Most babies are delivered locally, in a neighborhood hospital. Our baby was delivered amid the baggage and ticket counters of our local international airport.
Because our new son had come to us from El Salvador, we got our first glimpse of him in a small passport photo, and brought him home six weeks later from National Airport. For us, Eastern Airlines flew in like a stork, a stewardess the only midwife available. We didn't plan to adopt a foreign-born child . . . in fact, we hadn't intended to adopt at all. Like so many children of the '50s grown up in the '60s, we fully expected -- took for granted -- that our lives could be systematically ordered and managed however we chose.
Meticulously, we plotted the ideal sequence of events: college graduation promptly followed by a few years of work at interesting, well-paying jobs. Two incomes would enable us to afford a home, nice furnishings, some travel . . . and then, maybe then, a baby (or two).
Four years ago, most of our dreams had been realized: a fancy new BMW as well as a second car, two good jobs, visits to Europe, California and Florida and our second home, a four-level townhouse in the suburbs. Nicest of all, we even had managed to save a few dollars.
We had arrived, successfully, at our late 20s, the perfect; time, we reasoned, to begin our own family. We had everything to offer a child and nothing to lose; but we soon were to learn that having a baby can be a gamble requiring a substantial investment in faith, perseverance and money. Even the best plans often don't work out the way you originally conceived them.
Infertile. Clinically speaking, that's what they call you when, after one year of trying, you remain childless. Such an ugly word. We shunned its implications, preferring to continue believeing that, for us, it was only a matter of time . . . and more intensified effort.
Marilyn's gynecologist suggested routine tests to determine the problem. Was it hormonal? Perhaps her tubes were blocked. Did she have an under- or overactive thyroid? And, most important, was she producing eggs? Bruce scheduled a visit to a urologist to rate the level and performance of his own contributions.
The test results showed that he was in fine shape. As for Marilyn, except for a low thyroid level, the only problem was that she wasn't ovulating normally. Diagnosis: anovulatory. Prescription: pills to regulate her thyroid and Clomid to stimulate egg production. Prognosis: good; no reason to expect we wouldn't become parents soon.
Two bedside companions -- a temperature chart and basal thermometer -- had now joined us; for the next 2 1/2 years they'd be constant reminders of our shared hopes and frustrations. One Clomid a day, seven days a month, was increased to two tablets daily. When, by the 12th month of treatment, Marilyn had been upped to three pills a day -- and still no results -- ovarian cysts convinced us that enough was enough! Besides, the ubiquitous thermometer indicated a disjointed pattern of body temperature peaks and valleys, instead of reaching a summit and then leveling off for at least 16 days in the desired plateau, a pattern that would indicate fertilization had occured. In all of those months, ovulation had occurred only once -- maybe.
Friends recommended Dr. George Speck, an Alexandria gynecologist who had pioneered techniques to deal with infertility. There was a waiting list, we were told, to see the doctor; but his new associate, Dr. John C. Paulson, could see us. We were comforted to learn from the nurses that Paulson himself was a "Dr. Speck baby."
Our initial consultation lasted more than three hours. After reviewing our medical records and infertility history, he provided an exhaustive and detailed explanation of the logistics of conception -- why procreation was considered the "miricle of birth." So much had to happen, so many body support systems had to function and cooperate simultaneously, it was truly a miracle that anyone got pregnant.
A treatment plan was presented along with a new set of buzz words: There were prolactin tests and estrogen tests and thyroid tests and tests to determine if our sperm and cervical mucus were antagonistic. There was an endomentrial biopsy to consider and laproscopy, "belly button" surgery. There was Provera and progesterone to bring on menstruation, and a spinnbarkeit series to evaluate the mucus that reflected the uterine environment in which fertilization would or would not occur. Then, too, there were LH, FSH, and HCG, acronyms for substances that would work with our own body hormones to stimulate "follicular" development. (follicles are the casings that envelop and thrust eggs into the uterine canal before conception.) And finally there was Pergonal -- "the gun" -- a fertility drug whose notoriety for stimulating multiple conceptions periodically made headlines.
Once determined that our problem was simply a lack of ovulation, the mechanics of our treatment were outlined quite graphically: Clomid -- which works on the hypothalmus and pituitary gland to send a message to trigger ovum production -- would now be used to "prime" the process. It would be followed by frequent visits to the doctor for examinations and injections of Pergonal -- which stimulates the ovaries directly -- and a spinnbarkett series to access mucus production . . . a short shuttle to Alexandria Hospital was to follow, where the radiology department would take sonograms to measure the new follicles and ensure that the treatment wasn't overstimulating Marilyn's ovaries.
