Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

An Adoption Story

Meredith Nahra became a mother the way thousands of others do: Through adoption.

She and her husband first considered adopting siblings domestically before deciding to adopt internationally. From beginning to end, the adoption process took about nine months. About three-fourths of the way through that time, the couple learned that they had been matched by their adoption agency with twin girls from Korea.

A couple months after first learning about the girls -- with all necessary travel documents securely in place -- the new parents picked up the babies who were 5 1/2 months old from their foster mother. The foster mother gave them the girls, a bag of supplies and their schedules. Nahra describes the 14-hour plane ride home as horrendous. "As bad as you think, it was worse," she says. The first 45 minutes were glorious. The girls slept. But then, they awakened -- and preceded to stay awake the entire trip. Nahra's husband, Joe, walked Lizzie the entire flight to keep her calm. And Cate cried the whole time unless a female Korean passenger picked her up, Nahra says, attributing that to the girls' new parents different smells, looks and voices.

Once home, Nahra describes the girls as looking a bit relieved; they looked at each other and it was as if they knew that at least they had each other.

Adopting internationally has given Nahra a new perspective on herself and the world her daughters live in. "I'm very vanilla. I'm average height, average build," she says in describing herself, noting that she now wishes she had darker hair to be closer to her daughters' coloring. She wants the girls to be proud of their background and embrace it, but worries what it will be like for her daughters over the years. "I don't know what it's like to be in the minority," she says. Their American names reflect those thoughts. "They already have one difference they can't hide," she says. The girls do have two middle names, one of which reflects their heritage. It's their birth mother's surname.

What's your adoption story? How have your fears and joys and thoughts changed since adopting?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
Previous: Kids' Worlds Online | Next: How to Handle 'Challenging' Children

Comments


I am the birth mother of two daughters, and the adoptive mother of two boys who were born in Korea. We got the oldest when he was 8 months old and the younger when he was not quite 4 months old. They were brought to Baltimore by an escort and we met them at the airport.

I am blond, and I had tried to steel myself for a frightened reaction from my older son when he arrived. After all, he was 8 months old, an age when any baby doesnt like strangers. He was handed to me, he held me at arm's length for a minute, studied my face, picked up a lock of my hair and looked at it, then put his arms around my neck, laid his head on my chest and sighed. My husband said you could "see a cord growing" because our son didnt want to be out of my sight for the next year.

The younger one was an easy-going, happy baby who liked everybody but still preferred me and my husband. He was premature and pretty fragile, so I think he was more used to strangers from being in and out of the hospital.

Both are now teenagers, the older one about to graduate from high school and already commited to play soccer in college, the younger finishing up eighth grade and although also a talented player, has decided that organic farming and cooking are his passion and he isnt interested in playing college soccer.

We are so accustomed to being an interracial family that we probably dont notice "looks" as much as we did at first. y sons have had to deal with comments at times, and my older son does have to think twice sometimes about what he is wearing and where he is going.

Posted by: sherry | March 24, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

My girls were 10 months (now 9) and 3 years (now 6) at adoption from China. The younger one was a waiting child (had a known special need), the older one was presumed to be healthy. I could go on, but I am at work and besides, it would bore you. Both adoption processes had ups and downs, including a change in country for the first adoption and in each case I thought that I would be adopting another child, but in both cases the first child I thought I would be adopting didn't end up being the child I did adopt. I traveled to China to meet both girls, and as you can imagine, each trip was vastly different from the other.

Posted by: single mother | March 24, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

No adoption stories for me, but I highly recommend the book "Digging to America"

It's a novel, but tells an interesting, sometimes funny story about adoption.

Posted by: RoseG | March 24, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

fr sherry:

>....He was handed to me, he held me at arm's length for a minute, studied my face, picked up a lock of my hair and looked at it, then put his arms around my neck, laid his head on my chest and sighed. My husband said you could "see a cord growing" because our son didnt want to be out of my sight for the next year....

Awwww, I can just SEE that!

Posted by: Alex | March 24, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

single mother - If your stories are anything like sherry's, I really want to hear them!

sherry- That was such a sweet story. Beautiful.

Posted by: atb | March 24, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

My advice to adoptive parents is: give your child lots of time and patience as he or she adjusts. When we adopted our daughter from China, she was 10 months old. Within two days of receiving her, she wouldn't let anyone else hold her. She was clingy, weepy, fearful and shy for the first year or so. But once she was confident we wouldn't leave her, her real personality emerged. Today, at 12, she's a top student, athlete, outgoing, super confident and way too feisty at times. She is nothing like us or her brother, but of course we love her dearly.

