The moment Lucille Coyle saw the beautiful 7-month-old girl in an orphanage in Kazakhstan, she knew.
“It was love at first sight,” she told LifeZette.
Lucille and her husband, John, had been waiting for this moment for years. For almost a decade, the Washington Township, New Jersey, couple tried to have a baby on their own. But despite fertility treatments, they were unsuccessful.
“It was heartbreaking — getting pregnant and then losing the baby. We just wanted to be parents and were going to do whatever it took,” she said.
Finally, the Coyles began researching adoption.
They began their search domestically. After putting ads in newspapers and getting a response, they flew to Kansas to meet a birth mother. But the mother decided to keep her child, and the Coyles were devastated.
“We decided to go international because it was the only 100-percent way we were going to end up with a baby,” Lucille Coyle said. “I did my homework, and Kazakhstan kept coming up.”
“This is your baby. You just want to take her home,” said Lucille Coyles.
Kazakhstan has one of the highest caregiver-to-child ratios and allows adoption of children as young as 6 months old, as opposed to those who are 1-year-old, which is standard in many other countries. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, located in central Asia and bordered by Russia to the north, and China to the east.
The Coyles applied.
Not long after, they received an envelope with a picture of a 3-month-old girl, Veronika — spelled with K as is the Russian custom. She was in an orphanage, called a “baby house” in Kazakhstan, and was available for adoption. They sent in their paperwork and waited for approval during what Lucille Coyle said was the “worst four months of my life.”
In November 2004, the Coyles received approval and had five days to pack and go get their baby girl.
“This is your baby in an orphanage, and you just want to take her home,” she told LifeZette.
Not So Fast
But Kazakhstan has a mandatory “bonding period” for families that want to adopt. The policy requires that the family live in Kazakhstan near the baby house for four to eight weeks. Luckily, the Coyles could devote four weeks to living in a subleased apartment in the extremely poverty-stricken city of Semipalatinsk.
The Coyles arrived on Dec. 6, 2004, in Kazakhstan. They walked through the airport with thousands of dollars in cash with them, scared and confused. Many people pay for adoptions in cash and avoid telling customs they are in the country to adopt.
John Coyle was flagged down, taken to a room and questioned. Lucille Coyle looked through glass into the room where her husband sat in front of men with machine guns strapped across their chests.
After an interpreter communicated and resolved the situation, the Coyles boarded another plane, something Lucille Coyle described as a “flying school bus” with folding chairs for seats, to get to the small town of Semipalatinsk, where the baby house was.
The town of Semipalatinsk was the site of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons testing for almost 50 years and is now extremely impoverished. In the middle of the winter, temperatures dropped well into the negative digits.
The apartment the Coyles would call home for the next four weeks was “dark and gray” with no lights in public places.
“There were no lightbulbs in the hallways because if you changed a lightbulb, someone would steal it,” Lucille Coyle said.
The apartment was crawling with roaches, and the mattress constantly caved in. Lucille Coyle said she often became discouraged, but her husband reminded her, “You need to focus on why we’re here.”
“She leaned over for me to hold her. All I remember is the relief.”
By Kazakhstan law, someone cannot be matched with a specific child. Rather, once at the baby house prospective parents are presented with four available children. However, this is just a formality for legal purposes and families know what child is intended for them before they arrive.
Each child comes into a room to show their talents. Lucille Coyle said a little boy came in and danced for them.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “You have to keep in your head, ‘I’m here for her,’ otherwise you’ll come home with 10 children.”
The First Meeting
When the caregivers brought Veronika into the room in a pink hat, Lucille Coyle felt an instant connection.
“I had been studying her picture for the last four months. I knew that was her,” she said. “She leaned over for me to hold her. All I remember is that minute and the relief.”
Lucille Coyle admits she was nervous about the first meeting.
“I was worried I wouldn’t feel a connection with a child who didn’t come from me,” she said. “It was instant in the moment I looked at her. Every doubt and every question was gone.”
The Coyles are one of thousands of families that adopt internationally. There are 17 million orphans worldwide living in orphanages or on the streets that lack the care and attention required for healthy development, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Lucille Coyle is very vocal about her adoption experience, saying she wants to do anything to raise awareness of adoption and what a positive experience it is.
“You just want all these kids to find homes and people who want to be parents so badly to live that dream.”
Today, Veronika is a happy and healthy 11-year-old, and an avid volleyball player. Lucille kept a diary throughout the process and on every December 29, the family reads the diary together so Veronika can learn her story.
Lucille says she knows how lucky they are. “We totally hit the jackpot.”
AdoptTogether, a crowdfunding organization that helps raise money for families that want to adopt, on Monday celebrates its second annual World Adoption Day to help more families experience positive adoption stories. The organization is launching an online campaign using the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay and with pictures of people with a smiley face on their hands to raise awareness of the event and international adoption.