I had previously in 1991, seen a 20/20 news report about the plight of Romanian children in orphanages and grieved about it for days. At that time I had just married, my husband, Robert told me if I felt so strongly about it, I should go and get a child. Unfortunately at that time he didn't see the news piece, so his heart wasn't as torn as mine was, and I knew he wouldn't take off work to follow me to a former Soviet blocked country to adopt, especially since it might take months...how insane was that in 1991?!
Things progressed throughout the years, and I did some humanitarian missions numerous times in Mexico with other teams from different areas of the US. Always, as I held the poor, sick, malnourished, and hungry children, my thoughts would go back to Romania...Russia...and the former communist nations' oppressed children imprisoned in orphanages. Always I would see the precious contents that the understaffed, under financed and degenerating orphanages contained inside the walls of peeling gray paint and crib lined rooms. A haunting self-rocking child in a semi-fetal position would appear and I would see this vision over and over. I would see children crying alone, without sound, without voices, without tears. I knew God was trying to tell me something, I just wasn't listening.
We began to research adoption in Russia several years later as we experienced infertility. We found an agency that would allow us to go to the city of our exchange student daughter Inna, and stay with her family and adopt a child from the orphanage in her town in Russia. Our other "daughter" Sveta was researching for us on her own as she spent the summer home in Russia with her family. She had located us an orphanage and a contact. About that time I became pregnant and our plans changed, and we put aside the Russia idea for a bit. Unfortunately, I miscarried in late May of 1998, and the grief was too much to think about adoption for a while.
That fateful night as I surfed the web, months later, when I should have been sleeping, I saw MY child. I saw her large black eyes shining in spite of her situation with a certain brightness, they spoke to my heart. Her huge red hair bow, covered her shaven head. She obviously was coaxed to smile, and she obliged with slight turned up lips. They had dressed her in costume style reminiscent of the time that Michael Jackson toured Bucharest orphanages, and charmed the Romanian people with his style. This dress was much too big for her 4 years. The shoulder pads in the costume dwarfed her. I saw a little life thriving inside a body that had no control over her conditions. I imagined her rocking herself to sleep at night. I smelled the stench of the orphanage crowded with hundreds of children, and with too few caretakers to fully nurture my child. I watched her eat porridge and fight with other children for nourishment. I heard her calling from her crib in the dark night, saw her little hand reaching out to me "Mama, Mama!". I felt her in my arms, our hearts touching. Her name was Maria Magdalena Alexandru. She was surviving in a Romanian orphanage, where she had been most of her little life, and was available for adoption. She was our daughter.
Through huge tears, I printed out the page that contained her photo and a brief medical report. I dangled the photo in front of Robert all weekend, him laughing at my usual crazy ideas. I thought about nothing else all weekend and on that Monday I called the agency.
International adoption isn't for the faint of heart. There is a possibility that the country could close to adoptions at any time, laws and procedures can change, anything can happen. We had to jump through hoops to obtain a homestudy which is a in depth view and written report of our lives from birth to present, conducted by a social worker who was a complete stranger. This person entered our home and found out intimate details of our lives, the way we were raised, disciplined, our hopes, fears and aspirations and assessed our ability to parent a child. She didn't stay a stranger for long, we really liked her and we learned much about ourselves during the process. We continued to educate ourselves about the problems that occur with some post institutionalized children, emotional, medical, physical and learning difficulties as well as problems specifically of older child adoption.
We were fingerprinted for an FBI clearance. I have to say, there is NO way to relax your arm when a sheriff's deputy has your hand and is fingerprinting you in the interrogation room of the county jail, telling you "Ok, now just relax!" We had to pass two additional police investigations, one local and one general criminal check and be passed through the child abuse registry. We had to obtain passports. We poised our biceps several times for tetanus, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, and polio boosters, not to mention a full physical with a written report...exactly like Romania wanted. We had to meet all the requirements of the Immigration and Naturalization Service as well as the Romanian Adoption Committee. I had to scurry to obtain original certified copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees copies copies….copies everywhere! We had to have financial statements and copies of our last three years of income tax reports. Employment statements, copies of our passports, power of attorney given to a Romanian attorney to act on our behalf in court, and we have to agree to follow up with photos and reports every 6 months for 2 years. Each one of our documents had to be notarized, embossed sealed, perfect, original, and translated into Romanian. Each document passed through many hands, the INS, the US Embassy in Romania, the Romanian Adoption Committee, and the agencies both here and abroad, the courts and attorney and liaisons. I completed all the paperwork in less than a month. We began the three and a half-month wait. Although that is not a long time by international adoption standards, and for Romania, for us it was grueling. I give thanks to my internet friend Joann Vittitow for her guidance and expertise, she has 11 children! All but three of them have been adopted! She gave me such support during this time. I kept myself busy preparing for my daughter's arrival. We also had NOTHING for a 4-year-old! She would be our first. We prepared her room with the love that an expectant parent has when awaiting labor and delivery.
