When Hopper and I decided to adopt, I started to do research, because that's how I roll. I looked at websites for adoption agencies and read about the differences between domestic and international adoption and talked to my cousin who had adopted from China and, once we settled on international adoption, read the State Department website for every country it's legal for Americans to adopt from.
And I found adoption.com.
I've heard that things have changed over there, but in those days (lo, these many years ago) there was a great community in the forums at adoption.com. I made a couple of internet friends with whom I'm still in touch online (Hi, Andy, Heather and Crick!) and then one day somebody noticed that everyone in the Russian adoption forum was from New Jersey.
Long story short, we started a support group. There are currently nine families in the group. Six of us were from that original group. One came along a couple of months later. One joined us a few years after that when her two boys came home, and one is a recent addition whose prospective daughter is one of the 300.*
Over the years, this has proved to be a priceless connection. Not only because all of these families have become dear friends, but because of the support the group provides. It is refreshing to be with a group of people who understand and value your family structure. I remember the first time I met these women in person, one of them asked me, "Why did you decide to adopt from Russia?" And I realized that she just wanted to know. She wasn't saying I shouldn't adopt, or should adopt from somewhere else, or should know this or that about Russia. She just wanted to know because she was also adopting from Russia. And I relaxed parts of my brain that I didn't know were stressed.
Since that time, we've been through babyhood and preschool and now most of our kids are in fourth or fifth grade. October marks the tenth anniversary of one of our kids coming home, and over the next year most of the children in the original group will mark their tenth adoption anniversaries. It's been fascinating watching this group of kids grow together. My favorite, now, are the pool parties, because Boo loves swimming so much and it's fun to watch all of the kids having epic water battles or teaching each other to do cartwheels off the diving board.
All of the kids are doing well. One, who was adopted at age five or six, has some serious psychological issues, but I imagine she was removed from her birth parents for a reason, and she has traumas other than an orphanage in her past. However, she has discovered a tremendous artistic talent which her parents have nurtured and her talent has gotten her into a specialized high school program where she is flourishing. Update: 9/23/13 This girl's mom points out to me that she knows about ten other kids in her daughter's grade who have the same psychological condition her daughter does, none of whom was adopted. And that with the help she's been able to get, her daughter has bonded with her family, learned English, worked hard at her talent--really hard--and is doing well in school. She also has normal friendships, age-appropriate levels of drama, and a good relationship with her brother who was also adopted from Russia at age 3 a few years ago.
And that is our "worst case scenario." Other than that, we've got a totally normal group of kids. Perhaps there's a higher than average rate of ADHD diagnosis in the group. A few kids are on medication for it and get special help in school. A few see therapists. Out of eleven kids we have six IEPs, including the girl I described above. We also have one child who is classified as gifted and who skipped a grade. But all of the children are in regular schools, mostly public schools. All of the children are in intact families. No disrupted adoptions. There have been no calls to the police or DYFS. No trips to respite care.
Update 9/23/13: Another mother in our group pointed out that we have three moms in the group who adopted/are adopting as singles. One of them got married after her first adoption and went back with her husband to adopt a second child from Russia. One has been a single mom for ten years. The third is the one caught in the ban. But my friend points out that some people find it hard to socialize in a mixed group of singles and couples. We never have. Sometimes we meet just moms, sometimes whole families. Whoever can come, comes, and we hang out.
I don't mean to suggest that adopting a child from an institution is easy, or that we haven't all had our moments. One of the great things about having a support group is having people you can say the horrible things to--the things you think at your worst moments--and know you won't be judged and your words won't be thrown back at you later, because your friends have all been there too. When one of us does have a problem or a worry about a child, it helps to be able to mine our collective brains which are chock full of information about post-adoption issues from attachment disorder to post-traumatic stress to every learning disability you can name. Whatever the problem, one of us has consulted a Social Worker or an adoption agency or a book or a website or a Teacher about it. Together, we know pretty much everything, and we can always come up with a plan of action.
But really, that's just that village Hillary Clinton wrote about, right? Because parenting, like life, is a series of problems you have to solve. And I'm glad I'm not in it alone.
*If you're not up on international adoption politics, Russia has banned adoption by Americans and about 300 children who already met their prospective parents are not able to complete their adoption processes. Sadly, my friend is one of the prospective adoptive parents who got stuck in this torturous limbo.