The language barrier
Bill Belz was reading a magazine article about a woman who adopted a child from Poland.
Belz , a retired Miami firefighter, is of Eastern European descent, so the thought of adopting an older child from Poland was particularly appealing.
I casually left the magazine on the side of our bed to see if maybe my wife would notice it that night, said Belz, 49. When I came to find her later, she was already looking online for the adoption agency mentioned in the story.
An agency found a 7-year-old girl named Angelika. She had a 6-year-old sister named Asha. They both lived in a foster home in Jelenia Gora, a town in southwest Poland. Separating the two was not an option.
We started off expecting one child and then our parameters expanded, said Jennifer Belz, 54, a freelance court reporter.
It took a year and a half and more than $25,000 to bring the two short-haired girls in plaid dresses to their Miami home. They were 6 and 7 when they arrived on Aug. 3, 2003. The family moved to Key Largo five years later.
The girls initially struggled with learning English. Hand gestures and Belzs basic Polish skills were the norm for the first months. TV also helped them learn the language.
Today, the girls attend Coral Shores High School in Tavernier. They have a hard time remembering their Polish and like most teens, go out with friends and find little time to clean their rooms, says their mom Jennifer.
There is no doubt in my mind that these girls are my daughters, she said. It doesnt matter how they came to be, we wouldve found each other one way or another.
He called me mama
Susan Westfall found her son on a video at a Miami adoption agency.
The 3-year-old was laughing while riding a tricycle in Russia.
I felt such a strong, emotional connection to him, said Westfall, 58, a playwright, who later wrote about her experience in a play, The Boy from Russia.
She and her husband, Alan Fein, an attorney, traveled to a Russian orphanage in Smolensk, a port city on the Dnieper River about 250 miles west of Moscow. Their 7-year-old biological son, Jake, and an attorney journeyed with them. They found the toddler his name was Vladimir Nicolayevich Petrokov and renamed him Peter.
It took them four months and thousands of dollars to move their son to their Key Biscayne home on Feb. 23, 2000.
His diet in Russia plain soup and potatoes made dinnertime a challenge.
It was awhile before he could adjust to eating anything with flavor, said Westfall. Even things like macaroni and cheese took him a long time.
Today, Peter is 16 and a freshman at MAST Academy. He wants to be a marine biologist.
My friends at school sometimes ask me if I remember my Russian, Peter said. Ive forgotten a lot of it but it comes back to me sometimes.
Westfall still remembers the first day she met him. With confidence, the blond boy walked up to her, crawled onto her lap and gave her a hug.
He called me mama, she said. It was as if he already knew who we were. He knew we were taking him home.
Just seemed right
Candace Brown knew she always wanted children. But when she, a Chicago native, and her husband Luis Amato, a Uruguayan, couldnt get pregnant, they decided to search for a child.