Evaluating Risk: How to decide which type of Adoption is right for you.

Every adoption assumes some risk. One way to decide which adoption program is right for you is to look at which type of risk you are ready for. Let’s look at what the risks are in each type of adoption.

Domestic adoption. The primary reason people choose domestic adoption is that they want to adopt an infant. This way, they are avoiding the risk that comes with adopting an older child who may have incurred several lost attachments or developed complications from being in an abusive home, foster home, or institution. But in domestic adoption, you have to be chosen by a birthmother. So domestic adoption carries with it the risk of waiting (for a period outside your control) for a birthmom to choose you. Nationwide, the number of hopeful adoptive couples outnumbers the number of birthmothers 20 to 1, so domestic families should be prepared to wait to be matched. People who do not want the risk of waiting for a birthmom to choose them should consider other adoption programs. Domestic adoption also carries with it the possibility that a birthmom could change her mind about placing for adoption. Some couples cannot envision taking on this risk.  In addition, domestic adoption carries the risk of possible poor pre-natal care or health, including possible drug exposure.

Embryo adoption. The primary reason people choose embryo adoption is so that they can experience pregnancy. They are avoiding the risk of a birthmom changing her mind. They are also avoiding the risk of having an older child who may find it more difficult to attach to them. But embryo adoption carries with it the risk of miscarriage. Many couples who consider embryo adoption have just finished their own fertility treatment and have probably experience a few miscarriages. They must be willing to incur the risk of future miscarriage if they pursue embryo adoption. The national statistic for frozen embryos resulting in live birth are about 43% for each embryo transfer, and 82% of having a live birth after the third embryo transfer. There is little risk of not being chosen by a donor family. The number of donor families is roughly equal to the number of adoptive families, and matching usually occurs within a couple months of completing your home study.

Foster adoption. The primary reason people choose foster adoption is that the cost is either free, nearly free. In addition, families are paid a monthly stipend from the state for being foster parents. Foster parents are also motivated by the desire to minister to children in need from difficult backgrounds. But foster adoption comes with the risk of losing custody. Many foster parents must be ready to assist with reunification efforts with the biological family. Some parents feel they cannot envision bonding with a child and then losing custody. Our experience shows that this fear is somewhat unwarranted. Bonding is hard work, and it does not happen as soon as you think. It can take months or years to have a strong attachment with an older child. Furthermore, only half of the children in foster homes each year are reunited with their biological family, and many re-enter foster care again. So while foster parents should not view fostering as a “back door” to adoption, realistically, foster placements often do result in adoption. Ideally, foster parents should ready simultaneously to help with reunification and be willing to adopt. Foster parents are avoiding the risk of being chosen by a birthmom. All foster parents who are successfully certified as a foster home can expect to have a placement relatively soon. The number of children in need far exceeds the number of homes, so if your criteria are reasonable, you will have a placement.

International adoption. The primary reason people choose international adoption is that they do not want to run the risk of losing custody (through foster care). Nor do they want to run the risk of waiting to be chosen by a birthmom (through domestic adoption). Some families are also compelled by the overwhelming need to minster to children in foreign orphanages. International families are placed on a referral list for “first come, first served” so every family can expect to be matched in time. However, the wait time can be a few years in some cases. The main risk with international adoption is that countries have fragile adoption infrastructure or fragile commitment to adoption. Sometimes countries close the doors to adoption completely, overnight! Sometimes the US prohibits adoptions from foreign countries, overnight! These problems are sometimes resolved by waiting out the storm, or by switching to another country program. But international families should be prepared for the risk of foreign countries having a breakdown in the process. On the other hand, international families have the benefit of adopting a child who is old enough that their behavior is known and documented. Since children are almost always at least 2 years old, you have a better chance of knowing whether they have autism, ADHD, reactive attachment disorder, etc. than if you adopt an infant.

