The ringing phone ripped through Wendy Cummings' silent bliss. It was hard not to get excited when she heard the nurse's voice on the other end.
She promised Mike, her husband, that she would wait until the doctor confirmed their pregnancy before she began planning their new role as parents. After all, the frozen egg fertilization procedure used to help the couple conceive a child was experimental and the odds of getting pregnant from it were slim. Still, it was an impossible promise to keep. She was excited.
They had waited so long for a child. Since the Scranton couple learned that Wendy had polycystic ovarian syndrome, they had been to so many doctors, through so many tests, so many infertility treatments over the past five years. And now, a little more than a week after Christmas 1999 and Wendy's 33rd birthday, she was about to find out if the two embryos implanted in her uterus were twins growing inside her.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Cummings," the voice on the phone said quietly. "You're not pregnant." It would be almost another year before the couple received the same shattering news after their second attempt with frozen egg fertilization. This time, the nurse, too, was crying as she told the couple they had lost a second set of twins. "But things looked more hopeful this second time," cried Wendy. "I felt queasy in the mornings. Maybe it was just my mind making me think I had all the symptoms of being pregnant. I would rub my stomach and sing 'You are my sunshine' to them."
Wendy had told her math students at Old Forge Junior-Senior High School about the couple's second attempt with frozen egg fertilization. She had little choice but to share what they were going through. Her students suspected she was dying of cancer because of her many doctor appointments and emotional turmoil. "I didn't want them to worry like that and I couldn't lie to them," Wendy says. Her students had fast become like family. They grieved with her when she told them that the couple lost their second set of twins. Weeks later, their flowers and condolence cards would still come.
Mike had told some co-workers at the Lackawanna County Stadium where he worked as the director of public relations for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. They also mourned for the couple's loss. Both their families -- Mike's parents, Dorothy and James Cummings, and Wendy's parents, Sylvia and Leonard Zubrickas -- did their best to console. "You can't describe the heartbreak you feel as a parent when you see your kids go through this kind of hurt," says Mrs. Cummings. "They're both good kids."
The loss grew harder for Wendy to accept. "I would come home and she would be bawling hysterically," says Mike. "I couldn't console her. I didn't know the right things to say." The couple would turn down invitations to baby showers and avoid walking near the baby aisles in stores. "It was too painful," Wendy says. "I couldn't look at the baby stuff."
They talked about their options. Despite the heartbreaks and pain, they were not about to give up their dream to have a family. Wendy's doctors believed the couple could still conceive a child if she had surgery to dislodge her left ovary. Then try in vitro fertilization. The ovary was stuck behind her uterus, making in vitro fertilization too risky. "I just can't do it right now," Wendy decided, "not after the last loss."
Then there was adoption. "I always thought I couldn't adopt," says Wendy. "I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant. I wanted to experience everything a pregnant woman experiences. I didn't want to be shortchanged." But something clicked.
"I want to be a mom," she says. "Being a mom is much more than just being pregnant." The couple researched different types of adoptions -- private, agency, domestic, international. They decided a private domestic adoption would be best for them. Wendy wanted the baby to be as young as possible.
Often adoption agencies will place the baby in foster care and make the adopted parents wait several months before getting the infant. The infants up for adoption internationally are often eight months to several years old. "Bonding is very important to me," Wendy says. "I don't want to miss out on the mother-child bonding." Private adoptions are also quicker and cheaper, adds Mike. The couple had already spent more than $18,000 on infertility medications and surgeries. They expected an adoption to cost about $10,000 to $15,000. If needed, they were prepared to mortgage their home to finish their dream.
On Oct. 9, 2000, they met with Barbara Casey, an adoption attorney in Reading. She explained how adoption laws vary state by state. In Pennsylvania, the birth parents cannot give consent for the adoption until 72 hours after the child's birth, she told the couple. In some other states, consent can be given immediately after birth. The laws also vary in the types of expenses adopted parents can pay the birth parents, she said. In Pennsylvania, those costs include medical and hospital expenses, as well as adjustment counseling. Other states allow adopted parents to pay for necessities the birth mother has as a result of her pregnancy -- which can make the adoption more costly. For her $1,500 fee plus advertising expenses, Mrs. Casey would place ads in a national newspaper and freebie papers in states with adoption-friendly laws. Once the couple found a birth mother, they would give her a $5,000 retainer to handle the legal side of the adoption. She warned them that a private adoption can take six months to two years. Wendy and Mike prayed theirs would not take long.
Over the next few months, the couple had filled out the lawyer's adoption applications and put together a collection of required paperwork. It included financial records, medical records, reference letters from friends and employers, a home study by a social worker, their birth certificates and marriage license, criminal record check forms and a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance. They also put together a profile about themselves to be mailed to birth mothers interested in adoption. Mrs. Casey suggested the Cummings network to get the word out that they were looking to adopt. Put a note in with your bills, put posters up on bulletin boards at the supermarket, make a Web site, she told the couple. "Networking is very important," says Wendy. "You never know who might know someone with a baby to give away.
