The Romanian Boy Who Overcame The Dark Side of International Adoption

The Romanian boy who overcame the dark side of an international adoption

Nicolae Burcea got smallpox immediately after arriving in the US in 2002. He was sick in bed, looking out the window in a nice neighborhood. The 8-year old boy felt uncertain where the future was gonna lay, but it was the best feeling of being uncertain- to go to bed and not to worry about when you’re gonna be beaten up,when your food is gonna be stolen. It was a big relief. But of course, only for so long.

In his early childhood, he was Nicolae Burcea, but friends called him Nicu. After being adopted, the boy’s name became Nicolae Butler, and everybody in the US called him Nico.

The 23-year old man now uses Nicolae Burcea when he writes books or in casual conversations, but he’s still a Butler in official documents. Officially, though, he’s no longer a member of the Butler family.

“I like to think about it, to say that I’m a new generation Charles Dickens character because everything is an up and down. (…) The amount of luck I get is incredible especially given the odds,” says Nicolae.

In a hours-long Skype interview, Nicolae tries to disentangle his life story, to explain it to a stranger. It’s not the first time. He’s written a book about his early childhood in orphanages in Romania and he’s told his story hundreds of times. But despite the suffering, the young man feels that there could be a meaning, that his story could inspire others.

Nicolae Burcea was born in December 1993 and placed in the “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care center in Bucharest’s District 1, according to his adoption papers.

Nicolae remembers a room full of cribs, everybody crying, car horns from outside, sitting in a room forever, and nobody coming to the room.

He wrote a book about his early years called “Memories of Childhood: Life in the Romanian Orphanages”. The book has a small poem as a dedication.

“These Memoirs are dedicated to
My biological and adoptive mothers,
So that you will know a part
Of my life that you never experienced with me.”

Nicolae now lives in Berlin, where he’s enrolled in a master’s program at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. He hasn’t yet visited Romania, but when he comes to Bucharest, he first wants to visit the “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care center. The center no longer exists; instead, it hosts the headquarters of the District 1’s General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection.

The “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care was closed before Romania joined the EU, as part of a large deinstitutionalization process. The institution was shut down and replaced with three alternative services, with pre-accessing EU funds of over EUR 1 million.

The orphanage was synonym to abuses, from getting whipped to being sexually abused by the other kids. Caretakers played a role, but it was a vicious circle, says Nicolae. Caretakers were cruel to kids, who became abusers. “The orphanage is viciously making people abuse others and themselves,” he adds.

When asked if it’s not too disturbing to talk about these things, Nicolae replies immediately:

“Not an issue. I think for me the abuse has been so much and I am so used to it that I’ve become detached from it,” Nicolae says.

Around 2000, a family of wealthy engineers from Missouri, US, started the process to adopt Nicolae, who was from a Roma family. Most of the people prefer to adopt babies, but this family wanted to give a chance to an older boy.

His adoption papers include a report drafted by the Sperante foundation, which describes Nicolae’s mental and emotional development.

“The language is normally developed, the vocabulary is well represented, he uses complex sentences and can reproduce short poems. (…) He is emotionally balanced and has a proper social behavior,” reads the report.

Nicolae was healthy and went to school. “For my parents, I was like the perfect kid. In the US they all think all these kids just need a loving home and they’ll be perfect. It’s a lot of myth and I guess good selling from the people at adoption agencies,” Nicolae says.

The adoption process took forever, but a final decision came in April 2002. The document certified that the adoption of Nicolae Viorel Burcea was carried out according to the law.

By June 2002, Nicolae had his first bedroom ever, in a white neighborhood in the Saint Louis area, in the Missouri state. He was eight and a half.

“For me, when I was adopted was like the best moment. Because I was like the most important guy. You come from a place where you are nobody and suddenly you are the most important person in that family,” says Nicolae.

Nicolae in Romania

His adoptive family was a very caring and loving one, especially his dad. His mom used to dream about adopting a kid since she was a little girl.

“I had everything,” says Nicolae.

It seemed like a fairy tale, but things didn’t go as planned.

Nicolae was not easy to handle. In school, he got suspended many times. He was aggressive, talking back to teachers, showing high defiance, not following orders. He once punched a disabled guy when the boy took his soccer ball and refused to give it back to him.

School was tough.

“People look at you and you have dark skin and your parents are white skin. How did this happen? This obviously makes you feel pretty awkward. Especially because I went to very white communities,” Nicolae says.

He’d have to explain that he had been in an orphanage. People would sympathize with it. But to him this was bad.

“Nobody gives me anything because I deserve or because I earn it. They always give it to me because they sympathize and this makes you feel less of a human when you are being victimized not by yourself but by all the people who are surrounding you,” Nicolae explains.

The boy suffered from reactive attachment disorder, a very rare disorder in which kids don’t establish healthy attachments with parents.

“Parents didn’t treat their kids right, didn’t love them and eventually you get people who are incapable of loving others. And when people show love, it’s seen as a threat,” Nicolae says.

