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Our International Adoption Love Story, Part II: The Home Study

This is part 2 of a 3-part series in honor of National Adoption Month. For part one, go here.

“Oh, well! You can always just adopt kids!”

When people say this phrase, I hear, “Oh, well! If dinner burns you can always just order a pizza!” It’s very obvious that these unhelpful advisors have only conceived babies in one way: The fun and easy way that takes about [fill in the blank—take your liberties, it’s fine] minutes.

Let’s not confuse this with the process of adoption which is a legitimate part-time job for about one half of one whole year. I am not exaggerating. There are so many moving parts.

When we started the adoption process, we had to identify our home study agency and our placement agency. The placement agency is responsible for forwarding all documents overseas, matching us with a child, and facilitating travel, visas, and finalization paperwork. The home study agency is responsible for helping us gather all of the required documents, coming to our home to interview us and inspect for safety, and submitting a report compiling all of that information to our placement agency. In many cases, these are often the same agency; in our case, they were not.

I will break down our first adoption home study process into 10 easy steps:

Step 1: Background check. Pay perfect strangers to investigate your medical records (physical and mental health), tax returns from the last 3 years, financial security (including all investments, income, debt, savings, spending, etc), state and federal background checks, and pet vaccination records.

Step 2: Criminal background check. Go to have fingerprints done between the opening hours of 830-1030am on Tuesdays. Wonder how anyone who works a full time job gets her fingerprints done at this time of day. 

Fingerprints expire after six months. Repeat Step 2. The fingerprint lady appears put out to see you again.

Step 3: Get others to confirm that you are a normal human. Ask your friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else who won’t say you’re a complete lunatic to write you a letter of recommendation. Ask your boss to sign and notarize a letter confirming your annual income. Ask insurance company for a letter of coverage. You and your spouse will each fill out a separate 52 page questionnaire about your background, every address you’ve lived at since you turned 18, your degrees, your resume, your parents, your siblings, and your siblings’ spouses.  

Identify someone who will care for your unknown child in the event of your untimely death. Ask those people to please disclose all of their financial assets to the stranger.

Wonder how anyone gets out of this process alive.

Step 4: Prove you are free of disease. Have labs drawn to prove that you don’t have communicable diseases. Ignore the judgement of the lab tech when you arrive on a small military base to have HIV testing done with your husband. Silently hope they’ll stop judging you without having to disclose that this is all part of an elaborate plan to have a baby. Pee in a cup to prove you’re not on drugs. Decide that drugs might help.

Labs expire after six months. Repeat Step 4 and go back to the lab for another HIV test with your husband …

Step 5: Attempt to keep busy. You start to wonder how anyone is ever going to write a letter of recommendation saying you’re not insane when you feel like the craziest person alive.

Building a family is always in the back of your head. Always. ALWAYS.

Focus on nothing else until everything you can possibly DO is done. Run out of things to do.

Fabricate tasks to do to gain control over your situation: Call to check on the status of background checks, email your home study agency, look up information on countries, dream of a nursery that might not materialize in you current home, and finally decide you’re not going to move any baby things to a new house unless you have a baby. 

Step 6: Prepare for the social worker’s visit to your home. Clean for no less than 8 days prior to them coming. When you think you’re done, clean the cleaning supplies. Check and recheck your smoke alarms, making sure that they are within the required feet of all bedrooms and kitchens. Buy lock boxes for your toxic cleaning supplies and put your knives on the top shelf of the cabinet. Exercise your dogs to the point of exhaustion so that they will sleep during the interview.

Bathe and groom your dogs. Bathe and groom yourself. Finally, calmly welcome the stranger to sit at your table and ask you invasive questions.

Step 7: The interrogation. For three hours, explain to a person who holds the key to your family planning why you want to have children, why you’d be good parents, and your viewpoints on parenting strategies and theories. Vow to never use corporal punishment with your adopted child and sign a document to prove it to this stranger.

Have it notarized. 

Show them your fire extinguishers, your locked cleaning supplies, and your out-of-reach medicine cabinet. Field questions about how you were raised and parented, how your families feel about adoption, if your family members are racist, and if you think they will accept an internationally adopted child into the family. Answer questions about your religious views. As articulately as possible, describe what it means to be culturally sensitive and how you will incorporate your child’s heritage into their life.

Narrate, in detail, your courtship, your marriage, your stressors and your personality style for dealing with conflict.

Step 8: Be blown away by information you thought you already knew. Listen as they talk to you about attachment, about how to facilitate attachment with a child who hasn’t had a steady caregiver, like, ever. Accept a prescription for 10-15 hours of mandatory online education courses about adoption, attachment, and medical conditions. Become terrified by what you are learning. Listen as they describe the struggles of adopted children, unknown medical and social histories, and being a conspicuous multi-racial family. Listen as she asks what your fears are about being a parent. Wonder where to start. Carefully word your weaknesses, because, after all, this is an interview.

Step 9: Answer questions about what kind of child you’re looking for: gender, age, race. Decide if you are open to multiple children. Disclose what special needs you *think* you can handle.

Struggle with the unnaturalness of hand-picking a child among swarms of children who need families. Think to yourself how much easier it would be if you could just get pregnant and take whatever comes your way. Decide not to say this out loud.  

Suddenly the sound goes off in the room even though the social worker is still talking. Sit and wonder about your child. Has he been born? Has he even been conceived yet? Is his mother struggling? Think about a pregnant mother and the 40 weeks of agony carrying a child who will lead to your greatest joy and her greatest sadness. Decide never to take that for granted, ever.

Wonder if anyone is answering your future child’s cries, making sure he’s well fed, and giving him biologically and psychologically necessary touch and interaction. Wonder if anyone rocks him, makes him feel unconditionally loved and safe. Become infinitely sad because you know that the answer is probably, no. Curse the bureaucracy of the adoption process that keeps you from your child for so long.

Step 10: Feel slightly violated by this process. The sheer amount and type of information you just shared with a stranger who is in charge of putting their stamp of approval on your ability to successfully parent a child is daunting. Stress about what she will write about you. Lose sleep before deciding it went okay-ish. Receive an approved home study report. Celebrate with wine simply because you can when you’re not pregnant. Decide that’s a pretty nice perk to adopting when living in Northern Italy.

One step closer …

Come back tomorrow for part 3 of this series! Find part 1, here.

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