Jennifer Rayno wasn't looking to adopt a child when her job as fund-raising director for the nonprofit Friends of Orphans took her to St. Damien's Pediatric Hospital outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in November 2007. But the way she tells it, the 6-month-old boy, who weighed 6 pounds and was recovering from malnutrition, chose her. "I leaned over his crib, and something magical happened," says Jennifer, who lives in Gainesville, Virginia, with her husband, Steve, and their two biological children: son Ezra, age 11, and daughter Ryelle, age 9. "When a nurse told me this sweet baby had been left in a basket at the hospital gates, my heart just sprang wide open. I knew I was meant to be his mother."
Last year, the Raynos were among the Americans who adopted more than 11,000 children from foreign countries. Many families found themselves particularly intrigued by the thought of adopting internationally after the tragic 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In that country alone, UNICEF reports that there are now believed to be more than 440,000 orphans.
The process of international adoption generally works like this: Prospective parents choose an accredited provider, making sure that the agency has a long record of dealing with adoptions from the country they've chosen. Then they apply to be found eligible to adopt. This usually includes undergoing a home visit from a social worker, creating a dossier about their family, and filing various forms. Next, the agency works with orphanages in the country of choice to identify a child (also called a referral). The couple will receive a photo of the child, a medical report, and videos when possible. They then file an immigration request to bring the child to the United States. The final step usually includes traveling to the country to meet the child, appear in an adoption court, and obtain an immigration visa for him or her to travel.
Adoption is governed by the laws of the country you're adopting from, federal laws, and the laws of your state. If you're considering it, these breakdowns of some of the most popular countries from which to adopt -- plus stories from adoptive families -- will be a useful guide.