Early-morning 24-hour urine analyses would later be performed by the hospital's laboratory to calculate her estrogen level. Then -- if all systems were "go" -- HCG injections would be administered to encourage and speed up the actual ovulation.
Oh yes, we were also to continue charting temperature levels; then, at the doctor's say-so, five to seven days of marathon sexual relations.
In sum, a minimum of 10 days each month and at least 700 round-trip miles would be required. And, while the fee for the doctor's services was modest by comparison, the cost of the rest of the treatment was something else to consider: Clomid, alone, cost about $25 per month; Pergonal ran about that much per ampule . . . and at least 10 ampules each month would probably be needed. Added to that were fees for other prescribed hormones, laboratory tests, sonograms, hospital visits, gasoline and radiologist services. The bill for our treatment could reach $1,000 monthly.
While we, of course, had reservations about the commitment involved in time, travel and money -- not to mention the tampering with our bodies -- we decided, nonetheless, to submit ourselves wholeheartedly to the treatment. The end justified these means; and an end, we now believed, was sometime in sight.
Month after month, things continued to look promising: marilyn produced good mucus, good temperature charts, good estrogen levels and good sized follicles. Sometimes the signs were too good to be true -- as she developed all the right symptoms (morning sickness, late periods, weight loss, that "special glow," etc.), we rushed to the hospital to undergo another laboratory test. The Rapid Beta Test, a specialized blood analysis, would tell -- positively -- whether a fertilized egg had attached itself to the uterine wall. Had pregency occurred?
"Doubtful," said the doctor when we called in for the test results. Doubtful? How could a supposedly conclusive test indicate maybe yes, maybe no? Apparently, a certain number of "betas" would indicate a definite pregnancy; relatively few betas should be present unless the hoped-for had happened. Marilyn's beta count was marginal -- higher than it should be without conception, but far too few to lend hope that conception had actually taken place.
One month stands out in particular: Our schedule called for the alarm to be set for 5:30 a.m. Then, after sex befor sunrise, Marilyn was to insert a "plug" and rush to the doctor for a "post-coital" test. She'd have to race back to her school, where she taught mentally and physically handicapped children; then on to the hospital that same afternoon for a sonogram and back again to the doctor for yet another injection.
The peaks and valleys of the temperature chart had begun to measure our emotions, reflecting the ups and downs of our patience and attitudes towards each other. The baby boom all around us didn't help matters much. Friends and relatives continued to call us excitedly to report on their good news.
For us there were long, drawn-out periods of emotionally draining stress, because the hormones she consumed tended to drag what used to be "that time" of the month now forever on end. We thanked God that the ordeal, somehow, had actually strengthened our relationship as we learned of many other couples who had been driven apart by the strain and tension.
Ten months had passed since we first consulted an infertility specialist; after five cycles of therapy, we were still barren. We agreed to one last attempt. This time, the treatment cycle would be fortified by mild tranquilizers (to calm us), antibiotics (just in case some unknown germs were working against us) and nocturnal wine (to restore a little romance to our love-making).
It didn't work.
One year and about $6,000 later, we had no choice but to accept our infertility.
There comes a point in the lives of every infertile couple when they are forced to deal with the "ego" question. Does your ability to love extend to any child, or must the progeny be genetically of your own flesh and blood?
We decided to adopt only to learn just how difficult adoption is these days. A combination of reliable birth control methods, abortion on demand and the fact that more unwed mothers were keeping their children contributed to fewer healthy babies being placed for adoption.
We were told it was possible to adopt a handicapped child, but for us, that wasn't acceptable because Marilyn dealt all day long with children who had special needs and often took their problems home with her. The search and the wait for a healthy child -- preferably an infant -- began in earnest.
We compiled a list of adoption agencies and proceeded to make telephone calls. Starting with the public social service departments, we inquired first in the jurisdictiom where we lived, Prince William County. Subsequent call followed to Fauquier and Arlington counties and Alexandria. All said there were no infants to be had. Would we consider serving as foster parents to older adolescents or troubled teen-agers? The Children's Home Society of Richmond said they'd put our names on their waiting list -- but said they gave top- priority to Richmond residents.
Next were the religious-affiliated agencies. Beginning with our own persuasion, we contacted the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. We were "lucky," they told us, because their waiting list would close at 40; were now number 38. How long a wait could we expect? At least four years.
