TRAVELING THE BACK ROAD TO MOTHERHOOD
THE SEATTLE TIMES
THIS WOMAN'S TENACIOUS NATURE GOT HER A SUCCESSFUL CAREER AND TWO CHILDREN TO CALL HER OWN
Author: PAULA BOCK
A YEAR AGO, A ROMANIAN TAXI DRIVER putt-putted his little red cab up to an aging hotel on the outskirts of Bucharest, unloaded a back seat piled with lilacs, tulips and asters, and witnessed an astonishing scene.
Several slightly balding American men presented the flowers to six beaming women, and the women burst into tears. It was Mother's Day, and for the first time, these women would rejoice in that celebration. Along with the bouquets, they cradled newly adopted children.
Dr. Jacqueline Farwell, a pediatric neurologist from Seattle, stood slightly apart from the other dungaree-clad moms. Her primly patterned dress belied a perilous journey to motherhood. She was not married to any of the flower-bearing fathers, or any man.
On her own, Jacqueline had negotiated the back roads of womanhood as America lurched from a generation of full-time moms to a generation of working daughters. She sidestepped traditional career paths open to women and earned for herself a high place in the medical community.
She pursued her dream of motherhood through high-tech fertility methods and adoption. But she remained childless.
Then, unexpectedly, a two-year window opened when Romanian children were available for American adoption. Jacqueline reached right through and came away with two babies, Forrest and Julia.
"Even if I think about the money, of everything I put into either endeavor, and I look at Forrest and Julia, and I say: `Were they worth it?' "
"Yes, of course," Jacqueline answers, softly touching the babies. "Yes, you were worth it. Yes you were, hon."
People tell Jacqueline she's lucky, the children are lucky.
Jacqueline smiles politely. Later, she confides, "Luck, nothing."
MAY, 1991. JACQUELINE STOOD in the dimly lit hallway of Hotel Lebada on the outskirts of Bucharest.
Her four suitcases were filled with 600 disposable diapers, 30 cans of infant formula, 13 cotton baby gowns, 12 pastel undershirts, and stuff used for bribes in an ailing communist country: cigarettes, whiskey, cakey cosmetics, men's socks.
Her hotel room was crowded with problems: a broken drain, inoperable electrical outlets, missing light bulbs. All the rooms had something wrong with them, and Jacqueline concluded that switching rooms would only be a trade-off of infirmities.
Yet in this hotel she saw reason to hope. Damp baby undershirts hung from clotheslines strung across the hall. The laundry belonged to adopted Romanian children waiting for visas to go to the U.S.
Their new American parents were the successful among thousands who went to Romania to adopt.
Every morning for a week, Mary Bonn, the Minnesota adoption-agency representative, told Jacqueline today is the day; your baby is coming at 3 p.m., you'll probably want this baby, stick around the hotel, we'll call you.
All morning Jacqueline parked on a hall bench, chatting with other parents and working on a teddy-bear cross-stitch. By 3:30, her patience was embroidered into knots and she marched into Bonn's room: Where is my baby?
Don't worry, Bonn said. We'll find you a baby, we'll find you lots of babies, we'll find you a girl and a boy and what complexion do you want them to be?
Every evening, Jacqueline rearranged the baby clothes on the shelves in her closet. "Just touching them and feeling their soft cotton made me believe that maybe I would really get a baby."
But at night, before sleep, familiar doubts would haunt her. At 44, Jacqueline's chances and choices were running out.
JACQUELINE RUTH FARWELL WAS born in the gingham aftermath of World War II; she graduated from Seattle's Roosevelt High in 1964.
It was an era when girls were sent home from school for wearing pants, when Seattle Times help-wanted ads listed jobs for men and women in separate columns, when stewardesses were forbidden to marry or wear glasses or have acne or grow old.
Jacqueline's mother was a TWA air hostess. She met her husband-to-be on a DC-3 flight. Within a year, they married. After Jacqueline was born, Kim Farwell stayed home to raise the little girl and the three babies who followed while her husband became a University of Washington physics professor and eventually vice-president of university research.
