The crib in Ellen Darcy's Boston home has sat empty for more than a year. And in suburban Washington, Laura Teresinski has prepared a nursery for a baby that may never arrive.
They and thousands of prospective parents, eager to adopt children from abroad, have found themselves in an emotional legal limbo since two of the most popular countries for international adoptions -- Guatemala and Vietnam -- recently halted their programs.
Now would-be mothers and fathers around the United States wonder what will become of their quest to adopt a child -- a pursuit that can fray nerves, cost up to $30,000 and span several years.
Guatemala announced this month that it would conduct a case-by-case review of every pending foreign adoption case. That put on hold the adoption plans of about 2,000 American families.
The crackdown comes amid reports that some in Guatemala coerce mothers to relinquish their children for adoption -- or steal the children outright and present them as orphans.
Similar accusations have arisen in Vietnam.
After the United States accused adoption agencies there of corruption and baby-selling, Vietnam said in April that it would no longer allow adoptions to the United States.
"My husband and I were absolutely devastated," Teresinski said. "Adoptive parents have put a lot of emotional energy and a lot of financial resources in the process."
Vietnam's decision affects several hundred families.
Families in the United States adopted 4,728 children from Guatemala and 828 from Vietnam last year.
The halt in adoptions from those two nations unfolds against the backdrop of a dramatic rise in international adoptions in the United States.
The number of foreign-born children adopted by U.S. families more than tripled from 1990 to 2004, when it reached a high of 22,884, though the figure has declined slightly each year since.
n 2007, the U.S. granted visas to 19,613 children so they could join an adoptive family in the United States, according to U.S. State Department figures. About 70 percent of those children came from four countries: China, Guatemala, Russia and Ethiopia.
A few other countries have also halted foreign adoptions at various times, including Kazakhstan and Togo.
Yet the suspensions in Vietnam and Guatemala have had the biggest impact -- they're two of the 10 countries that send the most children to adoptive homes in the Unites States.
Fear of fraud stirs heartache
For Darcy, the review seems more detrimental than helpful.
Her adopted daughter, Carolina, remains in a Guatemalan foster home with three dozen other babies. Darcy worries that keeping Carolina, now 15 months old, in a foster home will harm her early development.
"She's not getting one-on-one care by a consistent caretaker," Darcy said, adding later, "Nobody is looking at this as a violation of the kids' human rights except for these (American) parents."
Guatemala, which until now has had little to no oversight of its foreign adoptions, has the highest per capita rate of adoption in the world.
Nearly one in 100 babies born in Guatemala wind up living with adoptive parents in the United States, according to the U.S. consulate in Guatemala.
While adoptive parents in the United States undergo rigorous screening, adoptions in Guatemala had been processed by notaries responsible for determining whether the babies were relinquished voluntarily. They also arrange foster care and handle paperwork -- notaries in Latin America tend to have more legal training than notaries in the United States.
Both Guatemalan and U.S. officials fear the system leads to practices such as paying birth mothers for children or, in some instances, coercion.
Officials in both countries say gaps in regulations and the high sums of money at play -- adoptions can cost up to $30,000 -- may have created unintended incentives in a country where the State Department estimates that 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.
The Guatemalan government has said its review could take a month or longer. As for the American families, they can only wait.
"I think it's overkill," said Darcy, who was matched with Carolina last March and was approved to adopt the girl last winter -- typically one of the last steps before the actual adoption is complete.
"No adoptive parent wants to adopt an abducted child -- a child that wasn't voluntarily relinquished -- but to keep them as hostages is unacceptable," Darcy said.