'Thousands and thousands of children need you'
Adoption. For some couples, it is a last resort after spending years of time, money and anxiety trying to conceive a baby. For others -- many of them with biological children of their own -- it is a way to give back to society, opening their homes and their hearts to children in need of a better life.
While the U.S. is a world leader in adoption, the practice has nonetheless leveled off nationally and grown only modestly in Washington state, perhaps reflecting the lingering uneasiness many prospective adoptive parents have with the idea of welcoming a "stranger" into their families.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC), the number of U.S. adoptions from 1987 through 2001 has held steady, in the range of 118,000 to 127,000. World Magazine, a Christian weekly, estimates that is about five times the number of annual adoptions in all other nations combined.
Between 1992 and 2001, international adoptions grew from 5 percent to 15 percent of the U.S. total, the NAIC says, with the rest through publicly funded welfare agencies or private domestic arrangements. Children adopted from abroad into U.S. families come most often from China, Russia, Guatemala and South Korea, according to U.S. State Department data.
All told, Americans have big hearts when it comes to adoption. But according to a 2004 report from the Pew Commission on Foster Care, there were 534,000 U.S. children in foster care in 2002, almost double the number in care in the early 1980s. And there's a growing population of Africans AIDS orphans in dire need of adoptive homes. Both situations highlight the need for more families -- around the world, in the U.S., and in Puget Sound -- to step forward and adopt.
We spoke to three Seattle-area families who shared their stories, and sometimes their hard-won adoptive parenting tips, in hopes of inspiring others to more closely consider adoption.
Mark and Suzanne Rosenkranz:
After in vitro frustrations, adoption was a "beautiful" option
Mark and Suzanne Rosenkranz of Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood traveled down a road followed by many couples: Trying to conceive in their late 30s -- with high expectations -- only to find that they cannot. The couple attempted in vitro fertilization but after two unsuccessful tries, weary of the emotional and physical toll, said, "No more." It wasn't an easy decision.
"Giving up the biological option is a hurdle," Mark Rosenkranz says. "The vision, when you picture your family, is children who look like you." Suzanne adds, "I felt like I was letting Mark down, but that turned out not to be a big deal. We said, 'we want to parent,' and gave up the emphasis on the idea of being pregnant."
As we talk, their son Isaac, 6, is pleasantly burbling to himself at the breakfast table in their sunny kitchen, examining in detail a painted birdhouse, and then playfully running his fingers up a visitor's leg while dad fixes eggs and sausage. The Rosenkranzes say that adopting Isaac, and his older sister Sophie, 8, was no less a journey, and no less an education, than if they had gone through the pregnancies themselves.
They decided to pursue a domestic private adoption, working with an experienced Seattle attorney. "He told us, 'start marketing yourself; get the word out,'" Suzanne recalls. They did just that, starting with their families, and were pleasantly surprised no less than two weeks later. Mark's mother in Manhattan knew an employee in a health clinic in White Plains, N.Y., where one client was a young woman of Honduran descent. She was expecting her third child, and had decided she could not properly care for one more.
As part of the private adoption that subsequently unfolded, the Rosenkranzes paid a flat fee, plus the woman's legal expenses, and monthly living expenses during the pregnancy. After all the arrangements had been completed, the couple was at a reunion of Suzanne's extended family in Indiana. One evening, they checked their voice mail back home in Seattle and learned that the birth mother was in labor. "My sisters and I started screaming and crying; I called the doctor, and he said, 'Congratulations, you have a beautiful baby girl. She's 9 pounds and 3 ounces,'" Suzanne recalls.
The Rosenkranzes rushed to the Indianapolis airport, and boarded a night flight to New York marked by turbulence and lightning in the skies. "It was all extremely dramatic," Suzanne says. "I felt like God was saying, 'This is it.' At the hospital, Sophie was all swaddled up, her eyes wide open, looking around, and she had a full head of hair."
Unexpectedly, two years later, Suzanne got a call from the same health clinic worker who had been instrumental in Sophie's adoption. The same birth mother was pregnant again, and wanted this baby to be adopted too; if the Rosenkranzes were willing, the two biological siblings could be raised together. "I literally fell off the chair, and was crying and screaming in joy," Suzanne says.
The birth mother was conflicted because, given her cultural background, it was much harder for her to give up a boy. "It was a roller coaster ride the second time too," Suzanne says. "We felt ambivalent because we really wanted Isaac, but wanted to be sensitive to her. We walked out of the hospital with her. She was holding Isaac and then handed him over to us. It was brutal for her. All of us were uncontrollably sobbing. It was truly an act of love to place her children."
Reflecting on it all several years later, including the attempts at in vitro fertilization, Suzanne Rosenkranz says, "I get upset that the trend is to push people to really put themselves in physical danger (through in vitro treatments). Adoption is a beautiful, fabulous, terrific option. These are MY children, and they were meant to be my children. Having done this, I realize it makes absolutely no difference in terms of how you feel about your family or children. I wish I could have known that. It would have saved a lot of grief."
Psychotherapist adopted two and counsels families who adopt
JoAnne Solchany of Woodinville has both a personal and professional perspective on the satisfaction and challenges of adoptive parenting. She's an adoptive mother of two, a psychotherapist who treats adopted children and their parents, and an assistant professor in family and child nursing at the University of Washington's Center for Infant Mental Health and Development.
After cervical cancer forced her to have a hysterectomy, Solchany and her husband decided to adopt a child from Guatemala. But political turbulence temporarily shut down international adoptions there, so they instead traveled to Romania. They found Anna, the daughter of a teen migrant agricultural worker. Now a thriving 11-year-old, Anna had been placed in a rural Romanian orphanage where, at 11 months old, she weighed 9 pounds, suffered from giardia and had to eat through a nipple. Nurses kept holding up baby boys, saying, "take this one, he's a good one," but Solchany, who already had eight nephews, demurred. She wanted a girl. "As soon as they laid her in my arms, I decided. She was beautiful. She cried, and she was pretty shut down. It didn't matter."
