Stacey Sass keeps a thick file folder filled with complicated applications, fingerprinted security documents, and international government stamps and seals tucked away in the front hall closet. It is a reminder of how she became a mother.
Ms. Sass and her husband, George, filled out those reams of paperwork to adopt a Russian toddler from a St. Petersburg orphanage in November. Tomorrow, she plans to share what she learned from the experience at a free, two-hour seminar on international adoptions at the Anne Arundel County Public Library.
"These forms are the worst part," said Ms. Sass, 36, while playing with her 3-year-old son, Dimitri, one recent afternoon in her sunlit home along Spa Creek. "But I couldn't stop dreaming about taking him home."
The event is co-sponsored by Adoption Alliances for the Jewish Family Services in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C.-based Cradle of Hope, a nonprofit child placement agency.
"This is the first step for many people who are really just beginning to realize what their options are for international adoptions," said Louise Schnaier, associate director of Adoption Alliances. "It's getting more and more popular across the state."
In Maryland, foreign adoptions were up from 344 in 1993 to 490 last year, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS office in Baltimore has received 70 applications for foreign adoptions in April, about twice as many as it received for the same month two years ago, said Janice Hollis, an INS examinations assistant.
"It's a booming business," said Ms. Hollis, a self-described "orphan clerk" assigned on an emergency basis to handle the recent rise in foreign adoptions in the state.
Nationwide, Americans adopted 8,195 foreign children in 1994 and 7,348 in 1993, according to the State Department.
International adoptions have become increasingly popular as parents experience fertility problems and seek cultural attachments to foreign countries. Many parents are forgoing domestic adoptions because they fear long delays and post-adoption conflicts with birth parents, said Myra Hettleman, director of Adoption Alliance.
"There's a legal risk when it comes to domestic adoptions in today's world," Ms. Hettleman said. "It's easier to do this when you know you'll get a child, and that may be one reason why people go to a different culture."
The average international adoption takes one year and costs $20,000, according to the Adoption Alliance.
The process begins with submissions to a U.S. adoption agency. The applicants send in such things as tax forms and medical records to prove they are fit parents. Applicants prepare the same documents for the foreign government and usually travel to that country to hand-deliver them and pick up the child.
"The process can be long and frustrating. That's really the hardest part," Ms. Sass said.
She and her husband met Dimitri for the first time on Nov. 15, 1994, nine months after they filled out the first application.
When the Sasses arrived at the St. Petersburg orphanage, Dimitri was infected with a parasite from the drinking water and appeared thin and pale. He frowns in every picture taken at the orphanage.
Since he arrived in Annapolis five months ago, Dimitri has discovered jelly beans and chocolate and has gained 11 pounds.