"I'm watching her grow up from far away"- Flint woman waits two years for daughter she loves in Kyrgyzstan
By Beata Mostafavi
FLINT, Michigan — Mia-Angelina’s room is ready to welcome the baby girl home in Flint, with a pink and green polka-dotted bed set, a closet stuffed with tiny dresses and shoes and Dr. Seuss books lining the shelf.
The brown-eyed orphan was three months old and just weeks away from being officially adopted when she met her mom-to-be Angela Sharp in April 2008.
But Mia has outgrown the never-worn ruffly outfits. She has never slept in her pastel-hued crib or played with the stuffed animals in the pink bins in her nursery.
Mia is among at least 65 children stuck in adoption limbo in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan because of a moratorium the Kyrgyz government placed on all international adoptions as it overhauls regulations to its adoptions system.
“It just makes you think of what almost was,” said Sharp, 35, through tears, touching price tags still hanging off pajamas bought in preparation for Mia’s expected arrival nearly two years ago.
Sharp is among dozens of heartbroken families who were just days away from becoming legal parents before the adoption halt and are at an indefinite standstill as their intended babies — many with special needs— pass milestones in orphanages thousands of miles away.
“The judge asked me ‘Do you like this girl?’ I said ‘I love her,’” Sharp recalled of her trip to Kyrgyzstan in 2008. “She said ‘I see no reason why you two should not be together. You even look alike.’
“Now I’m watching her grow up from far away.”
Sharp holds Mia for the first time in Kyrgyzstan. Adoption reform there has stalled Sharp’s efforts, as well as those of more than 60 other families.
On the visit, the two spent hours together. Sharp fed, changed and cuddled with Mia who was stiff at first because she wasn’t held often in the orphanage of more than 100 children.
Mostly, they just stared at each other.
“The lady at the orphanage said ‘You two have your own language,’” recalled Sharp, a local hair stylist who is single. “She had these big brown eyes. It was instant love. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. She was beautiful.”
When Sharp left, she promised Mia that the next time they walked out of the orphanage’s gates together, she would be bringing her home.
That was only supposed to be less than six weeks later.
Mia turns 2 on Jan. 22.
“I told her to be brave and that I would be back soon,” Sharp said, wiping away tears.
“I worry about her,” she added, looking at a photo of Mia with her single-candle topped cake on her first birthday. “I wonder is she happy? Is she eating well?”
Sharp and other waiting families who have connected through the Internet have written hundreds of letters to lawmakers, foundations, even Microsoft founder Bill Gates for help.
They’re now calling on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Barack Obama to get involved to urge the Kyrgyzstan government to allow them to bring their intended children home.
The U.S. State Department is also working on the families’ and children’s behalf to try to grandfather them in to the new laws being developed in Kyrgyzstan meant to clear out corruption in the adoption system.
The families had passed months worth of background checks and home visits to be matched with children who had been cleared as legitimate orphans after an exhaustive process.
For many families, it was simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I’m asking everyone to pray for a miracle,” said Frank Shimkus, 48, a retired politician and pastor in Scranton, Penn., who has been waiting more than a year to bring home baby boy Aidan Josiah who is in the same orphanage as Mia.
He and wife Gabrielle also believed Aidan would come home with them just weeks after meeting him November 2008, when he was 3 months old. They already had their “baby’s first Christmas” ornament.
They also had lined up doctors to perform needed surgeries for Aidan’s cleft lip and palate which they’ve been told is most successful at a younger age.
Like Sharp, it’s hard for the couple not to get emotional every time they pass the green nursery they prepared for him in their home.
“This is not a political issue. This is about a little boy. He is our hearts,” said a choked-up Shimkus. “We will never give up.”
Sharp made the decision to adopt nearly four years ago.
“I said here I am wanting a child and here are all these children wanting a mother,” she said
But it was a much more complicated process than she’d realized.
She said she pursued the domestic route first but that her single status made her an unlikely choice for birth moms who often choose homes with married couples.
And the wait in other countries was up to five years long.
Sharp started the adoption process with renowned Pennsylvania-based World Links International Adoption Agency in January 2008.
The agency could not be reached for comment.
Sharp has asked for the help of local lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, asking them to sign the letter. The Flint Journal could not reach Stabenow for comment.
Back in Kyrgyzstan, Mia is taking steps, babbling in Russian and growing into a playful toddler while waiting for a mom.
Sharp said she’s holding off on another visit to the remote mountainous country because of the emotional toll she thinks it would take on both her and Mia.
“I just ask people to write their senators and tell them what’s happening so hopefully someone can help us bring our children home,” she said. “The next time I go, it will be when my daughter can come back with me.”
What’s happening in Kyrgyzstan
- International adoptions had been on the rise in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan where the eight- to 12-month adoption process was relatively faster and smoother than in other countries and an attractive choice for families looking to adopt. The waiting lists in other countries, such as China, are as long as four to five years.
- Amidst allegations of fraud by adoption workers in 2008 and 2009, all adoptions abruptly stopped in Kyrgyzstan. That included the adoptions by at least 65 families who had already visited their intended adoptive children and were just weeks away from a court hearing to make the adoptions official.
- The government has been investigating claims of fraud in the adoption process, and is developing new adoption guidelines with the help of UNICEF.
- Senators Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, and Barbara Boxer, D-California, are reportedly preparing a letter to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev concerning the 65 stalled adoptions, with other senators expected to sign it. They hope to grandfather in the 65 families to new rules.
- The Kyrgyz Parliament is set to discuss the issue again Feb.15.
- How to help: Families waiting for adoptions are asking people to write Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask her to become directly involved in the situation.
People can write to: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520