Local couples make international adoption their "Plan A"
In the popular cartoon "Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends," none of Miss Spider's kids look the same. Bounce is a blue bed bug, Squirt is green with purple legs and Shimmer is a pink jewel beetle. Such is the case for thousands of Wisconsin couples who have adopted children from other countries and buzzed beyond the belief that family is defined by DNA.
"My closest relationships in life are with people I am not biologically related to," says Deb Sumiec.
Sumiec and her husband adopted two children: Abby from Russia in 2000 and Molly from China in 2004. Although adoption is sometimes perceived as a choice made by couples who can't conceive a biological baby, the Sumiecs are "preferential adopters," meaning infertility was not the reason for their adoption decision.
"Adoption is not our second choice, it is our first choice for our second child."
Matt and Ann Marie Ronsman are also preferential adopters. They have a biological, 4-year-old son, Luke, and are waiting to adopt a little girl from China.
"Many of our friends and family have asked, and many more have wondered, why in the world we chose to adopt," says Ann Marie, who attributes her decision to a series of coincidences and seemingly divine interventions.
"We truly believe that we have been called on in not-so-subtle ways to adopt from China. It is not necessarily logical by the world's way of thinking," says Ronsman. "Adoption is not our second choice, it is our first choice for our second child."
Shorewood's Bruce and Diane Keyes have two biological sons, Eli, 4, and Isak, 2, and adopted Shayna, now 11 months, from Korea this summer. The couple planned to have three or four children, but after a difficult delivery that left Diane paralyzed for four months post-partum and a pregnancy that required two-and-a-half months of bed rest, they decided to continue growing their family through adoption.
"Bruce and I researched adoption even before we had our kids," says Keyes. "We knew we were going to be parents, we just weren't sure how it was going to happen."
In 2005, the United States government issued more than 22,000 visas to foreign-born children (that's triple the number issued in 1994). China is still the most popular country to adopt from -- with almost 8,000 adoptions finalized last year -- but thousands of kids come to American families every year from Russia, Guatemala, Korea and a host of other countries.
Every country handles international adoption differently, but it's always a very complicated, legal process that requires months, sometimes even years, to unite the children with their "forever families."
"Very few countries operate at the frenetic pace America does," says Sumiec.
In general, children adopted from China are usually girls, and come home when they are just over a year old. Korean and Guatemalan babies often come home younger, but the timeline isn't set in stone and many parents find this to be the most frustrating aspect of adopting internationally.
"It was very difficult to know I had a child thousands of miles away and I couldn't care for her," says Keyes. "I just wanted to hold her."
Carrie Schaak of Wauwatosa chose Guatemala because it was one of the countries that permit single women to adopt. "Guatemala was the best fit for me," she says.
“Not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute you did not grow under my heart but in it.”
Schaak says she also chose Guatemala because the children are usually placed in foster homes rather than orphanages, and because Central America is comparatively closer to home, a geographical fact that allowed her to visit her daughter during the adoption process.
Why adopt internationally instead of locally? For people who want a healthy infant, international adoption is a "sure thing." In the United States, the birth mother chooses the adoptive parents from scores of applications, making it difficult for average people to get picked over extremely wealthy candidates. Also, international adoptions do not pose the same risk of the birthparent changing her mind.
On the flip side, international adoptions are more expensive, costing approximately between $15,000 and $30,000, and many times the adopted child comes with limited medical and birth family information. Plus, in almost all cases there is the added challenge for the adoptee of not only "losing" their birth family, but their country and heritage as well.
In an effort to stay connected to their son's birth family, Whitefish Bay's Al and Judi Ruppel hired a professional to find their son Marco's birth mom. The search took two months and cost $1,500, but they found her, and Marco's twin sibling who still lives with his birth mom. Now, the Ruppels are able to send donations and have more information about Marco's background, but making the decision to search for their son's birth mother was not an easy one.
"Prior to searching for the birth mother, I asked about a dozen adults who had been adopted if they were interested in locating their birthmother. The response was 50/50," says Judi. "However, the response was 100 percent (yes) that the adoptee would want to find and meet a twin sibling."
Making peace with the past is something all adopted children have to do at some point in their life. Luckily, many organizations have cropped up all over the country as international adoptions continue to increase in the U.S. Locally, groups like LAAF-WI (Latin American Adoptive Families of Wisconsin), Korean Connection and the Milwaukee Area of Families with Children from China help families learn about -- and assimilate -- their child's heritage into their lives. Such groups also help parents deal with adoption-related issues and unite them with other people in similar situations.
