Introducing Hello Home - Atlanta Adoption Series | The Patel Family
Guys. I am beyond excited to launch my all new blog series and personal project entitled, "Hello Home". We'll take a deep dive into the ins and outs of the adoption process and the lives of adoptive families. Parents that have volunteered to give a child a family that wouldn't otherwise have one are heroes in my book. So, over the course of this year, we will meet about 8 families in Atlanta who have done just that. We'll meet families that have adopted internationally, domestically, fostered, adoptive families with biological kids, multiracial families, children with special needs, you name it. I'm so excited to learn more about some of the untold truths around the adoption process and to celebrate those doing this amazing work. In exchange for these families sharing their stories and answering some tough questions, I'm giving them a free lifestyle photography session.
Note: these families have been asked to share as much or as little about their story as they feel comfortable. All sensitive information has been freely and graciously volunteered in the hope that it may shed light on the process for others.
Up first...the Patel Family! This adorable trio was literally all smiles from the time I met them until I left. It was really cool to peek into their lives and see just how excited they were to have their little guy home...
Tell me a little about yourselves (your upbringing, where you live, your work).
Katie: I grew up in Ohio with my parents and older sister, graduated from Ohio University in 2007, moved to Atlanta shortly after graduation for my job in marketing with GE. While with GE, I started volunteering at Atlanta Mission, a local ministry that serves the homeless. I loved it so much that I decided to leave GE to work at Atlanta Mission and have worked there in marketing/donor relations since 2013.
Akash grew up in Stone Mountain with his parents, aunt/uncle, sister, and two cousins (all in one house together). His family is Indian (that may be an obvious statement? ha). He graduated from Tucker High School here in Atlanta, then from Georgia Tech. He works as a software engineer for Tin Roof Software here in Atlanta.
We have both attended Buckhead Church for about 10 years and met several years ago through friends from church. We started dating in 2011, got married December 29, 2012, and are still very involved with our church. Our faith is very important to us, as we are grateful for all that God has done in our lives, and we want to glorify Him in all we do.
What led you to adopt and specifically, from India?
Like many people probably have, we had considered adoption, but it wasn’t until we found out that there was an abortion clinic a block from our home that we really started doing research about adoption. We went to a couple of information sessions at adoption agencies and really tried to research where there are true needs of children who need a family, but who are often left as orphans. We found that the waiting lists of families looking to adopt domestically are often long, but we stumbled across data that showed that there are over 40 million orphans in India, but that hardly any children in India get adopted, particularly those with any type of special need. Adoption just isn’t part of the Indian culture - families do not add children that are not biological, for many reasons, including the caste system and the stigmas that go along with it.
We came to the conclusion pretty quickly after learning this information that we had room in our home and in our hearts for a child, and that we really wanted to adopt from India. With Akash’s family being Indian and living closeby in Atlanta, our child would be able to have a connection to his/her Indian culture, which was an added bonus. And, honestly, we just felt like God was telling us to adopt. God makes it clear in the Bible that we are to care for widows and orphans, and although we did pray for His direction, we already knew the answer of what He desired for us.
How did you get started with the adoption process and what were your most helpful resources?
We began searching the Internet. We found a few random blogs from families who had adopted from India, some news articles, but not much else. Honestly, it was tough to find much helpful information online specific to adoptions from India, since there’s not many adoptions from India. Through a crazy twist of events (AKA God), I stumbled across the hashtag #indiaadoption online, and a photo that I saw with that hashtag in the caption was actually posted by an India adoptive mom, Colista, in my very small hometown in Ohio. What?! Of course I contacted her right away and told her I wanted to know everything about the adoption process. :) She was in the midst of adopting her second daughter from India and was gracious enough to get on the phone and talk to me for a couple of hours.
Colista gave me recommendations of some reputable adoption agencies that handle adoptions from India to the US. Akash and I began researching each one thoroughly. Akash talked with each agency at legnth on the phone, then received referrals from each of families who had adopted through them. I handled calling each family to hear more about the agency. This agency screening process took a couple of months and countless hours, but was absolutely worth it. We learned so much about the adoption process, connected with many other India adoption families, and ended up picking an agency that was a total blessing - Children of the World, based on Fairhope, Alabama. The woman who runs it, Pat Lee, has several children she has adopted herself, including from India. The agency is extremely professional, efficient, and detailed, but also made us feel like family through the process, and we knew they were praying for us and our child through the whole process.