From early on, Jacqueline showed great promise. She walked at nine months, read before kindergarten, soaked up foreign languages - French, Spanish, Danish, Russian (all before college) - the way other children drank milk.
"I was awed at having a gifted girl," her mother says. "We thought education was paramount. And I also thought marrying well was paramount. It seemed to me that that brought the kind of fulfillment that most women wanted and needed. It wasn't until my children were completely grown that I realized there was more than a marriage to life."
Jacqueline always imagined she'd fall in love, marry, and have her own kids - like her mother, and all the mothers of all her friends. Of course it would happen that way.
She loved caring for children, especially baby sister Barbara.
During summers at the family's Kitsap Peninsula cabin she entertained the younger kids, crafting Pooh and Eeyore puppets from thread spools and floating twigs under the ferry slip in a fanciful game called "Poohsticks."
Yet as Jacqueline grew older, the rules of the game changed.
More and more of her friends rejected motherhood altogether, focusing instead on the fulfillment they found in their work.
Jacqueline respected their choices, but couldn't imagine not having a family herself. What she didn't realize was that motherhood was not automatic - even for those who wanted children.
IN HER BUCHAREST HOTEL, Jacqueline was among a dozen American couples, most of them childless, who had discovered the same thing.
At night, they gathered in the hallway of the Lebada Hotel, pulling worn chairs around a tired coffee table like a campfire.
They shared packets of cocoa and tea, horror stories about adoption bureaucracy and infertility treatments, and an overwhelming desire to be parents at almost any cost.
The other Americans remember that Jacqueline was always smiling. That she was competent and courageous and never too busy to care for their children. When one of their babies' breasts became infected and swollen, Jacqueline sterilized her tiny embroidery scissors, nicked the baby's skin in several places, and drained the pus-filled abscess. The baby's fever went away the next day.
Jacqueline hadn't always wanted to study medicine. At Harvard-Radcliffe she majored in linguistics and math, immersed herself in clanking steam-heated libraries and dated a lot. She had one boyfriend in particular with whom she spent cozy evenings reading aloud from worn copies of Ibsen and Shakespeare.
She added Javanese and Menomini (the language of the Minnesota Algonquin tribe) to her store of languages, and for her senior thesis traveled to Senegal to record and analyze the Bantu language of Wolof.
It was a country of bold color, intense poverty and enormous medical needs. After that summer abroad, Jacqueline decided to become a doctor.
She made that decision with the ambition that comes with youth and the confidence that comes with brains. Jacqueline did not believe she was trading her goal of motherhood for a medical career.
Others saw things differently. As a college senior, she asked her organic chemistry lab leader for a recommendation to medical school. He hit the ceiling because she admitted she wanted a family, too. "Do you know how much time it takes to keep up with medicine?" he yelled. "Three hours a day! Just to read the journals in your own field."
Jacqueline left his chalky cubbyhole of an office with red eyes and a blank recommendation form, but later went back and got a favorable letter. Jacqueline did not and never has considered herself a feminist, but she knew for sure she was an excellent chemistry student.
It was 1967 - just a year after the founding of the National Organization for Women - and the feminist movement had yet to hit campus. Few protested even though the university accepted four times as many male undergraduates as female and barred women from studying in a main university library.
For many back then, getting ahead in a man's world was a matter of conforming, of slipping by with little noise so they wouldn't notice you were different. Jacqueline never again mentioned motherhood among her life plans - even when specifically asked about it during interviews for medical school and residency.
"I knew jolly well the male candidates were not being asked about these subjects," she says.
Jacqueline started medical school in 1968, one of only 11 women in a class of 115. Of the woman doctors she saw, she wondered why none of them had families. Had they dropped out of practicing?
"I thought, `What are the options for me to become?' I really wondered."
DR. JACQUELINE FARWELL BECAME an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington. Recently, she stood with I think pride is too obscure here... a pride of doctors and a medical student during rounds in one of the bustling wards of Seattle's Children's Hospital.
Information resonated from forehead to forehead until the student faltered, forgetting the results of a spinal tap.
