More couples find reasons to rejoice Adoption: Families give thanks for newest additions, who come from all over the country -- and increasingly, from all over the world.

November 25, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

A new face will be perched at the Ray family's Thanksgiving table in Elkridge this year, a bundle of joy from Novosibirsk, Siberia, named Robbie. The 20-month-old will be passed around the table like the bowls of mashed potatoes and stuffing, as the family cuddles its newest charge.

"We definitely have reason to give thanks this year. He's going to be No. 1 on my list," said Jennifer Ray Mikalajunas, who with her husband, Scott, adopted the child from a Russian orphanage in August. "Since it's going to be Robbie's first Thanksgiving, [he] will definitely be part of our thanks at the beginning of the meal. He is something we've waited for for a long time."

The Mikalajunases and such couples as Towson's Deborah Novotny and Nicholas Macechko reflect the growing number of families -- in Maryland and throughout the country -- who will mark this holiday season with children adopted from foreign countries. Theirs are tales of globe-trotting, red tape and patience that they say have given them something to be grateful for this time of the year.

Theirs are among the more than 120,000 children adopted every year in the United States, according to the National Adoption Information Clearing House in Washington. In fiscal 1998, the State Department reports, 15,774 children were adopted in the United States from foreign countries, primarily Russia and China.

Today, the Baltimore City Department of Social Services will conclude National Adoption Month festivities by finalizing adoptions of more than 50 children at Clarence Mitchell Courthouse.

Scott and Jennifer Mikalajunas arranged for their baby through Adoptions Together Inc., a nonprofit organization which handles domestic and international adoptions from offices in Baltimore and Silver Spring. The group is one of 25 private adoption agencies licensed in Maryland. The state also places children, through local social service agencies.

"We have the mission of placing all children who are in need of a home. We place healthy infants and kids that are medically challenged and children of all races," said Janice Goldwater, a social worker who founded Adoptions Together nine years ago. "We embrace adoption as a lifelong process with lots of support as the children grow up. I wanted to create an agency where all children would be welcome and to provide more options for the birth parents as well as the adoptive parents."

One of the features especially comforting to the Mikalajunases was the monthly "parents in waiting" meetings for families biding their time before adoptions went through. Families who had adopted came in to talk about the experience.

Complete with translators and legal documents and travel to Russia, the entire process cost the Mikalajunas family about $22,000. Domestic adoptions can run as high as $11,000.

'This was the child for us'

The Mikalajunases, who live in Eldersburg, say it was well worth it.

Scott Robert Mikalajunas Jr. -- Robbie -- is their first child, the result of a pragmatic decision to choose adoption over sometimes unsuccessful in-vitro fertilization.

In his early months at the orphanage, Robbie -- born Oleg Borokivov to a janitor and a security guard -- was fed borscht, a Russian staple. When his new parents landed with him in the United States -- all three of them wearing shirts emblazoned with "USA" -- the first supper they shared was a Happy Meal at McDonald's.

Said Jennifer: "What could be more American than that?"

Scott is a supervisor with United Parcel Service. Jennifer is a commercial loan administrator. Before adopting Robbie, the couple's family portrait was a studio shot of them with their two dogs.

"We needed a child to make it complete," said Scott. "It's taken us three years to get what we've wanted. We feel confident that God led us down this path, that this was the child for us."

The Mikalajunases, who will celebrate Thanksgiving with Jennifer's family at her brother Brian Ray's house this year, intend to baptize their son into the Roman Catholic Church after the New Year.

Deborah Novotny's most moving Thanksgiving dinner was a feast of Peking duck in the Chinese province of Jiangsu. It was two years ago, on the day she and her husband, Nicholas Macechko, formally adopted their daughter, Madeleine.

"Madeleine has made a difference in our life, whether it's a holiday or any day," said Novotny, who traveled to China in 1996 with her husband, eight other families and an Adoptions Together social worker to bring home their babies. "There's nothing in my life that I'm more thankful for than having Madeleine as my daughter."

Madeleine was 9 months old when she came to the United States. Despite having been confined to a small crib for most of her first nine months, she was "thriving" and enjoyed being held, Novotny said. The child will turn 3 in February.

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