WORLDS APART: More families opt to adopt foreign babies

Date: 1999-11-29

The Daily Oklahoman
Author: Chip Minty; Staff Writer

SOMEWHERE in South Korea, there's a newborn baby lying in her bed, the subject of daily prayers from an Oklahoma City couple and their two young sons. The family doesn't know her identity, where she lives or what she looks like, but they say there already is a bond, and time will take care of the rest. Mica Garnet has always dreamed of adopting a child, and she says there's a soft spot in her heart for Asia. The daughter Garnet will name Bailey is the missing piece that finally will make her family complete, she said.

While President Clinton has proclaimed November 1999 as National Adoption Month, the time has been no different than any other month for parents hoping to enrich their lives with orphans from foreign countries. While some families have prayed this month for the children they have not met, other families have traveled halfway around the world to hold their babies for the first time.

And so it goes with a growing phenomenon in the United States, which leads the world in foreign adoptions.

More than 15,700 children were adopted from abroad last year, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Mary Ryan told a Senate committee in October. "We believe that Americans currently adopt more children from abroad than the citizens of all other countries combined," she said.

That's not a surprising statement to Deniese Dillon, co-founder of Dillon International Inc., a Tulsa-based agency that has specialized in foreign adoptions since 1972. Americans are more accepting because the United States has always been a melting pot, she said. Even with the racial tension in this country, people are willing to accept children from another culture, Dillon said. In the first 20 years of Dillon International's existence, South Korea was the primary source of adoptees for families in the United States.

However, the international landscape has changed during the last decade. Now, Russia and China are leaders in the number of adoptions granted to U.S. citizens.

U.S. State Department figures show 4,491 children were adopted last year to the United States from Russia, and 4,209 orphans came here from China. Angela Taylor and her husband, Todd, traveled to China on Nov. 10 from their home in Norman to pick up their daughter Liliana, 8 months. It marked the end of a journey the Taylors began in February 1998 while on a trip to Houston. They saw a family with an adopted child from Asia in a restaurant. It sparked what Angela Taylor called "a lightning bolt moment." The couple considered a domestic adoption, but the restaurant encounter and a picture her husband found in Life magazine drew them closer to China.

"I don't know if it was a logical or rational thing," said the University of Oklahoma philosophy student. "It was something we were pulled to. "I always wanted to adopt when I was a kid. I had a friend that was adopted," she said. Taylor said she is attracted to the Chinese culture, and she was moved by the number of girls abandoned by Chinese parents, whose family size is limited by government restrictions.

The need for parents is also part of what drew Teresa and Ross Davis to adopt their daughter Jordan, 6 months, from India. The Norman couple picked her up at Tulsa International Airport in September. Teresa Davis said her daughter's full name is Jordan Ashley Papri Davis. The child had only one name in her Calcutta orphanage, and the Davises chose to retain it as part of her heritage. Papri means flower petal, Davis said. "We told everyone that she is the joyous bloom of our family."

The adoption process took nearly a year. The last few weeks of anticipating Jordan's arrival were the hardest, said Davis, a secretary for the Oklahoma Education Association. The Davises cannot have children on their own, and they decided on international adoption because of a "fear factor" surrounding domestic adoptions, Tessa Davis said. Davis said adopting internationally was a way of avoiding a possible custody battle with an unwed father or mother with a change of heart.

Post-adoption custody battles are unlikely with international adoption cases. But the applications, letters, authenticated documents, immigration service procedures and thousands of dollars in cost can be enough to discourage even the most determined parents. "You do have to go through a lot to prove you can be a good parent," Davis said. "It's not an easy journey, but it's a worthwhile journey."

Michelle Filibeck remembers the first night she and her husband, Rick, had their daughter, Mariah. Looking back, she thinks their fate may have been sealed then, leading them back through the process to adopt a second child from India. "The first night we had her, we were giving her a bath and my husband said, 'Man, we've got to do this again,'" Filibeck said. That was Sept. 25, 1998. The Oklahoma City couple began their second application last month. "She's been such a joy and a blessing," Filibeck said. "We just had to do it again." She expects their son, whom they plan to name Dakota, will be home by the end of next year.

Adoption officials say parents who adopt foreign children meet a variety of reactions from people in this country and overseas.

Filibeck has braced for negative or even rude remarks about their Indian child, but people have been kind and interested thus far. Natives of India also are supportive, she said. "They think that it's just wonderful, and they say we have given her a better chance at life. They think she is a lucky girl."

Dillon International's Deniese Dillon said reactions from people overseas range from indifference to embarrassment. While some people believe their country should be able to take care of its children, others are grateful their orphans will have permanent homes. Nancy Wood, a Norman-area social worker who specializes in international adoptions, said there is a painful side to adoption that people frequently overlook. "Without a doubt, the bulk of the people who adopt can't have children of their own," she said. That pain is compounded by feelings children eventually have for their lost birth parents and birth country, said Wood, who has a 4-year-old daughter from China and is in the process of adopting another.

"Like one writer put it, 'There will always be some pain when adoption is concerned.' "My daughter had to lose her birth parent and birth culture to be with me," Wood said. A lot of people don't acknowledge that, and it's an issue that should be dealt with, she said. Families should keep the issue in the open and teach children about their heritage. If it's done early, children tend to struggle less with identity issues as they grow up, she said.

Some agencies that specialize in international adoption offer events designed to bring families together and teach children about their native cultures. Dillon International sponsors "culture camps" that draw hundreds of Korean children from families the agency has worked with over the years. They've become a tradition, and now some of the adoptees who attended as children serve as camp counselors. Dillon said her agency stresses heritage.

"We feel that it is so important that they realize who they are, and that they are proud of it, and their families are proud of it, and they have fun celebrating it with them," Dillon said. "From the very beginning, it is important that there is that awareness and confidence that it's OK to be Chinese with Caucasian parents."

She said her agency helps families do that through the programs and through what she calls a "trust relationship" that goes on long after the adoption is final. Dillon said her agency began its work in South Korea and now facilitates adoptions in six other countries: China, Russia, India, Haiti, Ukraine and Guatemala.

Over the years, the agency has done more than 4,300 foreign adoptions, mostly for families outside Oklahoma. Figures released by the agency show 478 of Dillon's adoption cases have been to families in the state. But Dillon's numbers show interest is growing here. Of 243 families in the adoption process, 60 are from Oklahoma.

Margaret Orr, director of Small Miracles International in Midwest City, said people in this part of the country are not as sophisticated about international adoption as people in other regions, such as the East and West coasts. She said Small Miracles, established in 1985, placed 125 to 130 children last year and less than a half-dozen were with families within the state. "I wish I could figure it out," Orr said.

Education is one of the answers, said Cindy Davison, public relations coordinator for Dillion International. A key to Davison's strategy is alerting media when a local family is united with their adopted child. She said television stations cover airport arrivals and newspapers publish feature stories. "That really did increase our name recognition and awareness," she said.

Davison remembers one woman who attached a clipping to her refrigerator door. It hung there for a year. Then the family began the adoption process.

Caption:
Photo 1: Emilie Rider and her adopted daughter, Julie, 18-months, play in their living room. - STAFF PHOTO BY PAUL SOUTHERLAND Photo 2: LEFT: Julia Rios and her son, Peter, 15 months, join Paula Carpenter and Anne, 19 months, for an outing at the zoo. The zoo visit was organized by the Adoptive Parents of Central Oklahoma. Photo 3: ABOVE: Kathy Kirk and her daughter, Laura, 18 months, at the zoo. - STAFF PHOTOS BY STEVE GOOCH

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