He found it difficult to adapt to an organized, rule-driven family, after years of chaos in orphanages. The rules felt as authority, and he had been traumatized by abusive authority in his past.

“I felt that my power was being taken away from me. When somebody said ‘go to bed at this hour’, I was like: I don’t want to do that. The authority felt very much like the orphanage in that sense.”

His parents became obsessed with fixing him, took him to several therapists, put him on medication. The situation at home got pretty bad. Nicolae felt that he was cast in the troublemaker role and that no matter what he’d do, he’d be different from the rest of the family.

“I became this super obscene, super trouble kid who cannot work in this very nice loving family,” Nicolae says.

Nicolae tells the story as if he was the bad character who failed. This tendency stems from his first years in the foster care system, he explains.

“You are kind of taught to take the blame when you are in foster care. Why are you there? Why would a normal family put you there?”.

But things were more complex. His family had the money, the lifestyle, but they had no patience, they had no time, they were stubborn, very engineer- minded, Nicolae adds.

All the therapists would tell them to stop thinking of a kid as something that you could fix. “This is a kid who has been through a lot, is working through a lot. You can’t compare him to his brothers.” Nicolae remembers that his parents would lock him in his room for hours, for days.

He thinks that his parents were people who had never experienced big trauma in their lives, who wanted to help but weren’t prepared to deal with a traumatized kid, who was far from perfect.

Every night he would always ask them “Even if I’m a terrible kid would you give up someone like me?” That became a ritual, something he would do every night. And every night the parents would say “We love you till everything, never will we give you up.”

The constant fear that he could be abandoned again was there all the time.

***

Dealing with Nicolae created a rift in the family. His grandparents had one way of thinking how to take care of the kids and his mom had another. Nicolae remembers a summer trip to Florida when he was 12.

They got into a fight over Nicolae. His grandparents told the parents that Nicolae was just a kid, that he just wanted to go to the beach and have fun. “Leave him be. You don’t have to be so restrictive, always think that he’s no good. He may be, but not all the time. Kids are kids,” Nicolae remembers his grandparents saying.

Things continued to escalate. At 16, there was an incident when Nicolae became physical with his parents and he had a fight with his dad.

“My dad told me something and it came to me as very aggressive, at least verbally and I immediately stroke back. This was after the situation at home got really bad,” he says.

His parents called the police. The officer took Nicolae to a medical center, which is what happens if you don’t know where to put kids and you don’t want to put them in jail, Nicolae explains. After a few days, his parents had to pick him up.

They came to the medical center, only to drop him off in an institution two hours later. They went to the court a few weeks later and gave Nicolae up to the state.

“I think it’s a fairytale gone wrong for them. I think it’s literally a German fairy tale on a grim side,” Nicolae explains. “They never got what they wanted. They wanted a kid who loved them, followed their rules, a kid they could react to. I wasn’t that way.”

Then he adds: “This is just what happens. This is just the dark side of adoptions gone wrong.”

***

Nicolae now lives in Berlin, but spends the summer in London. People have often told him while he was abroad: “Oh my God, you come from America; please tell me how awesome it is. How great it is.”

Not only that he got the bad end of America in sense of family, but he also got the worst of it in the sense of where unwanted kids go, Nicolae says.

At 16, Nicolae became one of the United States of America’s unwanted kids.

In 2015, there were about 428,000 kids in the US foster care system, according to US official statistics.

“You get the kids who are unwanted and you get the kids who are high abusers. (…) Their lives are ruined. There is no other way of saying it. Many kids, two-thirds of us, would end up in jail. That’s what we were told. It was just a fact of life,” Nicolae says.

When he entered the foster care system, he went from being a terrible kid to a great kid. He had more freedom, he could dictate his plan based on his behavior. This was in the beginning. After some months, he became really frustrated about the system’s immovability. The education was terrible, nobody cared about you. He was scared to remain in the same institution for years, so he tried to force the system. The only way to move forward was to get expelled.

Nicolae moved to several schools and different levels of the foster care system. Meanwhile, his former adoptive parents were still in touch with him, although they were no longer his parents.  This felt like a pressure for Nicolae. Once they relaxed their grip on him, Nicolae started improving. He decided to prepare himself for college. He read everything that he could find, wrote a lot.

At 21, the state gave him up, and his grandparents stepped more into the picture. They helped him pay for the college.

“We’ve always thought that he was very smart and he’s always wanted to go to college very badly so we’ve helped him with finances although he got some grants,” says his grandmother Velma. “If it didn’t work out it didn’t work out, but at least we felt that he had a chance.”

Nicolae joined a fraternity, became the school vice president, played football, had two jobs. He managed to do four years of college in two years. Nicolae’s good results weren’t a surprise for his grandparents.

“We were expecting that because he would read anything he could get his hands on,” says Velma.

“He knew a lot more about the US Government than I did,” adds his grandfather Marion.

After college, Nicolae came to Europe, where he’s currently in a master’s program in international relations.

