Norma Hensler and Guy Davis had trouble making it to the church on time when they were married last June. There was a bigger priority -- the arrival of their adopted baby, Christiana.

The 5-month-old Peruvian child, who had been bumped from an Eastern Airlines flight the night before, was rerouted to arrive at Washington National Airport at noon -- just five hours before the couple's wedding ceremony was tobegin at the Old St. Paul Parish Rectory in Baltimore.

"We waited and waited at the airport," said Davis, 38. "Because of security reasons, airport authorities wouldn't allow us to go to the gate nor could we pull out the camcorder to videotape Christiana's arrival," he said. Instead, the new father, a research physicist for Martin-Marietta in Catonsville, focused the camera on his fiancee as her eyes searched through the line of passengers filing through the gate. The new mother finally spotted Christiana and her social worker,last among the passengers.

Filled with relief after two years andthree months of endless paperwork and three prior "assignments" to babies whose adoptions were canceled, the couple embraced their child,then scurried to prepare for their wedding ceremony.

"I had to cancel my hair appointment and makeup appointment; everything was canceled," said Hensler-Davis, 40, a French, Spanish and reading teacher at Clarksville Middle School.

What little time she had after her return from the airport was spent bathing Christiana and dressing her for the wedding. A halo of pink ribbons and baby's breath flowers adorned Christiana's dark, curly hair.

"We had a half hour to pull everything together and to get to Baltimore," she said.

The bride donned a traditional sequined and beaded wedding gown at the church. Thegroom wore a tuxedo.

The pace is somewhat slower these days at the couple's town house in the Village of Long Reach in Columbia, wherethey described recently how frenzied beginnings eventually led to a happy ending.

"My priorities were set when I was 38 years old," Hensler-Davis said. She'd had three operations and was advised by doctors about the "highly unlikely" possibility of becoming pregnant. She had dated Davis for five years, "and we had discussed my major concern for building a family," she said.

After hearing about a woman who had adopted a baby from India, she decided to pursue the idea. She called an adoption agency in Baltimore that requires applicants to take a course on adoption. The 13-week class dealt with domestic and international adoptions, procedures, agencies, fertility problems and other topics.

After much thought, Hensler-Davis said, she decided to put in for adoption as a single mother.

"It's double work when applying for adoption as a couple; many countries won't look at you (as adoptive parents) until you have been married for three to five years."

The complicated procedure for adoption began in January 1989 with the first application.

It was "mind-boggling," Hensler-Davis recalled. "I submitted 25 typewritten pages about my philosophy, loveand life history and anything else they wanted to know."

She was accepted, then was assigned to a social worker who conducted a seriesof interviews over a three-month period. Typical questions were, "How will your neighbors react to a dark-skinned child?" and "What are the resources, such as Little League and Scouts, for a child growing up in your neighborhood?"

Also required: extensive financial statements, letters of reference, medical checkups and a description of Hensler's employment, salary and job future.

"I was even asked, 'Where are the funds for the child's college education?' " she said. "It was a real eye-opener."

But the "icing on the cake" were the 565 questions that had to be answered on a questionnaire regarding her mental status. She also was interviewed by a psychologist.

"I came home feeling nuts; the psychologist eventually called to say I was normal and boring," Hensler-Davis said with a laugh.

In June 1989 she filed papers to adopt a child from Paraguay through the American Adoption Agency. She registered more paperwork, submitted to fingerprinting by the FBI, presented more financial statements, not to mention four character references.

Three months later she was informed that children from Paraguay were no longer available for adoption.

She turned to another adoption agency, submitted even more paperwork and was finally promised a baby from Peru. Within the next five weeks, thebaby became unavailable, as did a second baby she was promised, and a third. The day after she learned baby No. 3 was unavailable, she packed a suitcase full of formula and diapers and left for Peru.

At the direction of the adoption agency, she arrived at a hospital, where a newborn was available for adoption. The baby girl, born at the hospital, had been abandoned after three days by her mother. The infanthad no name and the parents' whereabouts were unknown.

"It took me five hours to get her out of the hospital," Hensler-Davis said. Afterward, the adoption agency directed her to a local family, whom she paid room and board for several weeks while waiting for the mass of legal red tape to clear. The decision to grant custody to adoptive foreign parents rests in the Peruvian courts, which promptly denied her request, Hensler-Davis said. It was a decision others had warned her was not uncommon in Peru.

The judge "didn't know me; he wasn't going to give me a baby," she said.

But she continued to search for aloophole that would allow her to adopt the baby girl, whom she had named Christiana. The courts required her to undergo more physical andpsychological exams. After being interviewed by a Peruvian judge anddistrict attorney some 22 times, she was finally given the OK to adopt.

She returned home in May with hopes that Christiana would follow in two weeks, but another snag materialized. Because Peruvian lawsrequire a search for the birth mother of an abandoned child, advertisements posted by the police had turned up the mother.

"The motherwas 18 years old and very poor, and the father had not known about the child," Hensler-Davis said. "Ultimately, the grandfather went to court and granted permission for the adoption." Her "labor" pains wereover.

Recently Christiana Ashley May, now 14 months old, crawled non-stop around the living room, playing with her favorite toys whileher proud parents showed photos from their wedding. Their favorite snapshot is one of their daughter smiling happily on their wedding day.

The couple said they spent well over $20,000 for the adoption. But it seemed well worth it when Norma Hensler-Davis exclaimed, "She'swonderful."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad