Finding baby to adopt takes time

Date: 1984-05-09

Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
Author: Janet Staihar , Associated Press writer

WASHINGTON -- The hunt began by flipping through the Yellow Pages. For a while, it was tantamount to shopping for a baby.

The adoption of Devlin Jordan Barnes, like so many other children who find homes in the United States, was a maze of wrong turns, doubts and sheer luck.

The legal labyrinth ended 22 months later at his formal adoption in the Montgomery County, Maryland, courthouse as the judge said: "Don't let him touch that red button! It'll bring in the armed deputies!"

We lurched onto the adoption route in January 1982. We had a then-5-year-old boy, Elliott, and, for various reasons, chose to adopt a second child.

At that time there were no wrenching news articles about American couples so frustrated with the red tape and requirements of adopting babies domestically that they were duped into paying bogus adoption services for Mexican babies that perhaps never existed.

The National Committee for Adoption in Washington, D.C., says that between 1976 and 1981 there were 33,231 children legally adopted from out of the country, 18,295 of them Korean.

Because of fraudulent adoptions, Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., is proposing legislation that would make it a federal crime to offer a fake adoption service either interstate or international. Now most adoption services are regulated by state laws. Dole's bill would penalize lawbreakers with a $10,000 fine, 5 years in jail or both.

For us, there were many sleepless nights, agonzing over whether it was the right thing to pay more than $4,000 in adoption fees -- was it really buying a baby? Actually, our money paid the cost of social work, plane fare from abroad and agency operating costs, not negotiated fees to murky middlemen.

Each step we took brought up new feelings of, "Do we really want to go through with this? What if we don't like the kid? What if we change our mind? When can we turn back?"

In our case, we plowed on through the Yellow Pages, calling adoption agencies and church-related charities.

Right away, it became clear that we would have difficulty. Neither I nor my husband are affiliated with an organized religion, the source of many adoptions. He also has two college-age daughters by a former marriage.

Agency after agency other told us that adopting a white U.S.-born infant would be impossible. Most required that neither of us have a biological child. Most required that we take a sterility test and be found incapable of having natural children. Our age was also against us -- we both were in the early 40s when the process began.

Changing societal values make healthy, white, adoptable babies scarce in the United States, they told us. Unwed mothers -- no longer so burdened by the stigma of bringing up a child -- are less often giving up their babies. And the ease of obtaining a medical abortion also depletes the bank of adoptable babies.

Two agencies handling only black infants discouraged cross-racial adoptions. They said it's better for the child's self-identity. But they said black couples have virtually no wait for adopting black babies.

Three weeks later, I had a briefcase full of scribbled notes from telephone calls to agencies in Florida, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

I became discouraged and confused.

Once I cautiously asked Elliott if he would like a little brother, and he shot back, "No, he'll steal my toys."

Although my husband -- a lawyer whose expertise later saved us hundreds of dollars in legal fees -- was agreeable to an adoption, he left it up to me to track down a child.

One rainy night I drove to a county family service meeting in Maryland set up for those interested in providing homes for young children bounced around from foster family to family.

The women conducting the meeting implied we would be just looking for trouble if we took one of those children. I left before coffee.

Still another time, I traveled at night over the back roads of suburban Baltimore, just to sit through a church-sponsored meeting where we were deluged with charts that proved we had no chance of adopting.

Eventually I found a help group called FACE (Families Adopting Children Everywhere), made up of parents with adoptive children. FACE, operating in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas, holds information classes for prospective parents to tell first-hand about the joys and tribulations of adopting children.

FACE also acquaints people with adoption agencies that might be of help. Certain adoption agencies require clients to attend FACE classes before getting a child.

About the same time, I called Associated Catholic Charities, Inc., in Baltimore, an organization that works with Holt International Children's Services in South Korea. Begun after the Korean War as a Eugene, Ore.-based non-profit child placement agency, Holt has placed more than 38,000 children from Korea, Thailand, India and the Philippines in American homes.

Catholic Charities' international program, unlike its domestic program, had no religious or sterility qualifications. Case worker Sally Clemons, a Mormon with 14 adopted children, didn't dwell on past marriages, current children or advancing age. She sent an application, asking what sort of children we were interested in, and asked if we would take a handicapped infant.

We replied that we might consider a relatively minor handicap, but we did not feel capable of rearing a severely handicapped child.

We were required to attend two all-day group analysis sessions at Catholic Charities with two social workers and four other adopting couples, write a detailed autobiography, evaluate our mate's personality, write how we would raise an adopted child and make full financial disclosure.

All went rather well until Clemons came for the first of two home studies. Then, the moment she stepped inside, there was a crash and a piercing scream from the living room. We rushed in and found a big ceramic bowl in pieces on the floor, and Elliott, the consummate actor, cowering under a table, shrieking: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

The visit ended 90 minutes later with Elliott demanding that she find him "a blue-eyed, blond-haired" Korean brother.

Despite the incidents, the caseworker called several weeks later to say she had a candidate -- the healthy 3-month-old baby of an unwed Korean factory worker.

He turned out to be Dev.

We changed his name from the Korean, Oh Jong Doo. If he's going to live here, we reasoned, he might have fewer identity problems with an American name.

Korea has been over the years a prime source for American couples seeking children, partly because of the Asian culture that puts so much importance on family lineage. Children born out of wedlock or those from mixed parentage do not have good marriage or job prospects in Korea.

An unexpected problem that arose was over a maternity leave. It took some negotiation with company executives to agree to paid time off on the same basis as mothers who gave birth to biological infants.

Dev, along with five other Korean infants, arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Sept. 25, 1982 -- eight and one-half months after we began exploring adoption, or slightly less than a normal pregnancy.

All our worries about whether the boys would take to each other vanished in a moment. Elliott worships his dark-haired brother, although certain prized toys are still off-limits. Dev tries to do everything Elliott does, and loves to wake him in the morning by jumping on top of him.

Although we have heard none of the racial slurs or tasteless remarks that we were warned to expect, the boys do draw attention. At Disneyland, as the boys' grandmother wheeled Dev amongst the rides, a grand old Asian gentleman did a double take when he saw the two un-alike children. Then, passing by, he tipped his hat.

Elliott Barnes, right, holds out his arms to catch his little brother, Devlin. "Dev" is a Korean orphan who has recently been adopted.


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