One of his teachers recently asked him if he felt that he belonged anywhere. He doesn’t feel American, nor Romanian, but he’d like to come to Romania someday and do something big here; maybe even run for the president office someday. Many people have told him that it’s a crazy dream, but Nicolae says that he doesn’t want a simple life. He wants to inspire people, to change Romania’s image abroad.

“I would say my parents never left me so much room to kind of do things on my own. They thought I was a kid, treated me as a kid, never let me do things independently. This caused a rift in the family. It just became a psychological battle between me and them. When I had the freedom to do what I could do, all I had to do was show people: look, I am an exceptional kid.”

By Diana Mesesan, features writer, diana@romania-insider.com

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Asociatia Catharsis Brasov- Registered Adoption Agency.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Brasov, Romania.

From 15 to 29 July this year, together with the Directorate-General for social assistance and the protection of the rights of the child, we organised the third course of this year, to prepare families who want to adopt a child. We are glad that other 13 families of brașoveans are prepared to receive a baby from romanians in their lives.

For three weeks, the participants received detailed information about abandoned children, about abandonment issues, about the biological family, and in particular about the role of foster foster family. This time, I put the emphasis on children with hard profiles and their needs.

The theme, well-structured in three sessions, was supported by an interdisciplinary team composed of Alina Bedelean, Cathy Ross and ioana lepădatu, clementina trofin and silvia tișcă – social workers, Eva Pirvan-Szekely, lawyer. I also invited the adoptive parents, who opened their soul and shared the learners aspects of their experience.

At the same time as the theoretical knowledge of the role of a parent, which lasts three weeks, the psychological and social evaluation is also done. All these procedures take 90 days, after which the cursanții will receive the family attestation fit to adopt one or more children.
Currently in brasov, more than 100 families want to adopt a child and their number is increasing. We hope so that our efforts to provide a family of their own and permanent to an eligible child will contribute to the higher interest of abandoned children, to say mommy… Daddy… Home…

The training, and development of parental capacities this year are financially supported by our traditional partner, onlus Oikos Italia, President, Don Eugenio Battaglia.

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Asociatia Catharsis Brasov

Asociatia Catharsis Brasov

As of January 2005, when the current adoption law came into force, the number of national adoptions dropped sharply from 1.422 in 2004 to 313 in 2016, and the number of international adoptions dropped from 251 in 2004 to 2 in 2006, one in 2007, 8,, 10, 11, 12, 12 At the same time, it increased the number of abandoned children from 44.000 in 2004 to 70.000 in 2010. Irony. Although it increased the number of families qualified to adopt one or more children, there were very few national adoptions. It also increased the interest of romanians established abroad for adoption of a child. But adoption law allowed international adoption only to grandparents residing abroad. That’s just so they don’t make international adoptions! No grandfather has ever adopted an abandoned nephew, not even in Romania. In addition, adoption sets between the child and the foster family, an affectionate connection, while between grandpa and child there is already a blood link. We’ve managed, hard, very hard to replace grandparents with third-degree relatives, then four and the result of adoption was still zero. Hard, unimaginably hard to obtain the right of romanians abroad for adoption. We had to fight the legislature, because the number of romanians residing abroad was always growing. And I did. Children’s drama harassed by foster homes after growing up in foster families and the statistical data provided by the Romanian media gave us the courage to start the adoption crusade. And we’ve managed with other ngos to amend three times the articles that have made the national adoption difficult, but we haven’t yet here the international adoption-only chance for sick children in an adoption family. Still no international adoptions. The Romanian state still prefers institutionalisation instead of the foster family. The adoption law still humiliates romanians who make extraordinary efforts to adopt a child. Of the total 57.581 children, only 3250 are adoption. And 5 children were adopted international last year, although it was adoption 534. The adoption law humiliates families of romanians in the country and abroad who want to adopt, destroy dreams and kill hope. For impossible reasons, adoption law makes the lives of romanians who want to adopt the future of abandoned children. Romanian abroad are required by law, article 3, to leave her husband alone at home, to give up work and income and a comfortable life with her husband, whether it is all romanian or foreign .. The future mothers were bound by the law of adoption to live effectively and continuously 12 months in Romania, before submitting the adoption request. Many ladies got sick, depressed and gave up. The loser was the kid, and the family, and the state, but nobody cares! I asked for the repeal of article 3 that provides such nonsense. Instead of being repealed, this article has been amended, reduce to 6 months in the territory of Romania… Crazy… and a lot of other bullshit calls for adoption law three times in the last 8 years. For example: Romanians are obliged to make a statement that they have lived effectively and continuously in Romania, before submitting their adoption application!!! Another 90 days, three months, must stay in the country to Participate in the parenting class, the evaluation procedures. After, he has to stay a while to sign the psycho-Social Evaluation Report, the last document required to get the statement. Then get the certificate. And there goes the year. After obtaining the statement, families are registered in the national adoption registry, after which, there is a very long wait, which sometimes leads to even quitting. What sadness, such disappointment, only the Romans know. And all that while tens of thousands of abandoned children want a family.

