Paola is an Italian mother living in Finland. Her multicultural family includes her husband, two children via birth and adoption, and a support child. She blogs about her family life at The Elephant Mum. She has kindly allowed me to interview her about her family’s experience of adoption in Finland.
How did you come to be in Finland?
I was born and raised in Italy and I temporarily moved to Finland in 2010 to finish my studies through an Erasmus scholarship. After a couple of months I knew I didn’t want it to end. I called my boyfriend – now husband – and told him to start packing, we were moving here! A couple of months later I got a job offer and in 2011 he joined me. I found out later that he had dreamt of moving to Finland even before meeting me, what are the odds? A few months later I found out I was pregnant and we welcomed our daughter in 2013. In 2014 we started the adoption process that would bring us to our son.
How did you find navigating the adoption process in a country which is not your passport country?
Adoption in Finland requires a long counselling period, during which a social worker writes a home study on the family. We had a rocky start as it was hard to find a social worker who would provide it in English! Luckily we succeeded and nowadays I hear it’s easier. There was no information to be found in English whatsoever. The hardest part was not the process but after the child came home. We found ourselves alone with huge challenges. It wasn’t easy. After the storm passed and we found a family balance, I went out to see if there were any families like ours: multicultural adoptive families or adopters living in Finland. I worked with a local association as a volunteer to kickstart an English speaking peer support group. To my surprise, I discovered there were many families like ours, all needing support and services.
In the past 2 years we have built a thriving community. Now most information is available in English and several events are organised to also include international members. The best thing was observing how this small group shaped the local adoption landscape: we write content for the association’s magazine, organise events for everyone, and recently we organised some webinars in English with international experts to which many Finnish people took part. That was the most powerful takeaway from this experience: how accepting diversity and adopting an inclusive approach contributed to evolve and bring benefit to the whole community. Diversity does bring value.
Are there any memories which you have, either throughout the adoption process or when your adoption had been finalised, that stand out as particularly special?
There are many special moments I hold in my heart. The first part of the process is very ‘abstract’, things get real when you are matched to a child. I remember where I was when I received the phone call announcing we had been matched. I remember sitting in the office with my husband and examining our son’s dossier. Then the trip to India to meet him of course. Since he came home I have special memories of all the milestones he reached and the things he learned, including speaking two languages, Italian and Finnish.
Is there any advice you would like to give to families who are currently considering starting the adoption process either in their home country or abroad?
I want to focus on expats who adopt because I believe there’s plenty of advice and resources for people who adopt in their home country. Concerning the process, I recommend applicants should be aware that the process and the resources might not be designed for them.
When talking about adoption, people tend to focus on the process, which honestly doesn’t matter that much. The process requires money, time, and patience, that’s it. I know it seems like the most important thing in the world when you’re in it, but as someone whose experienced the phase after, I assure you that’s not the case. Adoption is a life-long journey for everyone involved. The real work comes after the child comes home. Adoptive families require a strong support network and expats might not have that. Furthermore, expats might find language barriers when trying to find or access support services and local peer support networks. For example, will you find therapists who can communicate with you and the child?
My advice is to be aware of these aspects, to the point of truly considering if you are a good fit for an adopted child, without your own desire of becoming a parent clouding your judgement.
On the other hand, expats have strengths when it comes to international adoption. They understand the importance of preserving cultural roots and have natural connections to local international communities they can leverage to help an adopted child to keep in touch with the culture of origin. Because we were expats, it was easy and natural for us to connect with the local Indian community, thus allowing our son to grow with a variety of role models and an authentic link to his birth culture. If possible, an expat might adopt from their country of origin, which would be a great win for the adoptee, allowing them to share ethnic and racial background with their parent(s). Similarly, I would urge expats to carefully consider if domestic adoption is a good option for the child. Can they ensure a lifelong connection with the country, the local language (to allow reunification), and possibly the biological family? Or do they plan to move away, in time? Adoption applicants tend to make choices based on convenience, we did the same. Now I regret that, out of ignorance, we didn’t take a adoptee-centred approach in our process.