"You've got to nail all the numbers," said Dr. Tom Collins, the attending physician. Collins was teaching the student how to be a doctor.
It's not hard to imagine. Facing Collins, the young fellow could see quite clearly what he would become. In a few years, he would graduate from tan chinos and scruffy boat shoes to a tailored gray suit and starched button-down shirt. His blond hair would darken and recede, and he would rock back and forth in shiny loafers with hands folded behind his back, confidently hammering the importance of numbers into the next generation.
Last month, Jacqueline sat in her View Ridge kitchen struggling to think of a role model - anyone whose life she would have wanted to live. She could think of no single person. She wanted to be brilliant like her father. She wanted to be a mom like her mother.
When she wound up as chief pediatric resident at Yale, being around babies began to touch a nerve.
Once, after poking a translucent newborn with needles and tubes, Jacqueline wanted to hold the infant under a warming lamp and comfort him. Not even cuddle the baby, because he was too sick and too tiny. But pick him up gently, lift him into his isolette, pat him tenderly.
They wouldn't let her. That was the nurse's job.
"Whenever I recognized those feelings in myself, I said, `You should do that with your own children. Your job isn't the place where you satisfy those needs.' "
By the time Jacqueline was 32 and appointed assistant professor at the UW, her biological clock and race for tenure were in shoulder-to-shoulder competition. But her five-year relationship with a neurosurgeon had fizzled, and she never fell in love again.
Evenings, rain pounded the corrugated fiberglass above Jacqueline's back porch. "Sometimes, it's a comforting sound just because it's nice for there to be any sound at all. Other times, it's lonely. Sort of as though I would not be able to hear it if my house were full of noise of other people living there, and I can only hear it because they're not, because only I live there with my cats who are not noisy."
SUMMER WAS RIPE ON the Kitsap Peninsula and Jacqueline was 35, walking barefoot on the beach with her brother Bruce and sister Barb, spilling thoughts about future and family and wanting to share childhood summers with another generation of Farwells.
"Of course," Jacqueline announced, "I could have children without getting married. It can be done."
It was a scary and delightful idea. "I couldn't wait to do it.
Couldn't wait to get pregnant and then tell everybody about it," Jacqueline says.
"I believe I project an image of being fairly conservative and straight-laced and conventional and I just thought it would be fun to be all those things and single and pregnant. I felt free. It was empowering and liberating to say: I could do that!"
But she wanted to get promoted first.
In academia, a person must research, publish papers, and be promoted in seven years or they're out. Jacqueline was fast approaching judgment day and the committee of seven middle-aged conservative men who would decide whether to let her join them. She imagined facing their neckties at the end of long polished table, conspicuously bulging with child.
"Could those guys promote a woman into their senior ranks who had just become an unwed mother?" she wondered.
Jacqueline was promoted. She never became pregnant.
Not that she didn't try. She spent $30,000 (a third of that covered by insurance) and four years attempting artificial insemination and, when that failed, high-tech surgical procedures including GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) and ZIFT (zygote intra-fallopian transfer).
Jacqueline was not sorry or guilty about chasing an extravagant dream. Nor was she alone. In 1988, 1,346,000 American patients sought infertility treatments at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. Since then, the numbers - and the dollars - have most likely gone up.
"It was certainly a luxury," Jacqueline says. "If we had socialized medicine, I'm sure it's something I would never have been allowed to do. But this is a capitalist country, so it was my money and to me it was worth it. No question."
She described the process with clinical precision, facts clicking by fast and efficient: follicle, hormone, Pergonal, Clomid, laparoscope, donor sperm, zygote, aspirated fluid ... Suddenly, she paused - a plunge in the graph - and said, quietly, "It was devastating."
For Jacqueline, the pain was not in injecting herself with Pergonal every morning, or being rudely shoved from mood to mood by powerful hormones, or wasting medical resources. The tragedy was that she never became pregnant.
"I grieved for her," her father says. "We all did."