We were told we would be traveling in December and we purchased tickets for 3. We bought gifts for everyone involved with the adoption in Romania as a customary acknowledgement of thanks in the countries' tradition. We packed our bags with a fervor and determination. We also had to allot money to bring things home with us for our daughter to retain throughout her lifetime, so she would be able to maintain her heritage and culture and have a feeling that she has at least something left of her former life and Romanian culture.
We jumped on the emotional roller coaster for a ride to Romania. Nothing was guaranteed until we are kissing the American soil with her in our arms. Of course, nothing is really guaranteed in life anyway, there is no guarantee of a perfect, healthy biologically born child, no guarantee that things won't go wrong at any point in our lives.
So many have said, why not adopt here? After watching a few of my devastated friends go through failed domestic adoptions, and working with teens for over 10 years, and seeing all the drug and alcohol abuse we were afraid. Also knowing that teen mothers aren't very reliable to keep their word about giving their children up for adoption, knowing that the current trend of adoption is full open adoption, I just couldn't bear a domestic adoption. Besides, God had other plans for us. These are the things that God handles so well. I figured I'd let him do just that!
We knew we would have to teach Maria Magdalena English, as well as we began learning some remedial Romanian so we could communicate with her. Romanian is a beautiful language, the fourth leg of the Romance languages. We became masters of the child words...pee, poop, I love you, don't cry, what's wrong, and lets eat, sit down, don't shout, behave and it's ok!. haha
We also took along humanitarian supplies to be donated to an orphanage and our foundation's maternal center. Children's vitamins, aspirin, tylenol, syringes, desitin, vaseline, band aids, small educational toys, medicines etc. The duffel bags were overflowing with our donations!
We were about to take the leap of faith, really without adequate finances, which was frightening for us, yet we knew in our hearts this is what God wanted us to do. Thousands of couples and singles tackle the adoption fees every year to adopt internationally. We would join the ranks of the brave families who travel afar for their children, and come home changed forever.
Our plane left at 6am and we were excited about our travel. In Chicago we met another adoptive family going to Romania. We have continued to stay in touch and exchange photos of our children. We landed in Bucharest 12/5/98 together with our new friends, and braved through customs together.
Bucharest airport customs and passport control was easy and painless. There are certain things one can do to make the trip through much easier though, we were informed of these before we left. Entering the sea of sullen faces as you exit into the airport general waiting room was our first taste of culture shock. There must have been 300 people crowded into an area where only 100 should have fit. We had to make our way through the scorns and scowls of the faces. We saw a multitude of colorful costumes of many cultures, Turkish, Indian and Roma. Did we really land in Romania? The most striking thing though, the people looked so sad and worn.
We met up with our driver finally after about a 5 hour wait at the airport which included us trying to phone home on a Romanian public phone, realizing we needed to purchase a phone card, looking for ANYONE who spoke English and guarding our bags with our very lives. We were so happy to see the driver's face!!! I wanted to hug and kiss Costel (the driver), but I refrained! The airport had told him our plane was delayed because of snow and ice, so he went home to return back at the time they said we would be landing. In reality, we arrived 30 minutes earlier than our scheduled flight. The only time anything in Romania was early on our whole trip! We met our interpreter Dana, and she escorted us to our fully furnished very nice apartment. We met the apartment owner, Marta and we said goodbye to her as she gave up her apartment for the duration of our journey.
That night we could barely sleep. We would meet our daughter in the morning. We were not allowed to travel to Botosani, the city where our daughter lived, because the weather was dreadful and dangerous. Teens to subzero temperatures were miserable! We had heard news that several people had frozen to death on the road to Botosani prior to our arrival in Bucharest. The worst blizzard Romania has experienced in 40 years, on the week we travel! Walking and driving was horrible in the snow and ice. I found it amusing during our trip, the only people I ever saw fall on the ice were the three Scotts….first mama who pulled down baby on top of her, then daddy to the rescue….BOOM! People didn't even look down at us as they stepped over us to go about their business; never even looking down or back at our ridiculous poses there on the ice. How do they walk on that ice so well???
The next morning we had a plan where Robert would video my meeting Maggie for the first time, and then I would video him. Our plan went awry as we got nervous and pushed pause instead of record, so our first meeting is recorded only in our absent minds!!! The doorbell rang and I excitedly pulled the door open. There she was, tiny hand clutching her foster mother's hand, eyes bright and huge…she sprung into my arms yelling "MAMA MAMA!" She kissed my tear streamed face and I couldn't stop kissing or hugging her, then she saw her daddy…"TATA TATA!!" She leapt into Robert's arms and I saw the smile of fatherhood embrace him for the first time. This moment will forever be in our hearts…the moment we met our daughter and became parents finally after 8 long years of waiting!
