On the surface, it doesn’t appear that Mona Matson and Cindy Cummins have much in common. Matson lives in rural South Dakota, Cummins in Sioux Falls. As an accountant, Matson works with figures; as a teacher, Cummins works with students. Cummins is starting her 40s; Matson is preparing to leave that decade behind.
But what the two women do share is a love of children and a desire to have some of their own.
So, even though neither woman has ever married, they became mothers through adoption. Matson has two daughters; Cummins is the mother of 4-year-old Jadyn and hopes to expand her family to three next year.
Cummins' and Matson's decision is no longer rare, but the obstacles parents must clear before adopting still make it especially difficult for singles to make the leap. A recent study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, found that while women's interest in adopting increased by 38 percent from 1995 to 2002, fewer women actually followed through with the process.
In 2002, 10 percent or 1.9 million of the women who reported an interest in adopting took steps to do so. That is a decline since 1995, when 16 percent, or 2.1 million of the women interested in adopting actually did so.
As single parents, Cummins and Matson might face more financial, emotional and physical challenges than their married counterparts, but they have no regrets.
"It's tough, it's scary, but it's the best thing I have ever done in my life, and there's no way I would change it for anything," Cummins said.
Support system is key
One possible deterrent for single women - and men - interested in adopting is worry about whether they will have enough support, said Karen Cordie, adoption coordinator with Lutheran Social Services.
"I think that's a big factor for single parents," she said.
Lutheran Social Service helped with 36 adoptions in fiscal year 2005; three were to single women.
"We tell them you need to make sure you have a very strong support system," said Machelle Kocer, an adoption social worker with Catholic Family Services. "If you work late, who will pick up your child? When you hear those things, you go, 'What? I can't do this. I don't have anybody.' "
Cummins thinks finances also are a major consideration. Adopting Jadyn from an orphanage in China cost $20,000 to $22,000.
When she returns to China to adopt her second child, probably next year, Cummins expects it to cost $27,000 because Jadyn will go along.
People often ask Cummins how she can afford that expense, and her answer is simple: "I take out loans."
"The farmers in Woonsocket ask, 'How much does that kid cost?' " Cummins said, referring to her hometown. "I say, 'As much as your F350 there, honey, except she doesn't depreciate.' "
Cummins jokes about it, but the financial burden she carries so she could adopt Jadyn and a second child is serious stuff.
"I probably won't be able to give her a college education," Cummins said. "She's going to have to figure that out herself now because I'll be paying off adoption loans. But I figured it out myself."
Hurdles for singles
Matson, now 49, became a mother a little more than five years ago with the arrival of her older daughter, Breanna, now 16.
Her younger daughter, Tawnee, now 10, was adopted in April. She joined the family in August 2005, after spending summer weekends with Matson and Breanna.
Matson was in her 40s when she decided to adopt. She was prompted by a married cousin who was adopting three children.
"For the longest time, I did not realize that single people could adopt kids until my cousin was adopting theirs, and she said: 'Well, you know you could do this. Single people can do this, too, you know.' But I hadn't, really."
Matson briefly considered adopting an infant. But she knew she couldn't remain home with a baby because she would have to work to support the child. So she took foster parent training offered through the state of South Dakota, knowing adoption was her ultimate goal.
Many single parents turn to international adoption because pregnant women who have decided to give up their child for adoption generally choose married couples, Kocer said.
Having a biological child wasn't particularly important to her, Matson said. While she originally thought she'd probably adopt a 3- or 4-year-old child, after hearing Breanna's history, she had no hesitation about a preteen.
"There was abuse in my family, and if I had been in foster care at 11, I wouldn't have been considered an adoptable child," Matson said. "Whey shouldn't she have the chance everybody else has? Every kid needs a family."
'A good, safe home'
In her five years with Children's Home Society, adoption specialist Crystal Wilkenson has placed only two children with single mothers and has dealt with no prospective single fathers.
"When people take on an older child, you really find out who your support system is," she said. "These kids already have a personality, and it's loving them for who they are, not trying to change them."
"If they're adopting from foster care, they need to know that kids don't end up in foster care because they came from a perfect family," she said. "They can't just forget that life; it is a part of them forever. But you can give them a good, safe home, and they will be your family."
The Urban Institute study showed that almost all women are willing to adopt children with different ethnic backgrounds, while almost a third would adopt a child who is 13 or older. Ninety percent of women are willing to adopt a child with a mild disability, 31 percent with a severe disability.
"Our agency is experiencing that," Cordie said. "Families are not necessarily looking for the healthy infant, they are looking for waiting children that need good homes."
Adding to the family
Matson, one of 10 siblings, said "it was and it wasn't" a difficult decision to adopt a second child.
Cummins, too, decided it was important that Jadyn be a big sister. But when she first went to China, she was fairly convinced she would adopt only one child, mostly because of the cost.
"Once I got to an orphanage in China and looked into those little eyes, I knew I would be back," Cummins said.
But on her return to the United States, she shelved the idea until Jadyn's social worker made her third and final visit.
"This social worker said, 'So do I put your name in for number 2?' and I said, 'What?' and she said, 'You know there's a waiting list,' and I said, 'Sure, what would it hurt,' and it just kind of snowballed from there."
To help ease her finances, Cummins also has operated a photography business, but she has decided to end it Dec. 1. With Jadyn older, she doesn't want to take the time away from her daughter.
Sometimes, Cummins said, she does wonder how she will make it work with two children. Her family is supportive, but none of them live in Sioux Falls.
When Jadyn was a baby, Cummins would mow the yard with a baby monitor strapped to her waist so she could hear if her daughter awoke and cried.
Last year, when Cummins fractured her ankle on her front steps, she found out how important a support system is.
And now, with the ankle healed, she finds herself with a greater willingness to call a friend and ask them to take Jadyn for an hour or two.
"I have basically come to a point where I admit I need my network," she said. "I think the top two things that scare women off are finances and just configuring all of it.
"A single woman takes care of the house, the laundry, the lawn, and you add a child to that mix without a second paycheck to pay for any of that other stuff."
Matson has a job with flexible hours, one that will allow her to occasionally work from home. She relies on friends for their assistance and also the members of her small church. Because of issues with the biological parents, she asked that her hometown not be printed.
With Breanna in her junior year, Matson must begin contemplating life without her older daughter at home. That will happen only six years after they became a family.
"I knew that going into it, OK, we have about six years here with full-time kids," she said.
"But I have kids."