Thinking About Adoption?

January 13, 2007


The missus and I are pretty open on-line about our daughter, whom we adopted from South Korea in April 2006. So every couple of weeks, someone sends me a note that says, roughly: “Me or someone I know is thinking about adopting. Where can I start?”

We’re in the U.S. but the following points probably hold true in most places…


If you’re planning on adopting internationally, each country has different requirements. Korea has the toughest: you have to be under a certain age, not obese, no health issues, married, etc. China has far more relaxed rules, though things are tightening there now too. Guatemala is another place to look into. Russia is popular too and has a strong, well-oiled program.


Some countries require that you travel abroad to attend court meetings, etc. Korea doesn’t and there are a few others like that, but most do.

Attachment Issues

You want a little one that’s been in an orphanage as little as possible because, no matter how good the orphanage, the standard of care is just not that great. Specifically: nutrition, health, developmental and emotional issues. It’s not the end of the world if the child doesn’t arrive home until 12 months old, or even a bit later, but it is a consideration in terms of emotional issues. You want to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible—so the earlier the better. This is why we looked into Korea and Guatemala: in both countries the children stay with foster mothers, so they have great bonding abilities. However, Korea is slowing down its program so you’d need to research carefully now. If we were to adopt again, we’d probably look into China.

Health 1

Our decision was to stress health over any other consideration. For example, looks are important to some people in terms of having a child that looks like one of the family. As it happens, we got a supermodel but the only thing we stressed to the agency was health, health, health. You don’t always have your pick there but if, as in our daughter’s case, two referrals come into the agency at the same time and only one couple is stressing health, the other couple will get the less healthy child. It’s more of a concern with some countries than others. Research will lead you down the right path.

Health 2

Some countries provide very good health records (immunizations, health issues, genetics, etc.) and some countries don’t. There is always an uncertainty factor that you just have to live with. When you think about it, it’s not such a stretch: pregnancy has its own risks.


Go to any major bookstore and flick through their adoption and parenting sections. There’s an incredible amount of info available now. It’s not like the old days, with all that secrets and lies and shame crap. There’s a U.S. magazine called “Adoptive Families” which is absolutely fantastic and I’d imagine there’s something like it available from the UK market. Maybe there’s even something specific to the Irish market. And, as always, give Google a spin. There are some good links at the bottom of this article too.


The current thinking is that your child, by the time they become an adult, should have been told everything about their background that’s known. This can involve some fairly brutal details. There’s always sadness in adoption stories because no-one wants to give a child away—our daughter’s story happens to be very pleasant and loving—but you may have to consider a story that involves dire poverty, drug abuse, murder, violence, incest, abandonment, and race. No matter what, you always have to confront a lot of unknowns: genetics, health, family history. A child is a child is a child. You don’t think about any of that when someone hands you a picture of an innocent baby. But adoption can involve heavy stuff.

Cultural Reasons Children are Placed for Adoption

One of the reasons we went with Korea was that the children there are given up for cultural reasons: for all their techno-savvy it’s practically impossible for single mothers over there, and its even harder for their children. In China, the one child policy means lots of girls are up for adoption. So, in both countries it’s not war or abuse or poverty or famine, which are the kinds of reasons children are placed for adoption in other countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, and Western countries.


Yes, it’s expensive. In the US there’s very good tax relief, so in the long run it’s not too bad. But in Ireland things are oddly unprogressive. You might have to shoulder most of the financial burden.


No matter what, it’s a roller-coaster. The paperwork, the interviews, the money and, worst of all, the waiting. Our process seems to have been easy as things generally go, but we thought it was tough! The waiting was definitely the hardest: you see a picture and get a few details and, from that moment on, your heart will just not stop. Every day you’re waiting for the call. It’s tough. Then the agency calls and tells you they forgot some piece of paper and it’s going to delay things another week. Then that happens again. It’s really stressful. But, in the end, someone puts your little one in your arms and you forget all that. Truly.


The culture around adoption has changed significantly since we were children. In the U.S. it’s its own demographic. Asian adoptees are their own demographic. In fact, even Korean adoptees constitute their own demographic! That’s how common it is. And there are enough open-minded people in the world now that an interracial family, with an obviously-adopted child, elicits warm smiles and coochee-coos from strangers in the supermarket aisle.

Adoption is a wonderful thing. We wish you the best.

Onine for American Parents

Online for Irish Parents


5 Responses to “Thinking About Adoption?”

  1. kristine Says:

    Hi! Thanks for the great article.
    My husband and I are just beginning the process of adopting a baby girl from China. Health is also of the utmost importance for us. Can you please tell me at what point you stressed the health factor?

  2. Sean Says:

    Hi Kristine—best of luck to you and your hub. I know several couples who are looking into China right now and I’m very excited for them.

    To be honest, I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. I believe we first submitted an application to our agency and then had a meeting with them, with the woman who was to become our social worker.

    Right away, we had very good rapport with her. In that first meeting, if my memory is working, she asked us what was most important to us in terms of any selections that might have to be made relating to health. She was quite explicit and said that sometimes a baby might come in as the result of incest and such babies are more prone to mid-line problems (spinal stuff), or there may be alcohol involved in the baby’s backstory. Stuff like that. We simply said that we didn’t care what the baby looked like, where it was from, etc., but that our main concern was health. We said we would be open to anything, even some of the more bleak cases, but that we would make any decisions based primarily on health, so that was really our only concern. She just made a mental note and that was that.

    During the following weeks and months, it came up handful of times in conversation with the agency and we would always just stress the health angle. I mean, not in a pushy way, just to reiterate it as our point of focus.

    A couple of months later, two referrals came from Korea. One had significant alcohol in the history. We didn’t see that referral. Our social worker simply picked Ellie for us and sent us the picture and medical report. She said to go home and think about it for 24 hours. We said we’d think about it for 24 hours and then tell her, “Yes.”

  3. kristine Says:

    Thanks! Very helpful information.
    And Ellie is absolutely beautiful! Congratulations!

  4. Beaman Says:


    Nice write up. We have two beautiful children from S. Korea!

    I didnt have trouble with the wait. Probably due to all the house/room prep, but I was so excited and it flew by. My wife, however, was a bit different 😉

    Where did you find out about Korea slowing down its adoptions?

  5. Sean Says:

    We first heard about it from our agency. They’ve been getting fewer and fewer babies coming through from South Korea—to the point that they might have to shut down their Korean program if things don’t improve. But cultural changes are also happening in Korea with pressure groups arguing for the abolishment of the Confucian family register, and the government taking steps to make it easier for citizens to adopt in-country. Frankly, that’s good news for the kids. Though it’s bad news for international parents hoping to hook into the oldest and best-run international adoption program in the world.

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