We made a Web site and registered it in all the search engines." The Web site told of the couple's struggle to conceive a child and of their dream now to adopt one. There were photographs of them, their families, their Scranton home and their husky-lab, Molly. It also included their toll-free number and e-mail address -- both set up specifically for birth mothers to contact them. Responses started to come in from the ads placed in newspapers by their adoption attorney. She sent them e-mails with descriptions of the birth mothers and children up for adoption. "Jennifer -- full Caucasian -- due in February. She is in Alabama. She will need living expenses. Birth father will cooperate." "Biracial boy due January in Houston, TX...Needs approx $850 per month living expenses, Medicaid eligible..."
Other e-mails told of young girls raped by relatives and now pregnant, birth mothers with histories of hereditary diseases and pregnant women with HIV-infected or alcohol-addicted babies. Because of Scranton's homogenous racial makeup -- 93.6 percent Caucasian, according to the 2000 census -- the couple had decided to search for a Caucasian baby. They also wanted a healthy one.
"We just don't think it would be fair to raise a black or biracial baby here," Mike says. "The kid would have a hard time growing up here. As unfortunate as it is, that's how it is here." For those leads that did seem ideal to the couple, they mailed off their profile in eager anticipation that this could be the one. More often than not, they would never hear back from the birth mother. Later, they learned their attorney e-mailed the same leads to all her clients.
Wendy's students wanted regular updates on the couple's search for a baby. "They said prayers for us," Wendy says. "They were very supportive." Then one day after class, shortly before school was to break for the Christmas holidays, a student approached Wendy with a proposition. "Mrs. Cummings, my sister is pregnant and wants to give you her baby," the girl said. "I told her all about you and your husband." Wendy's heart stopped. She gave the student their toll-free number -- fondly called the babyline by the couple -- and asked her to have her sister call. Wendy scrambled to call Mike at work. "You're not going to believe this," she said excitedly. Mike told her not to get her hopes up. After all, it was a student. Nothing would probably come of it. Months later, the babyline rang. "Hi, I'm pregnant and really want to give my baby to you and your husband," said the young, trembling voice to Wendy. "I've never done this before. I'm nervous." Wendy's heart was beating fast. It was her student's sister. Mike watched anxiously, his stomach in knots, as Wendy scribbled down notes about the 25-year-old girl and her pregnancy -- due end of April; will get prenatal care; can't afford another baby; already has a 2-year-old son. The conversation would last 40 minutes. Wendy was shaking when she hung up the phone. "I actually feel like I'm pregnant," she told Mike. Over the next few weeks, Wendy would talk to the girl several times, learning more about her dilemma. "Her boyfriend doesn't pay child support now on their son," Wendy told Mike after another phone conversation with the girl. "He doesn't even visit his son when he's supposed to. She doesn't think her boyfriend will object to giving this baby up for adoption." The couple called Mrs. Casey, who sent the girl adoption consent forms and paperwork that asked about her medical history. The girl's boyfriend also needed to give his consent to give up the baby for adoption. Wendy talked regularly with the girl. She also spoke with the girl's mother, who was very supportive of her daughter's decision to give the baby to the couple. When Wendy could not reach the girl for days at a time, she panicked. "What if she changed her mind?" she asked Mike. "Why isn't she answering the phone?" There was always a logical excuse -- she had work or was ill. The phone conversations with the girl gave Wendy some much-needed hope. "I can walk in baby departments," she says. "It's still hard to look at couples with a baby. I wonder why that can't be us." She began planning for the things she would need once they adopted the baby. The guest room would have to be redecorated for a nursery. If it's a boy, a baseball and Snoopy theme. If it's a girl, all pink. They would need to buy a car seat to take the baby home from the hospital. Not to mention formula, bottles, diapers, a stroller and clothing. Maybe a minivan too, she thought. Mike tried to be the practical one. The girl still hadn't filled out the papers their lawyer had sent to get the adoption started. Her boyfriend had yet to give his consent. Once the couple learned that the girl had called their attorney with questions about the forms, Mike grew more excited. "I want to know the sex of the baby," he told Wendy. He was counting down the days until she was due to give birth. As thrilled as Wendy was that they were going to adopt this baby, she still had fears. "I'm afraid to know," she told Mike. "It might make it harder if something goes wrong." Still, she had hunches, and dreams that woke her up from sound sleep. This baby was a girl. Their daughter -- Elizabeth Ona. The girl thought so too. Her boyfriend had finally called their lawyer and gave his consent. "I don't think she'll go through it," he warned the lawyer. The girl, and her mother, assured the couple that the adoption would take place. "When I make up my mind to do something, that's it," the girl told Wendy. "I made up my mind. I will do this." Wendy told the girl that she and Mike wanted to pay for any counseling she might need after the adoption. She declined the offer. At her mother's suggestion, she asked if Wendy wanted to be in the delivery room for the birth. "I'm not a blood and guts person," she told Mike, after telling him about the invitation. "I watched a natural childbirth film and passed out...I'll have to think about it." Mike