South Jordan couple reflects on first year with daughter adopted from Russia

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 3:16 p.m. MDT

Sisters Bryn and Jaymi Bonner draw pictures on the floor at their South Jordan home Saturday, May 3, 2014. It's been one year since Jaymi joined the family after being adopted from a Russian orphanage.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — Before Jaymi arrived at her new home to join the family she now calls her own, Wayne and Jeana Bonner saw something comforting in a small act from the little girl living in a Russian orphanage.

The Bonners had taken and donated a number of toys to the children in the orphanage. Jaymi immediately took them in to share them with the other children, holding them triumphantly above her head.

"They all started celebrating and cheering, and we were like, 'She likes to share. She likes the other kids in her class,'" Wayne Bonner recalled. "I just thought that was so cool that she was so proud of her toys and wanted to celebrate with her friends and share them."

It has been more than a year since Jaymi, now 7 years old, came from Russia to her new home in Utah. On Saturday, she played with her sisters and parents, clearly happy, confident and comfortable in her family.

"I think she just wanted someone to love her," Jeana Bonner said. "She wanted a mom and dad, wanted a family, wanted somebody. That was really touching to watch and still is."

After the Bonners' first child, Kaelyn, 4, was born with Down syndrome, they decided they wanted to adopt another child with the genetic disorder. Knowing children with special needs are rarely adopted in other countries, they decided to do so internationally.

Jaymi was in an orphanage in Russia, and after more than a yearlong process, the Bonners' adoption was given court approval in late 2012. But then a law was passed in Russia banning American adoptions, and despite officials' reassurances that adoptions that had been approved would be completed, a judge told the Bonners the adoption could not be completed under the new law.

"I would have lived my whole life wondering what happened to her, and I think I would have always felt a sadness not having her here because we made a place for her in our family and in our hearts and in our home," Jeana Bonner said.

So Jeana Bonner went to Moscow in January 2013 and spent five weeks fighting to bring her daughter home. Finally, Russia's highest court ordered the lower court to issue the adoption decree and Jaymi met her father, two sisters and new family on Valentine's Day.

"She stepped in and it was like she had always been here," Jeana Bonner said.

The eldest sibling, Jaymi became a fast friend and example to her younger sisters, Kaelyn, 4, and Bryn, 2. Independent and adventurous, she now feeds herself, dresses herself and is unafraid to try new things.

"We took her to Disneyland. We took her to Lake Powell. She's done soccer and horses and gymnastics and ballet," Jeana Bonner said. "She just loves everything. She was soaking it up."

But it wasn't always easy. Jeana Bonner said she felt like she loved Jaymi and was committed to making sure the girl always felt loved, but she still went through a "post-adoption depression."

"After getting her home, kind of getting settled in, I realized how difficult it was going to be, because I wanted it to be easy so I thought it was going to be easy," she explained. "I think the language barrier was hard, just knowing the difference between the language barrier and her developmental delay, like, why she wasn't getting certain things."

Jeana Bonner said she sometimes had feelings of regret or longing for their former, simpler life while also feeling guilty for having a hard time adjusting. Jaymi was a happy and affectionate child, but it was still an adjustment to a new child, with some added complications, Jeana Bonner said.

In July, she went to the National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention in Denver with friends who had also adopted children with Down syndrome. The trip made all the difference, she said.

"We all thought that they all … had it all together and everything was perfect, and to be like, 'No, this is hard. We're struggling with this,'" Jeana Bonner said. "I think that's been the biggest help — talking to other adoptive parents that have had the same feelings just to be like, 'Good, these are normal feelings to have, and I just have to work through them.' That's been really helpful."

She also credited her husband, their families and neighbors for their help and support. She said there were so many kind and generous people throughout the state who offered their help, including a woman who volunteered to take The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints family's picture after they were sealed together in the Bountiful Temple.

The family has also been met with complete love and acceptance in their community.

"I think it says a lot about our society, too, that it's to the point where 11-, 12-, 13-year-old kids are going out of their ways to say hi to a kid with special needs instead of being ashamed or embarrassed that they know a kid with special needs," Wayne Bonner said.

For her part, Jaymi has taken to her parents, siblings and extended family. Jeana Bonner said Jaymi taught them unconditional love because she loved her new family fully, before she really knew them.

"Now I feel normal, like she's in our family. I feel like she's our daughter, and I know that will get even better as time goes on and we spend even more time together," Jeana Bonner said, noting that now it's hard to imagine life had the adoption not gone through.

"I probably would have felt like I had lost a child," she said, "because that's what would have happened. It does make me grateful for even the hard days to stop and think and just kind of hold her and realize what a miracle it is that she is because it so easily could have gone another way."

Wayne Bonner said Jaymi has helped the family gain a new perspective. Last year, Jaymi struggled to make her way across a wobbly bridge at the park. Now, she runs across it.

"I think a lot of things that we would take for granted, she's opened our eyes that it's a big deal," he said. "She takes so much pleasure in the little things."

Jaymi started Kindergarten in the fall and loves school. Jeana Bonner said they hope to encourage that love and provide Jaymi with every possible opportunity. To families considering a similar adoption, she said to take each day as it comes.

"It's hard, but it's absolutely worth it," Wayne Bonner said. "She came with a lot of baggage and trying to break all that down and bond with her was not the easiest thing mentally or emotionally, but the rewards make it absolutely worth it."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

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