Catholic Charities periodically had younger children available for adoption -- especially in such transient areas as Norfolk. But to be eilgible, at least one parent had to be Catholic. Similar requirements were placed by Episcopal Social Services and the Baptist Children's Home. Lutheran Social Services didn't ask our religion but had no children; they could, however, assist us in arranging an overseas adoption. Christ Child Society referred us to St. Anne's Infant Asylum which , in turn,. sent us back to Catholic Charities.
When we heard of a young, pregnant woman who attended a local church, we contacted her pastor. He said he'd be glad to consider us if only we'd become members of his congregation.
The Council on Adoptable Children provides support and holds classes for prospective adoptive parents. They were more optimistic; but, like others, they specialized in older, "problem" or handicapped children. Pierce-Warwick deals primarily with black or mixed-heritage children, some handicapped, all with special needs. The eligibility requirements of The Baker Foundation -- one othe area's preeminent private adoptive agencies -- were more formidable. Prospective adopters must have been married for a certain number of years, be parents of no "biological" children and must fit within specific age criteria. We qualified. They required their clients to live within a 25-mile radius of the District of Columbia. We didn't. Family and Child Services of Washington, another District-licensed adoption agency required the same stringent marital, offspring, age and residency eligiblity criteria.
There's an underground communication network that sooner or later parents in search of children ultimately tune in to, and we soon were following leads for so-called "private" adoptions. We called doctors and lawyers -- inside the state and out -- but were disappointed to hear mainly about "black market" babies and "surrogate" parent programs.
A childless couple from Maryland had taken matters into their own hands, and were more fortunate than most. They successfully placed an unusual classified ad -- "young Caucasian couple wishes to adopt a child" -- in a local newspaper and, for them, it had worked. The exchange between biological and adoptive mothers took place in the hospital's parking lot because rules required release of the child to its natural parents only. We were impressed with their tenacity and candor, but decided that route wasn't for us since such unorthodox procedures were frowned upon -- especially in Virginia.
We knew of many people who had adopted adorable Vietnamese children the refugee influx, so our next call was to the Vietnamese Resettlement Center in downtown Washington. Maybe it was a poor connection or confusion in translation, but it seemed that the man who answered was willing to place his youngest grandchild, 18 months old, for adoption. The only hitch was that we'd also have to take in the rest of the family: mother and father, six older brothers and sisters.
When we heard on a network television program that homes were needed for Korean orphans, we followed instructions and called the American Red Cross. But the local chapter knew nothing about the need or the organization's program; they referred us back once again to Catholic Charities.
Baltimore's Jewish Community Center, we were informed, needed families in which to place exiled Iranian children of Semetic descent. But the agency's social worker said she knew nothing about it. She did not tell us to call Catholic Charities.
Other groups that specialized in placing foreign-born children were more encouraging. But, according to the Holt Agency, the Latin American Parents Association and the Adoption Association Inc., we'd generally be expected to go overseas and perhaps establish residency to qualify for an international adoption.
We began to feel that we were either too late or too early, the wrong religion or living in the wrong place to qualify for adopting a healthy American or foreign baby through presumably normal channels.
Occasional business travels took Bruce to other cities. Wherever he went he looked under "Adoption Agencies" (see "Social Services") in the local telephone directory. Sometime, somewhere, somehow -- he prayed there would be a baby for the Joffes.
During a trip to Miami last October, Bruce began the by-now routine process. The fourth and last number he dialed was answered on the third ring. "Universal Aid for Children," said a woman's voice with an unmistakable New York accent. "I'm all alone in the office and talking long distance on the other phone. Can you wait a few minutes"?
The voice belonged to Lorri Kellogg, an effusive woman whose life at 40 was, first and foremost, essentially "kid-oriented."
Five years ago, she had a $25,000-a-year job and a fancy apartment with a life style that included sailing, scuba diving and tennis four mornings a week. Today she lives on a tight budget and devotes her life to needy children -- and parents -- all over the world.
Kellogg had become a parent by choice, not by circumstance. Married for eight years and later divorced, she could not have any biological children of her own. So she sponsored Myung Sook Uhm, a Korean orphan, through World Vision, and watched the child grow up in snapshots and short histories.
In 1976, Kellogg made national headlines when she became the first unmarried American approved by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to adopt a foreign child. Now she is mother to four. Three of her daughters were Korean orphans; the latest family addition is a little girl from Belize. The Kelloggs live with their three dogs, a cat and two gerbils; all travel together in a small car covered with bumper stickers proclaiming, "Adoption Is a Special Word for Love."
"I had so much trouble adopting my first daughter," Kellogg recalls. "It was so difficult to get the right information and to know the right steps to take. There were so many federal and international laws to comprehend. When I finally succeeded in adopting her, I swore there should be a specialized agency for people who want to adopt foreign-born children and to follow the proper procedures."
