Social Worker: Ethiopian Adoption: Preparing to Know Your Child

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Ethiopia in 2006 has become one of the top 5 countries for American adoptions. This attraction is heightened by the beauty and appeal of the children, their ethnic diversity and their religions which encompass the Judaic, Christian and Muslim traditions. However as one of the highest ranking countries in the world for maternal mortality, malnutrition, poverty, AIDS and child abandonment a medical review of your child’s referral packet is essential. Thus when you receive your youngster’s photo, medical report and developmental history be sure to consult with a pediatrician knowledgeable about and experienced in international adoption. This is the professional who can provide you with the guidance and peace of mind to proceed with this referral or request another and who will be on call to you when you are in Ethiopia with pressing questions. He or she will also provide you with traveling suggestions and prescriptions for the long trip home to the states. It is this physician with whom you and your child will meet as soon as you return home.

Americans adopting from Ethiopia have the unique privilege of meeting and visiting with the biological family, if they are known, in their villages. It is an opportunity which should be eagerly accepted because in years to come it will give your child tangible information about his/her ancestry, photographs for your child’s Life Book and yield important medical and psychological information about family genetics. This meeting will give a window into the circumstances for the adoption and provide the chance to obtain medical information from the birth family and officials and to take family pictures. These materials, as well as a few strands of hair from the birth mother, should be sent to your pediatrician while you are in Ethiopia or maintained for future genetic testing. In years to come DNA will provide a wealth of information to adoptive families and your doctor will be the repository of these materials and alert you to the latest findings. When in Ethiopia your child will be cared for in the orphanage by nannies, nurses and doctors. Your youngster will also receive check-ups from an outside physician in his/her office. If you have questions and are uncomfortable with the answers feel free to ask for a team consultation, as I did, with all the professionals involved with you child. If you continue to be concerned contact your physician in America for clarification before bringing your child home. Most importantly know that your child will receive inoculations in Ethiopia and must be in good health to qualify for the America visa. Your child will receive a final check-up in Ethiopia to certify these requirements have been met. In addition to knowing your child’s health and birth family you will meet the youngster you only “knew” from a photo within hours of your arrival in Ethiopia. Be aware that when you land in Addis Ababa you will be jetlagged from the long, exhausting trip. Therefore take the opportunity to get some rest, eat lightly and be refreshed when you meet your child. You want to feel your very best and be ready for one of the most joyous occasions you will experience. As you prepare to meet for the first time remember that your little one is not accustomed to many visitors or being held by newcomers. It will take both of you time to get acquainted. Enlist the assistance of the nannies who, although you may find them possessive in the beginning, will be a fund of information and full of helpful tips once you are assertive and they understand your good intentions. So spend as much time as you can during the first days in your child’s care center observing your child’s feeding schedule, appetite, sleep pattern and temperament. Get accustomed to feeding and bathing your child because in a few days the child you have been visiting daily will be placed in your custody. It will then be your decision to stay in the orphanage’s guest house or a hotel of your choosing, while you await completion of your paperwork. And in a few more days you and your child will journey home to America to start a new life. One of the great advantages of Ethiopian adoption is the streamlined procedures and the abbreviated schedule, which is usually completed within 5-7 days of your arrival in Ethiopia.

A few words of wisdom when you return home: minimize the number of visitors during the first weeks. This is a major life change for your youngster and time is needed to rest from the long flight and to adjust to new formula/food and the immediate family. You and all those who love you and your new child will have a lifetime to celebrate.

by Roberta Kalmar, LMSW

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The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child's situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it - only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.

This material has been provided by, an innovative adoption medicine private practice and educational service, dedicated to helping parents and adoption agencies with the complex pre-adoption medical issues of internationally adopted children. All medical interactions are performed via, e-mail, express mail, telephone, and fax. There is no need to make a live appointment or travel outside of your hometown. For more information, visit or call 631-499-4114.

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