Another noteworthy resource that has been a lifesaver is an India Adoption group that we found on Facebook. It has a few hundred parents who are either in the midst of adopting from India or have recently brought their child home. The information and community we gained through this virtual group was absolutely invaluable, and continues to be now that we are home with our son.
What were the hardest decisions you found yourself making during that application phase?
The hardest decision was which special needs to select that we were open to considering for a child. We knew that the children with special needs are the least likely to be adopted, and while we were eligible to be matched with a healthy child due to Akash’s Indian heritage, we knew we wanted to request to be matched with a child with a special need. But, during the home study process, each family is given a very long list of all the special needs. We had to go through and narrow down the list to the ones we were open to. Thanks to some advice from another adoptive family, we ended up making two copies of the list. Both Akash and I sat down with our own copy, marked the ones we were individually open to, then we combined them. We decided before we started that we wouldn’t argue about which the other person had selected. Instead, anything we had both marked made the final list, and anything we did not both mark did not. Our final list ended up being really long, and contained pretty much any condition we had heard of and felt at least halfway confident we could care for.
I’ve heard the “approved and waiting” period can be grueling. How was that experience for you? Tell me what happened when you got the notification that you were matched! Describe the scene when you and Akash meet Kedar for the first time.
It was really hard. We were approved by the Indian government in November but didn’t receive Kedar’s file until the end of January, then went to meet him in India in March, but didn’t get to bring him home until September. By adoption standards, that isn’t that long. But it felt like about 18 years were passing while we waited those 10 months.
While we waited to actually be matched, it was frustrating - we were open to either a boy or girl, ages 0-6, and up to 3 siblings (India will only give you more than one child if they are biological siblings, which is rare), with the long list of special needs. We didn’t understand how there could be so many orphans, but yet our agency couldn’t find a child that seemed like the right fit for us. But, when we saw Kedar’s file on January 29, we knew he was ours. Now I literally break down crying thinking about the fact that we could have missed having him as our son. Any bit of waiting was absolutely worth it.
Actually receiving the information about him was kind of a weird (but amazing) experience. Akash and I were sitting on our couch at home on a Sunday evening and Akash’s computer was open. A new email came through from Pat at our agency that said, “ I would like for you to look at this little boy. If you’re interested, I can ask for a video. Let me know your thoughts.” The email had three attachments: a medical report (which was a very brief 2-page questionnaire that contained basically nothing), a child study report (which was also a 2-page questionnaire that gave some minimal information about his personality, development, etc.), and a photo. I opened the photo first, saw him standing and smiling in his crib, and didn’t really feel like I needed to read the two documents. I knew he was ours. I think Akash felt the same way, but being the more methodical and less emotional one between the two of us, opened the files and read through.
Kedar’s file said that he had cerebral palsy, which we honestly didn’t know much about, but we were open to learning more. We requested a video from the orphanage to see his mobility. We were already in love with him from his photo that was in his file we had received, but the two videos they sent us a couple of days later were priceless. He was SO cute. Seriously. So cute. And his only mobility challenge seemed to be in his left arm, with not being able to lift it or extend his elbow or wrist. We felt confident after seeing him that he was our son, and we could handle his medical needs, even if they ended up being more extensive once we got him home.
Once we let our agency know we wanted to adopt Kedar as our son, we also decided we wanted to travel to India at that point to go ahead and meet him and to get some of the paperwork done in person, in hopes of speeding up the process in any way possible. So, in March, we flew to India (along with Akash’s dad, who came to translate and was a huge help!) and met Kedar. I don’t know that I can fully describe the feelings in words, but it was incredible. We arrived at the orphanage, one of the caretakers was holding him, and we immediately saw and recognized him from his photo and videos. He let me hold him right away but was a little more shy of Akash. He didn’t know any English, but said, “Mommy” within the first couple of minutes of us meeting him. I just wanted to hold him and kiss him forever. We spent a couple of days visiting him at the orphanage and playing with him. He is the sweetest kid ever, ever. Then, in the saddest moment ever, we had to say “bye” and leave to go back home and wait on the US and Indian governments to finish their steps in the process before we could bring him home.
We tried to stay busy during the wait, but each month that passed got harder and harder, knowing he was waiting in the orphanage for us. We did things like getting clothes and things for his room, deciding on whether to keep his Indian name or change it (we decided to keep it), and just praying things would hurry up.
What has been the greatest challenge & greatest joy since bringing Kedar home?
