience helped us open up to the idea of not bringing home an infant and we then adopted our daughter from Haiti who came home at age 3. Our current adoption is for a little boy from China who will be 2 in July and has limb differences which affect both hands. We really thought this adoption would be for an HIV positive child or for a child with CP but it didn’t go that way. And right now, I am really feeling like this will be our last toddler adoption, that our next adoption will probably be for an older child. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes that as young as possible mentality is overcome and that the referral of a healthy infant is what gets a person over those feelings. I do completely get where you are coming from though in terms of challenging people to think a bit outside the box in terms of adoption. In the China forums, I have often read things like “we are wanting to adopt a girl, as young as possible, with a cleft lip or palette.” Without passing judgement because I know nothing about the situations that have prompted someone to write that and I respect that families can be formed in all sorts of different ways, I often wonder why that seems to be the “preferred” special need and why a girl is special. Or people will say things like “we’re looking for a child with correctable special needs” but they are not open to non correctable but very minor special need. (Like my son’s non correctable but really non issue hands. Obviously, this is an international adoption and there is always the possibility of things not being as they seem, but right now, we expect to really not need any surgeries or prosthetics. Maybe some therapy? But really we don’t expect to have to do much in terms of helping with his special need.) It is so hard to give people the freedom to make the choices they need to make for their families but also to challenge and advocate for kids who are not young or do not have a special need that seems to be “preferred.”

  13. Someone with other children in the home should be cautious about adopting a much older child who is said to need to be the ‘only child in the home’. Some children have been sexually abused and will abuse a younger, vulnerable child. (I know a circumstance exactly like this, then the court sent the girl to a home with a young boy whom I am sure she went on to abuse as she had another little boy before him, the family was not informed). You have to first safeguard your own kids, which could mean years of constant supervision/vigilence. On the other hand, it might be the feeling of the agency that the child needs total attention with no other child to take away attention from their needs.
    A lot of what this whole discussion points up is: WHY does someone want to adopt? Is it to fulfill THEIR needs or to fulfill a CHILDS needs. That is why a lot of people want a healthy newborn, to fulfill their own needs(I’m not saying all people, but some). as far as wanting to adopt a girl child with special needs from China or other countries? It’s probably because their lives are especially in danger of being lost to the governments crackdown on girl babies, you get an imperfect one, it’s even less likely to be allowed to live. My comment about fulfilling needs is not meant to be judgemental, it’s just a fact, some people crave to hold a newborn, and that’s how they are wired. That’s why most people have their own biological kids also.

  14. We recently adopted an older child with HIV. I honestly believe that if we could educate more families on HIV/AIDS and how it is spread vs outdated information, many more children would be adopted worldwide. It is really a non-issue in our home except he takes medicine twice a day. He’s a normal, healthy, active, smart kid….just like all the other kids we know. If I could show families who want to adopt just how normal we are as a family I bet more people would consider it. I overheard a lady at the salon the other today talking about adopting from India but she didn’t want to wait for a healthy child, but she didn’t want to take her chances on a blind referral and that child having something like HIV/AIDS. I was so excited to politely butt-in their conversation and tell her that adopting a child with HIV can be done and their medical maintenance is pretty much the same as having healthy bio children. I have no idea if I changed her mind, but now there is one less ignorant lady walking around who is considering adoption (plus a few eavesdroppers). Great article. Hope it reaches many and helps turn hearts toward the MILLIONS of waiting children who desperately need a home.

  15. For us, it is not a matter of doing a special needs adoption as the simple expense of adoption itself. We completed our first international adoption May 2010 and have a healthy little girl (13 months at adoption)…but even then the face of adoption was changing (others in our group all received 2 and 3 year old children) and at that time we simply could not do a special needs due to job uncertainty. Since then we have moved (away from Shriners and not quite close enough to Boston) and it was a costly move (drained our funds due to unforseen circumstances with the house). My husband and I are both open to a special needs adoption (specifically limb differences) but again the financials are not adding up and we want a second child to be at least a year younger than our daughter…and it has been said that our best bet is to be open to a boy (not a problem) 24 to 36 months or older. (and 24 months is unusual per our agency)….so aside from any special financial needs (which I am also quite interested in) the simple cost is prohibitive at the present time as now we are on one income. I would be interested in how others have been able to finance multiple adoptions. Like others, foster care is not an option for us for a myriad of reasons and some of them are just the rules of the system in the county where we live. We are getting older (40 and 45) so we are not looking for a child AYAP and have aged out of several countries. How have others handled friends/family who are not as open minded to adopting a child with a need?

