Distance makes the heart grow fonder as family awaits its newest addition
Any day now, Chad and Dana Horton - along with their daughter, Malia, and son, Cole - will leave their home in Broken Arrow to board a plane bound for South Korea. Waiting for them there is Drew, the newest addition to the Horton family.
Veterans of the international adoption process, Chad and Dana managed to bring home their first two children, also born in South Korea, within about 12 months. The wait for Drew, however, has stretched to 15.
"No matter how long you're part of adoption, the wait for your children to come home is excruciating," Dana said. "You're so dependent on someone else to push a piece of paperwork down the line."
The wait for children from South Korea probably won't shorten anytime soon. Last year, for the first time since the end of the 1960s, more children there were adopted domestically than from overseas, with 1,388 adoptions in-country and 1,264 internationally. The South Korean government aims to quit its foreign adoption program altogether by 2012.
South Korea isn't the only country where domestic adoption is enjoying resurgence. As economies improve and cultural stigmas regarding adoption soften, nations that have sent tens of thousands of children to the U.S. since World War II have strengthened domestic adoption programs.
Plus, there aren't as many children available for adoption from overseas any longer. Several countries with high numbers of orphans have seen decreased fertility rates since the turn of the century. China, the nation from which the U.S. has adopted the most children since 1999, saw its rate of 1.82 children per woman in 2000 fall to 1.77 in 2008; Vietnam from 2.53 to 1.86; India from 3.11 to 2.76; and South Korea, at one of the lowest rates in the world, from 1.72 to 1.29.
Accordingly, the State Department has seen fewer international adoptions in the U.S. The agency marked 2007 as the third straight year of declining international adoption since figures reached an all-time high at 22,884 in 2004, nearly three times higher than 1990 figures. Last year, the number of international adoptions in the U.S. numbered just 19,411, down 15 percent from the 2004 high-water mark.
"We are feeling that," said Deniese Dillon, co-founder of Dillon International Inc with husband, Jerry Dillon. "It's a reality."
The Horton couple found and adopted Drew, as well as Malia and Cole, thanks to Tulsa-based Dillon International. The agency, which celebrated its 36th year of service this year, is a licensed, not-for-profit organization that specializes in international adoption placement.
"We've seen the growth of domestic adoptions in many countries in which we never dreamed would happen during our early years. There just weren't any, or very, very few," Dillon said. "Now, in China, Korea and India, we're seeing a huge growth in domestic adoption."
Looking for Hope
Attorney Phyllis Zimmerman, a name heard again and again in Tulsa adoption circles, said the number of international adoptions made official with the help of her law firm is down about 10 percent.
Zimmerman, one of just 330 members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, specializes in adoption law, helping those who have found a child via an agency do the legal work involved in making adoptions official.
Zimmerman is the listed attorney on about 40 pending adoption cases and has completed about 2,500 adoptions in her 40-year career in the field. She often works with families adopting through Dillon International.
"Adoptions are an intimate type of law. You get closer to your clients than you do in, say, a personal injury case," she said. "You're getting involved in growing their families."
Further tightening the "market" for foreign orphans, issuing countries have raised the bar on eligibility requirements for adoptive families. Anyone single, homosexual, below the age of 30, obese or taking antidepressants is not eligible to adopt through the adoption program in China. Other nations have their own sets of requirements, many of them new or more stringent than before. Adoptive parents with their hearts set on children from certain countries -- namely, Guatemala and Vietnam -- are simply out of luck.
"People who were on the waiting list for Vietnam were particularly disappointed when their applications were lopped off," Zimmerman said, citing the halt of adoptions out of Vietnam to the U.S. earlier this year due to, according to the State Department, ongoing negotiations to form a more transparent partnership.
"If the family had not been assigned a child, they had to start all over with a different country. I've had a lot of clients in that group. It's such an emotional thing; it's like the death of a baby you never had.
"For a long time, these countries didn't do this. They were so anxious to have their children adopted outside of the country," Zimmerman added.
The Hortons count themselves among the lucky few who are able to bring home a child adopted from overseas after a mere 15 months. Many couples wait much longer, especially those with their hearts set on a child from China. A few years ago, they were told to expect a two-year process. Now, the quoted wait time is as long as five years, Dillon said.
Zimmerman has also noticed increased wait times for her clients. Adoption of children from China once took 15-20 months in most cases on which she worked, and now parents can count on a three-year wait, she said.
Much of the slowdown can be traced to U.S. ratification of the international Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, put into force in the States April 1 of this year. The Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risk of unregulated adoptions abroad while ensuring inter-country adoptions are in children's best interest.
The Convention is in response to programs like the one in Guatemala, which made international headlines last year when its corruption and rumored baby-selling scandals were exposed. Adoption agencies worldwide have halted dealings with officials there until the program has been reformed.
End of the Tunnel
After they realized having biological children was out of the question, the Horton couple hit the books to learn more about adoption. Originally interested in a child from China but ineligible for the program due to the age requirement, they looked toward the South Korea program.
"My husband and I talked about it a lot, and we prayed about it a lot," Dana said. "We decided to check it out and went to a Dillon workshop to get more information. After that, we were sold. We started filling out the mountains of paperwork required."
South Korea is just one of the countries that have brought children like Malia, Cole and Drew together with eager American parents like Chad and Dana. In the past, Dillon has placed children from China, India, Vietnam, Korea, Haiti and Guatemala. Half of those programs -- those in India, Vietnam and Guatemala -- are either on hold, not accepting new applications or are closed to new applications altogether.
Dillon has launched a support group for the waiting families that find themselves in the wake of the tumult associated with changing adoption politics and processes.
"When you talk with someone else who is going through the same thing, you don't feel so alone-- like that you're just a number and that nobody really cares," Dillon said. "We find our families who have gone through these processes are our very best resources."
Chad and Dana Horton aren't sure if they'll adopt again. Right now, that ball is in God's court, Dana said.
"Last summer, as we considered whether our family was complete, there was that urging of our spirits saying, 'There is still someone out there.' Now we can't imagine not being in this situation, waiting for Drew to come home.
"Who knows what the future holds. Right now I can't imagine more than three children. But, if I know there is another child out there waiting for us to pursue, then I know God will give us the strength and endurance to get through that."
The trip to South Korea will be the first one back for Malia and Cole; and though the South Korea program doesn't require adoptive families to travel to retrieve the child, "it was something we wanted to do."
"Bringing the culture into our family has been a huge, important thing for us. We have a passion and a heart for Korea. Since we couldn't deliver a child, we wanted to do the next best thing, which is to go and experience the culture and bring a little piece of that home."
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