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.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.