By Tanja Ragonesi
“Race, blood, lineage, and nationality don’t matter; they’re just the way that small minds keep score. All that matters about blood is that it’s warm and that it beats through a loving heart.” ~ Scott Simon, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption
I think for as long as I remember, adoption has been something close to my heart. My Dad was an orphan in Poland, and after being saved from a labor camp in Siberia, he was shipped along with dozens of other orphans around the world and ended up being raised in an orphanage run by Polish priests in South Africa. My Dad and his brother were never adopted, but instead spent their childhood and teen years being raised in a Catholic run orphanage and being hosted every vacation by a wonderful family. This family mentored my Dad and made it possible for him to study further and land his first job. My Dad, started out as a painfully thin, emotionally traumatized five-year-old orphan and became a brilliant electrical engineer, loving and devoted husband, and my hero.
With my father’s history I knew I wanted to provide this same chance for a child. We decided to consider adopting from the U.S. foster care system in 2011. My sons were two and three at the time, and we were thinking of adopting a little girl.
I registered with our local social services and entered MAPP training. MAPP stands for “Model Approach to Partnerships and Parenting” and is designed to give you a realistic picture of what you might expect when fostering to adopt within the U.S.A. It is an intense, heart-breaking, eye-opening few weeks. At the end of it all, I decided that it was not for us. If our family make up was different – perhaps if we were older with college aged kids, or parents with no kids – it might have been a great option. However, with our boys being two and four at the time, bringing a severely traumatized older child into our home did not seem like the right thing to do for anyone concerned, and our social worker was in absolute agreement. Our social worker stressed at the time, that over 90% of the children in our area in our preferred age range (two to eleven) had been sexually abused and needed therapeutic foster care. I was crushed. Even today, I still feel strongly that one day when I am able to devote myself entirely to this cause, I would like to be foster carer.
Months later, I was approached by a friend who suggested we try “hosting” from Ukraine. There are several organizations who try to help Ukrainian orphans by arranging for groups to come out to America to be hosted by families. Ukrainian hosting was something both my husband and I were interested in.
I looked into our options and like adoption, the cost to host varied a lot, while some hosting programs charged $4000 per child, we were fortunate to be given the name of a wonderful organization that was truly nonprofit and only charged what it took to bring the child safely to America.
Then came the difficult task of choosing a child to host. It was already late August. Most of the children on the hosting list for December were already being hosted. We were looking for a girl around the age of eight or nine, but there were none available. In the end, we decided on a thirteen year old girl named Nadia. Her profile said she loved to read and sing and wanted to visit America very badly. As we are a musical family and enjoy our “geeky-ness”, we thought she would be a good choice. We were excited! Nadia was coming! We put her picture up on the fridge and told the boys all about her. A few days later, the hosting agency contacted me to apologize – Nadia’s orphanage had pulled out of the program. I felt strangely broken-hearted. That was the second door slammed shut. Perhaps we were not meant to host, or to adopt. It felt like a battle.
For a couple of weeks I inwardly stewed. Why did I have this incredible need to find “my girl”? Why couldn’t I be happy with my life? I adored my sons, and our family was happy, why could I just not leave well enough alone? I am a fairly practical girl, and it irked me that I had this horribly NIGGLY feeling all the time that there was a little girl out there who should be with us.
After a few weeks I woke up one morning, feeling particularly blue, and instead of bolting out of bed to start my day, I prayed. I asked God for some kind of sign. I was never one to admit to “getting messages” from God, I am sure that it happens, it had just not happened to me yet.
That morning I woke up just plain sad, and hollow – I had a lot of questions. Why did we not get Nadia? What happened? In my prayer I asked for direction and guidance and if adoption was what we were supposed to be doing, I needed to something to happen – or I needed this achy feeling to go away.
I sat in a very rare few minutes of silence (the boys, I think, were glued to Blues Clues – thanks to my husband!). Then, perfectly clearly, I “felt” the words “She is not the one”. I knew then, without a doubt, that Nadia was not our girl, and that God had other plans for her and for us. I felt a huge sense of peace and a weight lifted off me. It was so completely and utterly life changing, that I immediately contacted our priest and excitedly told him what happened, thinking for sure, he would think I had a Vodka Martini for breakfast! I am pretty sure I rambled on and texted him with a lot of “!!!!!!!!!!’s” ! Fr. Steve very calmly texted me back and told me that messages like that made his day.
I was jubilant for the rest of the day, I was at peace. I had no plan whatsoever, but I knew everything would work out! All in good time. I felt like my old self, renewed and content. That very day at 5pm, the phone rang as I was playing with my boys. It was Mary Beth Goodwin, the director of the hosting program. “Tanja,” she said, “Something out of the ordinary has happened. A small group of children has just been added to the hosting list at the last minute and we need to find host families for them. There is a little girl available who has just turned nine. Would you be interested?” I immediately said yes, I didn’t need to see her photo, I didn’t need any more info. God had opened the door.
Fast forward to that Christmas, we met a tiny, stinky (yes….stinky….) beautiful little girl at the airport. She looked nervous but also chock full of courage. She smiled at me, immediately took my hand, and that was the minute I met my daughter. There is a saying I love, and it reminds me of the moment I met my daughter, “The first time I saw you was like a dream come true. No I didn’t give you the gift of life. Life gave me the gift of you”.
For the next four weeks we spent time getting to know Vladyslava, the little Ukrainian girl with the very grown up name. Much of our time was spent trying to communicate through Ukrainian friends, or by playing “charades” – or reverting to Google translate! It was a fun filled Christmas. Seeing everything through her eyes gave us all a new respect for the wonderful city we lived in.
By the end of our time together, Vlada told me one night that she wished we could be her family forever. We did not know whether or not Vlada was available for adoption, and we were not allowed to commit to anything at the time, but that was affirmation that this little girl had chosen us and we had to do everything we could to try and help her.
Fast forward to July of the following year. Home study was completed, dossier submitted and we had a date to fly to Ukraine. As there was absolutely no way my husband could leave his medical practice for any real length of time, it was decided that he would stay in the U.S. with our two boys, and with the help of friends, baby sitters and summer camps, I would travel alone. I don’t mind international travel in the least, what I did mind was leaving my family behind. That was heart wrenchingly difficult. I ended up traveling back and forth to Ukraine three times, first for our SDA appointment and to see Vlada, then for our court date, and finally, to fetch her after a ten day mandatory wait period.
The adoption process is fraught with unknown obstacles, and it took a ton of faith, many prayers and huge support from prayers, the agency and family to get through it all. It could have all gone wrong so many times.
I brought Mia (formerly known as Vladyslava!) home at the beginning of September 2012. She started regular school immediately, and with the help of English tutoring by a Ukrainian friend several afternoons a week, she is now a chatty English speaking eleven year old, with exceptional math skills and a crush on Justin Bieber (a crush I hope she soon outgrows)!
I am a Christian and it saddens me that in this day and age we can’t seem to profess our Christian faith without almost apologizing for it, but as this is a public blog, just know, I love Jesus Christ and I firmly believe that our adoption was planned by God. This became very apparent to me as our adoption process progressed. In fact, this adoption made it completely clear to me that only one person calls the shots in our lives, and His timing is perfect!
Mia is home, and some days are great, and many days are a true challenge. If you would like to keep up with the roller coaster ride, you can read my ramblings here on my blog. Also, there are always far too many orphans and far too few host families, so if you have interest in hosting a child for the Christmas holidays this year, please go to http://www.newhorizonsforchildren.org/