To summarize,

  1. If you are worried about not being picked by a birthmom, domestic adoption may not be right for you
  2. If you cannot envision having a miscarriage, then embryo adoption may not be right for you
  3. If you have a hard time seeing yourself helping with re-unification efforts, then don’t choose foster care
  4. If you want a baby, then you should not choose international adoption

Or to put it differently:

  1. If you are willing to help with re-unification efforts, and are open to a sibling set, or a child over 5 years old, or children with special needs, choose foster care.  If you can’t afford other adoption programs, or you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose foster care.
  2. If you are willing to wait to be chosen by a birthmom, and you only are open to adopting a baby, then choose domestic adoption.  If you don’t want to risk losing custody, choose domestic adoption.
  3. If you are willing to take the risk of miscarriage but want to give birth to your adopted child, choose Snowflakes®.  If you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose Snowflakes®.
  4. If you are willing to wait out what can sometimes be an international roller coaster, and you are open to older children, or infants and children with special needs, choose intercountry adoption.  If you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose intercountry adoption.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

A Case for Older Kids

It is understandable that many families are hesitant to adopt older children.  By “older,” we typically mean children over 6 years of age.  But speaking from my own experience, and our agency’s experience, we know that adoption of older children can be very rewarding and successful.  I adopted a boy when he was 7, and he is now a 23 year old successful and well-adjusted young man.  In the last 20 years, our agency has placed over 1000 children over the age of 6 with families who are thriving.  Let me make a case for the adoption of older children.

#1, Older kids give you the benefit of observed behavior

Many problems that children face that are associated with institutional care begin at a very young age, but are not fully observable until kids get older.  For instance, oppositional defiance disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly impossible to diagnose in a 2 year old.  Autism is also not typically diagnosed before a child is age 4.  But by the time a child is 6, we can observe whether a child has these disorders.  The childcare workers who live and work with those kids can vouch for their behavior and emotional health.  In a sense, you are actually taking on less risk when you adopt a child whose emotional health is observed and whose history is long enough that it can be documented.

#2, Older kids attach differently, not less

A compelling reason that parents want to adopt children as young as possible is that the strength and health of attachment is correlated with age.  People assume that a baby will attach sooner, and have a stronger attachment than an older child would.  But we have a saying, “Older kids don’t attach less, just differently.”  It’s true.  If you adopt a teenager, your relationship will be more akin to being a friend, than to being a care-giver.  It would be a mistake to think older children are any less dependent, however.  They still need love, friendship, direction, modeling and support.  Parents who adopt tweens and teens often express how satisfied they are in the relationship they build with their children.

#3, Older kids are still very young

Every summer when we bring a group of older children to the US for our orphan host program, we are amazed at how young these older kids are!  Age 6 in an orphanage is not equal to age 6 in a healthy home.  Children from institutional care are almost always smaller.  They look younger.  They act younger.  They are socially and academically behind.  They missed out on their infant years, and they long to be held, babied, carried, and make up for the nurture of which they were deprived.

#4, You are a parent for life

Some parents erroneously think that when they adopt, they are counting down the years until the child is 18.  They think they are adopting a remaining number of years, rather than a person who will live along life and be in their family forever, with a legacy lasting generations.  Children nowadays are living with their parents into their late twenties and thirties.  You are not only adopting a child, but the future grand children and great grandchildren.  You are not only making a difference in their childhood, but you will be there for them when they need parenting advise, help transitioning careers, or someone to walk them down the aisle at their wedding.

#5, Older kids need parents too

It’s not all about us, after all.  We are not adopting to fulfill our needs, but to meet the needs of God’s children.  Older children are no less in need of families, and our calling to care for orphaned children extends to all kid who lack a mother or father to care for them.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

Asking the Right Questions

It occurs to me that many adoptive families ask the wrong questions. For instance, they may be short-sighted when they decide on their criteria for the types of child profiles they are willing to consider for adoption.  It is understandable why many couples initially think of race and age.   For some, it is important to have a child who looks like them.  And many assume that younger children attach better, have fewer behavior problems, and that parents have more years with them.  But looking back over our 30 years of international adoption, we have seen thousands of kids adopted at all ages and from every race.  We have also brought over 500 children to the United States on orphan host programs and observed their behavior and adjustment.  Knowing what we do now, we have begun to encourage families to consider a different criteria for assessing their openness to child profiles.  The best predictor of child behavior and adjustment is not race or age.  It is past behavior and adjustment.

Couples vary greatly in their ability and willingness to parent children with behavior problems or a difficult past.  If a couple told me they were hoping to adopt a child who will attach easily and not have behavior problems, I would recommend they look beyond race and age, and instead focus on indications of emotional health.  Emotional health can be observed now.  It is often documented over the past couple years.  And it is the best indication of future emotional health.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

18 Year Old Embryo Becomes a “Snowflake Baby” for Colorado Couple

There are few things more difficult emotionally than the inability to conceive a child.

For a couple in Parker, they had nearly given up hope of having a second baby after a reproductive health complication made it too difficult for them to conceive naturally.

