What to Expect: A Letter to Traveling Families

March 14, 2019 China trip, Gotcha Day, March 2019 Feature - In China, prepping for China, Rebecca, travel tips, What To Expect 4 Comments

Dear Soon to Travel Adoptive Family,

If I could go back now, these are the words that I’d whisper to my own pre-trip heart. My hope is that they’ll fall gently, offer a bucket of grace, excite your spirit, and speak to your heart.

Before our first adoption trip, I was giddy with joy and trembling weak-kneed. I spent so much time tasking that I missed the opportunity to pull back and consider heart preparation.

There is much to be done at this stage in your journey. You’ve got paperwork to finalize, shopping to do, travel to book, suitcases to pack, and lists to work through, but let me urge you to make space in your heart mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I’d love to tell you exactly what to expect, but the mystery of it is just part of it. No promises can be made about your daughter’s gotcha-day reaction, how good your guides will be, if you’ll pack the right clothes, if your son will cry on the plane, or if you’ll like the hotel’s mattress. Your brain will want to focus there, but I encourage you to attempt a wider view.


Let go, in advance, of expectations and control. Give yourself a good talking to about releasing your hold. You’ve moved mountains to get here, so relinquishing control will require intention.

As your plane lifts into the air, un-grip your fists, and begin the surrender. Your dossier is complete, and it is your agency’s job now to put those last puzzle pieces together. Trust them to do their work. Trust the timing. Trust the Lord.

You will have guides who will keep you informed, organize your schedule, and help you plan tours. This will be an experience like none other. Take it as an opportunity to practice the discipline of surrender.

You will be thousands of miles away from all aspects of your normal life. Kids will not be in car seats, the food you eat will be different, and the schedule out of your control.

Whether by birth or adoption, every child has unique and developing emotional, mental and medical differences. All of us come with ever-evolving needs. No checklist, plan or preparation can prepare us for this. Sometimes surrendering our expectations is the hardest part of any relationship.


This trip will illicit in you all manner of feelings, some that make sense, and some that don’t seem to. Grant yourself permission to allow them to bubble up as they are. Give yourself grace and know they’ve been felt by many who have gone before you.

Remember that emotions are both healing and flaky, often coming unexpectedly and leaving quickly. It’s all part of the process.

Adoption is an extreme paradox of the beautiful and the broken. You will feel that.

For me, I had some unexpected feelings rise on our gotcha day. We’d pushed and pushed to get to the moment of meeting our daughter, but when the glorious finish line was in sight, I needed a nudge. What I can tell you now though, is that those faith-building days have positively impacted every day of my life that followed.

Lean In

If your experience is like ours, God will use this trip to speak volumes of truth to you. Be sensitive to that. Grab your travel partner’s hands and pray in the morning, in the evening, and every moment in between that feels beyond you. Pray in gratitude. Pray for help. Pray to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit leading you moment to moment.


This will be unusual and unique. Nothing that you are feeling in that space will last forever and don’t assume that your child’s behaviors represent their forever either. Keep perspective. Get through it, one day at a time.

If your emotions are weird. Keep perspective. They’ll pass.

If China feels overwhelming, scary or hard. Keep perspective. You are in China! What a gift. What an opportunity, but also a major life change. Push for the wider, long haul view.

See China

Experience it. Taste it. Sit and listen to it. Keep your eyes willing to see the beauty and your heart set on gratitude.

You’ll have the gift of agency planned tourism. Can I suggest that you enjoy those tours, but also go off the grid, by a street at least? Walk down the road behind the museum you are taken to. Peek into the shop next to the offices where you have meetings. Ask questions. Find a non-touristy park and sit, eat lunch, and bond with your new child.

In our times in country, we experienced Chinese people being very, very curious about our family. Some of the cultural norms that we have here don’t translate there, such as personal space, respecting privacy, asking questions, and giving opinions. Our guide in one province was obsessive about our daughter needing warm layers. In our eyes, she was fine. In hers, she was freezing. My momma bear instinct roared, and my husband had to encourage me to respond kindly. I’m glad he did. I was on her turf, and her view was not wrong because it was different.

Embrace the difference. We’ve seen families truly struggle with this, and I think its an opportunity loss. China is a fascinating, fun and mysterious place.

Relish the Perks

Consider the gift of where you are and what you get to do. Breakfast buffets, no food to cook, maid service, and travel guides. You will be given uninterrupted time to bond with your new child. Flip your thinking to see the positives.

Also, relish the moment. Drink in all the broken beautiful as best you can. This is a trip that will forever be one of the most memorable moments of your life. You are closest to the place of your child’s birth, and a trip that you’ll think of with a longing to return.

