Double happiness | April 25, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - April 25, 2007

Double happiness

Palo Alto family tries to adopt one child, gets two

by Photos Norbert von der Groeben Story Sue Dremann

It's not a situation most couples are prepared to face: an overseas adoption attempt that garners not one but two children from countries at opposite ends of the world.

Michelle Teofan and Karl Garcia of Palo Alto ended up with double the pleasure -- adopting two baby girls -- after their quest to complete their family netted a surprise ending. The arduous journey to that destination, however, included prejudice, a shadowy tale of how a child came to an orphanage, a nearly intractable bureaucracy, and an adoption in an armed, gated compound.

Teofan and Garcia have one biological child, Fabiana, 5, a kindergartener at Addison Elementary School; they decided to adopt another child after trying unsuccessfully to conceive through artificial insemination in 2004. The couple decided they didn't want to pour all of their money into in-vitro fertilization, which might not take.

"We liked the idea of an international family," Teofan said, sitting in the couple's spacious downtown condominium. They had befriended other couples who adopted from overseas and enjoyed those connections, she said.

Teofan, a telecommunications consultant at BearingPoint in Mountain View, travels widely. She has also spent much time in Latin America. Garcia is a networking engineer for Google.

Accomplished individuals in their careers, the couple hit their first snag when overseas lawyers learned that Garcia was disabled by a car accident and uses a wheelchair.

"They said, 'Don't even try,'" Teofan said.

Teofan has to fight battles all of the time in her high-powered job, so she wasn't about to settle for "no," she said.

The couple hired the Gladney Center for Adoption to help them adopt a child from China. Teofan's sister has a law partner who uses a wheelchair and successfully adopted two children through the center.

Five grueling months passed, full of financial reports, referrals, home studies with a social worker, criminal-background checks and approval from U.S. immigration officials.

"All of a sudden, we hit the Great Wall of China," Garcia said.

The couple's application was rejected-- because of Garcia's wheelchair, the couple were told.

"There was no word of this, no indication this would happen. It was completely out of the blue," he said.

China had begun tightening rules on foreign adoptions, barring people who are single, obese, older than 50 or who fail to meet economic, physical or psychological criteria the Chinese government considers to the child's best advantage, Teofan said. The new rules weren't publicized yet, but Chinese officials were no longer allowing adoptions to people with disabilities. Teofan and Garcia were told an appeal would make Chinese officials lose face.

They had one more card to play, however. When Chinese President Hu Jintao came to the United States last summer, the attorney in the wheelchair hosted a breakfast for visiting Chinese dignitaries. The officials, who included the woman who had rejected Garcia and Teofan's application, were impressed with the upbringing of the two adopted children by a person with disabilities. Gladney representatives later sought to reopen the couple's application, Teofan said.

The couple, however, had started another adoption process in May 2006 -- this time in Guatemala -- where adoption by people with disabilities was not an issue. Los Altos home-study firm ACCEPT Adoptions, moved by the couple's first rejection, waived the fee for a second home-study, the couple said.

Maya, a baby girl, was born on May 7, and Teofan and Garcia prepared for the adoption with another home study and more piles of paperwork. Trying to adopt had taken so long that when Fabiana talked at school about getting a baby sister, her teacher thought she had created an imaginary playmate, Teofan said.

Unexpectedly, the couple soon learned their adoption request had at last also been approved in China. Teofan and Garcia now had the possibility of adopting two infants.

Nagging questions loomed. The couple considered telling China they were no longer interested, but they saw a potential problem if they rejected the adoption after fighting so hard against prejudice because of Garcia's disability, he said. Twins had been a very real possibility had they chosen to go the in-vitro fertilization route, so adopting two girls close in age didn't seem so out of place, he added.

"It was the right thing to do," Teofan said.

The Marriott Hotel in Guatemala City is a fortified compound: fenced, gated and guarded. In the lobby, 25 couples milled around, awaiting the arrival of their new children.

It had become baby central, where gay and lesbian couples and persons with disabilities would be given the gift of a family. An atmosphere of expectation charged the air. The hotel store carried familiar sundries for the traveler -- suntan lotion, spare tooth brushes and razor blades -- but there was also baby food, diapers and formula, an entire store dedicated to the needs of new parents. A special baby room was filled with toys, Teofan said.

Outside the compound walls, it was a different story. Parents-to-be were warned not to leave the hotel grounds with the children. International adoption has become a sensitive issue in Guatemala, where some people feel Americans are stealing the nation's babies, Teofan said. When children left with their new families, they were whisked away in cars from the hotel grounds and taken directly to the airport.

On Dec. 27, 2006-- seven months after they began trying to adopt Maya-- Teofan, Garcia and 5-year-old Fabiana stood in the hotel lobby filled with squalling babies, newly placed into their adoptive parents' arms. At 3 p.m., Maya arrived. Her foster mother, who had cared for Maya since birth, came to say goodbye. Neighbors and family members accompanied her.