wanted to cut the umbilical cord. Wendy made plans to take a maternity leave. The couple decided she would take a year to raise their baby. They purchased parenting books and planned to interview pediatricians. They talked about how they would get in contact with each other when the girl or her mother called to them she was in labor. They decided Wendy would be in the delivery for the birth. No minute detail was overlooked as they planned for parenthood. "I have to remember to charge the camera batteries so we can bring it to the hospital," Mike said. Wendy made her first nonessential purchase for their child -- a book of bedtime stories. "I couldn't resist," she said to Mike. Her blue eyes sparkled as she leafed through the pages. The couple had agreed not to make any purchases for the baby -- except for essentials -- until they had their infant in their home. "All right, all right," Mike said, laughing. "But that's it." As the end of April approached, the couple was walking on eggshells. They hadn't heard from the girl in two weeks. "Don't let her forget to call us," Wendy prayed. "So much depends on her calling us when she goes into labor." Wendy finally reached the girl's mother that Saturday, April 21. "Relax," she told Wendy, "she still wants to give you her baby." Two days later -- the same Monday her students would throw her a baby shower -- Wendy learned from another teacher that the girl had given birth -- a 5-pound boy. Her water had broken at her mother's house, just hours before Wendy's phone conversation with the girl's mother. The girl would never call the couple again. Later that day, they learned from their lawyer that she changed her mind. Months later, they learned her real intention. Numbness overtakes Wendy Cummings when she sees the infant boy with his young mother, standing behind her in the checkout aisle. The baby is about the right age -- 2 months old. So is his mother -- in her mid-20s. Wendy stops in her tracks. "Is that our son?" she thinks. It was two months ago that she and her husband, Mike, had their lifelong dreams to start a family crushed by a 25-year-old pregnant woman. The couple had turned to domestic adoption after five years of infertility treatments that resulted in their losing two sets of twins. Wendy was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, the leading cause of infertility in women. The girl, the older sister of one of Wendy's math students in the Old Forge School District, had agreed the Scranton couple would adopt her baby. For months before giving birth, she had assured them she would go through with the adoption because she could not afford to keep the baby and had no support from her boyfriend, the baby's father. Wendy and Mike did not learn that she delivered a baby boy until two days after she had given birth near the end of April 2001. The girl told the couple's adoption lawyer, Barbara Casey, that she changed her mind. Wendy later learned through friends that the girl never intended to give her baby up for adoption. They suspected it was a ploy to get back at her boyfriend, who she said did not visit or pay child support for their first son. The Cummings never met the woman, having only talked to her and her mother over the telephone. Wendy caught a glimpse of the woman when she picked up her sister after school. But in her mind, this baby and young mother standing behind her could easily be them. "The pain is unbelievable," she tells Mike. "It's a death but we have nothing to bury. I wonder if she thinks about what she did to us." Wendy starts to have nightmares, waking because she hears a baby crying in the room that will be their nursery. Mother's Day and Father's Day bring breakdowns. "I think about the twins we lost and now this baby," she says. "It breaks my heart." Mike reasons with her, but his heart breaks too not just for the losses but for what his wife is going through. "We have to go on," he says. "We did everything we could have done. It was out of our control. Maybe this is for the best." It had taught them to be more cautious -- with their questions and their hearts -- and to look for early warning signs. This girl had never filled out the adoption forms their lawyer sent her. That was a red flag they did not consider earlier. Mike cancels their order for a crib. He puts away the car seat they had just purchased, along with other items for the baby. It had all been sitting in a room near the front door so they could grab it on their way to the hospital to take the baby home. Mrs. Casey e-mails them more leads of birth mothers interested in adoption. The couple also decides to advertise on their own. A few leads sound promising -- a 16-year-old in Ohio pregnant with twins; a pregnant college student in Texas; a 34-year-old pregnant mother of five in Arkansas; an eighth-grader in Texas. They start to recognize ones that seem questionable. One girl seems only to care about getting money. A referral agency keeps sending them leads, but they notice a pattern. The agency often relocates the pregnant girls to Utah -- a state that has no restrictions on what adopted parents can spend for the birth mother's expenses. Then there is the girl from Georgia who has been pregnant 12 times and has six children all living with relatives or friends. The Cummings learn from the woman's sister that she is also addicted to painkillers. They continue their quest for a family. They sign up with the Lackawanna County Children and Youth Adoption Program. Wendy visits online chat rooms and message boards for adopting parents. Mike advertises in more newspapers. Their babyline -- a toll-free number the couple had set up for birth mothers to contact them -- rings again. "My heart jumps every time the phone rings," Wendy says. "I'm more guarded now because of what happened. But you just want to say to them, 'Pick us, pick us, pick us.'" Wendy jots down notes. They mail more profiles. Sometimes there are multiple phone calls with the same