That discouragement faded when Elizabeth and Marty Wilson learned about the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption program. 

The program, established in 1997 by Nightlight Christian Adoptions, works to help couples donating their embryos find the right match.

“A couple in California had a few embryos left over after doing IVF and instead of discarding them, they chose to donate them,” Elizabeth said, “And we are so grateful we were a match.”

That embryo was kept frozen for nearly 18 years in a plastic tube before being matched with the couple.

The Wilson’s fertility doctors assured them that the frozen embryo had the same chance at life as a new embryo.

“Baby Marley has quite the birth story with a twist” Elizabeth said “She was FedEx’d to us!”

About 9 months after a successful embryo transfer, Elizabeth gave birth to Marley Jade on June 3, 2016.

Read the original 9News KUSA story here.

A Defense of Adoption Fundraising

Not surprisingly, the anti-adoption voices are also anti-adoption fundraising. They have a series of charges to which I’ll respond below.

#1 Adoption fundraising is tacky.

Some may see it that way, but it’s important to note that those raising funds are not trying to impress people who aren’t likely to give. They’re reaching out to potential donors, who don’t see adoption fund raising as tacky. They’re reaching out to people who enthusiastically support their endeavor, not those jeering on the sideline. The people who donate love to give. They are happy about their donation and excited about the outcome. They are not turned off by the request, they are glad for the opportunity.

#2 Adoption fundraising dollars could be spent better

Critics say that the $40,000 for an international adoption could be better spent on community development among orphans and vulnerable children. This is reminiscent of when Judas complained that expensive perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet Judas was not known for giving to the poor. I wonder how much money these critics are themselves giving for orphan care. Our experience is that families who adopt are the most likely to also be generous in financial giving for orphan care as well. Churches that support adoption are also the donors for orphan care. Adoption agencies are big financial supporters of orphan care. The two go together, because people personally visit these kids and have a heart for the ones who are adopted and the ones who are left behind. The motivation behind adoption and supporting orphan care is the same: obedience and passion for God’s call to care for the orphan. These works do not need to be exclusive, we can do both: adopt and care for children abroad. Finally, adoption is far more effective at making permanent change than orphan care. Adoption permanently removes a child from poverty and places them in a family, completely and effectively solving immediate problems. For that reason, adoption presents the “biggest bang for your buck” in orphan care.

#3 Adoption fund raising is offensive to the children or birthmoms

While we’ve seen this charge on the internet, we’ve actually never heard this from any of the birthmoms or children that we have worked with. This charge does not match our experience.

#4 If you have to raise funds, then maybe you can’t afford another kid

Adoption fundraising is an opportunity for the community to be involved in a work they support. Many people who cannot or choose not to adopt still want to have a part in making a difference in the life of a child. The cost of raising a child so far exceeds the cost of adopting, that the fees will be a drop in the bucket and long forgotten years later. But the mobilizing of a community around the adoptive family can be a blessing for a lifetime.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

A Leap of Faith: Overcoming the Labels

Often we receive medical and social histories for waiting children with a long list of diagnosis.  These labels can make it very difficult for families to accept a child into their home.  Often children in institutional care will receive labels such as developmental delays or autism.  These diagnosis are many times given due children going up in less than optimum care and may or may not be long term issues.  For Jim and William, these labels were definitely a barrier to finding them a family, but one family was willing to take a leap of faith.  Mel and June Abordo discovered that labels can sometimes be misleading.  Mel and June share below:


It does not seem possible that a year had already passed since we welcomed Jim and William into our home and our hearts.

Had it only been a year from the time we first looked at their profile from Nightlight’s Hong Kong adoption program, and thought to ourselves, “Are we ready for 2 boys, brothers, from a different culture with a foreign language neither of us knew?”

Our answer…why not? We chose them, an act of will, not of chance nor consequence. Has it been as we expected? Yes, and more… It has been hard and easy, challenging and sobering, humbling and uplifting, all at the same time.

We have often been asked why we chose to adopt. Our answer can be summed up in one great truth: That we are ALL adopted children of our Father in Heaven, and we should do our part to make these abandoned children realize that they are children first and foremost of a good God.

To all that have helped us in this adoption journey, we thank all of you.

-The Abordos

Adoptee Identity Search for birthparents

Answering Questions for Adult Adoptees

Rhonda Jarema

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Today I received yet another call from an adult adoptee, questioning whether as the agency of her adoption almost 20 years ago, could we provide her with her original adoption documents. She wanted to find her family.

