The Dream of Family: Adopting from Around the World

Eye on LSSI, Summer 2007 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

Melinda McClure, with son Jacob at home.All over the world, children in orphanages are waiting for families. And for people who dream of having a family or adding more children to their family, international adoption offers a compelling way to bring that dream to life and to give a child a loving home.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) has been helping people adopt internationally for more than 40 years.

Alisa Hilliard, an LSSI adoption specialist in Peoria, says what’s most rewarding about her work is “the fact that we’re making families. [We’re] helping these families reach a dream.”

‘Hearing him call me ‘Mama’ makes it all worthwhile’

Melinda McClure’s road to adoption was riddled with roadblocks, but the Newton, Ill., woman never gave up hope.

That persistence finally paid off in 2007 when a baby boy from Guatemala was placed in her arms, and she suddenly became a mother.

“Just hearing him call me ‘Mama’ makes it all worthwhile,” says Melinda, 47, of her now 22-month-old son, Jacob. “Now that he’s finally home, it’s hard for me to remember what it was like before he was here.”

A single woman, Melinda first contacted LSSI in 2001 about adopting an infant within the United States. After more than two years of waiting, she approached her Marion-based LSSI adoption caseworker, Kim Holder, about international adoption.

“With international adoptions, single-parent families typically find it easier to adopt,” Holder explains.

“I knew there were so many kids out there in this world who need a home, and it didn’t matter to me what color that child was,” says Melinda, a customer service representative for a printing company.

With the support of her dad, two sisters and three brothers, Melinda chose to adopt from Bulgaria. “We had to do a new home study, a new background check, new fingerprint check and all the paperwork,” she recalls.

Finally, with all her paperwork sitting in Bulgaria, Melinda was just waiting for the phone call, when Bulgaria inexplicably closed the country to outside adoptions.

Although she was crushed, Melinda had come too far to give up. She decided to pursue adopting a child from Guatemala.

After updating her home study and filing more paperwork, Melinda finally got the call on September 10, 2005, that a baby boy in Guatemala was hers to adopt.

A month later she was in Guatemala holding her son, who had originally been named César. “That was a very emotional moment when they put him in my arms,” she says. “I had given up on being a mom, and here they were putting my baby in my arms.”

Leaving the child she intended to name Jacob that time was hard enough, but Melinda would have to do it again eight months later because of an unusual delay in the paperwork at the office of the Guatemalan attorney who had been appointed to handle the case. The adoption was finalized just after Christmas in 2006.

When she flew down to pick up Jacob on January 2, “He [came] right to me and never shed a tear,” Melinda says. “I really think he recognized my voice, and he knew I was mommy. We just connected.”

While international adoption typically can take six months to two years, Holder says Melinda’s experience was a bit extreme.

“[Adopting internationally can be] kind of an emotional roller coaster,” she says. “But I kept encouraging Melinda because I thought she would not only be a wonderful mother, but [also provide] a great adoptive family.”

During the long process, Melinda often attended an LSSI adoption support group. With the help of the John and Editha Kapoor Family Foundation, LSSI has expanded these support groups to include families and individuals waiting to adopt.

“It was helpful to know I wasn’t alone,” Melinda says.

“Within our group from southern Illinois, there are at least 30 or 40 kids who have been adopted from Guatemala,” she adds. “So Jacob is going to not only know [his] country, but he’s going to have contact with other kids from Guatemala.”

Melinda doesn’t hesitate to recommend international adoption to others. “Truly, if I financially could afford it or there was a husband in the family, I wouldn’t think twice about adopting [again],” she says.

“There isn’t a child in this world that doesn’t deserve to have a family.”

Abigail: ‘…meant to be our little girl’

While Karen and Andy Fuzak of Tiskilwa, Ill., did a lot of research before adopting their 6-year-old daughter, Abigail Grace, the couple gives full credit to God for leading them to her.

“How do you find the child God wants you to have in the sea of humanity?” asks Karen, a stay-at-home mom in her 40s.

The couple, who have an 11-year-old biological son, Joshua, had considered adoption off and on over the years after failing to conceive another child. Then, a radio program last October about international adoption struck a chord with Andy, who owns a dance instruction and deejay business. In the end, it was a grainy, hard-to-see picture of a small girl from Liberia that caught her eye.

“There was something about her countenance, and I just knew,” Karen recalls. “And Joshua turned to me and said, ‘Mama, that’s her.’”

The little girl’s African name was Janjay, which means Grace, and she was living in an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. Located on Africa’s western coast, Liberia has been devastated economically by civil war over the years.

“Information about her past is very sketchy because the records aren’t very good, but we were told her mother died of uterine cancer during the war,” Karen says. “Her father is still living, but he couldn’t care for her and wanted her to have a brighter future.”

Although the family wanted to travel to Liberia to meet their new daughter, the international adoption agency deemed it unsafe, and Liberia didn’t require adoptive families to travel there. However, most countries do require one to two visits from adoptive parents prior to bringing their child home.

The family tried to send a photograph and letter to their new daughter, but it was never read to her. Thus, Abigail was understandably confused and upset when an escort brought her to the Fuzaks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on June 14.

“When she saw us, she said, ‘I don’t know you.’ She was very homesick. It was very sad,” Karen says quietly.

Alisa Hilliard, the Fuzaks’ LSSI adoption caseworker, says it’s not uncommon for an older child to have a difficult adjustment period.

“The longer the kids have been in an orphanage, the more you have to look at attachment issues,” says Hilliard. “Each individual child is going to have to adjust at his or her own pace.”

“It’s literally culture shock for them,” she adds. “They have been transplanted to the middle of the United States.” Fortunately, Abigail can speak some English and is able to communicate with the Fuzaks.

While Abigail has had many bouts of crying and wanting to go home, the episodes are getting fewer and farther between.

And as Abigail becomes more comfortable with her surroundings, the family is finding she has an impish and sophisticated sense of humor.

“We’re finding these delightful little pearls and treasures in her personality that surprise and delight us,” Karen says.

Joshua is bonding with his new sister, although, like any older brother, he sometimes longs for more peace and quiet. The Fuzaks homeschool Joshua and will do the same with Abigail.

For now, the family is settling into new routines and getting to know one another. One of their favorite things to do is play music together with Abigail singing along.

“I just knew she was meant to be our little girl,” says Karen, holding her little girl’s hand as they walk off to feed the goats on the family farm.