The road to becoming a parent is never an easy one. The ups and downs along the way are different, yet all have a common goal in mind; sharing their life, their love with a child.
Once Todd and Lori Mattes, of Clintonville, decided that they wanted children, but were unable to have their own, adoption become the best option for them; traveling to Novosibirsk, Russia, (Southern Siberia) to adopt a child was the route they chose.
Their journey started in June 2008, when the family began working with Lutheran Social Services of Appleton. They got a call from their case worker, Amy Conway, on a Thursday, saying that there was a class beginning the following Tuesday and wanted to know if they were interested in coming. This 18-hour class is only offered every 6 months and required before they could have a home study. They accepted at once.
During this class time, they received the required paperwork for adoption.
“The initial paperwork was overwhelming! We had a stack of papers as thick as the Waupaca County phone book to fill out,” explains Todd. “From physicals to backgrounds checks, you name it, it was in there,” adds Lori.
By the end of September, the Mattes had completed their home study, and in November, were registered in Russia for adopting a child. “Waiting is one of the hardest parts,” states Lori. “When a woman gets pregnant, you know that in nine months you will have a baby. With adoption, there is no guaranteed timeline.”
The following August, they received a referral that had matched them with a little girl, and in October they traveled to Novosibirsk, Russia, for the first time. “We first had to meet with the Department of Education to get their approval for adoption, and then we got to meet Marlee,” states Lori. “We got to spend about two hours a day with her, just getting to know her,” adds Todd. “We were there for a week, and had to meet with the agency rep as well, and fill out more paperwork indicating that we wanted to adopt her.” It was on this visit that they learned that Marlee had a little sister, Zhenya, not yet available for international adoption.
“When we found out we were able to adopt Marlee, we also found out that another family traveling with us, was adopting Marlee’s younger brother and sister,” adds Lori. “While in Russia, we also found out that there was an older sister already living in Wisconsin. We knew we had to bring Zhenya home as well. They all deserve to be together.” The three families get together on a regular basis, so the children can spend time with one another.
Upon returning home, Lori laughs, “Now we had a whole new stack of paperwork to fill out. But, this time it was only as thick as the Manawa phone book.” In addition to that, within a couple of weeks they contacted Amy Conway again, and started the process to bring Zhenya home as well.
Finally, in the end of January 2010, they received a court date of February 25 to finalize Marlee’s adoption. Todd and Lori once again traveled back to Russia. Arriving on a Wednesday, they got to spend some time with Marlee prior to their Thursday court appearance. The courts granted their adoption, but, there was a 10 day wait to finalize all family actions. Todd and Lori stayed with a host family while waiting for the finalization.
“While we were there, it was -40, so we were stuck inside the whole time,” states Todd. “The host family spoke both English and Russian, so that helped make things easier. Marlee was singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and could count to 10 within a week,” adds Lori. Todd then laughs and adds,” She was even humming the tune to Jeopardy”
Todd talks about a man named Sasha, a Lutheran Social Services Rep in Russia, who guided them every step of the way. With tears in his eyes, he recalls a memory from their first trip, of walking Marlee back to her group with Sasha. “Sasha spoke to Marlee, and Marlee looked at Lori and I and said Mama and Papa. Sasha asked if she would wait for them and she said “da” (which is yes in Russian) It melted my heart!” Still choked up, he adds, “Sasha was like God to us. He helped to bring our family together.”
The Mattes have already made their first trip back to Russia to meet Zhenya for the first time, in December. They are hoping that within the next few months, they will be able to bring Zhenya home as well. When asked of any additional plans to adopt, Lori, says with a laugh, “I hope not. But, you can never say never.”
As Lori and Todd share a box of memorabilia from Russia, Lori holds up a picture to Marlee and asks her who is in the picture. The 4-year old responds, “That is the Judge (Kirk), Mama and Papa and me.” “What did Judge Kirk do?” Lori asks. The sandy-brown haired, hazel-eyed little girl looks at the picture and smiles, “He made us a family, forever.”
Adoption donations can be made at any Community First Credit Union branch to Todd and Lori Mattes.