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Families Adopt Internationally

Two agencies offer families help in adopting children here and out of the country.

In a few days, Beth Pavlic's life will change forever. On the day after Thanksgiving, the 45-year-old 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.

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.

Indeed, 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 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 America World.

In celebration of November as Adoption Month, below are some stories of local residents who have decided to adopt internationally:

BETH PAVLIC, WHO LIVES in Vienna with her sister, Julie, and Julie's daughter, Annie, decided to adopt after years of wanting children. Married for five years but unable to conceive, Pavlic started the adoption process two years ago but heard word from China just this past October.

"I was at a friend's, standing on the driveway, and screamed when I heard the news," Pavlic said. "My friend said, I feel like she's giving birth on my driveway."

All Pavlic knows of her soon-to-be daughter is her height and weight and that the authorities think she was abandoned at the doorstep of her orphanage when she was a day old. She has several pictures of the 1-year-old infant, whom she will name Kimberly Ann Mei Pavlic. The infant's name right now is Le Mei Qui.

"I'm just so excited for her to get here, and I'm also excited about going to China," Pavlic said.

Pavlic' and her sister Julie have been busy preparing the house for the new arrival. They've painted Kimmy's room, coordinated several baby showers, and fretted about car seats.

"I'm going through the same things she is," her sister said of the excitement.

Julie's daughter, Annie, will also accompany her aunt and her mother to China. She will keep a journal of the trip and read it in class when she returns. Annie's friends came by to tell them how they'll help the family out once Kimmy comes home.

"We think it'd be a great experience to have a baby girl," said 9-year-old Ellen Huff, Annie's friend and classmate at Flint Hill Elementary.

"We can play with her," said 9-year-old Julia Palmer.

"Dress her up," interrupted Annie.

"We want to be there every step of the way," Huff said.

Annie's mom, Julie, said Annie could also help Kimmy learn how to read and swim.

"It's going to be interesting when we baby sit, because I don't like to change the diapers," Annie said.

RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE STAIRS of their Oakton home, the Hansen children — Erika, 11; Christian, 8; Isabel, 6; and Alex, 2 1/2 — like to play together. Isabel and Alex were both adopted from Guatemala, but at different times. The Hansens adopted Isabel in 1997 when she was 10 months, and Alex came in December 2000 when he was 7 months old.

"The experience, the camaraderie, was so compelling with the other children," said Jeff Hansen on why they chose to adopt a second child. "Isabel's demeanor and her whole personality, the way it was, was just so amazing."

Unlike other families who adopt, the Hansens didn't have any problems with fertility. When they lived in Boston, a friend had asked them if they were having more children. They mulled over the idea, and went to an adoption seminar.

When they took the plunge and went to Guatemala, "Everything had just gelled for us. The more you see, the more it warms your heart," said Melany Hansen.

They met Isabel's birth mother and assured her they'd take care of Isabel. Years later, they've sent pictures and letters from Isabel, although they don't know if her mother has ever received the letters.

To remind Isabel and Alex where they came from, their mother, Melany, has made a memory chest for each of them. Inside the cabinets are pictures of when they were infants, adoption papers, and newspapers from that day.

Isabel knows she's adopted and can easily explain it to classmates and strangers.

"It's just part of her story," Melany said.

Her sister Erika has written a couple of school projects on Guatemala, and Alex has an au pair who speaks to him only in Spanish. The parents themselves know some elementary Spanish vocabulary.

And when they're racing toward the television or doing homework, Erika and Christian don't think of Isabel and Alex as being adopted.

"You forget that they're adopted after awhile," Christian said.

WHILE THE HANSEN FAMILY shows how adopted children and families adjust as they grow older, 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.

JOHANNA RENEE VOGT likes to play the piano, even though she's only 16 months old. She likes touching the keys.

Her parents, John and Sara Vogt of Vienna, adopted Johanna from China this past May using America World. John Vogt, who works for a Christian radio station, hosts a morning show. He found out about international adoption through America World representatives, who were his guests for the show. Intrigued, he came home that day and told Sara. He himself was adopted and knew of the benefits. Sara didn't want to adopt, partly because they were both in their 50s, and they had elderly parents to care for.

"I really didn't know anyone who adopted international children," said Sara Vogt. "Part of my situation was that I lived a sheltered life. It was stretching me."

Several months later, when Sara co-hosted the morning show with her husband, the America World representatives were back, telling listeners about an adoption seminar. Only after that did Sara consider adoption as an option.

After much consideration and prayer, including a four-hour meal at Sunflower Restaurant, the Vogts decided to adopt, despite their age.

"We came to that point where we believed that God was possibly calling us to do this," said John Vogt.

Their adult son, Regis, encouraged them to pursue adoption, despite their doubts.

"Our son pointed out that either she dies in the orphanage or she has older parents," John Vogt said.

But when they brought Johanna home, they knew they did the right thing.

"It's like Christmas every morning, it's wonderful," said John Vogt.

His wife agreed. "Our extended family, they're just gaga over her," said Sara Vogt.

Now that they have Johanna, both John and Sara know they need to keep in shape. They've started exercising and eating better, so they can see her graduate from high school and college and get married.

"Even though we're older, she'll keep us young, young at heart," John Vogt said.