NEW MARKET – Plenty of families have holiday traditions. The Lamana family tradition seems to be going to Russia to adopt another baby.
Nicholas, 11, was adopted on Christmas Eve of 1992. Kathryn, 9, was adopted on Thanksgiving 1994 and Pasha, 6, was adopted two days before Christmas 1999.
So when Thanksgiving rolled around this year, Joe Lamana was in Russia meeting the family’s fourth child, 1-year-old Anastasia. Lamana, whose birthday was also that week, was “a little depressed” about being away from the family — but he knew it would be worth it.
“I think this is my calling,” said his wife, Jeanne Lamana. “I’m supposed to raise these children.”
The Lamanas knew when they married that Jeanne, who has polycystic ovarian disease, would have trouble having children. When fertility treatment failed, they turned to adoption — eventually adding three children to the more than 32,000 adopted kids in the state, according to 2000 Census data.
The Lamanas looked overseas to adopt after seeing the terribly long wait for a domestic adoption. Getting Nicholas took no more than nine months — they told themselves to treat the process like a pregnancy.
But that did not make the process easy: Undergoing failed fertility treatments can make “you feel like there’s something wrong anyway,” Jeanne said, but going through the adoption process can feel even worse.
Prospective adoptive parents face a painstaking screening system that includes very personal questions. Joe, a medical officer at the Pentagon, said it was “more painful” than the process for getting his security clearance.
“Everyone else can just have children, and I have to get fingerprinted,” Jeanne said. “You have to not take it personally.”
Jeanne first looked at Russian children while Joe was in the Navy during the Persian Gulf war. She turned down two possible adoptions because she could not reach Joe on board ship. But now, Jeanne thinks they were meant to wait for their current kids.
“It wouldn’t be our life, it wouldn’t be our family if we didn’t have these three kids we have now,” she said.
Nicholas and Kathryn were adopted at 6 months old. Nicholas, who came from an orphanage in St. Petersburg, had a hole in his heart that healed itself after he was adopted.
Kathryn, a war refugee from Tbilisi in the violent period after Georgia broke away from Russia, showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder as an infant. All her papers, including her birth certificate, had to be re-created after the building holding the originals was blown up.
Pasha, who was 2 when he was adopted, is the only Lamana to keep his Russian nickname. His Russian roots were apparent immediately — he put the rest of the family in the habit of taking his shoes off when entering the house.
But the others’ Russian roots are never far off. Nicholas likes to talk about his history, and hopes to visit Russia some day. And some people ask why Kathryn, who has darker skin, looks different than her parents.
Jeanne remembers being mistaken for a day care provider who was praised for being so good with somebody else’s children. Nicholas and Kathryn also have asked some questions about their adoptions.
“They (the children) know mommy’s belly’s broken,” Jeanne said. They were told that “they grew in another woman’s belly.”
“And that we’re their parents because we wanted to be their parents,” Joe added.
Because Joe had been in Russia to meet Anastasia — who is expected to come home in January — the family put its Thanksgiving off until Dec. 5 this year. When they went around the table to give thanks, Kathryn said she was thankful that the family had enough money to adopt a new baby sister.
When they started, the Lamanas never expected to adopt four children. But Jeanne, who has an education degree, said it was an easy choice to stay home with the children.
“This is just too perfect. This is the way it was supposed to be,” she said, as the turkey and stuffing grew cold and the kids played noisily in the other room. “This is so unique and so special and so unbelievable — to be entrusted with their lives.”