“When my son, Pierre, was born I wondered whether I should tell my biological mother. But I felt like I couldn’t allow her to call herself his grandmother. I didn’t want Pierre to be hers, too.”
Thus speaks Marion Le Roy Dagen, aged 40. Until the age of 6 her name was Mariuca.
Adopted by a French couple from one of Romania’s communist-era orphanages, Marion knew nothing about her roots until she turned 24.
In 2000, she visited Romania to find the man and woman who abandoned her as an infant. In 2014, Marion produced a documentary about her life entitled, “L’enfant du diable” (The Devil’s Child).
THIS IS A STORY OF DELIVERANCE.
Mariuca-Marion is the fruit of fleeting love. She was born in Aiud, on the 17th of July in 1976, ten years after Decree 770/1966, the law that made abortion illegal in Romania.
Her mother was 17 and on her summer vacation when she brought Marion into the world. Still a student in high school, she gave up Mariuca when classes started in September.
“The principal told me I could do what I wanted with the baby, but because I was ill and a minor, they’d take her away from me anyway so I’d be better off by putting her up for adoption. I had two days to decide”, Ana, Marion’s biological mother, recalls.
She made the decision without the father’s input, a 22 year old who she’d met while visiting her grandparents.
“Nicolae played football at the time. We hit it off and met two or three time in Teius – that’s where he lived.”
Nicolae would discover that he had a child… twenty-four years later.
DECREE NR. 770, ENACTED ON OCTOBER 2ND 1966, FORBADE ABORTIONS, WITH THE FOLLOWING EXCEPTIONS:
The pregnancy posed a risk to the mother’s health and could not be mitigated through other means;
One of the parents suffered a debilitating and hereditary disease, or any disease that could lead to genetic malformations;
The mother suffered from serious physical or psychological afflictions;
The mother is over 45 years of age;
The mother has already given birth to four children who are still under her care;
The pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault or an incestuous act.
This was how Mariuca found herself living in an orphanage for the first six years of her life.
“The beds were all crowded together and surrounded by grating. There was no privacy of any sort. I spent six years that I’ll never get back in that place. I remember kids screaming. It was unbearable.”
The Ceausescu regime was unable to cope with the growing number of institutionalized children. The effects of the 1966 decree were made apparent within the first year when more than five hundred thousand kids were born; double the number from the previous year. The number of abandoned children kept pace with the surging birthrate.
As the tragedy unfolded, Ceausescu ordered the construction of mega-orphanages. In 1989 these had reached a total capacity of around 100,000 beds. The orphanages were filled beyond capacity. For example, one of the largest orphanages, the Târgu Ocna orphanage in Bacau County, had a capacity of 600, but it was home to 1,100 boys.
“I lived my life in a vacuum where absolutely nothing happened. Nobody cared for us, and we couldn’t even go outside. We spent most of the day in bed, dirty and soaked in urine. The girl next to me was disturbed and repeatedly slammed her head against the wall. The staff didn’t even look at us,” Marion remembers.
The communist regime stopped training psychologists and social workers. Most orphanage staff didn’t have the relevant training or education. Romanian society began to adopt an abandonment culture, visible even at the cinema. A very popular film at the time, Veronica (1972), painted an idyllic life at an orphanage.
“Doctors would casually recommend that mothers institutionalize their children if they had any trouble with the child at home. It was just as common for a mother to claim poverty in order to leave her child at the hospital. The motto, ‘the state wants ‘em, the state can keep ‘em’ was rooted in the public conscience,” say the authors of an extensive report on orphaned children in Romania.
The state profited off of orphans like they were a commodity. Thirty thousand children were adopted by foreigners, who paid considerable sums to take them out of the country. The adoption papers were signed by Ceausescu himself. It was very methodical.
In 1980 a French couple visited the Alba Iulia orphanage looking to adopt. Mariuca was 4 years old. When she saw the couple for the first time, she yelled out in desperation, “They’re mine!”
She thinks she was eventually chosen because she was one of the few kids who didn’t suffer from mental afflictions. The adoption process, however, was not an easy one. She finally escaped the orphanage in 1982, when she was 6.
“I felt so free the moment I landed in France. I wanted to forget Romania so badly that I decided to fully embrace my new life. Even though these terrible memories never left me, I completely forgot the Romanian language.”
MARIUCA BECAME MARION
From that point on, her fate and those of the other orphans with whom she’d grown up, would take vastly different directions. Most of them had never known any sort of motherly affection, and few managed to go on and live normal lives. Many have died.
But Marion couldn’t feel whole as long as she didn’t know the truth about the circumstances surrounding her early childhood. In 2000, at the age of 24, she traveled to Romania to find her roots. She remembers arriving in Aiud and asking strangers in a local pub for help finding the woman who was her mother. She was sent to an older man who was able to tell right away she was Romanian. She explained whom she was looking for and he immediately said, “Ana!” Marion’s adoptive parents had been told that her mother had died, but the man said, “Nonsense! I saw her at the market last week.”
The man then took her to Ana’s house and asked her to wait outside. “I waited about fifteen minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I was pacing all over, biting my nails.”
When Ana came out of the house, Marion asked her about her daughter. Ana said she’d given her up as a baby and that she was later told she’d died. She was named Mariuca and she was born in July, 1976. That’s when Marion knew the woman who stood in front of her was her mother. At first Ana told Marion that her father was not a good man, and then later she said he had died. Only in 2014, while filming the documentary, did Ana admit that he was alive and gave Marion his address.
“With my mother things had been complicated, it took fifteen years to understand her story, but with Nicolae it was very spontaneous. He takes things as they are.”
Nicolae, who has two children, only found out about Marion in 2000. He didn’t tell his family about her right away, but figured that someday his French daughter would come to seek him out. Marion says she feels a stronger attachment to her biological father even if the relationship with her mother goes further back.
In 2014, Marion felt ready to introduce her biological parents to her son, Pierre, who was a year old.
In France, Marion is a social worker. She says she still carries a strong sense of guilt about the children left behind in the orphanage.
“I was extremely lucky to be adopted by this extraordinary French family, but my soul never left this place. I’ve met many kids over the years who were brought up in these orphanages and they retained lifelong emotional scars because of it. I started an organization named ‘Romanian Orphans’ with the intention of easing the adoption process, to give them an opportunity to form their own identity.”
The documentary is dedicated to these kids.
“For me, Ceausescu was the devil incarnate. Even now I sometimes think of myself as the devil’s child.”