Sunday, May 25, 2008

International Adoption: The “Thrill of the Hunt?”

American couples have a litany of reasons for adopting from abroad, ranging from the belief that they will be able to bring home a healthy, young infant to being able to set aside their fears of a birthparent knocking on their door to reclaim her child. In pursuit of their dream, they are willing to put up with enormous fees and expenses, monumental paperwork tasks akin to a thesis project, and the uncertainty of it all. From where I sit, families seeking an international adoption appear to be caught up in the “thrill of the hunt” for their child.

And now, as family-building options slow or close in large sending countries---China, Russia and Guatemala---some American agencies and parents are turning to Africa as the new frontier in international adoption. Angelina and Madonna have paved the way, after all, and seem to have no regrets.

But what if these same eager adopters were told there are hundreds of healthy newborns that private adoption agencies are struggling to find homes for right here in the United States? Furthermore, that these babies are available within a few weeks of being born? Would a line quickly form to bring these infants home?

There is a line, actually, and it is a short one. In increasing numbers, American agencies are "exporting" black babies for adoption by couples and singles in Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, England and the Netherlands. Most are healthy black and biracial newborns. Most of the adopting parents are Caucasian, just like the ones in this country queuing up to adopt from Africa.

The US is now the fourth largest "supplier" of babies for adoption to Canada. The exact numbers placed overseas are not available, but estimates run to around 500 such adoptions a year. Statistical reporting requirements that are part of the Hague Treaty should provide clearer data now that the U.S. has implemented it here.

The notion of "supply and demand" among human beings is a discomfiting one, but it is a reality. Every day we make decisions that affect our honesty and our integrity. Think about it. You don’t have to go to Africa. The lines are short. Look homeward, angel. Click here to view an interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS News on the topic.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SIMPLE GIFTS: Will the “Culture of Profit” mar Embryo Adoption?

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

I hope the pervasive “Culture of Profit” that characterizes international and private domestic adoption will not mar the brave new world of Embryo Adoption. In a post earlier this week, I commented that greed and corruption have all but brought international adoption to a grinding halt. A lawyer in one sending country was asked, "Why do you charge so much for your services?"

"Because I can," he answered simply.

Hopefully basic supply and demand economics will not drive up the costs in embryo adoption which, to date, have been reasonable within the adoption portion of the total process. The medical costs inherent in IVF borne by the donor family are high, and often covered by insurance companies. The embryo transfer by the recipient family may also be covered by medical insurance. The recipient family also foots the cost of obtaining a homestudy, counseling, preparatory education and support and related legal costs through a licensed adoption agency or a lawyer.

Sarah-Vaughan Brakman, ethicist at Villanova, notes several ethical issues raised by embryo adoption that are also shared by other forms of assisted reproductive technology and by traditional infant adoption. These include: permissibility of the practice; payment for the embryos; who decides which embryos are given to which couples and on what basis; screening of donors, embryos and recipients; genetic disclosure to recipient couples; privacy and disclosure to children; anonymous recordkeeping, and future relationships between genetic and rearing families.

There is one ethical issue that all seem to agree on, and that is that paying the donor couple for the embryo itself crosses a line---ethically and legally. I can only hope that the "simple gift" of one donor family to another longing to parent will remain, as the Shaker song suggest, "true simplicity."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Good News in International Adoption

International adoption is really taking a beating in the press. Allegations of corruption point to the role that foreign fees and foreign orphanage donations play in bringing children into the adoption process. Incentives paid to “baby finders” to meet the high demand from potential adopters amount to little more than child-trafficking.

There are over 140,000,000 children worldwide in need of care, and 50 prospective adoptive parents for every 1 adoptable international infant. What many eager prospective adoptive parents do not know is that the vast majority of these children are not adoptable. Most are brought to local orphanages simply because their impoverished parents cannot afford to feed them.

