One+one makes a family
Growing numbers of single American women are adopting children in the US and abroad.
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Initially, Bowden shared a nanny with another family. Elizabeth also spent time at a family day-care home. In those early months, Bowden recalls, she was "tired all the time." She also had to adjust her social network. "Some friends are more accommodating than others when you abandon them for a period."Skip to next paragraph
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Although she gradually reestablished the network, the process was hard.
She and other single parents emphasize the importance of lining up outside support and including men - grandfathers, uncles, friends - in their children's lives. When Bowden must work in the evening, a friend who is Elizabeth's godfather picks her up. "He adores her and so does his wife. It's a male role that's important for her."
Adoption specialists also encourage parents to establish cultural links with their children's native country. Five of the six families who traveled to China with Bowden live in the Chicago area. They get together often to enjoy Chinese-oriented activities with their daughters. This includes celebrating Chinese New Year and "Gotcha Day," the day they picked up their infants.
When Linda Hill of Pocatello, Idaho, began considering adoption in the mid-1980s, she focused on South American countries that accepted single women. Working with an agency in Texas, she chose Peru. She spent a month there, adopting a 2-month-old daughter in February 1988. But the baby became ill and died a year later.
Ms. Hill, director of admissions counseling at Idaho State University, started over. In May 1990, after three months in Peru, she adopted a 6-month-old girl, named Rosa by her birth father.
"As much as we're emotionally prepared to be a parent, you can never totally comprehend the impact [children are] going to have on your life," Hill says.
Noting that the first adoption cost $15,000, she adds, "I knew I would be in debt for a good part of my life, but I knew why I would be in debt."
For some single women, adoption creates a mixed-race family. Eliana, a professional woman in the San Francisco Bay area who does not want her last name used, adopted a daughter from Haiti in December 2000.
As an older, single white mother with a dark-skinned child, Eliana has become keenly aware of the complexities of transracial adoption. Such matches, she says, "require a lot more thinking, planning, and reflection than would otherwise be the case."
Betsy Burch, executive director of Single Parents for Adoption of Children Everywhere (SPACE) in Boston and the adoptive mother of four black children, now grown, finds a lot of support for adopting transracially. But, she adds, "I don't encourage people to do that who are not certain about it."
Among black women, adoptions tend to be within the US. At the Black Adoption Placement and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., which handles only domestic adoptions, 40 percent of placements are to single black women. Most are professionals between the ages of 30 and 50. Although some of them request babies, executive director Gloria King finds that many are open to adopting 3- to 5-year-olds. Most of the children have special needs.
Other unexpected challenges can come in adopting older children. Agencies caution that the older a child, the longer the adjustment can be. Children who have spent years in orphanages can exhibit what experts call "institutional behavior." Because they have never lived in a family, they do not know what a family structure is.