All International Adoptions are Special Needs Adoptions

Thursday March 21, 2013


Years ago, when my husband and I embarked upon our first international adoption, we naively selected "infant as young as possible" and "healthy" on our agency's form. Beyond the financial considerations in adoption, along with the steps necessary to get started, we were green and didn't know much about international adoption.

We were a bit clueless about what that really meant, both in terms of what we were asking, how that impacted the adoption system as a whole and how it would look for our family.

As we learned once we became parents, our "healthy" child had marked physical and emotional conditions that needed addressing . While he was just three weeks when we received his referral, he was almost 10 months old when we were finally allowed to travel to and bring him back to the states.

We spent the first year as a family working through the different delays and health conditions, but I wouldn't change that for the world. Every sleepless night, every day in the pediatrician's office, every occupational and physical therapy session -- they were all worth it a million times over.

There were a handful of surgeries, too, for different conditions that were not diagnosed before the adoption, as well as a serious lifelong condition that will always require monitoring and possible treatment. Yet we were still blessed with the most amazing child a mom and dad could ever hope to parent.

For our second international adoption (from a different country), we again requested a healthy infant . Within a month of returning to the states with our very sick daughter, she was hospitalized.

But just like the first time, we wouldn't even considering changing those very long initial six months with our daughter. She is a remarkable person with a heart of gold and gifts and talents that defy words. She completed our family.

What we did learn over the course of two international adoptions is that "healthy" in the international adoption world isn't always "healthy" in the same sense of the word you might be used to. A physician told us most international adoptions are "special needs" and I firmly believe it. The special needs may be minor and they may be correctable, but there is no such thing as a completely "healthy" child through international adoption.

The fact that the child you're adopting is an older infant guarantees, at a minimum, that he will have unique needs when it comes to attachment and security. Even infants adopted domestically at birth are not "clean slates" -- they are people with pasts that didn't involve their current parents.

In our case, both of our kids had "special needs," some of which were correctable and others which are lifelong. One of my wishes as an adoptive parent is that all prospective adoptive parents know what to realistically expect as much as possible and have realistic expectations of what it means to form or build your family through international adoption.

Did you find that your child who joined your family through international adoption had unique needs?


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