CNN Correspondent Harris Whitbeck interviews Guatemalan women who claim their babies were stolen from them.
ANTIGUA, Guatemala -- I was eleven years old when a devastating earthquake decimated much of Guatemala in 1976. My family and I lived in Guatemala City and were fortunate that our recently built house was not damaged.
My parents immediately involved themselves in relief and reconstruction efforts, and one night my mother came home with two babies in her arms. Maria and Francisca were only months old. They had been living in an orphanage that was so badly damaged it had to be evacuated. A call went out to the community for people to take in the children while the home was rebuilt, and my mom responded.
When the two babies arrived at our house, their little heads were infested with lice. They were severely traumatized -- one of them, Francisca, would spend hours rocking back and forth in her crib, refusing anyone's attention. They were terrified of the bathtub my mother used to bathe them.
But Maria and Francisca became the center of attention.
My siblings and I played with them constantly as they became temporary members of the family, and we marveled at how these terrified little creatures came out of their shells and began to laugh and play with us.
More than 30 years later, Maria and Francisca were often in my thoughts as I reported
on the current adoption situation in Guatemala. (Read: Guatemala seeks to slow exodus of babies to U.S.
The story of the Casa Quivira adoption center, the wrenching tales of adoptive parents waiting for their children, birth mothers haltingly explaining why they give their children up is one of the most difficult ones I've ever reported.
As a Guatemalan reporting on my country's adoption industry for a major U.S. news outlet, at times I was ashamed, angered, outraged and saddened.
I was ashamed that my country offers so little hope and opportunity that its young are seen as commodities. I was ashamed that Guatemala is becoming one big baby market -- that adoption in Guatemala has turned, to quote a high-level diplomat in Guatemala City, into such a "nasty business." I was outraged that some who promote the adoption business in the United States use the poverty and misery of millions of Guatemalans as a marketing tool.
I was saddened for the Guatemalan mothers who either have had babies stolen, have been manipulated into selling or giving children up, or forced into doing so because of their dire socio-economic conditions, and saddened too for the potential adoptive families who -- only for wanting to bring a child into their lives and for their altruism -- have in some cases become embroiled in sordid and shady dealings.
There are no easy answers in this story and there are many, many layers to it. When I set out to report it, I did so to attempt to find the truth in what happened at Casa Quivira and the truth behind thousands of Guatemalan babies who have been exported to the United States. (Watch: Guatemalan adoption controversy
We interviewed everybody who could possibly be involved in the adoptions -- waiting adoptive parents, government officials, state prosecutors, investigators, adoption lawyers, birth mothers, foster parents, midwives, even one of Casa Quivira's owners. The only ones we could not interview, who are, in the end, the most affected by all this, were the babies themselves.
And maybe the ultimate truth in this story lies in the tales they cannot tell now and in the tales they someday will be able to tell of their new lives. Adoption is, after all, more about the future than about the past. And in the end, it is those babies' futures that matter most.
While I do not know what became of babies Maria and Francisca my mom rescued, I do know they were lucky to have survived that earthquake 31 years ago and to have fallen in with good and honorable people who, albeit temporarily, ensured their well-being during desperate times.
I hope those babies currently waiting for adoption in today's Guatemala will also eventually fall in with good and honorable adoptive parents. But it is the process through which some of them might find those parents that troubles me so.
-- By Harris Whitbeck, CNN Correspondent