Saturday, January 25, 2003

Touchdown puts love on the board

Bengals trainer, family adopt Russian children

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Paul and Karen Sparling, with daughter Ashley and a photo of the two children they are adopting from Russia.
(Thomas Witte photo)
| ZOOM |
EDGEWOOD, Ky.-Just over a week ago, Paul Sparling, longtime trainer for the Cincinnati Bengals, placed two car seats in his van for the first time.

What is generally a mundane task for many was an extraordinary one for Mr. Sparling.

The car seats are a symbolic end to what has been an exhausting, expensive, nearly four-year journey for Mr. Sparling, 43, his wife Karen, 37, and daughter Ashley, 11. That chapter comes to a close Sunday night when the family steps off the plane at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International along with two newly adopted Russian children.

Paul and Karen Sparling decided to adopt two Russian children in 2002 following an informational session, sponsored by Families Through International Adoption.

The next session is 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Southminster Presbyterian Church (Room 260), 7001 Far Hills Ave., Centerville, a Dayton suburb.

To get there: Take Interstate 75 North to I-675 north to Exit 4 (Route 48 South/Centerville). Follow Route 48 South to Far Hills Avenue exit. Church is on corner of Far Hills Avenue and Alex-Bell Pike.Turn right into parking lot and park in the back of the building. Use entrance to the right as you face the building.

Information: Web site

The Sparlings are hardly alone in their endeavor. International adoptions have skyrocketed in the United States. Adoptions of Russian children, for example, soared to 4,279 in 2001, up from 324 in 1992.

"I feel like we're actually winning the Super Bowl that day," Mrs. Sparling said.

The Sparlings' spacious home here has been meticulously prepared for the children's arrival. Daycare has been scheduled. The cupboard has been stocked with baby food.

Ashley's former bedroom has been converted into a purple-and-green nursery for 22-month-old Natalie and 11-month-old Kenneth, where a bookshelf brims with stuffed toys and adoption-themed books (The Day We Met You and A Mother for Choco).

An alphabet border runs along the ceiling, an effort to teach the English language to the children, who were born in Ufa, more than 5,000 miles away from Edgewood. In the closet are shoes of various sizes - the Sparlings couldn't be sure how their children's feet have grown since they last saw them in October.

This careful attention to detail was preceded by heartbreak. After the Sparlings married in 1999, they longed for children of their own. Fertility problems left Mrs. Sparling dejected and disappointed.

In early 2002, Mrs. Sparling attended a meeting of Families Through International Adoption, an Evansville, Ind.-based organization. There she met families who had recently adopted children - and fell in love with a toddler from Russia.

Faced with the emotional decision of trying another round of in vitro fertilization or pursing adoption, the Sparlings opted for the sure thing.

"I didn't think that after facing so many failed rounds of in vitro that I could take the heartbreak of dealing with a birth mother and then having her change her mind about the adoption," Mrs. Sparling said. "The fact that there were available children in Russia was appealing."

International adoption was not a foreign concept to the family, since Mr. Sparling grew up with two adopted Korean sisters in Texas and Kentucky.

The decision was clinched when Ashley, Mr. Sparling's biological daughter who lives with them part time, suggested adoption.

"When I heard we might be adopting two kids, I was like, `Yay!'" Ashley said. "I'm excited I'll get to play with them."

But this fulfillment of a dream carried a steep price. For Russian adoption, FTIA charges $4,800 per child in service fees. International fees, which vary by country, are about $13,000 per child in Russia.

Two trips to the country are then required of the adopting parents. The cost, which includes airfare, lodging, transportation, medical exams for the children and visas, runs more than $4,000 per parent.

The Sparlings knew it would be easier and cheaper to adopt two children at once.

Two major time commitments are involved in international adoption. The first is the time required to complete the necessary paperwork - four months in the Sparlings' case.

The second is the time it takes to receive a referral and travel to the country to complete the adoption. For Russian adoption, the referral typically comes four to six months after the dossier is complete.

The Sparlings' experience has been trouble-free, with no additional costs or waiting periods.

After they submitted their dossier, the rest of the process took just seven months - quicker than bringing a biological child to term. That includes the time it took to travel to Russia in October 2002 and meet Louisa, who is now Natalie Louisa, and Albert, who became Kenneth Grayson.

"You connect with these children on the other side of the world and you kind of feel like God brought them to you," Mrs. Sparling said.

Along the way, the Sparlings have been encouraged by employers and co-workers.

Mr. Sparling has been with the Bengals for 25 years, 10 as head trainer. The couple's first trip to Russia fell during the team's bye week this year, which Bengals owner Mike Brown allowed Mr. Sparling to miss.

"I tell you, it was nice to be in Russia when I didn't have to hear about the Bengals season," Mr. Sparling said with a laugh.

On Sunday, the family's journey will come to an end as two new Sparlings touch American soil for the first time. And the memory of a disappointing football season will disappear, according to the new father.

"To go to a foreign country and meet two children who will ultimately become your own, it really reinforces what's important in life," he said. "I think what's happened to us beats any win on the football field."


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