The Connelly-Ernbo Family Adoption Story
As I approached my 39th birthday I realized that although I was single I still wanted to be a mother. It would have been nice to have a husband too, but my life journey had not included a soul mate as yet.
In the pursuit of a baby, I did artificial insemination without results for two years. During this process I started attending adoption seminars, researching on the Internet and sending away for adoption agency information. In addition, I joined our local RESOLVE group, where one of the speakers was a home study social worker named Lori Fraas. She spoke about adoption in such a positive light. She said that the nice thing about adoption is that if you pass your home study you are guaranteed to get a child — after almost a year and half of disappointment this was good news.
After extensive research, I decided that I would like to adopt from the country of Kazakhstan (in hindsight I should have looked at an atlas first eeek!). In January of 2005, I contacted Lori and asked for some agency recommendations and she suggested a few Florida based agencies. I began the adoption process with a Florida agency from which I received a referral for a little boy from the region of Almaty. Although true “referrals” are not done in Kazakhstan I was told that the child was available. However seven months later the agency went out of business. It was devastating and was yet another disappointment.
Little Miracles stepped in and was kind enough to accept myself and ten other families and they even waived the fees that I had already paid to the first agency. It was now August of 2005 and Kazakhstan was undergoing major changes to their adoption process. They closed the region of Almaty and began changing many of the documents that were already complete in my dossier. The next four months were filled with major changes, with each change I had a moment of depression then rallied myself to get it done, just to be knocked down again by another unexpected change. It was at this point that I thought God didn’t want me to have a child.
One Sunday at church, the pastor asked us if we found ourselves trying to control our destinies and suggested that we give ourselves over to God. This was a light bulb moment for me. I realized that I was trying to control my life (to the point of micromanaging the adoption) and it was at that moment I decided it’s in God’s hands…what will be will be, but I’m not going to keep killing myself to make something happen that just might not happen.
Meanwhile Kazakhstan was still demanding new and different documents but now instead of jumping to do them, I would wait one, two, three and even four days before I would get around to doing them. I didn’t hurry, I just did them at my own pace and eventually my dossier was complete, correct and on it’s way to the New York Consulate of Kazakhstan. Whew! That was a major accomplishment but instead of feeling relief I still worried that something else would go wrong like it had before – but I would remind myself that it wasn’t up to me it was up to God.
It was along this same time in December that I unexpectedly met Per. I had been on a few dates with men but no one really interested me and it didn’t seem fair to get involved with someone while I was also adopting. When Per asked me out for the first time, my mind immediately wanted to say “no” but something inside said God is supposed to be in charge not you so say “yes” and I did.
On our first date I was very curious. By our second date, I had decided to go ahead and scare him off. I proceeded to flat out tell him that I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a relationship again, but I knew I wanted to be a mother. I explained that I was pretty far along in the adoption process and that I would understand if he would rather not see me again. Per, being the kind of guy that he is, said, “that doesn’t scare me…I love kids.” I proceeded to tell him why he shouldn’t want to date me, which he didn’t listen to and simply said he would still like to get to know me. By the end of December we were completely in love. We discussed everything about the adoption, our life together our future, our jobs and the children (he has two grown children from a previous marriage). I know I sound like a commercial from E-Harmony but from our third date, it felt like we had known each other forever.
In January, I had to decide whether to continue to wait for the region of Almaty to open so I could get my referral. It was a really tough decision but I made the heart wrenching choice to switch regions and I decided to travel to select to the region of Astana. This was a huge of leap of faith. Per and I were very anxious but he said he support any decision that I made and to go for it.
By February of 2006 I finally received my travel orders so on February 10th my mother and I left the United States for Kazakhstan. After 33 hours we arrived in Almaty on February 12th where we met Marina the Almaty coordinator and Sam the wonderful driver. Later that day we continued on to Astana where we were met by Eurken the Astana coordinator and Aniura our adorable translator. It was negative 16 degrees Celsius and snow covered every square inch of the city several feet deep.
Monday, February 13th our translator and coordinator picked us up at 9am and took us to the baby house. We were taken into the Head Doctor/Director’s office. She was a very kind but strong woman. She asked questions that were translated and I answered them. I explained that I didn’t care if I got a boy or a girl, and I didn’t care about race but that I would like a child that is under 12 months. She asked if I would be willing to see a child that was 15 months and I said yes. She called someone while we made idle chit chat and five minutes later in walked a caregiver carrying the most precious blonde haired, blue eyed little boy you’ve ever seen. I had always prepared myself to get a Eurasian child so I was in shock to see this child who looked like he could be my baby.
They asked if I would like to hold him, which of course I did. When they handed him to me I sat down on the floor in front of the head Doctor’s desk and just looked at this beautiful child. I was speechless. They were very forth coming about a few medical conditions that he had and asked if I would like to begin the bonding process. I said I would like to begin bonding but that I wanted to know more about his conditions.
