FAMILY MATTERS: Couple travels a long, winding road to international adoption

With co-workers waiting anxiously outside their offices, it was a different sort of delivery room for Leslie and Dave Dubin. Yet their anticipation was as intense as any other set of expectant parents.

They had heard the day before that the phone call for which they had been planning and waiting for years might come that afternoon. They were each at work and on the phone together when an e-mail from Chinese Children Adoption International arrived in their work inboxes with an attachment.

With held breaths, Leslie and Dave clicked on the attachment at the same time and there she was, their new daughter, 13-month-old Mia. The girl had been abandoned when she was only a week old in front of a traditional Chinese medicine hospital.

Tiny Mia was everything the couple had hoped for since at least a decade earlier when they had decided to adopt a child from China. High school sweethearts who began dating their junior years, the Dubins knew before they got married 18 years ago that they would not be able to have biological children.

Still in their early 20s, the couple began making plans to adopt a baby girl from China. They elected not to adopt domestically because they were concerned the birth mother might return to ask for the child back. They decided to adopt from China because of the countrys One Child Policy, which had resulted in tens of thousands of baby girls being abandoned annually. Adoption of children from China to the United States began in 1992 when the Chinese government passed a law ratifying international adoption.

The law requires parents be at least 30 before they can adopt internationally so the Dubins had a wait on their hands, but they used the time to travel extensively, learn some Mandarin and attend adoption seminars where they were almost always the youngest couple in the room. Dave went to law school, graduating from Detroit College of Law in 1997 and becoming a partner at Macuga, Liddle & Dubin, specializing in class-action litigation over basement flooding and environmental contamination.

In 2004, the Dubins began the adoption process. They completed an adoption application, underwent a home study, physicals, and background and immigration checks.

It was a lot of paperwork, says Dave. A lot.

Its less spontaneous, says Leslie, comparing adoption to childbirth. Its methodical. Its bureaucratic.

Their paperwork was submitted to officials in China, who then went about finding a matching child, which can take several months, and in some cases even years.

The Dubins were fortunate, though, and did not have to wait that long to find Mia.

About three months after first seeing a picture of their new daughter in an e-mail, the Dubins traveled to China to see her in the flesh and bring her home. They made the journey with 13 other adopting families. The orphanage was in Hunan Province and little Mia had to take an 8-hour train ride to Changsha where her new parents were waiting. Adoption officials ushered the families into a room at the Civil Affairs office, lined them up, and presented them one-by-one with their babies.

You form a bond with the families you travel with, says Leslie. You were essentially in the delivery room with them.

Back home, the Dubins wanted to keep Mia connected with her cultural roots and so enrolled her in a Chinese language class and became involved with the Washtenaw County chapter of the aptly named Families with Children from China, of which Leslie is currently the president.

The entire process had taken approximately a year and cost about $20,000. Everything had essentially gone according to their long-held and thought-out plan. They further planned to wait the required year or so before beginning the process all over again to adopt another daughter.

But those plans took a turn last March when they saw the picture of a 16-month-old orphan boy who was missing his left hand.

In the time between adopting Mia and attempting to adopt a second child, the Dubins found Chinas adoption policy had become more stringent, the cost higher, and the average wait time increased to 36 months.

Becoming frustrated with years of delays and uncertainty, the Dubins decided to apply to adopt a child with special needs, which would ensure a shorter wait time. They were still thinking of adopting a girl, but then Leslie came across a picture of Zak.

Theres something about this little boy that maybe we should change our plans, she told Dave.

In the course of 24 hours, the Dubins had made up their minds and called the adoption agency to say they wanted to adopt the baby boy.

We had been waiting for years and years and we considered it one day and decided the next, said Leslie. It was very spontaneous.

It just sort of hit me, recalls Dave. This is going to be my son.

This time, the Dubins took Mia and their parents to China to pick up the new addition to the family. It did not go as smoothly as it had with Mia. When they first met Zak, the boy was sickly and not dealing well with the stress. He was like a rag doll, who just collapsed when they held him, Dave says. Mia, they say, helped Zak come out of his shell.

I think she was instrumental in the awakening process and the bonding process, says Leslie. He warmed up very quickly.

Now the 3-year-old is a ball of playful energy with a quick, engaging smile.

International adoption had its challenges and frustrations for the Dubins and even now they can be put off by the stares they occasionally get as a family or the tactless strangers who approach them to ask if the children are adopted, but Leslie says she wishes she could have known years ago what she knows now.

Every birthday wish for years was I would somehow get pregnant, says Leslie. It was hard to trust that things would be okay, but now Im so grateful that this is the way it worked out.

Everything works out, says Dave, holding a smiling Zak in his lap. I keep saying that.

November is National Adoption Month. For more information on international adoption, visit http://international.adoption.com.

By Brian Cox

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