By Pam Nagy-Smith and Pat Smith
We had the marching orders - ten days till our appointment at the NAC (National Adoption Center) in Ukraine. Even though we were anxiously awaiting a set travel date, the finality of that e-mail was jarring, with hearts pounding we realized our adventure was beginning.
The longest leg of the international journey was from the Detroit airport to Amsterdam. Exiting the plane was a surreal experience; we were staring at wooden shoes, tulip bulbs and delft ware, the same things we see every day in Holland, Michigan! It truly felt like we had traveled for hours to come back home. Next stop was Ukraine. We flew into a different world, with airport employees wearing the Ukrainian army uniforms, dim lighting, and solemn faces. Our first feelings of unease started and proved to be groundless, we flew thru customs and had nothing searched. Since our plane was also early, we had a short wait before our facilitator arrived and were mobbed by the taxi drivers. This was very intimidating at first, but they proved to be so kind, offering us their cell phones and showing my husband around the airport.
Natasha, our Ukrainian attorney, arrived, and we were on our way to Kyiv. The first cultural shock hit us, the highways into Kyiv from the airport were almost deserted, the reality that most Ukrainians don't have cars was made very clear. Kyiv was a different story though, traffic was very heavy in the city.
Since we had chosen to stay in private apartments, the first stop for us was the grocery store. Trying to figure out a shopping list was beyond me at this point, so we bought Coke, bottled water, apples, candy & cookies, and dried pasta, leaving the impression I'm sure that Americans have very strange eating habits!
After arriving at our apartment, we had to try and unwind, tomorrow was our appointment date at the NAC. This was the hardest part of the journey, the excitement of travel was over and the reality set in that tomorrow we would be meeting our son for the first time via a photograph. Time crawled till we were picked up by our driver, it didn't help that our scheduled time kept changing from nine o'clock till noon, till two o'clock.
Finally we were staring at a picture, taken when our son was a couple of months old, and listening to the limited information about his background. We agreed to visit him at the orphanage and were whisked out into the hallway as Natasha copied paperwork, then on to the lawyer’s office to sign agreements and next to purchase tickets for the overnight train into the town our son now lived. Everything felt surreal again, we wondered if the child at sixteen months would look anything like his baby picture and prayed that this referral from the NAC would be it, hoping that we had just met our youngest son.
It was my birthday when we first met our son. He looked nothing like his picture, at sixteen months was so tiny, the size of a U.S. ten month old, and crying his heart out! We met in the orphanage directors office, and his main caretaker Olga walked him through the door, he was crying so hard that at first it didn't appear that he could walk well. The next thing I knew Olga had plopped him in my lap, thank God I had a sweet tooth and packed cookies in my bag they were a wonderful ice breaker. He was calming down, although he still couldn't look at my husband, he turned his head away and looked in the other direction every time Pat tried to connect with him. We learned at that point that most orphanage children have limited contact with men and furthermore, Ukrainians don't wear beards or look like weightlifters which my husband does.
We agreed to adopt him and things moved very fast after that, Natasha picked the orphanage directors brain and got referrals for an apartment, a driver and tips on how to speed up the process through the local court system.
One surprise to me was how meaningful our picture book was to everyone involved on the Ukrainian side, that was the first thing almost everyone wanted to see from our facilitator to Tatiana at the NAC to the orphanage director and all the staff in his office. They looked at each page slowly, as if savoring Cody's new family.
Our adoption was finalized with immediate execution on November 26th, 2002. The time in-between our first meeting with our son and this date was filled with twice daily visits to the orphanage. It took our son about two to three days of seeing us before he started to truly lose his fear, and allow Pat to hold and hug him. After that he started responding rapidly and by the
time we picked him up from the orphanage for the last time he shed no tears and had a look of resolve on his face that I thought was unusual for one so young. Although the orphanage was a poor one, barren looking on the inside, it was clear that the children were loved, and many of the
orphanage staff made sure that they visited with our son to tell him good luck and to say the final goodbye. Olga, his main caregiver, told us to go quickly because our son would cry, but the truth was she was barely holding back the tears.
The rest of our trip now is starting to blur, one of the most meaningful times that will always stand out was at the notary public's office when both of our names were put on our son's birth certificate. It truly felt as if the last pieces of our hearts had fallen into place and drove home the
fact that no matter what the hardships were on the road to the adoption that we had absolutely chosen the right path for us.
Update: April 2003, our son is doing very well, he has eight new teeth, gained seven pounds and an inch and a half in height. He understands English very well and can follow rather complex instructions and as of yesterday is now starting to repeat words. We have had almost no transition problems with him, he is an affectionate and loving child, and has bonded strongly to
his forever family, imitating his older brother constantly.