Couple's long wait, expenses pay off when baby makes three

November 03, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The labor pains during the delivery of Chris and Dennis Peppas' first child were as lengthy and stressful as if the woman had actually given birth to the Russian boy.

"It was slow and nail-biting for us," Dr. Peppas said of his son's arrival in the United States in August. "It was just a matter of time. It was really a nervous time."

After enduring a five-month wait, spending $25,000 and completing numerous adoption forms, the Columbia couple went to Russia to get their child, Sotirios, who lived in an orphanage.

"My son is an absolute joy," Dr. Peppas said, describing the 29-month-old with the light brown eyes, the couple's only child. "He's the most social creature I've ever met in my life. He'll go to anyone."

After trying unsuccessfully for more than 10 years to have children, the stenographer and pediatric urologist chose to adopt a foreign-born child. They exemplify a growing number of Americans, married and single, who are adopting internationally.

The topic will be discussed at a free two-hour program 7 p.m. today at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills. Families who have adopted internationally will share their experiences during the event, co-sponsored by Adoption Alliances for the Jewish Family Services in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C.-based Cradle of Hope, a nonprofit child placement agency.

Last year, Americans adopted 7,348 children abroad, and 344 were placed with Marylanders, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Most of the children came from Korea, the former Soviet Union and China.

Many adoptive parents say adopting internationally is quicker and safer than adopting domestically. They don't have to worry that the birth parents might try to reclaim their children the way the parents of "Baby Jessica" did. Her birth parents waged a successful court battle last year to reclaim her when she was 2 1/2 years old.

The Peppases can feel assured.

Sotirios' mother abandoned the baby, who had pneumonia, in a hospital after he was born, Dr. Peppas said. When he recovered, he was placed in an orphanage, and the Russian government stripped away his biological mother's parental rights. His three siblings were either placed in a boarding school or adopted by a Russian family.

The time, travel and money were well worth the wait, said the Peppases, who had tried for about five years to adopt domestically.

With Cradle of Hope's help, the immigration agency gave them permission to adopt up to five children. They were not financially ready to start a large family, though.

"We looked through an [photo] album of children they have," Mrs. Peppas said. "We spotted his [Sotirios'] picture and fell in love with him as soon as we saw him."

Like the Peppases, many Americans are adopting foreign children because of a shortage of healthy American children.

"One positive aspect of adopting internationally is there are a lot of children looking for adoption," said Linda Perilstein, Cradle of Hope's executive director. "There are thousands and thousands of children in orphanages."

Although some countries don't allow foreign adoption, those that do generally approve applications more rapidly than does the United States. International adoption usually takes about six months, compared with five or six years for domestic adoption, said Mrs. Perilstein, who adopted a son domestically and a daughter from Romania.

In four years, her group has helped to place 400 children, at costs ranging from about $7,000 to $20,000, she said. The difference result from living expenses, travel expenses and lawyer's fees.

And, while single parents have a hard time adopting in the United States, it is sometimes easier for them to adopt in other countries, she said. "Some are open to single [parents], and others are not."

International adoption is not for everyone, however.

"There are some adjustments," Mrs. Perilstein said, referring to the language and cultural differences. The lack of medical history and social background may also make prospective parents think twice.

Additionally, adopting abroad depends on the economic and political climates of the sponsoring country.

Happy parents, meanwhile, can teach their children about their native cultures and take them on trips, said Lucy Steinitz, executive director for Jewish Family Services.

"It's been wonderful and rewarding," Mrs. Steinitz said of her two adopted Guatemalan children. "I think that our children add a wonderful diversity to our family."

The Peppases understand that.

"We are going to do it again. We have to get a little brother or sister, or both, for our son," Dr. Peppas said.

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