Adopting a Measure of Courage

The next entry in our courageous moments essay contest is from Lea Wait, whose actions in the middle of a thunderstorm changed everything. As part of this contest, a commenter at random wins an iPod nano, so join the conversation with your insights on Lea’s experiences.

Lea Wait

The Telephone Call That Changed My Life

In 1977 I was 29 and my world was falling apart. My marriage had ended several years earlier, leaving me with heavy debts. My doctor had told me I would probably never be able to have children. The man in my life and I had just broken up. The corporation I worked for had just transferred me from New York City to the suburbs – a place I knew no one, where everyone was married, and where being the only woman manager in my large department felt much more uncomfortable than it had when at least I could escape at lunch hour and walk through the city streets.

Now instead of living in Greenwich Village my home was an apartment over a bookstore where I knew no one and no one knew me. Two years before, I’d applied to adopt a child as a single woman, but had been turned down for American children under the age of 14. I was too young, I was white, I was divorced, I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t black. There was always a reason. I didn’t feel old enough to parent a fourteen-year old. When international adoption opened up to singles in 1977 my agency used me as a test case with the government of Korea. Eleven months later they, too, turned me down.

I joined an adoptive parent group in New Jersey, hoping to find friends there. Instead, I found couples who saw me as a competitor. One woman asked, “Why don’t you just go out to a bar and get pregnant?” I paid my dues, but sat alone at meetings. I had a completed homestudy from my New York agency. I was serious about adopting. I wasn’t looking for a white baby. I was looking for a child.

Then, late one night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, my telephone rang. Someone from the adoptive parent group had heard of a woman in Thailand who was able to “find” children. She worked with singles. Was I interested?

I took her name. Now, I’d been involved with adoption for a while. I knew the rules. I knew you should work through an agency, not through a facilitator or lawyer. This was a facilitator. I knew I shouldn’t even think about taking to her.

I called her the next morning. She said that, yes, she could find me a four or five year old girl, if I sent her $5,000 dollars to cover legal expenses. I knew I might never see her, the money, or a child. But $5,000 was exactly the amount I’d managed to save.

I sent it to her.

No; it wasn’t a wise decision. Yes; I spent the next twenty years doing adoption counseling and telling other prospective parents not to do what I did. But – did I adopt a child from Thailand?

Alicia Yupin arrived seven months after that telephone call. She weighed 36 pounds and was 36 inches tall, and she was beautiful. She was the first of the four children I adopted as a single parent; her sisters were born in Korea, India, and Hong Kong, and, yes, they all came through agencies.

Alicia is now 40, and the mother of three children of her own. (All together, I have eight grandchildren.) Was I crazy to send that $5,000 to someone I didn’t know, who didn’t have all the right papers in order? It took almost five years and many sleepless nights before Alicia’s adoption was finalized and legal.

Yes. I was crazy. But I took a chance, and, for a little girl from Thailand and for me, I did the right thing. My decision changed both of our lives.

Is sending $5000 to a stranger across the planet an act of courage? Of faith? Of foolishness? Weigh in below, and read the previous entries here.