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Larry and Dwan Tjeerdsma recently adopted two Ukrainian sisters
By DeAnn McClure, P&D Correspondent
Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, SD, July 28, 2003

Larry and Dwan Tjeerdsma recently adopted two Ukrainian sisters - Grace (left), 8, and Clare, 6. The couple picked up the girls from a Ukraine orphanage this spring, and the family has had a good transition.

AVON, South Dakota -- When Larry and Dwan Tjeerdsma were wedded nearly four years ago, they had the same visions for their future as many newlyweds -- to start a family.

But for the Avon couple, infertility problems almost kept that dream from becoming a reality.

Today, as they look at their daughters, 6-year-old Clare and 8-year-old Grace, their family has taken on a powerful meaning in their lives.

"We went through 2 1/2 years of infertility treatments and finally decided to toss in the towel, quit doctoring and looked at the option of adopting."

Dwan said. "But the laws in the United States are very different and we found out that we couldn't adopt here because Larry was too old. The law says that if you are over 40, you can't adopt."

The Tjeerdsma's said every time they hit a dead end everytime they talked to an U.S. adoption agency.

That's when they decided to go overseas.

Dwan said she was on the Internet every night for three consecutive months researching adoption companies.

She said she found educating herself on every avenue was the key to a successful process.

"We were thinking about Russia but our social worker suggested the Ukraine, so we went with that," she said. "We picked a small company in Virginia that was a non-profit organization, so we knew all of the money would go to the adoption. And it was Christian-based, which we wanted as well."

The paperwork finally got started for the couple, but setbacks kept coming, leaving them on an emotional roller coaster ride for a year and a half.

"It seemed as though we would be gaining some ground and then something would put us two steps back," Larry said.

But they never gave up hope of their dream to raise a family. They relied solely on the support of friends, family and God.

"We had so many people from the Midwest praying for us to make this all possible," Larry said.

"As an adoptive couple you do have to rely 100 percent on God, otherwise you won't get through it," Dwan said.

By January of this year, Dwan didn't think they would be leaving for the Ukraine until August.

But their faith prevailed, and the telephone call came in early March.

"I answered the phone and the first thing they said was are you sitting down?'" she said. "They told me we had an appointment to pick out our kids on April 9."

It was wonderful news for the Tjeerdsma's, and they believed their family was finally going to happen. They packed up for a three-week stay in Kiev, Ukraine.

Once at their appointment, they were given profiles of the children up for adoption with pictures, backgrounds and whether they had any siblings.

Dwan said she was overwhelmed while looking through the packets and trying to figure out which one to pick.

"We had already made up our minds that we were not gong to separate siblings, so when we were initially filling out the paperwork, people would ask us how many we were going to get and said we really didn't know. It all depended on how many siblings there were," she said.

Larry said he knew many people back home were praying for them, and the realization set in after picking the two Ukrainian sisters.

"We suddenly realized why it took us a year and a half to get here," he said. "These girls came up for adoption on April 8, the day before our appointment. It was sign of it being meant to be," he said.

The couple got to meet their girls and see them for a couple of hours everyday on their three-week stay.

They had to return home without them, but this time, they had a different outlook.

"The Ukrainian law requires a 30-day waiting period for any Ukrainian citizen or relative to come and contest the adoption. Of course every country is different, but after May 21, we could get them anytime," Dwan said.

"We left home without them, but by then we knew we were going to come home with some kids," Larry said. "We finally got to e-mail everybody and tell them we were getting some girls."

They spent the next four weeks preparing and planning for the new addition to their family by building a swing set and a playhouse.

They packed again a month later to pick up the girls and bring them home, and Dwan said she couldn't wait to see them again.

"When I got to the orphanage, the director told me that Grace would not go to school that day, because she didn't want to miss her mom and dad coming to get her," she said. "I thought that was just the neatest thing."

The Tjeerdsma's credit the orphanage for how easy the transition has been and for making it such a positive experience.

"I take my hat off to that orphanage. They raised the kids with love. Our kids knew what hugs and kisses were," Larry said.

"Every orphanage has a different story, and we hear so many negatives, but we want to stress that we had the most positive experience," Dwan added. "A lot of the orphanages are segregated and grouped by ages but this one was raised as one extended family."

Larry and Dwan see their chance to become parents as one to never take for granted.

Dwan said a lot of people told them how much their lives would change with kids, but they view it as just having extra people in the house to love.

"I guess we were an older couple that got married to begin with, went through fertility problems and we never looked at children as a burden. This is just normal for us," she said.

Clare Nina will start kindergarten this fall and her sister, Grace Yulia, will be in second grade.

They are finishing summer school now, and their English is becoming more and more fluent.

As a way to keep their heritage, the Tjeerdsma's gave the girls American names, but kept their Ukrainian first names as their middle names.

The family has been busy with visitors, and they are enjoying every minute of each discovery.

"Everyone is just in awe at how Clare looks like me, and Grace looks like Larry's side of the family," Dwan said. "We were told that would happen that the kids would fit in just as though they were ours biologically. So it's kind of neat to see that happen."

"We've had a lot of people tell us how lucky we are and we know we are, but those people that have natural children are lucky too," she added. "This is just another door that opened for us, and we wouldn't change it for the world."

The Tjeerdsma's achieved their dream of having a family and are now considering the possibility of one day adopting more children.

But for now, they are enjoying life to the fullest with Clare and Grace.

"If I knew parenting would be this gratifying, I would have done it 20 years ago," Larry said.

Reprinted with permission of Yankton Daily Press.

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