Christmas comes three months late to joyous family

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-25

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

Thursday night, Baby Tamia smiled, as she set eyes on her mama. And she kept right on smiling. But before she arrived, it was Christmas at the McDonald house.

Although it came exactly three months late, it was no less joyful.

The night before this special Christmas was like the night before any Christmas. Maria McDonald, a grandmother and the matriarch of the family, hardly got a solid hour of sleep.

But instead of staying up late laboring over a turkey or mixing up sweet potato pies, McDonald tossed and turned thinking about the miracle of her granddaughter's return.

"My Christmas was so sad," she said a couple of hours before she was to accompany her daughter, Carmen McDonald, to O'Hare Airport to pick up Tamia Hemphill, the 6-month-old African-American girl who has been the subject of a heartwrenching adoption battle.

Tamia is Maria McDonald's fourth and youngest grandchild.

"I didn't wrap any gifts. The things I bought for people, I handed to them," she said.

Although the house was filled with children squealing at the sight of new toys, Tamia wasn't with them. Without discussing it with her mother, Carmen McDonald boarded a flight Dec. 3 and flew to Utah, where she surrendered her baby to A Cherished Child Adoption Agency.

Ready for reunion

For the past three months, Maria and Carmen have waged a legal battle for the baby's return. Their fight ended Wednesday when Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ruled that Tamia should be returned to Illinois.

I spent several hours with Carmen and Maria on Thursday, as they waited for Bishop Larry D. Trotter -- senior pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, and recently installed presiding bishop of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ -- and DCFS officials to bring Tamia back to Chicago where the baby was reunited with her grandmother and mother.

At 5 p.m., Carmen came through the door, breathless and clutching a white stuffed polar bear, one of the Christmas presents Tamia never received.

"My mother bought it for Tamia, but she gave it to me when I got out of the hospital because she said I needed something to hold onto. But I'm going to give it to Tamia today."

"I had already shopped and had bought her outfits," Maria McDonald said.

The toys were still waiting on Thursday.

A day of anticipation

Maria McDonald woke up at 3:15 a.m., gave her first television interview at 5 a.m., and finished at 7 a.m. And then the waiting began.

"I got phone call after phone call. Bishop Trotter boarded the plane about 7:30 a.m., and he has given us an hour-by-hour blow as to what is going on. 'We are boarding the plane. We are landing in Tulsa. We have a layover.' While they were waiting. They called us just to say they were waiting."

At 5:45 p.m., the phone rang.

The first thing Carmen said was thank you. I could hear Tamia cooing on the cell phone.

"He said she has a pink ribbon in her hair and that she looked like she had gained weight," Carmen told me. There were tears in her eyes.

"I wonder how long it will take her to say mama."

Earlier, Robert Fioretti, one of the lawyers who represented the McDonalds in court, also called to let them know that he had heard from Trotter.

"He said she was crying in the background," Carmen said.

He also said that one of the social workers described Tamia as the prettiest baby she had ever seen.

Waiting, with pie

Just as on a regular Christmas Eve, Carmen, Maria and Charron Levicy, a supporter who became a family friend over the last three months, sat in the kitchen and ate sweet potato pie as they waited to make the trip to the airport.

It would be a different trip for Carmen than her last airport run.

"The first time was horrible," she said. "It was even more traumatic when I came back and realized I still wanted to be a mother. I have never been as happy in my life as I was when I had her. My whole life was kind of melancholy. When I see her, I shall be in a state of euphoria."

Tamia was expected to arrive at 9:05 p.m. She arrived at 9:22 p.m.

Bishop Larry Trotter walked off the jetway carrying the child we have come to know by her familiar, tiny pink headband.

Handing the precious bundle to me, he said, "Here is your miracle."

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