Brett, originally from Australia, met Eleonore, a Swede, 12 years ago while he was backpacking across Europe and she was on holiday with friends. They married in 2000 and spent time living between Sweden and Australia before settling in Stockholm to start a family. After many failed attempts to conceive, they decided to research the option of adoption.
“Most people just assume they can have kids,” says Brett. “When it doesn’t happen and you’re in the scenario of looking to adopt, it’s a non-issue. All of a sudden there was a solution.”
They say the process was long, stressful and mentally draining. Before applying to an adoption agency, couples must be approved by government social welfare services (Socialtjänsten), which can take up to six months. Social workers assess aspects of the couple’s suitability, including economic status, reference and police checks, health, and living conditions, including house visits.
“You go through a stringent test of interviews,” explains Brett. “We were really nervous. You want to show them your best side and make a good impression."
Once the social worker had granted approval, the Roberts were legally able to apply for a child. They went through the Barnens Vänner Internationell Adoptionsförening, one of six agencies in Sweden that organizes international adoptions.
“Once they’ve been approved, we help prepare their application and mediate the information from the contact abroad,” explains Mona Berglund of the agency. “There is a waiting list depending what country you want to adopt from, on average one to two years.”
She says the government’s approval to adopt is valid for two years. Sometimes families are unable to obtain a child in that window because of long wait times, and then must reapply. Other families run into problems because of age. It is recommended applicants are under 42 when applying; getting a child can take up to three years, and the government prefers new parents be under 45.
The BV agency works with five countries: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Kenya, Sri Lanka (though current political unrest has that partnership on hold). Berglund says each country has different requirements for adoptive parents, such as a minimum number of years married, economic statuses, or health checks. It’s the agency’s job to help families tailor their applications to each country’s wants, and each country will match a child to a family.
“If you look at figures of children coming to Sweden, it’s China where most come from,” says Berglund. In 2007, Sweden had 800 foreign adoptions, 280 of which came from China. But she says since adoption rates within the country have been increasing, often foreign parents wanting to adopt must be open to children with special needs, such as limb deformity, cleft palate or heart conditions.
“There are representatives for the children that look at different families’ applications and choose the family that best suits the child,” explains Berglund. Once a family has been selected, they are notified and can arrange to meet their child.
“Iris was 12 days old when we found out we got her,” recalls Brett. “I had been to Australia and just come back to Sweden. Eleonore was in Peru visiting a friend, so we weren’t even together. I get goosebumps thinking about it, I was downloading the photo of her and on the phone with Eleonore.”
But the Roberts say the most difficult step in the process came next, as it took nine months before they could fly to Taiwan to meet their daughter.
“We were really unlucky,” says Eleonore. “In the whole process that was the worst. It was all about paperwork and judges, and unfortunately our case was one of the longest up to that date. It was really tough.”
She says the orphanage sent photos every month with measurements, weight, and updates, and she took comfort knowing Iris was in a reputable orphanage. While typically parents wait about four months, the judge handling their case took longer.
“We were so desperate to go and get her,” says Eleonore. “We couldn’t call the judge and tell him to hurry, as that could have a negative effect.”
After nine months, they went to Taiwan prematurely, with the paperwork not totally completed. They celebrated New Years’ 2008 on a plane, heading to meet their child, already nine months old.
“The hardship of waiting and being stressed, it all disappeared the moment we got her,” says Brett, who said the paperwork was completed upon their arrival.
“Everyone says, ‘You missed her first smile,’” adds Eleonore. “But we didn't. The first time she smiled for us was our first smile, so we still got that. We missed nine months, but you forget that really quickly.”
They say since returning to Sweden, life has been a whirlwind, filled with leaning about parenting and helping Iris adjust to life in a new country. A few weeks ago Iris had her first day at school, and Eleonore says like any parent, she had a difficult time letting her go.
“I can't imagine life without her, she’s the sole focus of our life,” says Brett. “I feel more complete, in a funny way. We’re incredibly proud and think she’s super cute. It brings us closer together in becoming a family.”
The Roberts have also begun the process of adopting for a second time, again from Taiwan, and are hoping to have the paperwork ready to send by the end of summer.
“At the end of the day the process is definitely worth it,” says Brett. “When it’s in the middle it’s complicated, expensive and takes forever, but you get something pretty amazing for the effort you put in.”