Three families tell Adele Brunner about their roads to adopting a child.
Pam and Ronnie Cherry have two daughters, Bailey, nine, and Lucy, six, who was adopted in Hong Kong.
Ronnie and I have always had a heart for adopted children. It is critical there is a 100 per cent alignment between husband and wife on the decision to adopt. In addition, my pregnancy and childbirth experience with Bailey were challenging, medically. To get pregnant again would have been a huge health risk to both myself and the baby. Our adoption experience was through the Social Welfare Department (SWD), which handles adoptions of children born and living here. You are assigned a social worker and are required to attend seminars and workshops organised by the SWD, plus interviews and home visits.
We needed to submit a number of background documents. Most of these were fairly straightforward such as comprehensive health screening, police clearance reports and income statements. The most important was a lengthy document, specifying preferences for age and sex as well as physical, social and emotional conditions children migh have. It sets the criteria for matching children with prospective parents. We found the process straightforward and professional, with no surprises. It was about two years before we took Lucy home but we have friends who were matched with their adopted baby in nine months. The department prioritises matching children with parents of the same race whenever possible – my husband is American and I am from the Philippines. The SWD also prioritises childless couples over families with biological children. But no two children or families are the same and these are not hard-and-fast rules. Lucy had been born with a cleft palate and a facial-cranial condition, requiring medical treatment. By the time we were contacted, she had already undergone three operations and would likely need additional surgery as she grew. We were given a copy of her medical reports and had a week to confirm the adoption placement.
We were not allowed to meet her until we had made our final decision. Ronnie and I consulted relevant medical specialists and, within three days, it was clear to us that this baby girl would join our family. The following week, we met Lucy at her foster home, where she had been living since she was a month old. Lucy was nine months old when she came home with us, about three weeks after being matched. It was a bit of a whirlwind. Having raised a child before, we felt ready to be parents again but the circumstances were obviously different so there was a steep learning curve in the first year. It was a big adjustment for Lucy and for us. Our daughter, Bailey, has always been part of our family’s adoption journey. She loves Lucy unconditionally and her amazing attitude has been a source of strength and encouragement for our whole family.
Andrew and Olivia Crooke adopted their son, Caspian, three, from Russia.
No matter what country you adopt a child from, the adoption process can seem mind-bogglingly confusing and difficult, but it is fundamentally simple: follow the steps needed, submit the information, be committed, do everything asked of you… and your child will come home to you. We adopted our son, Caspian, from Russia and at times it was gruelling. But when you commit to adopting a child, you have instincts that kick in. In my view, I was already a parent. The difference was my child was somewhere out there and I didn’t know where. It was a choice between Russia, Thailand, Philippines, India, China or Hong Kong.
We were told that, once we were accepted into the Russian programme, we would have a child within 12 months so that was very appealing. And we had always wanted to visit the country. It took two years before we officially lodged our application with the Russian courts and the adoption took three years: we had to be married for three years but when we started, we had only been married for two. We had to complete a home study and dossier with International Social Services Hong Kong (ISSHK) before anything was submitted to the Russian authorities.
This was wonderful because ISSHK got to know us and it was great to talk through what it really meant to adopt. Once we’d gained their approval, we submitted our application. We then had direct contact with the Russian team and began gathering all the documents needed. Some things were difficult to get, because they had to come from Britain (where Andrew is from) and New Zealand (where I am from). We needed lawyers to get letters of permission to adopt from our home countries. At the time, it was frustrating but the two Russian agents who worked on our behalf were amazing. Their purpose is to find loving homes for children and they are passionate about their job. Once everything was in place, we had to visit Russia on four separate occasions.
