Chattanooga adoption family returns from Ukraine
UPDATED JULY 26, 7:30 p.m.
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB)- "It was definitely worth the wait!" Smiling from ear to ear, Kelly Reynolds looks back on a lengthy adoption trip to Ukraine that she admits resulted in many tearful nights.
Kelly and her husband Ezra adopted four-year-old Elena and three-year-old Juliana in 2011, after hearing of Reece's Rainbow, a program that helps place special needs children in good homes. Many of the children are in Ukraine, and those who are not adopted often spend their lives in institutionalized living, away from educational and enrichment opportunities.
They learned about an 18-month-old boy, born with no hands or feet. They researched him on the program's website, and fell in love. They arranged another 5500 mile trip to Ukraine in May, hoping to return with their new son in about five weeks. The adoption process went smoothly, so well in fact that they also adopted a four-year-old girl, also with special needs.
Due to the additional adoption, their new target became the Fourth of July, an appropriate time, it would seem, to return to the USA. An unexpected snag occurred when the Ukranian government stopped issuing passports, stranding the family since the children had to be issued passports to leave the country. Hours became days, days became weeks, and finally this week, ten weeks after the family arrived in Ukraine, they were allowed to leave.
The family entertained themselves, and onlookers Friday at Heritage Park in East Brainerd. The new siblings have taken well to each other, and have developed distinct personalities. Elena, age 4, and newcomer Katerina, age 6, are organized and a bit bossy at times. Juliana, almost 3, is a clinger, "a hugger" according to her mom. 18-month-old Andrew had been used to getting his way in the Ukranian orphanage, requiring more attention due to his limited mobility. At first, he was "a screamer," according to his dad, rarely sleeping through the night. "He was struggling to get comfortable," Ezra said. But in recent nights, he has gotten used to his new environment, and during the Friday play day was smiling and watching his older sisters with great interest.
Both Kelly and Ezra praised their own parents for helping with child care while they were in Ukraine, as well as Ezra's brother John, who was able to relieve him in Ukraine when Ezra had to return to work in the US. They also expressed thanks for friends, church members, and even strangers who kept up with their situation online, providing help in many ways.
Would they adopt again? Kelly said, "I never say never. If we're called to do it again, we would answer. I don't think I would go back to Ukraine any time soon. It's great to be back in the US. I missed clean tap water, and clean shower water. Don't take anything for granted!"
For now, they're gearing up for the school year. All of the children will be attending preschool and daycare programs that would not be available to them in their home country. "Yes, we've been through a lot, but it definitely worth it," Kelly said. "These children are healthy, happy, and we're going to give them a good life and the chance for a good future. There are children here in the US and all over the world who deserve the same chance, and I hope other families will consider adoption as well."
PREVIOUS STORY FROM JULY 18:
A Chattanooga family is stuck in Ukraine after traveling there to adopt two special needs children.
Kelly Reynolds has been in a holding pattern for the past four weeks while waiting for passports for four-year-old Katerina and 18-month old Andrew. Her husband Ezra says the Ukrainian government has decided to print new passports, leading to the delay. Ezra recently returned to Chattanooga to help care for the couple's other two children, who were also adopted in Ukraine two years ago.
The Reynolds are among many American families who are stuck for the same reason. The American parents have shared their story with government officials in both countries, but there has been little to no movement. Press reports say Ukranian officials chose a new vendor to print passports and were unhappy with the result.
Ukraine reportedly stopped printing passports at that time, creating a backlog of more than 100,000 people on a waiting list.
While Ezra Reynolds recently returned to Chattanooga to relieve his parents, and Kelly's parents from their 3-month babysitting stint, his brother John has flown to Ukraine to help Kelly.
The unexpected snafu is the latest in a string of delays, stops and starts that have occurred since the couple flew to Ukraine in May. In mid-June, the adoption process began accelerating, giving the couple hope that they would be back in the USA by the 4th of July with the two new additions to their family. According to Ezra's father Terry, they have no idea on when the Ukranian government will catch up on the passports, and have been told that US government officials have no control in helping speed things along.
In a blog posting from July 12, Kelly Reynolds wrote:
"The most pressing issue is passports for the children to immigrate to the US. Ukraine changed passport companies. For three weeks, no-one has gotten passports (in Ukraine, they use passports as a primary form of ID). There are 120,000 people backlogged in the system along with us. They finally printed some passports early in the week, only to have the equipment be faulty and 80% were misprinted. They are still negotiating contracts for delivery of the passports once they figure out how to print them.
What this means is that we have all the documents listing us as the parents of the children. We have the children in our care. And yet - we can't actually leave. Or rather, we can leave but our children can't. We had expected the trip to last about five weeks. We have been here for eight weeks. There has been one government delay after another. This is just icing on the cake. There are many adoptive families who are stuck here like we are."
Ezra's father Terry Reynolds said, "Newly-adopted children, locals, tourists, businessmen, and anyone who needs a Ukrainian passport in order to travel are simply stuck. This has continued now for several weeks and there is no end in sight." He said the family's friends, employers and even "total strangers" have been supportive throughout the family's plight.
ORIGINAL STORY FROM JUNE 8:
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Ezra and Kelly Reynolds of Chattanooga made the decision to adopt two years ago, traveling to Ukraine and going through the lengthy process of adopting two little girls, both with special needs.
But their family still wasn't complete. They heard about a baby boy in Ukraine, born with no hands and no feet.
The Reynolds family is no stranger to Ukraine, a 7 hour flight from the US, and an ocean away. In 2011 they adopted two little girls with Down Syndrome; Elena and Juliana, now 4 and 3. Ezra and Kelly are part of Reece's Rainbow, an international adoption network, staying informed on children with special needs. A baby boy, now 18 months old, stole their heart. For now, his name is Bowen. His real name cannot be used during the adoption process.
"Bowen is missing his extremities," Ezra said via Skype "He has nubs, but basically nothing below his elbows and knees."
Ezra, an engineer by trade, has helped design homemade prosthetics for Bowen, who has adapted rapidly. "He has quite a personality," Ezra said. "He knows what he wants and he can let us know with his gestures. We have set him up with some store-bought, homemade prosthetics made up of a potholder, a wooden spoon, badminton birdies, string, duct tape and rubber bands. It cost about three dollars." Meanwhile for 3 weeks, they've been in Ukraine, dealing with government officials and doctors. It's just the first step in the lengthy adoption process, that hinges on a successful court hearing.
The expensive quest has been funded in part by donations from friends. In Ukraine, much of their living expenses have been taken care of by local citizens, who saw their story on national television. They're confident they'll be able to bring Bowen home soon, uniting him with a family overflowing with love.
"I'm sure our daughters will find it interesting," Ezra said. "They'll wash his face about 400 times a day."
Follow the Reynolds' adoption journey on their blog, updated daily: http://www.ezraandkelly.blogspot.com/
For information on how to help the Reynolds family with travel expenses during the adoption process, click here.