Adoption: The Trials and Triumphs of Forever Families in Charlotte
Plus: Questions to ask when considering adoption
There are many reasons why people consider adoption. For some, it’s a result of failed fertility efforts. For others, it’s a desire to enlarge their family and make life better for a child. But for all, it’s a way to bring people of diverse culture, race and heritage into the bonds of a loving family.
Tony and Nancy Rivera couple to adopt to enlarge their family and find a companion for their child.
“When our son Tony was 8, we went through the state foster-adopt program to find a playmate for him,” Nancy says. “We told them we wanted a child near our son’s age, but when they contacted us, it was for a 2-month-old boy named Alex.”
At first the Riveras declined the agency’s request, but when subsequent phone calls came in, they re-evaluated their decision.
“The third time they called us we said, ‘Yes,’” Nancy says. “We figured if they contacted us that many times, maybe this was the child we were supposed to get.”
But the Riveras got more than they planned for. “Two months later, the agency called again. This time they said Alex had a 2-year-old brother named Alfonzo who was in foster care and asked if we wanted to adopt him. So we did,” she says. “Then a year later, we found out the boys had two sisters, Candice, who was 6, and Anastasia, who was 8, so we decided to adopt them to keep the family together.”
John and Jo-El Azato took a different adoption route and went through a private agency to find an international child.
“We had seen an ad in the newspaper about a seminar on domestic and international adoptions, so we went,” Jo-El says. “We knew we wanted an international child who was 1- or 2-years old. And after doing research, we decided to go with a child from China.”
During the 14 months the Azatos waited for their daughter Nina, they busied themselves with preparations.
“We had a baby shower and prepared her room,” she says. “We also read a lot about parenting and asked friends who had kids lots of questions.”
Waiting, says experts, can be the hardest part of the adoption process, whether it’s waiting for the paperwork to go through or waiting to receive the referral. But while families are on hold, there are things they can do.
“When I talk with couples, I tell them to use the time productively,” says Sam Wojnilower, a licensed social worker with a local private adoption agency. “Read about adopting and raising children, attend workshops, find a pediatrician, that kind of thing, so they’re already being active parents.”
One Charlotte-area parent, Katherine Regan, welcomed her son, Vincent, home in late August of 2019. Vincent’s birth mother chose Regan to adopt her son while still pregnant. Regan developed a relationship with Vincent’s birth mother through a process called “open adoption,” which encourages biological and adoptive parents to communicate with one another to support the best interests of the child. Through this process, Regan traveled to Arizona to be in the delivery room during Vincent’s birth.
“We had skin-to-skin contact just 10 minutes after he was born and have been inseparable ever since,” Regan says. “Vincent will grow up in a loving, diverse family knowing that he’s been chosen.”
Making the Family Adjustment
Although the Riveras didn’t need a primer on child rearing, they did have to learn how to help their adopted children adjust a new environment.
“I think it was harder on the Candice and Anastasia because they were older than the boys,” Nancy says. “I had to tell the girls they weren’t going to see their biological parents anymore. I’m not sure Candice totally understood, but Anastasia took it very hard. She was a little weepy and apprehensive, maybe even confused. I spent a lot of time with her letting her know she could come and talk with me. I told her it was OK to talk about her mom and dad, and I would listen. I tried very hard to build a relationship and establish her trust.”
This is exactly what Adoption Consultant Mary Lou Edgar suggests. “One of the best ways to help newly adopted children adjust in their environment is to close in and establish those family relationships. There’s a natural inclination to want to celebrate with family and friends, but that can come later.”
Wojnilower agrees. “Children need time to adjust to their new family. They also need to establish a consistent routine as soon as possible. This is even truer with international adoption where things like food and times zones are different.”
Although Nina was only 10-months old when the Azatos adopted her, she too had an adjustment to make.
“I think the hardest part of the adoption process was that we didn’t bond right away,” Jo-El says. “When we first got Nina, she was well aware we weren’t her regular caretaker and the hotel we were staying in was not the orphanage. She wouldn’t eat and covered her face with her hands. She also cried a lot.”
But three days into the adoption, things changed. “We were still at the hotel and Nina had fallen asleep on the bed. When she woke up, she rolled over and I caught her before she fell off the side. She laughed; she thought it was a game. From that point on it was completely different. I knew we had bonded,” Jo-El says.
Perhaps the one who had the biggest adjustment was young Tony, who went from being an only child to sharing his parents with four other children. “Tony did OK when we got boys, but when Candice and Anastasia came, we had to have a talk,” Nancy says.
The Riveras didn’t know for certain the girls were coming until that morning, and Tony had already left for school.
“When he got home, the girls were there, so I pulled him aside and explained why we wanted to keep them all together,” she says. “It was hard but I think he understood. It’s funny, though, the last thing he said to me was, ‘Mom, I’ll let them come in, just don’t paint the house pink!’ ”
One day soon, 2-year-old Nina may be making that same adjustment. “We are just now starting the adoption process to get a boy from Vietnam,” Jo-El says. “We want to get another Asian child so there is a similarity between them, particularly in this big Italian family.”
Denise Yearian has more than 20 years of published work in newspapers and magazines, and is the mother of three children and six grandchildren.
Facts About Adoption
Adoption has a significant impact a child’s life. Children in the American foster care system wait an average of five years to be adopted after entering foster care. Children living in institutional settings, rather than family settings, often suffer from delayed brain development. As many as 9 in 10 foster children experience mental illness at some point in their life and 30 percent eventually become homeless.
In the United States alone, there are 400,000 children living in the foster care system, many of whom are eligible for adoption or who may become eligible for adoption at some point in the future, according to the most recent federal data. Globally, there are 150 million parentless children.
Nearly one-third of Americans have considered adoption, but less than 2% of the population has actually started the process. The cost of adoption can be a barrier. According to the Children’s Bureau, costs vary, but the average adoption costs between $20,000 and $45,000. Organizations like Gift of Adoption exist to help parent shoulder the cost of adoption through grants.
Source: Gift of Adoption
Questions to Ask When Considering Adoption
Adoption is a broad topic covering everything from domestic infant to international to children from foster care. Add to that transracial, transcultural, older children, plus physical, mental and emotional challenges, and the subject can be overwhelming. Families interested in pursuing adoption, should start by asking themselves what type of adoption they want. From there, they can begin their search for a private or government-sponsored agency. When choosing an agency, it is important that families feel comfortable with the organization and know they are being heard. Following is a list of questions to ask when shopping around for an adoption agency:
Is this a licensed adoption agency?
What types of adoption does this agency do?
What are the requirements to adopt from this agency (age, religion, income, marital status, other children)?
What does a home study with this agency entail?
How do you train prospective families, individually or in groups?
Do you provide support for families after a child has been placed in the home?
Can you provide me with a referral of someone who has worked with your agency so I can speak with them about their adoption experience?