Adoption: A Love Story

Deal W. Hudson
Published January 17, 2009

I was relaxing in my favorite armchair and watching golf when my daughter, Hannah, strode into the room. “Dad,” she said, “we need to have a serious talk.”

“Okay,” I replied, turning to her.

She frowned. “You’re going to have to turn the TV off.”

“Oh.” I tapped the remote control. This was serious.

Almost automatically, she began. “Dad, I don’t really want to be an only child. I think we should adopt a baby brother.”

Silence.

After picking my jaw up off the coffee table, I found my voice. “Where did this come from?” I asked. “It’s kind of out-of-the-blue.”

She shook her head. “Not really. I just don’t want to live the rest of my life without any brothers or sisters. What would happen to me if something bad happened to you and Mom? I’d be alone.”

Sure, I understood what she meant… intellectually. My own mother was an only child and had always warned me against letting Hannah become one. Still, here I was, approaching 50. Hannah was becoming a teenager, and I was thinking more about financing her college days than decorating a baby’s room. I was comfortable, but I also felt stretched to the limit with running a magazine and trying to make a graceful trek through middle age. Another child just wasn’t part of the plan.

“Let me think about it,” I said. It was the best I could do at the moment.

Hannah would not be turned away so easily. She moved her lobbying efforts to my wife, Theresa, who is not only younger but also wiser in these matters. I don’t know that she was necessarily won over by Hannah – in fact, I suspect she’d been thinking about adopting all along. She just hadn’t told me.

That soon changed.

When they approached me together, I really felt the female pressure. Let me point out: My household is almost exclusively female. The only male soul mate I have is a white Bichon Frise named Willie who caves in instantly to anything our overstrung female standard poodle, Darcy, demands of him. And needless to say, Musette, the cat, isn’t exactly in my camp either.

I was standing against the full phalanx of female power – my wife, my daughter, and several members of the animal kingdom. Hannah began the negotiations, “Dad, Mom and I have come to a decision: We want to adopt a baby brother.”

We? I turned to Theresa. She smiled weakly and nodded in agreement.

This was going to be harder than I thought.

I put on my toughest face and asked them if they were prepared for the demands of an adopted child. “Hannah, you know this will mean less for you; you’ve had everything to yourself for a long time – all your parents’ attention and your own time and space to do what you want. You’d have to share everything, including us.”

She didn’t even flinch. “This is my brother we’re talking about here. Of course I won’t mind sharing.”

“You’d also have to split the inheritance,” I offered, a little sheepishly. That got a serious eye-roll from Hannah.

Fine. It was time for the big guns. I turned to my wife. “With Hannah going into seventh grade, you were just starting to get a little freedom during the day to do what you wanted. Do you really want to give that up?”

She paused for a moment, then shrugged. “I just always saw myself with more than one child. I don’t feel like that’s all there is for me as a parent. Besides, it’s the best thing for Hannah.”

They didn’t shrink from my questions, and frankly, I felt like a jerk asking them. But I know my family – we have a habit of diving into projects before counting the cost. This time I was going to make sure everything was out on the table.

So, with their arguments concluded and their eyes searching for my answer, it was time to render my decision: I said I’d think about it.

The following week, as I was still “thinking about it,” I walked past Hannah’s room, peeking in as I passed. What I saw floored me. There, beside her bed, my daughter was praying the rosary – for her brother!

Now don’t get me wrong: Hannah is a strong Catholic. She has gone to the local parish school since first grade and knows her faith. But she’s never been outwardly pious. That’s why her prayer stopped me cold. If she’s praying for her brother, I thought, then her brother must really be out there. Somewhere.

I walked into the kitchen, told Theresa what I’d seen, and asked, “How do we get this adoption started?”

She smiled. “The paperwork is on my desk.”

Finding the Other Hudson

Theresa started her adoption inquiries immediately. She first called Bill Pearce, who was then the head of the National Adoption Council. He gave her some good leads, including an enthusiastic recommendation for the Small World adoption agency in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Baptists, Jim Savely and Jim Savely, Jr., run Small World, whose excellent services eventually helped us to find Hannah’s unknown brother.

Small World had been working in eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Because of our combined ages, Theresa and I had decided to look for an overseas adoption. We initially considered adopting in the tiny country of Moldavia because of its friendly attitude toward Christian couples looking for children. Later, we turned to Russia when we learned that more children were available and that things would move faster.

The process of adopting overseas is arduous and expensive. After finding the agency and deciding on the place and age of the child, you must be fingerprinted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and fill out an I600A form that opens a file at the INS. Then you start what’s called a “home study.”

The home study – conducted by a licensed agency – is a state requirement that determines a parent’s financial and psychological fitness to adopt a child. It costs about $1,800. Once this has been completed and approved – about three months from start to finish – the INS passes on an approval letter to the country from which you are adopting. Agency fees are about $7,000 for a foreign adoption, and the country fees for eastern Europe run between $10,000 and $12,000. The one-week trip adds another $5,000 to the total, plus what my wife calls the “a la carte charges,” such as the cost of translating your documents into a foreign language.

