Sunday, December 30, 2012

Botetourt Co. couple's double adoption completed

The wait was long, but Jeff and Wendy Shupe brought home two children from Bulgaria this month.

Avery Shupe has a form of dwarfism, but

Photos by Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Avery Shupe has a form of dwarfism, but "she's quite the little firecracker," said her adopted mother, Wendy Shupe.

Jeff Shupe holds Avery, 5, (left) and Caden, 3, in the living room of the family home in Botetourt County. Shupe and his wife, Wendy, and her son, Seth, 13, picked up the children in Bulgaria earlier this month.

Jeff Shupe holds Avery, 5, (left) and Caden, 3, in the living room of the family home in Botetourt County. Shupe and his wife, Wendy, and her son, Seth, 13, picked up the children in Bulgaria earlier this month.

Avery Shupe, 5, cannot communicate clearly with words because of a cleft palate. Family members, including her adopted mother, Wendy Shupe, have taught Avery several hand signs.

Avery Shupe, 5, cannot communicate clearly with words because of a cleft palate. Family members, including her adopted mother, Wendy Shupe, have taught Avery several hand signs.

Wendy Shupe holds adopted daughter Avery.

Wendy Shupe holds adopted daughter Avery.

Whatever happened to...?

Looking back

Start to finish, it took Jeff and Wendy Shupe of Botetourt County more than 18 months to complete their family of 10.

The pair of Salem City Schools teachers had three children each when they married in 2010. The Shupes were featured in a June story after they returned from Bulgaria, where they met two orphans with special needs who would become the couple's seventh and eighth children.

The Shupes returned to Bulgaria earlier this month and were able to bring 5-year-old Avery and 3-year-old Caden home to the United States in time join the rest of the brood -- ages 8 to 26 -- for Christmas."Can you believe they both wear 18 months [sized clothes]?" Jeff Shupe, the culinary arts instructor at Salem High School, asked as Avery and Caden played in the family's den.

Avery makes plenty of sounds, but does not communicate clearly with words because of a cleft palate. Since she joined the Shupes, she has learned several signs, including "more," "eat" and "I love you."

Avery is the heavyweight, at 19.5 pounds. She has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. But don't let her stature fool you; growing up in an orphanage, she is accustomed to defending herself.

"She's quite the little firecracker," said Wendy, a special education teacher at Andrew Lewis Middle School.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Avery have a one-way discussion across the room about hitting or biting.

Caden, who weighs 18 pounds, is much more subdued. His pants, sized for a toddler half his age, droop, exposing his diaper when he climbs from lap to lap. Caden has Down syndrome and he was confined to a crib at the orphanage.

"You can tell he is happy just to be loved and to not be in a crib all the time," Jeff said.

Sometimes the excitement of Wendy's three children and Avery is too much for Caden. More than once on a recent afternoon, the little boy would venture to the edges of the room and stare out the glass patio door.

Caden does not communicate verbally yet.

"He will hold his arms up to be picked up," Wendy said.

Caden has a mouthful of teeth but he does not chew, which explains his low weight. The Shupes are exposing him to new, pureed foods and supplement shakes.

Caden was malnourished when they visited in April, and his condition worsened by the time they went back to Bulgaria earlier this month to retrieve him. Jeff said the towheaded boy looked like he had been rescued from a concentration camp.

"If this little boy had been there six more months, I'm not sure he would have made it," Jeff said.

The Shupes' adoption journey began in May 2011. The couple initially planned to adopt one child. As they perused a website with photos of children with special needs, Jeff was drawn to Avery's big brown eyes and Wendy felt a connection to Caden.

The trips and adoption cost the Shupes about $29,000. They skipped vacations and pinched pennies, and received financial support from the church they attend, Fincastle Baptist.

Many people have been supportive and giving throughout the experience, including two recent Craigslist sellers. Wendy and Jeff used the website to find a double stroller and a Playard. Both sellers refused to take any payment when they learned of the Shupes' journey.

The Shupes visited the children at separate orphanages outside the capital city of Sofia last year during Salem's spring break. Then they waited eight long months for courts across the ocean to process the adoptions. The couple received word the adoptions were approved one October morning as they drove on Interstate 81 to work.

Wendy said she had refreshed her email inbox frequently, knowing that the hearing had taken place a few hours earlier. Finally, an email with the subject "Congratulations" arrived.

"We were high-fiving in the car and saying 'Thank you, God,'" Wendy recounted.

That's when the real period of waiting began, and it wasn't easy.

Wendy posted this on her blog on Nov. 14: "There have been moments (especially lately) when the wait felt unbearable. My heart has been so heavy. The nights lying awake worrying and wondering ... why us? Why do we have to endure one delay after another? Why is our process taking so much longer than others? Each passing day is one more day my babies are in those orphanages. I still can't believe that 7 months have passed since our first trip!"

Wendy was so anxious while they waited to find out their travel dates that she packed, unpacked and packed again.

The Shupes, along with Wendy's oldest child, 13-year-old Seth, left Dec. 3 to pick up Avery and Caden in Bulgaria. There was a lot of down time for the five of them on the return trip, including lots of bonding time for the little ones and their big brother. And an 18-hour layover in Paris.

The Shupes said Seth was a huge help lugging the toddlers and their belongings through airports. Jeff said at least once the travelers were bumped to the front of the line. Because of Seth's Justin Bieber-like hairstyle, airport officials mistook him for a celebrity.

Seth shows a cellphone video recorded in one of the hotel rooms when Avery was mimicking him. She rushes over to see and bursts into tears when she sees herself. She can't seem to understand why she is in that little electronic device.

Seth scoops up wailing Avery and hugs her, trying to console her.

"She does that every time she sees a video of herself," he explains.

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