Posted by: Jan B | March 24, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

My advice to adoptive parents is: give your child lots of time and patience as he or she adjusts. When we adopted our daughter from China, she was 10 months old. Within two days of receiving her, she wouldn't let anyone else hold her. She was clingy, weepy, fearful and shy for the first year or so. But once she was confident we wouldn't leave her, her real personality emerged. Today, at 12, she's a top student, athlete, outgoing, super confident and way too feisty at times. She is nothing like us or her brother, but of course we love her dearly.

Posted by: Jan B | March 24, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Ours was not a foreign adoption, but now has become in some ways very foreign territory. Our son came to us at 6 days old and is now 20 years old. He settled very easily but has since taken many turns we would never have anticipated. He has learning difficulties and serious language processing problems, but has done pretty well dealing with them. As he grows older he has decided that he has more in common with his natural parents (whom he met when he was 18 and 19). And to be honest, he probably does. It is important that he has people he recognises as being like him. It is hard though - for him because he has grown up differently than his natural parents, and for us because it is so hard to relate to some of his decisions about where he 'belongs'. He lives in a homeless shelter on welfare, he visits us regularly and is still quite immature so anything can happen. The main learning point for us is that our adopted son was not a blank slate for us to form. He is very much his own person and all we can do is offer what we have in the way of love and formation.

Posted by: Jane | March 24, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I so agree with the advice to give your child time & patience. Our daughter from China, (who also came how at ten months) was very quiet for many months, though not obviously frightened or distressed. Even after her personality began to show itself, she would hardly even speak around strangers--people outside of our family though she couldn't speak. Some relatives even expressed sympathy, assuming she was delayed. Well, now she's in kindergarten, reading well above her level & reading music, playing piano & soccer...if may say so, an exceptional girl! It's okay to brag anonymously, right?

Posted by: amy | March 24, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Amy, brag away. I hope you do it publicly -- and in front of your daughter -- from time to time as well!

Posted by: Arlington Dad | March 24, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

eHi everyone . My wife and I have a son and daughter, 12 and 8 years old. My son was 11 months at adoption and my daughter 3 months old. My wife and I are not white but are white complexed and my son is as well , but our daughter came in a bit dark skinned which where I live people are very prejudice about skin color. Both of our children have had tough times challenging neighbors when they are reminded about their origin but they have all of our support and love to overcome through these public accusations.People are harsh at times and it is our responsibility as adoptive parents to remind our children that skin color, race or origin are not important. It is a miracle that parents like my wife and I are blessed by having the opportunity to be mom and dad as well as our children to have parents who though may not have the same blood but have higher and stronger bonds than some natural families do. Keep in mind that we owe God and not people the loving opportunity to share a bit of our lifetime to dedicate it to children who have been denied by their parents and the opportunity we have been given to raise them as well as to know what it is to be a mom and dad.

Posted by: M. S. Boca | March 24, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I adopted a five year old boy (now 7) from Russia. It has been an amazing journey as we observe his seamless transition to life in the US. After only 16 months he is as Americanized as any child born here.

Posted by: Kevin | March 24, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Hello all. My wife and I are considering adoption (we currently have a 2 y.o. daughter by birth) and I am curious why it seems so many parents go the foreign, rather than domestic, adoption route. I am wondering if we are missing an angle here. Can anyone briefly point out the differences?

Posted by: Christopher | March 24, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse


A domestic adoption is rarely, if ever, categorically final. You can never breathe a sigh of relief that your family is your family without threat of legal challenge. With a foreign adoption, after your one-year home assessment, it's highly unusual to face a legal challenge from the birth parents. That finality enables you to focus on creating permanence, stability, and growing those cords.

Posted by: anonforthis | March 24, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

It is completely inaccurate to say that a "domestic adoption is rarely, if ever, categorically final." I have worked in adoptions for 20 years and have never known even one to be reversed. If you look at the high publicity stories of adoption reversals, every single one had clear legal flaws and never should have been finalized by the judge. If you hire an experienced and ethical attorney and take time to follow all the regulations, once the adoption happens it is final. Please do not be frightened of adopting because of an untrue and alarmist comment. In my experience, people adopt internationally because the children available tend to be younger than those available domestically.

