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The Adoption Process as shown in this China Adoption.

The Adoption Process: Willow Ready for First Christmas in America.

Eileen Protin, of Charleroi, said the whole family dotes over the toddler.

There will be extra gifts under the Protin family Christmas tree in Charleroi as a new member of the clan will celebrate her first Christmas in America.

Eileen and Al Protin are the proud grandparents of Willow Xijun Hernishin, who was adopted earlier this year by their daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Jay Hernishin, of Dormont.

This will also be the Hernishin's first Christmas as parents.

"We are so excited about Christmas this year," said Eileen Protin, a retired Charleroi Area School District teacher. "Willow is just the little joy of our lives."

The Hernishins became married in 1999 and decided a few years ago that they wanted to adopt a baby. Knowing domestic adoptions can take much time to finalize, the couple decided to look into international adoptions and chose China.

"We knew we wanted a girl and in China there are so many girls in orphanages," said Susan Hernishin.

The adoption process began in January 2004. After much paperwork, expense and waiting, the couple finally was approved. On Feb. 1 they received a photograph of their baby girl.

Willow was just 6-months-old when the photograph was taken, and she was a picture of perfect health with pink, chubby cheeks.

Eileen Protin framed the photo and placed it in her living room.

The photo of the baby made the whole adoption process finally seem "real" to the Hernishins

"We were just so relieved and exhausted from the whole process and seeing her made it a reality for us," Jay Hernishin said.

The Hernishins flew to Hong Kong on May 26 and a few days later orphanage officials delivered their new daughter.

Their first moments together were difficult for Willow, as the separation from her Chinese caretakers - the only family she'd ever known - likely was a frightening experience.

"She screamed for 2 1/2 solid hours until she wore herself out and fell asleep," her mother said.

By the time they arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport - where about 20 family members were waiting - Willow was all smiles.

"She was waving at everyone and smiling," Eileen Protin said of the child.

A busy, curious toddler, Willow loves playgrounds, especially climbing. She also loves M&Ms brand candies and calls her parents "Mum" and "Daddums."

She spends one day a week at the Protins and with her paternal grandmother, Diane Hernishin of Elizabeth Township.

Her parents are adjusting and adapting their work schedules around their new daughter. They own a graphic design business, SJH Design, which they operate out of their home.

Willow joins a large family of cousins, aunts and uncles, all dote on their new addition, Protin said. She is the Protin's seventh grandchild.

The family members - excited about Willow's first Christmas with them - decided to establish a new tradition by sending care packages to the orphanage, located in China's Anhui Province.

Looking to the future, they plan to teach Willow about her Chinese heritage and want her to learn to speak Chinese.

The couple kept her given name, Xijun, but chose Willow because of what it means to her parents.

"A willow tree will bend in bad weather, but other trees will break," her dad explained. "Willow spent her first months in an orphanage, but she was able to bend with adversity."

Although Willow is too young to understand the meaning of Christmas, she no doubt will be the shining star at the Protin house this year.

This article was written by Stacy Wolford and appeared in The Valley Independent Deceber 24, 2005

The adoption process for Willow.

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