The couple encourages their children to embrace their American origins, celebrating Thanksgiving each year with other families who adopted children from the United States. "We try to tell them about their culture and about their background," said Marielle, who decided to adopt after years of unsuccessful fertility treatment. "We would love them to (start speaking) English when they're really young because if they want to go back (to America) and if they want to see where they're born, it would be nice if they can speak to ... their parents if they are going to meet them."
Their children stand out in Het Gooi, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Amsterdam. "They're famous here, where we live, because it's a really white society," Marielle said.
Some of the parents at the June picnic were same-sex couples. With laws in some states allowing gay marriage and adoption, the United States is one of the few countries from which gays and lesbians can adopt, and many U.S.-born children sent to the Netherlands have been adopted by same-sex families, according to Anneke Vinke, a Dutch adoption expert at the University of Leiden. In the last five years, 17 percent of the U.S. children that Goldstein helped to place with foreign families were adopted by gay couples.
"Bluntly, the U.S. is probably the only country that will allow a gay couple to adopt a child," Goldstein said, adding that some states allow couples, gay or straight, to adopt whether they're married or not.
"So the gay families of the world, when they can't adopt in their own countries or don't want to necessarily, and want to adopt a baby, they're going to turn to the U.S."
Why the Netherlands?
Reliable data on overseas adoptions of American children is hard to come by. Last year the U.S. State Department officially reported that 99 American children were adopted by foreign families. But the real number is almost certainly higher, said Peter Selman, an expert on international adoption at Newcastle University in the U.K. who acts as a statistical adviser to the U.N. body that oversees international adoptions.
For example, in 2010 the U.S. State Department counted only 43 U.S. kids who were adopted overseas, but the same year five countries -- Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland -- reported adoptions of 205 children born in the U.S., Selman said. According to statistics by receiving countries, there were 126 U.S. children adopted overseas in 2004, steadily rising to 315 in 2009.
"The United States has sent an increasing number of children for overseas adoptions in recent years," Selman said. Goldstein, the New York attorney, also says that the number of outgoing adoptions he facilitates now is higher than a decade ago.
The State Department's system for tracking international adoptions only includes reports from certain adoption providers, such as those accredited under an international treaty known as the Hague Convention, a spokesperson said. Other adoptions involving U.S. children, like those completed through the foster care system, are not counted. "In order to address that shortcoming, we have increased our outreach efforts to encourage receiving countries and public domestic authorities to report the outgoing adoption information to us," State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Finan said by email.
Canada is the number one destination for children adopted from the U.S. -- 148 went there in 2010 -- likely owing to its proximity, experts say. But the Netherlands has consistently ranked second each year; about 250 U.S. children were adopted by Dutch families from 2004 to 2010.
The popularity of American children for Dutch families appears to have grown by word-of-mouth after Steven Kirsh, the Indiana adoption attorney, helped an acquaintance's sister -- who lived in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband -- adopt from the U.S. in the 1990s. Similarly, Goldstein began providing adoptions for the Netherlands after a Dutch family working for the U.N. sought his help for a U.S. adoption.
"Most American families were, and still are, interested in adopting a white infant. The Dutch families were just interested in adopting an infant. The color of the child's skin didn't matter to them," said Kirsh, former president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. "We were getting some incredible families adopting -- just the best of the best. It was easy for the birth moms to fall in love with these couples."
Children with special needs
Following the decline in international adoptions, most children being adopted from overseas are defined as having special needs, such as developmental disabilities. The U.S. babies are often not special needs children, although some states prioritize adoptions for non-Caucasian children. U.S. babies going to the Netherlands might have a "minimum exposure to drugs, but usually some kind of lighter type of drugs like marijuana," said Goldstein.
Susan's son was exposed to crack cocaine during the first 10 weeks of her pregnancy, but he has been lucky. "The doctors have said there are absolutely no side effects from the drugs," she said.
Kirsh says the most common misconception about birth mothers is that they turn to adoption because they want to get rid of the baby or don't love the child. For Susan, adoption was a last resort.
"I tried to get family but I had nobody to take my kid. My grandmother was too old; my father had just had a major heart attack. I had nobody to take him." She even turned to an abusive ex: "I even begged him. I had nobody. Nobody."
Foster care wasn't an option either: "As the former crack-addicted prostitute that I was, I had seen so many girls that went through foster care, and the abuse and, you know, it's awful. It's awful there."
"I didn't want to keep him in foster care. It's not fair. It's not fair for me to think: Well, you know what, one day I might get my life together. Well, you know what? Your life is not together now and your baby needs love now."