A Mother’s Journey to Reunite Adopted Romanian Daughter With Her Roots.

A family reunited for the first time. From left: Cristina Graham; Jonquil Graham; Cristina's birth mother; Cristina's ...

This story is written by Nina Hindmarsh, Nelson Mail, Newspaper of the Year; Canon Media Awards. May 2017. 

A family reunited for the first time. From left: Cristina Graham; Jonquil Graham; Cristina’s birth mother; Cristina’s birth sisters Geanina-Ionela and Maria-Magdalena.

A horse pulls a cart down a dirt road. Geese flap their way through the dust.

In a small Romanian village on the border of Moldova, 26-year-old Cristina Graham walks apprehensively with her adopted mother, Jonquil Graham. They are there, thousands of kilometres from home, to meet the woman who gave Cristina away 25 years ago.

She is small and toothless, waiting with her hands clasped tightly behind her back in front of a barren, cobb house. Next to her on crutches is her husband and Cristina’s older half-sister, Maria-Magdalena. Until now, they have never met.

Cristina hugs her birth sister first, then her birth mother. Cristina doesn’t cry, but Cristina’s birth mother sobs as she holds her tightly, swaying her back and forth.

She tells Cristina she didn’t have the conditions to care for her, that her violent husband at the time, Cristina’s father, did not like children and that her sister had pushed her to give Cristina up.

“I felt sad for her,” Cristina says later. “It was hard seeing her like that.”

After that first meeting, Cristina explores the bare neighbourhood of Bivolari that would have been her’s had she stayed in Romania.

She didn’t expect to see her birth family living like this. She is beginning to grasp what poverty really means.

Her birth family’s health is suffering due to alcoholism. There is no running water in the house, no power, and they bathe from a bucket.

Six of the adopted Graham kids. From left to right: Tristan, Misha, Cristina, Joanna, Natasha, Masha

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Six of the adopted Graham kids. From left to right: Tristan, Misha, Cristina, Joanna, Natasha, Masha

It is far from the idyllic childhood Cristina had being raised on a kiwifruit orchard in Golden Bay, among the loving, hustle-and-bustle of a sprawling melting-pot family.

Jonquil and her husband Bryan were one of the first New Zealand couples to attempt inter-country adoption, which included three girls from Romania. Cristina was one of them.

Together, the pair have adopted and raised nine children and fostered 20 more.

Unable to conceive children, Jonquil and Brian first became “accidental” adoptive parents when a relative could no longer care for their difficult 3-year-old daughter.

The Grahams took in the girl, and in the years following nearly 30 more children flooded into their care.

“We thought we could just love any child,” says Jonquil. “It doesn’t matter what colour or what creed. We had a big house, and we thought, ‘why not?’ Fill up the house.”

A FOUR-MONTH BATTLE

Jonquil remembers the putrid scent of boiled cabbage, urine and cleaning products as she entered a room lined with cots.

Jonquil and Bryan Graham with their three adopted Romanian daughters. From left; Jonquil with Cristina; Bryan with ...

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Jonquil and Bryan Graham with their three adopted Romanian daughters. From left; Jonquil with Cristina; Bryan with Natasha and Johanna.

“What struck me was the quietness,” she says. “Babies don’t cry in there, and they don’t because nobody is going to pick them up. Their needs were not met.”

In Romania’s orphanages, babies and children were so severely neglected they had learned not to cry, because no one would answer.

Jonquil recalls the trip they took with Cristina last year as a part of TV3’s Lost and Found which aired in March. It was there that Cristina was reunited with her roots. But 25 years ago the process for inter-country adoption was full of unknowns. Bringing baby Cristina home was an arduous journey.

“It was an absolute nightmare,” Jonquil says.

It was 1989, after the overthrow and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, that news began to filter out about a vast human tragedy happening to Romanian children behind closed doors.

Among the most disturbing were images of tens-of-thousands of abandoned children suffering abuse and neglect in Romania’s orphanages.

Confined to cribs, babies lay wallowing in their own filth, their cries going unheard and ignored.

There was outrage in the West. Western couples flooded in to adopt unwanted children and charities poured in to help.

Among those parents, were Bryan and Jonquil.

It was supposed to be just a three-week trip in order for Jonquil to bring their seventh child to their Golden Bay home in 1991.

“I had already been to Romania before to collect our other two Romanian twins, Johanna and Natasha,” says Jonquil. “And I was going back to adopt a boy we had left behind.”

Jonquil was haunted by the memory of two-year-old Bogdan whom she seen on that first trip but left in Romania. She was back to bring him home with her.

Jonquil left Bryan in Golden Bay in care of the kiwifruit orchard and the tribe of children.

But upon arrival, Jonquil was told the paperwork to adopt Bogdan had become invalid and she could not adopt him.

“But I always suspected foul-play,” Jonquil says. “The little boy was promised to me but I actually think they hid the papers.”

She spent the afternoon cuddling little Bogdan goodbye.

