By NANCY SCHWERIN
AIKEN — Of the thousands of children adopted internationally each year in the United States, 25 of them are in the Aiken area. Shelley and Cole Lindell began adopting eight years ago, and ever since, international adoptions have grown steadily in the area. The Central Savannah River Area International Adoption Group has a varied, informal membership and includes children from countries like Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, China, and Vietnam.
The group meets monthly to keep in touch, share their challenges and triumphs and meet other prospective parents. They’ve grown primarily through word of mouth.
“A child comes and others see them,” said Mrs. Lindell. It’s as simple as that — beautiful, happy children.
Since 1993, the Lindells, parishioners of St. Mary Help of Christians, have adopted three children, ages 3, 9, and 11.(They have five grown children.) They share the joy of being parents of internationally adopted children with four other couples from St. Mary’s.
The newest adoptive children are Anastasia and Olga Pierce. When their parents, St. Mary’s parishioners Bob and Donna Pierce, made the first trip to Russia to identify their new daughter, they hadn’t yet solidified their decision to adopt two girls.
“I asked God to please make it obvious,” said Donna Pierce of identifying their daughter.
On their trip she brought two dolls with them, one with brown hair and a fuschia dress and another with blond hair and a blue dress. They first met Olga, 2, a brown-haired beauty with a fuschia dress. They knew right away that there was a connection. At another orphanage they met Anastasia, 3, a sweet little girl with blond hair and a blue dress. The Pierces had made their decision.
About four months after their identification visit, the Pierces returned to Russia to complete the adoption of Olga and Anastasia. Donna Pierce said that going from a mother of two to a mother of four was challenging. The Pierces also have two boys whom they adopted locally.
Once the children are home in Aiken, they visit a pediatrician. Many parents find the hardest part is the agonizing waiting period before the adoption’s completion, but Donna Pierce found it to be the doctor’s visit upon arriving in the United States. She said that the children had already been through it once and she hated to subject them to it again.
Children undergo a series of physicals before leaving Russia, but to avoid misleading medical information, it is routine for them to visit a pediatrician in the states.
A language barrier between parents and children is usually not an issue, because the children are adopted so young. However, parents try to repeat words in English, so the children get used to hearing the language.
Once adopted, the children get to do things for the first time like take a bubble bath. While caretakers at the orphanages are kind, they only have limited resources, and baths are a luxury. The children most often receive sponge baths.
Most stories are similar to the Pierce’s.
Ann and Andy Griffith of St. Mary’s adopted Hannah from Bulgaria after locating her on the Internet. While looking through photos on the Web, Ann Griffith said she kept coming back to Hannah. She couldn’t explain why other than she was a beautiful little girl. She found the endless paperwork involved with adoption to be her biggest challenge.
For many years, Shelley Lindell helped others work their way through the paperwork process and referred them to an agency. Last year, she began a licensed adoption agency of her own.
In a unique circumstance, one couple, Art and Cathy Kepes, St. Mary’s parishioners, met their child when he was already in the United States.
On a trip to Russia, the Lindells came across 15-month-old Roman who had laid in a hospital crib since birth with a tracheotomy tube and a feeding tube. The Lindells obtained a court order to have him sent to an orphanage. There, the caretakers worked with Roman who couldn’t walk or talk. Roman, now 3 as of Nov. 3, made progress and started walking just a few months ago. The Lindells raised money and obtained a medical visa for the little boy. In February, Roman was brought to the states and had surgery at the Medical College of Georgia to correct a cleft palate.
Art Kepes said he and his wife had been considering adoption, but hadn’t moved forward with it. He said that seeing Roman put the cap on their decision. With their three children behind them, the Kepes are now waiting to go to Russia to complete the adoption.
Motivation for adopting among the group varies: some had difficult preganancies or difficulty carrying to term, and some have biological children, but all have found that a loving family is the best place for a child in need to flourish.
The Aiken area group continues to grow. Three more children are being adopted as the families continue to open their hearts and homes to children across international boundaries.