While going through infertility treatment, Jacqueline also contacted more than a hundred agencies about adopting a healthy infant of any gender, race or nationality, and went through the agencies' extensive screenings. Most turned Jacqueline down because she was unmarried and, at 40, too old.
Then in December 1990, a Kansas City adoption agency told Jacqueline she could adopt a just-born baby boy if she flew to Romania the following week. It meant canceling her annual Christmas open house. Jacqueline dashed off notes to 200 guests: I've gone to Romania to adopt a baby. Party postponed until January.
It was the first time most of them realized Jacqueline wanted to be a mother.
JACQUELINE HAD EVERY reason to be hopeful on her first Air Tarom flight to Bucharest, December 1990. That year, more than 2,000 Romanian children were adopted by Americans.
News reports showed grim details of the country's decline under the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Hurt most by Romania's poverty and restrictions on family planning were the unwanted children parents couldn't afford to feed or clothe.
Americans flew to Romania hoping to adopt them.
The crew had crammed the plane's front rows with wobbly cardboard towers of cheap American goods - stuff that could be converted into power in Romania. Amused, but not alarmed, Jacqueline did not realize this bizarre marriage of the worst of communism and the worst of capitalism would characterize the rest of her journey.
Jacqueline wasn't shown the promised newborn boy until after a week of driving around the northern countryside with a corpulent and corrupt British baby broker and an American couple who also wanted to adopt.
When she unwrapped the infant from a length of urine-soaked muslin, he scissored his legs, arched his back and splayed his arms with thumbs curled inside spastic hands. He would not look at her face, an instinct normally wired into babies' brains so their moms will feel loved. It didn't take a pediatric neurologist to figure out the infant was severely brain damaged
Furthermore, the baby's mother, a cancer patient, had not yet decided to give up her son for adoption. The Romanian doctors were furious because they thought Jacqueline was trying to steal a dying woman's son.
Jacqueline, heartbroken and angry, realized the baby broker deceived her. She flew home that night on a plane packed with couples holding adopted children. Buckled into a Swiss Air seat, Jacqueline sobbed all the way to Zurich.
She never again saw the baby broker or the $3,000. Yet no one was surprised five months later when she went back to Romania. This time, a Minnesota agency had promised her two babies.
BUCHAREST, MAY 1991. JACQUELINE, finished with the teddy-bear cross-stitch, was in the hotel hall sewing an Advent calendar when Mary Bonn, the Minnesota adoption-agency representative, asked her for some baby blankets.
Twin infants, a boy and a girl, were available for adoption in the countryside. Jacqueline rushed to get the blankets and imagined the blue and white cloths coming back with her babies inside.
It was after midnight when Bonn returned, without the twins.
They were gorgeous, she told Jacqueline, and lived in a barn. But their mother could not produce their birth certificates. Without the documents, the U.S. embassy would never issue visas for the babies.
Jacqueline's baby blankets were returned soiled with pig dung because Bonn had slipped coming out of the barn.
Finally, on Saturday morning, Bonn brought Jacqueline a tiny baby girl with pretty dark curls and large dark eyes. The infant was frail and beautiful and while waiting for her birth certificate to arrive, Jacqueline showed her off to other parents in the hotel.
That same evening Bonn gave Jacqueline a handsome healthy infant boy complete with umbilical cord and birth certificate, and said: Well, do you want to make this a pair?
Overwhelmed, Jacqueline agreed to keep both children through the night even though the baby girl did not have a birth certificate. Suddenly, with two infants asleep in suitcases padded with blankets, the hotel room felt cozy. Jacqueline took Polaroids of the babies and stuck them on her mirror; now when she saw herself, she didn't look so alone.
The babies cried all night and the new mom ran from one to the other, feeding, changing, burping, soothing. When Sunday dawned, Jacqueline was exhausted.
The baby girl's birth certificate arrived that morning, and Jacqueline could tell from her birth date and her weight that she was two months premature, a big health risk. "I said to myself, this is the most important decision I've ever made in my whole life and I shouldn't do this on no sleep."
Yet after so many years of pursuing motherhood, Jacqueline had mastered hard decisions.
