South Jordan couple, stuck in legal limbo, brings home daughter from Russia
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For just a brief moment, just beyond the balloon bouquets and sea of eager family and friends dressed in red and pink, Wayne and Jeana Bonner stood in the Salt Lake City International Airport and held each other for the first time in weeks.
Not two seconds later, a little girl broke free from the other children and ran toward them. She stopped in her tracks and just stared at her new parents, her mouth agape.
She is too young to understand what they had gone through to bring her here, to this airport on Valentine's Day, where she would be surrounded by family anxious to hug her, stroke her hair, teach her to give a thumbs-up.
Jaymi Viktoria Bonner, 5, just smiled and waved, a little American flag clutched in her fist.
"I know how much joy she has brought into our lives," Jeana Bonner said Thursday. "It's so much greater than the challenges."
It had taken more than a year and, most recently, Jeana Bonner spending five weeks in Moscow battling courts and bureaucracies to bring Jaymi here. Having initiated the adoption more than a year ago, the Bonners were given court approval in late 2012.
But during the required 30-day period in which any challenges to the adoption must be presented, Russia passed a new law banning American adoptions. Initially, officials said adoptions approved before the ban would be completed, but the judge who was to issue the decree granting custody said the ban meant he had no way to do so.
Jeana Bonner flew to Moscow in mid-January, and it was there that she and Rebecca Preece, of Nampa, Idaho — both in limbo, seeking to bring home their children, both of whom have Down syndrome — did what they could to tackle the courts and the government. Bonner said it took no small measure of hope.
"We were just two women on a mission, and it was amazing what we could do," she said. "We took on the Russian Federation and said, 'You said these are our children and we're not leaving until we get them.' It was a roller coaster."
The help they needed ultimately came from one of Russia's most outspoken opponents of American adoption, Pavel Astakhov, the ombudsman of the office of Russia's children's rights. It was his office that appointed an attorney for the Preece and Bonner families, leading to a Supreme Court order directing the lower court to immediately issue the adoption decree.
Bonner said she felt the ultimate credit goes to a higher power. While she and her husband "felt inspired" to initiate the adoption, she said they could see the hand of God in what led to bringing their daughter home.
"Heavenly Father was leading the way and taking care of every detail," she said. "I know it wasn't us that softened hearts. … It was greater than us."
Both Wayne and Jeana Bonner said they felt strongly about giving a child with special needs a better life. Jeana Bonner said they knew they would adopt since the birth of their first daughter, Kaelyn, 3, who also has Down syndrome.
They knew that children with special needs in other countries are rarely adopted, unless by international families. Raising Kaelyn altered how they felt about that.
"She's changed our eyes and changed our world," Jeana Bonner said. "We saw these kids as ours. We thought about that being our child. She wouldn't be given a chance to amount to anything."
"We want to give (Jaymi) the opportunities she deserves," Wayne Bonner said.
He was charged with holding down the fort at the couple's South Jordan home with their other two daughters. It was busy and crazy having his wife away, but he said he knew Jeana needed to be in Moscow.
"We knew it was going to be worth it in the end, so we fought through," he said.
He said he also learned about the depth of kindness and generosity of those surrounding them. Most of his family lives within 60 miles, and their families, with friends, neighbors and others in the community, rallied to help and support his family.
"That's been one of the best parts of this, is seeing people who want to help and just need a cause," Wayne Bonner said.
He and his other daughters had been able to stay in touch with Jeana and Jaymi mostly through video chats. Being able to see Jaymi has been a comfort throughout all the obstacles. Now he looks forward to having all of them home, where they can be together.
Both Wayne and Jeana Bonner's parents were also at the airport Thursday. Jeana's mother, LaJean Rasmussen, said the excitement of the moment her daughter called and said, "She's ours" was reflected in the energy, emotion and enthusiasm.
"Finally," she said. "Finally. We're very, very excited. It was just a lot of faith and prayers."
Wayne Bonner's parents, Amy and Clark, said they have been impressed by the faith and dedication of their son and his wife. They saw that commitment as soon as Kaelyn was born and Wayne called raising the girl "living the dream."
"It's called payback, knowing they have the strength and determination to do the right thing," Amy Bonner said.
"We're proud of them," Clark Bonner added.
It was easy for them to sum up seeing their children with their children, surrounded by their families.
"It's the best Valentine's present we could ask for," Amy Bonner said.
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