One+one makes a family
Growing numbers of single American women are adopting children in the US and abroad.
Jeanne Becker always assumed she would have a satisfying career and a family.Skip to next paragraph
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But while her career in marketing and public relations progressed steadily, marriage proved elusive. A long-term relationship ended when she was in her late 30s, forcing her to confront a hard question: What should she do about starting a family?
"I gave it about a year's worth of thought," says Ms. Becker, president of Becker Consulting Services in Coral Gables, Fla. She decided to adopt, beginning an odyssey that would take her far from home. It also put her in league with a growing number of unmarried women who face complex decisions about adopting children alone - decisions that involve everything from finances to child care to cultural differences.
Last year, nearly a third of adoptive parents in the United States were single women, according to the Children's Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
As these women - a majority in their 30s and 40s, educated and financially secure - reach out to children in the US and abroad, they are forging new territory in the changing landscape of the American family. Many find their divergent path to motherhood deeply rewarding. Yet "arduous" is also a word that comes up in conversations as they describe the adoption process and solo child- rearing.
"Expensive" is another word they use. Costs for international adoption can range from $12,000 to $30,000, averaging between $15,000 and $25,000. A domestic adoption averages $16,000, although expenses can vary widely. A federal tax credit that took effect last year offsets $10,000 in costs for both domestic and international adoptions.
Like many single women, Ms. Becker first hoped to adopt a baby in the US. But after learning that birth mothers favor married couples, she researched China and Russia, the top two countries for overseas adoption. She chose Russia, her father's ancestral homeland, and worked with an agency in New York. Mountains of paperwork were followed by hours with a social worker who conducted a home study.
After the agency approved Becker, she received a "referral," a videotape of a 9-month-old Russian boy. She showed it to several physicians, as well as a speech therapist and a physical therapist. "Everybody gave thumbs up," she says. A Western-trained doctor in Moscow also examined the infant. The exam revealed some minor problems, but nothing major.
Becker made two trips to Russia. The first time she traveled alone to appear in court and to meet the son she would name Ethan.
The second time a friend went with her to bring the 14-month-old child home. Smiling in approval, a Russian judge told her, "Life begins at 40." The whole process took 13 months, a fairly typical time frame.
Another adoptive mother, Darsie Bowden of Skokie, Ill., traveled to China six years ago to adopt an 11-month-old girl, whom she named Elizabeth. As a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Ms. Bowden needed to find a country that did not require a lengthy stay to pick up a child. "China was very straightforward, and the kids tended to be pretty healthy," she says.
Since then, China has imposed a quota on single women, limiting them to 8 percent of adoptions. Many countries allow only married couples to adopt.