Julie Roberts and her husband, Jack, had been through everything, from miscarriages to a diagnosis of unexplainable infertility. All they wanted was to have a child to raise and love.
Three years later, Jack and Julie Roberts will spend this holiday watching their two children, Jack and Jory, tearing apart wrapping paper before playing with boxes, enjoying their first Christmas together.
For 20-month-old Roman Lins, it will be the first Christmas in America with parents who feel destined to have him as their son. For his parents, Andrew and Gaye Nail Lins, it's the first Christmas home, surrounded by family, celebrating the completion of their family.
Both families chose to adopt infants internationally with the help of agencies; both families feel their children were meant to come home with them.
Julie Roberts said she and her husband had started the adoption process while living in Texas but stopped when he was relocated to Fairfax County as part of the Air Force Reserves.
"The process in Texas just didn't feel comfortable," she said. "When we went to an information session with ASIA (Adoption Service Information Agency, of Maryland), we knew they were the group we wanted to work with."
FROM THE TIME the Julie and Jack Roberts started their initial paper work, through their home study and background checks, it took five months until they received a photo of a small boy with dark hair and eyes that would become their son, Jack.
The couple only had to make one trip to Korea to meet their son with his foster mother before they brought him home, she said.
"I've never been on such a long plane ride as the one going over there," Julie Roberts said. "The ride home with him went so much faster."
The hardest week in the process was the one between receiving their first photo of Jack and their arrival in Korea, Julie Roberts said. Waiting for paperwork to be processed, having medical exams and finding friends and family members willing to be references was nothing compared to the waiting.
Shortly after Jack came home, Julie Roberts said she and her husband began talking about adopting another child. This time, because most of their paperwork had been so recently completed, the process was much faster. Their daughter, Jory, also from Korea, came home with her mom, dad and brother in July.
"Things went so fast the second time that before we got our approval paper, we'd been matched up with her," Julie Roberts said.
Her two children have very different personalities, she said. "With Jack, he was such an easy baby, I was able to telecommute full time. He just wanted to hang out with me," she said.
THIS CHRISTMAS, the Roberts will celebrate at home with their children, now 2 1/2 years old and 10 months old, respectively. There won't be a mass of family members filling their home, just the noisy laughter of happy babies.
Over at Gaye and Andrew Lins' home, the story will be just the opposite, with family and friends coming from across the country to share the holiday with their 20-month-old son, Roman, who was adopted from Russia in April.
Their adoption process began in August 2005, when they made the decision to adopt after being unable to conceive naturally.
"My father grew up in an orphanage in Oklahoma and was never adopted," Gaye Lins said. "For me, I always thought about adopting and wanted to give a child a home."
After researching adoption programs and agencies, the couple decided on a group from Kaliningrad, Russia, a small city on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. The agency they used was not accredited due to a rash of rumors about the poor treatment of children in the country, but their social worker from Russia helped them get started.
"They were holding our hands but we did a lot on our own," she said.
Their adoption paperwork was hand-delivered in August 2005, and they received a referral letter this past March, telling them they'd been approved and containing a photo of a blond boy with bright blue eyes.
"When I saw that picture, we fell in love with him right away," Gaye Lins said. "I knew he was my child."
Roman was about a year old when his soon-to-be parents met him. April will be a busy month for their family, as they celebrate his birthday, the day they met him and the day his adoption was finalized.
"He's so amazing, he's completely changed our lives for the better," Gaye Lins said.
Her son is beginning to speak a little and she thinks he understands who Santa is, which should provide for an exciting Christmas, she said.
When asked if she and her husband were considering adopting again, Gaye Lins said Roman may be the only child they need.
"We waited for a child for so long ... we feel he is our child," she said.
ACCORDING TO the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), a total of 114,000 children were awaiting adoption in the U.S. as of Sept. 30, 2005. Of that, 51,000 children and young teenagers were adopted with the help of agencies during the same time.
Dan Petruso helped the Andrew and Gaye Lins find their son and adopt him, one of the 35 adoptions that are completed annually through his agency, SFI Adoption Services, LLC, a Winchester-based agency.
Over the past 10 years, SFI has placed more than 350 children with families, said Petruso, who got his start in the adoption process by studying children with reactive attachment disorder.
"Those children have difficulty attaching to their parents or may develop emotional difficulties later," Petruso said. "Out of the more than 300 kids we've found homes for, I've only see about four cases."
Petruso said parents often tell him the end result, bringing their child home, makes all the paperwork worthwhile.
"For international adoptions, we have to do a home study, there needs to be medical documentation from the other country. The paperwork can be daunting," he said.
Most adoptions take nine months to process, Petruso said, a fitting time length that mirrors a typical pregnancy.
After hundreds of adoptions and helping families become whole, Petruso said he feels like the grandfather of every child that comes through his agency.
"When I can match up a child in foster care or in an orphanage with a family looking to adopt, that's a happy day for all of us," he said.
BOTH JULIE ROBERTS and Gaye Lins said they hope to share their children's native culture with them as they get older, with Gaye Lins adding that she is considering taking Russian language lessons when Roman's older. Roberts said she and her husband plan to travel to Korea when their children are old enough to understand and appreciate the country.
The two women agreed that adopting a child was the best decision they've made in their lives.
" I get so many comments from strangers and others about how my kids are lucky," Julie Roberts said in an e-mail. "The truth is my husband and I are the lucky ones. All the paperwork and being under a microscope stuff is nothing when the end result is that we get to parent these children who are so amazing and we are the ones who are so lucky."
She added that there's a bittersweet feeling when she thinks about Jack and Jory's birth mothers, who made the decision to give them up. She's grateful for their decision but feels sad they won't get to see their babies grow up.
As his son played noisily on the living room floor with a wooden train set, Andrew Lins said life with Roman has been nothing short of wonderful.
"He completes us, I think," Andrew Lins said. "This is what we wanted."
Despite a stressful trans-Atlantic flight home with an ear infection, Roman's been a happy, energetic boy, prompting Andrew Lins to envision himself and his son playing sports when Roman's a little older.
"Oh, I've got plans," he laughed. "Boy Scouts, soccer coach, baseball, everything. I've been waiting for this."
Andrew Lins agreed with his wife that the mountain of paperwork and scrutiny of background screenings were worth the hassle to bring his son home.
"You forget all the pain you went through once you get him," he said. "But it was very strange, going from nothing to having a 12-month-old."