  16. Wow what a topic! A couple of people nailed it…Why are you adoptiing? To fulfill your need or the child’s need?
    How to get past the fear of finances? Let me see what I can come up with…

  17. This is fantastic! I can’t wait to read more in the series! We just (as in 3 days ago!) brought home a sibling set of 3 brothers (ages 9,6, and 4) adding them to our bio kids ages 3 and 1…we were clueless when we began our adoption journey and really thought infants were just waiting to be adopted….kids are waiting- just not infants- and we need people willing to tell it like it is- as hard as it is to hear!!

  18. I wrote a blog post the other day called, “Don’t Tell Me You Can’t Afford To Adopt” about the fear of finances. I totally get how daunting it is… we are adopting four children right now, which not only means HUGE adoption fees, but also four times everything (beds, clothes, etc). I really do GET IT, but I also wish that more people would see that God will absolutely fund what he favors, and He LOVES adoption! He has provided for us dollar by dollar, literally. All He wanted was for us to step out in FAITH and trust that He would.

  19. I agree that a family should not be so picky as to deciding to want to adopt a week old healthy baby.. But, I would have to say that there is never a guarantee, and families deciding to adopt from a 3rd world country should and may already be aware of the fact that there is always a 50% chance that their child may end up having HIV/aids.. The testing in these countries is not up to par, and after a child has had this in thier system, it may not show up in a test result for another 6 months. I’m just talking about HIV/aids.. There is also tb.. Etc. So really although they are asking for a healthy baby, they still need to be aware of the fact that their child could end up having a positive test result to something like aids after they are home. To be upset with people for wanting to adopt a baby from a 3rd world country to me is rather annoying. I understand that they should not be picky, but any child without parents to love them is in desperate need regardless of where they are from… They are orphans aren’t they? From what I recall there have been millions of children orphaned in Uganda, which is huge! And there have only been under 300 adoptions through Uganda last year, which may sound like a lot, but in comparison to the amount of orphans, that is nothing. When we were in Uganda we were well aware of the fact that it is a very strange sight for the Ugandans to see white families taking Ugandan babies into their family – why? Because this is not a common thing there.. It may be more popular now, but it’s still a very new thing. Another thing I would mention is that there are literally a handful of lawfirms in Uganda.. It is not a first world country and the power goes out constantly so life is a bit slower there than here.. So I think it’s safe to say that no matter a child’s status – there is a waiting list for adoption from Uganda. If God is calling you to adopt a baby do it.. Don’t let people pull you down about that decision. An orphan is an orphan regardless. I understand Pursuing ethical adoptions, I fully agree with that. Let’s also try to trust the us embassy and the fact that they do work hard to insure there is ethical adoptions happening. I also agree that older children and children with disability need a home! I fully support that And think it needs to be encouraged.. But the truth of the matter is that those gotcha day videos are real, children have found homes and love, that can not be discredited. What may need to be done though is not discourage others or try to instill our own opinions or calling on others, but rather do the sme thing.. Make awesome videos supporting older children and children with special needs adoptions.. Show the amazing testimonies about it.. Be positive, and please do not try to pull others down but just show them what is causing you to be so passionate about what you believe in.. There are babies in 3rd world countries that need homes, some may be much better off if they are adopted young to avoid a lot of hurt and pain in the orphanage or wherever they are.. God loves each and every child the same, they are all important and all need love and a home. If we have a passion to work our tails off to raise and come up with the funds, to devote our time and energy to the whole process, to learning how to form healthy attachment and bonding with our children, to give them love and a home – then lets come together and support each other in that. There are 147 million orphans regardless of their status – we all have a different calling. Make videos, write inspiring blogs, share your testimony about your older adopted children and let love inspire others, instead of trying to make people feel guilty.

    • Hi RH. It is absolutely not true that 50% of orphans have HIV. While there are many AIDS orphans, most do NOT, in fact, have HIV. The testing after age 18 months is quite accurate. Before that age,it can go either way (with more false positives because mom’s antibodies stay in the baby’s system). I also don’t think Salem is upset about people wanting to adopt infants…. I think the point is that there is less of a need so there is a wait because there aren’t any! To address the orphan crisis, we need to look at children who are waiting for us and not waiting for children to be relinquished to us. In Uganda (my daughter’s birth country) the number or orphans is very skewed since the vast majority of the “millions” orphaned are living with relatives, including one of their birth parents. (Orphan is defined as loss of one or both birth parents). So there are not millions waiting to be adopted. On my first trip there, I visited about seven orphanages and there really wasn’t a single baby “available” for adoption in one of those orphanages. I also agree that an orphan is an orphan… IF they need a family. I recently met a US family who was waiting on a referral for a positive child which they happily got earlier this year. Then, through a course of events, they learned the child (very young) had been stolen from his/her mother who was told s/he was going for HIV treatment. There was already a court date set and the child was preparing to leave Uganda. Eek! Happily, this family stepped back and is now financially supporting the birth mother to keep her child. THAT’S the problem with pushing for very young children…. they will be found somewhere, even if taken from a loving parent. I totally agree that all children need parents; I am simply concerned that the supply and demand aspect of our quest for the youngest, healthiest possible has led countries to find that supply where it may not exist. That is very scary to me.

