Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beautiful Adoption Story

I just read this story that was linked through this awesome blog.  It's from the Chicago Tribune, written by Angie Leventis Lourgos.  Excellent read on a rarity:  Open International Adoption.  So awesome!!


Sue and Ray Fumi awakened their first morning in Lima, Peru, to the news that their baby had already arrived.The couple scrambled to get ready to meet the 5-week-old girl they were adopting, eager to begin to love her as their own.

But they met with an unexpected twist: The baby was carried to their meeting in the arms of her birth mother, Candy Quispe Valdez. The Fumis had no idea the pretty young woman would decide to accompany the attorney's aide and personally hand them the baby.
"I just couldn't take her away," Sue Fumi said in her south suburban Lansing home 18 years later. "It was the moment I'd been waiting for. But at the same time, I almost felt like, 'Wow, I don't know if I can do this now.'"
Her husband was the first to pick up their daughter, Madeline Fumi, who is now 18 and has kept in touch with her birth mother through the years following that improbable meeting. Madeline has been visiting Valdez and four biological half-siblings outside Lima in the last week, her second journey to her ancestral homeland since she was adopted.
The confluence of Madeline's biological and adoptive worlds — which would be much more difficult today, as birth mothers' identities are unknown in most international adoptions — has helped her become more secure with being adopted and provided a connection to her heritage.

And with the help of one little clue from Valdez, the Fumis tracked down Madeline's two biological brothers in the Midwest, each with his own intriguing adoption story. The three siblings created an extended family, sharing summer vacations and milestones — as well as devastating events.

While the surprise encounter with Valdez originally made Sue Fumi tremble, she said it became easy to love this woman who relinquished her baby, giving the Fumis the daughter they so desired.

"I knew instantly that I would not forget her and that our family would not be complete without her," she said.

The beginning

The Fumis had adopted their then-18-month-old son, Andrew, domestically after an emotional roller coaster of four attempts that failed because the birth mothers changed their minds. They decided on an international adoption for their second child in an effort to avoid this last-minute disappointment.

They sensed that Valdez was sad but firm in her decision to let Madeline go.

As Sue Fumi prepared to leave Peru, Valdez slipped an envelope into her hand, asking her to mail it from the United States.

The letter's St. Louis address began to pique Sue Fumi's curiosity on the airplane. She copied the name, Lise Westfall, and the address. A few months later, she sent her own delicate letter to the stranger about 300 miles away, enclosing a picture of Madeline.

"There must be another baby," Sue Fumi thought.

Brother Michael

"I know this letter is very odd …" the note began.

But it wasn't odd to Westfall, who felt a surge of joy.

"Right away, I knew who the little girl was," she said. "This was Michael's sister."

Westfall was single and had longed for a child, when in 1990 she went to Peru to adopt a boy. She remembers meeting baby Michael in front of the courthouse steps in Lima, shocked to find him in the arms of Valdez. Like the Fumis, she never expected to meet the birth mother during an international adoption.

"When she handed him to me, he smiled at me," Westfall said from her home in O'Fallon, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis. "We both took that as a sign. And we both, together, started crying."

Westfall and Valdez stayed in contact, sharing pictures and letters through the years.

So when Westfall opened the letter from Sue Fumi, she immediately called and made plans to meet.

Westfall's next phone call was to Judy Claseman, who would be thrilled.

Brother Benjamin

Claseman, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., also was single when she went to Peru, about a year before Westfall's visit, to adopt her son.

Like the other women, she had been astounded to find Valdez holding baby Benjamin.

When the newborn started to cry, Claseman began fumbling with a bottle and formula. Valdez just laughed and offered the baby her breast. Claseman says it was a sweet moment, and she felt no possessiveness or jealousy.

Claseman had been adopted as well and always wondered about her blood relatives. She found her biological brother as an adult and later became godmother to his adopted daughter. When she finally found her birth mother, the woman declined to meet her. Claseman was crushed.

So she's pleased that Benjamin, now 21, has a relationship with Valdez. Claseman wants her son to cherish all the letters and gifts from her, including his handmade leather wallet and the pewter llama they keep in the curio cabinet.

"Because I had nothing," she said in a telephone interview.

