Sunday, November 23, 2008

What would you have done?

Here's the story of a brave woman who stopped a Guatemalan adoption when she became concerned that it was fraudulent:

Jennifer and Todd Hemsley had to give up their child to save her. Like thousands of other would-be parents, the California couple made a $15,500 down payment to a U.S. agency that guaranteed quick, hassle-free adoptions of Guatemalan babies. And like the others, they were caught in a bureaucratic limbo after Guatemala began cracking down on systemic fraud last year.

Many Americans with pending adoptions lobbied hard for quick approval of their cases, trying to bypass a new system designed to prevent identity fraud and the sale or even theft of children to feed Guatemala's $100 million adoption business. But Jennifer Hemsley did what Guatemala's new National Adoptions Council says no other American has done this year: She refused to look the other way when she suspected her would-be daughter's identity and DNA samples were faked.

She halted the adoption of Maria Eugenia Cua Yax, whom the couple named Hazel. And she stayed in Guatemala for months, spending thousands of dollars, until she could safely deliver the girl into state custody. Her decision could mean the Hemsleys — Jennifer is a freelance designer and Todd creates visual effects in the film industry — may never be able to adopt the little girl they nicknamed "la boca," or mouth in Spanish, in honor of her outsized spirit.

"It's so crazy. None of this makes any sense," Hemsley told The Associated Press. "I miss her deeply. There are no words." But she says it was the only thing she could have done, morally. "It wasn't even a choice. We did what I hope any parent would do: put their child first."

The Hemsleys say they had many reasons for suspicion. But the final straw was a doctor's statement that said DNA samples were taken from the baby and birth mother on a date when Hazel was with Jennifer Hemsley. She said her Guatemalan attorney told her, "Don't worry about it, you want the adoption to go through, don't
* * *
Prompted by the Hemsleys, Guatemalan investigators are trying to determine Hazel's true identity and have opened a criminal investigation into the people who vouched for her paperwork — from the U.S. adoption agency to Guatemalan notaries, foster parents, a doctor and the laboratory that said it collected the girl's DNA.
* * *
Guatemala's old, fraud-plagued adoption industry was still going full speed in June 2007 when the Hemsleys first held the 4-month-old girl. "It was magical and a gift, and a feeling beyond description," Jennifer Hemsley said.

But even before their case was turned over to the adoptions council, the Hemsleys were suspicious. The supposed birth mother disappeared after a brief meeting where she "had no visible reaction at all to the child," Hemsley said. Medical reports seemed obvious forgeries, without letterhead or doctor's signature. And during a critical hearing, Hemsley said, her Guatemalan advisers tried to pay a stranger to pose as Hazel's foster mother.

"Todd and I felt a lot like, 'Gee, is this really happening?' Maybe we should just look the other way and keep plodding along, because every time I tried to tell someone, nobody cared," Hemsley said. "I couldn't look the other way. I just couldn't turn my head."
* * *
If the Hemsleys had walked away, as hundreds of other Americans did after problems surfaced, Hazel would likely have been abandoned or reoffered for adoption under another false identity, Tecu [a fraud prosecutor investigating the case] said. Instead, Jennifer Hemsley stayed with Hazel for months, draining more than $70,000 from a second mortgage on their home and paying for a trusted nanny.
Finally, as a colleague of Ordonez threatened to take the girl away, she asked the adoptions council for a "rescue."

The new rules require authorities to consider Guatemalan citizens before Americans, and several dozen Guatemalan couples are in line ahead of the Hemsleys. But they aren't giving up yet. Jennifer Hemsley returned this month to Guatemala City, where she briefly held Hazel — now more than 19 months old — at a crowded orphanage. She emerged devastated. Crying and shaking, she said Hazel had open sores on her face and a cut on her head. Within hours, she managed to persuade authorities to transfer the girl to a better nursery while the case is resolved.

"I think about her every day," Hemsley said. "It's horrifying on many levels. It's
horrifying for Guatemalan women who may have missing children. It's horrifying
for adoptive families in the U.S. My parents are devastated over this. This affects our whole entire family, our friends, our neighbors."