Solchany stayed with her in a rented apartment in Bucharest for six weeks as all the adoption paperwork was slowly processed, and Anna gained four pounds in one month on a mix of fine rice cereal and whole milk.
Within a month of returning to the U.S., the couple was contacted by an adoption agency in Guatemala that wanted to place a boy with them promptly, but it was too soon, Solchany says. "It wouldn't have been fair to Anna." (A year later she and her husband did adopt a boy from Guatemala -- their son Nick, now 10.)
For adoptive parents and children, "attachment is a process, and the parents have to be emotionally available for the child to attach to," Solchany says. In an international adoption, Solchany says it's also crucial parents understand the child's primary needs in their new home, before highlighting his or her native cultural heritage. Adopted kids need to attach first and foremost to their family, and its traditions, and afterward, to the culture of the native country.
"Celebrating your child's Russian or Chinese heritage is great," she adds, "but it has to be after they've really connected with that family in the early years" by absorbing traits and influences of the parents. These might include a love of reading, a curiosity about how things work mechanically, and an appreciation for the ethnic and cultural traditions of the parents and their ancestors.
The blood tie between parents and children is not what really matters in the end, Solchany says. What's paramount is the strength of the relationship, and the commitment of the parents, from the get-go. "There are home studies, preparation, perhaps immigration, legal work, traveling and waiting. You don't know if the phone call will be in one month or 15 months. It puts your life on hold."
Right now, American society is at a turning point regarding adoption, according to Solchany. While old prejudices still exist, she says, "I am finding more and more people who are choosing to adopt simply because they're not interested in pregnancy. Many have been raised with adoption as a totally acceptable option." Nonetheless, says Solchany, due partly to fears about developmental delays from drug- or alcohol-abusing moms, and desires to avoid the potential emotional "baggage" that can come with some older children, "there's still resistance to domestic adoption here. Look at all the kids in foster care."
Sam and Gwendolyn Townsend:
Committed to finding families for African-American kids
Finding permanent homes for African-American foster children has been a mission for Gwendolyn Townsend and her husband the Rev. Sam Townsend Sr.
Operating out of the Greater Glory Church of God in Christ, a beehive of activity on a gritty stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle's Rainier Valley, they operate a non-profit called Ujima, which is Swahili for "collective work and responsibility." Ujima began as the Washington state chapter of a national organization named One Church, One Child, which not only recruited adoptive and foster parents, but provided training for them, and assistance dealing with the state bureaucracy. Now, Ujima recruits parents, serves as a licensed placement agency complete with caseworkers, and provides mentoring programs for young men, women and expectant parents.
Gwendolyn Townsend is Ujima's executive director, and mother of 15 children, mostly grown, and several adopted. She explains that the black community has a long history of taking care of its own.
"If you think of the history of African-Americans in America, or Africa, kinship was a way of life," she says. "Families were split apart by slavery, yet other families took (displaced kids) as their own children with no blood relation. The tradition has been handed down." With so many black children in the foster care system, Ujima focuses on black churches in and around the city, giving presentations based on the rallying theme of "One Church, One Child."
The goal is that at each church, at least one family will come forward to provide supplemental financial support for a foster or adopted child, or better yet, to adopt one. "We talk to the congregation, let them know so many have slipped through our fingers," Townsend says, adding that the focus is less on finding "children for families" than on "finding families for children" -- families who "have space in their homes and space in their hearts."
The special challenges of adopting a black child from a broken family require special parents, Townsend says. "Children come with baggage, with history," and questions about mom and dad. "And it's not to be denied. If their mom just dropped them off at the hospital" after their birth, they are going to need to know that, and adoptive parents are going to need to explain to them, "Mom did not abort you, Mom did not leave you in a dumpster. What a wonderful mother you had. She wanted you to be cared for."
Underlying Ujima's special mission of finding adoptive parents for black children is an important truth that cuts across lines of race, Townsend says. "There are thousands and thousands of children in our nation that need you. They're not across any ocean; they're just across the street, the city or the lake. I cry sometimes for the biological family, about what they're missing -- and I thank God for what they gave their children."
Seattle writer and communications consultant Matt Rosenberg is a regular contributor to ParentMap and has written for numerous other publications. His websites are rosenblog.com and blogconsultingpro.com.
- Washington Adoption Directory, via the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, a lengthy list (with contact information) of state and local public agencies, private adoption agencies, adoptive family support groups and biological parent or child search support groups.
- Children's Home Society of Washington (Seattle, Tacoma, Auburn/Kent and four other Washington locations), 206-695-3200. The Society's Adoption Resource Center (ARC) offers pre- and post-adoption counseling, specializing in adoptive or foster families with later-placed children.
- Americans Adopting Orphans, 206-524-5437. A Seattle-based, licensed, non-profit adoption agency specializing in adoption of orphans.
- Ujima Community Services, 206-760-3456. A Seattle non-profit licensed adoption agency specializing in placement of African-American children with African-American adoptive parents.
- FindLaw, use this handy directory to find a local attorney for private adoptions. From home page, go to "Advanced Search;" enter desired ZIP codes and state; then, using the drop-down menu under "Practice Area," scroll down to Family Law, select "adoption;" and click "search."
- "Forming A Healthy Attachment With Your Adopted Child ," an online article at by Dr. JoAnne Solchany, an Assistant Professor of Nursing and Infant Mental Health at the University of Washington in Seattle.