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“The first time you hold that child in your arms, there is nothing like it,” says Katie O’Shaughnessy. “It is different from the birth experience, but it’s just as amazing. It’s just a different labor of love,” says the Somerset mother of four.

The Erwins. The Ashers. The Woodwards. The O’Shaughnessys. They are typical Kentucky families in every regard except one: how they came to be families. Each of these families was completed through adoption.

The O’Shaughnessy children include Ryan, age 15, Maris, 11, Grace, 6, and Aislinn, 3. Grace and Aislinn were adopted from Guatemala.

There are more than 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, according to Julie Erwin, executive director of Adoption Assistance Inc., Danville, and the mother of five adopted children herself. Erwin says that although the precise number of adoptions occurring each year is all but impossible to track, the number of families adopting in the United States has almost doubled in the last five years.

The reasons behind adoption are as diverse as the families themselves, Erwin says. Infertility often plays a role, yet today 50 percent of her clients already have biological children. Some couples have raised children but feel like they aren’t finished parenting, that they still have a lot of love and energy to give. Others simply want to help a child who needs a home. Still others believe their family isn’t complete yet.

The constant, according to Erwin, is the desire to parent a child.

Domestic adoptions, just as it sounds, are those of children from within the United States, and international adoptions are those of children from other countries. Within domestic adoptions, there are several other distinctions—private adoptions, agency adoptions, and adoptions from foster care. Although the process for each kind of adoption can be dramatically different, the result is the same—a child becomes part of a family.

The process begins with a simple but profound question: Is adoption right for you?

“This is the biggest decision that must be made,” says Erwin.

“For some, it takes a great deal of time to answer. Sometimes, people get there quickly.” (See sidebar below for more on this question.)

For Steve and Cheyenne Asher, the answer was a quick yes, and a baby boy named Ivan came only days after they called Erwin at Adoption Assistance.

The Ashers have three biological children, Alyssa, age 10, Cailyn, 7, and Makenzie, 5. The two older children have epilepsy and Makenzie was premature and has developmental delays. The Ashers felt called to adopt another special-needs child. Ivan is missing most of the left side of his brain, has severe neurological problems, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and occasionally requires a feeding tube. His birth parents were overwhelmed. Although Ivan was born in the United States, his parents are from China and had great difficulty understanding the doctors and caring for a sick infant.

To the Ashers, Ivan is the answer to prayer as well as a blessing.

“He is exactly what we prayed for,” Cheyenne says. “He is a sweet, sweet baby. “He very seldom cries and is just a joy. He loves to be held and cuddled. It feels like he has been with us forever.”

In the six months they have had Ivan, he has already taught them a lot, according to Cheyenne.

“He has taught our family about acceptance,” Cheyenne says.

“Even with all he has been through, he has never gone a day without smiling. We are also very happy with little accomplishments. We’re not in the rat race of trying to be first, or caught up in a daily hustle and bustle.”

Like the Ashers, many families hope to adopt an infant. But others, such as the Woodwards, give an older child a home.

Angie and Bob Woodward adopted their son, Justin Davis, or J.D. as he likes to be called, from foster care when J.D. was 12. Today he is 17.

Angie says adopting an older child is like “taking your boat and putting it in at the rapids. You don’t get to start with the slow stream and build your way up to the rapids.” But in the next breath, she says that they would do it again, noting that J.D. has added an entirely new dimension to their lives.

“Someone close to us recently told us that she thought we were nice before we adopted J.D., but that we were nicer now,” she says. “You gain so much understanding. You see the world through a different set of eyes. You see so many more things.

“We had been married for 30 years when we adopted J.D. This summer we went to Germany and Austria. J.D. and Bob rented two bicycles and they hooked their bikes on the ski lift, riding the ski lift 10 miles up the side of the mountain, then they rode the bikes down. That’s just not something the two of us (Bob and Angie) would have thought about doing.”

Their first international adoption also opened new worlds to the O’Shaughnessys.

Grace, the O’Shaughnessys’ first child adopted internationally, attracted a lot of attention in Pulaski County six years ago. At the time, Katie says she didn’t know of any other international adoptions in Pulaski County. She formed the Southcentral Adoption Support Group to help others through what she calls the adoption journey. Today, that group, like Grace, has blossomed and now includes families with children adopted domestically and internationally.

