Once the dossier is complete, it's sent abroad and you're matched to a child by either your adoption agency or the overseas agency that handles adoption for that country. Getting a child can take from one month to a year or more. After waiting four months, we were matched to our daughter by Holt Children's Service in Korea, the same agency I was adopted from. When we traveled to Korea I asked Miss Bae, the woman who had matched us with Eleanor, how the process worked. She said that she had chosen a girl for us because I was Korean and she wanted the child to identify racially with the same-gender parent. She also said Eleanor's birth mother was interested in having her child placed with an American family. Many adoptive families like to speculate about all the fateful aspects of this crucial coming together of souls. There is something special about the match, but in truth, I think it has much more to do with dumb luck and logistics. I sometimes meet children from Holt who arrived shortly before or after Eleanor and think, Had our paperwork landed on Miss Bae's desk a day sooner, little Kyra might've been my daughter instead of Eleanor.
When the match is made, each family is sent what's called a referral -- a grainy photo of your long-awaited child and a written description containing his or her history. How much information you're given can vary. In Korea you get information that's so detailed, you can practically track your baby's bowel habits. In other countries, you may not learn your child's real birth date or anything about the birth family's medical history. Once they receive their referral, most parents send it to a pediatrician for review and then decide whether or not to go forward.
Just about every adoptive mom will tell you that the parent-child bonding begins the minute you see that referral photo and accept the child as your own. Once your child has a face and a name, you begin to feel like a mother.
"The hardest part of the journey begins at this juncture," says Mary Lehr of Sioux City, Iowa, who has four adopted children and one birth child. "You know you have a child, and all you want to do is hold that baby in your arms and never let go. But you must wait and wait for the phone to ring."
What you're waiting for is the completion of the paperwork and notification that the child is ready to travel home. Adoptive parents refer to notification as "the call" (though "the call" can also refer to receiving the news of a match).
But sometimes, even at this stage, things don't work out. Lehr faced a heartbreaking loss when she accepted the referral of a little girl she named Jessica. A few weeks after Lehr received Jessica's information, the baby died in Korea.
"I had no idea how much I would grieve for this little person," says Lehr. "No one understood how I felt. It wasn't as if I had miscarried or lost a baby during childbirth. I felt so alone with this loss."