Daughter of destiny
By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
Like a lot of little girls, pretending to be a mommy was one of her favorite games a child. She grew up loving children. And when she got married in 1989, she assumed a baby would soon follow.
But after a decade of trying to conceive, Maria and Bernie Rybka still had no baby. They saw fertility doctors and learned Bernie had a low sperm count. An attempt at artificial insemination failed.
They had so much emotion invested in the effort that when their doctor canceled an appointment for a second attempt, Maria was crushed. And the Rybkas, who live in Spring Hill, decided the whole process had gotten too impersonal. They reasoned that their quest for a baby was headed in the wrong direction. And they decided to regroup.
Not long after that, their answer came -- out of the blue, no less.
Bernie was driving along listening to WLPJ-FM 91.5, The Joy, a local Christian radio station, when he heard an announcement about a seminar in Orlando for parents interested in adopting babies from China. He mentioned it to Maria. "That part was huge -- that God told him," she recalls.
When the seminar ended and they got into their truck to go home, their path was clear: They were going to adopt. "It was very peaceful," Maria said. "And we knew that was what God wanted."
By December 2000, two months after hearing the radio ad, the Rybkas were in the pipeline for a baby.
* * *
Of the more than 500 adoption agencies in the United States, nearly half are involved in international adoptions, said Brian Luwis, founder of America-World Adoption Association, the Christian ministry the Rybkas heard about on the radio.
Based in McLean, Va., America-World arranges about 300 adoptions a year, primarily involving children in Cambodia, Russia, Ukraine and China.
Though it is a faith-based ministry, America-World's primary mission is to help children find good homes, without regard to their parents' religious affiliation.
Luwis said that the parents who most often seek out international adoptions are couples who have had fertility problems.
Also, they are couples who must be willing to spend large sums of money -- from $15,000 to $30,000 depending on the country -- to cover the costs of travel, governmental fees and the adoption agency's administrative costs.
China has been particularly ripe for adoptions because people are its most abundant resource. So much so that, in the name of population control, the government limits citizens to one child per family.
For a variety of cultural reasons, boys are often seen as more valuable. Girls are sometimes discarded. And, although it is hard to be sure, that could explain how a certain baby girl turned up abandoned last year at an automotive plant in China's Jianxi province.
She was found with a tag that listed no name and only a birth date: April 18.
As orphans go, this one may have been luckier than most. She wound up in one the nicest, most modern orphanages in all of China, of all days arriving on the Fourth of July.
Eventually, she would come to America with the Rybkas.
* * *
But as 2002 began, the Rybkas had been waiting more than a year for their paperwork to wind its way through the Chinese bureaucracy. They had stored away thousands of dollars for the adoption process. Soon, the bureaucratic wheels started to turn.
Word came that they had been approved for an adoption. And on Feb. 1, an e-mail arrived with a special attachment: a photo.
Maria was dying to open it. But she waited long enough for Bernie to get out of the shower. Together, they watched, line by line, as a little girl appeared on the screen. It was the child they had been waiting for.
"She was just beautiful," Maria said. "And I thought we are totally, totally blessed."
To celebrate, the Rybkas threw a party. They invited friends over for a look at their girl, an image that would wind up on a coffee mug, a wall magnet and various other places.
Yet, as the time approached to leave for China, the Rybkas found they were short of cash. Their church, Fellowship Wesleyan in Spring Hill, came to their aide to help close out what eventually turned into a $16,000 adoption process.
A little more than a week later, at a hotel in Nanchang, the Rybkas and a handful of other anxious American parents watched as seven babies arrived.
At first, the Rybkas didn't recognize their bundle of joy. It had been a while since they had received a photograph of their baby. But, in a moment, they encountered a child wearing an outfit and wrapped in a blanket they had sent over months earlier.
"When they handed her to us and you knew it was her," Maria said, "That's when I lost it." At 34 years old, Maria Rybka was finally a mother. And Bernie Rybka, 39, was a very scared father.
"Pretty much they just hand her to you and my whole life just changed," Bernie said. "Reality sets in. Here you are: a dad."
The Rybkas -- Bernie, Maria and now Kailey Marie -- spent a few more days together in China. When they touched down in San Francisco in March, Kailey became an American citizen. And, soon after, the Rybkas came home to Spring Hill as a threesome.
Life hasn't been the same since.
Bernie spends his mornings feeding and caring for Kailey before heading off to work for Time Warner. Kailey stays in the care of her aunt until Maria, the assistant principal at Eastside Elementary, gets home in the afternoon.
Together, Bernie and Maria are trying to figure out the mysteries of parenthood: whether Kailey is eating enough; whether she is eating too much; whether she's hot; what happens when she gets water in her ear while playing in the pool.
Maria says Bernie is proving to be a good father. When he comes home at night, Kailey goes nuts over the sight of him. And Bernie says Maria is showing that she was born for motherhood.
"She's a regular mommy," he says. "You know how moms are. They are either moms are they aren't. And she's just perfect."
Kailey, now 13 months old, is pulling herself along the floor and on the verge of walking.
* * *
Already, the Rybkas are talking about adopting another baby. As for trying to have a baby the old-fashioned way, they say they will simply let nature take its course.
Of more immediate concern is what kind of Mother's Day gift Bernie will come up with on Kailey's behalf. "It's going to be tough," he said. "I've never had to worry before."
Looking back, Maria say God has had a hand in everything that has led up to her first Mother's Day. "It's been a long time coming. Earlier in life I questioned, "Why not me?'
"I was supposed to be (Kailey's) mother. And she wasn't ready yet."
For the record, Maria says she couldn't care less about a gift. Nor does she have any grand expectations for the day. "Whatever it will be, it will be with her," Maria said.
"And that's good enough."
-- Robert King can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about international adoptions through the America-World Adoption Association, visit their Web site at www.america-china.org or call toll free 1-888-ONE-CHILD (1-888-663-2445).
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