Adrienne Jubilee, a new mother who couldn't stop smiling, stood in front of a crowd of strangers yesterday and tried to capture how she and her husband felt when they adopted their infant son this year.
"It's like rediscovering a part of yourself that you suppressed so long ago," she said, standing beside her 11-month-old son, Elijah, and her husband, Eugene, looking as if that description didn't quite encompass what she wanted to say.
Then her smile hit full wattage as she came across the right image: "When Elijah came home with us, it was like life went from black and white to technicolor, like that moment when Dorothy crosses into Oz and the whole 'Wizard of Oz' lights up."
The crowd of about 100 adoptive and thinking-about-it parents attending a seminar on adoption issues yesterday burst into laughter, and the nation's blossoming love affair with adoption seemed to take another small step forward.
Since the 1997 passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, a law that orders courts to dramatically reduce the amount of time children in foster care must wait before they are are eligible for adoption, the number of children adopted from foster care alone has jumped from about 26,000 annually to 50,000 last year. The number of private adoptions -- both domestic and international -- add an unknown number, making adoptive families more common than at any point in national history, specialists say.
During National Adoption Awareness month, yesterday's event at American University, hosted by Adoptions Together, a Baltimore-based nonprofit agency, brought together parents, physicians and child welfare advocates for a one-stop information campaign about how to adopt infant and older children from the United States to Azerbaijan.
Shay Bilchik, president of the Child Welfare League of America, outlined the social situation for children in need of adoption -- despite the record number of adoptees, more than 100,000 foster-care children are awaiting adoptive homes.
Patrick Mason, director of the International Adoption Center at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, detailed the dire straits many endure in foreign orphanages but how quickly most of them improve once in a stable home.
And D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) blew in from the campaign trail in jeans and a sweat shirt to encourage parents to adopt children from foster care, just as he was.
"My real home is my adopted home," he told the crowd. "People sometimes say I'm removed and out of touch because I went to Harvard and Yale, but I went to Harvard and Yale because I had two loving, supportive parents."
Natasha Wathen, born in Russia and adopted in Montgomery County, helped out in a group singalong of adopted children but was then eager to get to cheerleader practice, tugging at her father's sleeve. Bob Wathen, smiling broadly, helped her on with her jacket, heading for the door.
"We've really got a lot of stuff to do," said Natasha, 8, her brown hair falling across her eyes, a smile sneaking across her lips.