Posted by: fireweed | March 24, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

"I have worked in adoptions for 20 years and have never known even one to be reversed. If you look at the high publicity stories of adoption reversals, every single one had clear legal flaws and never should have been finalized by the judge."

That's quite a sweeping statement and it's interesting that you are quick to label as alarmist and untrue the reality that the US system tends to favor keeping birth families intact. I label that neither good nor bad but fact.

You've been in the adoption business for twenty years and have never heard of a father successfully challenging an adoption because he did not give consent? A father who couldn't be found when the baby was initially adopted?

You've never heard of a birth mother deciding to keep her baby after telling a couple she would cede her rights to them?

You've never heard of a birth mother deciding to give her baby to another couple instead of the couple she'd initially chosen?

If these events are what you label "clear legal flaws", you may be correct about the law and yet you are minimizing a wrenching experience that results in the separation of a child and adoptive parents who thought they had made a family. One hopes that that choice is best for the child. It is inevitably nonetheless devastating for the adoptive parents. This is not some bloodless transaction. A good lawyer can advise adoptive parents of the nature and type of risk. She cannot eliminate all risk. And there is cost to that advice.

This topic can be discussed honestly without tossing incendiary labels around.

Posted by: anonforthis | March 24, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

On the subject of domestic vs foreign adoptions: I think both anon & fireweed are correct. People do fear that a domestic adoption will be challenged down the line (certainly it's rare, but not unheard-of) and yes, it's much easier to get a younger child from China, Russia, Vietnam etc. But is it necessarily selfish to want a younger child? More selfish, for example, than having multiple biological kids and never considering adoption?

As an adoptive parent, the one negative comment that I get from people (never adoptive parents themselves!) is: why didn't you adopt from the U.S.? My reply: what does it matter? Do kids from one place deserve a family more than others?

Posted by: amy | March 24, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Christopher, another part of the answer is that domestic adoptions are much more difficult than a good many foreign adoptions, especialy for those who seek the stereotypical "healthy white baby." Also, the costs of a good many domestic adoptions are generally a lot higher than for (some) foreign adoptions.

Those who adopt from foreign countries, almost by definition, tend to be a lot more open and a lot more flexible than most domestic adopters, in my experience. Foreign adopters don't mind (and sometimes want) a child(ren) of another race and/or culture. On average, domestic adopters (who are usualy white) want a white child who "looks like us."

(Yes, there are many exceptions, but in my [extensive] experience, what I've just said is "the general rule of thumb.")

Waiting lists for domestic healthy white babies are so long they might as well be just about "impossible" -- unless one chooses to go to the "black market" which is horrendously expensive), or go out and find (or know of) a pregnant woman for what is known as a "private" adoption.

Back when we did our three adoptions, Korea was easily the preferred country because it was comparatively "quick" (1 to 2 years, tops), "easy" and less expensive than any other foreign adoption (about $5,000 25 years ago; I don't know what it is now).

Yet another factor is that many domestic adoption agencies are affiliated with a particular religious denomination, which often have restrictions on adoptive parents (for domestic adoption, Assoociated Catholic Charities wants only Catholic adopters but its international program is open to any religious affiliation; Lutheran agenciess want only Lutherans, Mormon agencies want only Mormons, etc. Althouigh there are many exceptions, it is often just one more hurdle that limits a lot of people in domestic adoption.)

(In addition to adopting three times from Korea, my wife and I taught "how-to-adopt" classes for a group called FACE -- Families Adopting Children Everywhere -- and were very active with our agency, which happened to be Associated Cathiolic Charities, Baltimore office, whom I highly recommend.)

Posted by: Father of 3 from Korea | March 24, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Amy - I truly commend your decision to adoppt. I plan to do the same myself in a few years. To your question: why does it matter, do kids from one place deserve a family more than others? I believe that children who live in the US should be adopted by families here first before we go overseas and adopt other children. I prefer to take care of home first before I take care of other people's situations. Every child deserves love and a family, especially those right in our backyards. I just honestly cannot understand leaving "Our" children to grow up feeling unloved. Best wishes to you, your daughter sounds like a great little girl.

