Christmas 2017. (From left) Marc, Mara, Hera and Jean Marc Geriene.
The Christmas gift that keeps on giving
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2018 - 12:00am


After they decided to adopt baby Jean, Marc and Hera Geriene stayed another week in Manila, with Hera personally taking care of the baby, getting up at night to feed him and to change his diapers. Then it was time to go back to the States. Before they left, they set into motion the legal process to adopt Jean, an arduous process that would have broken a less-determined couple’s resolve.

Every day from Seattle, the Gerienes would call the baby’s nanny and ask her to put the phone near Jean and they would talk to him and he would coo back to them. They wanted him to know their voice. The nanny put the photo of the Gerienes’ daughter Mara by Jean’s crib.

When the Gerienes returned to Manila during Mara’s school break in June to visit Jean, the seven-month-old baby smiled and reached out to Mara when he saw her. “He knows you, Ate,” Hera told her daughter.

“He may not have grown in my womb, but he grew in my heart,” Hera shares.

And once Jean was rooted in her heart, she couldn’t let go of him. Neither could Marc and Ate Mara. So much so that when they were told that it would be faster if they undertook an “international” adoption that would take only eight months — but meant leaving their baby behind again — or going through the three-year process of local adoption but having the baby live with them during the process, they chose the latter.

“This required us to move back to the Philippines for at least three years, before a date could be set for the court hearing. Very often it was difficult to understand what was going on, as the entire process was unfamiliar to us. Many times, it didn’t go well. The decision to accept the baby as a member of our family required a major commitment, unlike any other we had known, except when we said, ‘I do’ at the altar. The commitment was generated before we saw our son the first time, and even before we knew his gender or the state of his physical health and well-being,” recalls Hera.

A baby can change the world as it changed the Gerienes’ lives. The Gerienes decided to uproot themselves from Seattle and move to the Philippines. There was only one condition that Hera made: that Mara would be accepted in a local school that September so as not to interrupt her schooling.

Mara was accepted into the British School.

Their family of four was now going to be complete. No more tearful goodbyes. From their suite, the Gerienes moved to the penthouse of the hotel they were staying in. They needed room for a nursery!

*  *  *

After a grueling seven years, longer than expected, a process where the Gerienes saw greed, corruption, kindness and mercy, the adoption was completed.

The first thing the couple did upon hearing the good news from their lawyers was to go down on their knees in thanksgiving at the Greenbelt Chapel in Makati. It was in Greenbelt where they had their very first date.

(Marc was six years old when he told his parents, “I want to be a Catholic.” After his conversion, he converted the rest of the family to Catholicism.)

Christmas 2016. (From left) Jean Marc, Mara, Hera and Marc.

Hera recalls that when she first read Jean’s birth certificate listing her as the baby’s mother, she couldn’t stop crying.

One day, there was an explosion in the mall near their hotel. The Gerienes didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack or a coup attempt or what. They were advised to proceed to a designated safehouse for US citizens and as they were about to go, they realized their baby was not a US citizen. Between saving their lives and leaving Jean behind or staying behind and putting all their lives at risk, there was no question.

They were a family, and no one gets left behind.

*  *  *

“The entire process, from his birth to his arrival on US soil, took almost seven years: three and a half years to get to the hearing, another year to finalize the registration of his revised birth certificate, and two and a half more years to complete the requirements for his US citizenship, so we could bring him to the United States. We had no idea what we had committed to when we took that call in October 2005,” Hera shares. ”The next several years we tried to comply with the laws of two separate jurisdictions for the benefit of our son and our family. All the while, we lived with the frustration, the anxiety, and the fear that somehow our baby might be taken away from us before the adoption was final. Living with that uncertainty for so many years was the most difficult lesson I ever experienced in my life; however, the commitment was the catalyst for so many blessings and manifestations of wonderful experiences in my life.”

Jean was three when he showed his mother a picture of a pregnant woman. “Mommy, did you look like this when I was in your tummy?”

“No, Anak,” Hera replied. “Jesus put you in another woman’s tummy.” Jean seemed satisfied with his mother’s answer.

When he was seven, Jean again showed Hera the photo of a pregnant woman and asked the same question.

This time, Hera was all choked up and couldn’t answer. She turned to Marc for help.

“Jean, you know how special you are and how much we love you,” Marc began. “You didn’t grow in Mommy’s tummy, but you grew in her heart. That’s why you’re very, very special.”

The boy smiled and ran to his Lola and said, “I’m very special, Lola!”

The next day, Jean’s teacher told Hera, “You know Mrs. Geriene, Jean kept telling me today, ‘I’m very special’!” The teacher was probably wondering if he got a special gift the day before that made him feel very special. And she was spot on.

Since their very first Christmas as a family of four in 2005, the Gerienes have made a pact.

“We will always be together for Christmas,” says Hera. “The ordeal may have been difficult and sometimes painful, but it was worth it.  Our son was the greatest Christmas gift we could have hoped for and the gift keeps on giving every day.”

“He is a gift from heaven,” adds the proud father Marc.

Mara, who now works in the US, flew home for the holidays this year.

After all, Christmas Day marks the day their family became complete, when a baby boy was placed tenderly into a manger in their home — their hearts.

(You may e-mail me at Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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