Most couples spend nine months preparing for a baby. Melanie and James Kochersperger spent nearly three years. The Kocherspergers always wanted a family, one a little larger than the couple and their dog Maui. But after a year of trying it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen, Melanie said. They decided to adopt. Two adoption agencies, hundreds of pages of paperwork, a trip to Poland and $36,000 later, Melanie and James Kochersperger achieved their dreams of becoming parents.
Most couples spend nine months preparing for a baby. Melanie and James Kochersperger spent nearly three years.
The Kocherspergers always wanted a family, one a little larger than the couple and their dog Maui. But after a year of trying it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen, Melanie said. They decided to adopt.
Two adoption agencies, hundreds of pages of paperwork, a trip to Poland and $36,000 later, Melanie and James Kochersperger achieved their dreams of becoming parents.
“We would do it all over again if we had to,” Melanie said, bouncing her son B.J. on her lap.
It’s been just a little more than a month since the couple welcomed B.J. to their Galesburg home, but he’s adjusting quickly. He’s a little small for his age at 21 months and wears clothes for a 12-month-old. His tiny khaki cargo pants slide down as he crawls around.
B.J. was born into a Warsaw orphanage. While he seemed to be healthy and well-cared for, the couple said he was behind most American babies his age developmentally. There just wasn’t the staff to make sure all 30 infants received individual attention. B.J., which stands for Bartholomew (Barlomiej in Polish) James, was the oldest of the children there.
“He acted just like a baby,” James said of when they first met their him at the orphanage. But that’s changing fast.
Melanie and James are working to introduce their son to plenty of new things. B.J. had never eaten solid food. The orphanage, designed for infants, didn’t have time to teach one baby how to feed himself, so he drank formula. Now B.J. shovels forkfuls of banana into his mouth.
The thing that struck Melanie the most, though, was the lack of affection her son showed. He didn’t respond to physical contact. When Melanie or James hugged him, he held his arms out in front of him or straight out to the sides. But that’s all changed now.
“Now he hugs and blows kisses,” Melanie said.
Overhearing his mom, B.J. puts his tiny hand to his mouth and smacks his lips, blowing a kiss. Melanie beams.
It was a long journey to build the family she has today. In late 2007, Melanie and James began working with an adoption agency. The couple loves to travel so international adoption seemed like a good fit for them. Plus, three other couples they’re friends with had recently adopted children internationally. According to the U.S. Department of State, 17,438 children were adopted internationally by U.S. citizens last year.
Originally, the Kocherspergers wanted to adopt a child from Kazakhstan, one of the 10 most popular countries to adopt from. They turned in an application to Children’s Hope International in September, but in January the couple discovered that Kazakhstan only gave blind referrals, meaning the adoptive parents didn’t know anything about the child until the day they met. Often parents discovered the child had severe health problems. This was a problem for the Kocherspergers. CHI representatives recommended the couple adopt a child from Russia instead. But Russia’s waiting list is at least two years long. After already waiting so long, the Kocherspergers said they couldn’t imagine waiting another two years.
The Kocherspergers went back to researching and eventually settled on Poland. While neither Melanie nor James are Polish, they both have a European ancestry they wanted to share with their child. They also said their research showed that Polish children were typically healthy because, as Melanie said, “Poland takes good care of their orphans.”
While Melanie and James said they had liked working with CHI, they decided to switch agencies to speed up the process. They settled on Charlotte-based St. Mary International Adoptions, an agency that works closely with Poland, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The mountains of paperwork that followed was one of the most difficult parts of the process, the Kocherspergers said.
“It was like getting my master’s degree all over again,” Melanie said.
Everything about the Kocherspergers went into their files. Medical records, police reports, financial records.
“Your whole life is exposed,” Melanie said.
For the next 10 months the couple completed document after document. Much of the paperwork had to be turned in to Immigrantion Services.
Their hard work and patience paid off May 22 when they got a phone call from the agency, asking if they’d like to receive information and a photo about a 17-month-old boy. The couple said they fell in love immediately. From then on they knew B.J. was their son.
In July, the couple boarded a plane and flew to Warsaw. They moved into a suburban apartment, where Melanie would stay for a little more than a month. (James had to return after three and a half weeks for work.) At first, they could only visit B.J. at the orphanage. Melanie said the new family clicked right away.
“It was almost as if he knew we were there for him,” she said.
For almost the first half of their stay in Poland, the couple visited B.J. at the orphanage. Then on Aug. 17, they celebrated Gotcha Day, the day B.J. officially became a part of the Kocherspergers’ family, and he moved into the apartment.
Those initial few days were full of firsts for the new family, and especially B.J.
“It was the first time he saw grass,” James said.
The family toured Warsaw, exploring the city and the culture. All their videos and photos became a part of a blog the couple started at the beginning of the adoption process, http://jmkochersperger.blogspot.com. Not only is it a resource for other adopting couples, but it will be a keepsake for B.J. so he can learn more about Polish culture.
In mid-September, Melanie returned home, bringing her new son with her. B.J. learned how to crawl up and down the stairs and started walking short distances. Now he’s learning some English. The couple isn’t sure if he spoke Polish. Neither Melanie nor James speak the language and couldn’t tell if their son’s first sounds were Polish words or just baby talk.
Melanie said throughout the process the couple received nothing but support from both friends and strangers. A kindergarten teacher at Gale Elementary School, Melanie said students’ parents she had never seen wished her luck.
As statistics show, attitudes toward adoption have changed, society becoming more accepting. Some adoption agency employees attribute that to the increase in reported infertility rates, as 80 percent of adoptions are by couples unable to have children.
Melanie agreed, noting that people are more open now about everything from discussing salaries and politics to posting their interests on Facebook. Discussing infertility and adoption are no different.
The supportive attitudes certainly made the trying experience easier, Melanie said. And despite the setbacks, paper work and money, she said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was very rewarding,” she said. “We feel lucky to have him.”
Process not cheap
In total, the Kocherspergers spent $36,000 on their adoption, including travel. The cost of adoption ranges from $11,000 to $40,000, but the average cost is $15,000 to $30,000.
Becky Fawcett, co-founder and executive director of Help Us Adopt, an organization dedicated to funding adoptions, said the cost is so high because it covers a wide variety of services.
“The reason adoption is so expensive is because adoptive parents pay for both sides,” she said.
Those sides include funding for both the adopted parents’ expenses and the birth parents or orphanages.
To help with the cost, the Kocherspergers applied for about 14 grants. They researched and found plenty of agencies and nonprofits created to assist families financially in the adoption process.
With the help of their friends and family, the couple raised $5,895 through a $2,500 matching grant from, Lifesong for Orphans, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting orphans. They also received a $4,000 grant from a like-minded organization, Saohannah’s Hope.
The Kocherspergers said they found a few organizations that said they would provide funds as they neared their travel date, but when the time came, the money wasn’t there. Organizations have been suffering because of the poor economy. A large part of the grants they provide are funded by contributions, and fewer donations resulted in fewer grants.
The number of international adoptions declined in 2008, in part because of the economy, a survey by Adoptive Families Magazine showed. Of 1,000 families, more than one-third said they have found themselves reconsidering their adoption route. But slightly more than half said the economy hadn’t affected their plans.
The Kocherspergers said those interested in adopting shouldn’t let the cost stand in their way. While the couple is financially stable and their finances are in order (a crucial component of being approved as an adoptive parent) they said adoption wasn’t something they could have afforded on their own.
Kellie Bramlet can be reached at email@example.com.