"She read a whole letter in Spanish -- (pouring out) her whole heart and soul," Teofan said.

"Maya cried just two hours, and that was it," Garcia added.

On March 19, Teofan and Garcia boarded a plane again, this time, headed for Nanchang, China, nearly three years since their quest for a child began. Nanchang is a 2,200-year-old city, a sub-tropical metropolis in southeast China.

Elise, the baby Teofan and Garcia came to adopt, was found on June 2 on the orphanage doorstep, her umbilical cord still new, according to orphanage officials. It is a familiar tale. Other couples have been told same story, Teofan said.

Elise's face had looked thin in an early photo, and Garcia and Teofan wondered about the quality of care she had received. A later picture showed a chubbier Elise, dressed in a tiny red, embroidered silk robe.

The deprivation of orphanage life became apparent as another couple, upon receiving their new daughter, was told not to worry about her legs. Red rings encircled her calves, where too-tight socks had been left on for a week and left an infection. The beautiful girl had been a poster child for the orphanage, Garcia said.

"What does that say about the kind of care that she got?" he added.

Elise was healthy but is four to five months behind in development from Maya, who is close enough in age that the couple considers them twins. She couldn't hold herself up in a sitting position and is still trying to grasp things, he said.

"It's a wake-up call to remind ourselves that life in an orphanage isn't a good thing. They got very little individual attention," Garcia added.

In three weeks, Elise has made much progress, he said.

With one journey at an end and a new one as a family beginning, Teofan and Garcia are kept busy dividing their attention between Maya, who at 11 months is crawling everywhere, Fabiana, who dotes on her little sisters, and Elise, who is learning about play with siblings. Returning from a shopping trip, happy screeches pierced through the phone line.

"We got doubly lucky," Garcia said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Teri
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2007 at 9:51 pm

My heart aches to hear that there are babies neglected in orphanages while couples struggle to go through the adoption process. I'm delighted that Karl, Michelle, Fabiana, Maya, and Elise are a family.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly reporter
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Growing up as a twin is definitely a unique experience. Palo Alto High School's Verde magazine published an article about maintaining individuality as a twin.

Check it out at:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Alumni
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I know many Asian children who were adopted by well meaning Caucasian parents.

When the children reach adulthood they suffer psychological problems and have spent a lifetime explaining why they are a different ethnicity than their parents.

I happen to know many adopted 40 year old children who are trying to overcome not only the stigma of adoption, but the added embarrassment of having to having to explain why they are ethnically different from their parents.

This is not to say that the families were not loving.
Many well meaning parents (typically from Christian backgrounds) think they are doing justice to these "deprived" children.

The truth lies in the permanent psychological scars suffered by these children which manifest in the adulthood.

Additionally, many adult children have a hard time finding a spouse, and enjoying a happy marriage.

Sad but true

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm

The same can be said about adoptees who are of the same ethnicity as their parents. I have one friend, in her 40s who was adopted as a baby followed by the adoption of a younger brother a couple of years later. Their parents subsequently had a biological child which was totally unexpected. The only child of the three that has a secure marriage and lifestyle, is the youngest biological child. I also have another friend who was adopted followed by a younger sister a few years later. The older sister was the "clever" child, rather plain and awkward, while her younger sister was very pretty, popular and by no means not clever even though she was not up to the standard of her older sister. The eldest of these siblings died in her 40s, a remarkable teacher but single and always had a feeling of unfulfillment whereas the younger prettier sister has had several marriages and feels equally unfulfilled even though she is also a mother. All four of the adoptees struggled with self-worth and identity issues and some of this even crept into the makeup of the biological youngest.

Consequently, adopting within the same ethnic backgrounds does not make it that much easier.

Like this comment
Posted by Adoptee
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:29 am

I feel sorry for these children who are being adopted.
Money should not be a factor in determining a good home for an adopted child. I know quite a few wealthy families who adopted children for whatever reason. Children need to be loved, and adopted children need and should know their backgrounds. I think this will be hard for them when they grow up. I am almost certain of this.
The different cultures will only add to their identity problems when they grow up. They will want to reconnect with their cultural roots/

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 8:43 am


I do agree with your comments and understand how you personally must feel on this issue due to your own background, but the other side of the question is what would their lives have been like otherwise. They must weigh the pros and cons, would you or them prefer to have grown up in an orphanage in dire circumstances, or have a loving adoptive family? This must be the best of two unfortunate scenarios.

Like this comment
Posted by PA mama
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2017 at 5:59 pm

What a wonderful story. To these beautiful children, may you feel loved, always!

Remember that the children adopted into this family will likely search out this article one day. There are lovely children on the other side of the screen. Think before you comment.