An Adoption Update (and a How-to)

“Where are you in the process?”


I’m getting this question a lot these days. (And I love it.) I love that others are interested — in what we are doing and (for some) learning more about adoption. There is a part of me that wonders if it’s a bit like when I ask my homeschooling friends how things are going and although I am genuinely interested, it’s not without a hint of “I can’t imagine doing this myself” fascination. (Sorry homeschooling friends, but it’s true.) 


Enough people have asked about the adoption (our status as well as about the process, in general) that I thought maybe I should write about it. Keep you (and me) up to date in real time (or at least not years after fact, when I’m bound to forget details and the process and white-wash my emotions.)  


So here goes.


The very short story to where we are in the process is this: we are almost finished with our “paper chase.”


What does that mean?


Here’s a longer, but as simply put as I can, explanation of our adoption process:


I feel like, to start, you need to know WHY you are adopting. Do you want a child because you are unable to have your own? Secondary infertility? Adding to your current family in a socially conscious way? Because your heart and mind have always thought adoption would be part of your life? Because of your beliefs and this is how you know God is leading you to care for the orphans of this world?


To read more of our reason for why – you can click here and here.


After answering your WHY — you need to PICK AN AGENCY. Here’s ours. 


But there’s the catch— not all agencies serve all countries. So you also need to decide or know FROM WHERE DO YOU WANT TO ADOPT?


Initially, we wanted to adopt from Africa. But in an effort to be completely candid (and relatively brief), the agencies I spoke with said the wait time for Africa was in the 4-7 year range mark, and for each month that passes while we get our paperwork in (we’re at the 6 month mark), it would be approximately an additional six month wait. Meaning, our 4-7 year window would likely increase by three years.


WHY? You ask — well, that’s for another post. But if you’re interested, here is link to a thoughtful and thorough explanation of Adoption Ethics. (Thank you, Jen Hatmaker, you’re my hero.)


So, this is why I think the first question you not only have to ask, but to answer and know is WHY DO WE WANT TO ADOPT?


Because given those wait times, and given our WHY answer (the short version for us is: we feel/know very strongly God called us to adopt an orphan.) AN orphan. The from where part was not in our hearts. We were open. We were going on personal preference, because we’ve always had a heart for Africa.




IF YOU HAVE  A COUNTRY IN MIND, find a reputable agency that has a history (strong relationship and experience working) with that country.


If you DONT have a country in mind, you need to PICK one.


WHY? Well – every agency works with different/multiple countries. If you want to adopt from Korea, there are really great agencies that have longstanding relationships and a breadth and depth of knowledge on the process. Same goes for China, Ethiopia, Haiti, domestic, etc.


But what I didn’t realize, was that when you call an agency, they want to know WHERE you want to adopt from. When I called and said I don’t know… they said, “You have to apply into a country program.” They gave me information, but the ball was set firmly down in our side of the court. “Call us back (or apply online) when you know.”


Here are my suggestions for figuring out FROM WHERE (based exclusively on our experience):

  • Don’t panic and paralyze. (This is my go-to MO. I don’t know what to do, so I freeze.)
  • Take a deep breath and go back to your WHY.
  • Because our WHY included our faith, we felt very strongly to partner with a Christian adoption agency.
  • Because I’m a big fan of “work smarter, not harder” I peppered my Christian adopting friends with questions and emails until I had the names of three reputable, respectable, and (most importantly) previously-vetted Christian adoption agencies.
  • I listed each of those agencies and the countries they served. I went through each one, writing out their requirements. (Requirements include anything a country or an agency feels is necessary: BMI percentages ((NOT kidding)), number of current children, length of stay in country, net worth, etc.)


For us, according to the agencies with which we wanted to work, China was the only country for which we were eligible. (Now, I realize, had we felt strongly to adopt from a certain country or domestically, we surely could have found an agency to help us do it. But again, this is why I think knowing your WHY is of utmost importance. We did not feel bound to a country, our own or any other, but we did feel strongly about adopting from and working with a Christian agency we trusted—and we chose that based on personal experiences of people we knew, respected, and trusted.)


Okay. So, you have an agency and you have a country. From there the process is straightforward and lightening fast. (Totally kidding. But here is the breakdown.):


  • Apply to a country program
  • Get accepted
  • Get ALL THE INFORMATION in few dozen email attachments with hundreds of pages of information you don’t have the time or the bandwidth to digest all at once.
  • Make your own list of what you need to do, because you’re a list maker and you only see things once you write them down yourself
  • THE PAPER CHASE – based on your list, collect important legal documents. This includes things like birth certificates, employment verification letters, and reference letters. It doesn’t seem like it should take long. Have a cup of tea in all your free time. Realize your list didn’t take into account certain pieces of paper build on each other. Start to understand: there are multiple steps and it takes time. (Like I said, we are at the six month mark.) I’d like to write more about this whole paper thing another time…
  • (Would also like to insert: have a few freak-outs about the whole process, feel awesome at how great you’re doing, feel horrible for how bad you’re doing, feel at peace and happy, cry and panic, worry about money, give up all concerns about where this money will come from.)
  • (Explanation of Adoption expenses to be written about in the future as well.) 
  • Turn in your DOSSIER. Dossier is a fancy French word for “a group of papers that contain detailed information about someone or something.” The dossier/group of legal papers is about us—who we are, which will go to China to be translated while we wait for a referral. China will know (if they don’t already) absolutely everything about us.
  • WAIT and PRAY – For a referral (a child matched with us) phone call, for the child, for our family, for the finances, for our marriage, for our kids, for ALL the things swimming in our hearts.


Oh WOW. That’s so much. I didn’t mean it to be this long. Well. There it is. I hope that helps and I look forward to writing more about this soon!



Image from French Press Mornings

Thank you for reading!

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Sonya Spillmann


  1. I was wondering about this last night before I went to bed. Good timing. Love and miss you. Jen

  2. Hi Sonya,
    Love this! If you look up longest gestational period for a mammal it states elephant-23 months. I beg to differ with Wikipedia, the longest gestational period is the paper pregnancy of a Mama who is paper pregnant and waiting for “The call” from her agency! Write on! Les

  3. Seriously…BMI?! What on earth!!

    Thanks for the update. Can’t wait till that little baby is in your arms!

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