By Keysha Drexel
The Hood family of Inverness got a head start on celebrating Mother’s Day last week with their annual Gotcha Day celebration.
On April 22, Mountain Brook High School Principal Amanda Hood and her husband, Jerry, celebrated the sixth anniversary of the day they became parents by adopting four children from Ukraine.
“April and May are big months for celebrating for us,” Amanda said. “We not only get to celebrate Mother’s Day in May, but every year, we also remember the day we adopted Olivia, Christian, Daniel and Vica and the special way God brought our family together.”
Amanda and Jerry got married nine years ago and immediately tried to start a family.
“We knew that we wanted kids right away, but we ran into some complications and worked with a fertility doctor in Birmingham and ended up going through some pretty extensive fertility treatments,” Amanda said.
After several failed attempts at trying to conceive, the couple reached a crossroads, Amanda said.
“There was no explanation as to why the fertility treatments weren’t working, and I very vividly remember having a conversation with Jerry that maybe we were trying to force something that God didn’t really want to happen,” she said.
Around that same time, the couple ran into some friends at a basketball game who had recently adopted a child from Ukraine.
“It was a pivotal moment for me because I realized that God might have another plan for me being a mother,” Amanda said. “We contacted an adoption agency during the same time I was undergoing fertility treatments.”
For about two years, Amanda and Jerry completed the paperwork and training needed to adopt a child from Ukraine.
In early 2008, the adoption agency contacted them and told the Hoods they had an appointment at an orphanage on March 8 to talk about adopting two children.
“We knew we wanted to adopt two children, and we wanted them to be siblings,” Amanda said.
The couple set out for Ukraine, a country they knew virtually nothing about, and said there was no way they could have prepared for that journey, or its result.
“The day we were supposed to fly out of Birmingham was the only day we had a freeze in the area that spring, so a lot of flights were delayed, and by the time we made it to Atlanta, we had missed our connecting flight,” Amanda said. “The airline said they could reroute us through New York, so we tried that, but weather grounded our plane on the runway in Philadelphia for seven and a half hours. By this point, we’re in panic mode because now we’re in danger of missing our appointment at the orphanage.”
While they sat on the plane on the Philadelphia runway, they learned the woman behind them was from Ukraine. Maria couldn’t speak English, Amanda said, and was trying to get home after a visit to her daughter’s house in Georgia.
“We knew just enough Russian to communicate with her a bit, and we felt this instant kinship with Maria because she was from where we were trying to go to get our children,” Amanda said. “Our hearts were drawn to this place we’d never been before, because we knew that’s where our family was, and at that moment, Maria was a connection to that place.”
The Hoods and Maria finally made it to New York but found that the weather delays meant no hotels were available near the airport.
“So we got in a van with Maria and a bunch of people we didn’t even know, and they drove us to a hotel about an hour from the airport,” Hood said. “The next morning, we went back to the airport, and at this point, we were really, really desperate to find a way to Kiev.”
Because of the weather delays, an airline employee told the couple there wasn’t any way they could find a flight that would get them to Kiev on time.
“We were standing there at the gate pleading our case, and this man we’ve never met before who had overheard the whole thing comes up to us and asked us to follow him,” Amanda said. “It was a complete leap of faith because we had no idea who this man was–I still don’t know his name–but we followed him to another counter and the next thing we know, we’re on a flight to Ukraine.”
Amanda said she’s often thought that the mysterious man at the JFK airport was an angel.
“What he did right there in that moment for us changed our lives forever,” she said.
The Hoods made it to Kiev on time, but Jerry’s luggage wasn’t so lucky.
“We got there late at night and our appointment was at 8 a.m. the next morning, and the shops there did not sell clothes for big men like Jerry,” Amanda said. “He went to our interview at the orphanage in a 1970s-style Ukrainian suit with safety pins holding up the hems, wearing his tennis shoes.”
During their interview at the orphanage, the Hoods were told there were two boys they could adopt and that the boys had medical issues. The couple traveled to the western part of the country to meet with the boys’ caregivers and learn more about their medical problems.
“Jerry and I went through a lot of soul-searching thinking that we might have to go home. We talked about and prayed about it and decided that taking on the challenges of the serious and significant medical issues the boys had was something we couldn’t do. The issues were so extensive, we weren’t even sure we would be able to take them on the plane,” Amanda said.
The couple asked for another appointment and was told the orphanage could see them in about a month.
“So we stayed there for a month and as a couple, it was one of the most beautiful times in our marriage,” Amanda said. “We didn’t have to go to work, and we had no one but each other to talk to all that time. We went sightseeing and really just enjoyed being together.”
At their next appointment with the orphanage, Amanda and Jerry were shown photos of four children–two girls and two boys. The photos were of 8-year-old Olivia, 7-year-old Christian, 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Vica.
“I remember Jerry leaning back in his chair, and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was–how could we choose just two of those beautiful children?” she said.
The adoption officials left the couple alone for a few minutes to discuss the photos they had been shown of the children, whom the Hoods had learned were siblings.
“They left the room for about 15 minutes, and we had the fastest conversation that you could ever have about raising four children,” Amanda said.
While they were worried about how to financially take care of four children when they had planned to adopt only two, Amanda said her husband said something that quickly dispelled all of her fears.
“He looked at me and said, ‘How can we say no when God is trying to bless us with twice as much as we prayed for?’ and that was a very pivotal moment,” Amanda said. “At that moment, I was ready to go get in the car and drive to where the kids were in southeastern Ukraine.”
The couple stayed in Ukraine for another month while the adoption of the four children was finalized.
“We spent time getting to know them and playing with them,” Amanda said. “There was definitely a language barrier, so we did a lot of charades to communicate, but we all had an instant connection, and there was the moment of peace where I finally realized the purpose of my life.”
On April 22, 2008, the Hoods went to a Ukrainian courtroom to learn if the adoption had been approved.
“Olivia, who was 8 at the time, read a letter saying that her wish was to come to America with us, but only if her brothers and sister could come with her,” Amanda said. “A lot of siblings are broken up and don’t get to stay together, and I think she was really afraid of that.”
While Olivia and Christian were aware of just how much their lives were changing, Amanda said she’s not quite sure the younger children fully understood. But that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm, she said.
“On the plane ride back home, Daniel was standing up on the seat saying ‘America! America! America!’” she said.
The plane ride was an adventure for the children, who had never even been in a car before their trip to the airport with Amanda and Jerry.
“There are a lot of things they hadn’t experienced that children here take for granted, and it was wonderful to watch them experience new things,” Amanda said.
When they got back home to Alabama, the couple immediately brought in tutors to help the older children prepare for school.
“We were communicating in this language that was a mix of Russian, English and charades, and it was kind of like we invented our own secret family language,” Amanda said.
Amanda said this year on Mother’s Day, like every year since the adoption, she will thank God for bringing her family together and for opening her heart to His plan for her.
“It was a true journey of faith because I had to step back and trust that God had a plan for us, and now that I look back on the whole experience, it is very clear that God’s plan for us unfolded just the way it was supposed to,” she said. “It was a journey that changed us as individuals and changed Jerry and I as a couple.”
Amanda said Mother’s Day at her house will be a true family celebration this year, just like it is every year.
“We were meant to have these kids and they were meant to have us, and we want to really celebrate our family and our story,” she said.