Adoption nightmare

When two lesbian moms from Michigan went to Latin America to complete their adoption of two orphans, they found that the country’s poor health care system had put one child at grave risk

BY Etelka Lehoczky

July 05 2005 12:00 AM ET

[Note: This story supplements The
Advocate’s July 5, 2005, cover package on
adoption by gay and lesbian parents. —Ed.]

While the
international adoption process is often quite
straightforward—even for gays and
lesbians—relying on an impoverished
country’s bureaucracy can have wholly unanticipated
consequences.

Marlowe and
Elijah B’sheart, a lesbian couple from the Detroit
area, discovered this when they set out to adopt two
Latin American children in 2003. Their agency
identified two orphan babies living in foster care,
and the B’shearts visited the children in their
native country.

Three months
later they decided to go back for a few days to see the
children prior to the final adoption. What they found was
unimaginable.

It turned out
that one of the babies, whom they’ve since named Oz,
had caught pneumonia. He had been taken to a
government-run hospital, but in his country that was
almost worse than no hospital at all. “We moved him
to a private hospital, but he arrived with no medical
records. He had a hole in his lung and had had cardiac
arrest. The [new] doctors had no way to know how long
his heart was stopped or what had been done,” Marlowe
says. “He had first- and second-degree burns on his
back. They theorized that the [other] doctors had
tried to raise his body temperature and had burned him
quite badly.”

When Oz was
removed from intensive care, the extent of the damage was
clear. “He had brain damage. He’d gone from a
healthy baby to [being] blind and deaf. He had no suck
or swallow reflex, had constant seizures, continued
brain hemorrhaging, and his limbs were rigid and
coiled,” Marlowe recalls. “And no one
could tell us if that would change or not.”

Their agency gave
them 24 hours to decide whether to go through with
Oz’s adoption. After agonized soul-searching,
they canceled it. Only one child went with them to the
United States: the baby girl, whom they named Anais.
Today, Oz lives with his foster mother in his home country,
and the B’shearts pay his ongoing medical
expenses. The couple also carry the debt for his stay
in the private hospital, which they expect to spend
years paying off.

The
B’shearts blame their American agency for the
disaster that befell Oz. They believe it was negligent
in allowing Oz to be sent to a public hospital.
“Some of it was our naïveté. We trusted
people we shouldn’t have. But we didn’t
have as many choices in an agency because we were open
about our relationship from the beginning,” Marlowe
says.

The
B’shearts have two other daughters: Melanie, now 23,
and 9-month-old Morrison. In a bizarre coincidence,
Morrison, who was adopted domestically, was diagnosed
with significant brain damage when she was 14 days
old.

While the
B'shearts can’t find any moral lesson in their
experiences, Marlowe continues to believe that
everything happens for a reason.

“There are
gifts within every situation,” she says. “At
the time [of Oz’s medical crisis] we
weren’t ready to meet the level of needs he had. But
all that we experienced with him, and our continuing love
for him, helped us feel strong enough to know that we
could parent Morrison.”

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