“It was love at first sight”
Lots of people have adopted internationally. Very few can say they did so in the teeth of the Covid epidemic. In that small group are Ilinca and Damien Duveau of Germantown, Maryland. Ilinca and Damien had decided to adopt years ago. After settling into life following long, demanding educations and early professional lives, by late 2017 they were ready to make it happen. “We knew we could provide the opportunity for a child to grow up in a happy, loving, and caring environment,” says Damien.
They had heard good things about The Barker Adoption Foundation through friends, and in January 2018 went to Barker’s office to get the process started. They wanted to adopt from Korea given some personal connections. They found Barker’s early training sessions valuable, helping temper their expectations about how long the process would take and offering practical tips on what to expect as first-time parents, says Damien.
Next came the home-study hurdles. There was the home visit—would their beloved dog behave? He did, sitting quietly next to the Barker social worker and seeming to know it was an important moment. There was the psychological evaluation—a 4-hour test that felt like one of the longest exams in their lives. There were the background checks, the home fire safety inspection, and the medical exams.
For them perhaps the toughest piece was the form asking about which health conditions they’d be comfortable within an adoptive child. “That was the hardest to fill out because our hearts were open—if we had all the money in the world, I would love to just adopt any child,” says Ilinca. “But we had to come to peace with ourselves. We had to be realistic, but it’s hard to say no to certain criteria.”
Next came the waiting for a match, which for them turned out to be about 10 months. The wait became tougher after they got to about 6 months and started hearing of other families getting matched. “You asked yourself: what’s wrong, what’s going on?” says Damien.
But what helped was attending Barker seminars and having support groups for prospective parents. “If you can meet just one other couple you can be friends with, that will get you through,” says Damien.
Then came the call from the Barker social worker in May 2019. Ilinca was at work in her office when it came, and a Barker social worker was on the line telling her, “Happy Mother’s Day!” It was the day after Mother’s Day, and she wasn’t yet a mother, “but that’s the best call you could ever get,” Ilinca says.
They’d been matched with a child in Korea and went to the Barker office to take a look at his packet. The staff advised them to read the information about him before they looked at photos. But Ilinca and Damien couldn’t help themselves, and the first one they saw was a 7-month-old boy in a chair in a Gap onesie, smiling.
“That was really it,” says Damien. “It was love at first sight.” They said yes.
Normally the next step would involve two trips to Korea: one to meet their prospective son and go to court and the other to take custody of their child. But it was now early spring 2020, the pandemic had just hit, and the court date was set for April 27, 2020. The choices weren’t easy. What would infection rates be like in Korea by the time they needed to travel? Would they be able to get back to the U.S.? If they waited, would their prospective son still be available for adoption?
They decided to forge ahead. Korea had a strict 2-week quarantine for any arriving visitors from abroad, which made two separate trips not feasible. So they decided to do a single 6-week trip. Damien could work from Korea; Ilinca would have to take time off. But their work teams were supportive. The court date got pushed off till June 19. They flew to Seoul and immediately were put on a bus to the quarantine hotel. “You roll your suitcases into that room, the door closes behind you, and you know the next time you’ll get out is 2 weeks from now,” says Ilinca. Their coffee table became a desk. The hallway to the bathroom became a yoga spot. They were served three meals a day from people in full hazmat gear. “We had to keep in mind that the only reason we were there is the child, not our comfort,” says Ilinca.
A few weeks later, they were off to meet their prospective adoptive son Aidan at the offices of Barker’s partner adoption agency in Korea. When they arrived, a family was already in the lobby. It was Aidan’s foster family, and Aidan—there he was. On the way up to the social worker’s office, Aidan grabbed Damien’s legs and held on. All of the paperwork had been done prior to the trip and was ready. “The agency had everything ready. All we had to do was show up and follow directions,” says Ilinca. “We didn't have to worry about a single paper.” After that came the court hearing, which involved more questions and went longer than they’d expected. But Ilinca and Damien had been prepared for tough questions, and they got through it. They waited for final custody for a couple of weeks and visited Aidan two more times.
Then the day came. At the agency office, they hugged the foster care family goodbye. And then they were in the elevator, alone with Aidan.
“We got out of the building and were waiting for the cab and it’s like, ‘OK, we are his parents. We're responsible for him now,’” says Ilinca. Damien suddenly realized he’d never changed a diaper. “I was like ‘Oh my God, am I going to be up to par? How am I going to do that? Am I going to know when he's hungry?’” But their natural instincts kicked in.
Soon they were flying back home to Germantown, and when they got there, they were greeted by a house festooned with balloons and a stack of Uber Eats gift cards, both courtesy of their neighbors. Aidan cried a little more than usual during those first days, a reaction Ilinca thought was natural for a child who’d just experienced such a big transition. But the isolation forced by the pandemic let them have lots of time to bond. A couple of weeks after they were back, they prepared Korean food and Aidan had a huge appetite. That was the moment that Damien thought they’d settled into a real routine at home.
By July 2021, Aidan was now a “terrible 2 toddler,” says Ilinca. “He’s a master negotiator. We’ll say, ‘You get to bring two toys upstairs’, and he says, ‘Four toys.’” And they’ll settle on three. The same happens with bedtimes.
All of that is part of being a family. “Aidan is a wonderful, smart, and amazingly resilient child” says Damien.