Ukraine: Exploring adoption

After a grueling year of trying to conceive as a single female while living a nomadic lifestyle abroad, I began to wonder if this was the right path to parenthood for me. “What other options do I have?” I asked myself, heartbroken and mad at my body for failing me when I needed it the most. Well, I could find a partner to have children with — everyone else does it, why not? — but then I remembered that’s exactly what I’d been searching unsuccessfully for over the past twenty years. Knowing I’m too picky and impatient to continue with the literal manhunt, I briefly considered surrogacy. Briefly, like for five seconds, because that path is rife with emotional and ethical issues I wasn’t ready to consider. So, that left one possible option: adoption.

I warmed up to the idea of adoption the more I thought about it. It’s not that I was ever against adoption, I just thought getting pregnant would be easier with my location-independent lifestyle because, let’s face it, adoption is a long and tedious process even for people with stable homes. I’m not one of those baby-obsessed women and I don’t mind skipping the discomforts of pregnancy, not to mention adoption is more aligned with my values (overpopulation! children in need!), so I see adoption as a win-win-win scenario. Let’s do this, I thought to myself.

Not knowing where to start, I did what any citizen of the 21st century would do: I opened a new tab in Chrome and typed “expat adoption” in the search box. I was relieved to see so many results appear and read that adopting while living abroad was not only possible but comparable to adopting in one’s own country. The community of US citizens abroad adopting seems to be very active with lots of resources, so I’ll definitely refer back to my search for information and inspiration.

I was still overwhelmed and unsure of what to research first, so I decided to just call one of the adoption services catering to the US expat community. Surely, they could help me, I thought. The first lady I talked to was upbeat and reassured me that I’d have no problem adopting as a single parent living abroad, so I could go ahead with researching specific adoption programs. It sounded like international adoption was the best route for someone in my situation (not true, actually), so I started looking more closely at an adoption program in Sierra Leone.

The more I researched, the more I wanted to get a jump start on the adoption process; I was excited for this new opportunity in my journey.  I was ready to take the first official step and contacted an adoption agency working with US expats, Adopt Abroad.  I arranged a call with a social worker and explained my situation to her, saying I was living abroad as a sort of digital nomad freelancer and was interested in adopting as a single parent; I mentioned I was considering applying for a freelance visa in Germany so I could reside there a few years  This lady apparently had no experience working with someone in my situation (the organization seems very military/diplomat/couple-oriented) as she interrupted me to curtly state, “Yeah, you can’t adopt.  You definitely can’t adopt.”

You.  Can’t.  Adopt.

My throat tightened and I fought back the tears; they came on hot and fast. “What do you mean?” I asked her.  “How can I change my situation so I can adopt?” “I don’t know.  If you get a visa to live in Germany, or even if you are living there temporarily, the German government won’t let the child you adopt live with you in their country; they are very strict about this.  Figure out your situation and call back, I can’t help you.”  I did my best to remain calm and polite, telling her that I was calling to get more information so I could plan ahead and prepare for adoption.  Could she help me understand how visas and my expat status work in the adoption process?  She stood firm and refused to help me, vaguely telling me to “contact an immigration lawyer” before wearily hanging up.  I was left speechless on the other end of the line, heartbroken after what she had told me.

After that phone call in Spain, I walked around in a haze for months, dead on the inside.  If I couldn’t conceive or adopt, what was left?  Why did everything have to be such a goddamn struggle?  I took a break from the whole matter and focused on doing things that made me happy, taking the opportunity to re-evaluate what I wanted in life.  I started using Tinder with the intention of meeting someone to take my mind off of things, to magically solve all of my problems, to take me in their arms and  make me forget I was ever crazy enough to think I could handle the the adoption/conception process alone and abroad.   I questioned if I could take any more rejection, or if I had to do something drastic like return to the US for a few years to adopt. 

During this time of reflection I traveled to Ukraine, where I checked Chernobyl off my bucket list as I felt radiation from the nuclear waste site was no longer a concern.  (Ukraine had stuck in my head after I read about their adoption program, which I later realized was not a good fit for me.)  I was having no luck dating and wondered if I should just continue my independent and unconventional nomadic lifestyle at the risk of squandering my opportunity to have children.  Could I envision a life on my own, without children?  I decided that I would gladly accept whatever life the universe gave me, and, wanting a fair shot at becoming a mother, I picked up my journey where I left off.

It’s a good thing I decided to investigate adoption again, because my next contact could not have lifted my spirits more and renewed my hope to have children.  The organization I contacted is American Adoption Professionals Abroad (AAPA) and the lady I talked to was extremely knowledgeable and more than eager to reassure me that I could adopt and she’d worked with plenty of people in situations similar to mine.  What.  A.  Relief.

The social worker and I discussed what I wanted and my tentative plans, then we discussed my options.  First, there was the type of child I could adopt, and it seems like domestic (US) infants and certain international adoptions are possible, with older children in the US unfortunately being in the foster system and unlikely to be assigned by a judge to live abroad.  I’m open to any child and any program, and I’m considering domestic infant adoption because it seems less complicated regarding travel and paperwork.  And my living arrangements?  “Since the home study process requires the prospective parent to be in the same home for at least nine months, should I rent a place somewhere for a year and just be there 90 out of every 180 days since I’d be a US tourist?  Or, should I apply for a freelance visa in Germany and get residency so I can live there a few years?  And are either of these options even feasible??” I peppered her with questions, and she carefully considered them before responding with helpful information; she didn’t judge my unconventional lifestyle or say anything that would suggest that adoption was out of my reach, I was completely at ease and comfortable discussing such a delicate topic with her.

We decided that the latter option, living in Germany, was the best; she reassured me that Germany was extremely receptive to this process provided the prospective parent proves the child is financially supported and won’t be a burden on the system; people had done it many times, she said, although I should contact the country’s central adoption authority (true for all countries  party to the Hague Adoption Convention) to run it by them before pursuing a freelance visa.  Brilliant, this is all music to my ears.

I wanted to kiss her feet out of sheer relief and joy, I suddenly had hope in my heart to continue with the journey.

This journey, which will hopefully lead to children of my own on day, has taught me so much.  First, I have tremendous respect for single women and men who become parents by choice, either through conception or adoption; this is a lonely, painful journey and demands more energy and optimism than I ever imagined.  Some days, I wonder if I have the stamina to continue, so knowing that other people have been through this process and ended up on top gives me hope.

The second thing I’ve learned is that I need a thick skin for this journey, and it’s not worth my time to get hung up on impersonal doctors, rude social workers (but not all of them!), and family members that pretend like I’m “going through a phase”.  If I’m going to become a single parent, I best be prepared for the new challenges and criticisms that come with the role:  what if my child turns out to be a handful and I regret my decision to have kids?  Is adoption opportunistic and unethical?  Can I handle people judging me without knowing my story?  Will people criticize my lifestyle and tell me I’m unfit to be a parent??  

The third, and by far not the last, thing I’ve learned is that staying optimistic and open-minded is difficult — yet crucial — when trying to stay focused. At this point I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I know that I need to prepare myself (especially financially) and remain alert in this journey that could last another few years.  I want to be well-positioned to welcome a child into my life, so establishing my freelance career and short-term stability (once I understand my options) are priorities.

Onward and upward.

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