After months and months of waiting you finally get the call. Not just any call. THE call. The call that tells you in one week, four weeks, or six weeks you will get on a plane to your child’s country and travel to meet your newest family member. It’s the call every adoptive parent dreams of receiving. And then reality hits.
Though I swear we had been planning for months, when the time came I frantically searched every adoption site I could find desperate for a list of what to bring. Some things were obvious, clothes, detergent, others (such as gifts) were not. Whether you leave tomorrow to meet your child or you’re just beginning to make a list here’s the top items you want to make sure to include.
I am one of the most intrepid travelers. I have been across nearly every continent and rejoice in eating local cuisine. But I had never done that as a first-time parent to a 22 month old I had just met. Though we wanted to experience our son’s home province in China, our first days in the hotel were pretty limited. The hotel food was fine, but I was glad to have a pack of granola bars and a jar of peanut butter in tow. And adoptive parenting tip: introducing snacks to your child while in province will ease the transition when you come home. By the time we landed back in America our son was a goldfish/fruit snack/cheerio convert.
When we were first presented with a list of recommended medicines I thought “but I never get sick!” And then I promptly came down with an infection on Day Two with our new son. Pack medicines for both you and your new child. Bring a prescription Z-pack, stomach medicine, Tylenol, and yes band aids (because I promise you will be walking a ton!). For your child bring medicines for lice and scabies – both common for children in institutional care. Also, be sure to pack some Pedialtye for both you and your child. Dehydration can be a real concern if either of you falls ill.
For weeks before I traveled I debated over what gifts to bring to the orphanage director and members of the staff who had cared for my son. Most agencies will recommend how many gifts you will need to bring and depending on the culture, it may be quite common for the recipients not to open the gifts in front of you. Remember that old adage, “It’s the thought that counts?” It truly is. Bring something unique to your hometown or something you think they might enjoy. Nice pens, cosmetics, specialty soaps, and/or scarves are always a good idea. Candy is fun too, but stay away from chocolate as it can melt.
- Toys / Hotel Room Activities
When we adopted our son we were thrilled to experience China. Except the first ten days we pretty much sat in our hotel adjusting to life as a family. Remember, your sweet new addition has undergone an intensely traumatic experience, so take your time with each other. Age-appropriate games can do wonders to enhance attachment. Stacking cups, bubbles, Playdough, balloons, or even a soccer ball with a pump (have you ever heard of hotel hallway soccer???) can be a fun way to bond with your new child.
- Your Photo Book
When we were matched with our son in China (and our daughter in India) we had the chance to create a photo book to send to the orphanage. Inside were pictures of us, our house, our family pets, etc… We were not sure the book would come back with our son (it didn’t), so we made and brought a duplicate just in case. Each day we looked through the book and stressed the images of Mama and Baba. And when we returned home and our son saw our house (and family pets) for the first time he delighted in comparing the books’ images, which went a long way in transitioning him to his new life.
- Paperwork and Folder
Sure, you have your passport but what about extra passport photos? And a copy of your I-800A or your home study? Though I knew I most likely wouldn’t need it, I made sure to make copies of all the relevant documents of our adoption. Some we needed, others we didn’t, but I was glad I brought them. And the crazy part? We accumulated more paperwork. Since most international adoptions are finalized in-country be sure to bring a good sturdy folder where you can place everything. You will need 99% of those documents again when you file for your child’s social security card, certificate of citizenship, and readoption.
I am and have always been a writer. Not everyone processes experiences through words, but bring a journal with you. At the end of each day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, take a moment and write down what you experienced that day. Write what you ate, what your child ate. Write how your child slept, or didn’t sleep. Write what you saw or what games you played. Write how the experience changed you and how the experience is changing your child. Whether it’s simple bullet points or long elegant paragraphs, I promise it will mean so much to both you and your child–for in those pages will lie the beginning of your story as a family. And that is the greatest gift of all.
How about you? What is in your top “must bring” list for travel to your child’s country? Any items that are missing? What helped you the most? What did you wish you had brought?
More guidance and ideas for your foreign adoption as you adopt an orphan can be found at Adoption.com/international.