Sadly, what was once a humanitarian response to a human need---willing adults reaching out to help a child in dire need---has become a business response to the fundamental law of supply and demand. And the demand is for the youngest and healthiest. Whenever these two basic factors are out of whack, corruption finds fertile ground. Despite some cases of clear corruption, U.S. adoption agencies active in Vietnam, Guatemala and other countries under close scrutiny by the Department of State say that most intercountry adoptions are ethical.

While some adoption agencies in this country have come under a dark cloud of suspicion and attack, many have commendable records for outstanding humanitarian work around the world to help children and keep families together. Dawn Degenhardt, founder of MAPS in Houlton, Maine, retired three years ago after working for over 35 years in domestic and international adoption and established The Degenhardt Foundation. And Filis Casey, founder of The Alliance for Children in Wellesley, Massachusetts, started The Alliance for Children Foundation, an international relief organization dedicated to improving the physical and emotional well-being of abandoned children living in orphanages in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Both women are long-time advocates for children. “The children who are adopted are the lucky ones,” says Casey. “My concern is for the ones left behind.” So, working closely with local officials in Hubei and Anhui Provinces, the Foundation built apartments for Chinese foster parents to live with groups of 6 orphans as stable families. It is modeled after the very successful Sunbeam Village project in Hefei that has been supported by the AFC Foundation for 5 years. The Foundation funds additional projects in Colombia, Ecuador and Russia. Click here to read more.

Degenhardt builds orphanages and hospitals, but she also funds special projects such as the Boat Builder Project in Cam Kim, Viet Nam. Here, economically disadvantaged youth are receiving training in traditional boat building skills from master boat builders. Students are learning a valuable skill and the boats produced from their work will be given to poor families. Click here to read more.

Until recently, a combination of adoption fees paid by families, donations, fundraising efforts and grants funded most humanitarian projects. However, international adoption fees can no longer be counted on to support humanitarian projects of such magnitude. “The need is still there,” says Degenhardt. “Do we simply turn our back on the children?”

For Casey, Degenhardt and others, the only answer is “no.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's National Foster Care Month, so... Cross Over the Bridge!

While visiting my grandbabies in California last week, I met with a young couple who wanted to talk with me about adding to their family by adopting. They are young and energetic, successful, involved in their community---and already have two young children. They'd thought about adoption for years, he told me. With all the parentless children in the world, it seemed like a move whose time had come.

They both had grown up knowing kids who had been adopted. Some of their friends and neighbors had chosen adoption to build their families as well. Where should the start, they asked, and what were my recommendations?

They were already aware of the current crisis in international adoption in terms of lengthy delays and countries closing, but were unaware of the degree to which corruption and c ompetition is driving these problems to their eventual end. They also had heard about institutional delays experienced by children raised in orphanages. They were not surprised by the fact that many children adopted in this country through foster care are not all that different from children coming from abroad. \And they seemed to understand that adoption, no matter where or how or who, came with no guarantees.

We talked for a long time. They asked thoughtful questions and listened carefully. They took notes and referred back to them for more clarification. How did kids come into foster care here and how did they move eventually to parental termination and adoption? Was it a similar process internationally?

In the end, they left my daughter's home overwhelmed but excited. Foster care with the possibility of ending in an adoption? Maybe, but how would they ever be able to return a child they had grown to love if adoption were not the outcome? Nevertheless, they plan to contact their local foster care office for more information. International adoption? Also risky business. But again, they left with the names of two agencies to contact specializing in international placements. This young couple is excited about stepping out onto another path to family building. It's all about choice...and the consequences of those choices. And, it's not always about making the right choice, but how you live it!

By the way, there is a wonderful resource out there for families already involved in domestic child welfare and foster care or those interested in learning more. Check out and tell them Cindy sent you.

