Michael Zapf was willing to give up his wife, Susan, for two years, if that's what it would take to have a family.
As it was, the eight weeks it took for the Bel Air couple to work through problems with U.S. immigration policy and bring their newly adopted daughter home from Romania seemed an eternity.
"I had to leave Susan there at the end because I had used up every vacation day I had. So I came home and started working from this end," said Michael, 39, a research chemist for McCormick & Co., the Hunt Valley-based spice manufacturing company.
"But after all the emotions involved, you can't just quit. You can't say you didn't really mean that you wanted a child. And once we saw her, there was no turning back."
At one point, the Zapfs, who spent about $15,000 in the adoption process, feared it could take as long as two years before they brought Ava home. But the chemist was willing to allow his wife tostay in Romania with their daughter for the two years some government officials told them it might take before they were allowed to take her to America.
"If we hadn't been able to bring her home, we would have had to leave her in foster care -- I don't know how I could have done that," said Susan, who is now on adoption leave from her job with the state Public School Construction Program.
In America a little more than a week, and sleeping peacefully in her mother's arms in the family's two-story Bel Air home, the dark-haired baby girl is oblivious to the stir she has caused, or the joy she has brought to the Zapfs lives.
But someday, when she is old enough to understand, the Zapfs will tell her about their journey to parenthood, and how 10-week-old Rodica Gina of Romania became Ava Marie Zapf of America.
"We decided to change her name because while Rodica (pronounced Roh-DEE-ka) is a pretty and very popular name in Romania, it would be very unusual here," explained Susan. "We chose Ava Marie because it was still very European-sounding. But when she's older, we'll tell her about everything."
Married for 17 years, the couple began trying to have children five years ago. But Susan, now 37, was unable to conceive because she had endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissuegrows outside the uterus. The couple tried in vitro fertilization, also without success.
For two years, the Zapfs tried to adopt a child from Thailand. But when they learned Romanian adoptions were moving more quickly, they decided in September to try to adopt a Romanian child. Working through Los Ninos, a private Texas-based adoption agency, the couple did just that on their second day in Romania.
"We didn't meet her parents until we walked into the courtroom," said Susan. "We did talk a little bit through an interpreter, and the mother and I hugged and cried. They were very poor, neither one had a job, and they had two other children. They just couldn't afford another child."
The Zapfs even visited the family's home after the adoption tomeet the baby and take pictures of the baby with her birth mother.
With the adoption complete, the Zapfs believed they would be home in 10 days with the child, based on experiences of other people they met as they went through initial adoption procedures.
"But when we applied for a visa at the U.S. Embassy, it was denied," said Susan. An unforeseen legal problem had snagged the couple: the names of both of their daughter's birth parents were on her birth certificate.
"You can't get an immigration visa if the child is not an orphan, or unless only one parent's name is on the birth certificate," said Susan, as she cuddled her daughter in her living room one night last week."Not even if both parents have agreed to the adoption, which hers did. Under Romanian law, she was ours; we just couldn't bring her home."
The couple suspects a "60 Minutes" expose on black-market adoptions and baby-selling in Romania, which aired while they were there, may have prompted the clampdown. They said they did not see any such black-market activity while they were in the country.
Eventually, Ava received what's called a "humanitarian parole" for a period of twoyears. At the end of that time, the Zapfs will be able to apply to have her remain in the United States permanently.
"What we went through . . .," said Susan, pausing. "I don't want to give her the impression that she was a charity case or anything like that. I don't knowwhat it's like to have a child by birth, but I can't imagine the feelings are any different than what we have for Ava. Anybody else wouldhave done the same thing -- I'm just being a mother."
The Zapfs say they are growing tired of people telling them what a lucky baby Ava is.
"We feel we're the lucky ones," said Michael, tears welling up in his eyes. "We're just starting now. What we've done is behind us. It's just a comfort knowing she's home. It does feel like a familynow."