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WINTER 2 0 0 3


  Barbara Lau  

Adoptions are on the rise in America, partially due to more flexible policies, to increased international cooperation, and to government assistance. In 2001, for example, 18,669 international children were placed with American families. And last January, President Bush signed the Safe and Stable Families Amendment that supports adoptive families with a tax credit of up to $10,000 for adoption expenses.

Susan Emmons ’78 of York, Pa., has benefited from the liberal attitudes fueling adoption policies today. A nonstop career track from college to divinity school, to the parish, to law school never accommodated her desire to be a mother. Divorce further complicated the matter. When she was almost 40, several families in her area adopted young girls from China. She learned that the Chinese government welcomed older single parents. Also, “These girls bonded well with their new families. And because they came from an institution, they thrive in day care, which is where my daughter would be when I was working,” says Emmons.

The process took 13 months. Emmons (daughter of Margaret Smyth Emmons ’44and sister of Sally Emmons Myers ’76) started the paperwork, waited. Went to training, waited some more. Meanwhile her fiance, Steve Zorbaugh, entered the picture; they postponed marriage to avoid any adoption complications. She finally received a call at 11 one night, informing her of the match. Within days Emmons and Zorbaugh flew to China. She recalls, “I got my daughter on July 1—my birthday, the present of a lifetime!” The couple married and Steve adopted Rachel as well. Emmons says, “Though I might have had more energy in my 20s, being a parent is truly my life’s joy. And playing with Rachel, now 4, is like having a second childhood.”

More common is the saga of Pam Shafer Randolph ’70 of Crown Point, Ind. It comes at the end of a long struggle to conceive children. When she and her husband decided to pursue adoption, they first registered with a private attorney. He would show their “Dear birth mother” letter to clients, and they placed ads in papers statewide. Then in 1994, a friend had “a relatively glitch-free experience” adopting a young girl from Russia. They decided to follow suit. The process involved “paperwork and more paperwork; phone calls and questions; moments of joy, hope, and frustration.” Nevertheless, within 10 months, the pair left for Russia. “Five-year-old Lydia and 4year-old Alex were waiting for Mama and Papa to come get them,” Randolph says.

She anticipated problems with “bonding, behavior, sleep, food, even disabilities. However, those first months were so successful I wanted to return and adopt two more!” Though both children arrived underweight, they soon caught up. They also acquired English “with amazing speed and success.” Despite her wonderful experience, Randolph cautions, “Just as in having a biological family, there are no guarantees.” In her case, the rewards were clearly worth the wait: “Now 10 and 11, Alex and Lydia are healthy, intelligent, loving, and very, very normal. They are all American kids with a bright future.”


Open adoption is another widespread development among private agencies in the United States. In this scenario, the birth parents select their baby’s adoptive parents and often maintain some level of contact with them. Though this arrangement may seem risky, psychologists and adoption counselors believe it is the healthiest arrangement for both child and relinquishing parents.

Alison Edwards Mitchell ’87 of Long Beach, Calif., went this route, but not before grieving for a biological child “that would never be.” She explains, “This may sound strange, but my husband, Jerry, and I first had to mourn not being able to create a biological child in order to be truly ready to adopt.” They adopted Claire, now almost 2, through a facilitator at the San Diego Adoption Center.

Mitchell recalls, “We had been waiting about 10 months when the birth parents chose us by reading a letter we wrote. She was six months pregnant when we met. All agreed that we would be a good match. We gradually got to know her, her parents, and the birth father, and sometimes accompanied her to doctor appointments.” This bond of mutual trust and respect led to the Mitchells being present at Claire’s birth. “Words fail me when I try to describe that morning. Perhaps the most apt description is one of complete awe. We were able to take our baby home the day after she was born.” Yet leaving their birth mother behind was painful. “We were overjoyed to go home as parents, while the woman who had labored for that child left with only her suitcase. It was both wonderful and awful to be the recipients of such a courageous, selfless act. Being ordinary people in the presence of extraordinary strength is life changing. We hope to raise Claire in a way that is worthy of her birth mother’s sacrifice.” Both families maintain contact with each other by writing letters, sending photos, and sometimes visiting.

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