Holly Richardson: Every child deserves a family, no matter where they are born

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

In 2004, my husband, Greg, and I traveled to Ethiopia to adopt. Already experienced in international adoption, we specifically wanted to adopt children who were considered “hard-to-place.” One of those children was one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen, with soft black curls and rosebud lips. She had been unwell, however, and the nuns at her orphanage did not think she would survive the next six months. We thought if we could just get her home, we could get her healthy.

One night, though, that sweet little three-month old baby got diarrhea. It worsened the next day, and I spent that day and through the next night at her side, even spending the night in the orphanage. I took her off of formula temporarily and gave her the Pedialyte we had with us but as morning dawned, she became unresponsive.

With the nuns help, we quickly found a driver and a caregiver to come with us as we rushed to get her medical care. We stopped at the clinic closest to the orphanage and as we got out of the car with this tiny baby in our arms and turned the corner, it felt like we had stepped into the crowded market scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It was loud, it was chaotic and people were everywhere. There was no emergency room and when we asked to see a doctor quickly because this baby was literally dying right in front of our ours, we were pointed to the back of the line.

We then rushed to a Westernized hospital on the edge of town but it was too late. Sweet, beautiful baby Tereza took her last breath as we pulled into the parking lot.

In spite of the ache in our hearts left by the loss of this baby, we were able to successfully adopt four other children who not only joined our family, but also joined the 22,897 other foreign-born children who were adopted by U.S. families that year.

Since that time, international adoptions have plummeted a stunning 80 percent to just 4,714 last year, and are on track to have just 2,000 international adoptions this year, the lowest number in decades. Part of the reason lies with our own State Department that has created additional — and, in my opinion — unnecessary and onerous steps that have caused adoption fees to skyrocket and length of time to adopt to stretch into years.

What that means is that thousands of children who could potentially be adopted will remain without families in orphanages that can never substitute for a home and thousands of willing parents are simply unable to afford the hefty costs.

Greg and I just returned from Washington, D.C., where we were nominated by Sen. Mike Lee and then honored to receive an “Angels in Adoption” award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Even more rewarding than the award, however, was the opportunity to advocate for adoption on Capitol Hill.

There were two specific bills we were advocating for: a bill to grant U.S. citizenship to adoptees who were left out of the previous bill passed in 2000, and a bill to create an international adoption advisory committee to work with the U.S. State Department. The citizenship bill already had bipartisan support from both houses, but the advisory committee bill had only Senate sponsorship.

I am therefore delighted that my Congressman, John Curtis, immediately saw not only the need but the value of dialogue and coalition building with the U.S. State Department and has filed a companion House bill to the Senate bill on the Intercountry Adoption Advisory Committee.

“This legislation is in harmony with Utah‘s values of helping our children and building families,” said Curtis. “I hope the legislation will serve as a catalyst to connect children in need with loving families and resources.”

That is my hope as well. Because every child deserves a family.

Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune regular contributor, has many roles but her most rewarding is that of being a mom.