Most couples head to the hospital to have a baby. In June 2002, Nicole Zautis and her husband, Dan, instead climbed on a plane and headed to China to meet their baby girl. They returned as a family of three two weeks later.
What led to this momentous trip? About ten years earlier, the New Berlin couple had begun considering adoption as a way to build their family. Eventually they attended a seminar and learned more about international adoption. They decided to adopt from China.
“We chose China because our understanding was the children were healthy, and prenatal care was actually pretty good,” says Nicole. It took about three months to complete the necessary paperwork, and then another 13 months before they received their referral (the information about the baby they’d be adopting) and invitation to China.
After some time in China, they got to meet their daughter, Simone, for the first time. “You’re in a conference room of the civil affairs building of your child’s province, with dozens of other people,” remembers Nicole. “Then they call you by name and they hand you your baby! It was the most emotional thing that’s ever happened to me. It was really beautiful.”
In September, 2006, the family returned to China and brought home their second child, a daughter named Rachel. Simone is now 8 years old, Rachel is 4, and Nicole says her family is happy and complete.
Adoption: A popular family-building option
The Zautises adopted from China, but that’s only one option for prospective adoptive parents.
The primary three options are international adoption, domestic infant adoption and adoption through foster care, says Colleen Ellingson, CEO of Adoptive Resources of Wisconsin.
To help decide what feels right for you, consider questions like:
—What age range do you want?
—Would you consider a child with special needs?
—Do you prefer to adopt a child who’s already been born and needs a home?
—Would you consider an “open” adoption, where you share letters, pictures and possibly visits with the baby’s birth parents?
Adoption Resources is a great place to start your research. It’s an umbrella organization that supports adoption and foster care for the entire state. “We help families find the type of adoption and the agency that is best able to serve their needs,” says Ellingson. The organization also helps children in foster care find permanent adoptive families and provides support to families after they’ve adopted children.
While international adoption isn’t as prevalent as it was five years ago, many families choose to adopt from other countries, says adoption attorney Stephen Hayes of Waukesha.
When you adopt internationally, you typically work with a U.S.-based agency but are also subject to the laws of the adoption country, and different countries have different requirements. The primary “sending countries” used to be China, Russia and Guatemala, but all three countries have changed their laws and the number of children adopted from them has dropped dramatically. Other major sending countries include Ethiopia, Korea and Vietnam.
There are both pros and cons when you adopt from another country. “With international adoption, you get much less health information, and it’s unpredictable,” says Hayes. “You’re free and clear of the birth parents which can be a positive or a negative ... but an international adoption will eventually result in you receiving a child.” International adoption tends be more expensive than domestic adoption and the waits have been getting longer. (According to Adoptive Families magazine, in 2008 the average adoption cost—domestic and international—was $25,000 and $30,000, respectively.)
Domestic infant adoption
The domestic adoption process starts by selecting an agency and obtaining a home study. The home study includes background checks, home inspections and interviews about your family, background, finances and reasons for wanting to adopt. This process typically takes several months, but once your home study is complete, you can either do an agency adoption or a private adoption.
The primary difference is that with an agency, you’re matched with an expecting mother. Pregnant women considering adoption contact the agency and select potential adoptive parents by reviewing their “dear birth mother” letters or portfolios. With an independent or private placement, you find the expecting mother on your own (via newspaper ads, letters to friends and family, and word of mouth).
Wisconsin law requires that women considering adoption be provided counseling and certain living expenses up to $5,000. If the expecting mom follows through with her plan after the baby is born, your lawyer will file adoption papers and request a hearing, which must be granted within 30 days of filing.
Prior to that hearing, either of the baby’s biological parents can withdraw their consent or seek return of the child. The birth mom must appear in court although the birth father can file a consent or lose his rights if he fails to appear.
After the hearing, the birth parents’ rights are terminated permanently. After several post-placement visits with your home study caseworker, another hearing is scheduled and the adoption is finalized, no sooner than six months after the child is physically placed with the adoptive parents.
Domestic infant adoption gives adoptive parents the chance to be parents to a newborn, but there is the risk that a woman can change her mind after the baby is born—at least until the hearing date. Adopting domestically also gives adoptive and birth parents the ability to choose “closed” (no contact between adoptive and birth parents), “semi-open” (letters and photos exchanged through the adoption agency) or “open” (including visits after the child is born) adoptions. In most cases, the baby’s birth mother chooses the family who will adopt her child and often wants to remain in contact afterward.
Foster care adoption
Another option for prospective parents is to adopt through the foster care system. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families oversees county units that take children into care for a variety of reasons. Hayes says many counties can identify children of parents who are likely to lose their parental rights and you could become an adoptive resource for one of those children. Called foster-care conversion, it’s less expensive than domestic infant adoption or international adoption, but it’s not without risks. You could take a child into your home as a foster parent and become attached to her, but not be able to adopt her if she’s reunited with her parents or with other family members.
Choosing an agency
If you’re ready, you’ll need to choose an adoption agency. To find one, Ellingson suggests that prospective parents attend a number of orientation meetings at different agencies. Ask how many adoptions they do each year, how many clients they work with at any given time, what their fee structure is and how long they’ve been in business. If you’re looking to adopt an infant, ask how many birth mothers they work with in a typical year. If you want to adopt internationally, ask which countries they work with and how often, what contacts they have there, and what special requirements each country has.
Adoption isn’t always an easy process—it can be time-consuming, heart-wrenching and expensive. That’s why it’s important to learn as much as you can about your choices, and to get support where you can. But any adoptive parent will tell you that the wait, the stress and the expense are all worth it when you become a family with the child you’ve waited for.
“I would encourage people to research and explore adoption,” says Zautis. “We were meant to have two little girls from China. There are kids who need families and that’s the reality … our mantra was to just be the family for someone who needs a family.” •
Learn about it online:
• Visit Adoption Resources of Wisconsin at www.wiadopt.org
• Get information about different adoption options at www.wiadoption infocenter.org
• Get information about becoming a foster parent at www.wifostercareand adoption.org
• Find a Wisconsin lawyer who’s a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys at