Parents thrilled over adopted twins after long, arduous wait

Date: 1993-12-12

Marie Montgomery
Daily Breeze

Steve and Sue Hungate borrowed baby furniture and clothes from their friends last year, decorated the nursery and settled in to wait for the big day.

It turned out to be a 12-month "pregnancy."

The Redondo Beach couple, after years of wavering on whether to adopt children, decided to take the plunge when they heard about the Rev. Wayne Coombs' efforts to place Romanian orphans with American families.

But before they could bring home their twin girls, they made five trips to Eastern Europe, weathered the near-fatal illness of one twin and fought press allegations of buying babies to use for organ transplants.

Their struggle to adopt became a diplomatic nightmare requiring intervention by U.S. Congress members and Vice President Al Gore. Savings drained

The Hungates, who both work at Hughes Space Communications in El Segundo, drained their savings and refinanced their house to cover about $40,000 in expenses for the trips, medical care and adoption.

Now that 14-month-old Amanda and Betsy have toddled around their home for four months, the Hungates look back on their trying wait and say it was worth it.

"We're so excited; life is so rich with them," Sue Hungate said.

But it's hard for the couple to hide bitterness over the months they lost with the children. Amanda and Betsy were among 28 orphans caught in a diplomatic tug-of-war involving Romania, Hungary and the United States.

Coombs and his Adam Children's Fund wanted to save Romanian orphans -- most abandoned by destitute parents -- from a lifetime in orphanages, but they had to get around restrictions on foreign adoptions that Romania imposed in 1990.

The Adam Children's Fund persuaded pregnant Romanian women who wanted to give up their unborn children to travel to Hungary and leave their children there. Coombs' group then placed the children in Hungarian foster homes to await U.S. visas.

The twins' mother was an unmarried young Gypsy who worked as a basket-weaver, and Amanda and Betsy were her fifth and sixth children. She accepted the Adam Fund's offer of free prenatal care, clothing and food, and she agreed to give up the girls in Hungary.

Coombs told the thrilled Hungates he had matched them with twins, and they flew to meet them shortly after they were born last summer.

"I could pick them out in a second," Steve Hungate recalled. His wife added, "They just kind of hugged me right away; it was almost like a reunion instead of meeting for the first time."

Before the group got the twins out of Romania, they contracted food poisoning the hospital. Betsy nearly died. The Hungates and the Adam Children's Fund had to beg doctors to treat her because she was an abandoned baby.

After that hurdle, the adoption plan seemed like it would proceed smoothly. "Wayne thought this should be done by Thanksgiving," Sue Hungate said.

U.S., Romania issue

But problems developed with the U.S. State Department and the Hungarian government. Both were reluctant to set a precedent for those wanting to circumvent Romanian adoption restrictions.

Coombs and the Adam Children's Fund had to prove to a skeptical U.S. State Department that the babies had not been purchased from their mothers. Then just as things were calming down in February, the Hungarian newspapers published the baby parts stories.

Citing unidentified sources, the stories charged that the Adam Children's Fund was going to take the orphans to the United States to use for baby organ transplants.

Sue Hungate and Coombs flew to Hungary and persuaded the media that the baby parts story was a hoax, but that wasn't enough. Hungarian officials decided they would not release the orphans without permission from Romania, which Romania refused to give.

The Hungates and the other American couples trying to adopt the 28 orphans refused to resort to bribery, which "probably would have made things a lot easier," Steve Hungate observed bitterly.

Lawmakers implored

Instead, they turned to U.S. lawmakers, who in April had a chance to politically twist the arm of visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu.

Iliescu wanted free trade agreements with the United States. U.S. officials -- including Gore -- made it plain that Romania should ease its adoption restrictions if it wanted the Unites States to relax trade restrictions.

On July 5, Iliescu signed an order releasing the 28 children. Sue Hungate flew to Hungary again. This time, she brought home the twins.

But they couldn't leave without one more hitch. Security officers detained her and the twins at the Budapest airport for an hour or two before letting them on the plane. "It was like a B-grade spy movie," Sue Hungate said, shaking her head.

Parental problems

Once the family was united in Redondo Beach, the Hungates discovered it was almost impossible to get two babies on the same schedule. Feedings and playing replaced the frantic phone calls and trip scheduling that had taken up the past year.

But they still think of the children left behind in Romania.

Said Sue Hungate: "There's hundreds of thousands of children over there who will die without knowing parents, and there are thousands of parents here who will never have children."

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