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Photo by Jill Nelson

Hurry up and wait

Adoption | A personal odyssey of international adoption-make that two- takes patience, perseverance, and more patience

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

KIEV, Ukraine-After 18 months of grueling paperwork, we finally arrived on the other side of the adoption process, climbing the narrow stairwell at Ukraine's State Department of Adoptions (SDA) in Kiev on Jan. 18. We had read the blogs of couples who had gone before us, but nothing prepared us for what was ahead: Inside this office we would be shown multiple files of orphans who were available for adoption-and given no more than an hour to pick a child.

We sat down in a room adorned with photographs of beaming children, and a jovial SDA worker began bringing out a few files at a time. None were individual girls under age 7, as we had requested. Our three "homegrown" kids were 7 and older; my husband and I wanted to keep the birth order and round out the family with one little girl.

As sibling groups of two, then three, then four kids were placed on the table, it became clear that God perhaps had charted a different course. As I mentally began counting the number of seats in our van back home, I was reminded of the wise counsel from a family who had made two adoption trips to Ukraine: "Do not forget that God is in control, and keep your eyes fixed on the big picture when the process is making you crazy." Those were words I would need to cling to.

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Choosing a child based on a dated photograph and background information written in a foreign language is difficult. Our adoption facilitator said he has watched CEOs of large corporations panic as they gazed at the files. Others know right away. When Felix and Heidi Rogé riffled through 27 files during their first adoption process two years ago, they immediately knew: "I kept trying to discriminate against them. Kolya looked angry. 'He needs a dad and a mom,' I heard my mind say. Julia was beautiful. 'She will amaze you,' the voice said. Nadia looked hurt and confused. 'She needs your help and guidance,' it said again. I truly believe God was speaking to me," Felix Rogé said.

For us, the process was agonizing until the SDA worker brought out the files of two little girls, ages 3 and 4. The older one had an inquisitive look on her face, and the younger sister was crying and appeared distraught. We were told they have two older siblings in another orphanage, but a phone call to the local social worker confirmed that separation would be possible.

That was all the information we needed. Our facilitator conveyed in Ukrainian our decision to visit these two little girls, and the next day we returned to pick up our official referral paper that we would take with us to the orphanage in Khmelnitsky, a five-hour train ride from Kiev.

That night, just as jetlag began to set in, we made our way to the train station-a massive building adorned with chandeliers. At 5 a.m., our train arrived in Khmelnitsky, a charming city of about 250,000 people. Hours later we arrived at the orphanage, blanketed in fresh snow and nestled at the end of path that had not been shoveled. Peeling green paint and an unpleasant smell greeted us as we entered the Soviet-era building, but the rooms inside were cheery, clean, and warm. A fish tank and two parakeets made it seem more like a preschool, and beautiful draperies lined the windows above 15 little beds, all neatly made.

Ukraine's state-run orphanages house an estimated 100,000 kids-with close to that number also living on the streets or in private facilities. This particular orphanage, one of the nicer ones, houses kids under age 6. Orphans age out of the system when they turn 16 or 17, and a startling number-60 percent to 70 percent according to some estimates-then turn to drugs and prostitution to survive. "You're talking about 16-year-old girls who are going to be on the streets selling their bodies to get a sandwich," said adoption facilitator Konstantin Farkovets.

When two little brown-eyed girls with pigtails peeked around the corner, we immediately wanted to take them home. We were introduced as "visitors," and they began to inch their way toward us when they saw the giant stuffed animals we had brought. They may have been cautious, but we were smitten.

Not every first referral is "successful." Many families travel hours to find that the child has more serious medical conditions than they were led to believe, or they discover previously undisclosed siblings. They can go back to SDA, a process that can add an extra week to a journey already five or more weeks long.

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