And while you're deciding (or even if you're just curious) don't overlook the incredible work of the national team at AdoptUsKids. Visit their site to read about waiting children in all 50 states and the personal stories of families who have opened their hearts and arms to some of these children. Go to
AdoptUsKids also has a blog where prospective waiting parents can get support and information from AdoptUsKids and each other. Go to It's worth the time!

From where I sit,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing, actually. Especially if you're part of a new niche market---a baby planner.

Martin Bashir’s report on
ABC’s Nightline this evening was one of dark contrasts. On the one hand were reports of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The death toll is estimated at 38,000. In the same week, China was hit by a three-minute-long, magnitude 7.9 earthquake, called the worst natural disaster in more than 30 years. 15,000 are estimated dead. While American’s are eager to help, aid is slow in arriving or even being refused.

While children are starving and dying on other side of the world, back home in New York and Los Angeles, a new niche market has sprung up to gobble the dollars of eager expectant mothers by helping them with everything from shopping to maternity clothes to setting up gift registries, and even hiring baby nurses and nannies. Enter the Baby Planners, who for $150+ an hour, will test baby-to-be’s toys for lead and arrange for mommy-to-be’s “bump” to be photographed for posterity. Apparently, the prospect of motherhood is a daunting proposition. Said one expectant mom, "It's extremely overwhelming. I just had no idea what to expect, there are so many different marketing messages out there about all of these products that you need, and the way to do things. And, at this point, you don't know what to believe." What’s wrong with this picture?

Baby Planners such as InBloom or The Nest Baby will have no problem recommending popular or unusual names to the clients, however. The Social Security Administration released the most popular American baby names of 2007 just in time for Mother’s Day. After months of nail biting, I’m incredibly (excessively?) excited to bring you the top ten:

































Emily has topped the list since 1996. Jacob has done so since 1999. Elizabeth returns to the top ten after a two-year absence.

In addition to a list of the 1,000 most popular boys’ and girls’ names for 2007, the website has a list of the top 100 names for twins born in 2007. Jacob and Joshua are again the most popular twin’s names.

The Social Security website offers lists of baby names for each year since 1880. Social Security started compiling baby name lists in 1997.

Although “American Idol’s” Sanjaya did not influence this year’s list, other young celebrities influenced the naming of American children. Shiloh, the youngest daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, debuted on the list at number 804. Maddox, the name of their oldest child, has seen steady gains since first appearing on the list in 2003 at number 583 and now ranking at number 226. Suri, the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter, did not make the list. But Britney Spears' second son is named Jayden, which ranked at number 18. Miley is new to the girls’ list this year, entering fairly high at number 278, attributable to the popularity of teen sensation Miley Cyrus.

For reasons likely to puzzle baby name experts around the world, American parents have become infatuated by names, particularly for their sons, that rhyme with the word “maiden.” These names for boys include: Jayden (No. 18); Aiden (No. 27); Aidan (No. 54); Jaden (No. 76); Caden (No. 92); Kaden (No. 98); Ayden (No.102); Braden (No.156); Cayden (No.175); Jaiden (No.191); Kaiden (No. 220); Aden (No. 264); Caiden (No. 286); Braeden (No. 325); Braydon (No. 361); Jaydon (No. 415); Jadon (No. 423); Braiden (No. 529); Zayden (No. 588); Jaeden (No. 593); Aydan (No. 598); Bradyn (No. 629); Kadin (No. 657); Jadyn (No. 696); Kaeden (No. 701); Jaydin (No. 757); Braedon (No. 805); Aidyn (No. 818); Haiden (No. 820); Jaidyn (No. 841); Kadyn (No. 878); Jaydan (No. 887); Raiden (No. 931); and Adin (No. 983). This startling trend was present, but less pronounced, with girls names: Jayden (No. 172); Jadyn (No. 319); Jaden (No. 335); Jaiden (No. 429); Kayden (No. 507); and Jaidyn (No. 561). Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter indicated that the agency would resist any legislative efforts to standardize the spelling of these names.

