It was 1989, a decade since their first son was born, and Anne Marie, in her mid-thirties, found she could not get pregnant again. After a few bruising attempts at in-vitro fertilization, the Ostrowskis decided to adopt. Anne Marie herself had grown up in foster homes and had thrived. Maybe it was her destiny, she reasoned then, to become a life raft for other children without parents. She dreamed of a large family, maybe five kids in all. But she and John agreed to start off slowly, with a baby and maybe a 6-year-old. They opted for an overseas adoption -- and paid New Beginnings some $9,000 to find their first child.
The caseworker at New Beginnings, Anne Marie says, showed her pictures of Chad -- then 7 -- and promised that if the placement worked out, an infant would quickly follow.
From the first weeks they spent together, Anne Marie and John could tell Chad was very bright. He picked up English quickly, excelled at math, and became passionate about basketball and running. He could almost keep up with John II when they biked around the neighborhood.
But from the outset, Anne Marie recalls, Chad seemed emotionally withdrawn. He could not respond to loving words or small gestures of affection. He could not talk about his feelings. He had a hard time striking up friendships with other children. Even as a small boy, he seemed determined to keep his feelings to himself.
When Chad did talk, it was about his childhood in Korea. He told his American parents that before he was taken to the orphanage, he lived with his father's mean girlfriend. His father would visit, laden with gifts of clothes and toys. After he left, the furious girlfriend would break the toys and throw away the clothes. During his first Christmas with the Ostrowskis, Chad happily tore through the wrappings on his presents. A few hours later, John found the presents in the trash.
"I won't play with them, they're broken," Chad said, his boyish features puckered in an angry scowl.
Troubled by these revelations, Anne Marie and John called New Beginnings. The caseworker dismissed Chad's claims as "pure fantasy," Anne Marie recalls, but promised to research Chad's history with Eastern Child Welfare Society, the Korean agency. The news from Korea was sobering: The Ostrowskis were told that Chad had been badly neglected as a small boy; while his mother was at work, Chad had roamed the streets, fending for himself until she returned at the end of the day. The Ostrowskis say the news only made them love him more. They also became fiercely protective of him.
"He had been a street kid," says Anne Marie. "He'd made himself tough just to survive. And I was ready to deal with it. After all, healing takes time."
While Anne Marie spoke to Chad about the importance of love and trust in their family, Chad responded with memories of his father. He was a towering man, Chad remembered, who'd taught him math on an abacus. Although family circumstances had forced Chad to stay with his grandmother and aunt, he remembered that more than once he'd run away to be with his father. Oddly, Chad never talked about his mother.