birth mother. Those are the ones that get Wendy's hopes up the most. Then the phone stops ringing. The waiting becomes tortuous. They rarely get to know the outcome and are left wondering. Did that one get our profile? Did she choose another couple? Was she really pregnant? "It's a roller coaster," Mike says. "But I would rather be on the roller coaster than not on the ride at all." Then comes an e-mail they can't ignore. "For $37,000, we could have a baby next week," Mike reads. "The birth mother is in Oklahoma." The price -- which includes medical bills, maternity clothing, food and other pregnancy-related items -- is out of their league -- no matter how many ways they try to come up with the money. If we wanted to spend that much, we would have done an international adoption, Mike reminds Wendy. "This is basically like selling a baby legally," Wendy says to Mike. "But I can't stop thinking that this is a solid lead. We can have a baby. You think with your head. I think with my heart." They try to remain positive when deep down they both are feeling beat. It's already August. They are no closer to adopting a baby then they were 10 months ago when they first met with their adoption attorney. The babyline rings. Hope creeps back into their hearts. "So you're due in six months," Wendy repeats back to the Hispanic woman on the other end of the receiver. She grabs a pad of paper. Mike stretches across their dining room table to try to read what she is writing. Wendy tells the woman about the torment the couple has been through, from unsuccessful infertility treatments to the young woman who strung them along. "She sounded nervous," Wendy tells Mike after saying goodbye to the woman. "But she said I was the easiest person to talk to so far." The woman, who is from Texas, lives with her family and has other children. They cannot afford another baby. Her mother does not know she's pregnant again. Wendy and Mike mail her a profile. She calls them when she receives it and then regularly after that. She wants to know if the Cummings will come to Texas for a visit before she gives birth. She is excited to meet them. She asks questions about their parenting plans. She promised to send them a copy of her pregnancy test and to get prenatal care. Wendy believes she is sincere. Mike remains cautious. "She's not due until six months," he says. "Anything can happen in six months." The next two months seem to fly by. Wendy can hardly believe it is already Oct. 12 -- their 10-year anniversary. Mike has big plans. He will surprise Wendy with a tanzanite ring. He noticed her admiring the purplish stone a while ago. So, he had a tanzanite ring custom made for her. While Wendy was in the shower, he scanned images of her wedding rings onto their computer so the jeweler could determine the correct size. "You mean the most to me," he says when he gives her the ring that night. She cries. Most couples would feel the stress and tension pulling them apart after years of heartbreaking losses and daily struggles just to go on. The Cummings' love grows deeper. A little more than a week after their anniversary, they decide to attend a seminar on international adoptions being held at a Wilkes-Barre hotel. They had already been to a similar meeting in January and decided they had no interest in adopting overseas. And now they have the woman in Texas. She is their best hope. But, they figure the evening might be worthwhile to do some more networking with other area couples who had adopted, just in case. Nearly a dozen people sit at tables in the hotel conference room listening to a presentation by representatives of Lutheran Children and Family Services of Eastern Pennsylvania, a nonprofit, licensed adoption agency out of Rosyln, near Philadelphia. Wendy glances at a display in the front of the room. There are photographs of children and babies up for adoption in countries like Cambodia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan and China. Kelli Myers-Gottemoller, a supervisor with the agency, explains the steps to adopt internationally. Couples -- and in some countries, single parents -- fill out the agency's adoption application. Then they take a parenting preparatory training class, which she runs. They must have a home study done and apply for Immigration and Naturalization Service approval to adopt internationally. Then the agency matches them with a baby or child and the couple travels to pick up their new addition. Wendy takes notes. When Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller says the costs for international adoptions with her agency range from $18,000 to $28,000, Mike flips through a packet of information on the table to read more about the fees. She also reviews the restrictions and time frames in various countries. "We just adopted in August from Cambodia," she tells the group. "It was very fast." Her baby was just 3 months old. Wendy puts down her pen. Her main reason for not considering international adoption was because she had read that the infants are as old as 12 months by the time they are adopted. She was worried that at that age, precious mother-child bonding time had passed. But 3 months is not bad, she thinks. The back door in the conference room opens. Five couples and their children walk to the front of the room. They talk to the group about their international adoption experiences. Mike's eyes are glued to a spitfire little girl wearing a floral sundress and matching hat. She was adopted from Cambodia. "She's beautiful," he says to Wendy. Each couple talks about how long it took to get their child and the regulations in the countries from which they adopted. Ukraine took about a year to do, one couple says. Russia required two trips, another couple adds. And another says in less than five months they were able to adopt their 10-week-old daughter from Cambodia. As a second couple describes their good experience adopting in Cambodia, the look on Wendy's face gives away her thoughts. Mike's