Features

Another 10,000 miles to go before I sleep

"Another 10,000 miles to go before I sleep" Continued...

Issue: "Global Warming," Nov. 29, 1997

Despite the factors that increase the "supply," the majority of children placed for adoption are adopted by other Indian families. Sensitive to accusations of "baby selling," Indian officials have passed strict laws requiring that Indian-born children be first offered to Indian families for adoption. Even orphanages whose charter is to facilitate international adoptions are required by law to adopt half of their children to families in India.

Adopting families in India, however, prefer boys, who are favored because of strong social pressure to carry on the family name. Girls are often considered a liability. When a girl reaches marrying age, the family is expected to provide a sizeable dowry to the groom's family. Concord House has no problem adopting most of its boys to local families. The quota for in-country adoptions is easily met this way.

At the same time, Americans seeking overseas adoptions seem to prefer girls. The three families waiting at O'Hare-one from Chicago, one from St. Louis, and one from Apple Valley, Minn.-all requested girls during the lengthy screening process.

Predicting a child's personality is a more difficult task, but a 24-hour flight is a good litmus test. Little Nitya is a dream, bonding instantly with her escort. She sleeps on the first leg of the journey, 11 hours in the air from Madras to Frankfurt, Germany. During the second, she plays cheerfully.

Malina is more typical, moving from calm to miserable as the trip among strangers wears on. Sarah Haas, 16-year-old daughter of escort Bill Haas, walks the aisles with "Mali" for hours. Mali is finally persuaded to bond with her escorts-just as they arrive in Chicago. The transition to Mom's waiting arms is traumatic all over again.

The baby I escort, Prathiba, is sour and gives me no sleep. From the time she was handed to me in the Madras airport, she screamed for three unceasing hours. This, after I visited her three times in the adoption home the week prior to our departure. Once on the plane, however, I am less strange than anything else, and she holds fast to my lap, clutching a blanket, fingering its soft edges. But she refuses to sleep until the last hour of the trip.

Prathiba's new family stood at O'Hare with anxious hearts, open arms, and a humming video camera. Prathiba protested in her mother's arms, now wanting only me. It was an awkward beginning. Two weeks later, however, mom Lisa Bullard writes, "On our arrival home, it was as if she knew the house! She ran around taking it all in. She has adjusted beautifully, has even relinquished disgust to baths, American foods, sleeping in a crib [instead of the floor, as she was accustomed], and having bows in her hair. She even cries to go outside in the Minnesota cold."

Prathiba is now named Moriah Prathiba Bullard. She has mastered Legos and snow, her mother reports. "People frequently stop to ask, 'Is she always this happy?'" said Mrs. Bullard. Malini has kept her original Indian name, but everyone calls her Mali. She revels in the outdoors and quickly became proficient on the swing set and helping with the flower garden. She is learning how to swim. Nitya is now called Miriam. Her mother told WORLD, "Miriam is always the first at meal time to fold her hands and remind everyone it is time to thank God."

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