Parallel Lives, pg 4

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So as unreal as the impending birth sometimes feels, she's excited about it, too. Even Ralph, an ebullient 16-year-old with dark eyes and an explosive cloud of black hair who's adopted hip-hop language and fashion sensibilities-though New Market is not much of a 'hood'-now delivers effusive paeans to parenthood.

"I already love this child and it's not even out yet," he announces one afternoon. Nicole talks fondly about what a good dad Ralph is going to be. She'll be a good mother too. "If you had parents who didn't treat you well and you hated being treated like that," she explains, "that shows you what not to do." Nicole's philosophy leaves little room for adoption. "I'm not going to put my own flesh and blood out in the world and not know if it's safe, not know if it's happy, not know if it's taken care of, you know?" she says.

More significantly, "It would tear me up. After carrying a child for nine months, to hand it over after you already grow attached to it . . . It grows inside of you, you know."

The Kerns were waiting for somebody like Nicole to come into Adoptions Together, decide she'd like a childless Catholic couple who lived in the country to adopt her child, then leaf through their photo album and ask to meet Otto and Chanda. But the summer passed and no one did.

Chanda had dreams about having a baby, a blond, blue-eyed infant. Sometimes it was a boy, sometimes a girl; she and Otto had always hoped for one of each. They told themselves, as the seasons evolved, that this would be the last Mother's Day they celebrated by themselves, the last Father's Day or Halloween. And on darker days they wondered, "Why isn't someone choosing us? What's wrong with us?"

They could phone the agency once a month for an update, and before long found themselves debating whether, if they called on September 15, they had to wait for October 15 to make the next call. Wouldn't it be okay to call on October 1? It was a new month, after all.

The months stretched on, partly because of the Kerns' preferences for a newborn who looked like them. In November, when Otto called and asked point-blank how many birth mothers had been shown their photo album, which meant that the Kerns matched the women's requirements and vice versa, the answer was: Zero.

At which point, though seven months is not a very long wait in the adoption universe, all their preferences began to seem pointless. "You have a choice to make," Otto says. "How long do you wait before you decide it's too long? Are you going to wait another year?" Maybe, they reasoned, it was not so critical to have a newborn. Maybe it didn't matter so much which country their child was born in, even if that meant less information about the child's past and some health risks.

"You change your mind about everything," Otto says. "You think you want one thing, and the next day you realize: It's not that you want. It's just a kid you want." Like a growing number of adoption seekers, they decided to look for a child overseas, briefly considering Guatemala, then settling on Russia, land of many orphanages, which now sends more children than any other country except China-more than 4,200 last year-to American families. So the Kerns embarked on a new round of paperwork-visas, passports, INS visits-and hoped they'd be on a plane to meet their child or children (they'd agreed to accept siblings) by summer.

But the call from Adoptions Together came far more quickly. In February, the social worker reached Otto at work; Otto called Chanda at her office.

"We're going to Russia," he told her.

"Yeah, I know." She wondered why he was restating the obvious.

"No, we're going to Russia on March 18th." A brother and sister in a Siberian orphanage-Sergei was a year old and Lidia was two-were free for adoption. Chanda broke down, right at her desk, and cried. Calmed down, she called the agency to arrange for delivery of a videotape of Sergei and Lidia, and fell apart again. "Thank you," she sobbed into the phone.

Credits: Adoptive Families Magazine

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