I have three sisters. Each time they became pregnant, bringing one of my nieces and nephews into the world, I went through the pregnancy "with" them, anticipating the new, joyous addition to our family.About nine years ago, my friend, Laurette, and her husband, Cornelius, decided to adopt a child. Laurette and I have been close friends since first grade, so it was natural that I became an anticipatory "Auntie" once again. But this time it was different. It was the longest, most complicated "pregnancy" I've ever experienced. The process took more than two years and was full of ups and downs, heartbreaks and elation, disappointments and triumphs. Was it worth it? You bet it was. It brought us Catalina.
My friends had been married for more than 10 years when they decided to adopt, and they were in their late 30s. They wanted so much to expand their loving relationship to include a child. Cornelius is German, and Laurette is of Egyptian and Armenian descent and works in international affairs. An international adoption felt right to them.
As a supporter of their adoption journey, I went through all the phases of anticipation with them. I wrote letters of support and verified their amazing capacity to love and raise an adopted child. They researched countries: They looked at how the adoptive children were cared for and what the bureaucratic red tape was like. They talked with other families who had adopted internationally. They took Spanish lessons and had home visits from social workers who evaluated their psychological status, their relationship, and how they kept their home. Visits often left them feeling that their whole lives were on display for examination.
Seemingly endless reams of legal paperwork were completed—in some cases only to find out that the rules had changed and they had to start all over again. Did you know that when you adopt internationally from some countries, you have to adopt the child in that country, bring the child home to the United States, and then essentially adopt them again? There were so many details to this process that it boggles my mind still.
When older parents adopt, their health is also scrutinized. To add to the complicated international adoption process, Cornelius had successfully been battling cancer for several years. He continues his fight with cancer, and he is an amazing father. His journey with cancer has, in many ways, made him an even better father. The lessons he is learning about life and how to live it are an incredible gift to his daughter.
When they finally met their daughter, Catalina, in person in Ecuador, Laurette and Cornelius felt that they had met her somewhere else before. She was 14 months old, and it felt as if they were always meant to be together. Most of the people I know who have adopted have felt the same way. In fact, when I met Catalina, I felt that a hole in our circle had finally been closed. Their families and friends—literally around the globe—welcomed her with celebration, presents, and joy. It was several years before all had been able to meet her in person, but to the scattered relatives, Catalina became a virtual family member after they received her photos, videos, and phone calls as she began to speak.
Adoption is a family event—from the time a decision to adopt is made, through the sometimes long and arduous process, to the welcoming of the child into the family both formally and informally. The support and acceptance of family and friends is essential. In some ways, more support is needed than in a conventional pregnancy.
Adoption forces all who are involved to examine closely their views on raising children, family connections, and the support system of friends who will interact with the child. In an adoption process, you actually have to put these things in writing. Most blood relatives never do that. If adopting, you have to consider whether and how your family will accept the child and treat it as any other child in the family. Adoption makes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends take a good look at themselves and how much they can open their hearts.
In many ways, I have felt that Catalina is an even more unique gift because of all that we went through to find her and bring her into the circle of love that her parents created for her.
Known for her expertise on family issues, Amy Goyer heads the AARP Foundation’s Grandparenting Program.