"The largest joys we have found after adoption are the wonderful resources and groups that are in Wisconsin for support and to keep the children's awareness of their culture," says Becca MacCudden who has one son adopted from Guatemala at 14 months and is waiting for her second adoption to finalize.
Sumiec suggests traveling early to the child's birth country. "It was what sealed our love for the cultures of my children's homelands. But remember to celebrate your own heritage, too. This is what makes our lives so rich and so fun," she says.
Article author Molly Snyder Edler has a 3-year-old son adopted from Guatemala.
The Adoption Resources of Wisconsin Web site is wiadopt.org.
Beth said: There are over 50 million children worldwide that need families so thanks for the article. It would be great to see a story about domestic, open adoption to break down some of the myths and give equal time to that option. I'm a birth mom and adoptive mom, and in my experience birth parents are just more people to love your child. Gotta love that!
Barbara said: There are several problematic points here. (1) "For people who want a healthy infant, international adoption is a 'sure thing.'" This is really overly optimistic, and anyone who has spent more than five minutes reading one of the numerous adoptive parent forums knows that. Yes, you can adopt babies and toddlers internationally, but not brand-new infants; and there is no guarantee of health. In Russia, for example, alcohol exposure is a main concern (again, read the forums and listen to what parents are talking about). Yes, a lot of the children can be made healthy once they're getting good care, but that does not mean you are going to get off the plane with a perfectly healthy infant. (2) "In the United States, the birth mother chooses the adoptive parents from scores of applications, making it difficult for average people to get picked over extremely wealthy candidates." This is misleading. The process is highly subjective, and frustrating (I know; we went through it). And as with anything in the world, it does seem that those with the most $$ get the fastest results...but people who are not extraordinarily wealthy get picked all the time. Birth moms (and dads) are looking for more than just a salary; they are looking for people they think will love their child. (3)"Also, international adoptions do not pose the same risk of the birthparent changing her mind." This is because THERE ARE NO BRAND NEW INFANTS ADOPTED INTERNATIONALLY. We have traded off instant placement, in this country, for the certainty that comes when you only initiate an adoption after the birth parents' rights have been terminated. The laws in most states in this country give birth parents only hours or days to change their mind, and as long as there is no legal irregularity (like failure to give notice to a birth father) there is almost no chance that the birth parents can change their mind later on. As for baby-selling, I think we need to have some common sense between the extremes of "all adoptive parents are saints and heroes" (no, sorry) and "adoption is an evil way to rip children out of their cultures for profit." The FACT is that in every country, EVERY one, including the USA, there have been instances of people profiting by providing babies to couples who want to adopt them. Google "Georgia Tann" or "Bessie Bernard" if you want to learn about two of the more infamous baby-sellers in our own history. Let's not pretend that abuses are invented -- but let's not paint all adoptions with the same brush either.
Darlene said: Just another take on the thought that we are doing so much for the children adopted. As the Nana of Kai River I can't tell you how much he has brought to us. I feel we are the lucky ones to have been blessed with this precious child. We owe his birth parent a great debt of gratitude.
Sheila said: One more thought to throw out there regarding the popular nonsense about "buying babies." Although I've known women who would sell their children if they could, and it's certain that, in some situations, some women (or their families) could profit from giving up their children, I don't know a single adoptive parent who looks at any part of the adoption as "buying," regardless of the cost. We are adding to our families, taking a child into our hearts. We want to be PARENTS not OWNERS. Even if we were to literally pay a woman to have a child for us (like some do, through surrogacy), we are NOT buying a child. Paying money (whether to an agency, a government, or a private individual) to become a parent could never be considered the same thing as purchasing a T.V. or top-of-the-line stereo! Instead, those of us who chose to adopt and (admittedly) pay huge fees to governments, lawyers or agencies, are paying for the priviledge of loving and caring for a child who has no one else to love him.
TC said: Speaking from experience. I was adopted from India 29 years ago and if it wasn’t for my family’s kind heart, I probably would not be alive today. To all the new parents (and the soon to be) you may never hear it said, but please know, that your children look to you as their own special angel. I know I do. I love you mom & dad!
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