exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Under one roof


Under one roof

The Palmer family, with mother Michelle (center) holding Charlotte,
age 1, and (from left) Emma, age 9, Noah, age 7, father Adam, Dorothy,
age 4, and Marly Bareis, age 16, outside their home in Tulsa. MICHAEL
WYKE/Tulsa World

By MATT GLEASON World Scene Writer
Last Modified: 11/9/2008  2:18 AM

A Tulsa family struggles to bring their African son home

An envelope arrived in Michelle Palmer's mailbox in September. Inside
was the answer to her family's greatest question: Will her 4-year-old
son, Francis, finally come home to Tulsa?

It's a strange question. The Palmers are the boy's legal guardians.
Still, Francis remains in an African orphanage.

If his adoption had gone as planned in 2006, Francis would be here
now. Instead, red tape had separated the child from his adoptive

All that red tape didn't care if Michelle fell in love with Francis
during two extended trips to Uganda. And it didn't care if Francis
fell in love right back.

Michelle is a home-schooling mother in Tulsa. Her husband, Adam, writes

In the mid-'90s, Adam and his buddy, Ryan Anderson, formed an acoustic
band featuring Michelle on vocals.

The two Oral Roberts University freshmen vowed to never date
16-year-old Michelle. They feared it would ruin the band. It took Adam
less than a year to break the pact.

These days, Adam and Michelle are a band called the Embers.

Away from the stage, the Tulsa couple has four biological children,
ages 1 to 9. They also took care of 16-year-old Marley, a family
friend, for several years.

So, at least for a time, it was a Partridge-sized family. But it
wasn't big enough. They needed Francis.

In 2004, someone dropped a pregnant woman off at a Uganda hospital.
Soon after, she gave birth to a premature baby boy. Days later,
complications from AIDS killed her.

As word spread of the mother's death, a man arrived at the hospital to
look at the AIDS-free child. A nurse asked whether he was the boy's
father. The man said nothing. When the nurse turned away, the man

"Abandoned Francis," was the name printed on his birth certificate.

Once the child arrived at Amani Baby Cottage, Francis grew up cradled
in the arms of, as Michelle calls them, his "African mommas."

But Francis needed only one momma. He would wait for her.

In August 2005, Michelle and Adam watched a video at Believers Church.
It chronicled a mission trip to Uganda that featured many orphans from
Amani Baby Cottage — orphans like Francis.

When the video ended, Michelle could barely see through her tears.

"I just want to take them all," she thought to herself.

Then Michelle realized her reaction might be planted by God, so she
prayed: "If you're talking to me, God, that's crazy. I'm not going to
do that to Adam because I'm always roping him into these little crazy
things. So if you're seriously wanting us to take one of these kids,
then tell him."

On the drive home, Adam turned to Michelle and said, "We can't take
them all, but we can take one."

The next day, they called Amani Baby Cottage.

"I have this little boy," the orphanage director told Michelle. "He's
13 months old. He's like the jewel of the orphanage."

A week later, the Palmers understood why. How could they not adopt the
boy in the e-mailed picture?

It would be expensive. They would need help from friends, family and
the church.

They got it.

In March 2006, Michelle flew to Uganda to carry her boy home. During
the plane ride there, Michelle wondered, "Is he going to love me?" She
got her answer soon enough.

Francis' lifelong wait was almost over. He was about to meet his mother.

Two days after Michelle arrived at the orphanage, Francis would scream
even if the "African mommas" tried to hold him. Francis had found his
mother, and he didn't want to let her go.

All that remained was cutting the red tape.

Trouble was, there was a new judge in town. And as Adam explained, "He
didn't like the way the adoption laws were written. He thought the
laws were too lax."

Michelle added, "It was like he was making a statement with our case."

Four weeks after meeting her son for the first time, Michelle kissed
her sleeping child goodbye. Her tears fell. Michelle was about to
break her promise to Francis.

The one about never leaving him.

Four months later, Michelle returned to Africa. She was ready to
appeal the judge's ruling. But after several weeks, the issue remained
unresolved. So, once again, Michelle had to say goodbye to Francis.
This time he was awake.

As she walked away, the boy wailed, "Momma! Momma! Momma!"

Michelle left her heart in Africa, she said. It was wrapped in red tape.

Six months later, the Palmers' phone rang in the middle of the night.

Good news: The court ruled in their favor. Bad news: The couple had to
finalize the adoption in Uganda. But to get Francis a visa, the
adoption had to be finalized in the U.S. It was an impossible

A year later, they filed for humanitarian parole from the U.S.
Citizenship & Immigration Services. It was their last chance to bring
Francis home.

It seemed like a sure thing, even if parole is granted only "for
urgent humanitarian reasons or public benefit."

Francis, who speaks with a British accent, often tells people: "I'm
going to America on a plane. I have a mommy and a daddy. I'm just
waiting on the paperwork."

Michelle didn't need to rip open the white envelope. She knew what the
letter would say: Francis received humanitarian parole. He was coming

Michelle gathered Marley and her children in the driveway for the
impending celebration.

Then she started reading aloud.

Afterwards, 16-year-old Marley said, "You didn't read that right. I
don't think you understand what it's saying."

Michelle understood.

Francis wasn't coming home.

The children cried. Michelle did, too.

"There was nothing else we could do," Michelle said. "We had to let
him go. It was like losing a child."

Another family stepped in to adopt Francis.

Years before, Adam and Michelle realized they couldn't take all the
orphans, but they could take one. Francis was the one. They couldn't
give up on him.

A plan developed. A friend donated the cash to pull it off.

If the boy can't come home to Tulsa, the Palmers — all six of them —
will move to Jinja, Uganda, a place where electricity flows only three
days a week.

The law says that after three years of in-country fostering, the
Palmers can bring Francis home.

It's crazy. They know it. It doesn't matter. They leave in January.


Matt Gleason 581-8473

2008 Nov 9