Experts also may be surprised by the extent to which American parents are naming their daughters after spiritual and philosophical concepts. One of the most popular names for girls (rising this year to number 31) is Nevaeh, which is “Heaven” spelled backwards. The variant Neveah came in this year at number 891 and Heaven is number 263. Also represented were: Destiny (No. 41); Trinity (No. 72); Serenity (No. 126); Harmony (No. 315); Miracle (No. 461); Charity (No. 673); Journey (No. 692); Destini (No. 914); and Essence (No. 930). Cutting against this trend was Armani (No. 971).

American parents were far less likely to name their sons in this way, although the 2007 boys’ list does include Sincere (No. 622) and Messiah (No. 723).

Finally, Commissioner Astrue expressed his approval that Elvis has risen 85 spots from number 761 to number 676 and noted, “It is further proof that Elvis is not dead.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Adoption Changes Everything

As a family building choice, adoption changes everything, now and forever. Sometimes the change is obvious because the children wear adoption on their faces. These "visible families" often find themselves on the receiving end of intrusive---even outrageous---questions from perfect strangers; at least the topic is on the table from the start and they develop some coping strategies for rudeness.

Not always so when parents build their families to achieve "invisibility." These families "pass" at first blush, and it can be tempting for parents to simply sidestep the issue of adoption. A version of don't ask, don't tell.
While there are still adults who learn of their adoption only when their parents are deceased and they are going through old papers, it's difficult for me to believe that there are youngsters with no preparation for understanding how they came to be part of their families.

Pearle Vision has created a beautiful video ad for Mother's Day (click here)
. In it, a PV exec and adoptive mother says, “I have seen tears in the eyes of an abandoned child in China. And even though I knew I was taking her to a better place, all she knew was that she was being taken away. I have seen my daughters, born on opposite sides of the earth, become true sisters. But most of all, I have seen that being a mother is not in the blood but of the heart."

Please take a minute to follow the link above, but don't forget to come back! When you do, let me know what YOU think in the comments section below.

Don’t count the days---make the days count.


Stories at a Gathering

TOP: Anna Johnson, Barb Tremitiere, Cindy Peck, Arlene Stabile, Filis Casey, MIDDLE: Nancy Fox, Dawn Degenhart, BOTTOM: Lynne Jacobs, Joan McNamara, Andrea Stawitcke, Sherry Smith

I recently had a unique opportunity to spend sev­eral days with a group of women who, collective­ly, totaled more than 570 years of adoption experience. Cindy Peck, agency founder, member or various boards and publisher of Roots and Wings Magazine, among others, convened a group of adoption pro­fessionals for, two purposes—capturing the histo­ry of international adoption from the mid 50s to the present, and looking forward to where inter­national adoption is heading as we move into a post-Hague world. I initially felt quite intimidat­ed at this gathering which included women I have known (some only by reputation) and respected for many years: Barb Tremetiere, Joan McNamara, Dawn Degenhardt, Nancy Fox, and Filis Casey, among others. But as we spent the days sharing our experiences, it became very clear to me why this group had come together.

Our experiences shared the common thread of working and advocating for the interests of chil­dren around the globe—children who had no options for a better life unless they became part of a family in a country far from their birth. Each woman added her unique perspective on how adoption has changed over the years, in terms of countries, governmental regulations, attitudes of adoptive parents and even the process itself. I learned so much simply sitting among this dynamic group and soaking up their recollections, stories, insights, convictions and reflections on how international adoption has transformed over the last decades. I felt privileged to be able to share my own memories (more recent, but still equally valid) of the coun­tries I have visited, the children I have seen, the many wonderful individuals I have met who have dedicated their lives to the service of orphaned and abandoned children. There is a possibility that this oral history of sorts may find its way into a documentary film, that that is definitely in the future.

