With quick strokes of her pen, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Sherrie R. Bailey made permanent families of each of the children and parents who came before her Saturday in a Baltimore County courtroom.
The judge finalized the adoptions of infants, toddlers, school-age children and older teens, 10 in all, during a ceremony similar to hundreds of others around the nation on National Adoption Day. In Maryland courts alone, the adoptions of nearly 100 children became final during events intended to raise awareness of the plight of some 123,000 foster children in the United States in need of permanent homes.
For the families gathered before Bailey in ceremonial Courtroom No. 5 in Towson's Old Courthouse, the state's approval merely sealed already strong bonds between adoptive parent and child.
Among the families participating were a single mother and her special-needs toddler; a Catonsville couple and two daughters, both born in China with serious health conditions; and a North Carolina woman who stepped in to raise her great-niece and great-nephew, now 7 and 6 years old.
"There are still children waiting in foster care who need homes," said the judge, herself an adoptive mother of a son now in college.
As she signed papers for Amy Karwacki of Dundalk to adopt Michael, a 2-year-old she has raised since he was 6 months old, the judge advised the new mother to savor the moments.
"There will come a time when boys will never kiss their mom in public," Bailey warned Karwacki. "Then they'll drive off in your car."
Stephen and Kyla Liggett-Creel of Columbia adopted Selah Anya, 19 months. Selah, who frolicked in a full white dress, was a 6-day-old newborn in intensive care when the couple became her foster parents.
"We went to the hospital and held her in the NICU," Kyla Liggett-Creel said. She said the infant was supposed to be there two months.
"We held her as much as we could. She came home after six days."
The couple has cared for other foster children over the past four years, usually for just a few weeks or months, and always said they would adopt any child who could not be reunited with his or her birth family.
Adoptive parents Ed and Ann Bartlinski of Catonsville said they chose the Saturday ceremony to finalize the foreign adoptions of Gemma, 4, and Teresa, 3, born in China, because they believe in the day's message.
"It brings more attention to adoption," and the tens of millions of orphans in the world, Ann Bartlinski said, as the two little girls in matching plaid dresses showed off new dolls. "It could be a first choice," for families wanting children, she said.
With the addition of Gemma and Teresa, the Bartlinskis now have nine children — four older, biological offspring and five daughters adopted from China with special needs.
Gemma has a condition that requires blood transfusions every three weeks. Teresa, whom the couple brought home from China in July, needs a heart/lung transplant but is not a good candidate for the surgery, her mother said.
"We adopted her knowing she was dying," Ann Bartlinski said. "We didn't want her to die in an orphanage. Now, we're praying for a miracle."
Bartlinski seemed to find some special meaning and comfort inside a gift bag she was handed after the ceremony. It came from Audrey Monroe, a 12-year-old who offered gifts to each newly adopted child as part of a service project for her bat mitzvah this spring.
Working with Art with a Heart, a Baltimore organization that brings visual art programs to children, Audrey made personalized decoupage frames for each child, such as one with Curious George for Teresa. She also saved up money for small gifts for each child.
For the boys, there were gift cards; for each girl, a locket in the shape of a silver heart.