For many of us, the story of how our babies joined our families involve descriptions of contractions, water breaking, rushing to the hospital, and welcoming a baby boy or girl in a flood of emotion.
For those families who have chosen a different journey—adoption--the story is quite different and yet in all the most important ways, the same.
Such was the journey that began in the fall of 2007 for the Sadler family. Already a large family with four children, Jackie and her husband Chris still felt there was room for one more child.
Their daughter Claudia had always wanted a baby sister and Jackie, too, felt another daughter would complete their family but she worried her age might be a factor. Adoption seemed the perfect way to grow their family.
Initially, the Sadlers considered adopting from Russia, but after a great deal of red tape and fruitless waiting, they heard about another family adopting from Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia about the size of Nebraska. A former member of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan faced difficult economic changes that made the provision of social services--including caring for orphans--a challenge, precipitating the opening of international adoptions to provide homes for orphans. From 2004 on, foreign adoptions out of Kyrgyzstan increased, until the Kyrgyz government issued a moratorium in 2009 as a result of corruption allegations. In January of this year, the ban was finally lifted once again.
Back in the fall of 2007, the program was open and the waiting list shorter than in Russia, so the Sadlers began the process over again, applying to adopt from Kyrgyzstan. After more paperwork and no small amount of anticipation, it was still hard to feel prepared for the phone call that October morning informing Jackie Sadler that there was a three-month-old baby girl waiting for her in an orphanage.
Jackie beams recounting the memory. “I wanted to get on a plane the next day!” she exclaimed. However, with visas to be obtained and four other children to arrange care for, it took a week for her and Chris to board a plane to a part of the world many of us could not find on a map.
Hours later, on her 43rd birthday, Jackie approached the gates of an orphanage right out of a movie. The realization hit her that her daughter was inside that building. She could not get inside fast enough. Once she stepped into the stifling building, she found rooms containing rows of babies—swaddled in little bundles—lined up in large cribs. And there, in one such row of sleeping babies, was a tiny girl she already loved: Katherine.
The bond formed in an instant but it was to be tested: Katherine couldn’t join the family that day. Instead, months of paperwork and court proceedings made for an agonizing wait. Three months later, everything was finally ready.
More preparations and more hours-long flights later, the Sadlers arrived at the orphanage once again. Anxious to be reunited with their baby girl, they first had to endure procedures and cultural traditions as instructed by their liaison. Cakes and gifts of costume jewelry were purchased for the administrators and caretakers at the orphanage and paperwork was checked and re-checked to make sure all was in order.
At long last, the Sadlers were led back to their tiny daughter. All in a row slept the babies, each of them staring at the door through which bottles and caretakers arrived. No colorful mobiles hung above their cribs. No devoted parents cooed and sang to them. No rambunctious siblings tickled their feet. But all of that was about to change for one of them.
Jackie scooped up baby Katherine and lifted her up. The joy and mother-love was palpable, the promise of an unending bond was clear.
The long trip home was tear-filled and exhausting as baby Katherine suffered intensely from a change in formula and cried incessantly. (A lesson to those of us who have ever been annoyed at crying babies on airplanes—you never know the whole story).
But the journey was more than worth it as the Sadlers arrived home late at night to balloons and tears of joy from Chris’s parents. Katherine slept that night in her new parents’ arms. And the next morning, Jackie crept to the bedside of her sleeping daughter, Claudia, the girl who had always wished and prayed and dreamt of having a baby sister. Rousing her gently, Jackie placed the baby in Claudia’s arms. “Your baby sister is finally here.”
Days turned into weeks and months and years as Katherine became one of the family and the Sadlers could no longer imagine life without their littlest member. Then, almost exactly a year ago, the unthinkable happened: something was wrong with Katherine. She suddenly began walking with a strange gait; Jackie knew in her heart something was very wrong.
Doctors’ appointments yielded more questions than answers and Katherine began to fall more and was suddenly unable to navigate the stairs. A neurologist finally ordered an MRI and the entire family held their breath. In her heart of hearts, Jackie feared the worst—a tumor—but was afraid to speak her fears out loud. But her worst fears were confirmed when she received a phone call while watching her other children play happily on the playground.
Surgery was immediately scheduled and the night before, Jackie held her sleeping daughter in a hospital bed as a whirlwind of questions took shape. What would the surgeons find? What effects would the surgery have? Would they get it all? Would she emerge blind or brain damaged? Would she survive the surgery at all?
The next day, after five and a half agonizing hours of waiting, the surgery was complete. Katherine was okay and the tumor was removed. The Sadlers could breathe once again.
It is hard to avoid thinking about what would have happened to Katherine were it not for the fact that she was adopted by Sadlers. In fact, many children in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan with life-threatening medical conditions have faced the fate that was almost Katherine's: without a doubt, she would have passed away without diagnosis or treatment. Instead, she is a bright and joyful four-and-a-half-year-old girl, the light of the busy Sadler family and doted on by older brothers and big sister alike.
And while many boys and girls Katherine’s age hear stories about when they were small enough to fit inside their mother’s belly, a different tale emerges for Katherine: a special bedtime story about the time Mommy and Daddy traveled on a plane to a place far, far away to bring her home.