March 14, 2007— -- This weekend, Oscar winner Angelina Jolie returns to Los Angeles with her fourth child -- a 3-year-old boy from the Tam Binh orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This is Jolie's third adoption. Maddox, 6, is from Cambodia, and daughter Zahara, almost 3, from Ethiopia. Jolie has one biological child -- Shiloh Nouvel, who was born last year -- with her A-list actor partner, Brad Pitt.
Going abroad to adopt has become increasingly popular among celebrities, driven in part by Jolie and Madonna, who recently adopted a baby boy from Malawi, and this week's announcement by Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) that she wants to bring a little girl home "from one of the poorest parts of the world." Posh and her husband, soccer star David Beckham, already have three biological sons.
Celebrities who adopt multiple children, even though they can have children of their own, is nothing new. Mia Farrow has adopted 10 children and has four biological children.
Meg Ryan adopted her daughter, Daisy, from China, and Ewan McGregor and his wife, Eve, who have two children of their own, adopted a 4-year-old Mongolian girl.
Beyond the obvious benefits such adoptions bring to these children, what motivates women, especially those able to have their own children, to adopt the children of others?
While the reasons behind adoptions are very personal and vary from person to person, psychologist Hilary Hanafin says that secondary infertility, in which a woman can have one biological child but not a second, could be behind it.
"A mother could feel inspired and achieve satisfaction from knowing she provides love to a child who would not have a traditional home," she says. "Or she could feel a special connection through her own personal history that makes adoption very appealing. Maybe she was adopted or lived in a foreign country."
David Kirschner, the author of "Adoption: Unchartered Waters," doesn't believe it's as simple as that.
"Certainly there is something obsessive about it," he says. "We call these complex human behaviors multidetermined. That is, there are a number of emotional/psychological/personality needs that are all being met by the act of multiple adopting in this case."
Multiple adoptions, says Kirschner, "might also be symptomatic of some guilt/redemption psychological dynamic. A fear of pregnancy complications and pain of childbirth may motivate some, competitive needs may motivate others to have the largest, most wonderful, most diverse family in the universe."
Kirschner also believes that vanity might be a factor for women who dream of a large family -- but not the big belly that goes with that. "Time pressures can also factor into it. It takes less out of your busy schedule to adopt … than to be pregnant for nine months, especially if you have the financial and staff resources," he says
Marshall Williams from the Gladney Center for Adoption notes that 30 percent to 40 percent of parents who adopt internationally have biological children or are capable of having children.
According to the U.S. Department of State, 20,679 visas were issued for foreign adoption in 2006, almost double the amount of those issued in 1996, which was 10, 641.
"There's a humanitarian aspect. Families see pictures of the kids, these orphans, and they decide they want to help," says Williams. And there is a need to help -- according to UNICEF, there are 143 million orphaned children worldwide.
Some psychologists warn that there are challenges in creating families with both biological and adopted siblings.
The celebs, however, can be immensely helpful, says Kirschner, "if they talk up the need for prospective adopters to read books on the subject, join support groups, to prepare to cope with the inevitable adoption issues, including postadoption depression syndrome -- similar to postpartum depression -- that affects many adoptive mothers."
"Adopting internationally may mean that the adoptive family will become a cross-cultural family, with special responsibility and challenges," Kirschner says. "The children may suffer malnourishment, developmental delays or emotional problems, so it's important to consult a doctor with international adoption expertise to review the child's records before finalizing the adoption."
Is there a way to assure a child of a multiple adoptive family is happy? "If a child feels secure in their parents love, and validation of their need to know about their birth parents, diversity can widen a child's horizon and help the child to understand that we are all part of the family of man," says Kirschner. "But parents who adopt have a complex, difficult task ahead of them."