Determined not to return home empty-handed, it wasn’t long before Jonquil met Cristina-Laura.

The five-month-old baby girl had been abandoned in an orphanage by a teenage mother who did not have the resources to care for her.

But during the process of doing the paperwork, the local court threw out Cristina’s adoption application after badly translated papers stated Jonquil as being “infantile” instead of “infertile”.

Jonquil was then forced to endure three expensive and lengthy court hearings and a landmark decision in the Romanian Supreme Court involving some of the country’s most prominent lawyers in order to bring Cristina home.

She was robbed at knife point by a group of men during her stay and had her bag slashed open.

The prosecutor tried to convince the judge that the Grahams were only interested in adopting slave labour for their kiwifruit orchard and that the children would be raised for organ transplants or sold as slaves.

Jonquil appealed the case in the Supreme Court and won. She finally left Romania four months after she arrived with baby Cristina in her arms.

“I couldn’t believe I had been through that nightmare and I just wanted to get out safely and return back to my family.”

At the time of her leaving, riots were breaking out in Romania after the country’s central ruling committee decided to stop all further overseas adoptions.

Western couples who were waiting for their adoption papers to be approved panicked, creating dramatic and angry scenes. Just in the nick of time Jonquil and Cristina slipped out of Romania and into a new life.

A TRAGEDY

Among the adopted brothers and sisters that Cristina would join in Golden Bay were two Maori boys, one Rarotongan boy and a pair of Romanian twins.

A second pair of twins from Russia, a girl and boy, would join the family a few years later.

Their historic house sits at the base of Takaka Hill and is much quieter than it once was.

All but one of their nine children have left home, although grandchildren keep spilling through the doors now.

Jonquil says the most remarkable part of the trip back to Romania to meet Cristina’s family was finding out that their Romanian twins, Natasha and Johanna’s birth family, lived just streets away from Cristina’s birth family.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked,” she says.

Jonquil and Bryan had bought the tiny malnourished twins back from Romania when they were 10-months-old.

But in 2009, tragedy struck the devoted parents.

One of the twins, 19-year-old Natasha, was hit by a car in Nelson and died of her head injuries months later.

As the TV3 crew were filming on the street outside Cristina’s birth mother’s home, the twins’ own birth mother had been watching from across the road. She recognised Jonquil. She walked up to their interpreter to say: “When is that lady bringing the twins back to see me?”

The interpreter had to tell her that one of the mother’s daughters had died.

“It was so hard,” says Jonquil. “How do you tell a mother their child is dead?”

They returned a few days later with albums of the twins’ life to show the birth mother.

The last page of the album showed a photo of Natasha’s headstone.

“It was very emotional,” says Jonquil quietly. “I wish I would have had the language to tell her about the kilometre-long line of cars at her funeral.”

A NEW HOME

Jonquil says that although most of the couple’s adopted children have left home they still seem to keep adopting people.

“We have kind-of taken on the half-sister, Maria-Magdalena because she needs a family and we want to help her kids,” says Jonquil. “Now I will make a greater effort to learn Romanian.”

The Grahams say they are still in daily contact with her.

“She didn’t have the good start like Cristina. She’s a solo mother and doesn’t have much to do with her own mother.”

Jonquil says everyone is special and often they can’t help their circumstances, like those who are not loved properly.

“But that happens to millions of youngsters in the world, sadly. Everyone wants a rock.”

Cristina lives in Christchurch now, a solo-mother with a daughter of her own.

She has stayed in daily contact with her birth sisters by Facebook, but has struggled to keep the communication up with her birth mother.

Jonquil says a lifetime of questions for her have been answered for Cristina.

“It was a real eye-opener for Cristina. She is more settled now somehow, more at home in herself,” she says.

“I think she finally understands now why she was given the chance at a better life.”

Jonquil Graham is the author of the book, How Many Planes to Get Me? A story of adopting nine children and fostering 20 more.

 – Stuff

My Russian Side, By Alex Gilbert

This is Alex. He is adopted. He has a story to tell.

”My Russian Side” is Alex’s story of bravely undertaking a search to find his Russian biological parents and to uncover the truth about his past.

Alex longs to find the answers to questions. Questions he has held hidden in his heart for many long years.

Global warming hasn’t reached Russia. Alex’s sunny disposition and bright smile are in stark contrast to the dreary skies and decaying buildings of Rybinsk, where his birth mother is now living. A six hour drive from Moscow. Alex does not harden his heart against his birth mother and father when he learns the truth about his past. He doesn’t judge them.  His New Zealand adoptive parents would no doubt be very proud of their son.  Alex is grateful for a better life in New Zealand. Sadly, very few abandoned children are so lucky and International adoptions from Russia are now banned. Conditions in Alex’s old orphanage in his birthplace of Arkhangelsk are harsh and hopeless. Alex wants to provide comfort and hope to the hundreds of abandoned children left behind.

He is the founder of ”I’m Adopted” which is a Registered Charitable Trust in New Zealand.  You can find them on facebook helping adoptees around the world connect and find biological parents and siblings.

