By Michelle Levanti
From the time my husband and I first started talking about our relationship, there were some things that were certain for both of us. We knew we wanted to get married, travel and most important of all, have a family. While the number of kids we talked about having someday varied, we knew that children were in our future. At the time, it was one of those things we just imagined happening for us when we were ready. Although there were minor setbacks and challenges along the way, there was nothing that the two of us couldn’t handle. It wasn’t until we decided it was time to start trying to get pregnant that we experienced our first real challenge as a couple.
Infertility happens to so many couples trying to get pregnant. We do everything we can on our own, and then seek doctors and specialists when our efforts aren’t working. For us, months of trying turned into years, and that one major goal¾the most important part of our dream of the future¾just wasn’t happening.
We made the decision early in November 2004 that our most recent failed attempt at in vitro fertilization would be our last. My husband and I had been through a lot, and it was time to explore other options.
That same year, we decided to adopt internationally from South Korea. I am often asked why we chose to adopt internationally versus going the domestic route. The answer for us is pretty simple; there are so many children all over the world that need homes. The idea of international adoption seemed right for our family.
While I’m not entirely familiar with what’s involved with domestic adoption, I can tell you from experience that the process for international adoption can be very overwhelming. We had to complete case studies, fill out tons of paperwork and get it notarized, meet with social workers, complete home inspections and get physicals to ensure we were healthy enough to care for a child. We took everything one step at a time. We kept a checklist and stayed organized.
One thing that no checklist could prepare us for was the cost. On top of having to worry about preparing for the arrival of another member of the family, there were many fees involved in adoption. Although these fees put more pressure on families, they are what keep the children waiting to be adopted safe, healthy and well cared for. These fees also ensure that the process goes smoothly and legally. We had planned ahead of time to use some of the money we had set aside for home improvement to complete our adoption. Taking money from your savings can be stressful. What if something happened and we didn’t have those funds to fall back on? This was a risk we were willing to take.
But my employer helped alleviate some of that risk and worry. Bank of America offers employees up to $8,000 per adopted child as part of its adoption reimbursement benefits. Knowing that the company I work for was offering this kind of support really helped relieve some of the stress the adoption was putting on our finances.
Not only did the adoption reimbursement allow us to get back some of the savings we’d used, it solidified our decision to adopt a second child.
From start to finish, each adoption process took about nine months. We had the wonderful opportunity to travel to South Korea for both adoptions. This provided us with the chance to meet the foster family that was caring for the boys and also an opportunity to learn about their country. Now when our boys have questions about Korea or their foster families, we have some knowledge of what their daily lives were like. We will have the opportunity to share photos and stories about their country of origin. We encourage any family looking to adopt to travel to the country if at all possible.
In addition to providing the benefit of adoption reimbursement, Bank of America provided 12 weeks of adoption leave for both adoptions. This time has since been increased to 16 weeks. I really cherished this time off because it allowed us to bond while helping the boys adjust to their new home and routines. My sons are now 9 and 11, and I look back on that time we spent together fondly.
Making decisions about starting a family or adopting is not easy. Knowing that I work for a company that supports its employees with benefits like adoption reimbursement and parental leave really made a world of difference.
Our family was also blessed with a biological child, a boy, in 2014. He was such a wonderful surprise and a welcome addition to our family. We now have a very busy home full of noise and laughter and the family we always wanted. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Michelle works for Bank of America in Tampa and took advantage of the 12 weeks of paid adoption leave and $8,000 reimbursement for adoption expenses for each child, which paid for the travel expenses to pick up her children from Korea. This year, Bank of America increased maternity, paternity and adoption leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks for employees with at least one year of tenure. Michelle credits the bank’s support with her decision to adopt Lorenzo, her second son.