For years, the common wisdom for Americans who wanted to adopt a baby quickly and easily was to go abroad.
Rather than wrestle with the red tape and long waits associated with adopting in the United States, they could fly to countries where the process took just weeks — or even days — and involved little more than showing up and paying some money.
But sometimes, the quick trips took on sinister undertones, with some birth countries becoming a sort of Wild West for adoptions. Babies were sometimes made available under suspicious circumstances, such as through kidnappings or buying them from their birth mothers.
Aiming to curb such practices, governments stepped in, and now the pendulum has swung far in the other direction. Even before the recent ban in Russia on adoptions by Americans, the annual number of international adoptions has plunged to 40 percent of what it was in the mid-2000s, and the process can grind on for years.
"In 1984, I had people yelling at me because it took six weeks instead of four. Today, it takes about five years to adopt a healthy child from China," said Janice Goldwater, founder and executive director of Adoptions Together, a Silver Spring, Md.-based adoption agency that used to facilitate nearly 100 international adoptions a year and now does fewer than 10.
"The landscape is so different today than it was four years ago, or even three years ago, when we were out recruiting for parents for all these kids, and now there aren't all these kids available."
Americans' interest in adoption rose in the 1990s and early 2000s after the introduction and augmentation of adoption tax credits and legislation limiting how long children could spend in foster care. At the same time, a large number of countries opened for international adoption — including Eastern Europe, Russia and China.