  20. Thank you for this insightful post. My husband and I both have a heart for adoption, and I did not know that the real needs were. Through your comments, and others I know who strive to educate I personally feel more open to learning about adopting a child with special needs. We are not even in a season to begin this process, but I am praying already in this direction because of what I have learned. Please know that education is needed, and I think that is the biggest issue….if more knew what the conditions of these children were and how to get help they might consider this as an option. Certainly support, education, and other resources are needed. Thankful to God you have found these! Thanks again!

  21. @RH….
    In regards to your comment, “What may need to be done though is not discourage others or try to instill our own opinions or calling on others, but rather do the sme thing.. Make awesome videos supporting older children and children with special needs adoptions.. Show the amazing testimonies about it.. Be positive,”….
    the issue here, is that many of the videos w/ adopting older children/special needs don’t usually look as heartwarming as infant adoption videos. This is coming from a mom who has adopted both infant and older/special needs. Adopting an older child, there is the face of fear and unknown in all of the pictures….for both the parents and the child. Adopting an infant, you usually just see a cute infant with crying parents. So I’m not sure that making awesome videos is the way to go. Nor is sharing the positive, as adopting older child/special needs is almost always HARD. And reading this blog, I don’t hear an ounce of guilting. I’ve read a lot of articles on this topic lately, and I agree, many are trying to guilt adoptive parents. But this post, IMO, was just a plea to ask PAP’s to reconsider their motives. It’s a fact that our hearts are moved and stirred to action upon hearing that there are 147 million orphans. (Some would argue that the cry of “147 million orphans” shouted to the rooftops is also done to guilt…) But it’s equally important to remember that of those 147 million orphans, only about 50 million are adoptable (which is still a HUGE number), and of those 50 million, the majority are older child/special needs.

    I heard a fantastic talk on this subject a couple of years ago. The speaker was urging PAP’s to not move out of compassion. Compassion will only get you so far. It is not sustainable. B/c when the s**t hits the fan, adoption is hard – and compassion will fail us. That’s what I hear the author of this post voicing – cute babies will one day be a child from a hard place. An older child is already a child from a hard place. There are fewer pretty pictures to be painted than there are realistic, heart-wrenching, life-altering, HARD….but SO WORTH IT…stories. So for those of us who have seen the realities of the mass older child/spec. needs kiddo’s just waiting with no healthy infant in sight – our voice, our pleas are all we’ve got to help others see a bigger picture.

  22. Oh…and also, sorry… again, to @RH – your statistic about HIV??? the one about a child from a 3rd world country having a 50% chance of HIV…false. They know how to run their tests even in 3rd world countries. The number of children who have tested negative in country, then come to America and tested positive…um, don’t know the number, but it certainly is nowhere close to 50%, but rather VERY small. Like a handful, I’m guessing. And again, this coming from a mom who has adopted a healthy infant AND an older child who happens to be HIV+ (and I knew about it before adopting her!) ;) Just want to be sure to clear up that mis-information for you and any others who may read your comment.

  23. I think it should be remembered that it’s a process. Giving up normalcy and comfort takes time. I remember fighting against it tooth and nail for a good year before I gave way to special needs adoption. We are not at a point that most of my children were waiting older children with special needs and I realize what a journey it’s been. This is not the path we started on or what I expected to find….but I’m better for it.

    Grace and understanding for us all. When we find a friend on the journey willing to hold our hand…sometimes we find ourselves living the extraordinary.

  24. @Jody- Thank you for your clarification! Many need to hear this :)

  25. Such a well-written and much-needed post! This is so incredibly true. What many people don’t realize is that, out of the millions of orphans worldwide, the large majority are older children, kids with special needs, sibling groups, etc…NOT healthy infants. There ARE children waiting for forever homes but many times they are not the children that adoptive families hope/expect to find. I agree that we really need to take a long, hard look at our skills, abilities and who we are truly being “called” to adopt. Thanks again for sharing this!

  26. Besides adoption, there are also other options for helping children. Because many countries are closing down foreign adoptions, but still have orphans, some countries have ‘homes’ with a ‘mother’ for several children (and other types of arrangements) the parent takes care of the kids, in a single home, nurturing them, and they grow up as siblings. Supporting orphanage situations like this, and assisting with medical, dental, food, and housing needs of orphans through well-accredited organizations can help orphans, and more of them, than just adopting one child. Of course, each child is very important and very special, but not all children are going to be adopted, so then how can you help the others? By supporting those organizations and people who support them. There is a medical clinic in Haiti, there are orphanages, there is Compassion International, (the children are usually just in very poor families, but are at risk of malnutrition and the other effects of poverty), etc. etc. The Christian Childrens Fun I believe helps kids in various situations. If you can’t adopt and want to help kids, you can help with poverty where you live, donating, giving time to tutor kids in bad situations, being a Big Brother or Big Sister, etc. Because adoption is costly, time-consuming and just not possible for all, other things can be done that help just as much or more for more kids.

