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Family looking forward to first Christmas since adopting two children from Zaporozhye, Ukraine

December 26, 2006, 0:00 3551 Author: Emily Taravella The Daily Sentinel

Christmas will be twice as much fun this year for Shawn and Rachelle Coughlin of Jacksonville — since the number of children in their household has doubled with the adoption of two children from Ukraine.

The Coughlins have two biological children, and although they were able to have more, they chose to adopt.

Shawn said he has always wanted to adopt children. Growing up, his home was the kind of place where friends were always welcome. Shawn is the son of Pat and Linda Coughlin of Nacogdoches.

"My parents even took in several children who had been turned out by their families," he said. "Rachelle did take some convincing, especially about adopting two children at one time."

Shawn said he and Rachelle are often asked why they adopted. Their answer? "Because we could."

"It sounds like a flippant answer, but to us it was a simple decision," he said. "We had the desire for more children. We are not rich, but we could find the money to adopt, and we knew that there were children in Ukraine who needed a mother and father. But most of all, when it came down to it, we believed that adoption was something God wanted us to do."

The Coughlins chose to adopt from Ukraine for several reasons. Having two biological children, they wanted their adopted children to look somewhat the same.

"Russia and Ukraine were really the only two possibilities we considered," Shawn said. "Because Russia was twice the price for adopting two children, we chose Ukraine. But all through the process, we really felt Ukraine was where we should be adopting from."

The couple started the process in September of 2004, and got home with the children on Jan. 8.

"There is a very lengthy process of paperwork to be completed, including background checks, medical exams for the parents and INS paperwork, just to mention a few," he said. "All of this is paperwork is called a dossier, and must go to Ukraine to be translated and then formally submitted to the adoption authorities in Ukraine. At that time, the National Adoption Center, which is located in the capital city of Kyiv, was in charge of adoptions in Ukraine. Our dossier was submitted to the NAC in August of 2005. After the paperwork was received, we were given a registration number, and then began the process of waiting for an appointment with the NAC to search for children."

Most international adoptions are done with what are called "referrals," Shawn said.

"That means that once you are registered, you are matched with a child who fits your criteria stated in your paperwork," he said. "With a referral, you would receive information and photos of the child before you travel to the country."

Ukraine works on a different system.

"In Ukraine, you give them the ages and sex of the children you would like to adopt, and when you get to the NAC, they show you the available children who best meet that criteria," Shawn said. "What that means, is you are guaranteed absolutely nothing when you make your trip. We specified we wanted a sibling group of two girls between the ages of 2-6; and we ended up adopting a 3-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl."

At the time of the Coughlins' trip, the adoption community was saying that there were no healthy children under the age of 10 who were available for adoption, Shawn said.

"Some of the parents we talked to had gone through all of the paperwork and made a trip to Ukraine just to find out that they had no children that met their criteria," he said. "If they were unwilling to adjust their criteria, that meant they went home without a child. We were very blessed, in that our children were the only set of siblings we were shown and both the children were healthy."

The Coughlins children were located in the city of Zaporizhya which is about a two-hour plane ride (or a 12-hour train ride) from Kyiv.

"We took a plane and arrived in Zaporizhya on a Friday night," Shawn said. "We met the kids on Saturday and immediately knew these were the children we had traveled all this way to find. Then, we began a paperwork process to formally apply for adoption of Casey and Valerie."

This took about two weeks and ended with a court hearing where the Coughlins were proclaimed Casey's and Valerie's new parents.

After that, there was a mandatory 10-day waiting period before they could get the kids passports and new birth certificates.

"Then it was back to Kyiv, a few days of more paperwork, and back home to Texas!" Shawn said. "All told we spent about 33 days in Ukraine." The children had to adjust to a new language, but Shawn said he and Rachelle had taken Russian lessons so they could communicate some.

"It actually took about three to four months for Valerie and Casey to completely switch to English," Shawn said. "They never spoke Russian after that time. There was also an adjustment for having more rules and being disciplined. That was the hardest for Casey, because he is so stubborn.

Casey and Valerie had never had anything of their own, so they tended to hide toys so the other boys would not find them. "

Both children are very affectionate and want to constantly be hugged and kissed, Shawn said. They really need to know they are loved.