Please help Alex’s dream of a better life for abandoned children living in his old orphanage in Arkhangelsk. Visit the website; http://www.imadopted.org and donate.

Building A Family; Needing Support

img_3245This article, which I wrote for the ”Adoption Today” magazine appeared in their July 2016 issue. I can highly recommend the magazine as a resource for anyone whose life has been touched by adoption in some way and for prospective adoptive parents.

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The Promise I Kept; A True Story

Be Careful What You Read.

Long before I had put pen to paper to write ” The Promise I Kept”, I once recommended to a friend that he read several books of a metaphysical nature. Sadly, he was not open to the idea of having his narrow religious views challenged and told me to, ” Be careful what you read”. The Promise I Kept is not an overtly religious book, but I would like to suggest that you be careful if you are going to read it. It might change your life or the life of an orphan.

Cover of The Promise I Kept

Cover of The Promise I Kept

” The Promise I Kept” is a powerfully and vividly written story”,

said Tony Tingle, editor at Memoirs Publishing in the U.K.

 

Review by Colby Pearce, Principal Clinical Psychologist at Secure Start and author:

I recently finished, The Promise I Kept, Adele Rickerby’s memoir about the personal journey that led her to adopting a child from a Romanian orphanage in the aftermath of the downfall of the Ceausescu regime. It is a well-crafted story that is accessible to most readers and can be read cover to cover in two-three hours. People will take out of the story different things, depending on their own life journey and interests. I found the insight into the inner world of the mother and evocative descriptions of the characters and places she experienced along the way most satisfying. I am happy to recommend it to the many who are fascinated by personal memoirs and accounts concerning adoption.

1.
 A Burning Desire June 1, 2014
Adele Rickerby’s, The Promise I Kept, is a superb story of what the can be accomplished when one sets a goal and has the burning desire to carry one through the innumerable obstacles. Due to certain health issues, she is not able again to conceive another child. But her desire to be mother again does not die and she decides to pursue the adoption process.
Adele’s story of wanting to be mother again, despite all the immediate roadblocks that were presented to her in Australia, should had been enough to discouraged anybody from trying, but the burning desire inside her, carried her far away from the borders of this country to a land that just having been freed of a despotic ruler and was trying to find itself. Among all this chaos Adele is there, going through every and other hurdle that comes along in this journey, from mindless and corrupt bureaucracies, inhumane proposals, and much more, she is finally able to come back home with her new daughter.
This is just another great example of what the mind can conceive, it can achieve.Show Less
2.
 Good story! January 5, 2014
An interesting story about a courageous women who singlehandedly travel on the other side of the world and struggle through a bureaucratic maze to finally achieve her dream to adopt a child. A must read for anybody who contemplate adopting a child oversea!
3.
 You read this from cover to cover November 27, 2013

A very interesting wee read about a young woman on a mission to the eastern block, to adopt a child. If we cast our mind back to that era it was certainly was a troubled time both politically and socially in the ‘block’. Between being thrown off trains because of her New Zealand citizenship, and not able to speak the language, she faced and conquered many problems and challenges with patience and doggedness . The corrupt ‘officialdoms’ backstreets and dangers are compensated by the sheer generosity of strangers. All these faced by a smallish woman with the burning desire for another child, despite a failing marriage at home. A very compelling read.

Mark JohnstonShow Less

  1. A must read book for those of us who adopted from Romania, or anywhere. It’s about a mother’s perseverance and how she found conditions and the baby she adopted. It’s about hope and what happened in Romania post-Ceausescu. It is haunting and if you were in the same position, would you be brave enough to just go with your gut and do what is right for the sake of a child?

Searching For Birth Parents

15463404-mmmainProfessor Victor Groza, with over twenty-five years promoting best practices in child welfare in Romania and adoption research, kindly provided the following links and comment regarding adoptees searching for birth parents. I hope that you find this, as well as other informative posts by Professor Groza helpful.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services; Child Welfare Information Gateway has many excellent articles of a generic nature, including this one; ” Searching For Birth Parents”.

s (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/search/childsearch/).

Professor Victor Groza-
”There should be professional services in place to prepare adoptees and birth parents for a search, to support them during the process, and to help them after a search is completed–whether or not it is successful.  Our practice model in the US is that search is a normal part of development for some adoptees.  Females tend to want to search more than males and not all adoptees search.  For those who do, there needs to be extensive support.  That includes letting them know that in the eyes of their poor families, they are seen as wealthy. The birth family may feel entitled to the adoptee and for the adoptee to support them, even if they abandoned her or him.  That is why search should not be undertaken lightly.   Here is the link to  the Adoption Network-Cleveland’s website about search (http://www.adoptionnetwork.org/) ; they have a protocol they follow for search and reunion.”

 

The New Zealander Who Went Through Hell To Adopt

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By Diana Mesesan.

The New Zealander who went through post-communism hell twenty-five years ago to adopt a Romanian baby.

