Valentine's Day seemed to be a fitting day for Debbie Ferdon to return home to Motley from Haiti with her newly adopted baby girl in her arms.
But as the hostilities began to escalate in Haiti when Ferdon was there it became a tense situation in which she thought she may have been forced to flee Haiti and leave her 14-month-old daughter, Brooke, behind at the orphanage.
Ferdon and her husband, Keith, have been in the process of adopting Brooke since last March from an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.
The couple visited the orphanage twice, last May and July, and were able to spend time caring for Brooke at their hotel room. That first meeting with Brooke was perfect, said Ferdon. They were able to spend four days getting to know her.
While Ferdon said she fell in love with Brooke the first time she saw her photograph on an adoption Web site, it took that first visit for her husband to do the same.
"I was in love with the picture and Daddy fell in love with the little girl," said Ferdon with a smile.
Keith Ferdon, who is with a Minnesota Army National Guard unit based in Redwood Falls, was sent in October to Kosovo on a year-long peace-keeping mission.
Although the couple keep in contact through e-mail and phone calls, Keith's departure to serve on active duty also meant that Debbie had to finalize the adoption herself and travel alone to Haiti to get their daughter.
On Jan. 28, she traveled to Haiti to get Brooke, a trip she thought would take only a few days as she waited for her daughter's visa to be approved.
That trip turned into an 18-day ordeal for the Ferdons in which Brooke's adoption was entangled in governmental red tape on the part of both countries. On Feb. 12, the day Debbie was supposed to finalize Brooke's adoption at the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince, the building was shut down and closed because pf threatened street demonstrations. There was talk that the Americans would be forced to leave the country in the wake of potential outbreaks of violence in the capital city.
While Debbie said she felt relatively safe in Port-au-Prince at the time, her husband, then in Kosovo, wasn't sure what was going on and was worried about his wife and daughter. He e-mailed Sen. Norm Coleman's office, requesting that they pull political strings to help his wife.
Debbie Ferdon played with her 14-month-old daughter, Brooke, in their Motley home last Thursday. Ferdon returned from Haiti Feb. 14 after finalizing Brooke's adoption. If the adoption proceedings would have taken just a few days longer it was likely that Debbie would have had to leave Haiti because of the mounting hostilities there and Brooke would have had to remain at the orphanage. (Dispatch Photo by Jodie Tweed)
"He was freaking out, not knowing for certain what was going on," said Ferdon. "He thought that if we didn't get out that week is she ever going to get out? He was desperate."
Ferdon received a call on her cell phone from a staff member of Senator Coleman's, who said they would work on trying to get Brooke's adoption to go through. They made calls for her and Ferdon worked the phones in Haiti trying to ensure that the consulate would be open the following day so she could get her daughter's visa.
On Friday the 13th the consulate was open and she was able to finalize the process for Brooke to come home. They returned to Minnesota the next day.
Ferdon later found out that the consulate was closed the following Monday for Presidents Day and then only open for three more days after that until the few U.S. government workers who were there were forced to leave Haiti in fear for their safety. Several families she knows who are adopting from the same orphanage were forced to leave their adoptive children there.
"We got out in the nick of time," she said. "All the time I think about how lucky we were that the timing worked out for us. We are incredibly lucky."
Now Ferdon has remained glued to television news reports about the Haiti crisis. She still has friends whose children remain there.
Those friends include Carol Ann and Bryan Petersen of Brainerd who are in the process of adopting 14-month-old Isaiah from the same orphanage. The two children were born only days apart.
Bryan Petersen said Monday that Isaiah's adoption has essentially been shut down because of the demonstrations and riots in Port-au-Prince. He and his wife are working with U.S. legislators to attempt to move the adoption along on the U.S. side of the process.
He said they feel Isaiah is safe at the orphanage and they keep in contact via e-mail with care workers there. But at one point the orphanage nearly ran out of food for the children because of the riots. Fortunately once things began to quiet down there, they were able to buy food again.
"It's fairly frustrating because it's out of your hands and you're at the mercy of too many people," said Petersen. "We have faith that he's our son and this will work out, it's just the unknowns are a little bit frustrating."
If all goes as the Petersens hope, they may be able to bring Isaiah home in May.
Debbie Ferdon said her husband is disappointed that he is unable to be with her and Brooke right now, but she sends him photos and e-mails all the time.
Brooke is a happy, bubbly little girl who is getting close to learning how to walk. She's getting used to the Minnesota snow, riding in her car seat and the Ferdon's dog, Ginger.
Ferdon and Brooke plan to meet with Sen. Coleman March 17 in St. Paul. Coleman wanted to meet them and hear about their ordeal.
"He's working very hard to help these other families and to see her, a success story, will help push him along," she said.
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