Bay Area Families Talk about Adoption
Editor’s Note: Each year, November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month. The particular focus of this month is the adoption of children currently in foster care. On National Adoption Day — the Saturday before Thanksgiving, this year Nov. 17 — courts and communities come together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children from foster care.
There are many reasons why people consider adoption. For some, it’s a result of failed fertility efforts. For others, it’s a desire to enlarge their family and make life better for a child. But for all, it’s a way to bring people of diverse culture, race and heritage into the bonds of a loving family.
Tony and Nancy Rivera say that their reason for adopting was to enlarge their family and find a companion for their child. “When our son Tony was 8, we went through the state foster-adopt program to find a playmate for him,” says Nancy. “We told them we wanted a child near our son’s age, but when they contacted us, it was for a two-month-old boy named Alex.”
At first the Riveras declined the agency’s request, but when subsequent phone calls came in, Tony and Nancy reevaluated their decision. “The third time they called us, we said, ‘Yes,’” Nancy continues. “We figured if they contacted us that many times, maybe this was the child we were supposed to get.”
But the Riveras got more than they planned for. “Two months later, the agency called again. This time they said Alex had a two-year-old brother named Alfonzo who was in foster care . They asked if we wanted to adopt him. So we did,” says Nancy. “Then a year later, we found out the boys had two sisters, Candice, who was 6, and Anastasia, who was 8, so we decided to adopt them to keep the family together.”
John and Jo-El Azato took a different adoption route and went through a private agency to find an international child. “We had seen an ad in the newspaper about a seminar on domestic and international adoptions, so we went,” recalls Jo-El. “We knew we wanted an international child who was about 1 or 2 years old. And after doing research, we decided to go with a child from China.”
During the 14 months the Azatos waited for their daughter Nina, they busied themselves with preparations. “We had a baby shower and prepared her room,” says Jo-El. “We also read a lot about parenting and asked friends who had kids lots of questions.”
Waiting, say experts, can be the hardest part of the adoption process, whether it’s waiting for the paperwork to go through or waiting to receive the referral. But while families are on hold, there are things they can do.
“When I talk with couples, I tell them to use the time productively,” says Sam Wojnilower, LCSW, with a local private adoption agency. “Read about adopting and raising children, attend workshops, find a pediatrician, that kind of thing, so they’re already being active parents.”
Period of Adjustment
Although the Riveras didn’t need a primer on child-rearing, they did have to learn how to help their adopted children adjust to a new environment. “I think it was harder on Candice and Anastasia because they were older than the boys,” says Nancy. “I had to tell the girls they weren’t going to see their biological parents anymore. I’m not sure Candice totally understood, but Anastasia took it very hard. She was a little weepy and apprehensive, maybe even confused. I spent a lot of time with her letting her know she could come and talk with me. I told her it was okay to talk about her mom and dad and I would listen. I tried very hard to build a relationship and establish her trust.”
This is exactly what Adoption Consultant Mary Lou Edgar suggests. “One of the best ways to help newly adopted children adjust in their environment is to close in and establish those family relationships. There’s a natural inclination to want to celebrate with family and friends, but that can come later.”
Wojnilower agrees. “Children need time to adjust to their new family. They also need to establish a consistent routine as soon as possible. This is even truer with international adoption where things like food and times zones are different.”
Although Nina was only 10 months old when the Azatos adopted her, she too, had an adjustment to make. “I think the hardest part of the adoption process was that we didn’t bond right away,” recalls Jo-El. “When we first got Nina, she was well aware we weren’t her regular caretaker and the hotel we were staying in was not the orphanage. She wouldn’t eat and covered her face with her hands. She also cried a lot.”
But three days into the adoption, things changed. “We were still at the hotel and Nina had fallen asleep on the bed. When she woke up, she rolled over and I caught her before she fell off the side. She laughed; she thought it was a game. From that point on it was completely different. I knew we had bonded.”
Perhaps the one who had the biggest adjustment was young Tony, who went from being an only child to sharing his parents with four other children. “Tony did okay when we got the boys, but when Candice and Anastasia came, we had to have a talk,” Nancy remembers.
The Riveras didn’t know for certain the girls were coming until that morning, and Tony had already left for school. “When he got home, the girls were there, so I pulled him aside and explained why we wanted to keep them all together,” says Nancy. “It was hard, but I think he understood. It’s funny, though, the last thing he said to me was, ‘Mom, I’ll let them come in, just don’t paint the house pink!’”
One day soon, 2-year-old Nina may be making that same adjustment. “We are just now starting the adoption process to get a boy from Vietnam,” Jo-El concludes. “We want to get another Asian child so there is a similarity between them, particularly in this big Italian family.”
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and four grandchildren.
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