Read more stories...“Older” Parents Adopting from Kazakhstan
Adopting as Older Parents
My husband and I could safely be called older parents. I was 50 and he was 66 when we adopted our daughter from Kazakhstan. We both have children from previous marriages, but we still felt the pull to raise a child together. Since I experienced an early menopause (at age 45), the only way we could do this was through adoption.
One unexpected aspect to our adoption as older parents was the reaction of our biological children. Since they are grown (38, 24 and 23 years old) and no longer live at home, we did not expect them to have much of an opinion. We were wrong. They are getting used to the idea of our adoption, but it is taking some time.
Why International Adoption
We decided on international adoption because we thought it would be faster and safer (no risk of birthparents coming back and "snatching" the child away from us). With international adoption we thought we would have a better chance of getting the child that we felt would be a good "fit" with our family. International adoption also seemed a surer route for us given our age.
Choosing an International Adoption Agency
Choosing an adoption agency was difficult. We wanted an agency that would not expect us to pay bribes or lie. Unfortunately, our ages worked against us with some agencies. The agency we went with was very ethical and felt our ages wouldn't be a problem. I think prospective adoptive parents should find an agency they trust, get recommendations from people who have used them for their international adoptions from the country they are interested in, and (whenever possible) meet the staff face-to-face; this made a big difference to us. Choosing a Country
Our adoption agency helped us choose the country, based on the criteria outlined by each country and our desires. We were too old to adopt from Russia and China, for example. We wanted to adopt a Caucasian girl, preferably one that resembled our bio children (blonde hair, blue eyes), so we focused on Eastern Europe. Our agency director helped us choose Kazakhstan.
Paying for our Adoption
International adoption is expensive, but since my husband is retirement age, he used some of his retirement money and did not have to pay a penalty. I used some of my retirement, but paid penalties. In my case, it wasn't the best choice. I ended-up losing about half of my retirement contributions, so I would not recommend this approach to financing. We also got a personal loan from the credit union where I work. We applied for international adoption grants but did not qualify.
The Paper Chase
When it comes to the paper chase for your dossier for international adoption, the best advice I can give is don’t look at the pile and how much you have to do. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, and then concentrate on one thing at a time. Cross off each thing as you accomplish it, so you can see the progress. Set aside a certain time to do the paperwork and don't let anything interfere with that time. Make an appointment with your spouse, if necessary, to reserve that time. Also, give yourself a break and fit in fun activities, since this will help you keep up your momentum. We were able to get the DMV, police clearance, and FBI/livescan fingerprinting all done in one day. We had only scheduled the fingerprinting for the day, so anything extra was a bonus. We treated ourselves to lunch out, to make it more like a "date."
The Wait for our Referral
We received our adoption referral nine months after beginning the process. The wait for a referral was so hard. During the wait, we decorated her room, participated in an international adoption support group (most helpful), and did the things we thought we wouldn't have time to do once our child was here, like go out for dinner and go to movies. I completed my bachelor's degree, which gave me something else to focus on, besides working full-time!
Losing our Referral
The day after we bought our airline tickets to Kazakhstan, our adoption agency called to tell us they had just found out her father had started visiting her. At first we felt grief - we had been carrying her picture around for six months - but then we were happy for them. Our adoption agency worked very hard and fast to find another child for us. We were a little superstitious and were afraid to go to a different region since we had been approved in Pavlodar, so we requested a child from the same orphanage.
Our adoption agency was able to find the perfect child for us. We did have to adjust our expectations a bit - we had requested a child 2 - 3 years old. Our first referral was 4 years old. The child we adopted was 14 months old when we met her. We accepted her based on a description - no photo - then after we said yes, we did get an email with a photo. Seeing the picture was wonderful. We cried because she was so perfect!
Be Open to Minor Special Needs
We were open to a child with minor correctable medical problems. Emma had strabismus (one eye was crossed) and a non-cancerous tumor on her spine, which was removed when she was one month old. After meeting her, we felt that the medical information on her conditions was right on target and her health was as we expected.
