How were we going to pick a daughter to adopt based on a little photo and a few facts?
I had talked to adoptive parents who said, “When I saw a picture of my child I just knew.” I was skeptical.
We would have 15 minutes to review the binder of available girls and select one to be our daughter. Then we could travel to her region, meet and spend a few days playing with her to see if we were right for each other. If for some reason she wasn’t a match we could request another meeting at the adoption center and select another little girl to go meet.
We were told that at the age of 17 children age-out of the orphanage and must leave. Most spend part of the $20 the orphanage gives them on a bus ticket to the town of some relative in hopes they will be taken in. Pimps, knowing the girls will be released from school at the beginning of the summer, hang out at the bus station befriending the girls and offering them “jobs.” We heard that over 20% of the girls turn to prostitution. Twenty percent of the boys wind up in prison and 10% commit suicide. Their futures are bleak.
When our turn came we walked into a room with a desk in the middle. Irina, our translator, explained to the expressionless official at the desk that we were hoping for a little girl age 4–7. The three-ring binder of older girls was brought in for us to look through. Our translator, aware of the time limit, quickly flipped through the girls’ profile pages which included their name, age, region, health information and a passport sized photo on the top right corner of each page. As she flipped each page she said, “no, no, no…” Ron and I sat frozen not knowing what to do. I had talked to a few other people who had adopted older children. They said when they saw their child they just knew. I was skeptical. How were we going to pick a daughter based on a little photo and a few facts?
Irina explained that she had rejected the girls who were already teenagers, had serious health issues, or had several brothers and sisters because that would require us to adopt the entire sibling group. Ukrainian law said the children can’t be separated. As she continued quickly flipping through the four-inch thick binder Ron put his hand in the middle of one girl’s page and said, “Tell us about her.” Irina said, “No, she has two brothers; one’s been adopted” and turned the page with Ron’s hand still awkwardly bookmarking the little girl’s page. As Irina skimmed more profiles, Ron and I wondered why we she wasn’t available since the kids had already been separated. He told me, “There is something about the look in her eye that reminds me of you. She’s the one.” He pushed the book back open to the little girl’s page and asked Irina, “What’s her name?” Irina said, “Olga.” Ron looked at me, laughed and said, “She IS the one.”
Out of all the Ukrainian girl names that I found there was only one that I just couldn’t adjust to and it was Olga.
Before we left for Ukraine I had started researching “Ukrainian girl names.” When I searched on Google it always led me to a long selection of mail-order bride sites where I would look at the names on the women’s profiles wondering what our daughter’s name would be. Since we were adopting an older girl she would already have a name and identify herself with it. We felt if we changed her name we would be sending her the message, “We don’t accept you for who you are. We want you to be a different person.” We didn’t want to change Katarina into a Jennifer or Iliana into a Susan. Out of all the names that I found there was only one that I just couldn’t adjust to and it was Olga.
Irina read Olga’s profile to us. She had two brothers. One had been adopted. The other was still in an orphanage but not eligible for adoption. That probably made it possible for us to adopt her. But there was a problem. Olga’s profile said she didn’t speak. That didn’t make any sense to Ron and me. Children talk. Maybe she was shy or maybe she stuttered. Irina called Olga’s orphanage and asked for permission to visit Olga.
We had no idea how our life was going to change.
Here is a little more of our story: