An HIV Adoption Story
When one couple started exploring international adoption, they had no idea that an around-the-world journey would lead them to the love of their life: a tiny girl with HIV
For a decade, Terri's job teaching Ashtanga yoga had taken her to India once a year to study with her guru. Friends there knew the couple wanted to adopt, so in August 2007 they called Terri and Brad with news of an eight-months-pregnant woman who would not be able to take care of the baby. Brad had to work, so Terri made the 24-hour journey to Mysore, India, alone that October. Her jet lag and exhaustion counterbalanced by excitement and suspense, she went to pick up the baby, whom she and Brad would soon name Sachi Tulip (Sachi means "Grace" in Sanskrit).
The couple had seen just a few photos but had no reason to believe Sachi was anything other than a healthy baby girl. Yet the first thing Terri noticed in person was how small she was -- only about four and a half pounds at 1 month. "She looked like one of those kids in the Sally Struthers commercials," she recalls of the malnourished newborn who was also struggling with listlessness, diarrhea, and dehydration. Nonetheless, Terri cried tears of joy. "I was so happy. I felt like, 'Oh, my God, she's so darling, and she's mine.'?"
While Terri was in India that first month, trying to navigate the relatively nonexistent adoption process, a friend suggested having the infant tested for HIV. Concerned that a Westerner bringing an Indian infant (with whom she had no legal ties yet) to get tested would raise eyebrows, Terri had her friend Deepak take her. The results were immediate, and he returned elated, announcing, "Good news! It's positive! She doesn't have it!"
But Terri knew what "positive" meant: Sachi did have it.
"I was wrecked. Devastated. Completely unable to deal," Terri recalls. "I didn't know what to do. We didn't know thing one about HIV, how long she would live, how much she would suffer."
Brad, who works for the city of Chicago in sustainable development, spent that first long night online, seeking out information. "I recall seeing some articles about living until age seven, that the quality of life for these kids wasn't very good," he says. "I didn't find anything too promising at first." Understandably, he grew frantic, wondering if Terri or he might be at risk. Some family members pleaded with Terri to drop the little one off at an orphanage; friends in India promised, "We'll find you a better baby." But Terri had been living with Sachi for a month and the bonding process had grabbed a firm hold: "She was my daughter. It was unfathomable that people's attitudes were 'find someone else to take her.'"
Fortunately, Brad's research led them to Chances by Choice, an agency that specializes in HIV adoption in nearby Oak Park, IL, which provided the couple the education and support they needed to go ahead. Still, the complex web of international adoption proved daunting -- Brad and Terri had to locate an Indian orphanage with a license to process international adoptions, as well as fill out reams of government paperwork to bring a baby with an infectious disease into the U.S. At last, a four- flight, 32-hour odyssey brought 11-month-old Sachi home to Chicago on August 25, 2008.