We did not use an international adoption doctor to evaluate the referral. As a nurse, I was able to do my own physical assessment and felt comfortable with our choice. We had been warned ahead of time (by a Russian MD friend) that they have a different approach from American doctors; American doctors look at the child from a wellness perspective (healthy until proven otherwise), doctors in former Soviet countries assess the child from an illness perspective, and give very frightening-sounding names to normal states of health. I went by my own instinct, based on many years as a nurse. I know I was fortunate to be able to do that. The doctors in Kazakhstan were great about answering our questions - however this was just before the court date, long after we had made our decision to adopt her.
We were in country 52 days. We have traveled quite a bit and spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe, so we had a good idea of what to expect from a former Soviet Union country. This helped us to not be nervous about traveling to Kazakhstan.
Adoption travel presents its own set of surprises. We thought we would be able to meet our child within a couple of days of arriving in country, but we were in Kazakhstan a week before we met her. That was a surprise and a bit difficult since we knew we would have to stay longer in Kazakhstan. When we were finally given permission to visit the orphanage it was late in the day, so we had only 15 minutes with her that first day. After this short time, the orphanage director and our coordinator asked us if we were ready to sign the forms indicating our intent to adopt her. It was all a little intimidating, but we had made the decision to adopt before we even met her - meeting her just reinforced that decision.
Emma is out-going, so she responded well to us and was friendly from the start. It felt a little strange that when they carried her away at first, she didn't look back at us. Of course, that came later with the bonding; we didn't mean anything to her yet. I had to remind myself of that, though, so I wouldn't feel hurt. My husband was the first male she had ever seen. The orphanage director encouraged him to stay in the corner and videotape the meeting, while I interacted with her. The orphanage director also did not let us take photographs, because she thought the flash might frighten Emma. She allowed the video camera since it didn't require any special lighting. Although we were a little disappointed, we appreciated her care and concern about the child's needs being more important than what we wanted. (Who wouldn't want a picture of the first time they saw their child? But the video is wonderful.)
Since we spent so much time in Kazakhstan, we had a long bonding period. Though we would have loved to come home sooner, it seemed to be good for our daughter to have this time to get to know us. When we took her from the orphanage, she was ready to go with us and had no problems. We all felt like we “fit” from the first day. Her first new word was, "happy happy," which she said when we got to our apartment in Kazakhstan. We did not have the rough adjustment period you hear about probably because of the long bonding time. She slept well, ate well, and was happy from the beginning.
Traveling Home with Emma
From what we had heard, we were prepared for the trip home to be the most difficult two days of our lives. Surprisingly, it went well; we were very lucky. Of course since we were prepared for the worst, anything better was "gravy." Fortunately for us, our daughter slept a great deal in the bassinet on the bulkhead. I think it was helpful that she stayed up very late that night - our flight was about 3:00 am - so was tired during the flight.
Parting Words of Wisdom
I have a couple of pieces of advice for prospective international adoptive parents. We, as adoptive parents, are not in control of the situation. It is hard to come to terms with that since it is logical for us to want to speed things up. (I'm specifically talking about while we are in-country, though it applies to a lot of the process). The Kazakhstan timetable is different from ours. Though most of the people may care about the welfare of the child, they can be indifferent to our desires to get back home as quickly as possible. It is simply not important that we have left family, home, and jobs behind, and may be using up precious vacation time (as wells as money!) to be there. My advice is to try to remember that it is temporary, it will end, and every sacrifice is so worth it!
I would also recommend that prospective international adoptive parents consider adopting a child with minor, correctable special needs. If you don't state that you are willing to do this during your home study, you will not be able to adopt a child that may have these relatively minor and easily correctable problems. Answering “no” to that one question on in your home study means you will not be considered for what may be the perfect child for you. We are fortunate to have the best health care in the world, and there are so many children out there who could benefit from this. If we hadn't said we would accept a child with a special need, we wouldn't have gotten Emma, and I can't imagine life without her!
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