  27. Another relevant fact to consider- UNICEF reports “167 million orphans” in the world. This number, however, refers to “single orphans,” children who have had ONE of their parents die. That means they still have one parent living, and most likely live with that parent. As for “double orphans,” or children who have lost both parents, there are roughly 18.5 million. Of course, that is still a large number, but it does put things into perspective- “This misunderstanding may then lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support” (quote from Schuster Institute for Investigatve Journalism at Brandeis University). Even more, there is strong evidence to conclude 95% of orphans (both single and double) are above the age of five.

    It is not simply a matter of “I want to adopt a baby,” or “I don’t mind adopting an older child or one who has a disability.” Our, presumably western, opinions of international adoption need to be informed by the reality of the need in the world. What do you think happens when adoption agencies, orphanages, etc in developing countries see hundreds and thousands of westerners waiting to adopt healthy infants? It is basic economics- they work to provide the supply to meet the demand. This is what leads to corruption, kidnapping and trafficking. Most people link human trafficking with sex crimes (which of course, is true), but we are blind if we do not realize western demand for healthy babies to be fueling trafficking around the world. The horrible stories of children being stolen from their biological families only to be adopted by a western family are out there- all you have to do is look (a quick Google search will amaze/horrify you).

    These issues absolutely matter, and if there is guilt felt while reading- maybe there should be. As a member of the adoptive parent community, I feel it is our responsibility to understand the possible negative impact of our “rescuing” children. Adoption is always the result of tragedy and loss, let us not add to it with our ignorance.

  28. Some relevant facts to consider- UNICEF reports “167 million orphans” in the world. This number, however, refers to “single orphans,” or children who have had ONE parent die. That means they still have one parent living and most likely live with that parent. “Double orphans,” or children who have lost both parents clock in at roughly 18.5 million. Of course, that is still a large number, but it certainly puts the orphan crisis in a different perspective- “This misunderstanding may then lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support” (quote from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University). Even more, there is strong evidence that 95% of orphans (both single and double) are above the age of five.

    It is more than “I want to adopt a baby,” or “I don’t mind adopting an older child or one who has special needs.” Our, presumably western, opinions of adoption need to be informed by the reality of the need in the world. What do we think happens when adoption agencies, orphanages, etc in the developing world see hundreds and thousands of westerners waiting to adopt healthy infants? It is simple economics- they work to provide the supply to meet the demand. This is what leads to corruption, kidnapping and trafficking. Most link human trafficking with sex crimes (which of course, is true), but we are blind not to see the way trafficking is being fueled by western demand for healthy babies. The horrible stories of children being stolen from their biological families only to be adopted by westerners are out there, all you have to do is look (a quick Google search will amaze/horrify you).

    These issues are incredibly significant, and if there is guilt felt in reading about them- maybe there should be. As a member of the adoptive parent community, I feel it is our responsibility to understand the possible negative impacts of our “rescuing” children. Adoption is always born out of tragedy- let us not add to it with our ignorance.

  29. This could have been written about me! It’s exactly what I thought when we started the adoption process – healthy baby girl. I thought that was where the need was only to discover that boys with medical needs wait and wait and wait. If I had never learned that fact, we would have missed out on our son, Gage! While he was adopted at a young age (2 1/2) with a fairly minor (in my opinion) medical need of cleft lip and palate and nystagmus, he sat on a list for 5 months with virtually no interest from families. He adds so much to our lives that I can’t imagine him never being a part of our family – let alone ANY family. This issues of healthy babies needing homes is one of the top two misconceptions in the prospective adoption world – the other being that it’s unaffordable. Thanks for sharing!

  30. What about those families who do end up adopting a healthy infant from places like Uganda or elsewhere? Should all healthy infant adoptions be frowned apon since there are other waiting children?

    • Samantha – I don’t think she’s saying anything negative about infant adoption. She’s just challenging people to dream bigger dreams and be open to more than what we think is best…perhaps God has something bigger and more glorious for us! I felt like she wants us to take a peek outside the box to see what may be waiting out there and that it’s not as bad as we might think.

  31. Adopting an older child from Ethiopia has been such an amazing blessing for my wife and me!

  32. A couple comments:
    1) If you need money for your adoption ask a church–any church. They claim to love the “fatherless” (orphans and widows in modern translations) so let them put their money where there mouth is. Give them your financials–tax returns, etc–and a sheet outlining the cost of the adoption/health care premiums, etc. Tell them that you will do the hard work of raising the child if they will spend some money on helping you adopt (in addition to their new multi-million dollar “family life center” or whatever they are buying lately). If the church declines walk down the street to the next building–there are tens of thousands of million-dollar church bulidings littering America–surely one of them will obey scripture.

