Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Guatemala adoption expands Eastern Washington family

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 25, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

From left: Dennis, Daniel, Gianna Marie, and Stacy Harrington. (IR file photo)

The large number of Guatemalan babies adopted by people in the U.S. has been in the news in recent months. In July, for example, CBS News reported on its website that, “Every 100th baby born in Guatemala grows up as an adopted American, making the Central American country the richest source of adoptees in the Western Hemisphere.”

For many years, reported, “Guatemala has been a place of relatively uncomplicated adoptions for American parents. The small country’s government estimates that as many as 17 babies leave each day for adoptive parents in the United States.”

Recently, however, Guate-mala’s president, Oscar Berger, announced that adoptions to parents in the U.S. will be suspended on Jan. 1, 2008. “This is our heritage, our future,” said Carmen Wennier, head of Guatemala’s Social Welfare bureau, a vocal critic of her country’s adoption system.

Amidst all the headlines and official declarations, however, it may be easy to overlook the human dimension of an issue that may turn into another political football. A Catholic couple living in Spokane speaks from personal experience on the topic of adoption of an infant from Guatemala.

In 2005, Dennis and Stacy Harrington, parishioners of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, decided to adopt a child. Dennis, 36, works in sales for a biotechnology company, and Stacy, 33, is a pharmacist by training, now a fulltime mother.

“We wanted children, and we were having problems, and we didn’t want to do scientific methods,” Dennis said. “One (reason for wanting to adopt from Guatemala) for us, was location. (Adoptions) had been running somewhat smoothly when we started our process. There were some pretty reliable timetables with regard to how old the child would be when you got (him or her) home. They said that it was usually within a year, and we wanted as young (a child) as possible, and we wanted a child from somewhere in the Americas.”

They started their journey to adoption that September, working with a Christian adoption agency in Seattle, but ultimately were unsatisfied with that group’s service. Two months later they contacted a private law firm in New York City. “This firm is a husband and wife, and their son, whom they adopted from Columbia and who went to law school,” said Dennis.

From then on, the adoption process ran smoothly for the Harringtons.

In February 2006, they received word that a baby had been found for them in Guatemala. A few days later, the couple flew back to New York and met with their attorneys. “They showed us his picture,” Harrington said, “we filled out the necessary paperwork, and they said, ‘As soon as you’re cleared to travel to Guatemala you can go see him, but you won’t be able to bring him home until all the paperwork has cleared.’ If we wanted to bring him home as a U.S. citizen we needed to travel down (to Guatemala) at least once, and then (make another trip to) go back and pick him up.”

On April 26, the Harringtons received word that they were cleared to travel to Guatemala to visit the three-month-old baby boy they hoped to adopt. “We stayed there a week,” said Harrington, “and we had him there in the hotel; the foster mother brought him to us in our hotel. We could not leave the hotel with him, because we didn’t have papers, so we spent the better part of a week there, flew home, and then they called in September and said that everything had cleared, and we could pick him up whenever we could get down there.”

The Harringtons flew back to Guatemala on Sept. 9, and on Sept. 11 at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City they received their son, whom they named Daniel Carlos.

Along the way, however, Dennis and Stacy had a surprise. On April 24, 2006 – Dennis’s birthday – Stacy learned that she was pregnant. Two days later, the couple received word that they were cleared to go to Guatemala to meet the baby they were planning to adopt. “In one week we learned that we were pregnant, found out that we were cleared to go to Guatemala, and flew to Guatemala to see Daniel,” Harrington recalls with a smile. “We got Daniel back on Sept. 16, and our daughter was six weeks early, so less than two months later Gianna Marie was born.” Today, Daniel is almost 21 months and Gianna recently turned 10 months.

The current uncertain status of the possibility for adoptions from Guatemala is “sad,” Dennis said. “I think it’s been sensationalized so much. When you throw something on the news that says ‘Children Being Sold,’ of course you’re going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me!’

“We looked at it,” he said. “When you adopt (an American child) you say that you’ll pay for the medical care, for the delivery, a lot of time people say that they will pay for the prenatal care because you want to be sure that the baby receives good care before birth, and we’ll give the mother some money to help her deal with this.

“So why is it so scandalous when an American couple does the same for a baby in Guatemala?” Most Americans have no real knowledge of life in Guatemala, he said. “You could have a few bad apples (in Guatemala’s adoption system), but to say that we’re going to shut it down! What’s going to happen to these children? There are so many people here, and in other countries ... who can give good homes to these children.... How many children are going to have to stay in foster care or be put on the streets in Guatemala?”

Sometimes people say to the Harringtons that it was nice that they were able to “rescue Daniel from Guatemala,” but that’s not how they look at it.

“He helped us,” Dennis said. “We wanted children. We didn’t rescue him from anything.”

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