face has the same hopeful expression. They are sold. They will adopt from Cambodia. Looking closer at the couple, Wendy recognizes them. They sat in front of the Cummings at that January meeting on international adoptions. "That could have been us," Wendy would later tell Mike. After the meeting, the Cummings talk with Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller and the couples who had adopted from the Third World country in southeast Asia. They share their painful journey that led them to this meeting. They listen closely to the explanations on how adopting from Cambodia works. "If you filled out your application right away and get your INS approval, you would probably be going to Cambodia in February," Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller tells them. When the Cummings get home that night, they start the paperwork. They begin to have doubts about the woman in Texas. She still hadn't sent them documentation that she is pregnant. They decide to play it by ear with her and put their faith in adopting from Cambodia. If the woman did give birth and still wanted them to adopt her child, they could put Cambodia on hold for up to a year without losing their deposits and application fees. "Cambodia is a sure thing," Wendy says. "I say let's go to Cambodia and anything else is a bonus. God will help us figure it out if he wants us to have both. We've been through so much heartache and pain. Kelli said we're guaranteed to get a baby from Cambodia." Mike agrees. It would cost about $21,500 to adopt from Cambodia. That was within what they could afford and there was also a new $10,000 federal tax credit for adopting parents. And once they got their baby back from Cambodia, the birth mother could not come back to reclaim her child. There would be no more heartbreaks, he thinks. It really is a sure thing. They complete the application and send it with their $100 application fee to Lutheran Children and Family Services. They request a newborn girl. The couple contacts their adoption attorney to fill her in on their change of heart. Wendy finds an online support group for parents adopting from Cambodia. There are also links with pictures of more babies up for adoption. She looks at those photographs every night before going to sleep. Her students are excited but sad. They do not want her to take a year off for maternity leave. They offer to baby-sit the couple's infant in between their classes while she continues to teach. They always make her smile. Some of Mike's co-workers decide to raise money for the couple to help with their airfare to Cambodia. The couple is touched. Money will be tight for a while with Wendy taking a maternity leave for a year. Mike plans to get a second job, if needed. They attend their parent training with Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller. They purchase a travel book on Cambodia and allow themselves to begin planning their lives as parents -- again. Just when their dream of having a family was so close, they are handed another lemon. Through the online Cambodian adoption support group, they learn that trouble is brewing in the Third World country. A group of Americans is stuck there because the government suspects their adoption agency is stealing babies and illegally selling them. INS will not issue exit visas to bring their adopted children back to the United States. On top of that, they have not heard from the woman in Texas in several weeks. They fear she has changed her mind. Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller assures them that this will not affect their adoption. Brener-Sam Associates, the agency that Lutheran Children and Family Services works with in Cambodia, has had no adoptions ever fall through since 1997, when they first started doing Cambodian adoptions. The founder, Harriet Brener, only works with children who have been orphaned, she tells the couple. They are relieved. Shortly after, the pregnant woman in Texas calls. She assures them she still wants to give them her baby and had been ill and unable to call. Their hopes remain high. A few days later, she calls again. This time she is crying hysterically. "I don't know how to say this to you," she tells Wendy. Wendy's heart falls. She's now certain the woman has changed her mind. "We need help," the woman sobs. "We need money. Is there anything you can do to help us? I'm begging you. I need to get out." Wendy explains that the adoption laws in Texas and Pennsylvania prohibit them from being able to give her money. She gently asks if the woman has gone to the doctor or filled out the adoption paperwork from their attorney. She hasn't. Wendy tells her that she will call their lawyer to see what the couple can do to help her but they are limited by law. "That was heartbreaking," she tells Mike, after hanging up. "She sounded so desperate. She said she's so tired and wants her pregnancy to be over. She still hasn't told her mom that she's pregnant." They call her two more times after that. Both conversations are awkward. Then, they never hear from her again. "I don't know if she was trying to scam us or not," Wendy says. "She sounded so sincere. We don't even know if she was really pregnant." They concentrate on getting their required paperwork completed for their trip to Cambodia to pick up their daughter. They start their series of immunizations -- three shots to protect against hepatitis B. They gather items they will need for the trip -- a sweater for their daughter because she won't be used to the air conditioning in the hotel; blankets, bottles and baby formula. They think about their daughter waiting for them in an orphanage in Cambodia. Soon, they will have a picture of her and then go get her and bring her home. Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller visits the couple in their home to conduct a home study. The home study is required to ensure that the couple lives in an environment fit and safe for the adopted child. She also asks them detailed questions about their backgrounds, religious beliefs, families and parenting plans. Weeks later, they receive a copy of their completed home study, followed by their required INS approval to adopt in Cambodia. But rumors are still flying on the online message boards that Wendy visits. Most fear Cambodia will shut down to adoptions for good. "I don't know what to believe," Wendy tells Mike. Then, on Dec. 21, 2001, INS announces it is suspending the processing of adoption petitions in Cambodia. It is also reviewing the adoption process in Vietnam. In Cambodia, there is mounting evidence of illegal baby selling. The suspension will remain in place until the Cambodian government can implement adoption laws and procedures that meet international norms and prevent abuses, says INS Commissioner James Ziglar. "I don't know how this roller coaster ends," Wendy says, with tears brewing. "There are no turns. It's all up and down." The Cummings are again reassured by Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller that this suspension is temporary and, at worst, would only delay their trip to Cambodia by a month or so. In early February, they meet with Harriet Brener, who just returned from Cambodia and will be handling their adoption over there. She answers their questions about traveling to Cambodia and convinces them not to worry about the temporary adoption suspension in the country. "There are a lot of people working on it," Mrs. Brener tells them. "I wouldn't be here encouraging you to continue if I thought you weren't going to be able to get your baby. I think we'll know something by March." A few weeks later, the couple receives a letter from INS. The letter urges them to choose another country to adopt from as the situation in Cambodia will probably not be resolved anytime soon. Mrs. Myers-Gottemoller confirms what the couple fears most: Adoptions from Cambodia have been shut down indefinitely. "It was supposed to be a guarantee," Wendy cries to Mike. "Why does this keep happening? We can switch to another country, he says, trying to comfort her. "All our paperwork is in order," he says softly. "We can try Guatemala or Kazakhstan." We have options, he says. We'll get our baby. "No," she says quietly. "I'm done." A few days earlier, he and his wife, Wendy, learned adoptions were indefinitely suspended from Cambodia while officials investigated an illegal baby-buying scam. For nearly four months, the Scranton couple had their hearts set on adopting a baby girl from that southeast Asian country. The news was the latest uphill climb on an emotional roller coaster. For eight years, they had spent nearly $20,000 in failed infertility treatments and unsuccessful attempts to adopt a baby in the United States. Their heartache immeasurable. Yet, they clung to a simple dream -- to make a family. Just when their dream seemed close enough to touch, they are told to pick another country. If only it was that easy. Both Wendy and Mike had already fallen in love with the daughter they had yet to meet who was waiting for them in Cambodia. This latest news devastated, especially Wendy. "I'm going to quit soon," she tells Mike in a flat tone. "I don't know how much more I can take." The dream is still alive. Mike understands all too well the pain and desperation she feels. He too was sure this Cambodia adoption would take place. It had felt so right. But he needs to be their pillar of strength. "You can't quit," he tells his wife firmly. "We've come too far." And now, he needs to show her their dream is still very much alive. Kazakhstan and Vietnam seem like good options, he thinks as he reads up on adoption policies. They can get a baby as young as 6 months in Kazakhstan and one as young as 4 months in Vietnam. Vietnam is risky, he tells Wendy. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has already announced that it may shut down adoptions in Vietnam, just like Cambodia, to investigate suspected illegal adoption practices. "Let's just see what information we can get about it," he says. Mike calls the agency they used for their adoption in Cambodia. Officials give him two phone numbers -- one for the adoption facilitator who handles Kazakhstan adoptions and the other for a facilitator of Vietnam adoptions. The couple sits in their living room with the Vietnam facilitator, Patrick Howard, on their speaker phone. They learn Mr. Howard is with World Child International Adoption Agency, located in Silver Spring, Md. It has been in operation since 1981. "I have two infants up for adoption in Vietnam," he tells them. "Adoptions are fairly stable in Vietnam right now. April 1 is the cutoff date when it might shut down there. But there are no problems for couples who start their adoption paperwork before April 1." Since they have already received INS approval to adopt internationally, their paperwork should be minimal, he tells them. They must fill out a form to change countries from Cambodia to Vietnam. They will also have to amend their home study to say Vietnam instead of Cambodia. Adoptions from Vietnam require two trips to the country, he explains. The first trip is five to seven days. It's a formality to drop off paperwork, meet with Vietnamese officials and briefly visit the baby at the orphanage, he tells them. The second trip lasts about two weeks while the adoption is finalized. The adoption will cost about $20,000, including airfares and hotels. "If you amend your home study next week, you can be over there by the second or third week of March," he says. Wendy is floored. That's just a few weeks away, she says to Mike in disbelief. They had learned from the Kazakhstan adoption facilitator that it would take longer to get the couple to that Eastern European country to adopt a baby. "What do you want to do?" Mike asks her. She smiles. "Let's go to Vietnam." It's a boy Mr. Howard tells the couple he will soon let them know the sex of the baby and sendphotographs. "It feels like I'm