exposing the dark side of adoption
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Nepal delay agonizing for mom-to-be


Seattle Times, The (WA)

Author: Nancy BartleySeattle Times staff reporter

In Margaret King's Rainier Beach bungalow sits a white crib that for more than a year has been filled with tiny T-shirts and diapers rapidly becoming too small for the baby she fell in love with.

Across the globe, the son she was promised, Ajaya, remains in a Nepal orphanage, a victim of politics.

Since April, when the Maoist party won seats in Nepal's parliament, all foreign adoptions have been in limbo — including Ajaya's. Some of the adopting families from the Seattle area have moved to Nepal to be near the babies and lobby the ministry in hope of speeding up the process.

The Tacoma-based

Faith International

is the primary adoption service for Nepali children in the U.S. Before last April, the agency matched about five families with Nepali infants each month, said John Meske, executive director.

The Nepali adoptions were ideal for American families because, unlike Chinese adoptions, which could take up to two years, they could be completed in six months and cost about the same — $19,000. It also was possible to adopt infants.

But in April, Maoist party member Bishwa Karma was given control over the Women, Children and Social Welfare ministry, one of the smaller ministries in Nepal. One of the first things Karma did was halt foreign adoptions and begin re-evaluating Nepal's adoption laws — a process the families see as excruciatingly slow.

As in Guatemala, which also is going through changes in its adoption procedures, there were allegations of Nepali children being given up for adoption for financial incentives and through false documentation, Meske said.

Located between India and China, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about 40 percent of the population below the poverty line.

The Maoists were elected to parliament after giving up a 10-year battle to overthrow Nepal's monarchy, and Karma "just wanted new terms and conditions" for adoptions, Meske said.

"We, like many other countries, argued that you maintain the status quo" while you're reviewing the laws, Meske said. "You don't stop the processing of adoptions. The longer the child stays in an institution, the more harmful it is to development." But he said Karma wasn't very receptive to the argument.

On Sunday, Pampha Bhusal, a feminist, was appointed to replace Karma, a move that Meske thinks is positive.

In the interim, the changes in procedures have caused a backlog of children at the Faith International-affiliated orphanage outside Katmandu and left no room for new orphans.

And it has caused grief for some 450 prospective parents worldwide who are waiting to be united with the children they were promised. Among them is King.

Her house is filled with photos of Ajaya, now 13 months old, and she receives monthly reports from the orphanage. But she is saddened to think of what she's missing — his first attempts to crawl, to walk and to speak.

It's painful for the parents who have to wait, Meske acknowledged. "They've been matched with children and bonded with them, but they are not their children in the legal sense."

Yet there is hope, he said.

Holly Tanner, 36, an Olympia physical therapist, learned on Christmas Eve that she can get her baby in mid-January. Ashok is now 19 months old. She met him in November 2006 when he was placed in her arms at the orphanage. She visited again over the summer.

"What's been really hard is the suspense. ... If we knew in advance [that it would take much longer] we could have mentally prepared ourselves. So many of the parents are so shy of getting excited. You protect your heart because you want your child home so much," Tanner said.

Nepal requires adoptive parents to make two trips — the first to meet the child they are matched with and the second to pick up the child. In between, numerous documents from both the U.S. and Nepal require approval.

King first met Ajaya in February when he was 10 weeks old.

"I've been trying to become a mother for such a long time; it was kind of surreal," she said.

She went to the orphanage and was suddenly handed a tiny baby. "He was beautiful and perfect and so tiny. It was something I've been waiting for a long time. I stayed there for almost three weeks to give myself time to get acclimated to this new reality."

Like Tanner, King, a 41-year-old social worker, will be a single mother. She returned to Nepal in August to renew her acquaintance with her son. Now that she's back home, nothing is harder than worrying about his welfare and seeing the childless crib, the tiny clothes Ajaya is growing too big for without ever getting to wear.

He's a quiet and serious child who — like most of the babies — was abandoned, King said. Infants are often abandoned in Nepal by mothers who can't afford to care for them or by unmarried women who face harsh consequences for becoming mothers.

King wonders if prolonging Ajaya's stay in the orphanage, even though it has caring nannies, will make attachment difficult for him later. And she is concerned about his health. Like Ashok, Ajaya has had pneumonia.

"It never dawned on me that he wouldn't be here by Christmas," King said.

She wants a chance to introduce her son to her family in Minnesota. She wants once again to look into the dark eyes of the baby she first held as she thought of the years she had spent trying to conceive, her miscarriages and deep longing for motherhood, and the thought that came to her on their first meeting: "So you're the one I dreamed of."

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com


Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times : Margaret King holds a picture of Ajaya, the son she was promised.

Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times : Margaret King, of Seattle's Rainier Beach neighborhood, holds a jacket she purchased in Katmandu for the child she hopes to adopt. She once thought the jacket would be too big for her child's homecoming but now fears it is too small to fit the 13-month-old boy.


2008 Jan 1