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>Nice Place to Visit But…

February 9, 2011

>I Wouldn’t Want to Live There


There is nothing new about waiting in adoption. To be honest, while I wish eduction on situational anxiety had been part of my pre-adoption education classes at CHSFS eight years ago, at that time, the wait between referral and travel for families in the Korea program was 8-12 weeks. So while families had time to visit the island I described in my Story, it was short trip. They had just enough time to bump up their stores of Vitamin D and get a healthy tan before their travel call came.

The new thing (relatively speaking) in the Korean adoption world is that while a few parents are still blessed to travel 10-12 weeks after referral acceptance, the majority know at the time they accept their referral, that they will be waiting 11 months to bring home their child. In some cases (sibling referrals) families tack another 2-4 months onto the 11.

Families are now living on the island and I am not aware that anything has changed in equipping families to survive in that climate.

Unfortunately, unlike me as the author of that story, it is not possibly for any agency to simply take pity, relent, and unite these families with their children more quickly. (Believe me: if it was possible, families would travel in the minimum amount of time required for the U.S. and Korea to complete the paperwork.) But the issues pushing the wait to travel to 11 months are matters of Korean sovereignty. Any significant change in the system, if it comes, will have to come from inside Korea.

That leaves families trying to cope with a very long wait. I feel their pain because I’ve been there.

At the beginning of this series, I mentioned that my husband and I have attempted to adopt five children and have brought home three. Despite the 8-12 week average travel window back in 2003, I waited 11 months to bring home our first child. The baby we brought home, Mercy, was actually our second child because at the last minute, we lost our first referral. The quota cut-off fell the same week we accepted the first time, so we were also caught in the quota. We accepted in July, with the quota backlog, expected to travel the following February, accepted our second referral in March, and brought Mercy home in June.

The details of our first loss are not mine to share. But even without disclosing them, I imagine some  may think: “Well, of course you experienced high levels of situational anxiety! Losing a referral would be traumatic and after that, I you must have wondered if Mercy would come home or if the same thing would happen again!” That is right. But it would be wrong to infer that situations like that are so rare that not many families experience dysfunctionally high levels of situational anxiety during their wait.

Yes: the precise circumstances of our story are rare. That is why I assumed for so many years that my experience (it hit me  much harder than it did my husband) was isolated. But now that I’ve known hundreds of adopting moms in circumstances that allow us to be fairly candid, I believe situational anxiety during the adoption process is a universal experience, and dysfunctional levels of situational anxiety are common –even among women who do not experience a specific trauma like losing a referred child.

I believe that is true because we’re just now starting to see travel calls for the first families who had to wait eleven months to travel. The wait is like a roller coaster ride. A short ride with a few big dips is enough to make some riders queasy. But a longer ride with many smaller dips and rises can have the same effect. The majority of Korea program families now hold tickets to a very long roller coaster ride.

Recall that the factors that predispose waiters to higher levels of situational anxiety are not limited to adoption. Life does not withhold its ordinary stresses and surprises just because a family is already burdened with a long adoption wait. Eleven months is plenty of time for a lot of ‘life’ to happen. It is simply no longer good enough to assume that most waiters will not experience high levels of situational anxiety. We are already seeing it. The question is: what are we going to do about it?

If we cannot change the circumstances that send people to the island, then we must do a better job helping them cope with living there.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 10, 2011 9:55 am

    >Carrie, great series. Thank you. I do hope that some sort of change can happen to bring families together faster and that families can be made aware of situational anxiety in their parenting classes.

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