Jeff and I met in early 1998, both divorced with kids. I brought 4 with me ~~ Chris (12), Sarah (11), Emily (9) and Alex (3) and Jeff brought 2 of his own ~~ Erin (5) and Kevin (3). Mine lived with us and his visited on the weekends. That made for some pretty crowded times since when we got started we lived in a 1200 sq ft apartment in Thousand Oaks, California. Eventually we bought a house and Jeffrey Jr joined our crew in November 2000. What's one more when you've already got a half dozen?
We bought a bigger house in May 2003 so my mom (who was suffering from end stage Parkinson's Disease) and her live-in help could move in with us. That's 9, count 'em... 9 people under one roof.
My mom lived her last year with us and passed away in February 2004. It was the same month our oldest, Christopher, joined the Air Force. I guess the sudden loss of 3 people created a rather large vacuum in the house because suddenly I needed to adopt a little girl from Russia. Having been adopted myself, I had always wanted to adopt a child.
Jeff had been adopted too so it only took a little prodding for him to get on board.
I spent hours scanning the Internet photolistings of adoptable Russian kids. These databases are actually illegal in Russia but at that time it was not highly enforced. Probably a good thing because otherwise I would not have seen Katherine's picture.
She was so cute with her cropped hair, thick winter sweater and no shoulders.... what more could you ask for? She looked a lot like Jeffrey and Jeff thought the agency was trying to pass her off as boy off and hope we wouldn't notice. (Boys were much harder to place than girls.)
After the agency assured me that she really was a girl and she really did have shoulders, we started the adoption process in October of 2004.
Paperwork for an international adoption is unending. You need about 500 different forms and each form must come from an official source. Each source must then be verified by a different official source by attaching stamped forms with signatures of officials who have been been given the power to use said stamps and make said verifications.
And if that weren't enough, each verification form must be further verified by sending the pile of stamps and signatures to the state capital so officials there could further verify the verifications.
And then they charge you $50 each for the pleasure of doing so. That adds up fast.
Now Russia has this funny policy that when they don't like how an agency is being run, they shut it down. Just close the doors and that's that. They eventually get around to reopening it again but there is no telling when.
Twice while we were waiting for permission to travel (Russia has to invite you before you are allowed to come over and play) they closed the branch of government responsible for foreign adoptions. They were the ones that would issue something called a "databank release letter". The golden ticket that releases Katherine's name out of the "adoption databank" and makes her available for visitation and possible adoption.
January rolled around with no news of when we could travel.
About this time Russia also decided that they didn't like how we Americans were handling our side of the adoptions so they stopped re-licensing agencies. If your agency still had a valid license then you were fine, but if the license expired while you were in the middle of an adoption, you were screwed. We would be screwed at the end of February.
While we were waiting we met a lady named Cathy who was adopting a little boy, Victor, out of the same orphanage using the same agency that we did. We emailed quite a bit and became friends while waiting to go and meet our kids.
During this time Jeff had been sick for a couple of weeks. First a cold, then a fever, then he developed chest pain. We thought it was nothing more than a chest cold and overlooked the fact that it was getting worse.
One day, while we were at the Honda dealer buying a new van, he sat down and told me to take him to the hospital.
We got him to the hospital and no one could find anything wrong. They were about to send him home when a single test came back showing an elevation in heart enzymes, indicating the beginning of a heart attack. They rushed him to ultrasound where they found that a piece of plaque had broken off and become lodged in his left descending artery. The lower half of his heart had stopped beating. They inserted a stent and opened the blockage. The good news was that he had no heart disease or even partially clogged arteries anywhere else.
He spent 4 days in the hospital, 3 in the cardiac care unit. It was a complete blur. I began to wonder if we would be able to go to Russia at all. We knew we had to get there within the next 4 weeks and I had no idea whether the doctor would let Jeff travel.
I felt selfish even thinking that after what he had just been throughbut it turned out though that he was thinking the same thing. His nurse pulled me aside and told me he kept telling them he had to be OK because he needed to go to Russia and get his little girl.
It turned out the doctor didn't see any reason that he couldn't travel since the rest of his heart was in near perfect condition. So Jeff came home and we began real preparation for our trip.
10 days later Jeff's mom called. His father had had a massive stroke and was in the hospital in a coma. We waited through the weekend and it was obvious that things were not going to get better. Jeff booked a last minute flight and flew to Vegas for 24 hours to be with his mom. He came home and said things didn't look good but there was nothing we could do and his mom was insistent that we not postpone our trip.
We reluctantly agreed and within a week we received our OK to travel and were on our way to St Petersburg.