pregnant because we don't know the sex of the baby," she tells Mike excitedly. "God has opened another door." Her blue eyes sparkle again, a smile plastered on her face. Mike gets their paperwork for Vietnam in order and sends it overnight to Mr. Howard. The couple learns they will adopt their infant from an orphanage in Lang Son -- a village in northern Vietnam, about 10 miles from the China border. "It's sinking in that this is my child," Wendy laughs. "I can't wait to hold her or him." She touches Mike's arm. "You've been so amazing through all this," she says tenderly. "You've been on top of everything." A few days later, there is a surprise in their e-mail -- four photographs. "We've got a son," cries Mike, as they look at the pictures and hug. "Thank you, God," Wendy says, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Look at his little fingers and his cute nose," she continues. "He's perfect. Our son is just perfect. I can't believe he's ours. I love him so much." She takes her finger to her lips, kisses it and then touches his lips on the computer screen. His name is Hoang Trung Anh. They will call him Andrew Michael Cummings. Drew, for short. He was born Dec. 9, 2001. There is also a doctor's report in the e-mail that says Drew is healthy. The Cummings will need to take the report and pictures to a local pediatrician to confirm their baby is fine. At another Scranton house a few blocks away, there are red, swollen eyes and big, wide smiles. Mike, Wendy and Wendy's parents, Sylvia and Leonard Zubrickas, have gathered at the house owned by Mike's parents, Dorothy and James Cummings. "I can't wait to get my hands on him," Mrs. Zubrickas says, laughing, as she holds up a picture of Drew that Mike had printed. "Look how cute he is!" Drew's pictures are already framed and on display in both his grandparents' living rooms. The grandparents are planning his future -- baseball games, dirt bike rides, shopping trips. "He's going to be smart," says Mrs. Cummings. "You can tell by the expression on his face." The couple prints more photos. The next day, Wendy shares them with her math students and fellow teachers at Old Forge School District. Mike proudly shows them to his co-workers at the Lackawanna County Stadium, where he is the director of public relations for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. They pack and plan for their first trip to Vietnam to visit their son and get the adoption started. As is customary in Vietnamese adoptions, they must bring gifts to the orphanage, their baby's caretaker and other Vietnamese officials involved in the adoption. The gifts are items such as ties, wallets, watches and T-shirts. 20 hours of flying Their flight is scheduled for March 17 and they will return a week later. It will be 20 hours of flying plus more than six hours of layovers before they arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. It is the couple's first time traveling abroad. When they arrive in Hanoi, they e-mail home with updates on the trip. They get just 45 minutes to spend with their son after traveling another 2 hours by van to the orphanage. They meet Drew's nanny, Lem, and through a translator they learn about Drew's sleeping and eating patterns. In Vietnamese orphanages, one nanny is assigned to each baby. Following the visit, they meet with the Vietnamese Justice Department, where they are interviewed. They learn that Drew's mother is unmarried and 25 years old. She lives with her family, who are rice farmers. They cannot afford to keep the baby. There is no information about the father. They also learn that the mother will attend the Giving and Receiving Ceremony in Vietnam. The ceremony is a Vietnamese formality to adopt a child. The first trip goes well but it is tortuous to leave Drew behind. "I wanted to grab Andrew out of the nanny's arms," Wendy says, a few days after they return home. "He smiled when I held him. I felt like a part of my heart was tore out when we left him." The thought of returning to bring Drew home keeps the couple going. They check regularly to make sure adoptions will not be stopped in Vietnam. They buy clothing and baby items for their son. Wendy finds the perfect outfit for the Giving and Receiving Ceremony -- equipped with a tiny clip-on tie and sandals. They order baby furniture and turn the guest room into a nursery -- a baseball Snoopy theme, just like they had planned years ago when they tried to have a child on their own. They impatiently wait for a phone call from Mr. Howard to learn when they can return to Vietnam for Drew. Almost two months after their first trip to Vietnam, the phone rings. "We're leaving in a week," Mike says, after hanging up the phone with Mr. Howard. Destination: parenthood The flight lands in Hanoi on Mother's Day. The Cummings pray there are no holdups. In Vietnam, there is no structure. Business is conducted when officials want and anything can hold the process up. Two days later, they and three other couples from throughout the United States are taken by van to the orphanage. The van turns onto a dirt road tucked between hills and high mountains in the province of Lang Son. On both sides of the road, there are wooden shacks transformed into makeshift homes, eateries that resemble soup kitchens and stores with no customers. Chickens peck at crumbs as the van passes. The poverty is hard to miss. Women sit on the sides of the road peddling fresh fruit, meat and grains of rice from nearby farms that they brought to the village in woven baskets balanced on a stick across their shoulders. Children -- no older than 7 -- beg for handouts. Education is a privilege few can afford in the Communist country of 78 million, where the average annual salary is about $350. The orphanage is up the road. It is rundown -- chipped paint, rusted gates and piles of metal and trash. Barefoot children lurk behind doors watching the group of Americans emerge from their van. The adopting parents are ushered into a small