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A story submission from Sunshine International Adoption Agency

 

"King of the World"
By Lois Stern
Sep 23, 2007, 11:46

 

"King of the World"
By Lois Stern
Sep 23, 2007, 11:46

The spring day is warm, but the wind is strong. It fights me as I push the stroller up the long, winding street that leads to our apartment building. The building is set high on a hill overlooking the private homes, small shops and parks of Riverdale, a peaceful community in the otherwise bustling metropolis of New York City. Directly in my view is the majestic Hudson River, deep gray in color, and reflecting the beautiful lush green trees and rocky outcrops of New Jersey’s coastal palisades. My ten-month-old son feels the wind. It is a new sensation for him. His pale blonde hair whips around his head and surrounds his porcelain-skinned face like a halo. This angelic child truly is a gift from above. Even his name, Matthew, translates from the Hebrew, “Gift from God.” Matthew tentatively holds up his right hand to let the strong current of air pass through his tiny fingers. He decides he likes the way it feels and laughs approvingly.

It’s hard to believe that only three months have passed since we adopted Matthew from an orphanage in Vladivostok, Russia. It seems as though he has always been a part of our lives, and in a way, I believe he has. Being blessed with a wonderful biological daughter, we had always wanted a second child, but due to secondary infertility (a truly ironic condition) were not able to conceive again. Yet I always maintained hope that someday we would have a son as well. I’m not sure why; perhaps it was merely wishful thinking. Whatever it was, I decided to keep hope alive and pray for the seemingly impossible.

The year 1998 was very difficult for my family. We tragically lost six relative to illness, as well as our beloved pet poodle whom I was very attached to. There was an emptiness in our souls that comes from such loss. We took a much-needed vacation to the New Jersey shore for the 4th of July weekend, a weekend that changed the course of our lives. In a local newspaper I read an article about international adoption, a concept I was only vaguely familiar with. Suddenly, a tiny spark of an idea was lit in my mind, soon to be followed by a deep ember in my heart. During the months that followed, I began reading everything available pertaining to international adoption in books and on the Internet. It saddened me greatly to read of the plight of orphans in the world, and to look into the sorrowful eyes of these beautiful children in photographs. I was particularly moved by the situation in Eastern Europe, and happy to learn that international adoptions were taking place there. Two of my grandparents had come from Russia and two from Ukraine. I had grown up hearing the Russian language spoken and listened to stories about “the old country.” Suddenly I was filled with a feeling of great hope and reserved excitement. Could it be possible for us to adopt, I wondered? Would I find my son in the land of my forefathers?

I obtained as much information as possible so that I could gingerly broach the subject with my husband, Peter. After all, we were now in our 40s, with a daughter in college, and bringing a very young child into our home would definitely be a major lifestyle change. To my delight, Peter was absolutely thrilled by the idea! However, financing the adoption was definitely a challenge. We had no mortgage to refinance and had already taken out several loans. We were determined to find a way, even if it meant getting second jobs. Then tragedy struck again. Peter’s father passed away having suffered through a long illness. Peter had to go to Florida to take care of family business. When he returned, he told me that with his share from the sale of his father’s condominium, we would have the funds to finance an adoption. Life is truly bittersweet; someone we loved was taken away, and yet we were provided with the means to bring another loved one into our lives.

Through research and networking with other adoptive parents, we decided to adopt from Russia. Our dossier was sent overseas and we began waiting for a referral. Because of the upcoming “Y2K”* scare, we decided that we would not try to travel to Russia prior to February, 2000. In December, we were shown a video containing a baby boy who, at only 3 months of age, had the most amazing smile. My husband and I both had the same reaction: that’s our son! We accepted his referral with glee. Finally, I would have my son whom I had dreamed about for so many years. We decided to name Matthew Stephan in memory of my mother and Peter’s mother who had both passed away years earlier. The videotape label had a name scribbled on it, “Matveev.” It gave us goose bumps when we learned that “Matveev” is a Russian name meaning “son of Matvey” which is Russian for “Matthew,” the name we had chosen.

Time flew by, and before we knew it, we had a court date and were going to Russia in March, 2000. My husband, daughter and I were off to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, some 20 hours and 15 time zones from New York City. Our agency had told us what an excellent orphanage (actually referred to as a “baby hospital”) our son was in, run by a marvelous woman doctor. They were absolutely right. What we weren’t prepared for were the incredibly warm and welcoming people of Vladivostok. In particular, our interpreter and our driver made our trip extremely comfortable. They treated us like family, and we all grew very fond of one another. We were taken sightseeing, shopping and to restaurants. Our interpreter even helped with taking care of the baby, and found time to discuss Russian literature with our daughter. My husband bonded with our driver over stories about deep sea diving. There wasn’t a thing they wouldn’t do for us, and we will always be incredibly grateful to these marvelous people. On the day we departed Vladivostok, we all hugged and cried at the airport.

As I reflect back on these priceless memories, the wind picks up again. This time Matthew pushes his entire body forward against the front bar of his stroller, both hands in the air. With his face to the sky, he smiles deliriously and squints his eyes which are the same deep gray color as the Hudson River. I can’t help but be reminded of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character “Jack” in the film, Titanic, as he stood against the ship’s rail shouting into the wind, “I’m the king of the world!” I look down at my precious little boy, once the ward of a Russian orphanage without much of a future or even the freedom to feel the wind on his face and I whisper, “Yes you are, my darling son. You are the king of the world to me.”

I wrote this story in June, 2000. Words cannot even begin to express the absolute amazement and joy we felt adopting our son from Russia. We were fortunate to return to Russia three years later to adopt our second son. The experiences truly changed my life and I became an international adoption coordinator. I consider it a labor of love and feel very blessed to be able to help find families for children in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Poland and Hungary. I always welcome inquiries about international adoption and families can email me at lois@adoptsiaa.com or go to my web site, http://www.adoptsiaa.com.

 


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