All told, this was going to be an expensive venture.

Our INS letter, sent to Moscow in July 2000, was good for one year. But in August, we received some bad news: President Vladimir Putin stopped all international adoption until new regulations could be put in place to safeguard the children. Our adoption ground to a halt. For how long, we could only guess.

Cyprian

After hearing nothing from Russia for months, Jim Savely called to tell us about Cyprian, a four-year-old up for adoption in Romania. It was mid-November. If we said yes, we would have him by March.

We really hadn’t planned on an older child; we’d been looking for a boy between one and two years old. From everything we’d read and heard, we knew that the younger the child, the less likely he was to have been hurt by his surroundings or lack of nutrition. And like everyone else, we knew the horror stories about Romanian orphanages.

But by then, Jim had a good feeling for us and for what we wanted. He assured us that Cyprian was in excellent health and was a perfect fit for the Hudson family. Pictures would follow, he promised.

In spite of our trust in Jim, we were skeptical. Think about our situation: We’d gone from considering an anonymous one-year-old boy in Russia to a specific four-year-old in Romania. It was all very sudden.

That changed the next day when the photo arrived. We looked into the face of a smiling boy with remarkably big eyes – Omar Sharif eyes, I called them at the time. Cyprian radiated well-being. Nothing about him seemed beaten-down or deprived. He looked extraordinarily alive, and we couldn’t wait to get our arms around him. This was our boy, the one Hannah had been praying for. No doubt about it.

The trip was set for March. We painted Cyprian’s room blue and decorated it with an airplane motif – he’d be seeing a lot of airplanes on his trip to America. Showers were held; clothes and toys collected. Everything was ready when word arrived that there would be yet another delay: The Romanian legislature had changed the rules regarding adoption, and our legal papers had to be returned to the judge for another signature.

We waited again. The delay by the Russian government was disappointing, but we were glad the adoption procedures were being cleaned up and that the children would be safer as a result. But the delay by the Romanian legislature came as a blow. We kept looking at Cyprian’s picture, trying to imagine what he’d really be like. And was he safe and being taken care of? We didn’t know.

As summer approached, we had no idea when we would be traveling. Airfares were getting higher, and seats, especially four in the same row, would be hard to book. Matt Wray, my associate publisher, tried to keep me cheered up by scouring the Internet and sending me cheap airfare rates to Bucharest.

In mid-May, the green light came: We had an appointment with the Romanian judge on June 21, and later that day, we would meet Cyprian. Theresa bought the tickets – four in a row – immediately. She also invested in a new digital videocamera, which I thought was a bit overboard. But what the heck! This was an event we’d want to remember.

Shortly after our plane touched down, we heard that Romania, like Russia, was suspending international adoptions on that very day. We were there just under the wire!

Our Romanian host, Tudose Diaconu – a man I fondly nicknamed “the Deacon” – met us at our hotel in Bucharest. He was an attorney and former government bureaucrat who made the wheels turn in the courts and agencies that control adoption. He spoke excellent English and dressed in impeccable European fashion.

As we learned the next day, he also liked to drive fast.

The road to Galati, where we were to meet the judge, was two lanes all the way. We passed at least a dozen horse-drawn gypsy carts. Our driver, urged on by the Deacon, drove the way I did when I was a college student trying to get from Austin to Lubbock for a Friday-night date. The countryside passed in a blur as we swerved between horses and cars, blazing our way. Thanks to much prayer, we arrived safely.

Happily, the judge who would decide the adoption didn’t change his mind when he met me. Of course, he didn’t smile at me either. No matter. He gave us Cyprian’s passport.

We were ready to meet my new son in Bucharest, but there was something I needed to do first. Galati is the town where Cyprian, we are told, had lived from birth with a foster family. I wanted to meet the family. The Deacon tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted. This was important.

The apartment where he lived was pleasant enough, by Romanian standards. Still, it had a cell-block quality that made me sad. How remarkable it was that the smiling boy in the photograph could have spent so many days in such surroundings. He must be a pretty resilient character, I thought.

From the foster mother, I got another bit of unexpected news: Cyprian had not lived with her for three and a half years, as we’d been told. Cyprian had only been with them for a year. He had actually been raised in a Galati orphanage. My stomach dropped out. Life as a Romanian orphan is a hard one, sure to leave long-term scars. I told the Deacon I wanted to see the orphanage. He said we couldn’t because of all the bad publicity Romanian orphanages had been receiving from the media. It could be dangerous.

But I wasn’t leaving Galati without seeing the place where my son had spent the first three years of his life. Seeing that I was stubborn, the Deacon sighed and nodded his head.

