Our longing for a daughter began the first week we were married. During our honeymoon, I had a dream about having a beautiful baby girl and just assumed that it was an sign of things to come. As the years progressed, we were blessed with three healthy boys. During each pregnancy, I was convinced that it was my little girl, but was told each time that I had a healthy baby boy. After the birth of Aaron, my youngest, I told my husband that he would be the last child I was going to deliver and began the formidable task of raising my three very active boys.
In June of 2001, we moved from Willmar, Minnesota to Maryland. I was able to find a job with a land developer in the Columbia area, and the job required that I do a lot of driving around the D.C. area. Each time I got in the car and turned on the radio, regardless of the time of day, I heard a commercial for a certain adoption agency. After three weeks of hearing the commercial, I finally told my husband about these coincidences. He informed me that he was experiencing the same thing at work when he turned on the radio at his desk. That was the beginning of our long journey to our daughter.
We began the tedious “paper chasing” only to be told by our family coordinator at the end of October that the agency was closing its China adoption program for the next year. We were heartbroken! We had our hearts set on a Chinese baby girl and had even started imagining what she would look like.
Little did we know, the Lord had plans for us! After doing some research on the internet, I called our coordinator and told her we would like to pursue Cambodia. Three weeks into that process, Cambodia’s adoption program was temporarily suspended because the INS was investigating claims of illegal adoption practices among various orphanages. We couldn’t believe it! Were we completely wrong in thinking the Lord was guiding us to adopt a baby girl? I spent a lot of time praying and crying.
During this time, I had become involved with EEAC, an e-group for families adopting from Eastern Europe. I posted a request asking for any information on countries only requiring one travel trip. I received numerous responses about Belarus.
Through referrals from others, we were able to find a wonderful new agency to work with that would help us bring a child home from Belarus.
We rushed through our home study and finished our paperwork, finally sending everything to Belarus on May 31. In July we were asked to review the files of two little girls. The first little girl was between three and four months old and wouldn’t be coming off the registry until October. In Belarus, children are put on a registry for 6 months upon admission into an orphanage. This gives the child an opportunity to be adopted by outside family members or Belarusian families. Once the six months expires, these children are available to international families for adoption.
The other little girl was seven months old and would be coming off the registry much sooner than the three-month-old little girl. We decided that we just didn’t want to take a chance on the thee-month-old because it was possible that a Belarusian family could adopt her prior to the time she came off the registry, so we told Michelle, our coordinator, we were definitely interested in the seven-month-old little girl.
On August 28, our little girl came off the registry. On September 4, we received our official referral and found out her given name was Svetlana. My husband and I had been discussing names and wanted to find a Slavic name we could both agree on. We had decided to name her Alexandra Victoria and call her Lexi. When we received the official referral paperwork, we discovered that her name was Svetlana Alexandrovna! You could have knocked us over with a feather!
As part of her referral, we were given her medical information and were told that she had been diagnosed with a heart condition called Ventricular Septum Defect, but that it should correct itself by the time she turned four years old. The Lord gave us peace that this was our daughter, and we hurriedly filled out all the paperwork, signed it, and sent it overnight to our agency.
Finally, on October 11, Michelle called me and asked me if we were ready to go get our daughter. I’m sure everyone in my office thought I had lost my mind when I hollered, “Are you kidding?” Our court date was set for November 4, and planned to leave for Minsk on October 31.
The plane ride was over 12 hours when we finally arrived in Minsk, Belarus. The wind was frigid as we walked outside of the airport and put our bags in the van, but even the foul weather couldn’t dampen my spirits! We drove 45 minutes to Minsk and checked into the Hotel Belarus. The floors were dirty and there were two single beds in the room, but we had a decent bathroom with a shower and hot running water! We were told to go to sleep and our escorts would be at the hotel at 8:00 a.m. the next morning to take us to our daughter. What a wonderful sound to hear—our daughter!
True to their word, Sergei, our driver, and Dima, our guide, arrived at our hotel room at 8:00 a.m. We drove for 4 hours, watching the countryside in amazement. To describe the countryside as rural was an understatement. Horse drawn trailers were on the same highway with cars and trucks. There were no rest stops along the way, and in each village there were soldiers stationed checking traveling papers. It was a different world.
