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It seems so simple, and in a very basic way, it is: There are children out there who need a warm and loving home, and there are families yearning to provide all that and more. But making it all come together -- well, that part can get complex. Here's how five families found their way along that unforgettable journey, and how one woman made the wrenching decision to give up her child -- plus, everything you'll need to know if you decide to make adoption a part of your family story.

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Courtesy of Lydia and Mike Kirkham/Photo illustration by Clifford Alejandro

International adoption

More than 20,000 children a year are adopted by U.S. families from a wide range of countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America. The foreign adoption landscape has undergone some significant changes lately. Though China has been Americans' top choice — 6,500 Chinese children came into U.S. homes in 2006 — that number is expected to drop, thanks to stricter regulations now in place there. (For instance, a couple must be married for five years to adopt from China if either partner has previously been divorced.) By contrast, Ethiopia is seeing an increase in adoptions, thanks in part to a relatively speedy process — sometimes just six months, following approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

PROS: You don't have to wait for the birth parents to "pick" you — your adoption follows a standard process established by the country you're adopting from. Many people feel more comfortable adopting internationally rather than risking the heartbreak of a failed match domestically. There are many countries that U.S. citizens adopt from, so if one country's policies or requirements don't work for you, another one's might.

CONS: The cost can be high, ranging from $7,000 to more than $30,000. A country's adoption relationship with the United States can also "close," temporarily or permanently, sometimes without much warning — as what happened with Vietnam, which closed adoptions to the United States between 2003 and 2005, and reopened in 2006.

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