I subscribe to a bunch of China adoption message boards, and enjoy them all. But with all the challenges we have faced with Quinn, and with all the challenges most all adoptive parents I know have faced, it worries me just a little to see so many people jumping into international adoption without an apparent understanding of what MIGHT not go according to plan.
Before Quinn came home, I read time and time and time again that kids may be behind when you meet them but they'll catch up practically instantly, like when you're still in China. Um, not in our case. I stupidly expected that because I had read it so often, and I really panicked when it didn't happen.
So the other day a prospective parent posted a message to one of the boards asking for advice. One of her concerns was which SNs might work best for her family because they already have a special-needs child. In our case, the SN is not the issue, it's Quinn's 16 months of institutionalization that left him so challenged in so many ways.
I truly don't want to scare anybody waiting to adopt, but I think it's vitally important that we're all aware of the negatives along with the positives. So here's what I wrote to the prospective mom, and here's what I believe more every day:
Let me preface this by saying that adopting my son was the smartest thing I ever did, and my life is changed immeasurably for the better from having him in it. I would not change a thing and I love, love, love being a mom to this incredible child.
Next I will say that now more than ever, I think it's vital in international adoption to prepare the worst and pray for the best. When I say now more than ever, what I mean is that from what I've read, China's orphanages increasingly are filled with special needs kids, many with visible differences. Many people in China still consider people who look differently to be "unlucky," and sadly, some of those people work in orphanages and are caring for kids. That means it's possible that some of the kids in orphanages today are not getting the care that kids in orphanages even a few years ago got. I don't mean medical care - I mean someone to hold them and coo at them and make faces and sounds at them. All the stuff that fosters healthy development.
For us, dealing with our son's special need has been a breeze. It truly is one of those minor, correctable things so many of us seek. He had one surgery and we do some follow-up exercises. Honestly, that is the least of his issues. He came to us at 16 months seriously developmentally delayed. He could sit up only with assistance, would/could not eat solid foods and did not make a sound. I had read time and time again on these boards that kids arrive delayed and catch up almost immediately, but that is not what happened in our case - and the same is true for many, many, many parents who have contacted me not on these boards but privately after reading my blog. After 2 1/2 years Quinn is still seriously delayed in pretty much every area. He gets speech therapy, occupational therapy, is in a therapeutic play group and attends special-ed preschool. He displays several symptoms of autism - he does not like to make eye contact, often won't acknowledge spoken directions, does a lot of self soothing behaviors like swinging his head around. But every therapist we've seen says he does not have autism, but simply missed out on learning the basics of normal human interaction. They think that with some pretty intensive therapy while he's young he can catch up to his peers. So when he's not in formal therapy we're working with him on in-home therapy. It's fun and seriously rewarding, but it takes a lot of time. So much so that both my husband and I cut back to part-time hours.
We went into adoption fully expecting to have two kids, but have decided that it's in Quinn's best interest that we focus on him utterly and give him the very best possible chance in life. Honestly, right now I think that if we had another child, they would both suffer for it. I know many families have many special needs children and juggle it all very successfully, but for us this feels right.
I think you need to go into international adoption assuming you may deal with serious developmental delays as well as disorders associated with a lack of stimulation in the early months (Quinn has sensory integration disorder, which is common among institutional kids.) You also need to research reactive attachment disorder and realize that this could be your reality. These kinds of things do not show up in reports from the orphanages. If your family situation requires a child who needs very little intervention or extra attention, honestly I would rethink whether international adoption is for you. You may get lucky and end up with a child who has no issues at all - I hope so! But you need to be prepared that might not be the case.
I truly do not mean to scare you off. Had I known three years ago all that I know now, I still would have traveled with very same road with joy and enthusiasm. But I wish I had gone into it knowing more, which is why I share my story - the good and the bad.