The costs and rewards of adoption
Angolan girls chat in their room at Lar Kuzola orphanage in Luanda.
Adriene Hill: So kids cost money and sometimes a bit of sanity. That much we have established. But, often for families who adopt, those costs are even higher.
Laurie Stern reports.
Bella Pope: When we got Andres, he was six and I was four. And when they got me, I was zero.
Laurie Stern: That's Bella Pope, an assertive first-grader with a bright smile.
Bella: My mom and Dad wanted four of us.
Beck Pope: Guatemala's awesome.
Bella: Uh huh.
Mom and dad are Bronwyn and David Pope. They do have four children, ages 12 to six. The first two biological, the younger two adopted. The family lives about an hour north of the Twin Cities in a two-story house at the end of a gravel road. They have an above-ground swimming pool, a field cleared for soccer and they raise chickens.
Sound of a rooster crow
Bronwyn Pope: See, That's a baby rooster learning how to crow.
As idyllic as it seems here, it's never, ever been easy. After their son was born in 2002, the Popes learned there'd be no more biological children. They wanted a big family, so they decided they'd adopt.
Bronwyn: When you get married, when you buy a house, when you give birth to children: Those are expensive decision and you don't make them usually based on the finances, you make them a lot based on emotion. We felt the same way about adoption.
They focused on Latin America because Bronwyn speaks Spanish and the kids go to a Spanish Immersion school. They chose Guatemala because they could get a baby, and the wait time was supposed to be short. The fee was typical: About $30,000
Bronwyn: We borrowed money, and we got money that was part of grants programs, and we had help from family and some friends and we forged ahead.
Bella was eight months old when she came home in the summer of 2006.
Bronwyn: I took regular family leave over that summer to bond with her, a newborn baby who we didn't know yet.
In the fall, Bronwyn went back to work for a Minneapolis nonprofit. Dave finished his degree in education and started substitute teaching.
Dave Pope: We'd made a decision. I would stay home with the kids and then when the kids were school age, I would go to work. I would get a teaching job right away; I'm a male in elementary school education. But it didn't work out that way.
By then, the recession had started. School districts were laying off teachers, not hiring them. Dave sent out hundreds of applications, but couldn't find a full-time job. At the same time, international adoption was undergoing an overhaul that restricted which children were adoptable. The Popes decided an older child would suit them just fine. They signed up for a program in Ecuador, and got matched with six-year-old Andres right away. Cost? Another $30,000.
Bronwyn: We lived in Ecuador for a month which is that country's requirement so that we could get to know Andres and he could get to know us.
Bronwyn's employer let her work from Ecuador. But this time, when they brought Andres home, she couldn't afford to take unpaid family leave. And it turned out that bringing home a six-year-old was much harder than bringing home a baby.
Bronwyn: It wasn't just being adopted that was overwhelming for Andres; the entire world around him was overwhelming. He hadn't been in a kitchen or a refrigerator or a grocery store, he hadn't been to school. So coming here was enormously painful and difficult for him, and that was also enormously painful and difficult for all the rest of us.
Andres Pope: I have a brother and two sisters and I like to be with them.
Now, two years later, Andres speaks fluent English. He loves soccer, his dog and his siblings.
The past year has been one of major adjustments for the Popes. Andres is done with therapy. He will continue to get extra help in school. Last fall, Dave found a job, with benefits, as a financial advisor. But with him gone full-time, the kids and the chaos became overwhelming. So last January -- a month when all four kids had the flu -- Bronwyn drove the hour to work for the last time.
Bronwyn: ...And walked into my boss' office and said, "I can't do it, I quit. I am positive I can't make it work. I think I've tried and failed. And I'm going to go home, because at home, there's a 12-year-old who's puking and waiting for me to come help her out."
The Popes had wanted two incomes, but it turned out, the family couldn't afford them.
Bronwyn: Ultimately, it was about how are we going to take on some more debt?
Dave: We took out a second mortgage and rolled some things together -- combined debt from both adoptions. That's just the way it is.
Bronwyn: We are not going to be people who retire early or buy a cabin or take our kids to Disney World. We have two children adopted internationally and that was an expensive decision that we never have regretted for a moment.
They have $30,000 in debt and less income than they used to, but they'd be the first to tell you their lives are richer for it.
In Saint Paul, I'm Laurie Stern for Marketplace.