Life teaches us how to live in subtle ways. As we go through our daily lives we quickly learn that some things are just meant to be, life's lessons happen for a reason and God does answer our prayers.
Brett and Maurine Nelson and their sons, Austin, Andrew and Avery, had a taste of each of these life lessons over the last three years as they went through a lengthy process in order to adopt Mattia Varvara Nelson into their family. They now know that somehow bringing Mattia into their family was simply meant to be despite all the obstacles they had to overcome along the journey.
A decision is made
You could say that making Mattia a member of the family began long ago, way before Brett and Maurine even met. Brett explained that when he was 10 years old he knew that someday he wanted to adopt a child. At the time, his brother Jim and wife, Angela, were doing Foster Care and he admired them so much for what they were doing. At this early age he recognized that there were children out there who didn't have, not only a home in which to live, but the love of a family.
After meeting Maurine and getting married he mentioned the idea. Maurine was equally receptive to the idea but felt that if God gave them children of their own, then that was His will. However after their sons were born they both started to feel that there was still something God wanted them to do in order to help these other children. They visited with other couples who had adopted and decided to put it in God's hands through prayer.
As they prayed they also researched adoption alternatives, especially focusing on adoptions from Russia. They knew that it was an expensive process and came up with a dollar amount that they would need in order to proceed with the process.
For nine months they prayed and waited for an answer. That answer came in September of 2006. Maurine received word that she was to receive an unexpected inheritance. To their surprise the amount she was to receive was the exact amount they had determined they needed in order to adopt. They knew immediately that this was the answer to their prayers and decided to begin the process.
In November of 2006 they contacted the Children's Home Society, a reputable adoption agency, and filled out the start of a lot of paper work. At the completion of their original application they were told the process usually takes nine month before they would receive the first referral. A referral would be the name, picture and information on a child that would be available for adoption.
However after receiving referrals they quickly learned that this in no way meant that they would be able to adopt that child. Several things could happen in the mean time such as a family member of the child could adopt them, there could be medical issues or the government could simply change their mind.
Who was meant for them?
Brett and Maurine received a total of 8 referrals. At times their hearts had already bonded with the child before they were notified that it was not to be. They received their first referral in August of 2007. They began to make plans for their trip to Russia to meet her. They had their bags packed and airline tickets purchased. However just days before they were to leave, they were informed that a family member had come forward and would not consent to the adoption. Months later they were matched with another child by Russian officials, but their agency would not give them the referral due to the fact that the child was so very ill. Although they were not on a special needs list, they continued to receive referrals of special needs children. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is quite common in children living in Russian orphanages, among other serious mental illnesses. As heart breaking as it was, after much prayer and God-given discernment, they decided to decline such referrals, as they did not feel God was calling them to care for a special needs child.
After several referrals that were not meant to be, the agency decided to move the Nelson's application to another region of Russia.
They were almost immediately given another referral and began to make plans last summer in June of 2008 to make the trip to Russia. However, once again just before the trip they were informed that the child had been adopted by a Russian family, therefore losing yet another referral.
"It just pulls the rug right out from under you", Brett explained.
However, they knew the Lord had put them on this path; they continued to pray and hope for an answer to those prayers.
Eighth time the charm
On September 8 of 2008 the Nelsons were given yet one more referral. In October they made their first trip to Moscow to meet the child. It was a long trip taking them through Amsterdam, Moscow and then to Novosibirsk. Upon arriving they were told they had to get to the Orphanage immediately as the director was planning to leave for a few days. This was a 3 1/2 hour drive to the city of Kuibyshev.
The agency supplied a car and driver along with a translator however the drive to the orphanage was quite interesting. The driving was absolutely crazy taking them up onto sidewalks, nearly running over pedestrians, and weaving in and out of traffic. Both Brett and Maurine were car sick by the time they arrived for this first meeting.
Fortunately Mattia was napping so they were given some time to rest and talk to the director before that first crucial meeting. They were also able to get a look at the orphanage where she had been living for just over a year.
They described the orphanage as very clean and well run. There they could house up to about 100 children ages 0-4. The children were separated into groups according to age, with up to 14 children per group, so Mattia had many children her own age around her.
They found it heartbreaking however as some children clearly sought love and family. They had children run up to a fence and cry out "Papa, papa, I am here."
The first meeting
Their first meeting with Mattia was to be held in the music room, a room she had never entered. They were told she was still unable to walk or feed herself, however they learned that she was able to do both. She was brought in, still groggy from her nap, and Maurine could not even explain the feelings that went over them.
"It was like the picture we had looked at for so long, just came to life," Maurine explained, "She had started to cry but I picked her up and pressed her plump cheek against mine, calming her and she immediately snuggled right in against me."
Since there were few men working at the orphanage, it took her a little longer to warm up to Brett however by the end of that first two hour meeting she allowed him to hold her for about the last 15 minutes.
They were not able to take Mattia home with them on this visit because it is a two trip process. First, they must personally meet the child then sign paper work accepting the child as their official referral. Then they must be appointed a Russian Court date, therefore traveling back home to wait. Because of some government re-organization of the system. The usual waiting period was three months but they were not allowed to return for six months. They had left her with several new toys, pictures of themselves and the boys and a camera for the caregivers to take pictures during the wait.
The final trip
Finally in March they were told that they indeed had been given a court date and could return to finalize the process.
This visit ended up to be 24 days long since there was a waiting period after the court approval before they could take custody of their little girl. In all, the final hearing included a large group of lawyers and representatives from the various agencies.
Brett and Maurine stayed at a Novosibirsk hotel and spent as much time with Mattia as possible. They also practiced English with a group of students, toured the city and went to the ballet. They experienced the Russian culture which they hope to share with Mattia one day.
They were also presented with the camera filled with pictures the caregivers had snapped during the six months they were apart. They were also able meet many other adoptive families and children, and are still in touch with many of the families who adopted some of the children in Mattia's group. In fact one of the children in her group was adopted by a family in Minneapolis.
It had been difficult to be away from the boys for so long but they were able to visit through Skype, a computer system offering video calls. Mattia was able to see her brothers and they could see her.
They spent five days in Moscow to finalize all the paperwork and then took the long journey home. Despite the long flight and drive back to Hancock, Mattia had a big smile for her new brothers. She quickly fell right in with the family and is very much a typical two year old. She is picking up the English language very quickly even though Maurine said she often hears her playing and talking in Russian.
Throughout the entire process they have had so much help not only from family and friends but also from the adoption agency, support groups and the International Adoption Clinic held at U of M. They keep in contact with other adoptive parents and are very pleased to share their story.
In fact they will be doing that this Saturday at the Hancock Community Center where an open house is planned to welcome Mattia. Brett and Maurine have compiled a movie of their experiences during the process which they will be sharing starting at 10 a.m.
In hindsight, Brett and Maurine would not change a thing. While it was difficult to become attached to so many children just to lose them, they realize that it was simply meant to be. Things happen in life for a purpose and we have to trust that God will answer our prayers.
"Faith put us on this journey", Maurine explained. "Faith got us through. We finally have her. She was meant for us and we were meant for her."