The International Adoption Experience: Living in the Great Unknown

The International Adoption Experience Living in the Great Unknown

I’m a compulsive list maker, and I write (full-time) for a living. Deadlines and “to dos” are always with me. The pressure of an approaching deadline can be stressful, but when that blog post, research project or magazine article is delivered, the relief is a beautiful thing.


The international adoption process though? It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Since we started the journey last fall, there have been numerous deadlines and “to dos” that have kept us focused, forging ahead, even frenetic at times. But I was familiar with deadlines and deliverables and daunting to do lists. The fast-paced collection and compilation of data and documents, followed by a thorough double- and triple-checking before presentation and a satisfying strike off the list, was business as usual.


Now, with our dossier (legal documents and official application) submitted, approved, signed, sealed and delivered to Bulgaria, there is nothing to do but wait. No more deadlines. No more tasks.


This is unfamiliar territory.


We’ve waited before—waited for our home study to be completed, for our immigration approval, for FBI clearances—but a new deadline or thing to do always distracted us while we waited. Waiting for that phone call or email delivering the news of our referral (a match with a child) is all that is required of us right now.


It’s not easy, especially when people ask (sometimes with a hint of skepticism in their voices), “Is anything happening with the adoption?” All we can say is yes and no. No, we don’t have anything to report, but across the sea in Bulgaria, yes, our information is sitting on someone’s desk, or being translated or being sent to the agency worker who is handling our case.


Here in Pennsylvania, I’m learning to live with the “Great Unknown.” Who our child will be. What he or she will be like. What parenting will be like. How we will all adjust to becoming a family, and a multicultural one at that. How others will respond to our multicultural family when we’re out in public. How we will understand our child before English becomes his or her first language.


Books and blogs, conversations with veteran adoptive parents, training modules and seminars have well prepared us for all these challenges. But none of them have been 100% specific to our child, our family, our experience.


Yet I’m learning to live in the present, without a deadline, with the “Great Unknown” and a giant looming question mark over the calendar. What I do know is that sometime in the hopefully not too distant future, we will have a new country to visit, a destination that will be tremendously significant to us for the rest of our lives. We know we will have a room to prepare. We know there will be sleepless nights and tantrums and flus, maybe even hospital visits. We know there will be people who will stare at our child, or ask us “where from?”


But most of all, at the end of the waiting, uncertainty and unknowns, we will have a child. A child to take to the zoo, the library, the beach, Grandma’s house. A child to go school supply shopping for (something I’m especially looking forward to). A child to honor and celebrate Bulgarian (and American, Norwegian, Italian, German, French, Irish, and Pennsylvania Dutch) traditions with. A child to learn from, laugh with, and love.


  1. We are also in the waiting period of an International adoption (from China), and I am also a writer (although much less so after 2 kids) so I share your feelings exactly!

  2. Oh, I know this feeling! Was there until just a year ago when we received our referral for our son. Now, we’re finally preparing to travel on Tuesday to meet him. The wait before and the wait after are both their own special difficulty, I wish you well during this time.

  3. Emily, so good to know that there are others who can relate on both points (the waiting and the writing)! Best to you in your waiting.

    Heather, I got the goose bumps just reading your comment. I’m so glad to hear you’re finally traveling to meet him! Yes, I imagine both waits will be difficult in their own unique ways. Thanks for your well wishes; all the best to you in your travels and the homecoming of your son!

    Mud Hut Mama, thank you for your compliment and for your encouragement. I hope for the same!

  4. Great article! Yes, the waiting is very difficult! I know you said you have prepared yourselves yet realize you can never fully prepare. This is true! We were in for many surprises our first year (especially with how incredibly challenging it can be if your child has attachment issues). One of my favorite books on adoption parenting is “Keys to parenting an adopted child”

  5. Hi Delana,
    Sorry for my delay in responding to your comment.

    Thank you! I’m glad you liked it and it’s always heartening to hear from others who understand exactly how difficult the waiting truly is. I appreciate you sharing this book recommendation, and thanks too for your honesty about the surprises and challenges of the 1st year. We anticipate that may be true for us, but we’re also trying to embrace this mantra too: “Don’t think so much about the things that could go wrong, but think instead of the things that could go right.” I’m paraphrasing that to be sure, but it’s a good thing to bear in mind. I also like this line from a Tom Petty song: “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”

    I will definitely check out that book. Thanks again for your comment!



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