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Secrets of Successful Adoption Travel

You'll always remember the trip you take to meet your child. Here's how to minimize travel headaches, so the memories will center around your newest family member, not adoption logistics.

by Carrie Howard

The moment you meet your child, your world shrinks. You could be anywhere on the planet...and, chances are, that defining event is taking place far from home. Almost all adoptive parents must travel to meet their new child. For many, the destination is in the U.S., and the trip can be made by car. But for some, there are multiple flights to another country. No matter what, the journey will be memorable. Parents share their travel-planning advice to ensure that it will be memorable for the right reasons.

Start preparing before you get "the call."

John and Lucy Baldi traveled to Texas to adopt baby Melissa. John advises: "Make a list of all the things you"ll need to take, as you might do when going on vacation, being sure to include baby items and any adoption paperwork. Have as much as possible packed and ready to go a month before the birthmother's due date." In post-call chaos, it's easy to forget items like cell phone and camera battery chargers.

The Baldis also recommend having your baby's room ready: "When you return home, you'll want to spend your time adoring your newborn, rather than assembling a crib, removing tags and washing baby clothes, and running to stores." If you can't bear the sight of an empty nursery before the placement is definite, give family and friends the go-ahead to assemble the basics while you're gone.

Get in shape, and stay that way.

Rather than seven-pound newborns, some families bring home 20-pound toddlers-and are surprised at how tiring it can be to lift and carry their little ones. Kari Blackburn adopted her son in St. Petersburg, Russia, and she was prepared. "Our son was almost 18 pounds when we adopted him, at nine months. I was glad I'd been lifting weights before our trip." Even so, the new mom found herself with lower back pain. "My dad suggested that I buy a back-support belt-the kind that warehouse employees wear. I hardly notice that I'm wearing it, and my back pain is gone. Now Christian weighs more than 26 pounds, and loves to be picked up and carried around."

Gear tip: The ERGO baby carrier can accommodate toddlers up to 40 pounds, giving tired arms a rest. And because it keeps baby close to you, it promotes bonding.

Plan your route and research your destination.

"Invariably, your birthmother will go into labor at 2 A.M. and you'll need to be there now," says Timothy Swanson, founder of an adoption travel agency, Federal Travel. "Do your homework, so you can jump into action." As Swanson explains, this goes beyond researching airfares: "Determine how long it will take you to drive from your home to the airport, and where you will park when you get there. Find out about rental car rates and the location of the hospital or adoption agency, so you can decide which hotel you want to stay in. If you'll be driving the whole way there, print directions and keep them near your packed luggage. Having all of this information in advance will reduce your anxiety when the call comes."

Choose your traveling companion wisely.

If you are not traveling with a spouse, you should consider bringing a friend or relative. When Mary Nell Ryan traveled with her four-year-old to adopt a second daughter, her sister-in-law, Rhonda, came along to help. Ryan says, "Your travel partner should be able to fill lots of different roles: babysitter for the older child or for the new child, videographer, pack mule, psychologist (for the new parent), and personal secretary, to make sure the brain-dead mommy remembers all the papers and passports and extra diapers that are necessary each time you leave the hotel room."

If your older child is traveling, show affection and appreciation.

If you take your older child with you, pack an ample supply of activities and treats. More important, reassure the big sibling that you still have time for her and that you appreciate her help with the new child. Ryan says, "Spend some time-swimming, shopping, playing-with just the older child." She also suggests involving the older child in the trip and the process in small ways. "Have her pick out clothes for the baby to wear. Let her select gifts for family back home and some special souvenirs for herself. It will help her remember the amazing journey and give her some 'control' over a pretty uncontrolled situation."

If your child is staying at home, provide reassurance.

For a child who is accustomed to seeing you every day, a long absence will be upsetting-and hard to understand. Young children will benefit from a concrete way to mark the passage of time. Shoshana Dornblaser and her husband left their four-year-old daughter with her grandmother when they traveled to adopt her little sister."My daughter and I made a paper chain with a link for each day Mommy and Daddy would be gone," says Dornblaser. "Every morning she would tear off the link for that day. This helped her 'see' how much longer it would be before we returned."

In addition to frequent phone calls or Skype sessions, leaving behind a daily reminder of your love helps. When Sandy Rappeport left her older daughter behind on her second adoption trip, "I set up 'Mommy's treasure box' with a little present (crayons, a yo-yo, a bouncy ball) for each day. My daughter loved getting to open something every day. I also tape-recorded myself reading her favorite stories, and she listened to them at night."

Buy it when you see it, and get it home safely.

Whether you travel to New Mexico or an exotic destination abroad, you'll want to bring back a few mementos. Ruth Williams Hennessy, who adopted her son in Vietnam, says, "These really are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities." If you see something you like-jewelry, local crafts, unusual artwork-don't count on finding it for a better price or at a different location, or even having the time and energy to shop around. Take a duffel bag, or buy an inexpensive suitcase at your destination, for carrying purchases-whether keepsakes or new baby gear.

Think of adoption travel as an adventure.

If you can handle surprises, you'll have a more enjoyable trip and be better prepared for the road ahead. Many find that their parental problem-solving skills kick in during this time. Michelle and John, who adopted their daughter in Texas, says, "We purchased a playard for our daughter to sleep in, but it was missing some pieces. Then we inspected the dresser drawers, but they closed automatically. So we emptied our smallest carry-on suitcase, and that's where Joely slept until we got home."

Many domestic adoptive families say their long stays out-of-state while waiting for ICPC approval [see "Domestic Adoption: In-Room Baby Care"] were an unexpected positive. "We actually felt there was an advantage in going through this strange process," says Marnie Shiels, of Falls Church, Virginia. "It gave us uninterrupted bonding time with our new baby, without the daily worries of bills, phone calls, and other things that crop up at home."

And even if things go wrong-you miss your connecting flight, you wind up with a stomach bug, your baby throws up on his last clean outfit when you still have four hours of flying to go-you can console yourself by thinking: This trip will make a great story some day.


When parents adopt in the U.S., and their baby is born in a different state, they may spend their first days, or weeks, together in a hotel room as they wait for ICPC clearance to travel home. You shared your best advice for parenting a newborn while living out of a suitcase.


"Look for a residential inn. Having a fridge, a stove, and a dishwasher was a godsend. While we ordered our share of take-out meals, we were able to have a couple of home-cooked meals. Having a laundry room in the next building also made life easier." —ROB, CONNECTICUT


"Get as many sample bottles of pre-mixed formula as you can from the hospital. We did this, and so only had to wash nipples, not bottles." —NANCY, RHODE ISLAND

"I used Playtex bottles with disposable liners. These don’t require sterilizing, so they’re easy to deal with." —JENNIFER, OHIO


"We brought a co-sleeper that you place between you in bed. It allows you to feed, soothe, monitor, and bond with baby without getting out of bed at night. And it folds up for packing. If you want to use this, make sure you get a king-size bed." —SARAH, NEW YORK

"The baby slept in a combo travel crib that has a bassinet top, as well as a changing station. It got a lot of use." —JESSICA, WISCONSIN


"We booked a room with two beds. We used the second bed as a changing area, which worked really well." —ROBERT AND TINA, CALIFORNIA


"Newborns still have umbilical cord stumps, which can’t get wet, so we gave our daughter sponge baths on a towel on our bed." —MELISSA AND LOUIS, MISSOURI


"When you arrive at your destination, buy an infant car seat and a stroller frame that holds it, rather than lugging the seat with you and worrying about it getting damaged or lost." —NICOLE, MARYLAND

CARRIE HOWARD, an adoptive mother of two, is a writer and editor based in Washington.


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