Her personal crusade to help change the U.S. Immigration Law led Kellogg to organize Universal Aid for Children. in May 1977. Since its founding, UAC has successfully helped more than 150 children -- from El Salvador, Columbia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, India, Lebanon and Korea -- to begin new lives in America.
"Every child deserves to have its God-given right to belong to someone who will help him or her grow into a healthy and productive adult" is Kellogg's philosophy and her agency's creed. "I feel like a woman who has over a hundred children, and I love it!"
Universal Aid for Children is a non-profit Miami-based adoption agency. It receives no public funding grants or endowments. Income is derived from reasonable fees required to study the prospective home and from the sale of adoption paraphernalia such as T-shirts, books, dolls and bumper stickers, plus emergency funds from a few benefactors.
The agency is staffed by dedicated volunteers, but employs professional social workers (on a case-by-case basis), international and domestic attorneys, translators and bilingual escorts who sometimes receive "hazard" pay to go into the foreign countries and expedite the process.
The agency handles adoptions for both couples and singles, but is geared to placing foreign-born children with families living in Florida. The agency also provides clothing, medical assistance and food to needy youngsters in Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Korea.
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting so long, but I was on an overseas call," Kellogg told me. "Now, how can I help you?
Midway through the sturm and angst of Bruce's lamentation she stopped him, saying she'd heard it all many times. But this woman and her organization seemed genuinely interested and concerned. Because ours was the first out-of-state international adoption they'd encountered, we'd have to proceed judiciously by letting the agency's attorneys study Virginia's law on adoptions. As a participating member of Interstate Compact, through which a licensed agency in one state can represent a client for adoption in another, it was possible that UAC could help.
"Don't worry, darling . . . we won't leave you hanging," Kellogg said. "If we can't help you, we'll find people who can and put you in touch."
It was off to the library to copy some 20 pages of the Virginia State Code, then awaiting -- and dreading -- her call with the verdict. Two weeks later we received our first good news: Within certain limitations (we weren't eligible, through UAC, for a Korean or Indian adoption), the agency would be glad to represent us. We were to fill out and return all the papers that had already been sent to us.
As of last Oct. 14, the Joffes were affectionately known as UAC's Virginia "test" case. As with any adoption, the process called for extensive screening followed by months -- instead of years -- of waiting, hoping and anticipating. It would take between seven and 10 months, we were told, from our first contact with the agency until our child's arrival in Miami.
We filled out the application, provided required medical reports, references and a statement of motivation. We had to furnish copies of our marriage license, birth certificates, tax forms and employment verification. We were asked about our interests, hobbies and affiliations. We were to provide a personal financial statement. A $700 fee was to accompany the application.
The fee covered preparation of a comprehensive home study, assistance with immigration matters, consultations with attorneys and as much "helpful information as possible" concerning the availability of children, requirements of different foreign countries and adoption procedures in general.
Costs for an international adoption vary country by country. We would be responsible for a mileage fee for caseworker visits with us, other travel costs, attorney fees and charges collected by the child's country of origin, including translation of the home study and other important documents. For us, outside of Florida, we also added round-trip airfare for the baby's escort between Miami and Washington. It would probably cost between $3,000 and $5,000, plus the agency's $700 home-study fee, just to bring our baby into the country. Once our application was received and at least three references had responded, we would be contacted by a caseworker to arrange the first study session.
About Thanksgiving, UAC held its annual fund-raising banquet. Kellogg suggested that we attend. She'd arrange our first and second study sessions while we were there, and we'd be able to meet other adoptive parents and their children.
Three study sessions with a case worker technically required before placement. Our first took place at 10 p.m. one Friday at Bruce's parents' home in Coral Springs -- it lasted less than two hours. The second session would follow on Sunday, when we attended the banquet. The third and final would be arranged later. It had to take place at our home in Manassas.
For Marilyn, the beautiful banquet and bouncing babies were a joy to behold; for Bruce, however, it was an unexpected eye-opener. The children -- one and all, from wherever they hailed -- unquestionably were precious. But blond, blue-eyed and fair-skinned they most certainly weren't.
The technicalities and festivities now almost over, we left to catch an early flight to Washington. As we headed for the door, Kellogg caught our eye with a smile and serendipity. "Listen, kids," she whispered, "I think we can save you some money on your home study."
Our caseworker was planning to visit her own parents next month over the Christmas vacation. They lived outside of Charlottesville, just a three-hour drive from where we lived. Instead of $300 in round-trip airfare, the mileage bill submitted for our home study was to be only $71.40, plus $4.80 in postage.
