The Barnes Family – Matthew and Amy with their adopted children Allie and Lane.

Written By Jeffrey Roth, Photos by: Kelly Heck

A stay-at-home mom – at least for now – Susan Ripper of Westminster cherishes the day when she and her husband, Mark, made the decision to become adoptive parents.

Originally from Baltimore, Susan moved to Carroll County in 1985, and Mark moved to Westminster in 1988 the year the couple married. As do many newly married couples, the Rippers wanted children to be part of their family.

“We had been married 12 years and we wanted lots of children and it wasn’t happening,” Susan said. “We pursued adoption. We had friends who had adopted children from Korea. After talking to a lot of people about adoptions, we decided to do it through Catholic Charities. We chose to go with an international adoption, rather than to adopt domestically, because of our age – I was 42 and my husband was 41.”

In the course of researching adoption options, the Rippers learned that the wait time for domestic adoptions was often very long. By comparison, the international adoption process is much faster:

Their 13-year-old son, David, was adopted in May of 2000. The process, from application to delivery, took about eight and a half months. For their daughter, Mary, 9, who was adopted in May 2004, it took 14 months.

In the United States, the number of infants available for domestic adoptions has decreased dramatically, said Ellen Warnock, associate administrator for the Center for Family Services Adoption Program of Catholic Charities, Baltimore Archdiocese.

In Maryland, most domestic adoption agencies are placing few, if any, infants from this country per year.

“Adoption is a very difficult decision,” Warnock said. “In the past, single women were often pressured into that decision, but culturally that has changed. The result is that people who want to adopt healthy infants have fewer options than they did in the past. Catholic Charities is no longer accepting applications for domestic infant adoptions. For the past 30 years, we have been doing international adoptions, primarily from Korea and the Philippines.”

Adoption laws and the adoptive process differ from country to country. Consequently, the time involved in the adoption process varies, Warnock said.

In Korea, for example, infants who are given up for adoption are first placed in a country-run foster home system. The children are toddlers by the time they are placed with adoptive families.

Mary was almost 8 months old when she was adopted, said Susan Ripper. David was 4 months old. At the time, the Rippers did not have to travel to Korea to pick up the children. They were delivered to the U.S. through an escort service.

That practice has been eliminated, Warnock said. Today, parents must go to Korea and stay in-country for one to two weeks to complete the adoption.

The Rippers celebrate their children’s birthdays and also their “Gotcha Days.” Gotcha Day, also called Adoption Day and Family Day, commemorates the day on which adopted children became part of the family.

Although many adoptive families choose to celebrate Gotcha Day, others believe the name of the celebration is demeaning because the word “gotcha” carries the connotation of possession and ownership.

Both Mary and David Ripper enjoy celebrating their “Gotcha Days.” David said it makes him feel “special because we get to celebrate it and other kids don’t.” His sister, Mary, said, “It’s very fun.”

“Being adopted is special because I have a family who loves me and we do cool things together,” David said. “I would like to learn the Korean language one day.”

“Being adopted is cool because it makes me feel special,” said Mary. “One day I hope to go to Korea to see my birth mother and family.”

Susan said that Korean law provides the opportunity, when adopted children turn 18, to request information about their birth parents. If the birth parents waive their rights to confidentiality, the government will provide the information to the children whom they put up for adoption.

When the Rippers were still considering adoption, including the cost, an acquaintance asked them what they would do if they wanted a new car. The answer: Get a loan. The total cost of both adoptions was about $25,000.

During the income tax debate in Congress earlier this year, one of the programs facing possible elimination was the federal adoption tax benefit. Thanks to a lobbying effort by adoptive families, the $5,000 tax credit per adopted child was preserved for the time being, Susan said.

Mark and Cindy Wisniewski of Hampstead adopted a child from China. They had been married about three years when they decided to start a family. But they had problems conceiving naturally. Cindy said they investigated various infertility treatment options.

“We didn’t have a lot of success ,” said Cindy. “One day, my mom came over for a visit and she looked at me and asked: ‘What are your goals here? Is your goal to be pregnant or have a child?’ She put things in perspective for me. I had never thought of it in that way.”

At that point, the Wisniewskis were ready to consider adoption as an option. In 2003, they began the application process through America World Adoption, headquartered in McLean, Va. The process took about 15 months. In February 2004, they traveled to China, where they stayed two weeks before flying back home with Amelia.

“It was a shocker to go overnight from not being parents to being the parents of a little girl who was all over the place,”said Cindy. “The paperwork itself takes a good six months to complete and send to China. Nine months after we submitted all the paperwork – the time of the average pregnancy – we got a call that they had a child for us.”

“After trying unsuccessfully to have our own biological children, we were so happy and at peace with our decision to adopt; it just hit us that that was how our family was to be, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way,” said Mark, who had advice for prospective adopters:

“Get involved in the entire process,” he said. “Don’t just let your wife or partner do everything. Stay involved. The experience is even more rewarding if you’ve helped with the legwork.”

“I think it’s cool being adopted,” said Amelia, who turned 10 in October. “You have someone who wants to care for you and love you just like your birth parents would.”

Matt and Amy Barnes of Westminster adopted two Korean children through Adoption Services Information (ASIA), located in Silver Spring. Their daughter, Allie, “Ann-Joo” (her Korean name was Hyun-joo), now 17, was adopted in April, 1996, at the age of five months; and their son, Lane Matthew, “Min-Jae,”, 9, was adopted in July 2003, at the age of seven months.

“It was kind of waiting like you were pregnant, although it was a much longer process,” Amy said. “We took it step-by-step, a piece at a time. You initially get a phone call stating ‘we have a baby for you,’ Then you get a picture and whatever birth history they can give you.”

Amy’s family background includes experience with adoption; her brother and mother were both domestically adopted.

“It was something new for me,” Matt said. “It was a heartfelt experience.”

Lane said he doesn’t “really know,” how he feels about being adopted because, “I don’t remember much about my babyhood.”

Allie said: “It’s awesome because I know I’m getting a better life.”

All of the adoptive parents recommended that other families consider international adoptions. They said the process can be tiresome and have its highs and lows, but the result is more satisfying than words can describe.