Part of the appeal of adopting from Ethiopia and other developing countries is giving a loving home to children who have lost their parents to sickness or natural disasters. But there's also a higher risk of malnutrition, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening illnesses. Tymm and Laura Hoffman, of Atlanta, learned this firsthand.
In 2007, after two years of waiting for a referral for a child from China, the Hoffmans decided to adopt from Ethiopia. Nine months later, they had a referral, but just weeks after being matched with 2-month-old Brighton, they received an e-mail from the adoption agency. "We were shocked to read that our baby had been in the hospital for nine days with pneumonia, diarrhea, and then sepsis," says Tymm, who called the agency to tell them this was unacceptable. "We're a religious family, and we would have liked to do a prayer circle for Brighton. Besides, an e-mail seems so impersonal for such emotional news." Later in the week of that awful e-mail, the agency called with worse news: Brighton had passed away. He wasn't quite 8 weeks old.
Since Brighton's death, the Hoffmans have discovered several other couples whose referral children from Ethiopia died before they could bring them home. "There's no way to avoid this risk, but you can make sure that the agency you're adopting through has a long track record in a country and good communication policies," says Laura, who admits that she and her husband didn't know what to look for when they chose their first adoption agency.
The Hoffmans have had much happier days since then: They brought home a healthy 6-month-old daughter named Meron in June 2008. And as of press time, they were expecting another daughter, Mebrate, to join them in August.
Ethiopia Fast Facts
U.S. adoptions in 2010: 2,511 children
The children: As young as 3 months. Children must be under the age of 16, but they can be adopted at 16 or 17 if they are a birth sibling of a child under age 16 adopted by the same parents.
Estimated cost: $18,000
Key requirements: For an infant, both prospective parents must be 25 to 45 years old, in good mental and physical health, and with sufficient income. One parent must be a U.S. citizen, and there must be at least a one-year gap between the youngest child in the home and the adopted child.
Travel: Two trips are required. Both parents must travel for the first trip to appear in adoption court, but only one parent is required to pick up the child. Travel fees are approximately $2,500 to $3,500 per person, per trip.
Wait time: 18 to 24 months from submitting application to placement
Advantages: Wait time can be shorter than with other countries, especially for older children.