Congratulations were in order on Jan. 30, when we heard from the agency that we had passed all the tests. Lorri Kellogg outlined the next phase in the process.
Because we wanted an infant and were eligible only for a child from South or Central America, El Salvador was suggested; adoption from that country was the easiest to arrange. Elsewhere in Latin America we'd have to travel to the country -- two or three times. Intermediaries could represent us if we agreed to adopt from El Salvador.
But a child from El Salvador presented an entirely new set of worries. The country's internal political chaos had already resulted in thousands of deaths, bombing of the Salvadoran passport office, periodic attacks on the U.S. Embassy, and roads often too dangerous to travel. There were delays to expect, anti-American sentiment to contend with.
There were problems intrinsic to the adoption. A relative newcomer to the international adoption scene, Universal Aid for Children depended on the personal contacts it had painstakingly established with orphanages and some other referral links, to locate the children it would eventually place. The process could take several months.
"A baby is due to be born within the next two to three weeks," Kellogg said on Feb. 12. "If the child is healthy and the mother signs the required consent, the child is yours!"
There were more forms to complete and return overnight. We were to include a check to pay for the legal work in El Salvador, translation of papers from English to Spanish, passport and visa, photos, medical costs, airfare and excort to Miami. It would also cover two months of foster care, but not food or diapers.
We began marking days off the calendar. Two weeks later, Kellogg's second call came.
"I'm sorry to say," she began, "the girl still has not given birth. But I've just been informed that there's a healthy baby girl, 2 months old, who's available -- now -- if you want her."
What should we do? Kellogg didn't want to give us advice, but she reminded us of the old saying about a bird in the hand, and gave us 24 hours.
After confessing to each other that we had hoped for a girl, we called and said we'd take her. The commitment was made without seeing a photograph or medical report. These would follow shortly, within about two weeks.
As it turned out, we had made the right decision. The very next day we heard again from Kellogg. The mother had just given birth but had decided to keep her baby. But the paperwork was already in El Salvador being processed and there was a 2-month-old baby available.
Except, there was one small problem.
"Bruce, I don't quite know how to tell you this," Kellogg said. "Are you sitting down?" An error in translation had been made somewhere between the Salvadoran attorney's office and the agency's secretary. "Muchacho" was mistaken for "muchacha" and it turned out that our darling little daughter was, in fact, a beautiful baby boy.
Did it matter?
Nothing, thus far, had gone according to plan. We decided to go ahead with the adoption. Barring unforeseen complications we could reasonably expect to receive our baby in two to four months, possibly sooner.
Final countdown. These would be some of the most difficult days we'd experience. Every new account of trouble in El Salvador troubled us. March 19 we received a passport-size photo of our son and a preliminary medical report from the pediatrician who had examined him. At "approximately 4 months," he weighed 11 pounds and measured 24 1/2 inches. He was in overall good health.
His official papers from El Salvador were expected to be delivered by courier to our agency on March 30. They weren't. When they still hadn't arrived by April 14, we decided there was new cause for alarm. On April 16, Kellogg called to tell us that the papers were out of El Salvador, but had gotten lost in transit.
As we began, on April 18, the traditional four questions Jews ask during the Passover seder, the telephone rang. We tensed. It was Kellogg calling to inform us that the papers had been found.
On April 20, Kellogg rushed the papers along with our pre-processed visa petition to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for approval. She called us later to relate a little more information about our son: He had been born on Jan. 26, 1981, to an unmarried domestic, age 18, and a 23-year-old farmworker.
On April 23, our son had his visa appointment at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. He was approved for immigration the following Monday.
On April 27, our baby was escorted from El Salvador on a flight that arrived at 1:30 p.m. in Miami. Kellogg was on hand to receive him at the airport, where she waited with him three hours for a 4:50 flight to Washington. She would allow no one else to deliver our baby to us; she was determined to do the honors herself.
Jonah Harrison Joffe (ne Daniel Elias Rodriguez) arrived at 7 p.m. via Eastern Airlines flight 176 into National Airport. Marilyn's water broke, literally, when he was placed in her arms; paternal pride beamed everywhere.
We had spent almost four years and $11,000 to have a child of our own. And though the long wait was over, there were still plenty of things to do. Jonah wasn't officially ours yet.
There would be postplacement visits to go through with our municipal social service agency, while a local attorney petitioned the Virginia courts in our behalf for Jonah's adoption and custody.
Was it all worth it, some people wonder? Yes, yes, yes.
"In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again," said James Agee. "And in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility towards human life; towards the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of error, and of God."