Crazy Quilt: The Journey to Adoption

by Lennie Magida

“Do you want a baby?”

In my last post, I mentioned that momentous little question. It came in a phone call from my friend Kim in late 1986, and it changed our lives.

But though the question looms large in our family lore, it doesn’t stand alone, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a link in a chain, a thread in a fabric that looks like a crazy-quilt map of the world.

I’ll start the journey in New Delhi. John and I lived there from 1981 to 1983 as newlyweds and journalists, and that’s where we became friends with Kim and her husband — his name is also John, so I’ll call him JH. Kim is China-born and New Jersey raised. JH is a white guy who grew up in Hawaii. They were affiliated with the US Embassy, and JH was also my running buddy. On Sunday mornings we’d run 12, 15, 17 miles through the dusty streets and markets of New Delhi.

The threads of our lives stayed intertwined. After leaving New Delhi, John and I spent a year in Honolulu, not far from where JH grew up. Then all four of us wound up back in the DC area. Then we were trying to adopt a child, and so were Kim and JH. In 1986 we had an adoption fall through after the baby was born. (I talked about that in my last post.) That same year, Kim and JH, after doing a lot of networking all over the country, adopted a US-born baby girl (her birth mother was Vietnamese).

New Delhi, China, Hawaii, Vietnam, and various parts of the US mainland. But let’s keep going.

Late in 1986 John was named Beijing bureau chief of the Baltimore Sun. (Yeah, this was back when newspapers had things like foreign bureaus, lots of pages, and money. But I digress.) We’d be moving there in late spring of 1987, after a few months of intensive Mandarin language study in Monterey, California.

I hadn’t had a chance to speak with Kim about our impending move, so I was excited when she called. “We’re moving to Beijing!” I told her. “I really want to talk to you about China. But I’m on deadline. Can I call you back?”

“Sure,” she said, “but I just have a question. Do you want a baby?”

Suddenly, I couldn’t hear the newsroom hubbub. Suddenly, I forgot about my deadlines. All I cared about was hearing what Kim had to say.

She and JH had just heard from a lawyer in Honolulu, one of a number of attorneys they’d contacted months earlier when they were trying to adopt. The lawyer had heard from a fellow attorney based in LA. He in turn had had a visit from a 27-year-old woman, about five months pregnant. The young woman had traveled to California from her home in the Philippines specifically to arrange for an adoption and give birth, and she was hoping that at least one of the adoptive parents would be Asian. Reasoning that many people in Hawaii are of Asian descent, the LA lawyer contacted his Honolulu acquaintance, who then contacted Kim and JH.

“I explained that we’d just adopted our baby, but we had friends who were trying to adopt,” Kim said. “I told her that neither of you are Asian, but I said you’ve lived in Asia and you love it.”

“And we’re moving back!” I exclaimed.

“The thing is,” Kim went on, “if you’re interested, you’re going to have to go to LA to meet with the lawyer.”

I caught my breath. It took a moment before I was able to tell Kim, “We’re already booked to go to LA later this week.”

We’d made the plan weeks earlier. John had to stop for a couple of days in LA en route to a reporting trip in Sri Lanka. “Why don’t I go with you?” I’d said. “I can take the test to go on ‘Jeopardy.’” (That’s another story . . . .)

And so, three days later, we were in the lawyer’s office. We learned more about the young Filipina woman. We filled out forms and wrote essays for her. And very soon, though neither of us was Asian or Catholic – something else she’d originally hoped for – she chose us. We’ll never know what it’s like to conceive a child, experience a pregnancy or give birth. But we do know what it’s like to have a birth mother choose us, and we cannot imagine a more profound gift.

Our Filipina daughter was born in Los Angeles. The crazy-quilt map of how she came into our lives includes not only the Philippines and LA but also India, Hawaii, China, DC, and much more. Like so many parents who have children by adoption, I look at my family and think to myself: It’s a wonderful world.

Lennie’s story can be found here:

Part 1: 3,000 Miles Away, The Stork Came Early

Part 2: Sometimes Things Don’t Work Out. And Thank Goodness for That.


  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Beautiful! And I do well remember when John was the bureau chief in Beijing!

  2. That’s quite a remarkable story, Lennie.

    • Thanks, Wilma! I love recalling and telling the whole chain of events — which sometimes seems like a very long time ago, and sometimes seems like last week! And it’s so great to have this forum for sharing all our stories.

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