After enduring a maze of red tape and unexpected delays, the Maddex family is complete.
Zeke Danila Maddex, 4, is finally home in Monroe.
The Maddexes were featured in February for their plans to adopt a young boy with Down syndrome from a Ukrainian orphanage. Laurie and Bryan had seen pictures of 4-year-old Danila on an adoption website and fallen in love with him, feeling he belonged with them and their three sons, 6-year-old Ian, 2-year-old Gavin and 4-year-old Chase.
Chase and Danila have Down syndrome.
When Chase was born with Down syndrome, Laurie and Bryan Maddex learned all they could about his diagnosis. They also learned that in some countries, children with Down syndrome are sent to orphanages until they turn 5; they then are moved to asylums for the rest of their lives.
The family learned from the website that Danila was born just five days before Chase.
The decision to adopt launched a bureaucratic process here and abroad that took months. There were FBI background checks, training, home visits, stacks of applications, medical checkups, letters of recommendation, official document requests and more.
In June, the Maddexes' completed dossier arrived in Ukraine. In July, they learned an appointment had been scheduled for Aug. 8 with Ukraine's state department on adoption and children's rights.
With family members taking care of their children in Monroe, Brian and Laurie flew to Ukraine on Aug. 4, expecting to return with their new son soon after the Aug. 26 court date.
I emailed Laurie in September to see how things were going. I hoped to learn how Danila was adapting to life in Monroe. I couldn't access her blog, www.AddingtotheMaddness.blogspot.com.
I was surprised by her Sept. 18 response:
"We are still stuck in Ukraine!" she wrote. "The judge denied our petition to adopt Danila due to a technicality. ... We have been waiting for an appeal date FOREVER. ... We hope to be in court again this week, and home next week. All international adoptions for children under 5 in Ukraine are hinging on our appeal. Crazy!"
She also explained she'd made her blog private "so that no officials could Google us during the process."
The blog is now open to the public again, revealing the difficulties she and Bryan faced: New adoption laws prohibit international adoptions for children younger than 5 unless they have one of the special needs noted on an official list, which includes Down syndrome.
Laurie wrote in her blog that "Danila is listed as having Mosaic Down syndrome. ... The judge decided that since the special needs list didn't specifically say 'Mosaic Down syndrome' that it means (Danila's) Down syndrome doesn't count."
Danila "doesn't have enough Down syndrome to deserve a home. ... Is that not the most freaking nonsensical, ridiculous reason that you have ever heard of?" she wrote.
"I guess it also needs to be noted here that we are the first adoption case of a child under 5 with special needs since these new laws have taken effect," she continued. "Always the trailblazers."
It took a month to get an appeal date. Reflecting on it now, Laurie says, "The most difficult part of it was we didn't even have a timeline. Had we known it would take a month, we would have come home" to spend a few weeks with Ian, Chase and Gavin before returning to Ukraine to complete the adoption.
Instead, they were told that the appeal would be in a few days. And then a few more days. And again, a few more.
"We waited and prayed and hoped that the next step would come soon," she says.
Their first appeals appointment was Sept. 20. A week later, the appeals court approved the adoption and they began fulfilling all the requirements: passport, visa and medical exam for Danila.
They returned home Oct. 5.
Asked how her new son, now officially Zeke Danila Maddex, is adapting, Laurie says he's doing well, and so is the whole family.
"We're all getting used to the new normal. ... It's been an easy transition."
Now called "Zeke," he and his brother Chase are classmates at Waxhaw Elementary School in a special-needs program. Zeke is learning some sign language "and he's just absorbing English incredibly fast," Laurie says.
He enjoyed his first Halloween trick-or-treating with his new brothers - all dressed as soccer players.
He said "thank you" for the candy he received, instead of the Russian word "spasiba."
But it wouldn't be surprising if they said at least one "spasiba" Nov. 24, for Zeke's first Thanksgiving.