This photo of Lexi was taken on a very special day. It was the day she had been a member of our family longer than she was an orphan.
In Russia, she lived in an institution with 99 other children and very few caregivers to meet only her basic needs. She was treated well, but not really special or favored in any way.
In our family, she has a Mommy, Daddy, four big brothers, a big sister, a niece, a Nana and Grandma, aunts, uncles, twelve cousins, two puppies and five cats, (plus our wonderful church family) who all love her very much. Martin and I would go to the moon and back to meet her needs.
We didn't go to Russia to rescue an orphan. We went there to bring home our daughter. And she has blessed our family beyond words.
Her smile lights up the room! She is full of life, love and joy!
Our adoption story is about a match made in Heaven!
It all started back in 1992, when Martin and I first started dating. I don't remember exactly how the conversation came up, but we were discussing how horrible it was that baby girls in China were being abandoned simply because they were not boys. We both agreed that we wanted to adopt a little girl from China... someday. Five years later, as we planned our wedding we still talked about adopting from China. What we didn't know back then was that as soon as we were married God had four boys (within five years) planned for us first. I must admit, there were days when I thought my dream of having a daughter was lost forever.
When our youngest son was just about to turn three years old, our good friends were in China with their two sons getting ready to bring home their daughter. We followed their adoption journey vicariously through photos and emails. It was March 2007 and that's when Martin said, "It's now or never. If we are ever going to adopt, NOW is the time!" Little did he know that I had already contacted an adoption agency that same week and discovered that we no longer qualified for China -- too old, too many children in the home already, etc. So we switched gears and started researching countries and gathering tons of information on both domestic and international adoption. Russia had not even been on my radar, but after sorting through all the materials, we discovered it was definitely the best fit.
As soon as we signed with the first agency in April 2007, Russian adoptions were coming to a screeching halt while adoption agencies around the world awaited a new reaccreditation certificate (now called "Permits") from Russia's Ministry of Education. Because of this I took my time preparing our home study paperwork. But toward the end of the summer 2007, I began to have doubts about whether or not we were with the right agency. Wait times for girls between the ages of 2 and 5 grew from "12 months start to finish" to "18 to 24 months from dossier submission". On September 18th, 2007 I blogged about my concerns. But something wonderful also happened that very day... a sweet little girl was born in a Siberian hospital. She was a few weeks early and only weighed 5.6 pounds, but she was PERFECT in every way!
In November 2007, we switched agencies and completed our dossier by February 2008. Then the real wait for a referral began. In June 2008, we finally received THE CALL! Imagine our surprise when we were informed that we had been matched with a b.a.b.y. When our director told me her birthday was September 2007, it took me a moment to realize that she was only seven months old. We were expecting a little girl between 2 and 4 years old. Martin and I discussed it for about 30 seconds before saying "Yes!"
We received three photos of our soon-to-be daughter on the day after Father's Day. What a great Father's Day gift! This is what we saw:
We couldn't wait to get on a plane to meet her, but wait we did. We didn't get to travel on Trip One until the end of July. In the meantime, our first set of VISAs expired and we had to pay for new ones. Ouch!
On July 31, 2008, we finally met our little Lexi. She was tiny, quiet and very serious. We could not get her to smile or show any emotion. She was not interested in toys. All she wanted to do was sit in our lap and be held. She drank water from a tin cup. My heart was both elated and broken at the same time. We got to visit her for two hours each morning and afternoon for three days. Every time we had to hand her back to the caregivers was harder than the last. Leaving her there after our last visit was one of the most difficult moments of my life.
Four long months later, in November 2008, we finally received a court date. We left Nashville the Saturday after Thanksgiving and arrived in the very cold and snowy Novokuznetsk, Russia. In case you were wondering, Siberian winters are beyond cold. The weather is downright frigid. We discovered first hand that -40 degrees is the same in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. And that's actual temperature, not including the wind chill factor. Yet our hotel room was so hot we had to sleep with the windows cracked open.
Our days in Novokuznetsk were a whirl-wind. We did our in-country medical exams and then got to visit Lexi one more time. Court was the next day in Kemerovo, a three hour drive each way across the frozen tundra going way too fast for the icy road conditions. Finally, on December 3, 2008, we walked out of Baby Home #1 carrying our daughter. She was 14 months old. As soon as we got her back to our hotel room and started peeling off her snow suit, Lexi started to smile. Then she started to giggle! It was like somehow she knew. She knew that her mom and dad had come to take her home forever. I fell to my knees and thanked God for being so good to us. We introduced her to our anxiously awaiting family and friends back home with this scrapbook from Smilebox.com. It still brings happy tears to my eyes!
She was an angel on the four hour flight to Moscow. A sweet Russian lady seated across the aisle played finger games with her and kept smiling at us. She sang her a Russian lullaby. Another lady offered us her seat on the bus at the airport. I found the people of Russia to be most kind and gracious.
As we were flying back to Moscow from Novokuznetsk, a family friend was escorting our boys from Nashville to Moscow. We met at the Moscow Marriott for a joyous family reunion. The boys were crazy about their little sister. It felt wonderful to have my whole family together at last. We all explored Red Square and Old Arbat Street. We ice-skated in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. We had wonderful meals and some not-so-wonderful meals. And even with five kids in tow, we never went to McDonalds. The city was decorated with enormous Christmas / New Year's trees every where. It was both beautiful and magical.
We arrived home a week later to a crowd of cheering friends at the airport. My mom had cleaned our home and stocked the pantry and refrigerator. It was a surreal feeling to see our baby girl sitting in our living room floor playing with an Elmo toy. But we have never looked back for even a moment. Despite what she may have missed in her first year of life, Lexi is the sweetest child and so loving and affectionate. Her attachment and bonding started from day one. There were a few issues we had to work through and some institutional behaviors that subsided over time. But overall, I can't imagine how we could have had a smoother transition.
For every delay, every piece of paperwork, every frustration, every penny pinched, every worry, every heartache, and every gray hair on my head... I say she's worth it! Lexi is worth all that and soooo much more! Oh, how we love that girl!