Monday, November 26, 2012


I'll start with the best news:  we are now the happy parents of this girl!

On Wednesday evening I received a phone call from my facilitator ‘Ira’ telling me that we would have our adoption court hearing the following afternoon.  I began packing my bag right away because I knew that court day would be a busy one and that I would be headed to the airport as soon as we finished everything up.

When I woke up on Thursday morning I was greeted by beautiful, sunny weather.  I really didn’t begin to get nervous about court until the driver and Ira came to pick me up just before noon.  Our first stop was the orphanage – we needed to speak to the director since she was going to testify at our court hearing.  The problem was that during the past two weeks when I’d had daily visits with Isabella, she had never met with us even once.  Rob and Bou were there for the first nine days and though he asked to meet her, he was never given the opportunity.  As I understand it, this is very unusual.  Normally families speak with the orphanage director on the day they arrive with their referral, before they actually meet their child.  In our case, there were many other staff members present for our first family visit with Isabella, but the director was not one of them.  This was worrisome because we had no idea how she would know what to say about us in her testimony.

So there we were, less than two hours before court, seeing the director for the first time.  The meeting didn’t last very long – she asked me a few questions and Ira translated them.  Then I was allowed to go upstairs and say goodbye to Isabella.  I brought her usual treats of juice, banana, and a small cake.  One of the caregivers explained to her that I would not visit for the next several days because I had to go home to get everything ready for her, but that I would return to the orphanage and take her with me soon.  She seemed to understand and was okay with the explanation.  Still, before I left she asked me, as she does at the end of every visit, “Mama?  Tomorrow?” to which I had to reply this time, “No, Isabella, not tomorrow.”  I told her I loved her, gave her kisses, and left the orphanage.

In the car on the way to court, my facilitator began quizzing me on possible questions the judge might ask me.  In the middle of my response to the second question, she stopped me and said (with a smile), “No, you say too much.  Short answers only, the more you tell them the more questions they keep asking.”  Okay…I’m fairly certain she isn’t the first person in the world to tell me I say too much!  She told me to try to answer in one sentence, and I promised to try my best to do so (if you know me well, you understand how that could be challenging for me, lol).

We drove to a tiny court building on the outskirts of town – not at all what I’d imagined.   

Once inside, we sat on a wooden bench in the hallway and waited.  Now I am really nervous.  We are summoned to the courtroom at promptly 2pm.  In front of me was the judge’s bench, and spots for a juror to sit on each side of her.  The prosecutor as well as the city inspector from the social services department sat down below.  Behind the bench hung a crooked Ukrainian flag (I can say the name of the country now!).   To my left was the court recorder, the only person in the room who ever cracked a smile during the entire hearing.  To my right was a jail cell-type enclosure that I assume was used for criminal court proceedings.  Behind me sat the orphanage director.  We all stood when the judge entered the room.  She was a middle-aged woman with a blond bob-haircut. 

She asked for some documentation from Ira and I could tell immediately that something was wrong.  Ira got out her passport and launched into some sort of explanation in Russian.  The judge interrupted her and though I didn’t know what was being said, I knew it wasn’t good because I saw Ira’s face just fall.  At one point when the judge was reading more paperwork and the room was silent, I whispered to Ira “Is everything okay?” to which she replied, “Don’t talk!”

More Russian dialogue flew back and forth, then questions were directed at the city inspector, prosecutor, and orphanage director.  Ira looks at me and says that the judge says that we may not have court.  Then the judge promptly got up and left the room.  At this point I am very scared – the seemingly angry judge has just left the hearing before it even started, but I don’t dare open my mouth to ask any more questions.  I glance sideways at Ira who looks kind of ashen.  My mind starts to race – here it is Thanksgiving day, the busiest travel holiday period of the year in America, and I have a ticket to fly home in 16 hours.  I think about how I am going to be able to change that ticket now, when court will be rescheduled, etc.  But the judge returns quickly, asks a question, to which everyone in the room answers “Da” (yes) in turn.  Ira nudges me to stand up with her.  So we are having court?  Yes, looks like we are.

I was questioned by the judge for one hour and twenty-five minutes.  I got the normal questions about why we wanted to adopt, why from Ukraine, and why an older child with special needs.  She also asked about income, medical insurance, etc.  A lot of her time was spent focusing on two other issues:  1) why I was adopting as a married individual instead of a married couple and 2) how I could care for a child who cannot even sit up.  I explained to her that I was adopting individually due to Rob’s deployment and uncertain return date at the time we submitted our paperwork.  She asked many questions regarding his feelings about adopting – she wanted to be sure he was completely on board, even though he had signed a document endorsing the adoption.  I understood her motivations, and thought that was a good thing. 

Questions about caring for Isabella ranged from feeding to toileting to transport issues.  She also remarked that we had a “small home with only two rooms for the children” and was not sure that our plan to allow the girls to share a room would work.  I was very surprised by this statement (our house, if you are wondering is 1620 square feet with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms – definitely not large by American standards but a good size for Hawaii or for Ukraine, for that matter).  We offered to show her photos of the kids’ bedrooms, but she declined.  She wanted to know why I stated in the home study that the girls would share – she thought a child “with such high needs” might need her own room.  I wanted to point out that she has spent her entire life sharing one room of an orphanage with over a dozen other kids.  She and her bedmate lie 18 inches apart, all day long, every single day. 

