Wow! What a week it has been! Here's a rather long update on what's happened this week: Tuesday morning we had our appointment to look through children's files and see if there was a child we wanted to meet. We arrived at the Ministry of Social Policy a few minutes before our 10:00 appointment and proceeded to wait until noon before our appointment actually began. The day before we had actually learned of a specific child who was available for adoption and sounded like it would meet the age range and special needs of our home study (super important because there is no leniency whatsoever). We requested to see this child's profile right away but as they were searching for the profile in their database we were given another binder of profiles to look through. Inside the small room we were taken to there was a cabinet full of binders that held the profiles (from the ones we saw, a couple pages of information and a picture or two) of children available for international adoption. The children who were in the binder we looked through did not appear to meet the special needs we are approved for in our home study. We have heard of several families recently who were unsuccessful with their first blind referral appointment and we did have some concern of that happening to us as well- especially when they came back and said their database wasn't working so they couldn't look up the profile we had requested. Somehow, out of all of the binders in that cabinet (they were somewhat organized by date of birth, which we had, but still...) the lady was able to find the profile we had wanted to see! We decided right away that was the child we wanted to go meet, so we put in the request for a referral letter granting us permission to visit the orphanage and our whole appointment (once it started) was only 20 minutes.
It used to be that a family would get a referral letter for a child the very next day but that has changed recently and now it can take anywhere from two days to a week. The referral letter allows us to meet the child and then decide if we want to pursue adoption or not. So we weren't expecting the letter to come in on Wednesday- instead we visited a couple other sights within walking distance of our apartment: St. Sophia's Cathedral and St. Michael's Golden-domed Monastery. We were told there was a possibility of the letter being ready for us on Thursday though so we anxiously awaited to hear something the next day. In the morning our facilitator called to tell us she had been told the letter would "probably" be ready at 4:00 that afternoon and asked us to meet her at the office then, and also be prepared to leave on an overnight train. Once there, we again proceeded to wait until 5:00 when they closed. Then we waited outside the building because there's a history of them issuing referral letters as late as 7:00 in the evening if you are persistent enough. We knew if we didn't get the letter in time to take the 9:15 train Thursday night we would have to wait until Monday to actually go to the orphanage since there is other paperwork and meetings in-region. But once again our prayers were answered and at 6:15 they unlocked the door and let us back in to give us the referral! Our facilitator was able to get us all the last three tickets on the overnight train to Odessa and we had just enough time to get back to our apartment, grab our things, get to the train station, have some dinner, and board the train. We were finally on our way to meet our child!!
On Friday we arrived in Odessa around 6:30 in the morning and a driver picked us up to take us to the local State Department of Adoption (SDA) office in downtown Odessa. We had some time before the office opened so we got some breakfast and walked around, and even saw the Black Sea. (Side note- the weather here is wonderful! Sunny and breezy and not humid like Kiev has been!). We took care of paperwork at the local SDA office, drove to another office to pick up an SDA official who would be going with us to our first meeting with the child, and then went to the orphanage. Once we arrived at the orphanage we met with the assistant director who gave us all of the background and medical information that they had about the child. Then finally it was time to meet the one we have been working so hard to get to for the last 15 months. When the child first walked in the room we were both instantly overjoyed. There was no question from the first moment that this was OUR child. The child was told to introduce themself to us and our facilitator by shaking hands and saying their name. After shaking hands with me (Stephanie) the child didn't let go. Eventually I moved things off my lap and immediately the child climbed up and sat down. It all seemed and felt so natural. Eric and I looked at each other and knew we were both already completely in love. We were able to spend a little bit of time with the child playing together and our facilitator was able to do some translating for us (Odessa is predominately Russian speaking). After we had to leave the orphanage our facilitator asked us if we thought we had made up our mind or needed more time to decide if we wanted to pursue the adoption or not. We let her know she could get started on the paperwork immediately.
We were able to go back to the orphanage again Friday evening. When we arrived some of the children were playing outside. Our child spotted us quickly and started waving at us. When the child was told it was okay to go to us, they ran and immediately hugged me (cue the tears!). As we were playing outside our facilitator told us the child asked "Do I get to go with you?" and "Are you my family?" We were told that even from a young age the children start asking about when they will get to go with a family. Having to leave that night wasn't easy except that we were leaving with hearts overflowing with joy, feeling so blessed to have found our little one. There was no doubt it was the best day of our lives thus far. It's very true that nothing compares to seeing your child for the very first time.
More on what comes next later...