Your Child

Though you’ve yearned for your child, they were not expecting you. They are being taken from all that feels familiar.

Remind yourself that you are a stranger to them and being taken by you is traumatic. Withhold judgment. Withhold expectations. Withhold typical parenting norms.

When we adopted our Claire, she was used to having candy all the time. Having a treat in both hands had been a soothing technique of the nannies. When we adopted Evelyn, she was used to soothing herself with lovies and eating little sausages wrapped in red plastic. Feeding these to toddlers was not typical of us, but both girls were in the middle of a trauma, so we made sure to keep Claire’s hands full and a supply of meat sticks and clean lovies for Evelyn. While in China, we deferred to comfort and getting through the days.

All three of our children from China reacted differently in country, some in hard ways, some easier than expected. Looking back now, though there were glimpses of their real personalities, I can see the grieving in our photos. I see kids who were almost nothing like the children that they have become.

China Time

Your time in China will fly by and drag along. Some days you’ll have to push yourself to get from meeting to meeting and other days you’ll linger long in your hotel room simply figuring out this little person you’ve been given and letting them figure out you.

Meeting Your Child

Expect that your family day will look different than how you imagined. It might be sweet and special, or it might be hard. We’ve had both, but I can assure you that all three rank among the most special days of our lives.. Take it hour by hour and throw grace like confetti.

Ask permission first but take photos and video of anything that you can at the orphanage. Ask for the nannies’ names and write them down. I loved Rachel’s suggestion to film yourself recalling everything you could remember from that experience when you return to your hotel room. This life-altering experience will be a complete whirlwind. You’ll look back and struggle to remember exactly how it all happened.

The moments of meeting our children were profoundly beautiful and hard all at once.


Buy some treasures to bring home. Every little souvenir that you tuck into your suitcase will become a priceless keepsake when you land back home.

Don’t Waste It

You are going to want to. You are going to be tired, missing home, and missing your routine. You’ll be bone weary in all the ways that a person can be weary. The beauty is that it is a weariness that comes from the deepest kind of living.

The trip before you is a mystery, my soon to travel friends, but it’s a glimpse into a broken beautiful. A glimpse at your child’s homeland. It’s a peek into orphanage life and the culture of your child’s birth. It’s loaded with life’s best and hardest. Surrender. Keep perspective. Enjoy it and pray your guts out.
And go ahead and think through “What to expect on the long flight home”.

All the adoptive families who have gone before you will cheer you on, and follow your travels with pom poms and nostalgia.

Courage, dear hearts.

*Find more helpful information about adoption trips in NHBO’s China Trip and Gotcha Day categories.

4 responses to “What to Expect: A Letter to Traveling Families”

  1. 10 days to China says:

    We have had so many friends go before us on this journey we call adoption. We have watched each one of them deal with the overwhelming stress and anxiety of paperwork, fingerprints, money, money and more money. We have listened as helpless spectators to their desperate, exhausted and emotionally taxing tales of this and that and everything in between. We sat beside them totally broken hearted when not one but two adoptions failed. And we have seen the strain of all it on their marriages.
    When we knew we were called to adopt, I prayed with everything that I had that no matter what happened we would enjoy the process, we would let it make us stronger and that we would be intentional glorifying Him and not our expectations. It is a journey to complete His family, not ours. Oh how He has heard that cry. I can honestly say that we have enjoyed the process. I could do without the million forms, standing in line for biometric fingerprints (whatever that means) and retaking passport pics but we have laughed in those moments and tried to remember that these are the labor pains of adoption. But now its travel and the lax, happy go lucky, it’s all in His timing perspective seems to be narrowing. The packing and tying up loose ends at home seem never ending. What will we need? What will he need? How does one prepare to meet their child for the first time? I mean it just got really real! And the impact and magnitude of that has felt so heavy the past few days. Emotions are high and constantly running leaving me exhausted. So this? This is like honey to my soul. Reminding me of those “from the gut” prayers in the beginning of all of this to enjoy, to be still and press in to Him and relish in His goodness. To taste and see that He is good.

    • Rebecca says:

      I’m just finding this comment, “Ten Days to China”, and I’m realizing that you might just be in China now. How fitting, and perfect timing for me to stop and pray over you. What a beautiful heart and attitide you have. Thank you for sharing this, your story, your experience, your feelings and that this connected with you. I’m so very glad. God speed, momma. May you relish in His goodness as you press in at this stage of the process. Would love to see a photo or 20!

  2. Janie says:

    Oh my heart! Excellent advice no doubt. The pictures pull my heart strings ❤️

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