Sojourn fulfills couples' dreams of parenthood

Date: 
1991-01-20

Daily News of Los Angeles

Both of these incidents took place during Mozes' first trip to Romania. Since then, he has assisted more than 40 couples in adopting children in Romania.

ROMANIAN TREASURES

The little girl had never been outdoors, Kathy Loveland said, and she'd never learned how to hug. When Loveland held her, the girl's arms would droop like a rag doll's.

But she had beautiful wavy hair, Loveland said, and "the most gorgeous ivory skin, just like porcelain."

The girl, who had spent her first 18 months inside a dreary, overheated Romanian orphanage, was the one Loveland and her husband decided to adopt. They named her Meghan.

"She just lit up the room from the moment we saw her," said Loveland, who lives in Burbank.

The Lovelands are among the two dozen Los Angeles-area families who have adopted children in Romania. For many childless Americans, the country has been a godsend - a chance to save children from astonishing poverty and neglect while fulfilling their own dreams of parenthood.

But, for many, the trips have not been easy. To get the girl tested for AIDS and hepatitis, the Lovelands had to go to a hospital so unsanitary, Loveland said, that a dog ran down the corridor. A nurse carried open containers of blood and urine, their contents sloshing over the rims.
Fortunately, Meghan was free of disease. But the Lovelands weren't quite free to call her their daughter.

Fifteen minutes before the court hearing for custody, the girl's 22-year- old mother demanded $1,000 for her child - the equivalent of three years' salary in the car factory where she worked.

"I was absolutely livid," Loveland said. "I was nauseated that a mother would try to profit from her child like that."

But Loveland, 42, was also afraid of losing Meghan. With a family history of Down's syndrome, she didn't want to bear children of her own. And she already had grown attached to another Romanian infant, only to learn later that the girl had AIDS. (The U.S. government bars those infected with the AIDS virus from entering the country, a restriction that will be rescinded June 1.)

Loveland appeased the mother with $400 and returned home with Meghan in December.

Although she's almost 2, the girl still can't drink from a cup and hasn't quite mastered hugging.

But she learned to walk her first week here - even though she'd never even crawled in Romania.

"It's such a joy to watch her grow, to feel you've made an impact on some little soul," Loveland said. "I can't stop smiling. By the time I go to bed at night, my smile muscles are aching." Last year's overthrow and subsequent execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu brought to light deplorable conditions in the country's orphanages, home to more than 100,000 children discarded by their desperate, impoverished parents.

News reports showed hordes of emaciated children wrapped in soiled rags - the tragic result of Ceausescu's repressive policies. Birth control and abortion had been outlawed, and women had been required to bear at least five children to increase the country's labor force.

So far, about 200 Romanian children have been adopted by Americans, according to the U.S. Department of State. Many more will be adopted soon.

Romania is a particularly popular location for adoptions, social workers say, because it is a rare source of white children.

"People want children to blend into their families," said Hemlata Momaya, executive director of Bal Jagat Children's World Adoption Agency in Chatsworth.

Romania also is enticing because, unlike some countries, it doesn't prohibit single people or those over 40 from adopting infants.

"Romania has no policy with adopting," said Emil Cobar, a West Los Angeles resident who was born in Romania and now helps Americans locate Romanian orphans to adopt. "As long as you're healthy and don't have a criminal record, you can adopt."

According to Kathy Loveland and others, however, a lot more is required. Most important, they say, are patience, flexibility and emotional strength.

"None of this stuff is for the faint of heart," said Judy Gish, a West Los Angeles resident who adopted a 4-month-old girl, Alina. "I found Bucharest to be the spookiest, creepiest, most horrifying place."

In many parts of Romania, hot water runs only a few hours a day, and the lines for food seem endless. Adoptions involve mounds of paperwork, but the country doesn't have copy machines; duplicates are made by "professional" typists, who hunt and peck on manual typewriters.

Far worse, however, are the emotional setbacks. When Kathy Loveland learned that the first baby girl she wanted had AIDS, she was devastated for both the child and herself.

"It was like somebody dropped a cold stone into my stomach," she said. ''But you can either wallow in self-pity or remember that this is a job. You're on a mission."

Furthermore, many warn, rampant corruption is making the mission more difficult.

"After adoptions in Romania became popular, lawyers became greedy," said Momaya, a licensed social worker. "People get intimidated, and they are desperate, so they pay. The price goes up every time you go." No matter when you go, the price can vary greatly. Some families have spent $5,000 to adopt a Romanian child; others have spent $35,000.

Those who do the legwork themselves tend to pay less and spend a month or two in Romania. Others, who pay lawyers to locate children and complete the paperwork, tend to pay much more and leave the country after a week or two. But it doesn't always work out that way.

The Romanian Orphans Support Group of Canada tries to help parents keep the cost down, according to founder Sonya Paterson of Langley, British Columbia. The non-profit organization links families with Romanian interpreters, who then guide them to hospitals and orphanages with adoptable children. The interpreters also help clients locate the children's parents, who must give permission for the adoption.

Paterson said her group has helped more than 130 North American families, including the Lovelands. The support group also raises money to buy supplies for those children left behind, she said.

Before going to Romania with her, Paterson said, prospective parents already must have fulfilled their American adoption requirements - including a home study by a licensed social worker, criminal record clearance and certificates of birth and marriage. That process alone can take two or three months.