Whether adopted domestically or internationally, the interest in genetic origins is a fascination or even an obsession. Developmentally, late adolescence or early adulthood is a time of separation from the family and increasing independence. It is not unusual as adoptees go through adolescence and become adults to wonder about their family of origin. One adoptee wanted to know why her biological parents made the decision to place her. Another adoptee wanted to know why she was so outgoing, a characteristic she definitely didn’t get from her librarian mother and accountant father. An international adoptee wanted to join the army, but her parents couldn’t find her original adoption documents. Another international adoptee was estranged from his adoptive parents and only had his US driver’s license to prove his identity.

Although the desire to find out more information about their origins may be similar, the reason behind that interest may be different. In addition, the information available and how to access additional information is very different dependent on what type of adoption took place.

Adoption was very secretive through the 1970’s in the United States. Gradually it became understood that it was important to at least offer open adoption. By the 1990’s open adoptions were more common than closed adoptions. However, the amount of information shared still varied from very limited communication through the agency to relationships among the adoption triad of biological and adoptive parents and adoptee. Even today, despite encouragement about open adoptions, there are expectant parents who chose a closed adoption.

With open adoptions, at least at the beginning, there is a sharing of information. The biological and adoptive families share information with one another. However, often by the time the adoptee is a young adult there may have been years between when information was last provided. It is typical for the contact to drop off after a few years as the birth mother moves forward with her life.

For US adoptees there are a few options available in order to track down information about their genetic family. The first step is to read what information was provided at the time of birth/adoption. Taking the available information, the adoptee can then determine what information is available in each State. The ‘Child Welfare Information Gateway www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/search/searching is a great way to start. The adoptee can go on this site and determine what is needed to file for information from the State where they were born. They can access some limited information at age 18 and more information potentially becomes available at age 21. Some States have registries that allow both the genetic parents and adoptees to register and share information.

Even if personal contact information is not provided, registering allows the adoptee to access material that might not have been available in any other manner. It is not unusual for an adoptee to have questions about their adoption and genetics. Tracking down their biological parents can help them answer some of those questions. Although the adoptee may or may not be able to track down their biological parents, they may be able to obtain some answers to their questions.

The international adoptee has those questions and additional ones. International adoptees are the product of primarily closed adoptions. When my family adopted from Russia in 1995, we watched as the official took down a large leather encased book among shelves of similar looking books. She scratched out the names of our daughter’s original birth parents and inserted our names, written in an old-fashioned quill pen. We were provided with very limited information and signed a document that we would not seek out the genetic relatives of our daughters. Although we knew from US best practice that such ‘closed adoptions’ were not in the best interests of our children, we accepted it as that was the expected standard in that country.

With international adoptions, there is often just one original of the adoption documents and birth certificate. Unfortunately, there are limited ways to replace the documents making it difficult for the international adoptee to prove their origins, if they’ve been lost or destroyed.

For the international adoptee, a certificate of citizenship and US Passport can make all the difference between proof of their identity and being stuck in the quagmire of not being able to prove US Citizenship. For some international adoptees, they are finding out as adults, that their adoptive parents never even finalized their international guardianships with an adoption here in the US, leaving them without US citizenship.

Individuals who came to the US under a guardianship, needed to have their adoptions finalized here in the US. It is likely they came to the US under an IR4 VISA, meaning that the adoption needed finalization in the US, prior to US Citizenship being conferred. When inter-country adoptions are finalized in the child’s country of origin, the child likely came into the US under an IR3 VISA. This type of VISA signifies that the adoptee is eligible for US Citizenship. With the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, international adoptees with US parents became eligible for US Citizenship. As of 2004, these Certificates of Citizenship were automatically sent to families whose adopted children entered the US on IR3 VISA’s. However, if an internationally adopted child enters the US on a guardianship and IR4 VISA, they can obtain the US citizenship following the finalization of their adoption in the US.

In a few cases, the adoptive parents may have provided copies of their adoption documents to their adoption agency. However, this is rare unless it was required by the agency. If the adoption records are missing or destroyed, adoptees can apply to USCIS to obtain copies of their original adoption documents. It is form G-884. The website application is http://www.uscis.gov/g-884 They can also apply to the court in their country of origin, for certified copies of their original adoption documents. This is more costly and time consuming, as it would require contracting an attorney or an Intercountry adoption coordinator in the city where the adoption took place.