I actually think that sharing a room with only one other child and having your very own bed is a huge improvement!  I didn’t say that though, I only said that if necessary we would put our biological children in the same bedroom for awhile in order to accommodate Isabella’s needs. 

When she was done, it was the prosecutor’s turn to ask questions of me.  She was a very young, stylishly dressed woman with long blond hair.  Wearing her clingy sweater dress and knee-high boots, she looked more like a supermodel than a prosecutor.  She stated that she was in favor of international adoption for special needs kids here because they have no chance for life otherwise, and that she had no questions!  Ironically, before going in I was more nervous about the prosecutor than the judge but she turned out to be no threat at all.

The judge then asked the city inspector to give a report about me.  She’d been present at our first meeting with Isabella, and gave us a very favorable review.  The way she spoke about Grace’s interactions with Isabella brought tears to my eyes.  The inspector clearly saw the immediate bond they had and she was touched by it.  She said that she was surprised by the way Grace approached this “severely disabled” child without any trepidation, the way she played with her, and the way they hugged and kissed each other when it was time to go.  I wasn’t :)

The last person to testify was the orphanage director.  She too gave a favorable review, and the court hearing was over.  The judge and jurors retreated – as soon as they were out of the room Ira looks at me and says “Oy, I need vodka.”  At the time I didn’t know if she was serious or not (since drinking vodka here seems to be one of your patriotic duties), but she told me later that she doesn’t even drink.  She was just making a point about how stressed she was.  For thirty minutes we sat in near silence waiting for the judge to return.  When she did, we listened as she read a lengthy verdict and Ira translated.  When she was done, Ira asked me if I understood the decision, and I asked “We got approved, right?”


The judge left again, and when she returned her demeanor was completely different.  She had a smile on her face and she was carrying flowers for me, and gifts for Isabella!  As she presented us with a traditional Ukrainian doll, sash, and lacquer painted plate she told me about how happy she was for this child who has no future here to now be going home to a family.  I was overcome with emotion at that moment and shed a few tears.  Then the judge cried too.  When I later remarked to Ira in the car that everyone probably thought I was crazy when I started crying, she said “No they didn’t – didn’t you see that everyone in the room was crying?”  I really did not notice! 

After the gifts were presented, we took some photos together.  Then the judge – who declined to see our photos twice during the court hearing – asked to look at the photo book.  Everyone in the room looked at the pages and read the captions (which were also printed in Russian thanks to my friend Anya!).  They all loved it.  

From left to right:  Juror One, Judge, Me, City Inspector, Juror Two, Orphange Director, Prosecutor, Facilitator "Ira"

It wasn’t until we left the courthouse that Ira explained to me what was going on in the beginning and why we almost didn’t have court.  It was an issue involving Ira’s translating services, not our family.  Though I was scared during court, and the judge seemed so stern, once it was all over I saw that her heart is soft and she truly believes in adoption.  I think I was the first married individual to have court with her, and she was just doing her job in ensuring that both my husband and I were fully prepared to care for a child that most in this culture view as being incapable of functioning in society.  She took her responsibility seriously and I have a lot of respect for her!

We spent the remainder of the afternoon running around doing paperwork, then hopped in a car to make the six hour drive to the capital city airport.  Thrity-two hours after boarding my first flight I made it home and was kissing my other babies.  When the ten day post-court waiting period is over, I will return to Ukraine to finish Isabella's paperwork and bring her home.  I'm so excited that the five of us will all be together under the same roof for Christmas!


  1. Wonderful news! Congratulations!! I'm so happy to read that Isabella is now your daughter, and that court was a positive experience, despite the initial scare. What a Christmas you will have! so looking forward to you sharing about picking up Isabella from the orphanage and about bringing her home!

  2. Not only are you making a difference in Isabella's life, you CLEARLY touched the hearts of every person in that room that day!! Beautiful story, how sweet that they gave you gifts!!!! I can't wait for you tog et back there and spring your girl out FOREVER!!!!! So glad the judge turned out to have such a beautiufl heart and was really just doing her job.

    (And seriously, the part about having to share a bedroom being an "issue" might be the most ridiculous thing EVER talking about a child coming out of a laying room!)

  3. I am so happy that she is yours. But, I think I would have wet my pants at the beginning of court! Sheesh how scary was that? I can't wait for the next chapter.

  4. Happy Adoption Day! Praying your time home is well spent and Isabella is ready to go when you return! Praying for your journey home.

  5. Oh, so very very happy for you & for Isabella! Praying your trip to bring her home would be smooth & easy. Happy Gotcha Day in advance!

  6. So so happy for you Lisa!!! I remember you supporting Alex so much when I was advocating for him. I'm thrilled that you were matched with your daughter! I will keep your journey in my thoughts and prayers~