Ron Geiger and Rayna Saslove, a hip, filmmaking couple from Los Angeles, seem to have it all: a love-filled relationship, a big house and lots of money. But something has been missing from their 12-year marriage -- something that has driven them to scour the world and pour cash into fertility drugs and face time with top doctors.
Enter a Taiwanese convict: She came from rags and hooked up with a drug dealer, who got her pregnant before the police nabbed them both for selling heroin.
But this woman has one thing that Geiger and Saslove want dearly: the baby boy to whom she gave birth behind bars.
A year ago, couples like Geiger and Saslove were looking to China as their first choice among top source countries for adoption. After all, China -- the No. 1 source of foreign-born children adopted by Americans -- has adopted out nearly 60,000 toddlers to US parents over the past two decades.
But as China's adoption industry sours on long waiting lists, "ridiculous" policies and reports of child kidnappings to stock orphanages there, a growing number of US couples are now looking to adopt from Taiwan, experts say.
"It's just starting to explode," said David Slansky, director of international programs at Oregon-based Journeys of the Heart Adoption Services, referring to demand from Americans seeking to adopt Taiwanese children.
"For a while, our agency served 15 couples wanting to adopt from China for every one couple seeking to adopt out of Taiwan. Now, that ratio is almost reverse," he said.
James Trinnaman of Utah-based adoption agency Families for Children, reports a similar increase in his agency's Taiwan-related workload, saying: "We get a lot of families that have already applied to adopt from China `jump ship' and come to us."
China's new adoption restrictions, he adds, have led to "renewed interest in Taiwan."
Beginning next month, China will bar any foreigner who is clinically depressed, newly married or remarried, whose body-mass index exceeds 40, or who is over 50 years of age, from adopting its children, US adoption agencies said. The restrictions follow China's barring single prospective parents from the US from adopting its children in 2001.
Such restrictions, Trinnaman said, could be for political reasons, as a run on Chinese babies by foreigners casts a spotlight on China's poverty, cultural disdain for girls -- nearly all abandoned babies are female -- and thriving trade in kidnapped infants, who fetch up to US$3,000 per head.
"China's trying to put on a good face ahead of the Olympics," he said.
The restrictions could also signal an "ethnic backlash" by Chinese fed up with seeing affluent Westerners swoop in on their vast population of abandoned baby girls, Geiger said.
"There's something happening politically because China is trying to undercut foreign demand while its number of available babies is still huge," he said.
For Scott and Lani Nimerfro, a film writer-graphic designer couple from Minnesota who are adopting a two-year-old Taiwanese girl, orphanages in Taiwan boast more than just shorter waiting periods and more reasonable requirements than those in China.
St. Lucy's in Tainan, for example -- a Catholic orphanage sheltering more than 30 infants -- provides an exhaustive dossier on each child for prospective adopters, and helps adoptive families maintain contact with the biological parents, Scott said.