Orphanage Visit – To Go or Not to Go

For many adoptive parents, THAT is the question.

Before traveling to China, I was 100% certain that I wanted to visit my son’s orphanage. I wanted to see what his little life had been like for the first 4 years. Once Adoption Day rolled around, I wasn’t so sure.

My sweet 4 year old son walked through the colorful curtain and across the room with the well-known deer-in-the-headlights look. There were no tears. There was no screaming. There was no running to get away, throwing toys, hitting, or overturning of furniture. All of which happen with great frequency on Gotcha Day. There was simply shock.


All week long, we worked to draw him out of his shell. He ate what I put on his plate, played with the toys I offered, and pretty much did whatever I asked him to do. He had no preferences or opinions. He was just there. So when Friday rolled around and we still hadn’t made any significant progress or seen any smiles, I worried. What if we went to the orphanage for a visit and he didn’t want to leave with me? Would he fight me then? Would the other children at the SWI be freaked out to watch me wrangle this pre-schooler back into the van? With some encouragement from a friend, and realizing this was a one-time shot, off we went.

With treats for the children and small gifts for the orphanage staff, the trip went very well! My son LOVED seeing his friends and caretakers. He was careful to make sure each child received their treat and shyly answered questions from everyone. We took several pictures and videos and toured a very small part of the facility that their staff deemed acceptable. Those precious children were whisked off for dinner only to reappear in a second story window a couple of minutes later shouting and waving good-bye to my son. He was all smiles and silliness as he chattered back. Without hesitation, my little guy climbed right up in the van and buckled his seatbelt for our long ride back to the hotel. With a smile.


A little piece of me was left there that day. As thankful as I was to be walking away with my son, my heart was broken for the children in the windows. He was changed that day. But so was I. The videos on my phone were watched no less than 50 times before we left China. Every time, my son would smile and jabber. And every day he watched them a little less and opened up to us a little more.

Good-byes. Videos. Pictures. Changed hearts.

I’m so glad we went.

**If you are adopting an older child who has a little more of an understanding about the permanency of the good-byes that happen on an orphanage visit, please be prepared for the emotions that may be involved. They are walking away from all they have ever known, and this is easier for some than for others. If you need support and encouragement in this type of situation, please reach out to one of the older child adoption Facebook groups or an experienced friend. As always, you can also email us here at Red Thread, and we will be happy to connect you with someone who has walked in your shoes.