The joys and trials of adopting

Carol Khan holds special needs child Jordan Agaliotis, one of

When 2 1/2-year-old Jordan Agaliotis laughs it’s a miracle. He’s
not supposed to be alive, let alone laughing. Then again, the
entirety of his small life seems a miracle.
When 2 1/2-year-old Jordan Agaliotis laughs it’s a miracle. He’s not supposed to be alive, let alone laughing. Then again, the entirety of his small life seems a miracle.

Early in his mother’s pregnancy, a doctor would have noticed the deformation in Jordan’s neural tube known as anencephaly, but she never got prenatal care. Still just a teenager, she was scared to tell her parents she was pregnant.

In place of a brain, Jordan was born with little more than water. His lower brain

stem functions allow him to breathe and move his feet, but he cannot lift his own head.

He will never talk, never walk, never see the world in all its brilliant colors, but the one thing this little boy could do was refuse the death sentence he’d been given, if only for a while.

More than 75 percent of anencephalitic babies brought to term die within the first 24 hours of birth, if not during the birth itself. The rest generallydie in the next 10 days.

When Jordan reached his sixth day, his mother was ready to surrender him. Foster mother Carol Khan-Agaliotis was called to pick the boy up, make him comfortable, and let him die.

She couldn’t help but look on this baby with the eyes of love.

Khan-Agaliotis and husband David Agaliotis adopted him, making Jordan their eighth adopted child among the 14 foster children who have lived with them over the last 40 years.

Agaliotis tickles Jordan’s stomach and a peal of laughter bursts forth. It’s not supposed to be this way.

Statistically, he’s one of the least likely candidates for adoption in the United States – black and handicapped.

Black children are less likely to be adopted than any other children, making up 23 percent of total adoptions in California. Hispanic children make up 41 percent of the state’s adoptions, and white children comprise 27 percent.

Children of two or more races account for two percent of adoptions, and other races and ethnicities make up the remaining 7 percent, according to the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Black children those born with severe limitations like Jordan’s are even harder to place, according to Gloria Hochman, communications director for the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia.

Adopting domestically can cost potential parents anywhere from less than $2,000 to more than $30,000, while international adoptions range between $7,000 and $25,000, according to the adoption information site www.Adoption.com.

Public adoptions in which prospective parents deal directly with the county government, are least expensive and can even be free.

“Every child is wanted by someone,” said Kahn-Agaliotis. “They just have to be found. Now when we take him to Stanford they just say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, because whatever it is, it’s working.’ I just think an angel hovers around him and says as long as you love him we’ll let him stay.”

Californians adopt more than 9,000 children each year, according to statistics provided by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, but many more are waiting despite the passage of legislation during the past decade that freed adoptions of the constraints of racial and age bias.

“It used to be that couples who could not have children try to match to the baby that was nearest to their own looks, but the demand for babies has outstripped the supply of infants up for adoption since the 1950s,” said Hochman. “With the rise of contraceptives since the 1960s, the numbers are even lower, but there are a lot of children who are anywhere from toddlers to teenagers available.”

The DHHS recently launched the Adopt U.S. Kids campaign to encourage Americans to adopt older children from within the nation’s own foster care system. Currently there are more than 500,000 children under state care across the United States, and more than one in five is available for adoption.

Unfortunately, more than 19,000 children “age out” of adoptive care each year, unceremoniously dropped from the system because they’ve reached their 18th birthday without ever being adopted, according to the campaign’s Web site, www.AdoptUSKids.org.

In July 2004, the DHHS launched a nationwide program, seeking to get the word out about the availability of older children for adoption with an assault of television, radio and newspaper ads.

Most adoptions in the state of California are now what is called “open adoptions,” where the birth mother has the opportunity to choose the adoptive parents for that baby and may even choose to stay in contact with her child.

“Most people get cards and letters and pictures several times a year,” said Nancy Murphy, program director for adoption foster care programs at The Kinship Center in Salinas. “Some of our adoptive families have their birth parents over for dinner once a week.

“Parents who come to us wanting to adopt newborn babies often believe that the birth parents don’t want them, but that is almost never true.

They are generally giving their child up because there are certain circumstances they can’t change.

They love their children very much, and so they make a loving plan for adoption.”

Birth mothers generally hope to give their child everything they cannot – a loving home, a financially stable childhood and all the advantages of middle class life from travel to piano lessons, said Luke Leonard, executive director of The Family Network, a private adoption agency in Capitola.

Families have to be sure of their decision, said Frances Lewis-Johnese, a social services program manager with Santa Clara County.

There are reams of paperwork that accompany the adoption process, the necessity of an in-home study of the potential parents, and still there are no guarantees.

“We tell families that adoption is a calling, and not everyone is called to be like the wonderful woman from Calcutta, Mother Theresa,” said Leonard. “It’s work, and it’s parenting. We see it as a vocation, not just something to do to help a child.”

Potential adoptive parents need not only to be sure of themselves, they need to be aggressive.

“They should be out there talking to people, passing out business cards, telling people that they’re interested in adopting,” said Hochman. “If they’re brave, they may even want to take out a newspaper ad, but they need to be prepared for heartbreak. Birth mothers can change their minds.”

It is easier to find infants up for adoption in foreign countries, especially those where unwed motherhood is still a social stigma.

But the process of adopting them and bringing them to America is far more costly and daunting than adoption from within the United States.

In 1991, 9,008 children were adopted from abroad. By 1999 those numbers jumped to 16,396.

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