Aside from the long-awaited referral call, for many families that choose to adopt internationally, the journey to another country to meet and legally adopt their new addition is one of the most exciting parts of the entire adoption journey.
It certainly was for us. It's a thrilling, dizzying time of preparations made at breakneck speed. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling to an exotic destination and the joyful anticipation of finally meeting the new baby or child.
In many cases, the adoptive family doesn't have much time between the Big Call and the Big Trip. In our first adoption, we traveled to Sri Lanka a mere two weeks after getting the call that told us the sex and age of our child. It's easy to get carried away with planning for the upcoming journey because throughout the whole adoption process, adoptive parents are left with little control. All the control we imagine we have over our lives, in terms of privacy, finances, timing, is stripped away until we realize somewhat painfully, that we are powerless, dependent. Then along comes this trip. Once again we have control. We can buy tickets, get vaccinations, give notice at work, pack our bags, decorate a nursery, celebrate with family and friends because for the first time in years, we have something concrete in our lives!
It is thrilling and breath-taking and wonderfully exciting, don't get me wrong. It's an adventure. Like any adventure however, on our journeys to meet our soon-to.be children, we didn't really know what to expect and surprise of all surprises, we didn't really have any control.
Here are five things we didn't expect (but perhaps should have) when we traveled to our children's birth countries to adopt.
1) That it's not a vacation.
My husband and I are travelers at heart and normally would have tried to soak up all we could in these fascinating, vibrant places, but these trips were not vacations and we weren't tourists. We were there for a reason and that reason was so all encompassing that it blocked out almost everything else for us. This isn't to say we didn't have some amazing experiences like riding elephants, visiting beautiful temples, and eating altogether too much incredible fish curry and fresh mango. We did have the chance to do some things that our guide suggested but the whole focus of our trip, the uncertainty of whether we would actually be allowed to adopt the baby we were visiting every day and coming to love, put our minds into "one track" mode. That mode was basic survival mode, catching moments of wonder where we could but mainly concentrating on the task at hand, adoption.
2) That it's tough.
We were overwhelmed. Our days were a mixture of stomach churning stress and mindless vegging out. The two kind of balanced each other out. We started almost every morning by smiling at each other over breakfast, squeezing each others hands and saying "We can get through this, remember, we've been through worse." This wasn't because we had bad attitudes, rather the opposite. We were positively acknowledging that this was tough and draining but we knew with all our hearts, it was also worth it. We usually ended our days collapsed on the hotel bed, ordering room service with good Sri Lankan beer. We were happy but we were exhausted.
3) That we were traveling to a country in recovery.
Many of the countries people adopt from are recovering in some way from some form of trauma. We knew that Sri Lanka's 30 year civil war had ended only four months before our arrival but knowing it intellectually and seeing the evidence of it before our eyes was a different experience for us. We were unprepared for the guards with machine guns outside the hotel or for check points or for having our taxi driver point out bullet holes in the wall where people had been executed as though it was just another sight to see.
4) That we would love it so intensely.
We weren't prepared for the intensity of the feelings we experienced for our children's birth countries. We feel that these places are a part of us, that they are knitted into our souls. The pride and love we feel for these countries is as strong as what we feel for our own lands.
5) That Not Everyone Will Approve Of International Adoption
Our instinct was to excitedly tell people we met that we were spending time in their country because we were adopting a child. We learned fairly quickly however not to announce that this in casual conversation. While many people had positive reactions, some people did not and the idea of a child being taken out of his or her country by foreigners upset them.
Everyone will have their own unique experiences with this. This is simply ours. The two trips we have taken to bring our children home have been the most exciting we've experienced. So if you are preparing for an adoption journey, God speed. It is worth every hurdle and challenge!