THE INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF MY MAMA, LAURA LEONE
My mother was born to be a mum. Growing up she aspired to raise a big family and by 28 she had birthed six children. When I was seven, my younger sister Isabella died in a tragic accident. To watch my mother bury her child was beyond heartbreaking, and obviously this had a profound affect on us all, shaping how we grew up and who we have become. For my mum, I think this was the catalyst for her to (years later) decide to foster babies. There are so many chapters to my mum’s motherhood journey. I’ve always told her I would write her book and share her story. She really is my ultimate "mumspiration" and being Mother's Day, I wanted to share one of these chapters - her struggle to adopt Angel*, a little three year old girl from Kazakstan. (*I have changed her name for privacy.)
15 years after Isabella passed, my mother lost her second daughter Zara. Mum was already a Foster Carer and after Zara’s passing decided to adopt a child in her memory. My Aunt lives in the US and passed on an American agency that worked with orphanages in Kazakstan and Russia.
When the agency asked the criteria of what our family was looking for, mum said she wanted the child most in need of finding a home. So the journey began to adopt a three year old girl, who because of her profound shyness, was deemed mentally unbalanced. If she didn’t find a home by the time she was 5 she would be moved to a mental institution (with adults).
Adoption into Australia is reknowned for being near impossible at best, but my mum and Aunt were assured by the agency that although they weren’t going through DOCs, once the adoption was finalized in Kazakstan, they would be able to obtain a visa for her from the Australian embassy in Russia.
After three months of paperwork and preparation, my mum and dad went to Kazakstan for a month to bond with Angel and process the adoption. When they arrived at the orphanage, Angel was brought into the room and told “this is your mama & papa”. She was incredibly shy, but after a few minutes went up to hug her mama. For three weeks, Mum and Dad spent every day at the orphanage bonding with their new daughter. Mum said the orphanage was heartbreaking, so run down, wall to wall with cots and babies. She wanted to help more.
The fourth week was spent at court finalising the adoption and getting Angel's new birth certificate with our family name. She was officially part of our family.
My parents were advised to go to the Australian Embassy in Seoul to get Angel a visa as they were stopping over in Korea on the flight home. Within a minute of being taken into a room in the Immigration Office they were told they couldn’t bring her into Australia. Mum asked her where she was meant to go and the Officer told her she didn't care where she took her, as long as it wasn't Australia.
Mum informed the adoption agency and told them she had to return to Kazakstan with Angel the next day. Dad flew home as my younger siblings were being looked after by my older sister. Angel came down with a high fever and chicken pox overnight in the hotel. Mum felt totally alone and was crying in the hotel room as the sick little girl kissed her legs saying “mama, mama..”
Immigration back in Almaty was tough, but eventually they allowed Angel to be taken by the adoption agency back into the country. Mum needed to get back to her kids after being away for a month so she made the heartbreaking decision to hand her back and fight for her when she got back to Australia. In retrospect, mum said she should have flown to the US with her, but instead she paid for her to live with one of the lovely adoption agency workers to ensure she didn't go back to the orphanage. It broke her heart to hand her back- Angel was so confused and was trying to run back to her. It was very traumatic for everyone.
Back at home, mum sought legal advise and started lobbying the government to grant a visa for Angel. After about three months, she knew she needed to get Angel out of Kazakstan, and thankfully my Auntie in the US agreed to take her in until an Australian visa was granted. The adoption agency had to wait for an American couple who were adopting another child to come to Kazakstan to send her to America with her.
After 9 months of “what felt like being treated like a criminal for trying to save a child,” the Australian Immigration Minister gave approval to grant Angel a Visa, as long as DOCS were on board. Considering she is an approved DOCS Foster Carer, you would think this would be smooth sailing, right? Not so.
After the whole family was interviewed and assessed by Catholic Care, it was decided that we could not adopt Angel because they felt we “adopted out of grief”.
My parents had to go through the court process of relinquishing Angel as parents and although they were heartbroken, they had some peace knowing that they saved her from the orphanage. Obviously, this situation was also extremely challenging for my Aunt, who was left to find Angel a family in the US. She found her a wonderful family not far from where she lives.
Angel is now an extremely intelligent, happy 17 year old. She knows the story of how she found her family and sends letters to my mum, thanking her for giving her her life.
Despite how the adoption panned out, my mum has no regrets. “I gave her a life- even though it wasn’t with our family.- she is loved and is happy.”
Since then, mum has fostered 5 children long term- each of them pretty much since birth. My brothers and sisters are now 5, 6, 10, 11 & 14 years of age.
Me and my mama, May 2016