The Unexpected Ease of Older Child Adoption

When Bob and Agnes Wells first adopted in 2002, they — like many families adopting from China at the time — came home with a healthy, infant daughter. Several years later, when they returned to Holt for their second adoption, the wait to adopt a healthy, infant girl had dramatically lengthened. After opening their hearts to special needs adoption, they were matched with a 6-year-old girl with delayed speech. As to be anticipated, they encountered some unknowns in China. And once home, they were again surprised — this time to discover that their second adoption was, in fact, easier than their first! 

by Agnes Wells

Bob with Jane, Agnes with Margot.

In 2002, we adopted our older daughter, Jane, from China at the age of nine months.  She was a healthy infant, and she made us perfectly happy.  When we decided the time was right to increase the size of our family, we chose to adopt again from China. Because our experience had been so positive the first time, we also decided to adopt again through Holt.

When we began the process the second time, we decided to adopt a 2 to 3-year-old so that there would not be such a great age difference between our two children.  As the standard process took longer and longer, we asked for a 3 to 5-year-old girl.  We were not open to a child with many disabilities, but we did look into the special needs option and put our names on that list.

We got information about a couple of different children, but felt no pressure to choose any child who was not right for our family.  Finally, after our dossier had been in China for four and a half years, we received a call about the child who would become our second daughter, Margot. She was 6 and a half at the time (Jane was 9 and a half), and her disability was that she had delayed speech and was sometimes difficult to understand.

Other than that, she was perfectly healthy.

We played “catch-up” with the paperwork, some of which had expired, but everyone was really helpful. We traveled to China in late February of 2011.  This time, instead of being part of a group of several families, we were the only ones adopting through Holt.

The Holt team in China took very good care of us and was always around when we needed them. We had been given information that Margot had been in foster care, which was true, but we discovered when we met her that it had only been for a short time when she was a baby.  The orphanage director said that she left foster care and returned to the orphanage because “it was not a good foster family.”  He did not elaborate.  I was worried that she would have a difficult time adjusting to living with a family, as is common among children who have grown up in institutions.  Margot’s adjustment, however, has been a lot easier than I thought. She is a kind and sweet child. She gives us hugs and kisses. She likes to read and play and snuggle.  She does get mad with her parents and fight with her sister, just like any other child.

Agnes with Margot.

Since we have been back, Margot has gone to public school. She is in English as a Second Language classes, and her English is getting better every day. We have found through routine testing that she has astigmatism in one eye, so she now wears glasses.  Also, she has slight hearing loss in one ear, which may account for the delayed speech.  She now wears a hearing aid in that ear, and her speech has become much clearer.

Margot does exhibit some behavior that may have to do with having been in an institution for six years. She is really rough with books and toys although she loves them.  She and Jane get along, but they also fight like any other sisters.

All in all, this has been such a positive experience for our family and one I would not trade for the world.

Jane (left) and Margot with a moose.

Things I had feared about adopting an older child – fighting, screaming, sobbing – did not come to pass.  Our life is not perfect; it was difficult to bring someone who was school-aged into a family that had been functioning just fine for nine years.  I must say that I was very slack when it came to doing research about adopting an older child.  I didn’t read many articles or any blogs about it.  I just figured that we would pull through and we have.  It must have been so frustrating for her to have such a hard time communicating for all those months, but Margot has come so far.  We can understand almost everything she says now and she understands us completely.

During the past year, she has even taught herself how to swim, jump off the diving board, and ride a bicycle!

My husband and I would absolutely recommend adopting an older child to anyone who is thinking about it.  It was easier than our first adoption by far. Even though she didn’t speak English, Margot was able at 6 and a half to understand and cooperate a lot more than Jane — at 9 months — had been able to when we first adopted her. We sent Margot a letter and photos before we went to pick her up, and when we arrived in China, she understood what was happening and had been prepped for us. With Jane, because she was 9 months old, she could understand that she was being handed to these strange people. But she didn’t know why, and was really upset. Also, because we had adopted once before from China with Holt, we knew more of what to expect — although some things had changed in 9 years!

Margot has brought so much joy to our lives!  Right before we left for China, a neighbor of ours who had adopted a baby domestically and then a 3-year-old from Ethiopia said, “The second year is easier than the first!”

If that’s true, we’re in for smooth sailing.

Interested in learning more about Holt’s China program and adopting a child with special needs? Click here to visit our China pages online. 

5 Comments on “The Unexpected Ease of Older Child Adoption

  1. that is so great that she wasn’t RAD and you had a good experience adopting an older child! thank you for sharing this encouraging story. I’ve considered adopting an older child or trying a summer orphan hosting program, but I’d still be too scared that the kids would have huge emotional/behavioral problems, especially RAD, the worst of all.

  2. It’s really a nice and useful piece of info. I’m happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I adopted a 3 year old boy and found the transition wasn’t bad at all. I learned the same amount of Chinese that a 3 year old knows, and so we only spoke Chinese in the home for the first 6 months. This made life *so much easier!* It meant that I could ask, “What do you want to drink? Do you like oranges?” It meant I could say, “Brush your teeth, and then we are going to bed.” His English really picked up once he went to school, but I was *so* happy that I learned his language for the initial transition period. I’m going to adopt a second child, and I’m already planning on having a Chinese-only household for the first 6 months again.

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