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5 Adoption Dos

What Mary-Louise Parker did right when she adopted her daughter.
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WebMD Feature

In the fall of 2007, award-winning actress and the star of the hit TV series Weeds Mary-Louise Parker adopted her daughter, Aberash, who’s now 3, from Ethiopia. “Ash” joined big brother William, now 5, who is Parker’s son with actor Billy Crudup. If you are thinking about adopting a child, Parker’s experience in growing her family is illuminating -- there’s a lot to learn from the top five things she did right in navigating your own odyssey through the often daunting process.

1. Do your homework. Parker admits she “didn’t know a lot about adoption” when she first set out to adopt a sibling for her son William. So she consulted international adoption expert Jane Aronson, known as the “orphan doctor,” who helped her decide to adopt from Ethiopia. Some excellent sources for your own research:

  • Adoptive Families magazine (www.adoptivefamilies.com, 646-366-0830). You could literally spend weeks poring through all the spot-on information on this exhaustive Web site.
  • The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (www.adoptioninstitute.org, 212-925-4089.) The Institute sponsors conferences and Web-based seminars for adoptive parents, publishes research about adoption issues, and promotes ethics in adoption. 
  • Aronson’s organization, International Pediatric Health Services (www.orphandoctor.com, 212-207-6666). She offers consultations on medical issues when adopting from overseas, and her Web site features a collection of articles on health and developmental issues of internationally adopted children.
  • Informational seminars put on by adoption agencies in your area.

2. Honor your child’s roots. Parker kept her daughter’s given name, Aberash, which means “giving off light” in Amharic. “That’s the only thing I have to give her that her parents left her. That’s profound and I wouldn’t rob her of it,” she tells WebMD.

All adopted children come to their new families with a history and a story. Help them learn it. “Everybody wants and needs to know where they came from,” says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Some meaningful ways to help adopted children get in touch with their history include:

  • Make an “adoption lifebook,” with pictures of your child’s birth parents (if you have them), stories of how they joined your family, and mementos of the place they were born.
  • If you adopt internationally or transracially, make your child’s cultural and ethnic heritage part of your own. Adoptive Families, online and in the print magazine, has a wealth of information on everything from styling hair to starting international adoption playgroups, choosing culture camps, and blending holiday traditions.
  • If you are in contact with your child’s birth parents, ask for photos of them when they were young or lists of their favorite childhood books, songs, games, to share with your child.

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