Of course beyond the desire for the proof of the adoption and US Citizenship, is the desire to find genetic family members. The easiest approach would be to take whatever information the adoptee has whether from memory or taken from the adoption records. With a name and a city, often relatives can be found on Facebook or for those from Eastern European countries, V’Kontakt. There are also ‘searchers,’ individuals who work as detectives to help adoptees connect with their biological family members. They are not formal detectives typically, but people who for a fee will help track down family members and make contact, then providing letters, photos or assisting with contact, depending on what is desired from all parties.
Social Media makes contact much easier whether the adoptee is domestic or international. It is fairly easy to put in a name and do a search. This may be a way to begin a search. However, as with anything, it is important to do it with caution. I’d encourage any adoptee beginning a search to first determine what they want out of the search and discuss it with trusted family members or a therapist. It helps to have a goal. Such a search can open ‘Pandora’s box, bringing up additional issues or it can be a beginning step towards healing and finding answers to previously unanswered questions.

The Joy of Adoption. The Miracle of Life.

Heartwarming stories for the Holiday Season…

Best of Greeley Article
by Kimberly Tyson

Hannah Strege is like most American teenagers. She likes to hang out with her friends. She listens to music and watches funny YouTube videos. She’s planning where she will go to college and hopes to become a physician’s assistant. She likes to eat pizza and go to movies. Yes, Hannah is an American girl.
Hannah’s parents, Marlene and John Strege, are delighted to have their American girl!

Back in the 90’s, the Streges were wondering if they would ever have a girl or a boy as they faced the stresses of an infertility diagnosis. As they discussed treatment options with their physician. Since the advent of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), fertility clinics have been assisting patients achieve pregnancy through a treatment known as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Often, more embryos are created for the IVF treatment than are eventually used by the patient, thus creating a surplus of cryo-preserved embryos. Marlene asked her clinic if they had available embryos in frozen storage.

Marlene and John had already determined that they were not comfortable with creating more embryos through IVF, especially if it meant using donated human eggs. But this idea of using embryos that were waiting in frozen storage was intriguing. Marlene decided to seek out advice from life-long friend and experienced adoption attorney, Ron Stoddart and from several spiritual advisors, including Dr. James Dobson, to determine if using donated human embryos should be considered at all.

Simply being assigned anonymously donated embryos from a fertility clinic was not the procedure John and Marlene wanted to follow. They worked with Mr. Stoddart to develop the first embryo adoption program in the world, now known as the Snowflakes® Embryo Adoption Program. The Streges and Stoddart decided to name the program Snowflakes because like a delicate snowflake each embryo is frozen, unique and a gift from God. The program was officially established in 1997 as a division of Nightlight® Christian Adoptions.
Using the best practices of adoption, the Snowflakes program helps couples who have completed their family select another couple to donate their remaining embryos to in order to give those embryos a chance to be born. Hannah is Snowflake baby #1! She was born on January 31, 1998 and placed into the wondrous and grateful arms of her parents.

Fast forward to June 3, 2017. On this day, baby Marley was born to her parents Marty and Elizabeth, a healthy 8lb, 1.3oz, 20.5” girl. While Hannah (Snowflake baby #1) was born in 1998, Marley’s embryo was created in a petri dish and frozen in 1998. She was born nearly 18 years later after her parents adopted her and gave birth to her. Marley is Snowflake baby #470.

Experiencing pregnancy and childbirth is the primary motivation of most families who choose embryo adoption over other forms of adoption. It’s also an economical alternative, often costing much less than IVF or the domestic adoption of an infant. There are over 1,000,000 embryos in frozen storage in the U.S.; not all will be donated for reproduction, but Snowflakes provides potential donors with a life-giving choice for their remaining embryos.

The Snowflakes program is managed right here in Loveland, CO, serving clients throughout the country and the world. In 2017, Snowflakes will celebrate its 20th anniversary and the birth of the 500th Snowflake baby!

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Embryo Quality: Choosing Life

How important is embryo quality? There are a variety of methods used by medical professionals to grade frozen human embryos, projecting the likelihood of pregnancy success. However, many healthy children have been born from embryos given a poor quality rating by the medical community. Dr. Jeffrey Nelson of HRC Fertility helps us gain some understanding about this frequently misunderstood topic.

These videos were produced by Nightlight Christian Adoptions and supported by grant #1EAAPA151027 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department.