- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

ATLANTA — Mother's Days were the worst. Lillie Schwarz clenched her jaw when the church pastor asked the mothers in the congregation to stand. They rose and smiled, radiant in their flowing dresses.

"I wanted to be one of them," said Mrs. Schwarz, of Sharpsburg, south of Atlanta. "I wondered if God thought I wouldn't be a good parent."

Laura Ide felt a similar twinge in the northern Atlanta suburb of Duluth.

"When you're in church, they ask who's been a mother for a week," Mrs. Ide said. "Then they ask who's been a mother for the longest time. Everyone got to stand up except for me."

The two women, both in their 30s, have never met, but they're bound by a common wish, born of culture and statistics: to become a mom. Each would walk to the ends of the earth to one day hold her own child, to soothe the wrenching of failed infertility treatments with her husband. And both are far from alone.

In 1995, nearly 6.2 million U.S. women reported fertility problems a 35 percent increase over 1982. Researchers say the rise coincides with the large number of baby boomers in their 30s trying to conceive children. One study projects that 6.4 million women will be infertile in 2005 and that the total will hit 7.7 million in 2025. The trend has created a $2 billion market for treating infertility.

In 1999, more than 30,000 babies were born with the help of assisted reproductive technology. Neither the Schwarzes nor the Ides, however, had any such luck.

Three miscarriages convinced Mrs. Schwarz that she and husband John weren't going to conceive their own children. Mrs. Ide and husband Gary gave up after spending nearly $50,000 on fruitless infertility treatments. Both couples concluded that adoption had to be the answer if they were going to build families.

Their decisions are part of a national trend. In a 1988 survey, 200,000 American women said they were considering adoption; in 1995, the figure had risen to 500,000. The adoption explosion has created an industry that in 2000 was worth $1.4 billion.

Both the Ides and the Schwarzes rejected adopting from within the United States, where the demand for young children far outstrips the number available. It simply takes too long often two to five years to get an infant or toddler. The couples also feared the possibility that the birth mother would change her mind at the last minute.

Another option remained. They would join the 18,000 Americans a year a number that has doubled in the past 10 years who adopt overseas. Russia is the world's No. 1 source of adoptable white youngsters. Its downtrodden economy and state-supported orphanage system have created a siren call to American couples yearning for children.

Across the country, couples such as the Ides and Schwarzes turn to Russian adoptions for speed and selection. The time between completing a first application and finalizing an adoption can be less than a year warp speed as far as adoption bureaucracies go.

After research on the Internet, the Ides and Schwarzes settled on Genesis Adoptions, a nonprofit agency based in Alpharetta, Ga. For $20,000 to $25,000 per child, the company promised to handle everything: lawyers, immigration papers, applications, drivers and interpreters. It specializes in Russian adoptions.

Prospective parents land in Moscow, get driven to their hotel, meet their adoption agents and rest for their trip to the orphanage or flight to Siberia. Once there, they bond with children they've previously seen in videos, convince a Russian judge they're up to the job of parenting, then apply for passports at the U.S. Embassy.

Russia imposes a 10-day waiting period on foreigners waiting to leave the country with adopted children. Judges waive the wait if they're convinced it's in the child's best interest to leave sooner.

The two critical tools in selecting a child from Russia are a television and a video player. The first look that a would-be parent has at a potential son or daughter is on a videotape about 10 minutes long.

Starting in June, the Schwarzes went through three tapes before seeing 20-month-old Alexander, a brown-haired boy with bangs and a round face.

On the video, he skipped over short broomsticks. He put them back into a cabinet when asked. He placed rings over other sticks. His hair was dark, just like Mr. Schwarz's. He was walking. He was adorable. He was the one.

They sent the tape to a Genesis-recommended doctor in Minneapolis for review. Go get him, the physician said. About the same time, Mr. and Mrs. Ide were going through their videos nearly 20 in all.

In May, a 2-year-old girl piqued their interest. They sent the videotape to a doctor in Boston recommended by the adoption agency and requested follow-up blood work from Russia. The doctor gently advised them to keep looking, because the child might be suffering from hepatitis B, a serious liver infection.

That advisory eased Mr. Ide's concern that the doctors might be shills for Genesis Adoptions. Like every parent, they wanted a healthy child. Horror stories abounded. Some couples returned from Eastern Europe only to watch their children develop costly health problems.

Finally, in July, the Ides found themselves awestruck by two unrelated children they saw on tape: 2-year-old Alex and 2-month-old Valleri. This might be their family.

Five months later, at an orphanage in Moscow, the Ides nervously waited. About 5,400 miles from home, they recognized exactly where they were. They stood in the music room the same one they had seen over and over on their video for six months.

The real music started when orphanage officials arrived with Alex. He looked smaller than in the video, but there he was, with light-brown hair and green eyes like those of his new mother.

Six years of heartache dissolved like sugar in a pitcher of hot tea. Happy tears flowed for a change.

Unable to waive the 10-day waiting period for Alex, the couple flew to Tomsk to meet Valleri, their daughter-to-be. The building was old and reminded Mrs. Ide of the place where Vito Corleone was hospitalized in "The Godfather." The walls were dingy gray and the halls smelled of disinfectant.

None of that could dull the sparkle that was Valleri, her green eyes twinkling the color of mint.

After spending a night in Moscow, Mr. and Mrs. Schwarz flew to Tyumen, in southern Siberia, and from there were driven three hours to Tobolsk, where they would meet their Alexander.

They went to the orphanage, a three-story institutional building of grayish stucco and brick. A female caretaker arrived with Alexander, dressed in girls' pants and a shirt. He had a cold. He had had two baths that week. She pointed out the Schwarzes to him. "There's Mama and Papa."

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