Valdez had given Claseman's contact information to Westfall. They met at a McDonald's in Effingham when the boys were just toddlers. The two mothers marveled as the brothers happily played together on the slides, oblivious to the significance of their reunion.

The Fumis joined the group when Madeline was just a baby, and the families met annually, often at the Clasemans' cabin on Lake Huron.

They grew up together, which made Madeline's own adoption seem more normal during childhood. But it became tough for her during junior high, when her darker skin and Incan features seemed to separate her more from her family. Madeline began denying that she was adopted.

She was secretly hesitant when her mom planned a trip to Peru about five years ago so Madeline could see Valdez, her new husband and their four children.

Meeting the woman who relinquished her ultimately cured those adolescent insecurities.

"The trip changed my life and my perspective on everything," Madeline said.

Meeting mother

During that trip, Madeline watched the revolving door of the Holiday Inn in Lima spin around and around. She examined every woman's face for any resemblance to her own and vaguely wondered if her birth mother would hug her. She and her mom instantly recognized Valdez, who ran up the steps crying and embraced Madeline.
"My life before meeting my birth family, all those self-conscious moments, they came to a close during that hug," Madeline said.

She noted all the physical similarities between herself and Valdez, the deep brown skin tones, the high cheekbones, the similar noses. She got to know her siblings: Samuel, Jonathan, Lady Rose and Madelie Lise.

Now, traveling there again, Madeline said she has none of the apprehension of five years ago. She said she's proud of her "other half," as she refers to her Peruvian heritage and family abroad.

Valdez, now 46, said in an e-mail that she was excited about Madeline's return and hoped to make her comfortable and at home.

She said she placed her babies for adoption because she was poor and wanted them to have better lives. She brought the babies personally so she could meet the adoptive parents because she longed to have a relationship with her children as they grew. Although Valdez felt pain and shame at not being able to raise the children, she had no regrets after watching how Madeline, Michael and Benjamin were brought up.

"I see in the adoptive parents that they are good parents and have given their children the best," she said. "The true parents are not the ones that give birth, but the ones who raise them."

A loss and a gift

The children continued to share summers on Lake Huron as they grew. Benjamin was quiet and introspective. Michael was artistic and wise beyond his years. Madeline was becoming more outgoing and driven.

But as the kids grew older, one was getting sick and weaker.

Michael developed bone cancer as a teenager. He died on Feb. 11, 2008, at age 17. The Fumis and Clasemans attended the memorial and funeral. Madeline sat with his grandmother and wept. Valdez held a separate funeral service for Michael in Peru, which was attended by everyone in her neighborhood.

But before Michael died, he gave the entire family one last gift.

Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Michael brought Valdez and his siblings from Peru to St. Louis for a visit in summer 2007, and the Fumis and Clasemans joined them. While Michael and Madeline had already met Valdez in Peru, this was to be Benjamin's first encounter with his birth mother.

He said he was nervous and couldn't sleep the night before, wondering if Valdez would accept him.

Valdez approached slowly. Once he seemed comfortable, she held him and told him that she loved him.

Benjamin said he's always been grateful to Michael for making that hug possible.

One mystery left

One mystery still remains in Madeline's intricate adoptive-biological family.

Valdez had another son named Marcos, who was adopted in Italy and would be about 23 today. The adoptive moms have what they believe to be his passport number, but they haven't been able to find him.

Madeline occasionally thinks about this brother and became particularly curious when traveling in Italy about four years ago.

"I remember thinking, hmm, what if I saw someone randomly who looked like me?" she said.

The questions linger. Does he know he's adopted? Would he want to be found? Would she and the rest of the family be rejected?

"I think that would put a sour note on the whole adoption story," Madeline said. "Because I've always thought of my adoption story as this beautiful story."

But Sue Fumi tells her daughter this might be worth pursuing: Rather than ruining the adoption tale, Marcos could provide the final, touching chapter.

"You might be pleasantly surprised," Sue Fumi said.


Amber said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

Michael and Kylie said...

I miss you guys and especially the boys! Michael

Josephine Jude said...

Thanks for sharing :-) There should some means where the adoptees get to atlest trace out their birth moms.... There are counties where the adoptees grow up without a clue about who they actually are.... Sometimes during the search they might even hurt themselves by being rejected... But it's atleast far better than the suspense that kills and fantasies that you have to life with your entire life.