We adopted from an orphanage in northwest Russia and all trips had to be done with both adoptive parents present. You don’t have any say in dates – you go when they say. We had to lodge an application with the Russian Ministry of Education and the courts on our first trip; we met Caspian, who was nine months old, on our second trip; and had to go to court on our third trip when we won our hearing to become his legal parents. We had to leave the country and return 30 days later to pick him up. The most amazing thing was booking a return journey for three people, not two! Russian rules state that for three years after adopting you have to have post-placement reviews, twice in the first year and once a year for two subsequent years. You have to submit a report with photos and have a social worker visit to check everything is going smoothly. Caspian came to us as a happy little boy and he now rules the roost. He is smart, funny, confident and loving, and has been since the day we picked him up. He is our miracle.
We don’t feel we would love him any more than if he was biologically ours. I sometimes feel sad knowing that later in life he may face confusion or hurt about his biological background, but we will make sure we are always there for him. We are very open about his adoption story and will raise Caspian with full knowledge, leaving nothing out. In our opinion, he has a story to empower him – to remember that his birth mother placed him in an orphanage so he would find a loving family. Motherhood has changed me fundamentally, yet in so many ways I am still the same. I used to worry about my own life coming to an abrupt halt when we got a child, but in no way has that happened. Caspian fitted in straightaway. He was 15 months old when he came home and if I was ever worried about bonding, I needn’t have. The love was instant and it put all the worrying about whether I would know what to do out the window.
Parenting isn’t always easy. On some days everything can seem to go wrong but those days are still wonderful when you can hug and cuddle your little one. I am always available to be contacted by anyone wanting to chat about adoption. I am no expert but I must have done something right to be typing this while the most gorgeous little boy in the world is pulling at my arm.
Amy and Kevin Turner adopted their children, Andrew, 15, and Caroline, 13, from South Korea.
We were faced with the decision to proceed with IVF, remain childless or adopt. It took us about a year to make a decision but we did some research, talked to adoptive parents and decided to proceed. We chose South Korea because friends had a positive experience adopting there and infants in South Korea stay in foster homes [rather than an orphanage] until they are adopted, which was important to us. We were living in the United States, where we are from, and Korean adoptions for US citizens had to be processed through an American agency that worked with one of four government-sanctioned agencies in South Korea. For a first child, we were not able to specify gender but could indicate a preference for an infant. The mounds of paperwork were daunting.
We started at the police station having our fingerprints taken. We had to fill out applications, write an autobiography and have three meetings with a social worker before our children arrived and three visits after they were home. Our social workers were great and our agency was always available to answer questions. We met families who are friends to this day. Both adoptions took six months.
With Andrew, we started the process in November, received a referral in early April and he came home in late May, just shy of six months old. Caroline’s process was different. In October, we received a phone call from our social worker telling us our son had a little sister and would we be open to adopt her? Six months to the day, she was home. The children were escorted to Detroit, Michigan, by the agency. We drove to the airport with our extended families and it was an amazing experience both times. Andrew and Caroline transitioned really well into our family. We were given so much information regarding their habits, schedule and diet so that part was quite easy. We haven’t had any major issues related to their adoptions. We’ve talked about it constantly so they’ve grown up knowing they are adopted.
We also look nothing alike! We have tried to incorporate Korean culture into our family and living in Hong Kong has allowed them to blend in. They’ve attended Camp Sae Jong, a summer camp in Michigan for Korean-Americans and Korean adoptees. When we eventually return to the US our kids will once again be a minority, but the things we do now will hopefully benefit them in the future.
We travelled to South Korea in 2012 to meet their foster parents, which was great. The agency also allowed Andrew to review his adoption file but there was nothing new and the agency prefers adoptees wait until they are 18 to begin a birth parent search. Nowadays, South Korean adoptions take 18 months to two years. Adoption is not something to be taken lightly and both parents need to be on the same page. It’s a stressful and exciting time. You have to go into adoption with an open mind and an open heart. It’s a huge leap of faith and it won’t always go smoothly.
Read as much as you can especially the blogs of parents that have gone through the process. A good question to ask yourself is how you feel about changing the cultural and racial makeup of your family.