Starting a family was something Mark and Lisa Slonim of Cornelius had always planned.
They were married in 2002 and were excited to start the next chapter in their lives. But when a traditional pregnancy did not work out, they discussed adoption.
At first it was a casual conversation. They decided to attend the 2005 Southern Piedmont Adoptive Families of America (SPAFA) Adoption Expo. SPAFA offers resources and support during the adoption process.
After spending the entire day at the expo, the Slonims decided to pursue adoption.
They initially filed paperwork for an adoption from China, but the timeline became much longer than expected. Through their home study provider, they learned of a little boy in Russia who changed their plans. In March 2007, they completed new paperwork and traveled to Russia to meet Bennett, who was 2 1/2.
Russian adoption laws require two separate trips for adoptions. In June 2007, the Slonims returned for three-and-a-half weeks. They were able to see Bennett about three times during their stay.
Finally, they were about to become a family. They returned to the U.S. after the adoption was finalized, and Bennett became a U.S. citizen July 4. Although he spoke only Russian, he adapted and learned English quickly. He was like a sponge, absorbing everything.
"He didn't come with an instruction book," Lisa recalls with a smile.
SPAFA was integral in helping the Slonims learn about attachment and bonding. They stayed close to home and did not have other caretakers for Bennett for the first few months.
The Slonims had always planned on two children, but there was still a wait for an infant from China, even though they had filled out paperwork in 2006. The Slonims decided that an older child was now a better fit for their family. They heard about April and fell in love.
She was 6 months older than Bennett, 5. The laws in China allowed them to send April care packages, pictures and letters, as well as receive them in return.
The Slonims traveled to China in October to meet Bennett's future big sister. April was able to stay with the family for most of the three-week trip.
At the end of October, the happy family returned to the U.S. April spoke fluent Chinese, she has learned English quickly and will start kindergarten with her brother this fall.
The Slonims are open with their children about their background. The kids both know where their "baby homes" are, and they love learning about their cultures. It is important to the Slonims that their children are proud of their heritage.
Bennett and April are brother and sister as well as best friends, their parents said: April learns so much from her brother.
"I like to play ball," said April.
"I like to play outside," said Bennett.
The Slonims have two amazing children and could not be happier, they said. Although the process was stressful at times, they received tremendous support from friends, family and co-workers.
The Slonim's advice to other couples considering adoption is to educate themselves on which adoption path is best for each family. SPAFA.org provides valuable education and support.
"It is a tremendous way to build a family," said Mark.