Adele wrote in her memoir, ”The Promise I Kept”; You wake up one morning to the sound of history knocking loudly, impatiently, persistently at your door. To answer it is to take a leap of faith into your future.

 

Adele Rickerby went through the hell of early post-communism to adopt a girl from Romania.

As the plane was flying over Brisbane, an Australian city set on a wide, beautiful river, one of the mothers gathered at the playgroup pointed out to the plane and told her little daughter: “We came on a plane like this one when we returned from Romania.”

The woman was one of Australians who adopted a kid from Romania in the early 90s. Several people living in Brisbane, whose kids were born in Romania, started a playgroup, so that the children would get together regularly. They’ve never kept it a secret from them that they were adopted.

Adele Rickerby, a New Zealander who moved to Australia after she got married, would also bring her daughter to these playgroups. She felt like she had a special bond with the couples that went through the same experience. They were an extended family for each other. For Adele, adopting a child from Romania was not an event from the past that simply went forgotten as years went by. Instead she would think every single day about her six weeks in Bucharest in the early spring of 1991, as she was struggling to adopt a baby girl. After she semi-retired, due to a surgery on her back, she found the peace and time to sit at a table and write down her thoughts. This is how “The Promise I Kept”, her book on adopting a baby girl from Romania, was born.

Romania allowed international adoptions until 2001, when it placed a moratorium on the practice. It officially banned these adoptions four years later. But even domestic adoptions go through only with great difficulty. Last year, only 840 children were adopted in Romania, despite that fact that the country had over 58,100 children in the special protection system at the end of March this year. The big problem lies in the complicated laws which define when a child is “adoptable.”

Adele Rickerby herself had to overcome a number of limitations to adopt the baby, she tells me during our first Skype discussion. Her voice is very warm and a bit nervous. It is the end of summer here in Bucharest, but the beginning of spring in Australia. Her Romanian-born daughter, who is now in her 20s, helped her install Skype. Adele laughed about it. “I have a reputation for being bad with technology.”

When Adele came to Romania to adopt the baby, after she had seen the terrible images of Romanians kids in orphanages, it was late winter. Bucharest, which had just come out of the Communism era, was gray and felt unsafe. Many kids were sold illegally in those early days of freedom, and the rumours about a moratorium were everywhere. Adele was afraid that she would not be able to get through with the adoption. But spring was slowly making its way.

April 1991: The winter train ride between Budapest and Bucharest

In April 1991, Adele Rickerby took the plane from Australia to Frankfurt. She had a luggage full of documents, which were necessary for the adoption. Back in Brisbane, she left her 6-year old daughter, which she hugely missed, and her husband. Their marriage was kind of falling apart. She was planning to take the plane from Frankfurt to Romania, but when she arrived in Germany, there were no free seats for that weekend. Instead of waiting a few days for the next flight, she booked a train from Germany, which passed through Austria, Hungary and then reached Romania. She had this strong sense of urgency, that she needed to get faster to Bucharest.

Everything went well through Germany and Austria. However, soon after the border with Hungary, Hungarian soldiers got on the train and asked for her passport. Then they ordered her off the train and threw her luggage out of the window. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and she didn’t wasn’t sure where she was.

Adele had no choice but to get off the train, and the train left without her. “I was just standing there in the afternoon, not knowing what was going on.” She went to the wooden train station and waited. Then a man who spoke English and was well-dressed approached her and told her that he was the local taxi driver. He could help her get a visa for Hungary, then take her to the train station in Budapest so she’d catch the same train. “We will get to the border and we will get a visa for you. The same train leaves Hungary at nine o’clock at night. I will make sure you are there on time,” the man told her. She then paid 350 dollars to this stranger to drive her across Hungary. She had the feeling that the man and the soldiers which got her off the train knew each other and were part of a scheme. But what could she do about it?

“I got in the taxi. It was getting dark and we started to drive through the back streets of this village. Where are we going, I asked him. I need to get petrol, he replied, which was fair enough. I had no choice but to trust him.” She sat in the back of the car. The man started talking about his wife and family, while Adele was looking out of the window. The Hungarian villages and town they were driving through looked particularly disheartening in the dim winter light. After she finished her nursing training in Australia, Adele did a lot of travelling around the continent with her husband. “I was like, I’ve done a lot of travelling, I can cope, but nothing could prepare me for the shock of Hungary and Romania.”

It was just getting darker and colder, but they made it and arrived at the railway station at Budapest. They found an empty carriage, the man threw her suitcases and her sleeping bag, and then he left. Within 15 minutes the train left too.

She spent all night just travelling the rest of the way into Bucharest. It was very dark, and every time the train passed through a little town, officials would get on the train, come to her carriage, look at her passport, at her visa, then go through her luggage, searching for contraband.

“We’d go through villages that were very poor; a light bulb in this village, a soldier with a rifle just walking on the platform. It was still a lot of snow on the ground, the end of winter; a peasant man’s jacket made out of of sheep’s skin.”