room to wait. "They are dressing the children," says Liem, the group's translator and facilitator in Vietnam. ' There he is' When the first baby is brought out -- a 7-month-old girl going home to Buffalo, N.Y., with her new dad, Wendy and Mike can no longer sit still. They wait outside in the sweltering 98-degree heat for the nanny to bring them Drew. "Oh my God," Wendy cries, when she sees her son. "There he is." Mike cradles the infant tightly in his arms, partly out of fear that the moment is not really the end of their long, winding ride. He can't stop staring at his face. Two bright black-saucer eyes, rosy cheeks, a bottom tooth starting to push through tender gum. His son. He's holding his son. Their son. He looks at Wendy, but her eyes are glued to their baby. Tears stain her cheeks. Her eyes water again. He reaches out and touches her arm. "This is our son. OUR son. Can you believe, this is our son?" Drew smiles and gurgles. "It's like he knows we're his parents and we're taking him home," Wendy says. Drew's nanny, Lem, is by his side. She is a grandmotherly type who claps and makes clicking noises with her tongue when the baby starts to fuss. She has taken care of him for the past five months. Although she speaks no English, it is easy to see her emotions fluctuating between sadness at saying goodbye to the baby and happiness that he has found a home. With the help of a translator, she fills the couple in on Drew's napping routine, type of formula and other care. Giving and Receiving Then, the couples, children and nannies are taken to the District Justice office, in Lang Son, where they will be interviewed and have the Giving and Receiving Ceremony. The office is part of Vietnam's Social Justice Department, which oversees adoptions and child welfare. The birth mothers are already there waiting to meet the adoptive parents in a room with green and red velvet curtains and a white bust of Ho Chi Minh -- Vietnam's communist leader during the war between North and South Vietnam. "I'm not sure I want to meet her," Mike says nervously. "What if she changes her mind?" Liem introduces the couple to the young woman. She looks as nervous as they are, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. Wendy hands Drew to her. Her face lights up and she smiles at the baby. She talks to him in Vietnamese. Later, her father and sister will join them. Through a translator, she asks Wendy and Mike if they will write to her regularly about Drew and send pictures. They agree. In Vietnamese adoptions, the couple must also agree to write letters and send photos to the District Justice office until the child turns 18. The young woman hands Wendy a letter and photographs of her family with Drew -- taken two days ago at the orphanage. The letter, translated for the Cummings, thanks them for adopting her child and giving him a life in America. The ceremony begins with a speech from the Vietnamese officials about the couples' responsibilities as adopting parents. Wendy and Mike are asked to sign numerous documents, as is the birth mother. Wendy addresses the directors of the District Justice office. "You have made our dreams come true," she tells them. That night in their hotel room, the couple sits on their bed. Drew is lying on his back between them, playing with a stuffed animal. Wendy plays peekaboo with a blanket. He is laughing. It won't be until 2 a.m. the next morning that it sinks in: They are now parents. Drew wakes up crying. Wendy sits him in her lap and feeds him a bottle. She looks down at him, so dependent on her. She starts to cry. Their dream has finally come true. They, and the other couples, still have a few more steps to take in Vietnam before the adoption is finalized. They must fly nearly three hours south to Ho Chi Minh City -- formerly known as Saigon -- and have Drew examined by a doctor. Then, they must have an embassy interview, apply for a passport for the baby and get Drew's visa to exit the country. On the streets in Hanoi, and in the airport at Ho Chi Minh City, strangers stop Wendy and Mike to look at and touch Drew. They think it is wonderful that the Vietnamese baby is going to live in America. Vietnam has become more popular among Americans seeking to adopt internationally. Last year, Americans adopted 737 children from Vietnam. "You are a lucky baby," one woman says in broken English as she touches Drew's cheek. In Ho Chi Minh City, there are two new translators and facilitators -- Nancy and Martin, as they are introduced to the adopting parents -- who will handle the final stages in the adoption. A van takes the couples to a gated complex that is considered the country's most sophisticated hospital. Patients lie on gurneys outside. One woman gets her head stitched up at a table set up near a flowering tree. Wendy, Mike and Drew are escorted up a set of stairs. A doctor who speaks English and was trained in the United States examines the baby with a stethoscope. That, and the weighing and measuring of the infant, are the extent of the medical examination. "He looks good," the doctor says. "He is very healthy." After the appointment, they are taken to have Drew photographed for his visa. Home sweet home By Monday, May 20, Drew's paperwork is completed and the Cummings are more than ready to return home. They switch their flights and are greeted by swarms of relatives when they arrive in Philadelphia a few days later. That night, they take Drew up to his room for bed. Wendy gently lays him in the crib. She looks down at her son. Her heart is full with a happiness she only dreamed of feeling eight years ago when she and Mike first tried to start a family. Their journey had been long and took them far from Scranton. Now, it all makes sense. All the pain and suffering was necessary to lead them to Andrew. He is their reason for being. He always was. Their home is no longer empty.
Reprinted with permission of the family.
14 Mar 2017
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