That night I couldn’t wait to talk to Per and tell him all about the baby. Everyday for two weeks my Mother and I were able to visit Vanya (as he was known at the baby house). He was very small but each week we watched him change and gain weight. As it turned out he had only been in the older group for a day before we arrived so he was changing a lot now that he was with older kids and on a different meal plan.
After receiving his medical report I contacted the physician in Florida I had made arrangements with prior to leaving. It took him almost four days to respond and when he did he cast a lot of doubts and even suggested that Vanya might have cerebral palsy which made me very anxious. Again, Lori at Little Miracles stepped in and suggested I call another physician, which I did. The second physician was so nice and he painted a much better picture and even went so far as to say he didn’t see that Vanya had anything that I should be worried about. It was a scary and emotional night, plus by then I had bonded with Vanya for over a week and giving him up was impossible. I thank God for the second physician because he was right and my baby is just perfect.
Our court date was set for March 7th, I was so scared but it was really very simple and there was nothing to be scared about. The judge even let me take her picture. Now all we had to do was wait the 15-day waiting period and he would be all mine. After court we went back to the baby house to visit Vanya because the baby house would be closed for a national holiday on the 8th. March 8th in Kazakhstan is the United States equivalent to Mother’s Day. Our coordinator brought flowers and cakes to a dozen women including the head doctor – while he was there he asked the head Doctor if she would let me take Vanya back to the apartment as a Mother’s Day present and she agreed to let me take him home on the 9th. That beat flowers and cakes by a mile.
My mother had to leave on March 7th and my step-mother wasn’t due to arrive until 10th so I was on my own for my first day as a mom…Vanya was so sweet and good. It was the first time I put him to bed, washed him and fed him all his meals. The next day my step mom arrived and we spent the next couple of weeks, trying to stick to a schedule, playing with Vanya, going to museums and taking long and short walks. Vanya was not an outside baby, he preferred to be inside so he either cried or fell asleep on the walks. We watched him change on a day-to-day basis as he became more bonded, curious and stronger. He was always very bright and cleaver so learning anything new was a snap for him.
The snow began to melt and the weather got warmer and eventually we went to the baby house to say our final goodbye. I was so grateful to everyone at the baby house for taking such good care of my baby I just wanted to hug each one of them. During our stay in Astana we met a number of adoptive families, whose friendship I will always cherish. Meanwhile back at home my mother and Per couldn’t wait for our return. It had been a long couple of months to be away from home.
On March 27th we bid a tearful good bye to our coordinator (aka superman) and our interpreter and we flew to Almaty. It was late when we arrived so it was the next day before we realized what a wonderful city Almaty was. From our apartment window you could see the snow capped mountains and below us were busy city streets. Upon arriving in Almaty, everyone referred to Vanya by his new name Nikolai. This is when we made the name switch. Nikolai also turned into an outside child. I think the warmth of the weather and the lack of a snowsuit did it, but from then on it has been hard to keep the kid indoors.
The visits to the Embassy and the SOS clinic were done quickly and easily with Marina’s help. We tried to make flight arrangements back to the states but since it was spring break the flights leaving from Heathrow and Frankfurt were booked solid. We could have left by March 29th but we had to switch airlines and wait until April 4th when there were seats available out of Frankfort. This meant that I would be in Kazakhstan for my 42nd birthday. I remember praying to God several years ago and saying please let me have a baby by my 42nd birthday but I guess I forgot to tell him which continent I wanted to be on when it happened!
On my birthday, Marina, Kate (our guide) and Sam our driver, took us to the mountains to see a master artist. We were invited into his house and he showed us his work piece by piece. He made Yurts for many famous people, he made jewelry, he made musical instruments and even played us a song. It was an amazing day made very special by the wonderful staff in Almaty. Our remaining days were spent sight seeing around the city with a day trip to the mountains to see the snow covered pine trees. Almaty was an amazing city.
Our flight home wasn’t too bad but the baby had a hard time sleeping with all the action around him. He preferred to stay up, walk around and talk to people (who, by the way, were trying to sleep). Eventually we landed at Dulles and went through immigration, which was much tougher than Kazakhstan and even a little scary with all the cursing from the agents. Since all my brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews all live in Maryland everyone came to the airport to greet us before we had to board our last plane to Florida. We picnicked in baggage claim for several hours while everyone got to hold and play with Nikolai for the first time. We were dog-tired but we still had 2 hours left to go.
Finally we left Dulles and flew home where my Mom and Per were waiting for us! It was so good to be home with my baby and the man I love. On April 29th Per and I were married in a small ceremony at a friend’s house surrounded by our family and friends. I am now a mother to Nikolai, a stepmother to two wonderful kids Sandra 21 and Simon 18 and Per’s wife. To say that I am happy is an understatement and no one could be more surprised by this ending than myself. Prayers do come true…