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The Bottorff family relaxes in their living room on a weekday evening. Mom, Alicia, helps daughter Inna, 4, draw on a marker board while dad, Todd, feeds a bottle to 2-month-old Brody. While the couple was in Ukraine working to adopt Inna, they learned that, after three years of infertility, Alicia was pregnant.
After a painful, three-year struggle with infertility, Todd and Alicia Bottorff began to consider adoption.
A photo they saw online of a Ukranian boy captured their hearts, and after much prayer, the Shawnee couple was confident they wanted to move forward with adopting the boy they called Sam.
The Bottorffs started the paperwork and planning jewelry and garage sales to chip away at the $30,000 they expected they’d need to bring the child home.
Sam, it turned out, would not become theirs. But the past year-and-a-half journey finds the Bottorffs in a situation that’s better than they even dreamed.
Todd, a risk manager at Huhtamaki in De Soto, and Alicia, a fourth-grade teacher, met on Match.com and were married within eight months. They celebrated their five-year anniversary last year.
It was late 2010 when they started a blog, littlebottorff.blogspot.com, and announced to friends they were going to be parents.
“We had both been praying for this little boy for several months without talking to each other,” Alicia said. When the couple finally discussed the topic, Alicia told Todd, “I just can’t get that little boy’s picture out of my mind.”
Out of many children’s photos online, Sam’s face drew the couple to Ukraine, where children resembled Alicia, who has Polish heritage, and Todd, whose ancestors were Russian.
“We wanted a child to look like us if possible,” Alicia said. “Just to help with the adjustment.”
They’d agreed they’d be willing to adopt a child with correctable special needs. Sam, 3, was OK other than hip dysplasia he’d need surgery to correct.
Or so they thought.
Photo by Sara Shepherd
Inna Bottorff, 4, plays on the living room floor of her parents' west Shawnee home.
Within months, the Bottorffs learned that Sam also had severe mental disabilities. They aren’t sure whether the orphanage knew and chose to downplay his condition, or whether they had gone undiagnosed until he was older. Alicia said she felt “stupid” and heartbroken. But they knew Sam wouldn’t be the right child for them.
“We were not going to adopt a child we couldn’t take care of,” Alicia said.
Their agency suggested another little boy, and the Bottorffs began the process to adopt Roman. The adoption was nearly lined up when they discovered Roman had already been adopted by a couple from Texas.
Frustrated with the process and lack of communication, Alicia felt like she’d been lied to. She was ready to give up on adoption.
Photo by Sara Shepherd
Todd Bottorff feeds a bottle to his 2-month-old son, Brody. Brody, born with a cleft lip and palate, wears tape to help stretch the skin to prepare for the surgery he'll have to repair his lip when he's about 6 months old.
In April 2011, the Bottorffs were on a plane to Ukraine. They’d decided to “go blind” — traveling in person to orphanages in hopes of finding their child.
A caseworker introduced them to several children. One little boy they visited twice was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Another little boy was promising but wouldn’t be available for months. A little girl, who was deaf, was already being pursued by a deaf couple.
“We were really starting to be worried that we’d come home without a child,” Todd said.
Then the Bottorffs’ caseworker told them about another little girl.
In her three and a half years, nobody had visited Inna.
That is, except one couple, who was looking for a “healthy” child and became upset when their caseworker showed them one with a cleft palate. The couple “raised a stink,” as Alicia puts it, which is how the Bottorffs’ caseworker got wind of Inna.
She hadn’t been on their list before — in Ukraine, children with the defect fall into the “healthy” category. Recall, the Bottorff’s paperwork specified “correctable defects.” The caseworker pushed the system for a meeting.
The Bottorffs, disappointed so many times before, approached the meeting cautiously.
“The day we saw her, she was in a little blue dress, with pigtails with giant white bows in her hair,” Alicia said. “I was scared to death, so I didn’t want to get attached, didn’t want to fall in love with her.”
Todd knew right away.
“When they set her on my lap, I was ready to go,” he said.
Days before their final court hearing to adopt Inna, Alicia hadn’t been feeling well. She’d been up all night, sick.
The cause of her mysterious illness came as a shock — Alicia was pregnant, six weeks along.
The Bottorffs, who had been in Ukraine for more than a month, came home for the 10-day waiting period between the court’s approval and when they’d take Inna home.
Alicia was too sick to go back to Ukraine. The couple decided their 11-year-old nephew would in her stead, and on June 9, he and Todd brought Inna home to Shawnee.
Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Alicia and Todd learned that their own baby — a boy — also had a cleft palate, like Inna. The condition is genetic, said Alicia, who herself was born with a cleft lip that was repaired.
“We knew why God waited so long,” Alicia said. “Now, we know that they have a bond.”
Brody was born Jan. 14.
Brody will have surgery to repair his lip in June and another to repair his palate when he’s a year old. Hopefully, his parents said, he won’t have any speech problems. Inna, on the other hand, has a longer road. Her lip was repaired in Ukraine, but she only recently had surgery to repair her palate. Because it was cleft in two places, and because she was so much older when it was repaired, she’ll likely need several more surgeries.
Inna has picked up English but has trouble forming words. What her parents don’t understand, they try to communicate with sign language. Her mother said one sign language video about feelings was especially useful when Inna’s baby brother was born.
“He really rocked her world when he came,” Alicia said.
Alicia and Todd said they fielded a number of criticisms, some cruel, throughout their adoption process. They had people question why they weren’t adopting domestically. Someone even criticized them for seeking a child from Ukraine because that part of the world used to be communist.
They encouraged other parents considering adoption to determine for themselves what’s in their “comfort zone” and not to be ashamed about what they decide.
“Not everybody is meant to adopt,” Alicia said. “You have to really be open to it.”
For the Bottorffs, they sometimes find their own situation hard to believe — two children, when, at times, they thought they’d never have one.
“We love being parents,” Alicia said. “We can’t wait to go to Disneyland with them.”
Photo by Sara Shepherd
Todd and Alicia Bottorff adopted 4-year-old Inna from Ukraine, bringing her home to Shawnee in June. While the couple was in Ukraine working through the adoption process, they learned that Alicia was pregnant. Brody was born in January.