Baby Trail Is Leading Couples To Peru

Published: August 16, 1990

THEY attract attention on the sidewalks of the Miraflores and San Isidro neighborhoods of Lima – foreign men and women in jeans and jogging outfits, pushing newborn infants in strollers as passers-by stop to ooh and aah.

Thousands of miles from home in the United States, Canada or Europe, these people have come to fulfill dreams of parenthood. They get their first taste of it in temporary housing in a city suffering political terrorism and economic chaos, where electricity is unpredictable and water is not potable.

”We really have to scramble to make formula and sterilize bottles when the electricity comes on,” said Rodney H. Mykle, a judge from the Canadian province of Manitoba, who with his wife, Lori McBeth, adopted twin boys during a six-week stay here.

Those who come to Peru to adopt infants have been on adoption lists at home for years and explored possibilities in Asia or elsewhere in Latin America, only to discover that Peru usually has babies readily available. Adoptive parents also say it is the only Latin American country that allows single women to adopt children, although most prospective parents seem to be couples.

The Peruvian system is not without its critics. Here babies are given to couples right after proceedings are begun, leaving open the possibility that they will not get the child after a bond has formed between them and the baby. Red tape can be interminable. No centralized system or organization oversees adoptions by foreigners. Rather, the would-be parents make their way here through a combination of referrals from adoption agencies at home and word of mouth.

Some find lawyers recommended by previous adopting parents, like from the list kept by Millie de Sacio, an American who owns the La Gringa handicrafts shop in Miraflores.

”Traveling down here seemed awesome at the outset,” said Terry Cannon, a mental-health counselor from Delaware who, with her husband, J. Roy Cannon, adopted a newborn girl they have named Katy. ”But, as a result, I feel I’ll be able to tell Katy about Peru someday.”

”When I met the birth mother in court, we both cried, and I asked her what she would like for us to tell Katy when she grows up,” Mrs. Cannon continued. ”She said to explain that she was a woman alone with two other children to support and no family around to help her and that she had to work.”

Of those seeking to adopt children here, few have been to South America before; the trip tests their willingness to confront bureaucratic obstacles and judicial proceedings in a foreign country and tongue. Corruption is widely reported in the Peruvian judicial system. Foreigners are often uncertain whether a judicial delay is legitimate or a maneuver by someone looking for a payoff. In addition, a State Department advisory warns, ”both terrorism and crime are serious problems throughout Peru,” including Lima.

For the Peruvians, national pride raises doubts about sending babies abroad and raises concerns about the motives of the applicants; those feelings can result from different attitudes toward adoption in Latin America and the applicants’ countries.

Adoption by nationals of Latin American countries is rare. Most of those who are financially able to adopt children are whites of European descent; most of the babies up for adoption are of mixed Indian and European blood.

”Some people in Peru are suspicious about why blond people want to adopt Indian babies,” said a Washington woman who spent six weeks in Peru this year in an adoption effort that went awry when the natural mother changed her mind.

The American, who requested that her name not be used because of concerns for her career, said in a telephone interview that the doctor who delivered the baby girl had told her he had heard that some Americans adopted children in Peru to bring them up to become servants.

Partly because of such rumors, the natural mother was shown photographs of Mrs. Cannon’s home life in Newark, Del., with her husband and Andy, a 3-year-old they adopted from Korea. Mrs. Cannon said photographs of Andy playing with his American cousins demonstrated that he was an equal part of the family.

About 30 to 40 foreign adoptions a month are said to be processed by courts here. Legal fees mentioned by various adopting parents ranged from $4,000 to $16,000, with most in the $6,000 to $9,000 range – on top of any fees paid to referral agencies outside Peru.

Ms. McBeth of Manitoba, a schoolteacher, and Mr. Mykle, a justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench in the city of Brandon, said that after waiting five years to adopt a newborn baby at home, they heard of friends who were successful in Peru.

The Manitoba couple got in touch with the lawyers in Lima who had represented their friends. With the legal help, the Manitobans put together the documents required, had a home study commissioned, and sent the results to Peru by courier mail.

Knowing the adoption proceeding would take 6 to 12 weeks, Mr. Mykle planned to spend only his three-week vacation period in Peru and then to go home and let his wife complete their mission.

”But as soon as my colleagues heard what we were planning,” he said in an interview, ”they said, ‘Your place is there,’ and started signing up to take my case load. So we decided, why not adopt two?”

On June 23, advised that twin boys were available, the couple flew to Lima with five suitcases filled with formula and disposable diapers. They moved into a large house converted into small apartments, complete with cribs, across the street from the Anglo-American Clinic. The next day, the lawyers brought them the two boys, who were then about 3 months old. The process took exactly six weeks, during which the couple visited with the natural parents and also visited Lima’s museums. They flew home with the boys on Aug. 3.

Terry Cannon said she and her husband were aware of possible complications because they had an acquaintance whose effort to adopt a child here failed at the end of the proceedings.

For that reason, she said, before they set out on their journey, they asked a social worker in Peru who worked with their lawyer if the mother was sure of her decision and were told she was, although they knew she could change her mind. ”I knew we were taking the risk,” she said.

Indeed, some adoptions do not go smoothly. Kate Ramsey, 36, a nurse from Macon, Ga., who is single, has put her life on hold since coming to Peru in June 1989. Her house and leased car in Macon are unused, but they still have to be paid for every month; her house has been burglarized; the neighbors water the lawn; she arranged for a tax extension, and a friend has her dogs. The hospital paid her salary through the end of last year, and now her parents are paying her expenses.

”My guess is I’m spending my inheritance,” she said as she watched the 14-month-old boy, Thomas Seth, run around the lobby of the hotel where they live.

Ms. Ramsey said her first lawyer brought the baby to her two weeks after she arrived and said the mother was giving him up. But after months of delays, the mother did not appear in court to swear to her decision. At the end of 1989, the court ruled against the adoption, saying the baby might be stolen.

With a new lawyer, Ms. Ramsey appealed and won a ruling that she had done nothing wrong. She is now going through the adoption proceeding again, asserting that the baby was abandoned. No one has ever appeared to claim him.

”I also have the sense the judge doesn’t like single mothers,” she said. ”He’s always saying, ‘Let’s find a nice Peruvian couple to take the baby,’ but I haven’t noticed them lined up in the street waiting.”

”I made a decision a long time ago to take this one day at a time,” she said. ”There have been days when I’ve cried a lot.”