Posted by: Yes I Plan To Adopt | March 24, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Well I personally know two couples who have both experienced tremendous difficulties associted with domestic adoption. No adoptions were ever reversed but in both cases the families kept the child for around one year on the path to adopting the child. In both cases the fathers took action at the last moment to take custody of the children. The heartbreak for both families has been enormous. One of the couples has recently adopted from China the other managed a domestic adoption of a newborn who has turned out to have enormous emotional problems.

Posted by: rumicat | March 24, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised no one has mentioned one of the biggest roadblocks to domestic adoption: in the US the birth mother gets to choose the adoptive parents. So parents must spend months assembling a dossier, and hope that they are judged worthy. If both parents work outside the home, it is highly unlikely that they will be chosen. (This refers to infant adoption.)

Regarding the comments about the race of the baby, as an adoptive mother I have met many adoptive parents and have *never* heard anyone mention that they want a baby that "looks like them". (This is why so many of us go to China or Korea or Central America even if we are Caucasian) I have, however, heard the opposite: that most social workers are hesitant or refuse to place African American children with white parents.

Posted by: Pat.99 | March 24, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I adopted my daughter from India. She is now selecting which of many colleges she prefers. International adoption opens up your family to be citizens of the world. I recommend holding them a lot and doing everything you can with them. Our extended family is quite large and we often notice how much my daughter is like her other relatives in preferences and disposition. Don't worry about it. You will do fine. Families are formed in the soul. I always reminded her that I am her real mother--she just had two real mothers. She has also adopted the usual American attitude--take what you like from the old country and make your new home the way you like it. There are also many wonderful Korean and Korean- American role models. Adopting my daughter is the best decision I ever made. Enjoy!

Posted by: Deborah | March 24, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

"in the US the birth mother gets to choose the adoptive parents."

Pat.99, that is only sometimes true (usually in "private" adoptions, seldom true in agency adoptions unless it is a specific agency rule).

Also, people don't openly "say" they want a baby that looks like them, but if you do some carefully questioning, sometimes it is the case. For instance, some will try to pick kids with blond hair, because they have blond hair, and think a flaming redhead, say, or a brunette, or whatever, might stand out as being "not theirs" biologically. If you think that isn't trying to "look like me/us," then you haven't been paying attention. The "look like me" thing is also often accompanied by feelings that the adopters want to keep the adoption as low-profile and "secret" as possible, so as few people as possible know about. Yes, this is rare -- but it *does* happen.

Look, what a lot of the discussion is missing is the fact that adoption is an *extremely* broad field, with dozens (if not hundreds) of variables, and it is often hard to generalize (which unfortunately I sometimes do myself).

Second, at least among adoptive parents, there is a pretty broad understanding NOT to judge the preferences of other adopters. If you want a healthy white infant, that's fine. If you're willing to take an older child, that's great too (i.e., you aren't crazy of "asking for it"). If you want foreign, that's cool. If you want twins, that's nice.

There are couples who have lost a (bilogical) child, whether through disease, or an accident or whatever (sometimes even just a miscarriage), who want to adopt a child "who looks like me" not for any racial/racist reasons, but simply to "replace" the lost child. While this isn't "wrong," per se, we do know that one can never "replace" a child with another, and a couple that starts off trying to replace a child (and I have worked with a few couples who have had this feeling) generally need counseling to work this out. This does NOT mean they should be talked out of adopting; it only means they need to work through a lot of their grieving.

Posted by: Father of 3 from Korea | March 24, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I am coming pretty late to this discussion. But I am an adoptee myself and my husband has a half brother and sister who were adopted by his father and his step mother. I was adopted from Viet Nam in the early 1970s. AFter giving birth to our daughter, we sought to adopt another child from Viet Nam. Not because we wanted a child to look like me, my biological daughter, doesn't look like me or my husband per se. But because I wanted that strong cultural connection to Viet Nam. I also figured if we were ever going to do some Asian travel it would be to Viet Nam. I thought both our adoption stories would blend and it would give us a deep connection. Because our daughter was diagnosed at age 3 with mild autism, the social worker balked at our adoption application. To this day, I think she was wrong. My daughter now talks in full sentences and interacts with her peers. She still has some social challenges but she is doing just fine. Anyway, we ended up getting pregnant late last year with our son. But I will always feel a part of me was not fulfilled because we did not adopt. Maybe we will try again in a few years when my oldest daughter can prove she is doing well. But some people adopt for cultural resons. I also have a good friend who adopte a beautiful toddler from Russia. In the beginning, she choose Russia because she could get a healthy white toddler (not infant). She felt she did not want to be the poster child for adoption. That is the way some Caucasian parents feel with their non Caucasian children. But now she thinks it was silly because she gets asked about her daughter's origin all the time from strangers. Her daughter has very dark brown hair and she is an auburn. So I don't think it is just to get children that look like you or racist reasons. I also read a statistic that the vast majority of adoptions in the US are between other blood relatives. Like a grandmother or uncle adopting their own blood relatives. And that the majority of children placed for adoption are from the foster care system. So these kids are older (in gneral) and may come with a host of issues regarding why they are placed in foster care to begin with. I don't think it is selfish or unrealistic to say that you don't want to take on an older child or one with known problems. It is simply being realistic. And to all those people who say you should adopt domestically, I have one question for you. How many US children have you adopted?