The greatest joy: I knew I would love this little boy, but I had no idea how much we were capable of loving him immediately. He fits right into our family like he’s always been here. He is such a happy toddler. Getting to see him experience so many “firsts” with us - things like going to the playground, going swimming, eating new foods, riding in a stroller and a wagon, flying on an airplane, reading books, celebrating his birthday, and seeing him learn English rapidly - are just priceless. We are just in awe that God made this little boy our son and that he is HOME with us. He gets so many hugs and kisses all day long!
Another great joy has been seeing how much our families and friends love Kedar. We never expected how much people would immediately love him so deeply. It’s incredibly sweet to see how much others love him so much!
The greatest challenge: I knew that children took a lot of time and attention, but I didn’t fully anticipate how much time a child, who wasn’t used to getting much one-on-one attention, would want attention ALL the time! He wants to be right beside us (or be held) during all waking moments (well, actually while he’s sleeping too), wants to have books read to him, have one of us play with toy cars with him, etc. It has been a major lifestyle adjustment going from having personal time and schedule flexibility to having a little person who wants nonstop quality time. I doubt this is any different than with the birth of a biological child, but it’s something that’s surprised us and has been an adjustment in many ways in our daily life!
What advice do you have for families thinking about adopting a child of a different race?
You need to get to a place where trusting God with the plans for your family and your children is more important than what strangers think about you. That may sound really direct, but it’s true. If God is calling you to adopt, skin color really shouldn’t matter and you shouldn’t put God in a box of what color skin you’re open to for people who live in your household. It really isn’t a big deal, so don’t put more energy into worrying about it than it deserves. :)
But - beyond race and simply talking about skin color, adopting a child from another culture is something to put thought into and plan for. We intentionally selected India because we knew it would be easy for Kedar to be exposed to Indian culture in his normal life. We live near Indian family members who cook Indian food for him, our neighborhood and the local schools he will attend are diverse with many Indian children and kids from other international backgrounds. It is important for kids to be around someone who looks like them in their life, even if it’s not in their household, and even if it’s not super easy for your family to find. It make take planning and creativity, but it’s worth it and can be possible regardless of specific background or surroundings.
The financial costs of adoption I’ve heard are very high. Are you open to sharing your overall investment? How did you navigate the financial hurdles?
This may sound irresponsible, but I don’t actually know the total cost. I haven’t added everything up between all of the fees and travel, partly because I don’t want to put a specific dollar amount on Kedar joining our family. It sounds so cliche, but he is priceless to us and we would give everything we have to be able to have him as our child. Adoption fees may seem high, but it is literally the best money spent, in adding a precious child as a son or daughter. That said, I do feel the fees were fair, as our agency did a ton of paperwork and work on our behalf to help make it possible for our son to come home. I’m honestly surprised that they don’t charge more for as much help as they provide over several months (sometimes a few years), on almost a daily basis. There were also some fees that went to the orphanage, but again, they seemed very reasonable in considering that was the place that was raising our child for us until we were able to bring him home.
(Note: we didn’t utilize them, but there are many grants available for adoptive families and tons of great fundraising ideas that we’ve seen be really effective for families. Even in the hardest financial situations, we’ve never seen someone who started the adoption process without the money not be able to finish; God always makes a way and those are some of the best stories to hear!)
How did your family respond to your decision to adopt and how did you navigate any challenges here?
Thankfully our family has been incredible since the moment we told them we were even thinking about it, through now when they are totally in love with Kedar. They may have thought we were a little crazy to step into such an unknown process, not knowing the timeline or outcome of who we would adopt or when, but they were so supportive. From knowing our parents were praying for Kedar to come home quickly, and Akash’s dad even flying to India with us twice to help translate and navigate the Indian processes, our families couldn’t have been more awesome, and we are so grateful.
What other advice do you have for families interested in adoption?
If it is something that God is laying on your heart, take it seriously. There are millions and millions of children who wish for nothing more than to have someone to call mom and dad (or even one of those!), and you might be that person they are wishing and praying for. When God gives you a desire and a calling that is so in line with His heart, He will make a way. There will always be reasons not to adopt - whether it be the needs of biological kids at home, financial worries, fear of the unknown, or many other valid reasons. But our God is bigger than those reasons, and He can and will make a way if you have just even a little faith and trust. Do as much research as you need to for you to feel comfortable and educated on the process and options. Talk to adoptive families, talk to adoption agencies and compare. The actual adoption process may take awhile and will likely be one of the hardest things you go through. But don’t let the fear cause you to miss out on something incredible - or really, someone incredible - that God has for you and your family. (My favorite hashtag is #wecouldhavemissedthis - I am SO grateful we said “yes” even in our fear and that we didn’t miss having Kedar in our lives!)
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