In April 1999, Laura Blitzer -- a 41-year-old single university professor -- decided to adopt a child. Fifteen months later the native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was in Hunan Province, China, holding her 9-month-old adoptive daughter, Cydney, for the first time.
"It was amazing to have her in my arms ... I still cry when I see the tape of her being given to me," recalled Blitzer. "I couldn't believe she was mine."
In 2007, Blitzer applied to adopt another child from China. Six years later, she is still waiting. "The estimate right now for me to receive a healthy infant is 2017," she said.
After decades of steady growth, the number of international adoptions has dropped nearly 50 percent since 2004, despite the well-publicized explosion of adoptions from China in the 1990s, and high-profile adoptions by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie from Cambodia and Madonna from Malawi.
The decline isn't due to fewer orphans worldwide nor waning demand from prospective parents, experts say. It is due to rising regulations and growing sentiment in countries such as Russia and China against sending orphans abroad.
The number of children finding new homes in the United States -- the number one location for adopting children -- fell to 8,668 in 2012 after peaking at 22,884 in 2004, according to U.S. State Department statistics. A survey by Britain's Newcastle University of the top 23 nations that adopt children from abroad recorded 23,626 international adoptions in 2011 -- down from 45,299 in 2004.
"I think it's both a surprise that it's been dropping, and it's a surprise that significant forces are opposed to international adoption," said Elizabeth Bartholet, professor of law and director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School. With the growing forces of globalization, "why wouldn't this be expanding?" added Bartholet, a proponent of international adoption who adopted two boy from Peru in the 1980s.
As international adoption rates fall, there is one country that is sending more children abroad: The United States.
Although the number of American kids adopted internationally is far fewer than overseas orphans that join U.S. families, with 315 children in 2009 that's three times as many as 2004, according to Newcastle University.
"No country likes that it's not tending to all of its own children. And I think a lot of Americans are surprised that we are one of those sending countries," said Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of "Adoption Nation."
Feeding the 'adoption nation'
The story of international adoption is an American story.
"The United States adopts more children internationally, but also domestically, than the rest of the world combined," Pertman said. "The good, the bad and the ugly all play out here in bigger ways than they do elsewhere simply because the process is older and more developed here, for better or for worse."
Transnational adoptions grew in popularity following the World War II -- at least 50,000 took place from 1948 to 1969.
With the opening of China and Russia in the 1990s, international adoption exploded -- 410,000 children were adopted by citizens of 27 countries between 2000 and 2010, according to Peter Selman, an international adoption expert from Newcastle University and statistical adviser to the U.N. Hague Convention on international adoption.
"In Russia it was the breakup of the Soviet Union. In China it was the discovery of the impact of the one-child policy," said Susan Caughman, publisher of Adoptive Families Magazine, who adopted a daughter from China in 1992.
"Chinese orphanages then were stuffed with abandoned infants," largely girls, Caughman said, as boys were preferred by families after the implementation of the one-child policy. "Russia was on its knees in a catastrophic situation as the social fabric unraveled."
Feeding the trend were single, career-minded U.S. women like Blitzer.
"I'd never been married and went up and down the East Coast to get various degrees ... I like to work. Working is a big part of who I am," said Blitzer, a professor of health and physical education.
But she also wanted a family. A few months after Blitzer filed paperwork to adopt, a 13-day-old girl was left in a market in Shaoyang, China, with the name Shao Zhi Ying written on a piece of paper.
"That means 'wisdom' and 'courage' -- they must have known something, because that's exactly who she is," Blitzer said. As per regulation, the police placed a "finding ad" in a local newspaper detailing the abandoned child and placed her in the Shaoyang Welfare Institute orphanage. Nine months later, she was in the arms of Blitzer, who named her new daughter Cydney.
Now 13, Cydney Blitzer is starting her freshman year at the LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts -- the inspiration for the movie "Fame."
"She's fiercely independent, very quick and talented, and she's got a fantastic voice," said her mother, who now works in the Department of Kinesiology at Brooklyn College in New York.
From abandoned infant in a Chinese market to acceptance into a world-renowned school in New York, the Blitzers could be a poster family for the rags-to-riches aura that cloaks the spirit of international adoption: Individuals and families opening their lives to the world's most underprivileged orphans.
"(Adoption) captures people's imagination ... it's right out of Charles Dickens; it's a dramatic story, an archetype of literature," Caughman said.