One adoptive mom shares what it was like adopting her son through Holt’s Bulgaria program nine years ago. Holt recently reopened an adoption program from Bulgaria.
November 2008 began a journey in our hearts and lives that would forever change us. God put an unmistakable burden on our heart to adopt. We didn’t know more than that we were to take a step of faith and start the adoption process. We always thought we would have two sons. At the time, we had three children — one boy and two girls.
My husband and I began praying for a little boy and his mother — that they would both be healthy and protected, and that she would receive the spiritual, emotional and physical support she needed as she made the difficult decision to make an adoption plan for her son. In January 2009, we submitted our paperwork to Holt International to adopt a son from the country of Bulgaria.
We initially explored the adoption program in South Korea as both my husband and I grew up knowing Korean adoptees in our community and family. That led us to Holt International. Due to a variety of factors at the time, we realized that South Korea would not be an option for our family. We felt comfortable with Holt International as an adoption agency and reviewed other country programs in which Holt was participating.
Many people have a natural affinity for a particular country for a variety of reasons. We felt there were several countries that would have been a good fit for us, including India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, South Korea and Bulgaria. After much prayer we believed that our hearts were directing us towards Bulgaria.
When we started our adoption journey in 2009, Bulgaria had recently joined the Hague treaty and was reopening international adoption after a pause had been put in place to improve their adoption program. When we finished all of our adoption paperwork and submitted our dossier to Bulgaria in 2010, we were the 25th family out of 25 families waiting to be matched with a child through Holt.
Bulgaria offered many things that we believed made it a good fit for our family. Families were able to provide parameters for age, gender, health and medical special needs. With three children already in our home, we wanted to keep the birth order of our family and that meant we would be adopting a child under 4-5 years old.
Our wait was about 18 months from the time we submitted our application until we received our match from the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice. We travelled to Bulgaria twice. Five months after our first trip, we returned to Bulgaria to bring our son home. He was almost 3 years old at the time he joined our family. From the time we applied, the total time of our adoption process was 24 months.
We have maintained contact with families who have also adopted from Bulgaria. Most families have found the process to be fairly predictable. The two trips last around a week each. This group of families has been a great resource of information, support and understanding during the wait and after bringing our son home, I would strongly encourage families to find a similar group. These ladies have become some of my best friends and there is a level of understanding among us that none can rival.
Bulgaria has continued to change with time in how it cares for vulnerable children. Since the time we adopted, there has been movement to place children in foster homes while consolidating the government-run children’s homes across the country. In foster care, children receive more one-on-one care than they do in an institution. But families applying to adopt from Bulgaria should know that the child they are matched with could be in either placement.
Our son Anton’s* situation was very typical of a child adopted from Bulgaria in 2011. His family didn’t have the means or circumstances to raise him. His mother placed her son with the children’s home in Sliven following his birth. Culturally, it is accepted in Bulgaria for parents to do this at birth — a relic of the old communist-style orphanage system in Eastern Europe founded on the belief that when families cannot care for their children, the government should step in and care for them. While they do not have open adoptions in Bulgaria, we do have information about his mother. In Bulgaria, Anton will legally be allowed to search for her when he turns 18.
Our son does have mild-moderate special medical needs and is ethnically Roma, which is a marginalized minority within the country of Bulgaria. Due to these factors, adoption to a family in Bulgaria was very unlikely for our son. This is the case for many young children in our son’s birth country. Economically, most families in Bulgaria have limited means to raise any more than 1-2 children. A crisis pregnancy or medical special needs make it very hard for many families to raise children in difficult circumstances.
Today, the circumstances that cause children to come into orphanage care in Bulgaria are very similar, but the profile of children waiting for adoption is a bit different. As with many countries, more younger children needed families when we adopted nine years ago. Today, children waiting for families range in age from 3 to 15 years old. Younger children will have more involved medical and special needs. Children 8 years and older have less diagnosed medical conditions. There are some sibling groups who need families. And children of all ages coming home from Bulgaria need parents who understand and are prepared to meet the needs of children with complex developmental trauma.
International adoption is a blessing and will be an experience that will grow your faith and stretch you as a person. Children from Bulgaria will likely be 2.5 years old or older when they join your family. Once home with your family, they will grieve the lost relationships they developed in their birth country and will likely have needs that were unmet during their time in protective care. It is very important to cocoon as much as possible for the first 3-6 months home to develop bonds with your son or daughter. Adoptive parents are not only gaining a son or daughter, but they are also committing to walk through life with this child.
Our son’s underlying medical condition and time spent in the children’s home put him behind on his developmental milestones. Within the first year he was home in the United States, we had many consults with medical providers and the local public school. The testing showed strengths and weaknesses, and it was recommended that he receive speech and occupational therapy. Within four months of receiving speech therapy, we saw huge improvements in his ability to communicate, express himself and in his overall speech.
The ability to access these resources was very important for our son and our family. He accessed these resources through the local public school and through private therapy for four years, starting at age 3 1/2. He continues to receive support in school. Each year, he amazes us with new achievements made.
Our son Anton is now 12 years old and it is hard to believe that he has been with our family for nine years. We have been blessed by many wonderful doctors, nurses, speech therapists, occupational therapists and teachers who have used their vocational calling to help Anton realize his full potential. He is a smart boy who has friends and is a delight to have around.
There have been many hard-fought battles of time, energy and work to get to the point he has reached. He has a very resilient spirit which has served him well. Last fall, he helped deliver a speech to our local city council for his Lego Robotics team. He is your “all boy” type boy. He enjoys sports, video games, Nerf guns, being outside, playing Legos and other things. He is responsible and a good help around our home. We are blessed to have him as part of our family.
Stephanie C | Adoptive Mom