A Father’s Journey in International Adoption

A Father’s Journey in International Adoption

George, Lorelei (wife/Mom), and Elena Runkle (Center)

By George Runkle, assisted by Elena Svetlana Runkle

As of the summer of 2001 we had, throughout the previous year, watched our oldest daughter graduate from college and get married, and were in the process of preparing for our other daughter’s senior year in high school. Our newspaper, for the Fredericksburg, Virginia area, on one fateful day in August, had an ad that included the photograph of a beautiful Chinese child. The ad was for Adoptions from the Heart (AFTH), which had an office in Chesapeake, Virginia, and was putting together a satellite effort in Richmond, Virginia.

My wife noted that the child in the photo was so sweet and cute that it almost wasn’t fair of the adoption agency. The ad was fairly small compared to most ads one sees in a newspaper but it was both affective and effective.  My wife stated, “I wonder…” and I asked, “Do you want to have an empty nest in a year?” And so it began.

We are not young now nor were we particularly young then. I was in the twilight of my federal government career, as was my wife. However, we couldn’t help ourselves and contacted the AFTH representative at the number provided. We then attended a meeting for persons interested in international adoptions. There were approximately ten to 12 couples who attended and we were by far the oldest. I was the only one, male or female, with a fair amount of gray hair. (Something I remedied for subsequent meetings so as to not appear so old – not out of vanity but out of unfounded concerns of being rejected as too old to adopt.)

At the meeting, we were informed that a Chinese adoption would take 24 to 30 months, which could put us out of the age range requirements since China’s adoption laws could be fluid and subject to change. We learned that in addition to China, AFTH had affiliations with Guatemala, India, Lithuania, and Ukraine. My wife’s grandmother was from Belarus, which is the country immediately north of Ukraine.  We took it as a sign.  We learned that if we were diligent and flexible with respect to how Ukraine handles international adoptions we could complete the process in under a year. Also, we both fell within the age limits to adopt from Ukraine.

The next phase was to get input from our family and friends. The enthusiastic approval of our two daughters, our siblings and both sets of parents was almost shocking. The AFTH social worker had warned us of the likelihood of strong opposition from family members but there was none. The closest thing we had to resistance was my college roommate and his wife, with whom we are very close. He asked, “Are you nuts?” (They also had two daughters.)  My former roommate then added, “Better you than me.”  However, they then stated we should, “Go for it.  We’ll be like the aunt and uncle who spoils her.” [It should be noted that my former roommate and his wife have driven down from New Jersey on many occasions to watch our daughter’s milestones such as when she was given the lead in a professional theater production as a young teenager and for her high school graduation.]

As we were starting the adoption process our country endured the tragic events of September 11, 2001. My seniority and government security clearance resulted in me being reassigned from Virginia to a 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift in Washington, D.C. six days a week. Much of my work centered around coordinating with European countries and the Middle East, which is five to seven hours ahead of the United States so the pace did slow down in the early afternoon due to the time difference. It was intense, busy, and profoundly sad. However, the shift and my location did have a benefit.

My wife and I decided to continue the adoption process but believed it might take longer than a year due to my workload for those few months after 9/11. However, the AFTH social worker was great at fitting us in on days we were available to include Sundays. Another advantage was so much of the adoption work had to be done through the Ukrainian Consulate and the Department of State, both of which are located in Washington, D.C. We did not have to use courier services nor have to mail documents to various government entities, I merely walked over to the Department of State from my office or took the metro to the consulate when my shift ended. We actually were ahead of the normal timeline for Ukrainian adoptions.

After a few months, I was reassigned back to my area of expertise. I received permission to travel out of the country and take leave for an extended period of time.  In April 2002, the week after our Easter, we arrived in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox religion, which is prevalent in Ukraine, was just starting its Easter holidays. There had been a miscommunication with the Ukrainian facilitators as to when we were supposed to arrive. After the holiday week, we were taken to a government child placement center in Kiev. Due to the holidays, the place was packed with couples from all over Europe, the United States, and Canada. Eventually, we were taken into a room and were shown a book with hundreds of children, nearly all of whom were physically and/or mentally handicapped. Our oldest daughter had congenital heart defects so we were willing to take a child with these sorts of issues but as older parents, we would not be able to take any of the children that were shown to us. It was heart wrenching and frustrating.