Posted by: foamgnome | March 25, 2008 8:11 AM | Report abuse

As for why people are hesitant to adopt domestically, I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fact that most US adoptions (especially of babies) are "open adoptions." A lot of parents are very hesitent to have the birth mother of their kids be a part of their lives, since you have know way of knowing just how involved this person may want to become down the road. There was an article in the post magazine a few months ago which described such an arrangment, where the birth mother even came and stayed with the adopted family on a regular basis. I think a lot of people would be very uncomfortable with this.

Posted by: va | March 25, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Oh, it is also much, much harder to find a child to adopt domestically. Because of improved birth control, access to abortion, and the removal of the stigma associated with single motherhood, there just aren't as many babies being put up for adoption as there were, say, 20 years ago.

Posted by: va | March 25, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

On "Does it matter where they were born?"

I have been on many adoptive family discussion boards, and it always boils down to this--some people have a stronger feeling of national citizenship and feel as you do, that it is best to adopt domestically. Others have a stronger feeling of world citizenship and feel it doesn't matter where you adopt from, that a baby is a baby and all babies deserve a family. This is why US families adopt from other countries and families from other countries adopt from the US.

It is not better in general to adopt domestically or internationally, baby or older child, healthy or special needs. What matters is what is right for one family and one child.

In the end, what is boils down to is that worldwide there are more children available for adoption than there are families wanting to adopt. In some US states, legislators have sought to place limits on who can adopt--no singles, no gays, etc. Well, as an adoption veteran, to that I say as long as there are children without families, why are we restricting any child's opportunity to have a loving family? Further, I have challenged legislators to consider adopting a waiting child themselves--for if they are not willing to reduce the number of waiting children by adopting one or more themselves, then I think they need to seriously question whether they should be passing laws that restrict the already limited pool of people able and willing to adopt waiting children.

Posted by: I have adopted | March 25, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

We adopted our baby girl from a south african country when we were living there two years ago. We were open to any age but the social worker in the country placed us with an 18-month old who had been in an orphanage for a year. While she has always been a smart, beautiful little firecracker of a girl, we look back at those first pictures of her when we were fostering and see the worry that was on her face as she adjusted and came to know that we would always be there for her. She is now a confident, happy 3 1/2 year old who is learning her letters, talks up a storm, loves to do cartwheels and dress up in dangerously high heels and loves her friends and family.

As an interracial family, we want to try to live in progressive, mixed neighborhoods as much as we can to help her not feel isolated. We do get the adoption comments from strangers on the street but mostly as you settle into a neighborhood everyone gets to know you and the race factor becomes just part of who you are.

We chose to adopt internationally somewhat for humanitarian reasons -- the need is just so much greater there than in the U.S., where at least there is a baseline social welfare system and waiting parents. In the case of our daughter, her mother and known relatives were deceased and the father is unknown, so you do have a permanence in the process although we would have loved to ahve more family connections and information to give our daughter as she grows.

Good luck to all of you out there starting or thinking about the adoption process!

Posted by: Chicago mom | March 25, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

"Yet another factor is that many domestic adoption agencies are affiliated with a particular religious denomination, which often have restrictions on adoptive parents"

"In some US states, legislators have sought to place limits on who can adopt--no singles, no gays, etc."

Foreign adoption for Gay and Lesbian couples is almost completely banned. Guatemala used to be possible but no longer. Vietnam is possible for single parent using the right agency and not declaring your sexuality. But by and large foreign adoption is not an option.

Posted by: Potential Dad | March 25, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company