116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA — To some moms, motherhood must go beyond the duty of raising the kids who already are at home. For Jenna Breckenridge, it’s a mission to bring the children she knows are hers home safely from more than 5,000 miles away.
Another Mother’s Day is passing with Jenna and her husband, Scott, separated from their soon-to-be adopted boys in Ukraine: 16-year-old twin brothers Ilya and Bogdan and 10-year-old Mkolya.
In a mix of Ukrainian and English conversations, “I miss you” and “I love you” over video calls are the words the twins tell Jenna daily to hold her over until they reach the destination in their long journey of adoption: the Breckenridge residence in Hiawatha. And nothing will stop her from bringing them home.
Ilya and Bogdan started calling them mom and dad on day two after they first met through an arrangement the parents had no idea would lead to adoption.
“We weren’t even supposed to host them,” said Jenna, when the couple signed up for a program that brings Ukraine orphans to the United States for a stay. “We were supposed to host another boy, and their orphanage pulled away from the agency we were using for hosting. … We didn’t even know at the beginning of this hosting thing that adoption is kind of what (eventually) happens.”
As soon as the twins walked through the terminal doors at the airport, that changed.
“I was just running to them, and Scott’s behind me,” Jenna said.
“We’re keeping them, aren’t we?” Scott asked.
“Yes,” Jenna said, sobbing as she embraced the boys she knew were their children.
It’s a primal instinct that Jenna, with two children already in Iowa, can’t quite explain. Before meeting the twins, the Breckenridges knew only their first names and ages.
“There’s really no words,” she said. “You just knew. It’s a feeling.”
Despite being separated since they last saw the twins before the pandemic, those feelings have carried them through the majority of their relationship experienced through video calls with sometimes spotty connections. But more importantly, it has fueled their drive to adopt the boys at any cost, overcoming roadblocks along the way.
“Family means love to me. When I arrived (in Iowa), I immediately understood.”
In the adoption process, Jenna and Scott already have gone through three adoption agencies. The first was shut down, putting the Breckenridges back at square one, losing thousands of dollars in fees and an entire year of work. The second was one they left voluntarily after getting the idea the agency might not always be acting in their best interests. Now cutting through red tape and administrative rejections has made them paranoid, down to making sure they use the same shade of white paper when printing out paperwork, aligning stamps perfectly on documents and ensuring they literally cross every t and dot every i.
“Everything has to be in blue ink,” Scott said.
One document was invalidated because the notary didn’t use a middle name in the signature.
“We’ve had literally every roadblock imaginable,” Jenna said. “It’s just been a wild ride.”
One rejection put them on the verge of being unable to adopt the children at all, with a filing rejection returned a mere month before the twins’ 16th birthday, the deadline for one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requirement. Their agency offered them $26 for the fault in the rejection — giving the wrong fee information.
“We almost lost our kids, and (they’re) like ‘here’s $26,’” Scott said.
When all is said and done, the family will have spent about $55,000 in fees and expenses to adopt the three boys. Their story has managed to touch local donors, who have helped out in ways big and small.
After finishing ninth grade, Ilya and Bogdan aged out of the orphanage system in Ukraine. They’ve been living in a hostel ever since, waiting for their last hope to leave a country in which they see no future.
“When they’re orphans, they’ll forever be stamped as an orphan,” Jenna explained. “They’ll always carry that title on their IDs.”
With that title comes severe restrictions on ever being able to leave the country, she said.
The brothers have been orphans since age 8. Jenna and Scott still aren’t sure what happened to their biological parents. “I don’t know, but they drank a lot,” is all they’ve been told by the twins.
Mkolya, a 10-year-old with special needs, doesn’t yet know there’s a family coming for him. Scott and Jenna will leave for Ukraine in June, where Jenna will spend two months to finalize adoptions.
But she says the drive to adopt likely won’t stop with the three boys, pushed by the urge to get loving children out of difficult situations to a family that will return the love.
“To (give them) a mom and dad that loves them. Just a family — something they don’t have and they’ve never experienced,” Scott said.
“Family means love to me,” said Ilya. “When I arrived (in Iowa), I immediately understood.”
“For me, family are people who appreciate, love, respect, support (you) and spend a good time together,” said Bogdan. “I can’t explain it either, but I know (Jenna and Scott) are (my mom) and dad.”
For Jenna, it’s the desire to give others the mother that she never had.
“I love my dad, but my mom’s not in the picture. I just didn’t have parents growing up,” she said. “For me, (parents are) everything.”
That drive has acted as a catalyst, turning the woman who originally didn’t want children into a mom, stepmother and an adoptive mother to three boys.
And the parents will do whatever it takes to bring the last three home, fighting to be reunited with the boys as if she birthed them herself by selling household possessions, working overtime and pinching pennies in between numerous adoptions steps.
Because no matter how it happened, Ilya, Bogdan and Mkolya are their children.
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