At about 8 o’clock, when the train was getting closer to Bucharest and Adele was tidying up her belongings, taking her sleeping bag off, three well-dressed man came into her carriage. One of them was an engineer for the railway station and was on his way to a meeting. He could speak English and asked her was what she doing there. “I said I was adopting a baby girl.”

She remembers the main saying: “Our country is poor, but our hearts are rich.” Then the train finally arrived at the Gara de Nord railway station. It was early in the morning.

May 1991: The promise
The only person Adele knew in Bucharest was a Catholic woman called Mihaela, who had hosted other couples from the US, New Zealand and Australia willing to adopt babies from Romania. Adele knew that going through the whole process would take about six weeks. The law gave the adoptive mother the opportunity to change her mind within this period. She was planning to do the adoption as a New Zealander, because the Australian Department of Immigration had rejected her request to adopt from Romania.

She phoned Mihaela, who was in holiday, but luckily hadn’t left Bucharest, so she picked Adele up from the railway station. After so many hours of uncertainty and fear, Adele felt desperate for a shower, a hot meal and conversation with English-speaking people. She found another couple from Australia in Mihaela’s house. Adele wrote in a diary during her six-week stay in Bucharest, describing her experiences. It later became the source of her book “The Promise I Kept.”

In those speculative days after the fall of communism, Romania had several people who worked as intermediaries between foreigners wanting to adopt kids and state institutions. Some were willing to intermediate sales of children. With 20,000 dollars one could buy a baby on the black market. Some were decent people, who spoke English and grabbed the opportunity to make some money. The man who helped Adele get through all the process was a doctor, who was well-educated and spoke English. She paid him a small fee. But these go-between persons weren’t the only ones asking for cash. Sometimes even the birth mothers would demand money, even if they had given up their children. However, Adele didn’t go through that. The mother of the girl she adopted was a very young girl herself, living in a small apartment in Ramnicu Valcea, with her parents, a brother and a sister. They had no money and no way of supporting the newly-born kid. It was also the stigma attached to being a single mother. Poverty and the blame passed on to single mothers forced many women to abandon their children during communism and afterwards.

Adele met the mother and her family in their apartment, where they had a meal. It was very emotional for both parts. Adele thinks that maybe the grandparents were even more distressed about the whole thing, because they understood the enormity of it, while the mother was still very young. But the girl did tell Adele that she wanted her daughter to have a future, so Adele promised her she’d give her daughter a future. “And that’s the promise I kept,” she said. “25 years later, the daughter is very beautiful, has a wonderful partner. She is a pharmacy assistant, and she has a lovely family and home.”

Then she met her future daughter, who was in an orphanage. A nurse held the baby up to the window. “She was four-month old and she was really cute,” Adele said. The judge, who had the final word on the adoption, said yes, and Adele finally had the little girl in her arms.

The Mother
One year after returning to Australia, Adele divorced and had to raise her two daughters by herself. “I had whole sentences that I wanted to write down, but I was really busy and I didn’t have the opportunity.” But two years ago, she had to give up work, due to a surgery on her back. She rented a little unit and went away by herself for several months to write her book. It was really difficult revisiting the whole experience, she said. “It was one stage where I couldn’t finish it. And I had to leave it for about 6 weeks before I ended it.”

After she finished the book, Adele was approached during book launches by Romanian adoptees, who didn’t understand why they were left and abandoned.

Several Romanian kids who were given for adoption are now trying to find their families. There are even Facebook groups, where they share their experiences. The media has immediately picked up the topic, searching for emotional stories. But for some of the adoptees, this can be a traumatic experience. They discover all sorts of terrible situations and they are tormented by the question of why they were given up for adoption. “They are trying to pull their lives together but in the meantime they also feel this burden of responsibility towards their birth families,” Adele said. Her own daughter was once approached by a newspaper interested in her experience. But she said no. “I’m not gonna do that so that they’re gonna have a story.”

Adele lives with her Romanian-born daughter, so she still gets to hear “Mom, can you do my washing?” or “What’s for dinner tonight, mom?”. The girl works a lot, but she has Fridays off and they go out and have coffee together. Her older daughter now lives in another city, but not too far away.

Adele shares a very close bond with the other adoptive couples from Brisbane. They’ve organized trainings about adoption, they’ve set up this playgroups for kids, they’ve spent Christmas together over the years. Adele was once talking with a couple from England, who also lived in Brisbane. “When do you get over Romania?” they asked themselves. “But you can’t get over Romania. You can’t have an experience like that and not change your life. You can’t live superficially,” Adele said.

Adele has now been living in Australia for 30 years. She is not very close to her family in New Zealand. “My mother died when I was not even 13. I don’t think we were close when we were growing up. I like to say that mothers have a glue that bind us together and when my mother died, the family fell apart. I think that’s the truth,” Adele says. Then she pauses for a while, and adds: “Maybe that’s why it meant so much to me to adopt a child. I know what it’s like not to have a mother.”

 

” The Promise I Kept” is available as a kindle edition from your Amazon.com store.