Family's Adoption Efforts Stretch 5 Years

The bedroom decorated for Aidan includes flags and other decorations from his native country.

Most days, the door is shut.

A little boy named Aidan should be in that room at the top of the stairs. He should be in school by now, learning how to read. He should be playing with his younger sisters. He should be listening to his parents read him bedtime stories each night.

Instead, he is stuck in an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan, the victim of a more than five-year adoption process filled with anxiety, hopefulness and disappointment.

If he does arrive to his new home in Throop, he will be too big for the crib his parents readied for him five years ago. The baby boy clothes on the hangers in the closet are five years too small.

The door is shut because what is not inside is too much to take.

"Every time you walk by the room, it's a reminder what it isn't, what it could have been and what it will hopefully be," said his mother, Gabrielle Shimkus. "It's heartbreaking."

But there is new hope.

After two suspensions on international adoptions, the country in central Asia is once again in the process of allowing adoptions to resume. Shimukus and her husband, Frank, hope their son will be home to celebrate his sixth birthday in June.

"There's nothing in this world we wouldn't do for him," she said. "We will fight for him as long as it takes."


When the Shimkuses married in 2008, they knew they wanted to have both biological and adopted children. Both had worked as journalists for WYOU-TV and became familiar with adoptions through the stories they reported.

They had only been married for a few months when their adoption agency sent them a photo of a frail, month-and-a-half-old boy with a severe cleft lip and palate.

He was abandoned by his mother in a hospital. His name was Azamat.

The Shimkuses had not thought about adopting a child with special needs, but something in the photo grabbed them. They asked for a medical report and received one handwritten in Russian.

The night they received it, they drove to St. Tikhon's Monastery in Wayne County and found a Russian monk who translated it for them. They held hands and looked into each other's eyes. They were ready to provide Azamat with the medical attention he needed. He already held their hearts.


The Shimkuses started to prepare their home for the little boy they would call Aidan. They painted the nursery green and decorated the crib with zoo animals.

Soon, they embarked on a 24-hour flight to Aidan's orphanage in the former Soviet Republic.

They spent 11 days with the infant in November 2008, bonding with him and dreaming of the life they could provide for him in the U.S. When they met him at 4 months old, he weighed about 5 pounds.

On his crib in the orphanage, they placed the same mobile that had put on the crib in Throop. That way, he would see something familiar when he came home. All that was left was a court date, and the Shimkuses returned home and waited.

"We said, 'Goodbye, see you in 30 days,'" Gabrielle Shimkus said.

Soon, the Shimkuses expected something was wrong. Thirty days passed, and then 60. Their court date had never been set, and all adoptions were shut down amid allegations of corruption in Kyrgyzstan.

"We knew it was bad, but we never thought it would be years," Shimkus said.


For the next three years, the Shimkuses waited.

They shipped "hundreds of pounds" of formula to his orphanage and found a medical group that performed surgery on Aidan's cleft lip and palate.

The Shimkuses had two biological daughters through in vitro fertilization, and Emerson, now 4, and Greyson, now 3, have never met their older brother.

Framed photos of Aidan hang on the family room walls. Emerson held a photo of Aidan on a recent day.

"My brother," she said.

His smiling face is on each year's Christmas greeting and his name is signed on each birthday card. There is not any event, as big as a holiday or as small as watching his daughters on their swingset, that Frank Shimkus does not think about what life would be like with Aidan.

Even the dining room is a reminder. The table is covered in paperwork - stacks of home studies, applications and travel documents. The family reached out to the U.S. Department of State, elected officials - even those in Kyrgyzstan - to try to bring their boy home. They found emotional support from families in the same situation. The parents called themselves the "Kyrgyz 65" for the 65 children who had been matched with families but were stuck waiting in orphanages.

The Shimkuses estimate they have spent $60,000 in the process, including losing $25,000 when the adoption agency they were using claimed bankruptcy.

In 2011, seeking a career that could help herself deal with the stress of the adoption process and make a difference in the lives of others, Gabrielle Shimkus, 33, went back to school. She is now a Lourdesmont therapist who works at Scranton High School.

"A hundred Grandmas" at Trinity Congregational Church continue to wait for Aidan's arrival. Frank Shimkus, 62, a former state representative, is co-pastor at the church.

With all of the money and heartache, a few people have asked why the couple does not give up and try to adopt a different child.

"This is not like taking something back to Target," Frank Shimkus said. "This is our son."


In April 2012, the Shimkuses thought life with Aidan was near.

Adoptions had finally resumed and the couple flew to Kyrgyzstan. The Shimkuses spent three weeks bonding with the boy who only knows himself as Azamat. They will now call him that until he tells them differently.

They left him with photo albums of his family and the place they thought he would soon call home. He understands Russian but cannot speak it. A hole at the top of his mouth prevents proper suction for speaking and will need to be repaired in surgery.

Again, the Shimkuses were told they could return 30 days later. And again, the country suspended adoptions.

"It was devastating," Gabrielle Shimkus said.

They turned to the families of the "Kyrgyz 65." Since the first adoption suspension, two children had died, 20 were suddenly adopted domestically, and 12 were able to get out during the short window in 2012. The rest, like Aidan, are waiting.

When the Shimkuses tuck Emerson and Greyson in for bed, they do not forget their brother.

"When the sun goes down, it goes to Azamat," Emerson says each night.


In January, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Social Development announced its final regulations for authorization of adoption service providers. If all goes as finally planned, Azamat could be home before he turns 6 in June.

"I know nothing will be a guarantee until that plane takes off," Gabrielle Shimkus said.

When the Shimkuses learned the latest moratorium had been lifted, they decided to start an online fundraising campaign to help with expenses. Within 10 minutes of starting the site, they had raised $275. They have now raised more than $2,300.

"We are so grateful," Gabrielle Shimkus said. "It's very humbling. It makes it real. We've been waiting so long."

They will replace the crib with a child's bed. The mobile is already put away.

A suit for Azamat's court date hangs in the closet.

"He's not here. He's waiting for us," Shimkus said. "As hard as it is for us, it's 10 times harder for him. Every child deserves a family."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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