Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adopting Out of Birth Order: Part 1

When we made the decision to adopt internationally, our triplets, Maren, Lukas and Jacob, had just celebrated their 2nd birthday. Initially we had planned to adopt a healthy child as young as possible, which in our minds meant, younger than the triplets. That is, after all, what most adoption professionals advise you to do.

But the Lord had other plans for our family; plans that looked radically different from those that we had carefully mapped out for ourselves; plans that would go against the advice of all of the professionals.

Once our eyes were opened we proceeded to do three things:

  • Commit to a child with special needs, in a little known country (Uzbekistan), processing very few adoptions.

  • Commit to a second child with special needs (6 months older than our triplets) in a completely different country (Ukraine).

  • Do both simultaneously.
Yes. We were nuts! And completely naive (which is a beautiful state of mind to be in when the Lord has something completely crazy up His sleeve). From the moment we laid eyes on Joshua and Evan we KNEW that they were our sons and when you know something with every fiber of your being, it does not matter what anyone else says, even the professionals. You simply do what you have been called to do and you have faith that the Lord will provide.

Let me assure you that the Lord certainly did provide (and continues to do so). He went before us every step of the way, paving the path for us to bring our boys home. Joshua and Evan would not be here today without His constant attention and intervention (you can read more about our adventures in Uzbekistan and Ukraine here and here).

When Joshua and Evan arrived home our children were 3.5 (Evan), 3 (Maren, Lukas and Jacob) and 10 months (Joshua).

A year later, the Lord would call us to another country (Bulgaria) to ransom three of His beautiful daughters, ages 5, 6 and 7 (at the time of commitment). These little girls would displace all of our other children in birth order. Once again, we would have to go against the advice of the "professionals."

We didn't think twice about accepting the call.

When you know, you know, and we knew that Alayna, Lily and Alexis were meant to be our daughters.

When the girls came home from Bulgaria our children were 8 (Alayna), 7.5 (Lily), 7 (Alexis), 6 (Evan), 5 (Maren, Lukas and Jacob) and 3 (Joshua).

Here are a few things you should know:

Adoption is disruptive.

Yes, it is beautiful, redeeming and transformational, but it is also disruptive.

No matter how healthy or how old your child is at the time of adoption, you (a stranger) are taking a child away from everything that they have ever known (friends, caregivers, language, food, culture, etc.). You are replacing the familiar with unfamiliar. Most of the time, you are providing that child with a much better life than they may have otherwise had, BUT that child will still experience grief, loss, depression, anxiety, anger, etc. (even when they have experienced abuse and neglect).

As you transition a new child into your family, life as you have known it will change. That change will not be easy. The harmony that likely existed in your home prior to the addition of your child will be disrupted for a time (until you are able to establish a "new normal").

When you adopt out of birth order, adopt multiple, unrelated children, adopt an older child or adopt a child with special needs, that transition generally becomes even more difficult.

Adoption professionals understand this. When counseling families they will always advise you to do what is least disruptive to the harmony in your home. This is why many agencies have policies regarding birth order, family size, adopting multiple, unrelated children, time between adoptions, etc. All of these things are generally put into place to help preserve the harmony in the home, ease transitions and prevent future disruptions.

While, well meaning, it is my personal opinion (garnered through experience) that issues such as these should be considered on a case-by-case basis according to the ability and dynamics of each family.

In some cases, preserving birth order is vital to successfully transitioning a new child into the home. For example, several years ago some dear friends of ours made the decision to add to their family through adoption. They had one biological daughter who was six years-old when they began the adoption process. For six years, their sweet daughter had been blessed to be the sole recipient of her parents love and attention. Introducing new children into the family was already going to be a HUGE adjustment for her. Knowing this, our friends made the decision to preserve birth order and adopt two children who were younger than their biological daughter. It was absolutely the right decision for their family.

For our family, disrupting birth order has not been an issue. The first time we adopted out of birth order our triplets were just shy of their 3rd birthday. They had no concept of age (and certainly no concept of birth order). Evan was simply another playmate.

When we committed to Alayna, Lily and Alexis, we wondered if disrupting birth order would be more of a factor (our kids were older after all (6, 5, 5, 5 and 3), and more aware of their chronological positions within the family).

Let me tell you why it was not:

Research has shown that for every three months a child spends in an institutional setting, one month can be subtracted from their age. We have found this to be accurate for all of our adopted children. When our girls came home, they were 8 (Alayna), 7 (Alexis) and 7.5 (Lily). Developmentally and physically, they were closer to 6 (Alayna), 4 (Alexis) and 3 (Lily; there was a bigger discrepancy with Lily due to nutritional deficits and developmental delays, all tied to her untreated Celiac disease).

After 16 months home (11 months for Alexis), developmentally, emotionally, socially, physically and academically, the girls are closer to 8 (Alayna; actual age 9.5), 5 (Alexis; actual age 8) and 4 (Lily; actual age 8.5).

What we have learned. . . . .

Sometimes, "age ain't nothin' but a number!"

If you are considering adopting out of birth order, do your research; understand the potential issues that could arise; consider your family dynamics; talk to your children; counsel together as a family.

Ultimately, if you feel that the Lord has led you to adopt a child, trust that He will preserve the harmony in your home and that He will give you the strength, courage and wisdom to navigate through disruptions and difficulties that may arise (and they will, whether or not you adopt out of birth order).

Sometimes our children come to us in chronological order, sometimes the Lord has other plans, but regardless of how they come, it is always by divine design.


MoonDog said...

we also adopted out of birth order again and again. and YES! IT WAS HARD SOMETIMES! but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY! maia was a newborn when 2 year old Ethan came home. Maia was 5 when 3 year old sophie and 5 year old ben came home. then adding 6,7,8,and 8 into the mix just a year later really brought some wild and crazy days. but there are so many great things about adopting older kids! they can TELL you whats on their mind, they can SHARE their needs, their memories, thier hopes. They can help out around the house as part of the team, whereas an infant is all take and no give. I didnt adopt kids to GIVE me anything other than the title of Mom but they do. again and again. its hugs and kisses after a favorite meal, begging me to let them help me cook, taking a bag out of my hands and insisting they can carry it for me. older kids are the best! they arent too old for hugs and kisses but they dont need diapering and feeding. you have way more time to ENJOY them!

Jill said...

Yes - we certainly made the right decision about adopting younger than Anna. She was very much set on being "the oldest child" and we have since promised her that we will not adopt any child older than she is. I am so grateful that you answered God's call to adopt Evan. If you hadn't, we would have Keith. (((HUGS)))

Kim said...

Hello! Just found your blog through other adoption blogs...and I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing. We are currently adopting a child from Ecuador (SO close to being able to travel to go get her!) and she will disrupt birth order in our family as well. She will soon be 7 and we have a 3 year old and an 8 month old currently. We have had many people question our decision to disrupt birth order, but for me it has never been a large concern. I will be following along with your blog and your amazing family!

Kristen Daniels said...

I understand that adopting out of birth order may work well sometimes, but I'd be extremely careful about it. We did and it has been a stress in our family for the past six years not just for my husband and I but for our first born and the older adopted child. We figured that it wouldn't matter to an infant if we adopted an older child. How would an infant ever know any different? Well the adopted child knwe different and has been at adds with our bio son for years. I don't believe they will ever get along or like each other and it has been damaging to my oldest biological son. This is not a thing to be played with or taken lightly. It can destroy the peace in your home. I know is may not be bad in all cases, but it is in many cases, which is why the golden rule of adoption (that no one bothered to tell us about until after the fact) is not to disrupt boirth order.