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The ins-and-outs of international adoption

The decision to adopt a child is a very personal one. For two Yellowknife families, the decision to adopt was one which involved time, paperwork and a lot of patience.

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 05/02) - When Craig Nicholson and Carolyn Relf and Don and Kristen Cameron decided they wanted to adopt, both families also decided they wanted to adopt internationally. More specifically, they decided they wanted to adopt from China.

NNSL Photo

Little Madeline Lin enjoyed sailing with her parents to East Arm a few weeks ago. - photo courtesy of Craig Nicholson and Carolyn Relf

Both couples went through Children's Bridge International Adoption Consultants in Ottawa and both made the journey to China to bring home their child.

Both families had their own reasons for deciding to adopt internationally.

"We'd actually had not planned to have children," said Nicholson. "And I think at that point of our lives we'd been working a lot and we just decided it would be nice to have a child around. We really enjoyed children of our friends. We just thought we would be able to provide a good home to a child who didn't have one and it would also enrich our lives."

"I don't think there's a shortage of homes available for children in Canada," said Relf. "China has a program and definitely a need. I don't have any stats but tens of thousands of children have been abandoned.

"We looked at a few different countries and it was mostly based on information from the Web and China had a really good program. The China program was the most established."

The Cameron's had their own reasons for international adoption.

"Our story's a little bit different," said Kristen Cameron. "Most people are looking to adopt because they can't conceive. We were looking for kids that needed homes. "When we first looked into (adopting from China) you had to be over 30 and have no other children and we had a son at that point so we looked elsewhere, but the more we looked, well, there's different problems in different countries. China was very well organized and it's very straightforward. It's not easy, but they tell you you need this and this paperwork and these are the requirements, end of story. With a lot of these countries, it's a lot up in the air. You're never too sure what's going on."

Rules changed

The Cameron's then had their second child, Emma. Eventually, they decided to check out international adoption another time.

"When we looked again, China had changed their rules," said Cameron.

Cameron said there were a few factors involved in the decision to adopt outside of Canada.

"In the Northwest Territories, it's mostly kids who were in the custody of social services," she said. "We tried to go to other provinces, but it is harder to adopt from other provinces than it is from other countries. Basically, children aren't available outside of their own province unless there are severe problems, physically or developmentally, that would require offering adoption nationally. In China, they're generally healthy and available for adoption because of socio-economical problems."

Once the families decided to adopt, the paperwork and waiting began. The process involves completion of a home study course, the submitting and notarizing of several different pieces of paperwork like birth certificates and marriage certificates, a background check, and interviews from social workers among other things. "We went through three interviews with social services," said Relf. "One separate one for each of the two of us and then the third one was together. It was certainly more extensive than if we had've had our own baby because there's not really any process to go through if you're having your own baby. But if you're going to adopt a baby, you would expect to go through some sort of screening process."

Once the process is complete and all paperwork submitted and approved, the parents received their first information about the child they could adopt, pictures included. The parents then had to send back a letter saying they agreed to accept the child. Then, a couple months later, it was off to China to finally meet and receive their baby.

"It was a great trip," said Cameron. "You go to the capital of the province where your child is. They put you up in four or five star hotels, which is great when you're with a baby and need all the comforts of home.

"We went to the hotel boardroom and you wait there and they bring in the babies. Five babies showed up. The nannies come in carrying the babies and, of course, everyone's trying to figure out whose is whose and we got to watch all this because (our baby) wasn't there yet. We had a feeling she was going to be late. So we videotaped and took pictures for everybody and watched and they all get their babies and some of them cry and some of them shout and then there's more paperwork. The government official comes in with some papers that have to be signed. They fingerprint you and footprint the baby. And that's it. That's the adoption. By the time you leave that room, it's official."

Finally, the Cameron's received their little girl, Katie, at shortly past one year of age. Katie has been home now for almost a year and will be celebrating her second birthday in August.The Cameron's have two other children, Liam, six, and Emma, three.

Baby girl bonding with new family

Relf and Nicholson headed to China in the middle of March of this year to pick up their baby girl.

"We got her one year from the day she was abandoned in a train station," said Relf.

Relf said the trip was a lot of fun.

"It was organized by a group called the China Travel Service, which is a government-run tourist organization. It's a fairly tight agenda, but we had some free time. We saw the Great Wall, the summer palace, the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square.

It was two-thirds tourist time and one-third administrative work. We had to go to the Canadian embassy. It's a mountain of paperwork but because they have done it so often, it's pretty well organized."

Relf and Nicholson arrived in China on a Friday. On the following Monday morning, they received their baby, Madeline Lin.

Nicholson said they were please at how quickly Madeline became a part of the family.

"She actually bonded to us very quickly whereas some babies don't," he said. "It takes quite a while for some babies to bond. She bonded probably within three days in China. The first two days, you could hand her off to anybody and she'd be fine. She's a very happy baby and would be happy with anybody. But after the third day, she wanted to reach out to somebody but the second she got away from me, she wanted to come back. So she did bond very quickly. I think it really depends on the child. Some children bond quickly and some won't."

Madeline just loves books and being outside, said her parents.

"She really likes the beach right now," said Nicholson. "Because of where she grew up, her first year was spent in an orphanage and it needs to be very sterile.

"We realized when we first got back here that she loves different textures like gravel, sand and grass. She can amuse herself for hours."