Whether they choose an older child or an infant, a child from the States or an international adoption, all the families are amazed by one unexpected bonus.

Erwin experienced it with the adoption of each of her children and has heard it from each family she has helped through the process.

“Ninety-nine percent of our families say that they cannot believe what a good match their child is for their family,” Erwin says.

“They believe there is a divine reason that child is in their home. I’ve never had a family tell me that adopting wasn’t the best thing they ever did, and they all tell me that this child was meant to be theirs.”




THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ADOPTION QUESTIONS

1. Is adoption right for us?

Answering this question takes time, according to Julie Erwin, who has guided more than 500 families in Kentucky through the adoption process.

“Families dealing with infertility have to decide if they want to be parents or if they want to parent a child,” she says. “If parenting a child is your main objective, adoption may be an answer.”

For all families, one partner may come to the decision before the other. Erwin says to be patient and take your time making this decision because it is the biggest decision you will make.

2. What kind of adoption?

The two broad categories of adoptions are domestic and international.

Within domestic adoptions there are several distinctions: Private adoptions are those in which the two parties know each other or come together through an intermediary such as an attorney.

Children can also be adopted through an adoption agency, from foster care, or even directly from an orphanage in some cases.

International adoptions—those in which children are adopted from outside the U.S.—vary greatly by country. Erwin suggests seriously looking at several factors to decide which country is right for you:

The appearance of the child. Appearance matters a lot to some people and doesn’t matter at all to others. You must feel comfortable parenting the child. If you are considering an international adoption, Erwin suggests that you look at the beliefs and conditions in that country in addition to the appearance of the child.

Travel. Some countries require a parent to travel there to get the child, a few require multiple visits, and with other countries you can have the child escorted to the United States. Find out what the country you are considering requires and determine if you meet these time and financial requirements.

Type of program. Some children are in foster care until adopted. Others are in orphanages. It varies by country and sometimes by the age of the child. Some countries only allow older children to be adopted.

Fees. These also vary from country to country. Erwin says that most domestic and international adoptions cost between $15,000 and $26,000 (although private adoptions may be less). But there is a federal adoption tax credit of $10,960 for anyone with an income under $204,000. Many employers also have adoption benefits.

Time frame. It takes longer to adopt from some countries than others. Most adoptions take between six and 18 months.

3. How do we get started?
Do some research. The Internet has a wealth of information. Narrow your search by choosing a particular area, such as Chinese or Korean adoptions, for example. A particularly good site is www.kentuckyadoptioncoalition.org.

Visit the U.S. State Department for Children & Family Issues for more information on international adoption at http://travel.state.gov/family.

There are many Yahoo groups you can join for support and information. Go online to http://groups.yahoo.com and type in “adoption” in the search box or a specific country name and adoption (i.e., “Guatemala adoption”). There may also be an adoption support group in your community.

There are adoption fairs in every region of Kentucky as well as adoption seminars throughout the year. Look for ads in your local newspaper for when these are occurring in your community. There is a Lexington Adoption Fair on November 5, 1-4:30 p.m., at The Campbell House/Crown Plaza.

An adoption agency can also help. Most good agencies will lead you through the entire process, Erwin says. She recommends calling several agencies to find one that is a good fit for you, meaning that you are comfortable talking with them. (See box below for where to find a complete list of state adoption agencies on the Kentucky Living Web site.)

Understand the laws governing adoptions. Each state dictates its own laws. In Kentucky, you have to have a licensed Kentucky agency to complete the required home studies (interviews in which a social worker determines if the home is appropriate for a child). For international adoptions, you must apply to immigration (now called the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) to bring a child into the country. There are also requirements for post-placement after the adoption to see how the child is adapting to the family and how the child is developing. All of these vary according to where the child is adopted from.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the requirements. “For every person who chooses adoption, there is a story,” says Katie O’Shaughnessy. “They are all different, but it is amazing when it comes together. It is very humbling to know that you go thousands of miles to find this little person and to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is how it is supposed to be.”




KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: ADOPTION RESOURCES

For a list of adoption resources and licensed Kentucky adoption agencies, click here: adoption.

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