Brie Mahar smiles at her daughter, Tanaya, whom Mahar and her husband, Mike, adopted from an orphanage in the same city Brie was adopted from. - Photo courtesy of the Mahar family

From India with love

Adoption is a legacy of love, says former Miss Rogue Valley Brie Bohall Mahar.

It was love that brought Brie from an orphanage in Calcutta, India, to Medford and into the arms of a wonderful family. It was love that brought her back 31 years later to retrieve her newly adopted daughter from an orphanage in the same city.

"We are relishing in the new addition to our family. We love her sweet spirit and high-pitched giggle. I love the way her hair curls and how her eyes squint when she is really happy," Brie wrote in her blog on Mother's Day.

Brie has always seen her life as one filled with love and good fortune. She was barely 2 months old when she was adopted from the Calcutta orphanage. A tiny infant, she weighed less than five pounds when she was jetted across the globe, eventually arriving in Medford to become the beloved adopted daughter of Susie Lanfear and Forest Bohall, and younger sister to their son, Russ Bohall.

"Brie was given the opportunity to make the most of her life, and she's definitely done that," said Russ Bohall. "I'm really proud of her and I always have been."

Now 31, Brie is a nurse and married to her college sweetheart, Mike Mahar, who works in real estate. The couple live in Bend and have a 4-year-old biological daughter, Metali.

Metali is a derivation of the name Brie was given at her orphanage.

"It means 'sweet,' " she said.

Metali was not quite 3 when Brie and Mike began to consider adding to their family. The couple revisited a discussion begun in 1998 while both were students at Oregon State University, Mike said.

"We had always talked about adoption," he said, adding adopting a child from India was high on their list of options.

In early 2010, they were matched with a baby girl born prematurely in an Indian orphanage. Her name was Tanaya and the Mahars couldn't wait to meet her.

But the anxious parents' adoption process collided with governmental agencies' reams of red tape, making the adoption process a lengthy one. Tanaya was almost a year-and-a-half old when the Mahars arrived in India after a 15-month ordeal.

Finally, in April of this year, the couple traveled to Calcutta, also Brie's birthplace, to claim their adoptive daughter. Brie had never visited the country of her birth. The only images of India she had were from pictures and movies. She remembers being struck by the "colors, chaos and congestion." And the kindness of the people, she said.

She was also shaken by the level of poverty. She broke down in tears after seeing a woman sleeping with her two children in a train station, heartbroken to realize that was likely the best life the mother could provide for her children.

Brie is painfully aware most Indian women have limited choices. They could not imagine her life, with a college education, a career and even a modicum of fame in being named the 1998 Miss Rogue Valley while a senior at North Medford High School.

"I'm a nurse. I have a job. I was able to marry the person I wanted," Brie said.

It is clear from Tanaya's weight and her actions that she did not receive adequate nourishment, Brie said.

"She would get very frantic if you tried to reposition the bottle," she said. "That's when I realized maybe she didn't even get a whole bottle of formula."

Tanaya had also never been outside the walls of the orphanage. She'd never felt grass on her toes or the wind in her face. And, since she'd been attended to only by women, Tanaya had never seen a man. But she seemed to know she was safe with her new father.

"She fell asleep in my arms before we left the orphanage," said Mike, who is the son of Mary and Mike Mahar, a Medford builder and developer.

Once Brie's story got out via the orphanage director, people were "really taken aback by the fact she returned," he said.

They told the couple they'd always wondered what happened to orphans adopted out to other countries.

During their monthlong visit, everyone from their taxi driver to the people they met in the streets wanted to thank Brie for remembering the children of India.

"Brie definitely had a special place in their hearts," he said.

Brie's adoptive mother, Susie Lanfear, died nine years ago.

"She used to tell me how she loved me just as much as her biological child. And she talked about how powerful a mother's love is," Brie said.

She has only limited information on her birth mother.

"The story I was told was that babies are born in a nursing home. Then a charitable organization comes to pick up the babies that are left."

Now a mom herself, Brie has a deeper understanding of a mother's heart. She wonders if her birth mother struggled with her decision. Or if the decision was made for her due to social stigma, poverty or family persuasion.

"I have always hoped it was because she loved me so much that she wanted more for me than she could give," she said. "That she knew I would have the chance to be taken care of, provided for and loved very much. I wonder if she has ever thought of me over the years."

Forest Bohall remembers his first sight of his new daughter. Dwarfed by the little outfit they'd bought for her, Brie spent the first couple of days in a hospital being treated for parasites and fungal infections.

"She was pretty tiny," Forest Bohall said. "But she responded well."

Tanaya suffered from some of the same ills, which are typical of babies living in the orphanages, Brie said.

Now she's healthy and happy. She can say "Momma" and "Dadda," and wave and blow kisses. Brie said she loves Indian food and doesn't like American baby food. She loves her big sister, Metali — and the feeling is mutual.

Brie is currently working to create a non-profit agency in order to raise funds for food, formula and medical supplies for India's orphans, most of whom have no rescue in sight.

"I've always felt I had a second chance at life being adopted," she says. "I keep seeing those babies' faces. How can you go there and see this and not do anything?"

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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