Steve and Barbara Damitio probably became parents the moment two photos slid across an adoption agent’s desk.
One little face so full of mischief and good humor that Steve Damitio laughed aloud. Another child, dark eyes shining with such hope that Barbara Damitio thought, ‘this one!’ Girls, born eight days apart in April 1993 and raised in the same orphanage.
But Bulgaria was not likely to allow two unrelated children to be adopted.
And so, unable to choose one child over the other, the Damitios sent the photos back.
A week later, wandering through her comfortable Spokane home, Barbara remembered one adoptive mother’s advice:
“Pray for a miracle, then you’ll know it is God’s will.”
She prayed, then she called the adoption agency.
This week, more than a year later, 18 years after marrying and two years after Steve turned 50, their parenthood becomes official.
On Thanksgiving, instead of stuffing the turkey for dinner, they boarded the first of four airplanes to Pobeda, Bulgaria, to collect their daughters, Natalie Dimana and Emily Teodora.
In the end, it wasn’t the hundreds of available children that persuaded them to become parents. It wasn’t any desire to replicate themselves.
It was the faces of their own aging parents, aunts and uncles that made two urban professionals leap.
Barbara’s mother had Alzheimer’s. The disease, which at first exasperated and then humbled them, helped them to care without expectation and give without conditions.
“In a real strange way it helped us prepare for parenthood,” said Barbara, 43.
“I asked God to soften my heart, and he turned it into mush,” Steve said.
The couple had never decided against having children, it just never happened. First, Barbara’s health problems prevented it and after a single fertility treatment failed, the notion faded in the face of busy lives and careers. Steve is a mechanical engineer who designs products for Outreach Technologies, Inc. Barbara is a human resource specialist with the Department of Agriculture.
Then, while the couple was visiting Barbara’s mother in California, a call came out of nowhere. A friend of a friend who wanted to give her newborn up thought of them. The Damitios balked at the speed - she wanted to do it by the end of the week - and at the suggestion of money changing hands.
“It’s illegal,” Steve said flatly.
But the parental juices they’d never acknowledged began flowing. They returned to Spokane, where they’d lived since 1981, and attended a presentation on overseas adoption in Hayden, Idaho. They visited the Children’s Home Society. They called adoption agencies throughout the Northwest. A friend asked if they wanted her to be a surrogate.
Finally, at a seminar by All God’s Children International, a Christian adoption and relief agency in Portland, they found the answer. They were expecting a how-to session. Instead, they were surrounded by people who’d already adopted children from overseas and were turning to one another for support.
The parents told stories of joy and frustration: One child refused to ever take her shoes off, another couldn’t grasp the concept of a mother and father; another was terrified because she’d been told witches in America would kill and eat her. They talked about attachment disorders and health disorders.
Instead of being frightened away, Damitios became more convinced. The photos confirmed it.
“We’re not expecting perfect children, we’re not expecting to be perfect parents,” Barbara said. “But there will be so much more potential for them here in this country. We’ll raise them the best we can.”
“To give love is the most important thing,” Steve said. “We’ve got plenty of love.”
After deciding to pursue the Bulgarian girls, the couple sold Steve’s 1982 Corvette and cashed in a life insurance policy. Then, telling almost no one except their “care group” at Foothills Community Church, they began a yearlong paper chase that would cost them more than $30,000.
Copies of their own notarized birth certificate, for instance, required verification of the notary from the California secretary of state, then verification from the U.S. secretary of State before being sent to Bulgaria, where the real bureaucracy began.
Delays were like water torture: five weeks lost because the orphanage director was on vacation, another month lost to the summer break. One minister fired for bribery. Another judge refused to sign the final order because a single word was misspelled in the documents.
“They said waiting would be the hardest part and they were right,” Steve said.
As the paperwork expanded, their fireplace mantle disappeared under snapshots of two little girls. In one photo, the girls hold dolls out stiffly, like strange logs.
“They don’t know how to play with them,” Barbara whispered.
The Damitios prepared a playroom downstairs and decorated a bedroom with angels. They laid handmade quilts on a double bed - the girls will sleep together at first to help ease the shock of leaving the orphanage.
Barbara shopped for pink and purple jumpers, matching hats, socks and undies, size 4, to dress them in at the orphanage. They’ve learned Bulgarian phrases: “Are you hungry? Do you have to go potty? I am Daddy. I am Mommy.”
But still, the adoption process dragged on. By late October, the 3-year-old girls they’d glimpsed in photographs were nearly 4-1/2.
“These children were not even wanted there, give me a break,” Barbara fumed. Her mother had died in July. Frustrated, weepy, she felt hopeless.
Then, the video arrived.
In it, two little girls sit on relief workers’ laps, looking at a Buzz Lightyear action figure like it’s someone from another planet. The girls’ hair is black; eyes, brown. They say their new names chosen by the Damitios: Natalie and Emily. They laugh and smile and look painfully uneasy when Buzz’s rocket ship starts hissing.
The Damitios have watched the scene more than 30 times.
“Those are our children,” Barbara said. “We talk to them, we talk about them. We’re parents.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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