National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month when those who have opened their hearts and their homes to children are honored.

One Chicago mom’s story of adoption

As I walked through the baby aisles of Target, pricing strollersand formula and getting a sense of what had changed in the babylandscape over four years, I couldn’t help but notice the bellies.Big bellies, pregnant bellies, happy bellies. How can you not lovea pregnant belly-so much potential, so much promise, so muchhope-all hidden under a maternity shirt stretched to capacity?


I was missing a belly (well, a pregnant belly-does a soda bellycount?), but still was expecting a baby. My baby was growing inanother woman’s belly, our Birth Mother. I capitalize thatintentionally, as Birth Moms demand our respect and gratitude.Birth Moms make a wrenching choice out of love to provide for theirchild the best they can-just like all good parents do, only harderand with less return.

There was an odd sensation browsing in the baby aisles that day.The other expectant moms were carrying electronic guns, pointing atthe things they hoped to have for the little one growing insidethem. There would be showers and sonograms and nurseries to set up.There would be none of that for me, as my pregnancy wasinvisible.

Probably no one noticed me that day. I might have been theauntie shopping for a new little one, or a colleague dispatched tobuy the office gift for an expecting co-worker, or simplyinvisible. But I was none of those things, as I, too, wasexpecting. More accurately, I was hoping. Not an expectant mom, buta hopeful mom.

And as a hopeful mom instead of an expectant mom, I tookprecautions. That meant no crib, no stroller, no diaper bag, no bigticket baby items. Those precautions were for my heart. If the babywe hoped for would not be ours, the last thing I wanted to do wasreturn to a home full of baby things. I was there at the Targetthat day shopping for the bare essentials-a few of the tiniestonesies, a burp cloth or two, a blanket in case of chill (plus, itwas black and white chevron and demanded to be purchased).

When you adopt, it’s not over ’til the fate lady sings. Not thefat lady, people, the fate lady. Only time would tell for us.Specifically, only 48 hours after birth would I know if I would belucky enough to mother another little one. That is a tense 48hours, let me tell you. For me, much of it was spent in thepresence of Birth Mom, who so amazingly had asked for me to be withher in the delivery room. And only by grace of good weather and notraffic was I able to travel cross-country and do that, with twohours to spare, after she went into early labor.

When Baby was born, I suddenly knew, in rich and vibrant colors,what it must have been like for my husband at the birth of our twooldest children. I clasped Birth Mom’s knees, just as my husbandhad clasped mine. I held Birth Mom’s hand as she pushed, just as myhusband had mine. I held the camera that would take the first photoof baby, just as my husband had done.

My hope and awe had never been more potent.

Those two days in the hospital Birth Mom was simply Mom. Doctorsand nurses tended to her, asked her questions, requested hersignature. I was there, always there, not exactly certain what myrole was. I watched Baby in his mother’s arms, such a beautifulbaby. My heart did a little flip with every diaper I got to changeor bottle I got to offer. I hoped, but didn’t know if thisbeautiful baby would be mine, if I would be his Mom.

Those 48 hours were my labor pains, minus the epidural.

Today, we are home, our family grown by one beautiful new babyboy. We are blessed beyond measure. My pregnancy was invisible andunacknowledged, spread out over four months between our firstcontact with Birth Mom and the moment she placed her beautiful son,now ours, in my arms.

There will be no showers, no registry, no diaper cake, but therewill be a lifetime of love and joy and sacrifice and hope andsupport.

Welcome, Baby. May you only know love every day

Exploring the adoption option

You’ve seen Brad and Angelina do it. Madonna, Meg Ryan and Sheryl Crow, too. It’s seen as the hip thing to do in Hollywood these days, but adoption is far from a fad.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, consider a few things before making the decision to adopt

Feel it

Adoption is a decision that should be made in the heart, not only in the head. You may have the money and time, but your heart needs to be fully committed to adoption.

“If your heart is filled with the want of adopting, you cannot be making a bad decision,” says Kima Spaulding of Villa Park and adoptive mom to Bryson, 19 months.

Once you know that adoption is the path you want to follow, prepare to experience the journey of a lifetime.

Not second best

Many couples approach adoption after infertility, but they need to learn quickly that adoption isn’t a consolation prize. The emotional strain of dealing with infertility should be dealt with before beginning the adoption process. Confide in your spouse, a counselor, member of the clergy or friends.

“If the hurt feelings of infertility are fresh, they might need time to grieve first,” says Phyllis Laughlin, clinical director of adoptive parent services at The Cradle in Evanston.

Attend a seminar

Most local agencies offer free informational meetings for potential clients that discuss fees, countries, domestic vs. international and allow you to question social workers.