We arrived in Gomel around 5:00 p.m., tired, cold, and wet, but I was wired! I impatiently waited in the director’s office while someone was sent to get Lexi. We heard a baby crying and were told that they had to wake Lexi, as it was towards the end of nap time. I heard footsteps on the stairs coming up to the director’s office and there she was—a fuzzy orange fleece bundle with large blue leather shoes on her feet and a pacifier in her mouth. I wanted to run right over and scoop her up, but I was afraid I would scare her. Instead, I knelt down on the floor and took her hands in mine and just stroked them while I talked quietly to her. She just studied my face very solemnly, but within five minutes she moved into my arms and I picked her up. I could hardly believe she was finally in my arms!
My husband let me have a few minutes with her and then gently took her in his arms. Given that she had never been around men before and Steve is 6 feet 4 inches, she handled this large giant very well. He started bouncing her on the floor and she burst into giggles. It was the sweetest sound to my ears.
Our hour visitation was soon over and we were escorted to our hotel. We were told we would be able to visit her again the next day. I sadly released her back to the nurse, and as soon as we were back in the van, Steve and I both started crying. The emotions of the last year came spilling out, and we were crying with joy that in just two days, Lexi would be ours to take home.
We were able to visit Lexi again the next day. It was daylight now so we could see the city much better, as well as the area where the orphanage was situated. It was very apparent that the staff at the orphanage tried to keep the orphanage as clean as they possibly could given their situation. It was also very apparent that they really loved Lexi. We were able to visit for two hours and then were told we needed to leave since it was her nap time. We would be in court the following day and would not be able to visit her. Our hearts were heavy as we left.
Finally, the day came that we had been waiting for! We nervously sat on a bench surrounded by soldiers and found out that the Gomel court was processing criminals that day. We would have to meet with the judge in her office. As we were escorted into the judge’s chamber, I grabbed Steve’s hand and held on for dear life.
The judge asked each of us to introduce ourselves, and we noticed that at the very back of the room was a woman sitting with her eyes downcast. She was the last one to state who she was, and through our translator, we discovered that this was Lexi’s birth mother. I almost jumped out of my skin! I couldn’t believe she was there. I managed to compose myself and answered all of the judge’s questions. Then the judge starting asking the birth mother the reasons for Lexi’s placement in the orphanage. She was very emotional and we were all crying with her. I admired her courage in coming to court that day. It was not required of her, but she wanted to make sure that her little girl was going to a loving home.
After all the testimony from the orphanage doctor and social worker, we were told to wait outside and the judge would have her decision in 10 minutes. It was uncomfortable out in the hallway, but I asked our translator if we could ask the birth mother some questions. We weren’t able to get much information, but we were able to give her a letter we had written to include in the court records in case any of Lexi’s family members were to come looking for her. We were able to watch her read the translation, and with tears in her eyes, she told us that she just wanted her little girl to be happy. With tears in my eyes, I responded that we would love her with all our hearts and treasure her always. This seemed to comfort her and then we were escorted back into the judge’s office.
The judge proceeded to announce that we were now Lexi’s parents and congratulated us. We were floating on air. Lexi’s birth mother wiped a tear from her eye and left the office before I could go back over to her and say goodbye. I had to respect her need to leave, as she had just made the hardest decision of her entire life.
Our translator Sveta, Sergei, his wife Alla, and Dima took us to lunch, and we had a marvelous time celebrating. Just as we were to begin toasting, the sun broke through the clouds and the sky was a marvelous shade of blue. I knew this was God’s little sign to me and held it close to my heart.
We had come through the fire and had made it to the other side to bring home our Belarusian treasure. The next day, we returned to the orphanage to pick up Lexi and take her home. Many tears were shed as we were all hugged and kissed by the staff. We promised to send them updates and we got in the car to make the drive back to Mozyr. I hugged Lexi close and savored the moment before handing her to Steve for the long drive.
We have now been home for three months and Lexi is such a joy. Our boys adore her and she loves them wholeheartedly. She started walking on her first birthday, mastered going up and down the stairs on Christmas, and has started saying a few phrases. We could not imagine our life without her.
International adoption can be an emotional roller coaster, but it was worth every second of anxiety to end up with such a sweet bundle of energy in our home, brightening up every corner of our life! Her presence is a reminder of God’s great love for each child looking for a forever home. We praise Him every day for placing our little princess in our home.