What international adoption has meant for our family of three

July 3 | Guest post by Danielle Dowd
Danielle and her daughter after their first court hearing in Sierra Leone.
My husband and I are nearing the end of a four-year-long adoption process. I met my daughter while volunteering in a children's home in the summer of 2009, and we have been working through the red tape to get her here with us ever since. International adoption has its own unique joys and challenges. For my family, I wouldn't have it any other way.

A conspicuous family

My husband and I are white. Our daughter is black. This means that when we go out in public, people will know just by looking at us that we are not all biologically related. Sometimes, trans-racial families are exposed to the ugliness of the reality of racism. Sometimes, well-meaning and curious strangers ask inappropriate questions. We need to be equipped not only to deal with these people, but to help our daughter form her own racial and cultural identity so that when people do make remarks she can stand strong in the knowledge that who she is is valuable. One of the ways we have tried to do this is by reading up on her country's history and culture. We keep art pieces from Sierra Leone in our home and own West African clothing.

Because we stand out, people will also assume that our daughter is adopted. People can, on accident or on purpose, say some very hurtful things about adoption. We have tried to educate the people in our lives in order to avoid hurtful terminology. Before our daughter came home, we created a packet of information and sat down with the VIP's in our lives (who would be most involved in our daughter's life) and had a "family meeting" to go over questions. In our packet of information, we talked about proper adoption terminology (such as "bio parents" or "first parents" instead of using hurtful language like "real parents"). We also talked about challenges that our daughter might face in the adjustment period, such as food issues and attachment, and ways that they could support her and us as we deal with those challenges.

Poster child

Adoption is a long and confusing process. Many people are interested in adoption. As soon as you become an adoptive parent, people will come to you with their questions. I love to help people who are considering adoption with their questions, but sometimes, it would be nice to be thought of as just another parent. Adoptive parents are often expected to speak on behalf of the process or to answer difficult questions.

A new community

This month will be my eighth visit and my husband's third visit to my daughter's native country.

I often tell people that my favorite part of international adoption is that, while you are adopting a child, the child's home country really adopts you. I have learned so much about myself and the world by visiting my daughter's home country. I have friends there now, and family. I've eaten new dishes, heard new music, visited new places, swam in new rivers, and learned words in new languages. My eyes have been opened to the most beautiful things, things that I never would have seen or experienced without international adoption.

We are blessed to know some members of our daughter's bio family. We consider them our family now, and some of our closest friends.

I also have a new community of adoptive parents, transracial parents, and the people at the children's home where my daughter lived before coming to the USA. When we added a child to our family through adoption, we also added so many other people and groups that have enriched our lives.

In the end, international adoption is difficult. There are so many government agencies, so much paperwork, so many fees. But for my family, I can say without hesitation that it was more than worth it.

  1. What a beautiful picture!!!!! If she had a blog Id read it! Great writing and such a wonderful story. I think people ask questions because it's an interesting subject that I alot of people wont experience.

    I love the little tidbits given in this article and would be interested in reading a more in depth piece ­čÖé

    8 agree
  2. The VIP pack is a great idea, people can often use terms like 'real parents' or 'natural parents' (making you what? un-natural parents??) completely innocently just because they don't know better. Adoptive parents have so many hoops to go through to become parents, it's easy to forget that grannies uncles and friends haven't gone through it with you. The info pack/meeting idea makes sure the people whose opinion you care about are informed, and means they'll be able to help you out next time a stranger asks a really inappropriate question. Getting people educated is half the battle, I still see major media outlets running news stories about kids tracking down their 'real' parents, and check out how often tom cruise/katherine heigel/ Angelina Jolie's kids are 'adopted son/daughter X' instead of just 'son/daughter X'.

    7 agree
  3. I love the idea of creating and distributing an informational packet to close friends and family to help them prepare. My husband and I are considering adoption (through U.S. foster care), and I just might steal that idea if that's the route we decide to take. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

    1 agrees
  4. My brother and sister were adopted from South Korea. I know what you mean about becoming part of another community. Its lovely to read about other people's adoption experiences. Thank you

    1 agrees
  5. I have a friend who gave her child to a family in an open adoption, the child in question refers to her as his Other Mom. For families where the biological family isn't in the picture, I like Genetic Donors.

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