Fonda Lang remembers the exact moment when she saw her daughter for the first time.
Her husband had joined her at work because they knew the picture was coming via email.
“We opened it together, got to see her, and the description they gave of her personality was perfect,” Lang remembers. “She was 15 months old and they said she’s quite a jokester, she likes to play and hide, that she likes books.”
Nearly a decade later, she said the description is still true of her daughter.
Lang and her husband, who live in Henrico County, adopted their children, Natalie and Trevor. At the time, Lang’s employer — the Henrico-based accounting firm Keiter — had no benefits for employees adopting children.
In the 2000s, when the Langs adopted Natalie and Trevor, few companies offered benefits to adoptive families.
That meant Lang’s only options at the time would have been to take time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, or cobble together time through vacation and sick leave so she could be home with her young children.
But Lang took the situation into her own hands. She researched adoption benefit policies and approached Keiter with her suggestion of offering paid time off to adoptive families.
“I presented it to the firm leadership, and was ecstatic that they accepted it,” Lang said. “It really validated that the way I’m forming my family is equal to the other families that are formed.”
Keiter now has a two-week parental leave policy, which Lauren Andrews, human resources manager with the firm, said morphed out of Lang’s proposal.
About 20 percent of employers now offer paid adoption leave, according to the 2016 Employee Benefits report by the Society for Human Resource Management. More companies are offering employees benefits to lessen the financial and emotional toll the experience of adopting can take.
The argument over paid parental leave has been raging for several years, with some advocacy groups questioning why the U.S. does not have a policy ensuring parents have time off when they bring their children home.
According to the Pew Research Center, when compared with 41 other developed nations such as Estonia, Japan, Portugal and Chile, the U.S. is the only country that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.
But even fewer adoptive parents are assured by their employers that they will have time with their children when they bring them home.
Henrico resident Louellen Brumgard’s only option when she adopted her daughter in 2004 was to take off time through FMLA because that is the only option her employer at the time, the Commonwealth of Virginia, offers. She had to use all her available vacation time and sick leave, which she said did not feel fair.
“Every family needs bonding time, but especially when you first factor in the reality that the adoption process can be stressful to a family,” said Nadine Marsh-Carter, CEO of the Children’s Home Society, a Richmond-based adoption agency.
“It really makes a difference. As an adoptive parent, you’ve gone through all this unknown, and you just want them to love you as much as you love them before they come home.”