    2) Your post is TRUTH and it needs to be discussed. The next step in the learning curve is discussing how abysmally hard it can be on occasion to raise older children / children with special needs. We adopted a child with very severe special needs and she has been nothing but ease and joy (which suprised us). We also adopted two older siblings who appeared “normal” and the last three years have been a nightmare of discovering one psychological trauma atop another atop another (which also suprised us). They have broken my wife and I and broken our family (although we are all still a family unit). We are trying to cope and I hope that God will enable us to do so. Not every adoption “works out well” and it is hard (impossible?) to predict whether yours will or will not. And there is no socially acceptable way to escape a horrific adoption–nobody wants to talk about “failed adoptions” which traps those of us in difficult ones without any resources and very little sympathy from others. Moreover, the claim that “God will make everything ok” may be true in the longrun but He has allowed us to stew in misery for years and this is a hard pill to swallow when it was He who called us to adopt.

  33. Looking forward to this series! My husband and I have come a looooong way in our adoption journey. Our hearts have been changed quite a bit. We realized that we can’t say we’re doing this for the kids or because we feel called if we’re not willing to take the ones who need us most! How can we say we’re “called” when we’re willing to get in line with 40 other families waiting for that same child as the older child over there watches as he’s passed up again and again? I think we hear what we want to hear from God sometimes and then block out the hard parts.

  34. Amen. When we started the adoption process we weren’t looking for special needs, but our agency knew of one child waiting. We didn’t want any child to be without a home if it was only a matter of our comfort, so we joined the special needs adoption community and found lots of support. A year later we were able to bring home our son. He is absolutely precious. The song comes mind, “Who will love me for me? Not for what I have done or who I will become.”

  35. Excellent post!
    And good job previous commenters for pointing out the error in the 147 MILLION (or 168 million) orphans number. I personally believe that misquote is responsible for many new adoptive families believing the healthy infant orphan myth. They argue just like the commenter above, RH, that THERE MUST be healthy infants for adopt simply due to the HUGE number of orphans. After all if there are a few million orphans in Uganda surely it makes sense that a few hundred would be infants and mostly healthy.

  36. We are PAPs that have recently decided to change our adoption parameters to include certain special needs. The biggest hurdle for us was our own ignorance.

    Those of you out there that are advocatin and educating patiently and lovingly, please please please keep doing so. Those people changed our whole perspective and therefore our willingness.

    Special needs seem to overwhelming for people who have never had to deal with them. From what I understand they can be overwhelming, but not impossible and the joy it can bring can overwhelm as well!

    Honesty, advocacy, and education can go so far to change people’s hearts!

  37. I would love to see statistics on what age children enter an institution, how long they stay there before they are eligible for adoption and then how long they wait after they have been matched with adoptive parents.

    Although, many children are orphaned at an older age, there are also children that entered an institution at a very young age. But they are not available for adoption for years. When will the adults in this world, CHANGE THE ADOPTION PROCESS!!! Many times an infant does go into an orphanage but instead of being adopted immediately, they languish in neglect while their parents-to-be fill out endless, repetitive paperwork. The child ages and is hurt by the environment they are in, while bureaucrats delay and delay, instead of doing their jobs. The best example, is parents who have adopted once before – the update should take days but instead they are required to start all over again and do years of paperwork.

  38. Love this post and really appreciate how you said it. We began our journey for a healthy infant, changed our parameters three times, and ended up with a beautiful HIV+ baby girl! She has already changed our lives and we see more waiting child adoptions in our future!

  39. Salem,

    Thank you SO much for this post. Such truth shared in such a beautiful, educational and not attacking way. Thank you sister. I had the beautiful privilege of loving on Jovia and Benja a bit while I was at Watoto for a month in between times at Ekisa, and it makes my heart LEAP to see them in your pictures and on your blog. I am so thankful you all are their family and for the amazing progress they are making! Thank you for saying yes to all three of yours and for being an advocate for others who are waiting….waiting families, waiting kiddos…this can happen and I pray many read this and are touched and encouraged to pray about the possibility of special needs and/or older. What a blessing it is for all. Much prayer for you all!

  40. Thank you for this very well put post. I would also add to that, the older child, and all the trauma and grief that parents are going to have to deal with on that level. I have linked to this three places on my resource blog hoping that parents will read and consider before they start the wait.
    Thanks so much!

  41. Thanks for saying this. This is very well written and so true.

    One thing I would say though, is that PAPs need to make sure they are prepared for a child with special needs and that they aren’t just switching programs to “get a baby.” I wrote about it a bit here:

    I look forward ti your future posts.

  42. Thank you for your wise perspective. I tried to adopt from Laos in January, only to find out that Laos is not allowing international adoption at the present time. It was absolutely disheartening. I recently went to Thailand and met a special needs baby girl who my husband and I fell in love with. We are working with a Thailand family lawyer at the moment and hope to continue moving forward. I think the biggest thing to remind couples who consider international adoption is not to get discouraged by all of obstacles and, more importantly, NOT to have UNREALISTIC expectations. One thing to remember is that a lot of the strict restrictions are in place for the children’s safety and to keep them out of the homes of abusers. Each roadblock to international or domestic adoption is devastating, but it’s important to continuously seek support and advice, and keep trying.

  43. As frustrating as it all is for prospective parents, it’s good to remember you are asking a country to surrender one of it’s own childrens entire life to a stranger. Asking you for a lot of information and to go through hoops helps them to know that you aren’t deciding on a whim, or going to return a child later (like that poor little boy from Russia who was stuck on a plane and returned when the adoptive ‘mother’ couldn’t handle his special needs. Once you have a child in your life, if you don’t already, it’s hard to imagine the agony of the birth parent to give up that child in the first place, and the heavy responsibility for that child from the country of origin to you. All countries are very proud, and their children are their wealth, to hand over that incredible gift to someone foreign and unknown is a huge deal really just from a national pride stand, what are they thinking that looks like to the world, and then they are giving up a citizen also…

  44. so well put, Becky!

  45. Thank you for this post and starting this discussion. I’m looking forward to the series. The non-judgmental, let’s-just-talk-about-this tone is great. My husband and I recently adopted three kids from Congo. Three years old, 8 years old and 10 years old. It has been a very tough past seven months since they have been home. BUT . . . my two cents worth is that there are incredible resources available to “normal” families adopting older/special needs kids. There is no better time to adopt these kids with the resources available to us. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it will stretch you beyond your capacity. I know Jesus better than I have ever known him because parenting these kids has pushed me to depend on Him like no other time in my life. And that is a huge gift. Also, we have one life to live before eternity. Why not invest it in these children’s lives? Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. Thanks again!

  46. @Jen Lee,
    That is beautiful- I love to hear from those who’ve done this, who are honest, and yet remain encouraging to others to do the same difficult things together.
    I’d never considered the idea of using my one life investing in these children’s lives. That is so perfectly stated.

  47. We started the process to adopt a baby from Ethiopia, simply because our youngest child was only 2 at the time. A baby made sense. Since Ethiopia has slowed so much, our youngest will be at least 6 by the time our ‘baby’ gets homes – so we’ve raised our age request to a girl age 3-5. With four young kids in my home, I simply don’t have to bandwidth to accept a severe special need. When they are older and more independent, who knows?

    My point is that families often adopt based on what works for the family they already have. I will never adopt a child older than the ones I already have – I know too many people who have done so and it destroyed their family, and my primary responsibility is to protect the kiddos already under my roof. But could we handle HIV? Definitely considering it.

    Once upon a time, the process to adopt a healthy baby girl from China was a cakewalk. No more, and as a result, many Chinese kiddos of all ages with all kinds of special needs have gotten adopted. Yea! I see the same thing happening in Ethiopia. All of my friends in this loooooooong Ethiopian process have thought outside the box – raise our age? HIV+? Sibling set? What exactly can our family handle?

    We’re human, our natural instinct is the choose the easier route (although of course there are no truly easy routes in adoption.) But then the longer we stew in the process, the more our eyes are opened, and our minds are opened, and our hearts often follow.

  48. Beautiful!!! Yes it is hard, but for our family it was sooo worth it:). I always tell people who say they would like to adopt a child “who needs a family” that there are SO many kids ages 3+ who do need a family. Many have special needs, and many have siblings. Our 2 sons were “waiting children,” (from China and Ethiopia- and definitely not ‘healthy baby girls’) and they were perfect for our family- I can’t imagine our lives without them.

  49. I must confess that I am afraid because I have a three year old special needs son now (biological). I also have a 14 month old who so far seems to have no significant developmental delays. Is it ethical for me to bring in another special needs child when considering that one day my daughter might be the caretaker of both of them? I truly am asking, not trying to make a point. I would love to take in any special needs child but this is my personal hang up.

  50. Great article. I was just speaking to my husband last night about this. We were LID China in Feb ’07. In November ’09 we brought home our 3.5 year old daughter with an unrepaired CL/CP. We are so grateful for her (I say that as she lays here sleeping by me). Currently China is referring healthy infants to those logged in September ’06 while so many kiddos with special needs are waiting. While not everyone can adopt older kids or those with SN, I do encourage folks who have families already who only want a healthy infant through adoption to take a very realistic look at thier motives. One of my fave families is one we traveled in China with. 11 kids!!!! 4 older child / special needs adoptions and 8 bio kids (many of whom are out of the house, married, etc.) They are my heroes!

