We are the Loboda Family: Luke, Ashley, Noah (9), Jonah (7), Isaiah (5), and Eliana (3). From early on in our marriage, we knew that we wanted to bring an adopted child into our family. Ashley had volunteered in an orphanage in Ukraine and Luke in an orphanage in Guatemala. From these experiences, it was clear that all children belong in families. The orphans that we met were starving for love and were born into many disparities. We knew that we could welcome a child into our family and share with them not only love, but also give them the support they would need to thrive. Our international experiences highlighted that orphans face extreme poverty, discrimination, and lack of social services and for these reasons we felt called to adopt internationally.
After the birth of our third son, we were ready to start our international adoption journey. We expected that the process would be long and we wanted our children to remain close in age. For this reason, we began the process right around our son’s first birthday. We wanted to preserve the birth order of our children and began to look for countries where we could adopt a daughter with mild-moderate special needs that was younger than three years old. We also decided that we only wanted to adopt from a Hague Convention country as we felt that this would ensure the sanctity of the adoption process. One of our first steps was to find an adoption agency that was compassionate, had experience and knowledge, and gave us a feeling of connection. We live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and initially we were looking for an agency that was in our city. We were not satisfied with the people and agencies that we met. We were referred to MLJ by an acquaintance through a non-profit that supports orphans in Ukraine. When we first talked with Lydia Tarr, we knew that we had found our adoption agency. Lydia was not only an adoptive mother herself, but she had the knowledge, honesty, and compassion that we were looking for. Throughout the long adoption process, these characteristics were especially important as we faced the highs and lows of the journey. Luke’s family is from Eastern Europe and we are a family of Orthodox Christians (Bulgaria is majority Orthodox Christian). After speaking with Lydia about the Bulgaria program, it was clear that the stability of this program and our family ties to that region would make it a great fit for our family.
Despite all of the education and preparation we received, we were still surprised by how enduring the long process really was. MLJ guided us through the many steps of the process, but the waiting between each step was unbearable at times. Adoptive families are brave warriors for these vulnerable children and although our wait felt difficult it was nothing in comparison to the wait that our daughter endured.
After years of waiting, we finally received the call from Lydia with news of our three-year-old daughter. Our match was extra special in that, Lydia recognized that our daughter looked similar to another child that had been adopted a few years prior from Bulgaria and she was able to connect us with our daughter’s three biological siblings. Our daughter’s world had gone from being an orphan to having three adoptive brothers, two biological brothers, and a biological sister. What a blessing of family!
On our first trip to Bulgaria, we were impressed by the beautiful landscapes and the kindness of the strangers that we met. The first shopkeeper that we met gave us our bottle of water for free since we did not have any small change. We were especially appreciative of his kindness after a long day of travel. Our daughter had spent time in an orphanage and then a few years with a foster family. We travelled to her town, near the border with Greece, to meet her and her foster family. As we drove from Sofia to the Southern border of Bulgaria, the landscapes changed from plains filled with sunflowers bordered by mountains in the distance to being encompassed by evergreen covered mountains. The first time we met our daughter, she was quiet and reserved. She had spent much of her childhood alone in her crib and at first, she did not realize that we wanted to interact with her. We realized that she loved music and began to sing nursery rhymes to her. This was the key to unlocking her solitary world. We spent most of each day with our daughter playing at the local playground, sightseeing, going out to lunch, napping together, and swimming at our hotel. We felt very supported by the VESTA staff and the local social worker. They were available, but gave us space to bond with our daughter. We also were able to meet with her foster parents each day and asked them numerous questions about the details of our daughter’s life. After leaving Bulgaria, we were able to Skype with our daughter and her foster family weekly. We had a friend from our church Skype with us and serve as our translator. It was wonderful to see our daughter each week and to watch her grow in the almost four months that we were apart. During our second trip, we traveled snow-covered mountainous roads to pick up our daughter and then spend the duration of the trip in Sofia. The VESTA staff was extremely accommodating and helped to provide anything that we would need. We knew they were always a phone call away and they checked in with us frequently. We spent many of the days touring and walking the city of Sofia. Our time in Sofia, allowed us to bond with our daughter and focus on just her before bringing her home to our now family of six.
It is amazing how well all of our children have done with the addition of Eliana to our family. Our sons are very doting and loving towards her. The way that they all take care of each other and show love for one another is moving. At first, Eliana was very weak and could not climb the stairs or complete many simple tasks. Her big brothers were always watching and waiting to help her out. Now after three months home, she is strong enough to climb stairs and do many tasks alone but her brothers still keep watch over her. Eliana still loves music and nursery rhymes. We sing the “ABC’s” and “Patty Cake” many times a day. These rituals not only soothe her but have also taught her English. Many everyday activities have been new experiences for our daughter. She came home in December 2017 and all of the activities surrounding Christmas excited her senses with new sights, smells, and tastes. At first Eliana did not like to eat anything sweet tasting, she preferred meat, potatoes, and salty foods. After watching the excitement her brothers have for treats, she now also enjoys much of the sweet American diet. Eliana sleeps very well, about 12 hours a night, and this has been such a blessing for our whole family. From our first night with her in Bulgaria, we established a bedtime routine that we still do each night. After our first trip to Bulgaria, we had left her with a voice-recorded book of us reading to her. We read this same story as her last book each night before bed and it helps her to understand that it is bedtime. We also made a voice recording of us singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over and over again and play this for a few minutes after we leave her room. These daily routines have helped to establish a predictable and comforting life and has given her the security to explore new things.
Adopting a child changes not only your family but also affects the lives of those around you. Although we do not have any family that lives near our home, they were still an emotional support over the long years of waiting and they were able to help watch our sons while we made our two trips to Bulgaria. Our church family was also extremely supportive and they have all enjoyed watching our family and Eliana change and grow. Additionally, our employers were very supportive of the unpredictability of the adoption process, especially the short-notice before our travels. All of these support systems had varying levels of knowledge about adoption, especially international adoption, and the well-defined steps and process that MLJ provided helped us to explain and prepare for what was to come.
As part of the adoption process, MLJ has a special needs lists to help your family determine the range of medical needs that you are able to accommodate. Completing this list was one of the most difficult tasks of the adoption process. It helped for us to focus on our family as a whole and our sons when considering the medical needs of our daughter-to-be. Ashley is a pediatrician which gave us some additional insight into medical characteristics and the care that would be necessary for our daughter. Eliana had very few actual medical needs outside of developmental delays, but it is still saddening to see the impact of lack of proper nurturing in the first years of life. It is amazing how important each step of normal nurturing is and how it plays into the later stages of development. For Eliana, she spent most of her time in a crib which most likely resulted in her spending very little time crawling or on her belly. Now at 3 years old, she lacks core muscle strength and the muscle memory to squat and jump. These are things that we have had to teach her to do. She also has a few repetitive movements that she does when she is excited. We are working on teaching her different ways to show happiness outside of these stimulating behaviors. We are hopeful that having the love and support of a mother, father, and three brothers will help Eliana to grow and develop to her fullest potential.
Every child belongs in a family. It has been a long journey to bring our daughter home, but now with her here we know that she was meant to be a part of our family. If you have it in your heart to open your arms and family to an adopted child, there are so many children just waiting to know the love and support of a family. These children’s lives and futures are depending on it.