"I sort of knew I had to, in cold blood, give her back right then if I was going to because she would be too much mine if I kept her any longer. She was beautiful. She was gorgeous. She was a lovely little dark girl." She was later adopted by another American family.
Though Jacqueline didn't know it, the baby girl she would adopt was born that morning. A week later the infant, still dewy from the womb, was given to Jacqueline, and the new mother named her daughter Julia Alina. She named her son Forrest Bruce.
The boy and girl protested the transition from natural to adoptive mother with inconsolable screams. They were breastfed before they were bundled into a car and driven to the city.
Jacqueline knew the rubber nipple of a baby bottle was no substitute for a mother. She pushed the guilt to the back of her mind and vowed never again to disrupt her babies' lives.
The only thing left to do in Romania was paperwork - and meeting her children's mothers.
In a creaky Bucharest courthouse, three women stood shoulder to shoulder, ready to scratch their signatures on documents. Forrest's mother looked on with arms folded across her chest, a white kerchief tied neatly in her hair.
Julia's mother, graceful even in peasant clothes, walked over to Jacqueline, lifted the baby blanket, and peeked at her sleeping daughter. "I think she was trying to say to me, `Look how beautiful she is,' " Jacqueline recalled. Or perhaps she was saying goodbye.
"I couldn't fathom what they might be thinking," Jacqueline says. "They both seemed remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing. To say they seemed happy or sad or anything else would be reading too much in. Things I couldn't really see there."
In a place where the price of adoption was equivalent to several years' wages, where birth control and abortion were banned, it was easy to see how an American woman's dream could quickly become a Romanian woman's nightmare.
The possible scenarios were not pretty. Were the mothers really the mothers? Were they a front for a black-market baby operation? Had some unscrupulous baby broker seen a cash windfall?
Most likely, the story was of simple sadness. Of haves and have nots and the painful choices some women made to get what others took for granted. In Jacqueline's case, children. In the peasant mothers' cases, food.
Jacqueline hoped her children were conceived in love and not in greed, but realized she was part of the market force that drove Romanians to sell their motherhood. "I keep saying the reason they gave up their children was that they couldn't support them, but I don't actually know that," she says. "It bothers me. It's creating something unnatural ... I wish I had managed to get pregnant."
Elena Parpa, Julia's mother, and Floarea Sandu, Forrest's mother, each picked up a pen and signed away their youngest to another mother.
The three women met again in Giurgiu province, a fertile green land nestled in the plain of the Danube, where Julia and Forrest might have grown up.
In front of Forrest's small brick house, a lawyer unloaded from the trunk a dark cloth sack bulging with faded pink, gray and green Romanian bills. One hundred lei was 60 American cents - more than the average Romanian earned in a day. The sack held 500,000 lei - $3,000 American dollars. It was a sad fortune.
ON THE FIRST anniversary of their arrival in America, Forrest and Julia wake up and they smile and gurgle until Jacqueline comes with their bottles.
Their mother's face is flushed and sweaty; her hair, messy. She looks very real and very human. And Jacqueline is realistic about why humans want to have babies.
"I adopted them because I wanted them, because of the joy they're going to give me," she says. "That is much more real in my head than what a gift I'm giving these children."
Jacqueline cradles the babies in her lap one at a time, talking softly to the children as they suck on their bottles. Every morning, this is the happiest moment of Jacqueline's life.
"I feel loved and wanted," the mother says. "At this stage in their lives, it's purely because I bring the food. But it still feels good."
Someday, when Julia and Forrest are older, Jacqueline will tell them everything she knows about Romania and their birth mothers. She'll help them search for their Romanian siblings if they want. Most of all, Jacqueline wants her children to know how she came to be their mother.
"It's a story of which they are very much the heroes," Jacqueline says.
Julia and Forrest can almost walk and almost talk, but it will be a long time before they understand their mother's life and decide who was really the hero in the story, or if the story has a hero at all.
Paula Bock is an education reporter for The Seattle Times. Harley Soltes is the Pacific staff photographer.