BRIDPORT — Three weeks ago, Gedeleine Franklin was bundled out of the orphanage she knew as home after a slip in an underwater fault plunged Haiti into chaos.
Ten days ago, the two-year-old little girl was hustled onto an airplane with 80 other children bound for Miami. Aid workers, airline employees and orphanage volunteers cradled the children as they made the halting, unfamiliar trek out of Haiti.
By the middle of last week, as if in the blink of an eye, Gedeleine was tottering around the living room at her new home in Bridport, Vt., cradling a new Cabbage Patch doll and rummaging through a bucket of cardboard books, blocks and plastic toys.
Yes, her adoptive parents agree, it all happened pretty fast.
Bridport residents Tim and Annette Franklin, both 46, were used to anything but fast when it came to the adoption process they set in motion more than a year ago. There was paper after paper to file — not to mention the notes from neighbors, psychological exams and background checks.
Even after the couple made the journey to Haiti last summer to meet Gedeleine, the little girl they’d been matched with at the God’s Littlest Angels orphanage, Tim and Annette were told it could be months — and possibly years — before they’d be able to bring their adopted daughter home.
They settled in for the wait.
And then disaster struck.
OUT OF HAITI
For the first week after the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the Franklins found themselves in a sort of adoption limbo. First came the welcome news that the God’s Littlest Angels orphanage had escaped any major structural damage during the quake, and the 160 orphans who lived there were safe and sound. They slept outside during those first few nights, the Franklins learned, as tremors still wracked the country. Fuel and water were in short supply.
The rest was all unknown. Rumors began to percolate about humanitarian visas and expedited adoptions, but the Franklins didn’t know if any of that would apply to their case.
Then, when news came, it came fast: A call on Jan. 20 brought word that the Franklins should make their way to the Miami airport — the next day.
That sent the Franklins into a frenzy of planning. They left their four children at home under the guidance of their 18-year-old daughter, with neighbors set to pop in on the siblings from time to time. Annette scrambled to track down the supplies she’d need, and community members rose to the occasion. Armed with diapers, a sippy cup, clothes and a car seat, the Franklins headed for Miami on Jan. 21.
The couple arrived late in the evening, shortly before the plane with the orphans was scheduled to touch down. But the plane from Haiti had been delayed, so the Franklins hunkered down in the airport terminal to wait.
They weren’t alone. Gedeleine was one of 83 orphans being brought to families in the United States — the “Haiti 80,” as the expectant parents dubbed them — and more than 100 parents spent the night in the terminal. Even after the children finally arrived, it took more than eight hours to process them through immigration, and while they waited the parents shared e-mail addresses and adoption stories.
Then, finally, the families were escorted into a conference room. From next door came the sound of children’s voices, and singing — which prompted tears from many of the families waiting to embrace their children. The orphanage director began calling out the children’s names, one by one in alphabetical order. When she landed on “Gedeleine,” the Franklins headed through an open door, and someone put the little girl in Annette’s arms.
As for the Haitian orphanage where Gedeleine used to live, the adoption frees up space at the facility for more children — many of whom where orphaned in the earthquake.
For the Franklins, bringing Gedeleine home this January was the culmination of years of considering and ultimately planning for an international adoption.
The couple had long been weighing adoptions, Tim said, but they only began the process seriously in December of 2007. It took another year for the couple to be matched with Gedeleine through an adoption agency.
They were contemplating adding a child to an already full house: Tim and Annette have four biological children — 18-year-old Bethany, 15-year-old Elliot, 11-year-old Olivia and six-year-old Emma. Naturally, their early conversations about adopting involved their children. The kids were all excited, Tim and Annette remembered, especially the youngest girls.
“They were excited about having a baby sister,” Tim said. “Early on in the process, Emma, who is six now but would have been four then, would say, ‘Why don’t you just call them up and tell them you’ll meet them at the airport?’ And it’s funny, because it turns out that’s what happened in the end.”
Meanwhile, the whole family has been anticipating the adoption for months.
“Part of the nightly ritual has been to pray for Gedeleine and all the other babies in Haiti, and that she would come home soon,” Tim said. “That’s been the bedtime prayer for two years.”
Tim, who works as the pastor at the Bridport Congregational Church, said that the family’s faith played a large role in their decision to adopt. Throughout their life as a family, Tim and Annette said they have always wanted to grow their family — be it temporarily, by opening their home to someone who needed a place to stay, or permanently, through the birth of a new baby or, in Gedeleine’s case, an adoption.
“We’ve received a lot of love from God,” Tim said. “It just seems that we’ve received so much, and we ought to share that love with somebody else.”
There are still a lot of unknowns in Gedeleine’s past. The Franklins know that the little girl’s mother died shortly after Gedeleine’s birth. Her father’s identity and whereabouts are entirely unknown. Her grandparents cared for her for a few months after her birth, but eventually relinquished her to the state. A court declared her an orphan, and Gedeleine wound up at God’s Littlest Angels, the only home she ever knew before landing in Bridport.
Some of these details will never come to light, though the Franklins hope to return to Haiti when Gedeleine is older. (“It will be a whole new place,” Annette said.)
But for all of that uncertainty, the family is unwavering in their advice for other families looking into international adoption.
“Be patient,” Tim said.
“And the wait is worth it,” Annette added.
A NEW LIFE IN BRIDPORT
For now the family is taking things a day at a time. They’re staying close to home, and despite their friends and family’s excitement about the new arrival, they’re trying not to bring too many new people into Gedeleine’s life all at once. For now, they’re hoping to instill a sense of security and comfort at home, with her immediate family.
Early on, Tim and Annette cautioned their older children to give Gedeleine her space — “Let her come to you,” they told them.
Communicating can also be hard. Gedeleine was exposed to a bit of English in the orphanage, but doesn’t speak any yet, and the Franklins only know a few words of Creole. They’d hoped to learn more before her arrival, but had postponed listening to the language CDs.
“It’s one of those things we kept thinking, ‘Oh, well, we probably have some more time to work on that,’” Annette said. “Then, surprise! Not so much time.”
There are other hurdles to get over, too; some unexpected. Take the burden of lifting a nearly 30-pound toddler to your hip countless times a day, without the weight training that comes from toting a growing infant around the house. Then there’s the issue of just getting dressed in the morning. At the orphanage, Gedeleine only ever wore a diaper and sometimes a t-shirt, so donning pants and warm clothes, and putting on shoes, has been a change.
Other experiences, like wrangling a two-year-old into a car seat for the very first time in her life, have also proved challenging. There’s also the emotional change. Sometimes she’ll switch from being very happy, and playing with her new siblings, to suddenly retreating into herself.
“It’s a whole new world (for her),” Annette said. “I just wonder so much what she’s thinking.”
Armed with a card from Homeland Security stamped with “humanitarian parole” — the terminology for Gedeleine’s expedited adoption — and what meager paperwork could be salvaged from the rubble of Port-au-Prince, Tim and Annette brought Gedeleine home to Vermont on Jan. 23. They still have to sort out the complicated procedure of officially adopting Gedeleine and declaring her citizenship.
“I’m not sure what the next step is,” Annette said. “We’re waiting for the adoption agency to sort it all out and tell us what to do next. Meanwhile, she’s here.”
Tim added: “She’s out, she’s here, she’s with us.”
Meanwhile, Gedeleine fished another toy from the crate overflowing with hand-me-down books and brand new gifts. She grabbed hold of a large, purple ball, which she tentatively tossed, after some coaxing, to her father. “Merci,” he said, in a bit of the Creole the Franklins do speak. “Merci, Gedeleine.”