We had so many questions for the foster mother about our daughter's life for the past 3 months, and she answered each one. We took photos with our Polaroid for the foster mom to remember us by. She guarded the photos as she placed them carefully in her bag, she too would be forever changed by our daughter's touch in her life. My stomach was in knots as I watched "Tanti" kiss Maggie goodbye for the last time through the car window, and gently touch her cheek and say goodbye for the last time. "Tanti" was a wonderful generous and kind woman who loved our little girl very much. She wrote us a letter later saying that her heart had been torn when she gave up Maggie to us, but she was brave, because she knew Maggie would have a better life finally. She said it took 5 months to get over her initial sadness. We are still in contact with her, she was a true angel in our daughters life and our daughter still talks about her with a huge smile on her face when she recants stories about Romania.
I must tell you that my heart is wide with emotion writing this. From the first day my daughter was warm, affectionate and oh so loving. Her foster mother should be given the badge of motherhood, for she taught my daughter well, so I applaud the foster care my daughter received. Maggie was one of the first children ever in Romania to benefit from the foster care program. I'm not certain how much Maggie knew how to do before leaving the orphanage (very little I'm sure), but she came to us self sufficient as a 4.5 year old can be, feeding, dressing, toilet trained, teeth brushing, washing herself, and playing gently with children and animals. She had 3 months with our photo album we had sent to the foundation to give to her before our arrival and it helped prepare her for us. She still looks at it and points and names everyone and kisses all the photos. She clearly had connected to us while we were anxiously awaiting our journey, and were longing for her to love us as much as we loved her.
12/6/1998 Journal entry: "Today was our second day together as a family, I must say she was calm and sweet and happy here. Any of you who questioned why we adopted an older child need not worry any longer, it is wonderful to see the appreciation and be so aware of the language development daily, as well as having someone to hold hands with and play games!!! She's focused in her play and loves to watch children's cartoons and toys with buttons, switches and knobs. She argued a bit with us about her name, but she seems to be finally getting used to us calling her "Maggie" and it fits her perfectly." She's named all her toys with the last name of Scott, it is SOOO cute! Dolly Scott, Puppy Scott, TeddyBear Scott…
12/10/1998 Journal entry: "Also I have to thank our family and friends for their prayers and support. All of you have made our family complete during this blessed Christmas season. What a present! Words really cannot convey my feelings at this moment. "Maggie" is everything we ever dreamed of and more. The foundation staff was very gracious to us, and our living arrangements very comfortable, different but comfortable. We haven't missed home much, nor have we had any really unpleasant experiences, although the weather could have been much better!" We saw the Peasant Museum and Village Museum and we purchased things for Maggie's hope chest. Costel the driver has been so fun and wonderful through the trip, he loves children and has such a calm and gentle nature about him.
Maggie busted her head open by sliding on a rug on a wooden floor and hit the back of her head on a door facing. We opted to pressure bandage her and not to take her to the ER in Bucharest. She needed a few stitches but a former scar shows she has done this very thing before, and she is healing nicely. Having this happen is not exactly what one wants to see in a country like Romania with it's poor medical situation. It was a hard decision to make. Maggie's Romanian pronunciation is poor, many can't understand what she is saying, but they keep telling me she is so bright and I know she is FULL of personality!"
12/15/1998 Journal entry: "The food everywhere is marvelous, delicious and fresh! I think I may have gained weight! Snow covered the part of Bucharest I didn't want to see anyway (some buildings in Bucharest are in a state of decay and everything dirty), and I felt a special feeling connecting to my daughter's country. Our interpreter was calm and very wonderful with us and with our daughter, as well as our driver. The people were very accommodating and kind. We had a few disappointments, not being able to see our daughter's region (Suceava, Botosani, Falticeni), because of the weather but our driver made up for that with showing us around Bucharest and making us feel at ease there. He is a young man of 26 or so, and loves children! We watched bureaucracy at work in Bucharest...and it works very slowly in Romania. Water was on and off, some days no water, some days water, some no cold, some no hot. Radiator heat was the same at a moments notice it would go off. Gas, electricity and phone the same. The people are warm and kind and special. The medical appointment went well, we only waited for about 30 minutes before being seen, and the Embassy was about 3 hours wait, but everyone there was friendly and kind. Customs in NYC was easy, however the visa processing office was the "circus" of our trip. I was feeling very fortunate that I spoke English, the officers were rude, abusive and pushy to everyone, however we made it through.
