In honor of National Adoption Month, I interviewed Jennifer Grant, author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter. Jennifer describes herself as a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenaged children.
1) Since you and your husband already had three children, what made you decide to adopt?
As I describe in Love You More, I’d always liked the idea of having a big family. I’d miscarried between the births of my sons, and even after my daughter was born, I felt like someone was missing from the family picture. And then I had a spiritual experience that sealed it – I really felt God told me that I’d have another daughter, and this time by adoption.
2) Did you look at other countries, or were you set on adopting from Guatemala?
We weren’t set on any particular country. We both felt drawn toward international adoption, but we were open.
As is the case for many adoptive parents, we started out not knowing much about what would happen. We got licensed as foster parents and kept going to meetings at our agency, talking to others, doing research, praying for guidance, and, given our situation (as parents of three kids), the list of good matches kept getting shorter: we felt we couldn’t make extended trips abroad (some countries required those), and some countries don’t allow applicants already to have as many children as we had.
3) I know some countries have recently closed their doors to Americans hoping to adopt, is Guatemala one of them?
Guatemala is, essentially, closed to foreign adoption as are Cambodia, Vietnam, Senegal, and several other countries. Many of these nations (including Guatemala) have signed onto the Hague Convention, an international agreement that aims to prevent adoption abuse and unethical adoptions (trafficking of children, payment to birthparents for children, etc.), but haven’t yet completed all the steps to fully comply with it. Prospective adoptive parents can learn about a specific country and whether it is part of the Hague Convention by visiting the U.S. Department of State website.
4) What did it feel like when you first saw a picture of the little girl who would become your daughter? How old was she and what did she look like? Can you describe this moment?
When we received our referral – with photos and basic medical information (such as her weight at birth, etc.) – I felt relief, joy, and a kind of calm washed over me. I knew it was our daughter. I’d seen so many adorable babies and children on websites and in adoption materials, but somehow only she felt familiar to me. Like I already knew her. She was about six months old in the first pictures we received. She had big dark eyes and just a little black fuzz on top of her head.
5) How long did your adoption take?
From start to finish, it took about a year. I was quick with the paperwork – our agency said this sped things up for us. We went to Guatemala twice – once when Mia was about 10 months old just for a visit for a few days and then about seven months later to bring her home. Both trips were short (2-3 days) as our other kids were still quite young at the time (6, 4, and 3).
6) How did your other children react when you brought your daughter home?
They were happy. My oldest, Theo (now 17), recently told me that he was surprised when she came home both that she didn’t speak English and that she didn’t know us. We’d been looking at her pictures, praying for her, making her a part of our lives for months. But we were, of course, strangers to her. He didn’t tell me that at the time. When I asked him why he didn’t, he couldn’t remember. Young children can’t always articulate all that they are thinking and feeling, of course.
The older kids enjoyed Mia. Unlike bringing home a newborn, adopting a toddler meant that she could laugh and play right away. It was probably hardest for Isabel, then three. She went from being the youngest and the only girl to having this cute little sister that everyone was dying to meet, showering with presents, and so on.
As I tell in the book, we had some tricky times, but we all managed. Now the two of them couldn’t do without each other.
7) How old is she now and how is she doing?
Mia’s now 11 and in 6th grade. She’s doing great. She is fortunate to have some close friends her age in our neighborhood whom she’s known since kindergarten. They are such great girls – authentic and sporty and really kind to each other. She’s read Love You More, and we talk about her birthmother and her adoption a lot, as you might imagine. Theo described her as “brave” on her first night home. She is – there is a kind of stoicism to her. And she has a very sharp wit – she can slay us with a funny comment.
8) What advice would you give other parents who are interested in adopting but might be intimidated by the cost or unknowns?
There are so many great resources for parents who are considering adoption including websites and books (including, if I may recommend my own book, Love You More). I’d suggest that parents be very deliberate about talking with other adoptive parents, evaluating their resources (financial and otherwise), and being painfully honest with each other (if it’s a couple adopting) about their fears.
Parents who have strong support networks and adequate financial resources are happier and better equipped to parent. If it’s not the right time financially or a family is struggling to get over a major trauma, it may not be the right moment to adopt a child. I once read that when adoptive parents are certain that their child was meant to be with them, they are all better off and live more happily together. See this fun list on “How to be a Happier Parent,” too.