Katherine Heigl adopted a daughter from Korea

Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley have become parents through adoption of a 10 month old daughter from Korea named Naleigh. Yay and congratulations! Although most comments in the news and on the internet have been positive, I’ve also heard some snarky comments, or maybe they were attempts at humor, along the lines of “Now there will be a run on babies from Korea”.

OK, I can take a joke as well as the next person, so to the extent that these type comments are an attempt at lame humor, I get it. But even though I risk being called a killjoy, I’d like to address them seriously, just in case there is an underlying element of seriousness behind the humor. Adopting is not easy and is usually not fast. People can’t decide to adopt on a whim. Have you ever heard of an “accidental” adoption? Regardless of the media coverage that sometimes trivializes the process, adopted kids are not the latest “must have” accessory, and copy-cat adoptions are very rare.

Without a doubt, celebrity adoptions do draw attention to adoption. The list of celebrity adoptive parents is long, as it should be since adoption is a natural and wonderful way to create a family. But very few non-celebrity families adopt to emulate a celebrity, any more than they would get pregnant to try to be like the slew of pregnant celebrities that appear every week in People Magazine. The risk is even less that this will happen with adoption since the family will be evaluated during their adoption home study. We can only hope that the social worker would figure out if the couple’s main motivation was celebrity worship.

But I do think that celebrity adoptions normalize adoptions and help bring adopting into the mainstream. For that, I am thankful for the publicity. Surely there are families that want another child who are now thinking that they could adopt rather than give birth thanks to seeing the Jolie-Pitt family. There are likely couples struggling with infertility that feels less angst at the thought of adopting when they see pictures of Hugh Jackman and his wife with their kids Oscar and Ava. Single woman feel hope when they see Meg Ryan and her daughter, Daisy and Sheryl Crow with Wyatt. I pray more families see the wonderful possibilities of adopting from foster care when they hear about Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw’s family. And gay families are invigorated by the families of Rosie and Kelli O’Donnell and Dan Savage.

I am particularly happy about the media attention of Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley’s adoption since Heigl announced on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that their daughter has special needs. I have mixed feelings about both her announcement and my blogging about it. After all, it’s really none of our business if Naleigh has special needs. I hate labels such as “adopted” and “special needs”, so I really hate when they are combined to describe a child. I suspect that Heigl made that announcement to forestall the inevitable comments about celebrities receiving preferential treatment in everything, including adopting. If her adoption was faster, it’s probably faster because she adopted a waiting child rather than because she was a celebrity.

But since she made the announcement, I figure I can talk about it in the hopes of drawing attention to the wonders of special needs adoptions. Many people assume that children with special needs—also known as waiting children—have huge issues that will drastically alter parenting and family life. Some do, but many special needs are easily incorporated into family life, and especially in international adoption, many special needs are medically correctable here in the US. We have talked about the typical types of special needs seen in international adoptions in the July 29 Creating a Family show on Adopting from China and the September 23 show on Adopting from Africa . We also have a video on Adopting a Child with Special Needs from China and a plethora (I just love that word) of resources for families considering SN adoptions . I have heard rumors that Naleigh may have had a heart condition that was surgically corrected, but I haven’t been able to confirm that, so take that tidbit as gossip. Other typical conditions that make it harder for a child to find a family are cleft lip/palate, limb differences, Hepatitis B, partial deafness or blindness, and club feet. Older children with no medical issues at all are also waiting throughout the world, including the US, for families to adopt them. What is consider “older” varies by country, but generally means over the age of 6-8 for a girl or 4-6 for a boy. In the US the average age of child in foster care waiting for an adoptive family is eight, and about evenly divided by race and gender.

One of the beauties of adopting a child with a special need is that it is usually faster than a typical adoption. For example, right now the waiting time to adopt a “healthy” baby from China is 3-4+ years and growing. But if you are open to a child with a correctable heart murmur or missing fingers or visible birth mark, your wait will typically be around one year. Also, in most waiting children adoption programs, the prospective adoptive parents are able to pick the child that they want to adopt after reviewing medical and social information on the child.

The last thing I want is for people to go blindly into special needs adoption because they want a child quickly. Adopting and parenting are for life, and you need to make sure that you are the right parent for that child not just now, but for the rest of his life. But I also want to dispel the myth that kids with special needs always have problems that only a saint or a hero can handle. Educate yourself on the different type of conditions that are typically in special needs adoption , talk online with other parents who are parenting kids with this condition, talk with your social worker, and then decide. It can be a great experience.

Welcome home Naleigh.

Image credit: fanpopt