The second half of the meeting was more sobering as we looked forward into a future of increasing regulations and more challenges to adoption in the countries that allow it. The collective wisdom seemed to be that, in order to survive, agencies are going to have to become more flexible, more open to ways of operating not considered in the past (merging, collaborating, branching into related fields, etc.) more willing to think outside the box and respond to shifting paradigms. I left our gathering with enormous admiration for these spectacular women who inspire me, but also left with a renewed sense of purpose. I feel strongly that adoption is going through a transitional phase and that we must continue to work for the benefit of those who have no voice, no one to advocate for them and those who rely on our sense of honor and commitment to do our very best for them.

Written by Gathering participant Andrea Stawitcki, Ex. Dir. of Bay Area Adoption Services in San Francisco, for her agency newsletter.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane---to Rent a Womb in India

Customer service, tech support and face lifts...these days we outsource everything to India. So why not pregnancy?

Reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding enterprise in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe in recent months, as word spreads of India's combination of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices. With opportunities for international adoption cut drastically, what about surrogacy? Despite the appearance of an innovative “quick fix,” surrogacy is still a complex and somewhat frightening way to achieve parenthood.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some European countries and subject to a wide range of regulation in the US, was legalized in India in 2002. Surrogacy costs there average at around $12,000, including all medical expenses and the surrogate's fee of $5000 to $7000. In the U.S., the same procedure can cost up to $70,000---well out of reach of most infertile couples in the absence of excellent medical coverage. By the time one factors in air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby) the total comes to around $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. According to some experts, Indian surrogacy is already a $445-million-a-year business---and growing.

What are the types of surrogacy?
The more common form is IVF / Gestational surrogacy, where a woman carries a pregnancy created by the egg and sperm of the genetic couple. The egg of the wife is fertilized in vitro by husband's sperms by IVF/ICSI procedure, embryo transfer is performed into the surrogate's uterus and the surrogate carries the pregnancy for nine months. The child is not genetically linked to the surrogate. The success rate (carry home baby) of surrogacy is around 45% in cases where fresh embryos are transferred. If frozen embryos are used, the success rate drops to about 20-25%.

Traditional Surrogacy is not new but it carries its own risks and rewards. Commonly an option for women who have no functioning ovaries due to premature ovarian failure, egg donation also can be an option. A woman who is at risk of passing a genetic disease to her offspring may also opt for traditional surrogacy. The surrogate is inseminated or an IVF/ICSI procedure is performed with sperm from the male partner of an infertile couple. The child that results is genetically related to the surrogate and to the male partner but not to the female partner. It is this form of surrogacy that carries the risk of the birth mother deciding to keep the child. And in many states the law is on her side.

What are the advantages of surrogacy? Surrogacy may be the only chance for some couples to have a child which is biologically completely their own (IVF surrogacy) or partly their own (gestational surrogacy). The genetic mother can bond with the baby better than in situations like adoption.

What are the disadvantages of surrogacy? Although surrogacy often attracts media attention when it succeeds, it is still a highly controversial and legally complex topic with several disadvantages to be considered. Some surrogates have a problem parting with the baby (remember the infamous “Baby Melissa” case in New Jersey several years ago where custody was fought long and hard in the courts before a less than amicable resolution?). The potential for medical / obstetric complications faced by a surrogate during pregnancy can put extra financial burden on the commissioning couple. While a couple has contracted with a surrogate who agrees to attend to her own health to help ensure the delivery of a healthy baby, there is no way to guarantee strict adherence to the terms of the contract. And what about cases the surrogacy technique may be 'misused' like career oriented women, figure conscious woman, models etc. may just 'hire' women on 'rent' to carry their biological child?

As interest in surrogacy grows here and abroad, so does the surrogacy business continue to grow in India. Yet it is not without risk. There is little regulation by the Indian Medical Council that oversees such practices. In the absence of clear rules women, often poor and illiterate, are vulnerable to exploitation. Meanwhile, as medical ethicists continue to debate the morality of the practice, couples from the United States and elsewhere are increasingly turning to India for the ultimate outsource — a rented womb.

