From the time I was little, when I saw Oliver! and Annie and read a book called Adopted Jane, I knew that I would want to adopt a child when I grew up. My little brother, my only sibling, was adopted at three days old, so the concept was very familiar to me. So when I was approaching 40 and still single, it became an easy decision. At that time, international adoption was fairly popular, although as a single woman, my options were somewhat limited. I settled on Ukraine, which was not only available for me, but my grandfather had been born there.
The process was somewhat intimidating, but I was very determined to see it through—after all, my child was waiting for me! I decided to adopt a little girl under the age of three. I definitely did not want an infant—by this time, my brother had passed away, so I was an only child, and this would be my parents’ only grandchild. Since they were getting older, I wanted them to be able to interact with her. So I plowed through the paperwork, the interviews, the classes, and all the other preparations with great excitement.
When I finally received my invitation to go to Ukraine, the adoption agency contacted me to tell me there was a glitch—the person who ran the adoption program for the entire country had retired, so the process was a little more chaotic than usual, but I should be fine. I went ahead, full of high hopes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t fine—after five weeks spent in the country, I came home empty-handed and broken-hearted. But I refused to give up. I found a new agency and continued my journey.
Several months later, I saw on a photolisting the picture of a beautiful little four-year-old girl who I just felt was meant to be mine. She came with a bonus—a three-year-old brother! I didn’t hesitate to agree to take them both. In fact, the little boy reminded me of my brother, and I warmed to the idea of having two at once; this way, they would have each other for companionship! These children were in Estonia, a country I had barely heard of, but coincidentally, they were with my new agency! It felt like it was meant to be.
As I started the application to adopt Carolyn and David, I needed to get my medical information updated. Since I had turned 40, my doctor suggested I get a mammogram. Even though I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong, I thought that I would soon be extremely busy, and with two children coming, I may as well get that out of the way. I made an appointment and didn’t give it a second thought. I was facing a small crisis—another family was interested in my children, and they were further ahead in the process than me! So I waited on pins and needles and breathed a sigh of relief when that family, who already had a child, decided to go with another little boy. It was a joyful moment because now there would be three children finding new homes.
So as I went about finalizing the details and preparing travel arrangements to meet my children, I went for my mammogram. And in that instant, my life changed—I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And adopting these children had literally saved my life.
I was in shock. There was no history of cancer in my family—not on either side for two generations. I had to have surgery immediately, even though I was scheduled to leave for Estonia in a few weeks. And so my adoption journey continued—amidst the fight of my life. I had a lumpectomy, and two weeks later, was on a plane to Tallinn.
Nothing could diminish the joy I felt meeting my children for the first time! The paperwork and medical records I received could not have prepared me for the magnificent, rambunctious and absolutely perfect children I met and immediately fell in love with! The minute I laid eyes on them, I knew they were meant to be mine! So, more determined than ever, I reluctantly left them and returned home to start chemotherapy treatments. Luckily for me, the adoption process in Estonia worked out perfectly, timing-wise, as I did not have to be present for the actual adoption hearing. A representative was sent on my behalf, and upon completion, I got the call to come and get them!
So two weeks after my last chemo treatment, armed with a wig and a suitcase full of toys for the children at the orphanage, my mother and I got on a plane to bring my children home. The first night in the hotel, Carolyn accidentally yanked my wig off—and I froze. I didn’t want to scare her but when she just giggled, I knew everything would be fine. Two days later, I started radiation treatments, five days a week. It was the only time I got any peace and quiet! But I loved every minute of having these two little miracles in my life.
The first year flew by, with the children (now five and four) starting school, learning English, adjusting to every aspect of their new life. Imagine them being removed from everything they’d ever known to go with a stranger halfway around the world. They had been in an orphanage in a tiny village their entire lives, and had never even been in a car before! The language, environment, people, food, smells, sounds—all were new and unfamiliar! But they were amazing, full of life and curiosity and wonder. For the first few months, of course, we couldn’t communicate—they didn’t speak a word of English, and I didn’t speak Estonian. I had to carry a dictionary around with me, and I learned words like “kiss” and “love” and “stop!” and “careful”!
After a little while, our life fell into a fairly regular routine. One day, Carolyn, who had learned very quickly that if we wanted something, we could just go to the store and buy it, asked me, “Mommy, can we go to the Daddy store and get a Daddy?” Little did I know that soon, we would! (Kind of!)
My parents were living in an apartment building that had a mostly elderly population, but one day, a young handsome man held the door open for my mother, and they started chatting. My mother said to him, “I don’t want to keep you from your wife,” and he said “I don’t have a wife,” and my mother said, “Well, I have a daughter, and here’s her phone number!”
Todd and I went on a date shortly after that, and we have been together ever since. We had a beautiful wedding, and Todd adopted the children too. We have had many ups and downs. My beloved father passed away a year after we got married. We struggled through financial setbacks and job losses, learning disabilities, fights and arguments and disagreements, adolescence—all of the “normal” challenges faced by families. And some beyond the norm, including attachment issues from the orphanage and Todd’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. But we got through it all, maybe even became stronger, bound together by love and commitment and devotion.
Raising children is not easy for anyone. The joys and satisfaction of parenthood are often sprinkled with frustration and disappointment and worry. Compounded with the complex issues of adoption, it can be a particularly difficult undertaking. But I personally wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had to do it again, I would create my family exactly the same way. I struggle with the stigma often associated with adoption—portrayals in the media, and in society, are often negative, and people generally look at adoption as a “second choice.” The damage that can do to children who are struggling with loss and trauma can’t be underestimated.
I hope to share my story as a positive example that adoption can be a first choice—you don’t love your children any less because they aren’t biologically related to you. The love we have for our children is infinite and unbreakable. We obviously aren’t biologically related to our spouses, but we love them unconditionally.
And we have raised two children that anyone would be delighted to call their own. They are now grown—22 and 21 years old, strong, intelligent, independent, and loving human beings who make us proud every single day. They never cease to amaze us. Carolyn lives in New York, where she is thriving as a social media influencer. David, fortunately for us, still lives at home and has his dream job in the auto industry (he got hooked during his first car ride in Estonia!). They are living examples of adoption stories with happy endings. In fact, we so enjoyed being parents that we are hoping to do it again! Todd and I have recently been approved to adopt—this time from foster care.
Over the years, many people have said to me, “your children are so lucky that you adopted them.” But the truth is, we are the lucky ones to have had the privilege to adopt them. And so our journey continues…Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.