By Zak Cannard
Imagine you wanted to run a marathon. You train patiently for the day to approach and once it does, you show up, dressed in your best running attire. You wait in line calmly to pay your entry fee and fill out the endless release and medical forms only to find that the race has been rescheduled to a much later, undetermined date. The next race comes and once more you dress up to find that it has been pushed back again and similar delays happens every time you try after that.
That's what it can feel like with international adoption. Hopeful parents across the United States are repeatedly told they will have to wait longer and longer for their child. Processing paperwork through international regulations and the political stability of the countries involved contribute to a great uncertainty on when the adoption will be completed.
"Waiting is the most difficult part," says Gretchen (Kuntz) Scott, '95. "You have no idea when this child you love will be placed in your arms."
In August 2006 Gretchen Scott and her husband Brian Scott, '94, adopted their daughter, Gracyn, from China, when she was almost 12 months old. They began the adoption process in October of 2004, waiting two years until Gracyn was with them.
"I had some of the greatest 'lows' of my life during our waiting process," recalls Gretchen.
Others familiar with adoption know the feeling. Katie Spence, a senior this year at Whitworth University from Salt Lake City, has three adopted siblings from China. "It is so hard to wait once you have a picture of the child," she said.
Spence's parents began adopting her sister Emilee, who is now 7, when Spence was a freshman in high school. Her parents went through their second adoption, of Melanie, who is now 6, when Spence was a senior in high school, and they finalized their most recent adoption of Anna, now 3, in March 2007. Each of these took about two years, says Spence.
Like her parents, Spence cares passionately about adoption and plans to adopt a child later in life. "As Christians we're called to help widows and orphans. Adoption is a way to put that into action; we are God's answer to the problem," she said.
The long delay is not the only challenge that faces couples considering adoption. Most of the time is spent waiting for all the paperwork to clear.
Brian and Gretchen Scott used Bethany Christian Services to adopt their daughter. Bethany Christian Services is the largest national adoption and family services agency in the United States. The agency's website lays out a 21-step process which explains the course and requirements of adoption. These requirements include pre-applications, formal applications and setting up a case worker visit – and those are just the first few steps. According to the agency, the average time for a completed adoption of a Chinese baby is slightly longer than two years.
In addition to the customary slowness of bureaucracies in countries like China, politics can also play a role in international adoptions, as Aaron, '95, and Darcy (Long, '96) McMurray discovered. Things had progressed smoothly for them until the Guatemalan government began to consider several new adoption laws. For This Child, an adoption agency specializing in Guatemalan adoptions with which the McMurrays have worked, says that the country was and still is figuring out how to better protect adopted children from child trafficking. The implementation of new laws created more red tape, bringing all adoptions to a momentary standstill in late September 2007.
For This Child and other Guatemalan-specific adoption organizations have currently suspended taking new adoption applications until the political framework of adoption in Guatemala has been revised. The agencies are unsure when new adoptions will take place again.
The McMurrays were far enough into the process and were grandfathered into completing their adoption. They were able to bring their daughter Lucia from Guatemala to Spokane at the end of January. Lucia is the McMurrays' third child, joining their energetic 5-year-old twins, Keagan and Kinkade.
Ever since Darcy McMurray was little, she wanted to adopt internationally, she says. She recalls times in her youth where she would beg her parents to adopt a child, but her parents kept telling her no.
"It was a very scary time for us," Darcy says of the delay. In her online blog (http://mcmurraymania.blogspot.com), she continually asked for others to support their family and pray throughout the entire adoption. The blog serves as a venue to update their family and friends on the status of their adoption as well as the rest of their family life.
Along with the time, paperwork, and emotional costs of adoption, financial tension is another strain. According to www.theadoptionguide.com, the average cost of an international adoption ranges from $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the country from which the child is coming. The fees are apparently straight forward but adopting from some countries can entail additional costs. For example, some countries have a required travel time which is not budgeted for by agencies. China, for instance, requires that the adopting parents stay in the country for 12 to 14 days while the final paperwork clears.
Organizations such as LifeSong for Orphans offer grants and interest-free loans that help adopting parents with the costs. The United States government provides a tax credit up to $10,360 per adoption for families in financial need.
"One of the signs that we knew we were supposed to adopt came from anonymous donors who said that we would make great adoptive parents," says McMurray, as she reflected on all they have overcome. "No matter how you go about it, adoption is hard. It is hard financially and emotionally, but every time I look at her picture and spend time with her on a visit trip, I know that God created Lucia and that he has called us to be an adoptive family."
For the Scotts, the challenge of adoption is in the past and now the challenge of raising a 2-year-old girl is already underway. As Gretchen Scott reflects on her venture she says, "My experience in adoption and in China changed my life. This process has grown me more than anything else I have experienced. God gave us the most amazing gift!"
International adoption is a hard process but, outweighing the threefold pressures of waiting, emotional stress and financial strain lies the blessing of providing a better future, safer environment, and loving family for one more child who has come home.