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After the agency approved Becker, she received a "referral," a videotape of a 9-month-old Russian boy. She showed it to several physicians, as well as a speech therapist and a physical therapist. "Everybody gave thumbs up," she says. A Western-trained doctor in Moscow also examined the infant. The exam revealed some minor problems, but nothing major.

Becker made two trips to Russia. The first time she traveled alone to appear in court and to meet the son she would name Ethan.

The second time a friend went with her to bring the 14-month-old child home. Smiling in approval, a Russian judge told her, "Life begins at 40." The whole process took 13 months, a fairly typical time frame.

Another adoptive mother, Darsie Bowden of Skokie, Ill., traveled to China six years ago to adopt an 11-month-old girl, whom she named Elizabeth. As a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Ms. Bowden needed to find a country that did not require a lengthy stay to pick up a child. "China was very straightforward, and the kids tended to be pretty healthy," she says.

Since then, China has imposed a quota on single women, limiting them to 8 percent of adoptions. Many countries allow only married couples to adopt.

Initially, Bowden shared a nanny with another family. Elizabeth also spent time at a family day-care home. In those early months, Bowden recalls, she was "tired all the time." She also had to adjust her social network. "Some friends are more accommodating than others when you abandon them for a period."

Although she gradually reestablished the network, the process was hard.

She and other single parents emphasize the importance of lining up outside support and including men - grandfathers, uncles, friends - in their children's lives. When Bowden must work in the evening, a friend who is Elizabeth's godfather picks her up. "He adores her and so does his wife. It's a male role that's important for her."

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