On the day after Thanksgiving, Beth Pavlic's life changed forever. The 45-year-old Vienna resident went with her sister and her niece halfway around the world to China, to adopt a Chinese girl.
"I started thinking, I just want a baby," Pavlic said, before the trip.
Pavlic will join the ranks of many parents across Northern Virginia who have chosen to adopt children internationally. Whether the children are from China, Guatemala, the Ukraine or Romania, people adopt because they choose to be parents.
"A beauty of adoption is the way it meets different people's needs," said Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption. "It creates a solution out of a complex problem. People get a child, a child gets a family, and the birth parents are able to move on with their lives and know that their children are being cared for."
WITHIN MILES OF EACH OTHER, two local agencies help people adopt internationally. While the Christian-based American World Adoption Association in McLean focuses on international adoptions, the Datz Foundation in Vienna does both domestic and international adoptions.
"There are more and more families that want to adopt," said international case manager Julia Kunina at the Datz Foundation.
Between 1992 and 2002, immigrant visas issued to orphans coming to the United States have increased 211 percent, from 6,472 in 1992 to 20,099 in 2002, according to the U.S. State Department.
"The process [to adopt internationally] is becoming more predictable, and certainly the need is there," Atwood said.
People chose international adoption over domestic adoption for several reasons. There are fewer children available domestically, which can make domestic adoptions very difficult to pursue, Kunina said. Also, in domestic adoptions, the birth mother has more control over who will have her child. She can also decide to change her mind about the adoption within a certain time frame, depending on state guidelines.
"Adopting families have more control in international vs. domestic," Kunina said.
Those adopting also differ on their reasons for adoption. For some, it's infertility or age. For others, it's simply because they want to adopt.
"They're established financially. they're established in their communities, but they just want to reach out," said Leslie Johnston of American World.
KATHY LEONI and her 5-year-old daughter, Cecilia, are just starting to get acquainted with Gemma, whom they've had since September 2002.
Gemma, who comes from the province of Guanzou in China, was small for her age of 15 months. But since she's come to Fairfax, she's gained from two to three pounds and has grown an inch.
"So far it's been wonderful. She's a very good, easy baby to take care of," Leoni said.
Leoni and her husband, Richard, had tried to have another child but had problems with infertility. Plus, they're over 40. They both came from large families, and they wanted Cecilia to have a sibling.
"Watching the two play together and be sisters is a lot of fun," Leoni said.
Leoni and her daughter have also enjoyed teaching Gemma some new skills. Right now, they're teaching her how to kiss. In October, Gemma went to the beach for the first time, and she liked the sand and the water.
"You can tell when she's experiencing things for the first time," Leoni said.
Leoni said that she and her husband's workplaces have been very supportive about their adoption. In addition to a tax credit of $10,000 from the federal government, Lockheed Martin, her husband's employer, provided adoption assistance funding. Her employer, the National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General, gave her time off to go to China.
They've gotten "little support groups that you get from your employer, your church, neighbors, that you really don't know about until something happens," Leoni said