Visit more than one agency before making any decisions. Find out where you feel comfortable and which agency meets your particular needs.

Be open to the unexpected

Adoption never happens like you expect because the process is far from static. Agencies change and countries revise policies. Don’t commit your heart or calendar to one particular journey because you never know where you’ll end up.

My husband and I entered adoption with every intention of adopting a daughter from China. Yet our ultimate decision was to seek a son in Korea. Until we understood the pros and cons of each country, including the U.S., we weren’t prepared to make that decision.

Adoption is full of surprises, so be prepared to keep an open mind throughout the entire process.

The Lichners of Elk Grove Village had decided to have their son, Henry, now 15 months, escorted to O’Hare International Airport instead of traveling to Korea themselves. When they were given the option to pick him up instead of waiting indefinitely for an available escort, they quickly changed their minds.

“… It was such a big part of the picture that helped us connect with Henry’s culture and early life that we would not have been able to experience had we not traveled,” Amy Lichner says.

Visit websites and blogs

Online you can find a plethora of information on adoption, including opinions from adoptive parents, adoptees and birth mothers. There is a great deal of anger, joy and confusion from all three angles.

Jump into the conversation at, which also offers articles for all aspects of adoption.

Build a community. Seek out other parents who are entering or experiencing adoption, especially if you are considering an international adoption.

“Sometimes talking to people adopting from China when we were adopting from Korea wasn’t entirely helpful as the process was similar, but still different,” says Lichner.

Make time in your life to speak with parents who have been through the process.

Cultivate patience

Unlike pregnancy, which is a guaranteed nine-month proce

Chicago couples make their families complete with adoption from Ethiopia

When my wife, Lynn, and I adopted Yonatan-Yonny for short, Yonnybird when he’s being especially cute-from Ethiopia nearly four and a half years ago, we both knew we’d eventually face tough questions. But we didn’t know we’d be asking the questions long before our son did.

The big one: We’re white. Our older son-13 this year-is white, too. Even our dog is white. Yonny, obviously, has black skin. This means that Yonny needs to see as many darker faces as possible. Can we really do this if our family lives in the western suburbs in a community that is heavily, heavily white?

And a second question: Do we owe it to our son to move to a more diverse neighborhood, especially as he gets older and begins asking more questions about his skin color and his identity?

These are questions that every parent who has adopted a child who looks so different from them has to ask. And a growing number of parents are asking this question specifically about children adopted from Ethiopia.

The Wall Street Journal earlier this year reported that in 2010 about 4,400 children were adopted from Ethiopia. That is three times more children than were adopted from the country as recently as 2004.

Parents have many reasons for adopting from Ethiopia, some deeply personal, others more pragmatic. The country, until recently, had one of the easier adoption processes to navigate. An adoption from Ethiopia could be completed in about 12 months, a blip when compared to the long waits parents faced when adopting from other countries.

This has changed recently. Ethiopia has slowed its adoption process amid charges of corruption and has closed several orphanages.

But even with the slowdown, there are plenty of Ethiopian children now living in Chicago, just as there are plenty of Ethiopian immigrants living across the United States.

The families that have adopted these children face an obvious challenge: The majority of these children are living with white parents. Parents must do everything they can to make sure their children play and interact with others who look like them. And they must take steps to ensure that their adopted children don’t lose touch with their Ethiopian heritage.

Fortunately, there are organizations that help parents do this.

Making connections

Each July, Carol and Brendan Deely bring their five children-including the two they adopted from Ethiopia-to the Wesley Woods campground in Williams Bay, Wis., about a two-hour drive from their home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

They play volleyball, cook s’mores, swim and sing campfire songs with about 300 mostly Chicago-area residents who look just like them: multi-cultural families made up of a mix of U.S. and Ethiopian members.

The Ethiopian American Kids Community-a group Carol Deely runs-holds this Heritage Camp for one reason: It’s a place where Ethiopian children adopted by parents in the United States can gather with others who are part of families that look like their own.

“As our children get older, we want them to have Ethiopian friends,” Carol Deely says. “We don’t want them to feel as if they are odd because their parents are white. The more people they know from Ethiopia, the more children they know who are in the same situation, the more normal they’ll feel.”

The Deelys adopted 6-year-old Gabriel from Ethiopia five and a half years ago and 5-year-old Isaiah three years ago. Their three daughters, all older than their Ethiopian siblings, immediately took to their new brothers. And the family has worked hard to make sure their adopted children never feel out of place in their new home country.

“It isn’t fair to immerse your adopted children in a situation in which no one else looks like them,” Deely says. “That’s why it’s

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