For an interesting discussion on the reality of surrogacy from a doctor’s point of view, whether here or abroad, visit this blog:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

CYCLES IN FAMILY BUILDING---The Ebb and Flow of Adoption

Orphans prepare to leave on trains traveling west, late 1800s

Cycles in Family Building
Adoption, like everything else, moves in cycles . In 1851, Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law regulating the adoption of children. Adoption required judicial approval, consent of the child’s parent or guardian, and a finding that the prospective adoptive family was of sufficient ability to raise the child. While early adoption statutes required a finding of suitability on the part of the prospective adoption home, this requirement was more form than substance.

The need for legislation to protect the rights of children unable to speak for themselves are always on the dockets of courts nationwide. Laws involving domestic adoption vary significantly from state to state. They detail who can access to adoption records, consent to adoption, parties to adoption, putative fathers, regulation of adoption expenses, Infant Safe Haven Laws, use of advertising and facilitators in adoptive placements, statute sources and contact Information.

Legislation to protect the rights of children in foster or institutional care has often been late in appearing on the books. Most have come about after considerable lobbying by child welfare and grass root groups. 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a new foster care law, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA) which defined the length of time a child could languish in foster care without moving toward permanency either through adoption or a return to the family is just one such example. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 and The Kinship Caregiver Support Act are equally significant.

Laws dictating the process of an international adoption vary significantly from country to country, but must also adhere to the laws of the state where the adoption takes place as well as federal regulations. After 15 years in discussion and development, the United States federal government announced changes in its international adoption policies in line with the Hague regulations on the protection of children effective April 1, 2008. Get details from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services web site by using the links provided below.
Questions and Answers: Intercountry Adoption Instructions
Post-Hague Adoption Convention Implementation
USCIS Announces Changes to Guatemala Adoptions

This 150+ year cycle in adoption legislation is not likely to end as long as there are children and families seeking ways to build families.

The Cycle in International Adoption
The adoption of "war orphans" in the 1950s set the stage for the current cycle of international adoption activities. From roots in a humanitarian response to the needs of orphaned children in dire need, international adoption grew in the late 80s and early 90s as an acceptable way for potential adopters to build families. At the same time, the pool of healthy infants through domestic adoption shrunk as more unmarried women chose to parent their children.

Many view the "crisis" in international adoption as directly linked to increased regulation between sending and receiving countries. As tempting as that may be, these changes more likely reflect the normal ebb and flow of a social cycle. Fifty years has seen many changes from adoption in response to a child's need to adoption to fulfill a personal need to parent. The needs of the world's orphaned children have increased with epidemics such as AIDS, wars and internal struggles and natural disasters. Obstacles have also increased to adoption. What is the next frontier in family building? Some see reproductive technology as the answer. "Designer" babies? Embryo adoption? The future is already here, and a new cycle has begun.

More later!

FAMILY BUILDING: Mother's Day Special


It's Mother's Day and I am thrilled to be on the receiving end of the calls, hugs and attention accorded to moms on the one day every year set aside for the occasion.

According to a piece in today's Prairie Home Companion, a woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother's Day. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had a similar idea, and in 1905 the daughter swore at her mother's grave to dedicate her life to the project. She campaigned tirelessly for the holiday. In 1907, she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

I feel especially grateful to be called someone's mom. Without adoption, I'd have probably missed out on the opportunity. My first child, a two-year-old from Korea, fulfilled my dream of parenthood over thirty years ago. He was followed by five sisters and two more brothers over the next ten years, and created a full house and full heart for this single mom.

Adoption has changed a lot in the last three decades. International adoption is in crisis. If I were just beginning my journey to parenthood today, what options would be available to me? Bookmark this blogspot to return to check on FAMILY BUILDING: From Where I Sit. There's a brave new world out there to help you achieve your goal!

Keep your eyes on the prize,