On a Saturday afternoon, 5-year-old Lulu gushed to her mom about her aspirations to be a beautiful ballerina.
She performed pirouettes around the white-tiled living room while her sister, Lovie, 5, and brothers, Briland, 9, and Brice, 7, colored on a small plastic table in their Coral Gables home. An argument broke out over crayons.
Thats when mom, Jill Black, stepped in as the negotiator one of the many roles she plays as a single mother of four children she adopted from Guatemala two girls, two boys, all under 10.
Lets try and see how we can share, said Black, 46.
Black is one of scores of parents in South Florida whove looked to foreign lands to find their children. Some, like Black, never had children and would be considered too old for most U.S. adoptions. Others were touched by stories of orphaned children living hard-scrabble lives in impoverished places.
Many potential parents wait years for governments and agencies to allow them to bring home a child. Documents get lost, adoption agencies face roadblocks of red tape and costs can spiral to $50,000 or more.
In the past, international adoptions were perceived as a manageable way of becoming a parent. In 2004, there were 22,991 international adoptions by American parents, according to the State Department. By 2011, that number had dropped 60 percent to 9,319.
The drop-off, in part, stems from tighter adoption laws in countries such as China and Russia, historically among the top locales for international adoptions. Government officials have become increasingly concerned they were giving up their children without sufficient screening and documentation. Politics, too, plays a part.
In December, Russia outlawed all U.S. adoptions, which numbered more than 60,000 over the past two decades. Haiti, another country with many foreign adoptions, recently said it is overhauling its adoption laws, the first time in nearly 40 years.
Those numbers are not reflective of the lack of adoptive parents, but a lack of programs that are open, said Candace OBrien, a Miami adoption lawyer and founder of AdoptInternational, the agency that helped Black find her children. These kids are there, waiting to be adopted. Its just that the international community is making it harder.
For Black, her quest to become a parent began with one child, 9-month-old Briland, who was living in a foster home in Tiquisate, a small town 100 miles outside of Guatemala City. She adopted him in 2004, two years after her divorce. She was 37.
At first, my parents would ask me what I was thinking and questioned if I could really handle this, said Black, who works as an administrative assistant in her parents business in South Miami .
Her parents fell in love with Briland and supported her decision to go back to Guatemala and adopt 2-year-old Brice in 2005 from Guatemala City.
In 2007, she adopted Lovie from the small town of Antigua in central Guatemala, and Lulu, from Guatemala City. Both were 15 months old.
Black said the most difficult part was the wait between the adoption processes.
When things dont go right in an adoption, its so difficult for families because youre dealing with raw emotions, OBrien said. There are so many issues outside of anyones control. Days go by when you just want to roll your eyes and say, Why am I doing this?