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Essay on Intercultural Adoption


For this topic discussion, a personal essay, complemented with helpful expert information, is provided to describe the experience and motivations of one family participating in an intercountry adoption.



Not flesh of my flesh

Nor bone of my bone

But still miraculously

My own.

Never forget

For a single minute

That you didn’t grow

Under my heart

But in it.

—Author unknown


My husband and I are adopting a baby girl, currently residing in a Calcutta, India orphanage. In January of 1997, we felt a strong urge to adopt a child from another country. Although we had had a six-month-old biological son, we couldn’t resist this stirring in our hearts. After months of research, we agreed to conduct our adoption through an intercountry adoption agency located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The agency coordinates adoptions with several countries; each country has a variety of stipulations for potential adoptive parents. Considering each country’s prerequisites for adoption, we narrowed our list to four countries from which we could adopt. At that point, we studied and discussed each of these countries. Soon, we felt a kinship with India.

Intercountry adoption is a growing trend for many adoptive families. The reasons for its popularity are many. First, most intercountry adoptions are closed. Many children involved in intercountry adoptions are orphaned at or soon after birth. Thus, biological parents of these orphans are nearly impossible to find. Considering recent stories of parents, children, or relatives seeking their biological families, the notion of a closed adoption is often a favorable one. Also, recent publicity of poor, insufficient, and dangerous living conditions in many foreign orphanages has motivated many families to "save" children from such experiences. And in many cases, intercountry adoption is more affordable, easier, and quicker than domestic adoption.

There are many issues to consider specific to an intercountry adoption. The extended adoptive family must realize that from this point on, the family will bear an additional ethnicity. Friends and community acquaintances may have questions and concerns. It is important that the family be united in the decision, and willing to discuss the adoption with all interested parties.

We are trying to think about our daughter. There are so many questions to be prepared for. How do we tell her about her adoption? What is her life going to be like living in a family in which no one else looks like her? What will it be like for her to attend school as a minority when her entire family is of the majority race? What questions will she have? What special understandings about life will she have? How can we encourage her to understand that she is every bit a part of the family as those of us biologically intertwined? How much "like" our biological children will she be? Are we overly concerned?

Researchers have studied children’s understanding of adoption so that families can best meet their adoptive child’s psychological needs (Brodzinsky, D.M., Singer, L.M., and Braff, A.M. (1984). Children’s Understanding of Adoption. Child Development, 55, 869-878.):

Average Age






Children exhibit no understanding of adoption.



Children fail to differentiate between adoption and birth; instead fusing the two concepts together. May think that all children are adopted.



Children clearly differentiate between adoption and birth as alternative paths to parenthood, and they accept that the adoptive family relationship is permanent, but they do not understand why. Many rely on a sense of faith or notions of possession to justify the permanence.



Children differentiate between adoption and birth but are unsure about the permanence of the adoptive parent-child relationship. Biological parents are seen as having the potential for reclaiming guardianship over the child at some future but unspecified time.



Children’s descriptions of the adoptive family relationship are characterized by a quasi-legal sense of performance. Specifically, they refer to "signing papers," or invoke some authority such as a judge, lawyer, doctor, or social worker who in some vague way "makes" the parent-child relationship permanent.



The adoption relationship is now characterized as permanent, involving the legal transfer of rights and/or responsibilities for the child from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.




Adoption plan was made for

Adopted out

The baby joined the family

Put up for adoption

The older child moved in with his or her family

Given away or given up

Adopted person

Adopted child (speaking of adult)


Real parent

Biological parent

Natural parent

Genetic parent

Unmarried mother

Woman who gave birth

Unmarried mother

My child

My adopted child

Born outside marriage

Illegitimate child

Born to a single person

Unwanted child

Born to a divorced person

Unwanted child

Born to a never married person

Unwanted child

Termination of parental rights

Gave up

Made an adoption plan

Gave away

An adoption was arranged

He/she was placed

Meet, locate, contact


A child from abroad

A foreign child

Adoption available for children

Children available for adoption

Intercountry adoption is not for everyone. It may provide different challenges to parents than those who raise biological and/or domestically adopted children. While we know that we must depend on experts and fellow families who have pursued intercountry adoption, my husband and I also try to balance our real concerns with hopeful realities—that our adopted daughter is a child just like any other. She needs to love and be loved, wants to laugh and enjoy life to the fullest, needs guidance and discipline, yearns to learn and grow, and desires to experience the meaningful emotions and relationships of life. Some children are born to parents; others are lovingly placed in their lives. We are blessed to experience both.

Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS

Adoption is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. There is a special adoption terminology that respectfully addresses the process and people involved. While some of these terms may seem awkward or new, using positive, neutral terms enhance the success of the adoption:

Powers, K. (1998, September 30). Personal Essay on Intercountry Adoption. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.


(Download Intercountry Adoption overview as a PDF)