Afterward, the facilitator asked us to return to the United States and come back in two weeks, which was not feasible due to my work and our finances. The facilitator’s daughter, who was about eight and half months pregnant, began calling various orphanages throughout Ukraine.  An orphanage in Kirovohrad, four hours south of Kiev, had a little girl who was two and a half. An Italian family had selected her earlier but had never returned to pick her up. The facilitator’s wife stated she was familiar with this particular child and claimed the child looked a lot like my wife.  We were skeptical about part of her statement but my wife believed that we were fated to get this child – so we did. And the child did – look like she could be my wife’s daughter that is. I looked like I could be her grandfather.

On May 17, 2002, in Kirovohrad, Ukraine, we officially added to our family. We named her Elena Svetlana Runkle.  Svetlana was her birth name so we kept it as her middle name. She was and is proud of her name.  It was nine months almost exactly from the time we started the adoption process to when Elena became our child. My wife stated it was the easiest pregnancy she ever had.

Elena was tiny for her age.  She was born prematurely and had been in and out of hospitals in Ukraine for failure to thrive and for a serious bout of whooping cough.  She was afraid of us and did not want to be near us initially.  Elena clung to the caregivers at the orphanage.  As we had learned from the AFTH social worker prior to leaving for Ukraine, this was a good sign because it meant Elena did not have an attachment disorder.  Once back in Virginia she quickly bonded with the family and her extended family.  She loved having sisters and grandparents. She was and still is being “raised by a village.”  When she was 17 she took the oath to become a United States citizen. At 18 she registered to vote (and finally got her driver’s license).

Elena had to overcome learning issues because of dyslexia and having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  In spite of Elena’s initial frustrations in learning to read and write, my wife kept at it every day and now Elena seldom has problems with reading or writing. (Elena is 20 and my wife still pushes her to read to include frequently buying her books. My wife claims she is not bossy, she just merely has better ideas.) To help her with the ADD and her extreme shyness we put her in a summer drama camp when she was seven. (We now think it worked too well in that her shyness is virtually nonexistent.)  Our daughter became somewhat of a “theater rat” and has been in a variety plays to include several professional regional productions, one of which garnered a rather lengthy human interest story in the same newspaper that led to her adoption in the first place. She had been featured in the same newspaper when she was first adopted but that article focused on older couples (yeah us!) adopting children.

Elena now has an interest in nursing and recently passed her community college course work and state (commonwealth) written exam.  She is waiting for the Novel Coronavirus to subside so she can take the postponed skills test. She has already been offered employment with a long-term care facility where she had interned. Elena has always related well with senior citizens, which her parents now are, so this vocation appears tailor-made for her interests.  We had frequently told her that we only got her because we wanted someone to take care of us when we were old. We meant it jokingly. Scout’s honor. She still plans to pursue theater projects when her schedule permits.  She has actually been in two television projects as background characters. Not much money but for fun nonetheless. We look forward to watching her continue to grow and are content knowing that she has family and friends who will help guide her over time.

Elena made some statements when she was very young as to why she thinks we adopted her and how far we had to travel to find her.  She and I turned it into a poem when she was around 12 and her voice teacher made it into a song.  She was 14 when we did a Youtube video. The Youtube link is https://youtu.be/VkiUPy9H8xA.  The Youtube title is: You Chose Me (Elena’s Adoption Song) by Meg and Me.  The video shows her early journey from Ukraine to having an American family.  The young woman who is shown quite a bit in the video was Elena’s oldest sister and godmother, Amy Marie, who passed away when Elena was seven, ten months after she made Elena an aunt.  Much of what Elena does in theater and songs is dedicated to her sister.    The lyrics are below:

Of All, You Chose Me

Song by Elena Runkle and Margaret Rice (nee Bushman)

Oh, Mommy, Oh Daddy
You had so far to go,
There were so many in such need,
So much sorrow,
Of all, you chose me.

Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy
I was so very small,
You knew I was so afraid,
You did not let me fall,
Of all, you chose me.

Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy
I had so much to overcome,
Feelings I did not know,
Illnesses to be undone,
Of all, you chose me.

Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy,
Maybe it was fate,
Maybe you just knew,
You did not want to wait,
Of all, you chose me.

Oh, Mommy, Oh Daddy
You had so far to go,
There were so many in such need,
So much sorrow,
Of all, you chose me.

Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy,
You do so much to help me grow, 
You keep me oh so safe,
You always let me know,
Of all, you love me

Elena and her late big sister Amy

Elena on the show “True Terror with Robert Englund” (back right)

Elena as Pinocchio in Pinocchio

By |2020-05-11T16:27:29-04:00May 15th, 2020|Adoptions, For Adoptive Parents|Comments Off on A Father’s Journey in International Adoption

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