We arrived at what looked like a concrete bunker surrounded by a tall, gray fence. Behind a rusting iron gate, I could see an asphalt plaground – consisting of nothing more than the asphalt. Really, it looked more like a prison than an orphanage. Visitors were obviously not welcome.

Being impulsive, I jumped out with the videocamera and started filming the buildings. I was suddenly surrounded by a horde of curious children, crying to have their pictures taken. Their excited voices attracted the orphanage security guard, who started running toward me. The Deacon, a quick-thinking and sensible man, grabbed my elbow and pulled me back into the car. As we zoomed away, I wondered if anyone would ever be back to save all those beautiful children.

Preparing for the Big Moment

In Bucharest, Theresa and Hannah were ready for our meeting with Cyprian. A Bucharest physician and his wife had been kind enough to take care of our son for the past month. He welcomed us warmly and seated us in the living room of his upper-middle-class house.

“I’ll get him,” he said.

Sitting alone, Theresa, Hannah, and I looked at one another knowing life was about to change in a big way. Would Cyprian be ready to leave this place, never to return? We were excited… and nervous. There wasn’t much talk.

Cyprian was rubbing his eyes when he came in. He’d just been napping. I was surprised by how small he was – the large personality I saw in the photograph had made me expect a bigger child. Theresa took the first turn trying to give Cyprian the stuffed bear we’d carried from home, but he wasn’t interested and stayed close to his foster father, hiding his face behind the man’s leg. Small talk didn’t seem to work either; it was an emotional stalemate, and we all felt awkward.

A green balloon lay nearby, and the foster father, seeing our discomfort, had the good idea of throwing it to Cyprian. He immediately tossed it back, and the ice was broken. His face went from a shy neutral into a laughing drive: Around the room he followed the balloon, from me to Theresa to Hannah. We all shared in the game and were a family from that moment on.

As we were getting into the car, Cyprian grabbed my sunglasses and put them on his face, laughing and smiling, just like the big-eyed boy in the photo. We pulled the car onto the main drive and turned back to wave a last time to his foster father. The kind man had tears in his eyes.

We had one last appointment before things were made official: A doctor had to approve Cyprian’s health. When we arrived for our meeting, I had one very simple task: to keep Cyprian from destroying the doctor’s office while we waited. It was much harder than it sounds. Believe me. Still, chasing Cyprian around was great. I already loved him, and this made running around after him okay with me. Losing control and getting out of my comfort zone felt pretty good. I was smiling so hard my face hurt.

After the physician examined Cyprian, she turned to me and said, “You have come in time for this one.” I’ve often wondered what she meant. I can only assume that she’d seen other children who had suffered the ravages of Romanian orphanages and knew about the recent moratorium on adoptions.

Cyprian kept up his fast pace as we returned to the hotel. I imagine it was highly entertaining for the staff to watch the American dad chase his four-year-old Romanian son across the lobby on the first day of their lives together.

We spent another three days in Bucharest, and thanks to Archbishop Sohu, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Romania, we learned more about that remarkable country. Supplied with an introduction, I phoned the archbishop to ask for a meeting. I was excited to meet the man who, since becoming a bishop in 1984, had been such a strong leader of Romanian Catholics under communism. After an initial interview, he invited me and my family back for dinner.

As we ate, the archbishop told us that Romania has about 2 million Catholics – roughly 7 percent of the population. He oversees two thriving seminaries serving more than 300 students. Catholics maintain a friendly relationship with the dominant Orthodox faith in the country. In fact, he recalled that Orthodox leaders were shocked at the enthusiastic reception given to John Paul II during his 1999 visit.

After dinner, the archbishop brought out gifts for our family, including a rosary for Cyprian. He put his arms around our son and prayed the Ave Maria in Romanian. Yes, we are very blessed, I thought.

Home With Our Son

We left Romania the next day, wishing we could bring a plane full of children like Cyprian home to the States. Romania is a beautiful country, with an attractive and charming people, but it will be many years before it recovers from decades of Soviet control and the corruption of the post-Soviet government.

For my part, I’m grateful my family has taught me once again the lesson of the “gift of self” that our Holy Father has so often mentioned. It hasn’t been all sweetness and light: Hannah feels the loss of attention, Theresa is often run ragged, and I’m learning every day how much harder it is to raise a boy than a girl. But it’s worth it. All of it.

Cyprian Joseph Hudson was baptized a few months later in Fairfax, Virginia. It was what’s called a “conditional baptism” because there’s no way to know whether he received the sacrament as a baby. His godfather, Tom Murray, had to do the honors of holding Cyprian over the baptismal font because his dad was recovering from an emergency appendectomy.

“Chippy,” as he calls himself, didn’t flinch as the water rolled off his brow. He handled the baptism just like he has everything else: as if he had always been with us, as if being a Hudson had been in the cards all along.

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