"The children have the same mother but different fathers," he said. "They were abandoned at the ages of 2 and 3, respectively. They were found on a park bench by the police. They had been in the orphanage about 15 months when we met them. During this time, they did not see each other, because they were in different orphanages."

At age 7, Conner is the oldest Coughlin child and "the leader of the kids," Shawn said. He is in the second grade and plays soccer.

Valerie is 5, and she is "much like a little dictator," Shawn said. "She thinks she has to tell everyone what to do, and she may well become a teacher," he said. "She is in kindergarten and also plays soccer."

Casey is 4 and is "very smart and very stubborn," Shawn said. "He is independent and would rather be playing with puzzles or Legos than watching TV."

Casey has only been speaking English for about seven months, but he is already starting to read.

"Casey is 12 days older than Cooper, so they will enjoy each other's company for a long time," Shawn said. "Cooper is our wild child, and he is 100-percent boy. He is the most likely to climb, destroy, or break, but he usually knows when to stop."

Casey and Cooper both attend pre-school, and both play soccer. In fact, Valerie, Casey and Cooper all play on the same soccer team coached by ... you guessed it, Shawn.

"The children really play well together and are typical kids," Shawn said. "There is the usual 'He hit me' or 'He called me stupid,' but all in all, the kids get along well."

Shawn said he and Rachelle met many wonderful children in Ukraine who need homes.

"I think most people are scared of international adoption, because of the stories they have heard or may have seen on TV," he said. "The orphanages we saw were very clean and the children were well taken care of. There is a good child-to-caretaker ratio, and the workers seem to really love the children. The day we took Casey and Valerie from their orphanages, their teachers cried and made us promise to write and send pictures."

Shawn said everything is new to Casey and Valerie.

"From birthdays, to simple things like dogs and cats; the joy on their faces just makes you smile," he said. "Halloween was a big thrill, and Christmas has been great. When we decorated the tree and turned on the lights, Casey and Valerie were beside themselves with joy."

One recent Sunday all of the children participated in their church Christmas program, Shawn said.

"Last year Rachelle and I were in Ukraine, and we missed seeing Cooper and Conner in this program," he said. "To see all of the kids singing on stage, and to think that this time last year Casey and Valerie could not even speak English ... The program was on Dec. 10, which was the same day that we met Casey and Valerie last year."

Casey and Valerie said they love having a family, and they enjoy their new beds and toys. They also say they miss Ukraine, and they sometimes talk about when they are going to visit Ukraine again.

"They like to look at the pictures from our trip to Ukraine," Shawn said. "Conner and Cooper say they are happy to have Casey and Valerie as siblings, and they enjoy always having other children around to play with."

Conner said he is glad he is still the oldest child.

"The people of Ukraine are wonderful," Shawn said. "The food was great and the cost of things were very affordable; must less than in the U.S. We were given a facilitator who translated for us, stayed with us, and basically acted as a lawyer on our behalf. He became a good friend, and we still exchange e-mails on a regular basis."

Casey's given name was "Kyril Maximovich Kendeev," and Valerie's given name was "Valentina Maximinova Kendeeva."

Shawn said he wrote this entry in he and Rachelle's adoption blog for Dec.

10, 2005:

We got the call Nov. 31 that we were traveling to Ukraine on Dec. 5. We wondered why we had to travel so soon and why we were being rushed after waiting so long for our paperwork. Not to mention that we were going to miss having Christmas with Conner and Cooper.

Well, today we met the two reasons why were in Ukraine and why we went through all the hard work to get to this point.

God has been so good to us and we didn't even realize that this was his plan all along. The most amazing part of meeting the children is that on Dec. 2, a couple from the U.S. visited these children and decided not to adopt them.

The doctor at Kyril's orphanage said that the man indicated he could not bond with Kyril and that they were going back to the U.S. without a child.

This was the first couple to visit these children, because they had just become available for adoption. Conner and I have prayed every night for a year that God would protect our children in Ukraine, that He would keep them safe, and that He would choose the children that he wanted for our family.

Well, prayer answered!!!

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