Gut-wrenching parental uncertainty has been transformed to exhausted relief.
Sisters and single moms Denise and Melinda (Lindy) Cox, of Nikiski, their two young daughters and their two newly adopted sons are back in the United States after a month-long struggle in Vietnam to obtain the boys' visas.
"The boys are all mixed up in their days and nights, and the girls are really, really tired," Denise said. "But we're glad to be home."
The women, both teachers with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and their daughters, adopted in China three years ago, left Alaska for Vietnam on Oct. 11. Thanks to the help of Circle of Hope, a Sitka adoption agency associated with International Mission of Hope, the Cox sisters had completed a mountain of paper work and received approval by the Anchorage office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Formed in the late 1970s, IMH has successfully facilitated adoptions in Vietnam for more than 20 years.
A Vietnamese giving and receiving ceremony officially recognized Denise and Lindy as the babies' mothers on Oct. 16. However, a roadblock to returning to the United States was placed in their path by Larry Crider, the INS officer in charge in Ho Chi Minh City. Crider informed eight American families that IMH was under investigation. Reasons were never given.
Crider told the families they were free to return to the states, but the adopted children would have to remain behind unless the investigation was favorable.
Immediately, the families asked for help from stateside families, friends, elected officials and the media. Articles appeared in newspapers around the country and the congressional delegates from the families' home states began looking into the situation.
According to the Cox sisters, Crider agreed to issue the visas for all the children within 10 hours after Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' staff contacted Denise and Lindy.
Equating their late-night Friday departure from Vietnam to the Old Testament account of Moses crossing the Red Sea, Denise said she kept thinking, "Quick, get this plane in the air and off the ground."
Saturday morning they arrived in Anchorage and were welcomed back on U.S. soil by very helpful INS representatives.
"They were wonderful," Denise said. "The guy that processed us even helped with our six large bags."
There to meet them was the women's sister, Judy, of Soldotna. Also awaiting them was the discovery that during their month-long absence, they had misplaced the parking ticket for their vehicle in airport long-term parking. Once that final hurdle was negotiated, they headed for home.
Exhaustion required several nap stops along the way and an overnight at sister Judy's home before finally dropping their bags inside their own front door.
Tuesday, an area physician examined the boys. Today all four Cox children are in day care, and Denise and Lindy are back in the classroom.
There are future plans to officially name the boys after family members. A reunion with the seven families the sisters shared their recent experience with is in the works. And Denise and Lindy still want to get to the bottom of the unexplained investigation.
Also, the Cox sisters are mindful of others caught in the nightmare from which they just escaped.
"Another family came in the night before we left Ho Chi Minh City," Denise said. "The following morning, they went to the consulate and were refused a visa."
Prior to departing Vietnam, Denise and Lindy shared their experience and information with the stranded family, Rod and Shelly Smith of Portland, Ore.
Content to be home with their four children, Denise and Lindy are clear that one thing is definitely not planned for the future. When asked about the possibility of other adoptions, Denise had a two-word answer: "No way."
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