• Erica Rosi Tham

2. Friends in Adoption: Meeting the Like-Minded

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Stories on the adoption process are troubling, but seeing a couple's success and life with a new child helps to fuel persistence moving forward.

How better to understand adoption than to speak with people who have recently adopted?

Our chance arrived in Shillong, India, my husband’s city, during my brother-in-law’s springtime wedding.

Only yesterday the reception hall had looked like a dusky warehouse. On this day, it was a spacious and charming promenade, and the women of Shillong were gracing it with every shade of azure, ochre, crimson and jade imaginable. My sister-in-law had loaned me a sky-blue jainsem. This is a Khasi dress composed of two cloths. One cloth is draped under one shoulder and pinned on the opposite side, and then a second cloth is draped under the other shoulder and pinned. A long skirt and a shirt are worn underneath.

Philip and I were standing somewhat near the entrance and casually greeting visitors as they arrived.

As I mentioned before, everyone in Shillong is related. If people meet and are not sure of their relationship, they start chatting about relatives. After some time, one says, Oh, your cousin is married to my aunt’s younger sister! There is always a relationship to be found.

After an hour of chatting with aunts, uncles and cousins and meeting new acquaintances, I was finally introduced to Badalyn and Gerhardt, the couple that my husband knew through Facebook. They had recently adopted a girl from Manipur. When Badalyn invited me to sit with her in one of the long rows of chairs, I seized the opportunity.

Badalyn had a calm, yet distracted demeanor. She pointed out her husband, Gerhardt, who was wandering the hall taking photos; his warm personality immediately showed through his playful, excited grin.

After tentatively embarking on small talk, I realized I would have to take the plunge and tell her that we were considering adoption.

“It is a very long process,” she said, eying me warily. “We were lucky to adopt from Manipur.”

“Not from Shillong?” I asked her.

“We tried,” she told me, “but it seems that children in Shillong are not true orphans because everyone here belongs to a tribe. Even when a child is an orphan, there is extended family to take the child in. There are exceptions, but it is not easy. I believe a couple from Italy managed to adopt a child from here. We gave up and broadened our search.”

“But you have your child now?”

“Oh yes,” she said, smiling radiantly before becoming serious again. “And we have recently passed the two-year mark. We are actually done!”

I felt sure that we should befriend Badalyn and her husband, but soon, Philip was signaling for me to join him and meet the newly arrived guests.

Philip and I enjoy taking walks while in Shillong during the early morning hours when the traffic is moderate. We were walking along a winding road one day when Philip mentioned that we were not far from the houses of Valerie and Badalyn, who were sisters and neighbors. We decided to stop by. As we approached along the winding uphill driveway, we found Gerhardt on the front porch smoking a pipe. He smiled and jumped to his feet when he saw us and waved us toward his home.

Inside, we met Badalyn and their daughter, a tall ten-year old girl with a wide, confident grin and a bow in the clip that held back her hair.

Badalyn seemed much more at ease, and she gladly produced a photo album of their recent trip to Austria. I gazed at one after another sunlit picture of the family touring lovely hillsides peppered with wildflowers and gorgeous cityscapes of grand architecture. Badalyn and Gerhardt had lived in Austria for many years but had needed to move to Shillong for the adoption and now contemplated remaining until their daughter was ready for college.

“It is a long, long process!” She said, “but now we are fine. We are so lucky to have our beautiful girl.”

A few days later, we hiked with them to Shillong peak. Badalyn pointed out towering wild rhododendrons along the way, and at the viewing area, we gazed at the distant clusters of homes that seemed so quiet and peaceful from our spot, well-removed from the constant honking of the traffic that moves incessantly at about thirty-five miles per hour in the city. As we descended, I had some time to chat with Gerhardt, and we discovered that we are similar couples, both bridging countries as well as political spectrums. Gerhardt told me that he missed Austria, but that the Khasis were some of the most genuine and friendly people he had ever known.

Back in Seattle, I persevered in my adoption research. The plight of orphans and a person’s chance to help … well, the message is everywhere. These days adoption is mostly managed online which means that a google search will connect you with adoption agencies all over the country, and all of them are competing to catch your interest. As a former social worker at a refugee office, I know that nonprofits are businesses with directors passionately trying to keep their employees employed—they need to stay alive in a competitive nonprofit world.

Only later would I begin to discover the regulations making that world more difficult to penetrate than I believe it should be.

I was fortunate to meet Badalyn’s family and see their photo album. When they opened their doors to us during our journey, we were able to peek into the life of a grateful family before the process would plunge us into documents and scrutiny.

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