Family Building Bond with Next Member

Views on BG | June 19, 2011, Sunday // 11:48|  views

In an orphanage in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, 8-year-old Nikolay is waiting to come home.

By Heather Hottle

Centre Daily News

In an orphanage in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, 8-year-old Nikolay is waiting to come home.

Frank and Diane Elliott, of Boalsburg, have adopted seven children over the past decade. Nikolay will be the eighth.

In April, a month after celebrating the one-year anniversary of the arrival of their youngest children, from Haiti, Frank Elliott traveled to Bulgaria to meet Nikolay.

When he arrived at the orphanage, which he described as "dismal ... boxy and nondescript," he wasn't allowed past the first floor, as per strict orphanage rules. Nonetheless, meeting his son went off without a hitch.

"Diane and I commit to a kid as soon as we decide to take him and that's our kid," Frank said.

But there has to be some sensitivity when meeting a child for the first time, especially an older child. Most children in orphanages, for example, don't have much interaction with men.

"Diane could go in for a hug faster than I could," he said.

When he met Nikolay for the first time, Frank said hello, sat down with him and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.

The duo had an interpreter during the visit, but still had to overcome their language barrier. By the end of the trip, however, Nikolay learned how to say "goodbye" and Frank was able to hug his son and kiss him on the cheek.

Overall, Frank said, Nikolay will be a "good fit" in the family.

Diane's experience as a pediatric nurse was one of the reasons Nikolay was recommended to the Elliotts.

"Part of why they're uniquely qualified is because of (her) experience in the medical field," said Denise Bierly, a State College lawyer who handles the family's adoption paperwork.

Like some other children in the Elliott family, Nikolay has some special needs. He has hydrocephalus — a condition in which more fluid than normal accumulates around the brain — and has a shunt in his head that will need to be replaced by a specialist soon after he gets to the U.S.

Because he has been living in the same hospital ward since he was an infant and hasn't had the opportunity to interact with children his own age, Nikolay also has some social issues.

For now, the family must wait. Frank knows he will soon return to Bulgaria to bring Nikolay to the United States, but no date has been set — just a vague promise of a homecoming within the next one to two months. The orphanage will call a week in advance to tell him when he can pick up his son.

International adoptions can be difficult because you're "putting your hopes and dreams in the hands of strangers who have a different culture, different value system and it can be a costly process," Bierly said.

But the Elliotts have been through this before, a few years ago when waiting to bring their son, Vladimir, 7, home from Serbia and again last year when trying to get Nadine, 5, and Emmanuel, 3, out of earthquake-stricken Haiti.

"When you do these foreign adoptions, a lot of it really is just trust," Diane said. "That's what you do though, you just go on faith. ... Whenever I would get discouraged on the paperwork I'd think 'OK, temporary inconvenience on my part, life changing for them.' "

Although the time frame may seem abrupt, it's part of the process.

"There's no leeway or anything, you adjust things and you leave," Frank said.

To ease Nikolay's fears, older sister Mary, 12, will travel to Bulgaria with her father.

After arriving, Frank and Mary will spend a week working with an interpreter to learn a few phrases and establish a comfort level with Nikolay.

While there are always a few butterflies when bringing someone new into the family, Frank said he is excited to be able to include Mary in the experience.

"She admitted the other day she was scared and I told her she had every right to be, but we'll do just fine," he said.


Tags: orphan, orphanage, Bulgaria, Gabrovo

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