  51. To R.H. and others who say “those gotcha day videos are real,” and that therefore there must be lots of healthy infants available for adoption —

    Yes, the videos are real in the sense that they portray kiddos being “gotten” by adoptive parents, but they don’t say anything about whether the kids are really orphans. Check out the post and video linked below. Folks on the ground in Uganda say the situation isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

  52. Great article and “dead on” in my estimation. Our adoption journey has spanned three African countries and we have discovered what you have written to be true. Through this process God has done a deeper and deeper work in our hearts leading us with the simple question “who are you willing to love”? First it was the international child. Then it was the HIV and special needs child. Then it was the older child. We’re now matched with two older children and through this process God has done an incredible work in our hearts of opening us up to those He loves.

  53. Amazing article and very well written. Thank you for sharing this! I volunteer for an organization working with special needs children in the compounds in Lusaka, Zambia ( and it can be a lonely road advocating for these children. Glad to hear of others doing the same!

  54. I have adopted 4 special needs children from Foster Care in the USA. You don’t have to leave the country.

  55. We are CC and we are fostering an AA baby boy. A stranger stopped me recently and asked what country he was from.

  56. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    An interesting read on international adoption.

  57. Hi, we are a family by adoption- foster care, older child, minority. Parenting my older son is SO MUCH MORE CHALLENGING than parenting a biological child (I have one of those as well) because we don’t have a store of mutual cuddles and love and trust since the moment he was born. It’s an intentional type of love and parenting.
    How do we overcome the obstacles both of the adoption itself and the daily obstacles of being a family? Some days all I have is Jesus to rely on. I know without a shadow of a doubt that we were called to adopt our son, it wasn’t something we cooked up on our own. And we didn’t “save” or “rescue” him. We simply became a family, together.
    It’s hard to explain to people how difficult parenting a “special needs” (not my title, but i dont have a better one) child is without compromising his privacy. It’s incredibly isolating because I don’t know anyone else that has done this. None of my family and friends understand, even though they are good intentioned.
    I just don’t think it’s a good idea to adopt a special needs child unless you know in your bones you were made to do it. It can and will ruin relationships and marriages. I don’t mean to be so negative, but it is incredibly difficult and stressful. My heart is bursting with love and pride for my son and the amazing progress he has made. But it’s definitely strained some of my other relationships. It also can be difficult to navigate the web of services that may or not be available to us and which if any of those services would be helpful.
    Im not sure whether to caution or cheer families that decide to adopt special needs children. Disrupted adoptions are so harmful on these already hurt children.

  58. I’d be interested in seeing discussion on domestic versus foreign adoption. We adopted a sibling group of three (6, 4, and 2) after fostering them for two years. When I talk with parents who adopted foreign, I invariably get the comment, “oh, we thought about foster to adopt, but we didn’t think we could stand loving them and then losing them (to their family).” Which is fine. But I think it boils down to 1) what is your true motivation and 2) who are you doing it for. Whatever your true answer to those questions is is perfectly ok. But we run into problems when we tell ourselves we want to “save” or “help,” when really we want to feel good about ourselves with as little inconvenience as possible.

  59. Responding to Lisa, you can have all the same things happen if you have a biological child with a disability. Deciding to intentionally take on this challenge is something you can be sure is a good thing, that God meant you to do it, I feel God must have meant me to also (I have one son with a disability). I think though, we all feel we aren’t supposed to have much difficulty in our lives (just meaning all people in general feel this) why do we think the rain and the toils shouldn’t fall on anyone/everyone? We are not promised life will be perfect or easy, but we are told many times by people in school, etc. about high potential and successful lives(and usually they are thinking of money making jobs of high stature, etc. that’s always given as ‘success’). Sometimes success is helping other people in the quietest way possible, by raising them without fanfare, as you and I have. No one knows what we who do this go through, but other people have had much harder lives. I wish(again speaking generally) people would understand there is no ideal life, there are just different lives. You see people on tv who seem to have no real problems, but everyone has something….and there are tremendous awards in seeing kids progress and be happy:)

  60. Its also VERY hard on children to get attached and removed over and over again from homes, it can cause attachment disorder type issues.

  61. I swear that this is not a flame. More like a thought, an unplaesant though, but nonetheless, peraphs true.

    *start cruelty*
    So it is not right to say that there are 147 million of orfans wanting a family. It is that there is an excess of people for the same amount.
    *stop cruelty*

    Sorry, I understand what the point is. I truly do.
    But I also understand the “family” in your example.

    I would like to know the failure rates for adoptions of older children.
    I would like to see, if they exist, statistics on how much the mental health of the parents improve/decrease after the adoption of an aforementioned older child (as far as I know, there is a study that say that mothers of disabled children are mentally and physically less healthy of mother of normal children, but I don’t know anything about adoptions… doubt there are. Would be interesting)

    And I totally understand the wish to avoid a disabled child. Both biological and adoptive.

