International Baby Brigade
A Look at Guatemalan Adoption
 

The brown skinned, big eyed three-year-old sets up a tea party in the dining room. Even though there are only two joining Adriana for tea, seven flowered cups and two miniature teapots are lined up. In the kitchen, her mother, Kelly Day, makes dinner and chats amiably with a friend, while Adriana clatters cups and saucers together in amusement. She is a tall woman with a commanding presence and gentle, hazel eyes, but this 47-year-old mother of three is energetic and in good shape. Day is in a constant flurry of motion, but still takes the time between tasks to check on her children. Day adopted Adriana, along with her six-year-old sister Sofia, both babies fresh out of the Guatemalan foster care system.

Day isn’t the only American adopting internationally these days. International adoption, compared to domestic, has steadily increased over the years and become especially popular in the United States. In 2006, 20,679 immigrant visas were issued to children who were adopted into the United States, compared to 10,641 in 1996. Day chose international adoption because in the United States birth mothers can change their minds and interrupt the adoption process or completely stop it, leaving adoptive parents with no legal protection. Day didn’t want to take that risk, and instead began her search into the world of international adoption.

At the time, she already had a son of her own, Ryan, whom she had raised as a single mother. Due to her single status, there were limitations as to what countries Day could adopt from. Many preferred to adopt to married couples only. In 1998, with the help of the Bay Area Adoption Services (BAAS), an organization specializing in international adoption, Day put together a dossier - a type of biography of the potential parent.

It was clear to her that she would adopt from a Latin country since Day was familiar with the language and culture, and is comfortable speaking Spanish. Guatemala also had many infants ready for adoption at the time, which was what Day hoped for: a baby girl.

Other international country requirements at the time were strange. “China had a weight requirement for the parents,” Day says with a laugh. “I think they think Americans are really fat and unhealthy.”

Weight was just one factor looked at in adoptive parents, others included age, psychological evaluations and a certain number of years married for couples. Every country’s government has a set of guidelines to ensure adopted children are placed in safe environments.

But wherever the country and whatever their rules, it hasn’t stopped celebrities from going overseas to adopt. Americans are fascinated by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s newly adopted son, Pax, from Vietnam, as well as their daughter, Zahara, from Ethiopia; Jolie’s first adopted son from Cambodia, Maddox, seems like old news now.

Have celebrity adoptions influenced Americans? People working for the adoption agency think it has, to a certain degree. “Because of their notoriety, celebrities help to raise the consciousness of the average person that [adoption] is a possibility,” says BAAS Executive Director, Andrea Stawitcke. “I have no problem with celebrities adopting and I applaud them, as long as they follow all the rules and don’t try to circumvent the law.”

Stawitcke’s daughter, Meghan, also works for BAAS. She has been a citizenship and immigration coordinator for two years and says that international adoption has always been popular, but that celebrities have only most recently brought it to the attention of the public through the media.

“Many adoptive families feel a tie to a particular culture and adopt from countries they relate to on some level,” says Meghan.

Before any babies were adopted, Day’s first born had a role to play. It is required of any biological children of adopting parents to be interviewed. Day took Ryan, age 12 at the time, to meet with a social worker in downtown San Francisco. She remembers Ryan getting upset when they took him into a separate room for the interview.

“I had warned the social worker he wasn’t thrilled with the idea,” Day sighs, but she didn’t realize how bad it might go. Day was later told that when asked how he felt about his mother adopting a baby, Ryan told the social worker he didn’t want to share his inheritance with anyone.

Apparently Ryan had become emotional during the interview and was almost in tears - clearly not interested in sharing his mother with any adopted children. The social worker advised Day to hold off on the adoption for a couple years until Ryan matured. He was at a fragile age where he worried about how people may look at his family, and especially worried about things like his inheritance.

Day was disappointed. “I sort of needed Ryan’s approval and couldn’t go completely against his will by adopting,” Day says. “I was angry at him but had to take his feelings into consideration.”

The adoption was put on hold for two years. Then Ryan began spending more time away from home and more time with friends. “I was by myself all the time,” remembers Day sadly. “I held off to the point were I was giving [Ryan] way too much power and adopting was something I had to do.”

An important and consuming part of the adoption process was the application process. Aside from the dossier, Day did a home study where she was observed in her natural environment, photos were taken and friends wrote reference letters about her. The paperwork had to be notarized, country certified and authenticated and would only be valid for 18 months.

“It’s a big huge thing,” recalls Day with a laugh. “It was harder than getting pregnant.”

Internationally adopted girls outnumber boys, with 64 percent of girls being adopted to only 36 percent of boys. This is because of China’s large number of orphaned girls and the fact that one-fourth of all internationally adopted children are from China. Guatemala went from 1,518 children being adopted in 2000, to 4,135 being adopted in 2006. It has become the leading country in Central and South American for international adoptions, followed by Colombia and Chile.

If adoption continues to increase at this rate, what will America look like in the distant future? “I think international adoption will be around for a long time - as long as there are children around the world in need of permanent, loving families,” says Stawitcke. “Unfortunately, I see no end to the number of children needing homes.”

Baby Rosario was born July 10, 2000, in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Armando Carrillo, Day’s attorney in Guatemala, informed BAAS, which called Day to tell her the news: her baby was born. Day took her first trip to Guatemala when Rosario - later renamed Sofia - was two months old. Just a month later, Day went back to bring her home.

“It was a miracle that she was brought to this country at only three months,” exclaims Day. “She was just a baby.”

Being able to hold her baby daughter in her arms and bring her home was amazing for Day who always wanted more children; the ecstatic new mother wasted no time in adopting another child. Day was filing adoption papers all over again two years later.

The adoption anticipation was hard enough, but especially steep was the price Day paid to be a mother. In 1998, at the time of Sofia’s adoption, BAAS’s Program Information sheet stated that adoption fees ranged from $1,000 to $20,000 while today, fees range from $5,000 to $50,000. Meghan explains that fees aren’t for the actual children, but for “services rendered by the agencies,” such as home studies and paperwork. “The children profit most from this,” she adds.

And for parents like Day whose family didn’t come together exactly the way she hoped it would, the cost of adoption didn’t phase her. “Every penny was worth it when I look into my girls’ faces and they call me ‘Mommy.’”

Looking back, Day sees how hectic it was going through the process, but she admits she would adopt again if she wasn’t married. “It was exhausting at the time but the end result has been extremely rewarding,” she says with a reminiscent tone in her voice. “I try to be happy with what I have, not what I don’t have, and I love being a mother more than anything.”

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