It must have been an incredibly difficult decision. Do you think the family made the right choice? I do, despite the fact that it means the baby has been in limbo for so long. Any other decision would have condoned the fraud. But I don't know if I would have been as brave as the Hemsley family. I could only hope to have the courage to do the right thing.


Elizabeth said...

What an amazing story. I hope that I would have had the courage to do the same. I cannot imagine trying so hard to do the right thing but then having to see the child left in an orphanage, clearly not being well cared for. It certainly would be easier if the couple knew that the child was returned to her birth family.

Martha said...

Actually, the story that was not included in that article is much more interesting. This is the Jen/Chew blogger who adopted a child from Guatemala, then a few months later accepted a referral from China. Then she traveled, decided there was something wrong with the Chinese baby and cried "unethical" when china refused to give her a new referral. Then she traveled only a few months later to adopt this third child. Then she showed up at an Ethica conference demanding that the governmental officials (who were trying to prevent unethical and corrupt adoptions) stop delaying the processing of Guatemalan adoptions so she could come home sooner with this third child. With three adoptions and two returned babies in less than three years, there is much more to this story than meets the eye.

malinda said...

Yikes! Thanks for the heads-up, Martha! Looks like I need to dig a bit more into the story. . . .

Wendy said...

I would rather not get into the whole Chew debate (I *knew* her before and during the adoption from China) because I know it is polarizing.

That being said, this problem is very real no matter who broke the story. In theory I would do exactly as these parents did, but holding the baby you have waited for so long may change perspective so I can't make a judgement call. However, I do know the feeling of watching your new child is such deep pain and loss that you consider doing just about anything to relieve it. I think I would do the right thing, I think my husband would too, but there is no way to say unless you are there in the moment.

The thing is, how could you live with yourself if you didn't stop it? How could you explain this to your child? You couldn't. Is there really a choice? I don't think so. I think you would have to think beyond your own selfish desires and look to the needs, answers, and mental well-being of your child. You would have to stop the adoption and stay through until the end for this child and all of the others in the process as well.

Lisa said...

This is all very disturbing. To me, the ultimate in bravery would be to go through with the process then go into reverse and find her birth mother. Find out what she REALLY wants to do.
Otherwise, the risk is there that another family gets her anyway OR she ends up in an orphanage (like she did). I can't say what I would do... I know I wouldn't be able to let that go, ever, wondering if there were a birth mother out there whose child was stolen from them. BUT maybe just the paperwork sucked, and the birth mother really wanted her relinquished. I would have investigated that after the fact, knowing that this child was not going to heroically be returned to her birth mother by calling the authorities to make a statement about the system. "The system" is in chaos, and there are more street children in Guatemala because of it.
So sad, and the ultimate victim is so small.

Anonymous said...

I applaude the Hemsleys for being honest. Many PAPs go through the process and feel a sense of 'entitlement" to the child because they have $$bought or paid money. Their attitude is all about me and my needs.
If you know of a dishonest, or unethical situation that amounts to child trafficking you cannot in good conscience be a part of it.
Americans and Western $$$ has fueled these unethical practices. International Adoption use to be a $6 billion a year industry with Americans portion being well over $2.5 billion.
Now what do we have? Closed Agencies: Reaching Arms International, Waiting Angels, Commonwealth, Project Oz, Main Street Adoptions, etc.,
AND CLOSED COUNTRIES: Vietnam, Guatemala, Romania, Nepal, etc.,
We have ourselves to blame for the greed and unethical behavior and fueling this with our money because of our own selfish needs.
When looking to adopt consider a fellow American child 120,000 are paper ready in the American Foster Care System.

Wendy said...

Anon--I agree that greed has played a role and also a sense of entitlement; however, the tone of think of "a fellow American" disturbs me as well. Maybe you are not that familiar with the US system, but there varying state regulations (some very much necessary and others that seem to be at the whim of the state govt. and definetely not in the best interest of the child). There are many IA families that did and do consider foster/adopt and it is not for everyone or available to everyone. It is not as simplistic as you make it sound.