    • To T.,

      There are no definitive studies on “failed” adoptions of older/disabled children. Part of this has to do with what counts as “failure”. If failure = the adoptive parent(s) relinquish parental rights (either to the state or to a second set of adoptive parent(s)) then the failure rate is very low (probably around 1-3%.) Moreover, oftentimes these parents still play a relatively active role in the life of the child (who often needs as much help as he or she can get).

      With regard to the mental/physical health of parents of children with disabilities this obviously varies considerably based on the disability. I have several disabled children and their effect on my health/happiness varies considerably. For example, I have a daughter with relatively severe physical disabilities. She is a shining light of joy and beauty. She is the happiest, most blessed person I have every met. Everyone who meets her loves her and loves her company. That said, she has required a lot of money and time for her health care. But overall I would say that my personal levels of happiness have improved dramatically since her adoption (I suffer from clinical depression so I think I have a fairly good ability to self-assess.)
      In contrast I have a child who is extrememly emotionally traumatized (but physically unimpaired). He can be relatively unpleasant to be around at times. He has also cost me a decent amount of money and quite a bit of stress (he has broken two laptops and a printer by pouring water on them and drove our car into a neighbor’s living room, spray painted walls in our basement and ground permanent markers into our carpets, etc.) At this point in his healing process he isn’t doing much to improve my happiness or mental health, he is probably decreasing them a fair bit–note that I’m NOT saying this to criticize him, he is after all an innocent victim of his own past abuse. I am very hopeful that as he heals but he and I will get happier :).
      So I don’t think you can generalize about whether adopting a disabled child will make you happier or sadder (or more likely a mix of both). You probably can assume that you will expend more money/time on them than on a “normal” child, but that is true about any difficult undertaking. It takes more time/money to get your Ph.D than your B.A. but that isn’t a reason not to do it. Its just about what you are willing to pour your life into. If you aren’t willing to invest in a disabled child, don’t do it. If you are willing to pay the costs you may wind up with an amazing blessing or a lot of heartbreak or some combination thereof. Life is risky.

      • All very true. My son when he was little was very difficult with some extreme behaviors. With years of therapy, interventions and good teachers, etc. he has become a joy to be around and a very happy kid. He is really funny too. I could not have forseen when he was younger that he would overcome so many of his challenges so well to this point. He still has some, but autism isn’t an easy thing to ‘fix’. On the other hand, a friend of mine’s somewhat-challenging but very popular/successful growing up typical kid has developed increasing worse mental health issues and addictions and very dangerous threatening behavior. If you had seen the two kids (who are close in age) when they were little, a lot of people would have ‘picked’ the then easier/seemingly ‘perfect’ child over mine who had very challenging behaviors. I am hoping and praying my friends child comes out of the shadows he has entered. No one knows what will happen in their lives.

  62. Yes, that is an unpleasant thought. Many children have no parents or have parents who have difficulty providing for them due to death, illness, or the need to work at a menial job. In the U.S. there have been surveys about the mental health of mothers who have a child with autism (how do I know, I have a child with autism:) yes,it’s not always easy to have a child with a disability, but who said we are entitled to have perfect lives and perfect children? If you have a so-called perfect or typical child and they become disabled, are you going to put them up for adoption or have them institutionalized or worse? That’s the kind of thinking that goes to the ultimate end of how we judge human life to be worth more or less. That kind of thinking creates levels and classes of desirable and undesirable. That kind of thinking promotes prenatal testing that then often results in abortion. Numbers of children with Downs Syndrome have greatly declined…because prenatal testing often reveals that they have it. There are many problems that are completely invisible at least initially, like schizophrenia, that usually manifests in the teen years or early twenties. We are not perfect people and we should not expect our lives to be perfect. I am frankly disgusted by people who are very concerned about animals being killed for fur, or how they are killed (wolves shot from a helicopter insteaf of on foot, for instance) but are completely unconcerned about the vicioius cruelty of abortion. We are so spoiled in the U.S. we want what we want when we want it as we want it. Life isn’t perfect and your child won’t be either.

  63. @T – As many have already pointed out, there are not 147 million ADOPTABLE orphans in the world. Take a look at this:

    That statistic includes “single” orphans, or children who have lost ONE parent. Far fewer children have lost both parents, and of those children, far fewer are not living with extended family. Far, far fewer than that are infants. There are not an excess of 147 million people wanting to adopt, but there are WAY more people wanting to adopt healthy infants than there are “available” healthy infants. That’s why people are waiting years to do so.

    My father died when I was seven, so I am an “orphan.” That DOES NOT mean I ever needed to be adopted. My mother was still alive, as were my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. There were plenty of people to take me in. There was never any reason to even consider moving me halfway across the world to live with anyone else.

  64. I agree with many of the points you raise, I recently wrote about my experiences as a Vietnamese adoptee.


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