Paterson charges $500 for operating expenses and a $250 donation to her fund for medical supplies. Parents should expect to spend about six weeks in Romania and spend $5,000 to $6,000 for the entire adoption process, she said.

Paterson advises her clients to bring no more than $5,000 to Romania and to be tight with their money.

"If you go there and throw money around," she said, "it's very damaging for the people who come behind."

For people willing to pay more for adoptions, it's possible to avoid some of the hardships that Loveland and others have endured.
Sue and Barry Goldsmith, for instance, paid about $15,000, but they arrived home with son Joshua after just eight days in Romania. The child, who had lived in one of the cleanest and least crowded orphanages, had been located earlier by a New York attorney, who had sent the Goldsmiths pictures.

The Goldsmiths had no trouble getting permission from Joshua's teen-age mother.

"It all went unbelievably well," Barry Goldsmith said. "I was so pleased with the process and so impressed by (the attorney's) good faith."
Goldsmith was so pleased, he said, that he has begun working for the attorney, Justin Herscovici. In return for a referral fee, Goldsmith screens clients for Herscovici and helps parents with the adoption process.

Orson Mozes of Santa Monica, who isn't a lawyer but has connections with lawyers and orphanage directors in Romania, said he, too, can save his clients much hassle and heartache.

"With m Pe, the person going over there doesn't have to do any runaround," said Mozes, who calls his business the Romanian Club. Mozes, who charges $2,500, said he works with five Romanian lawyers, who locate children for his clients. Parents should expect to make two one-week visits to Romania - one to meet the child and another, six weeks later, to bring the child home. He estimates the total cost of adoption to be $9,500.

Judy Gish said she was pleased with Mozes' services.

"To me, Orson did his job," said Gish, who had no trouble adopting Alina. "He found me this baby and did what was necessary to make it happen."

Other clients, however, were unhappy with Mozes. Randy Burkardt said Mozes did locate her 3-month-old son, Harrison, but failed to deliver the daughter he also had promised.

"Anybody going over there does not need a person like Orson," said Burkardt, a Van Nuys resident who spent six weeks in Romania. "You can just go to the American Embassy, and they'll tell you what orphanages to go to."

Burkardt said Mozes told her a particular girl was healthy when, in fact, she had many problems.

Mozes maintains the girl was just small for her age. He said Burkardt ''wasn't calm and collected" and drove away the Romanian lawyer who would have helped her find another child.

"If they get unglued, it's their problem," Mozes said. "I have to stay calm."

Burkardt, meanwhile, plans to return to Romania in the spring to find a daughter. She has had a miscarriage, taken fertility drugs, tried unsuccessfully to adopt in the United States and Brazil, and has undergone seven surgeries to repair her damaged fallopian tubes.
"I'll do anything to get my second child," she said.

Mozes maintains there are no guarantees.

"Things do go wrong," he said. "A baby gets sick or the father shows up out of the blue, and lawyers have to find another baby. I tell everybody
that anything can happen."

Pam Watson says Mozes did not prepare her for the heartache sh Pe suffered.

"Everything he said was wrong," said Watson of West Los Angeles, who spent five weeks in Romania. "He really doesn't care about anything but money. . . . He scammed us."

Mozes said he located an infant girl for Watson, but at the last moment, the girl's father refused to relinquish her. Watson, however, said Mozes' story was inconsistent and believes he had never located a girl for her.

That disappointment was the first of many on a trip she compared to a ''bad Soviet spy movie."

She said Mozes and a Romanian lawyer took her to another orphanage and gave her 15 minutes to pick out her top five choices. Most were not healthy, she said. "One was a product of incest, one was HIV-positive, another was mentally retarded."

Finally, she found a few babies she wanted to adopt, but she said she never heard back from Mozes or the lawyers. Mozes maintains he gave Watson an hour and a half to look for children and that she didn't give the lawyers enough time to locate the children's parents.

Watson ended up finding her 6-month-old daughter, Lacy, through other connections she had made during her trip. During the month she stayed in Romania to complete the paperwork, Watson said, she and Lacy stayed in a one- bedroom apartment with as many as five members of a Romanian family.

The family members bound Lacy's arms and legs - a common Romanian custom intended to straighten out a baby's legs and keep the baby from scratching its face. They wouldn't let Watson feed or change the baby, who wasn't yet officially hers.

"Every night I'd go to bed and I'd cry," she said. "I'm a strong person, and I can take a lot, but I was worn down."

Watson brought Lacy home in December. When she first met her daughter, Watson said, the girl was listless and apathetic.

"It was almost like she'd lost her soul," Watson said.

Now, Watson said, "the minute you look at her, her whole face breaks into a smile."

CORRECTION PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 10, 1991
FOR THE RECORD

A story about the adoption of babies from Romania (L.A. Life, Jan. 20) contained incomplete information. Orson Mozes, president of the Romanian Club in Santa Monica, refunded money in full to Pam and Doug Watson because the couple did not receive a child through services.

Randy Burkardt paid consultation fees to Mozes for one child only and received one child, although she had wanted two. Mozes later returned half of her money because she was disappointed that she was only able to adopt one child.

Pound Pup Legacy