Romanian Boy Comes Home To Calistoga

Date: 1991-08-20

The murky world of Romanian adoptions gets more complicated

LORI OLSZEWSKI
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Teresa and Bill Butler journeyed 6,000 miles from their Calistoga home to Bucharest to make sure the 2-year-old Romanian boy they were adopting had not been sold by his mother.

"With all the publicity about Romanian baby selling, we felt we had to come in person and meet the mother," said Teresa Butler, who arranged the adoption through an American agency.

"We had to hear from the mother herself that this was her choice, and she had not been paid," Butler said earlier this summer in her Napa Valley home as she cuddled her adopted son, Cristian Bogdan. The toddler, whom the American family has nicknamed "Beau," is the child of an unemployed and unwed Romanian woman who was kicked out of her mother's home in a remote village near the Russian border because of her pregnancy.

The same month the Butlers joyfully returned to Northern California with their adopted child, Burt Dragin and Nadine Payn of Berkeley left Romania thousands of dollars poorer in travel costs and without the little Romanian girl with whom they had fallen in love.

Since last August, they have consulted with five Romanian lawyers and a paralegal, but none has been able to navigate the bewildering bureaucracy required to establish a birth certificate for 4-year-old Maria, an abandoned child living with a foster family in Bucharest. Without the certificate, they cannot get into a Romanian court.

"There has been a lot of anguish, but we are not giving up yet," said Dragin.

The plight of these two couples illustrates what can happen in the labyrinthine world of Romanian adoptions. In a system rife with bribery, baby selling and bungling bureaucracy, there are as many nightmares as there are storybook endings.

Adoption mania swept through Romania after Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed in December 1989, and the world learned that his ban on abortion and contraception had resulted in thousands of abandoned children, many of them never claimed from the maternity wards of hospitals.

Waves of foreigners, from Italians to Americans, stormed the country in search of the orphaned babies

they saw on television. In 1990 alone, 3,000 Romanian children left the country, about 500 of them adopted by Americans, according to the U.S. State Department.

Agencies and others involved in the adoption craze say many parents went to Romania because it is one of the few foreign countries where Caucasian babies are widely available for adoption. But the truth is that many of the institutionalized children were handicapped or sick, with diseases such as hepatitis B -- not the so-called "designer" babies some people had sought.

An overwhelmed Romanian government limited access to the children in institutions, but an underground baby business surfaced to satisfy the insatiable foreign demand for children. Taxi drivers, waiters and unscrupulous lawyers all got into the act of helping to locate children for anxious Americans who did not understand the language or culture.

Faced with worldwide publicity about the baby trade, the Romanian government is taking steps to regulate foreign adoptions. It has passed a law establishing a national adoption commission that is supposed to enforce tougher regulations.

Until the commission is up and running, which may not be until September or October, there will be no adoptions unless a Romanian court file on the child was opened before July 17, a State Department spokesman said. And many wonder how long the moratorium will last.

The Butlers squeezed in under the deadline, but not without difficulty.

They turned to Romania after being rejected for an adoption in Thailand, where Bill Butler, 49, had been shot down during the Vietnam War. Butler, a Napa Valley veterinarian, was a prisoner of war and had wanted to adopt a Southeast Asian child.d Kenzie, 4.

"We definitely weren't looking for a perfect little white baby," said Teresa Butler, who fears all Romanian adoptions are being unfairly tainted by the publicity about unscrupulous practices. "We wanted to adopt from a country that needed some help."

They read about an international adoption agency, Rainbow House of New Mexico, in a magazine, and approached the agency last fall. They paid a $7,000 fee, and Rainbow House handled the Romanian red tape with ease. Their biggest obstacles came from the U.S. Embassy, they said.

"The decisions I witnessed by the embassy employees were absolutely arbitrary, made on the whim of the moment," said Butler. "I think inefficiency and harassment were built into the process because (U.S. government officials) do not want people adopting over there."

For example, the Butlers were turned down for an appointment after standing hours in line because of a missing piece of paperwork. However, a woman with the same problem got her appointment after she burst into tears.

The Butlers have no doubts that Beau's 20-year-old mother, Laura, could no longer take care of her child.

The toddler's body was covered in a rash because she could not afford soap to wash him, and she was on a waiting list to abandon the boy to an institution. The boy had ear and intestinal infections, and he is small for his age because of inadequate nutrition in a country where food shortages are chronic.

In the lobby of a Bucharest hotel, Beau's hair looked jet black. At his new home in Calistoga, many baths later, it was light brown.

"I do not think it fair when people question how the Romanians can give away their own children," said Teresa. "I know Beau's mother did it as an act of love because she could not afford to take care of him."

In an emotional moment, Teresa gave Beau's biological mother a plain gold cross like the one she wears around her neck. When Laura saw that Teresa Butler was left-handed, just like her son, she said, "It is God's guidance."

When it was time to say good-by, Laura kissed the son she called Bogdan and said, "These are your new parents."

The Butlers tried to change his name to Luke, but the 2-year-old looked up with his dark, wise eyes and refused. "He turned to us and said, `No Luke. Bogdan.' So we nicknamed him Beau," she said.

Theresa, who was adopted herself, said she also wanted to meet the mother so she could answer some of her son's questions about his background. They are saving a videotape of Laura.

Beau, who still likes to speak in Romanian, asked his new mother for a cracker.

Butler smiled at his son and said, "My greatest hope for Romania is that there won't be any more adoptions, that they will be able to take care of their own children."

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