12/16/1998 Journal entry: "The plane ride home was fairly tiring, she was fussy and tired the first half, kicking the seat in front of us, shouting and being loud, only slept about three and a half hours the entire trip, but the last plane home she understood what was about to happen, she began singing "Va acasa...va acasa....va acasa America (I'm going home, to America)...Bunica America VA ACASA!! (Grandma is in America I'm going home)" She waved pa (bye) to everything in Dallas, the water, the lights, the people the cars, the airplanes..."Pa pa (bye bye) Dallas." she said, "Va Acasa!" Delta Airlines from New York somehow knew we had just adopted from a statement on our tickets, and announced congratulations to us with a hearty applause from the entire flight, and presented us with a bottle of wine before landing in Texas. Yes, welcome to the US!!!! Maggie's behavior did a 360 turn around after we landed in NYC, it was like she knew this was going to be permanent and she became calm and sweet and obedient. Although she did run away from me after we went through customs and ran through the entire terminal with me running behind her as fast as I've ever run in my life…"NO MAGGIE…AMERICA IS THIS WAY!"
We flew Tarom out from Chicago and back through NYC on our return and domestically Delta. I can't say enough great things about the Tarom flight and the new Airbus they are flying. The food was plentiful and delicious, the flight attendants were friendly and helpful and all spoke beautiful English. The ride was trouble free and the best of our entire trip. We had been previously afraid of the Tarom airline.
Our family and friends were there to meet us when we arrived home, she greeted them all with hugs and kisses, each and every one. She learns so fast and doesn't become frustrated if I don't act like I can't understand her so I will just say in English I don't understand but soon we will and she continues her chatter. And chatter she does! She's my child so I must say she's clever!!! She's already beginning to say English sentences and understands most of what I want her to do. She picks up her toys when I ask and throws things in the trash. She eats well, and everything we give her, with MANNERS even! She's a comedian, always wanting to make people laugh with her antics and only fusses when she has to sleep (she might miss something!) I'm sure these wonderful things you have heard many times before, but they are the things my Christmas is going to be all about this year, and ALL of my family, friends and my new internet friends were a part of that."
Tonight I kissed her goodnight and she looked up at me and said her first English sentence… "I love you baba" (her nose is stopped up because of her cold haha) Life can't get much better than that..."
She looks in the mirror, smiles from ear to ear, and calls herself "Maggie America." She is such a happy child.
ONE YEAR HOME:
My daughter, in the one year home, has grown and matured so much. Her English is perfect now thanks to some speech therapy intervention and she is attending public school and I'm so proud of all her achievements. She was determined to be healthy and she hasn't been ill except one time since we have returned. We are truly fortunate parents of Maggie America!
TWO YEARS HOME:
Maggie is in Kindergarten now for the second year. She really has blossomed this year and it was a very good decision for us to hold her back to allow for further social maturity. She is in Ballet, Tap Dancing, Gymnastics and Basketball. She played T-Ball in the summer and has learned how to read now. Her speech therapy has greatly improved her speech and she sounds less and less like Elmer Fudd. She has a cute little Texan accent. We are going to be sad to lose our little baby as we watch our little girl grow. She has grown 6.5 inches and we've changed tap shoes three times, once each semester her foot grows!!! She loves life, and her little world is our every dream! Everything in our life has to do with her and what we would find to make her laugh and learn to love…she is a happy well adjusted child who knows Bible verses by heart, never runs out of energy and insists on comforting a crying friend in play. She still won't talk about her orphanage life…maybe some day she will open up, for now…"Lets not talk about that mama." Every day when I tell her yes to something she dearly wants to do, she reminds me "Mama you are the bestest mama I ever did have." and oh how that makes me smile. We love this child as if we had given birth to her, there is NO difference. My little miracle, still continues to bring joy to every aspect of our life and warms the lives of others that she touches daily.
I am continually thanking God for our Christmas present in 1998, of a beautiful wide eyed Romanian treasure, entrusted to us by God, who continues a year later to bring everlasting joy into our home and our lives. Once home, I thought I would be able to move forward, but the orphaned children's faces haunted me still. I saw homeless children on the streets of Bucharest, living under the city in the sewer system, and I could not forget. My life was so profoundly changed at what I saw and experienced in Romania during our adoption journey, and on the various other mission trips I had been to in other countries, that I decided I must do more for the children. I loved idea of helping others to adopt and founded a non-profit humanitarian organization and licensed adoption agency, shortly after we returned from our adoption. Although there were organizations on the Internet that provided humanitarian aid all over the world, it was going to take a miracle to help ALL these children. God had now called this mother to do more. If one person could help one child find their forever family, assist in medical, nutritional and emotional development, or support in prayer, many children would find their Little Miracle. So the idea was nurtured and Little Miracles International was birthed. I am now the Executive Director of Little Miracles International, and assist others in realizing their dreams for a little miracle of their own.
We had a WONDERFUL trip. Of course we promised Maggie we would return, to finish her journey someday.
If you are considering adopting an older child, I'd love to sing my beautiful daughter's praises, so drop me a line!