“He starts each day with a giant smile, and waves hello and blows kisses and giggles…he has so much joy in his little heart and he spreads it to everyone he interacts with. We are so lucky that we get to call him our son, and hearing him call us “mama” and “dada”…that makes our hearts skip a beat. Every time.” – Julia
While I always will be in love with photographing weddings, there is something so amazing about seeing a family being formed and it’s something I’ve come to regard with the highest privilege as a newborn and family photographer. We so often think of families in the traditional sense (mom + dad + new baby), but probably the most important and life changing lesson I’ve learned in my 10+ years as a photographer is that families come in SOOOOOOO many different shapes and sizes. The one thing tying them all together? LOVE. Don’t ever underestimate the power of love.
After meeting Julia + Mike briefly at a wedding I was photographing back in 2010, I was lucky enough to get to know them better over the course of their wedding planning for their big day in 2012. You won’t find two more kind hearted, giving and hilarious people (I’m constantly laughing at Julia’s Facebook posts about their dog Cadet’s adventures). I always knew that if they ever decided to start a family, they would be the most amazing parents because their energy and enthusiasm for life has no boundaries. When I saw that they were adopting, I couldn’t have been happier for them and when they finally got to bring home their sweet boy Roman from Korea, my Facebook feed started flooding with even more hilarious daily adventures of Cadet and his new sidekick and partner in crime, his brother Roman. I met up with them a few weeks ago in their neighborhood of Shaw in Washington DC. We chased Roman around and waved hello and goodbye many many times (it’s one of Roman’s favorite things to do!) It was so beautiful to see Julia and Mike as parents and I felt compelled to share their story. In Julia + Mike’s case, adoption was very much a choice from the beginning, but for some families, it may be their only choice for starting their family. Julia expressed to me how anxious she was at the beginning of the adoption process and she hopes that sharing her and Mike’s journey to adopt Roman may help other families exploring adoption.
Growing up, I had several friends that had been adopted, so it always seemed a natural way to build a family. When I was in high school I volunteered with a group that traveled to the Czech Republic every Spring to build playgrounds for communities in need. That was my first introduction to orphans who hadn’t met their forever families yet. They weren’t much younger than us, and they were such beautiful and loving souls that my heart just settled on adopting when I was ready for a family. When I met Mike and things were starting to get serious, I shared with him that this was what I wanted, and if we were to eventually get married that this was how I wanted to build a family.
When we sent our dossier to Korea, we were expecting a six month wait for “the call.” Less than two months after sending, Mike called me to tell me we had been matched and we were both so excitedm surprised and nervous because everything was happening so fast. The next day we went into the agency and sat in this little living room where they handed us Roman’s file with about 2 dozen photos of him. I looked up and saw Mike just looking at Ro’s face and smiling – so I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture so when Ro is older he’ll know what love at first sight looks like. His referral contained all the information about the circumstances that led to his surrender for adoption, as well as all the medical information regarding his birth, and his current foster parents’ living situation. It was really hard to read, because I had this photo of my son and I’m reading how difficult his start in life had been and all I wanted to do is wrap him up in my arms and make it ok, but he was still so far away. I don’t know that you can ever be fully prepared for that moment. I was also surprised by how emotionally connected I felt to both his life mama and his foster mama. When we learned that his life mama had chosen his name for him, we decided to keep Yul as his middle name so that he would always have that connection to her. His foster mama, Mrs. Song, and I could see how proud she was of Roman. We were so relieved to know that he was a part of their family. When Roman is older, we will definitely go back to Korea to visit the Songs. If Roman wants to have a connection with his life mama, we would love nothing more than to meet her and to tell her how very much we love her. In the meantime, we send updates through the agency in Korea so that she can come in and see photos of him and letters from us as he grows up.
Korean adoptions require two separate trips to Seoul about one month apart. The first trip you meet your child, and go to court to finalize the adoption. The second trip you pick up your child on the first day and then later in the week go to the US Embassy to receive their passport and visa to return to the US. We met Roman at the Song’s apartment, which was in the very northern part of the city. When we walked in the door, he was standing there behind a child gate looking very curiously at us while clutching a little blue plastic toy. He was so much smaller than I expected, but he was so cute. I was nervous that he might cry but he seemed so calm so I picked him up and he melted into my arms and I was DONE. He sat in my lap and played with Mike for about an hour while Mrs. Song prepared tea and told us all about him with the help of our social worker’s translation skills. Mike had this huge goofy grin the whole time, and I remember thinking he was such a natural at being a dad to this little guy. On the second trip, it was really really really hard to say goodbye to Mrs. Song. In so many ways he was her son too, and she loved him so much. The turnover takes place at the agency’s office in the Gangnam district in Seoul – and once we said goodbye we jumped in a cab with Roman and headed back to our hotel. He fell asleep in our arms in the cab and I think we both had this enormous sense of relief that from now on there would be no more disruption in Ro’s sense of family. No more goodbyes. The first 48 hours were tough – we were finding our legs as parents and he was experiencing the loss of his foster mama, but he bonded to us pretty quickly and by the time we got on the plane to come home we were a family. There were and still are some awfully difficult moments when he is grieving. His little crys turn into these long and sullen moans and all we can do is take turns holding him, sometimes for hours on end, until it passes. I accidentally triggered one by showing him a pic of foster mama shortly after we returned to the US, and his little heart broke when he saw her face. But this kid is so amazing, he’s bright and energetic and he’s just fit so easily into our lives that I don’t think we really remember life without him. He starts each day with a giant smile, and waves hello and blows kisses and giggles…he has so much joy in his little heart and he spreads it to everyone he interacts with. We are so lucky that we get to call him our son, and hearing him call us “mama” and “dada”…that makes our hearts skip a beat. Every time.
Roman with his foster mom: