Editor's note: This report was originally published in the Star-Telegram on June 6, 1999.As I gaze at 1-year-old Nicholas, with his piercing blue eyes, wispy blond hair and friendly smile, it's hard to remember the day I cried at the Happiest Place on Earth.It was March 1998, and my husband, Rob, had surprised me with a trip to Orlando, Fla., for my 40th birthday. We were standing in line to see the stage show of The Lion King at Walt Disney World when a feeling of sadness and loss suddenly overwhelmed me.Everywhere I looked, balloon-toting babies were being wheeled in strollers or bounced in their daddies' arms. Toddlers wearing Mickey Mouse ears and huge grins were trotting alongside their parents.The moms and dads, for the most part, looked as happy as the kids.I started tearing up, trying to hide my emotions behind sunglasses. Then, I lost it and stood sobbing in line. Rob tried to comfort me, but he understood how I felt.For four years we had tried to conceive our own child. Three pregnancies ended in miscarriages, one after we had heard the child's heartbeat. Two efforts at in-vitro fertilization also had failed.Standing in that amusement-park line, I asked myself the questions that many infertile couples repeat: Why can't we have a child? Are we being punished for some transgression?After the stage show, I vowed not to return to Disney World until we had a child.Rob and I had no idea that less than a year later we would journey by plane, train and automobile to reach an orphanage in the small Russian town of Pechory, a mile from the Estonian border. Nor could we have imagined that we would return home with Nicholas Michael Vardon, a malnourished, but surprisingly good-natured, 10-month-old boy who had been relinquished at birth by his impoverished mother.But that is precisely how our story unfolded.Nicholas arrived in Texas on Feb. 24, packing only 15 pounds on his tiny frame. He had a bad cold, infections in both ears and not much hair. Three months later, he is a happy and healthy 21 pounds, and the love of our lives. The risks involvedThe decision to adopt a child brought back a wonderful sense of control to our lives. Rob and I agreed to forgo more fertility treatments and to start looking for an adoption agency.After asking around and reading adoption literature, we settled on The Gladney Center in Fort Worth. Gladney has an excellent reputation, and we were impressed by its longevity. It was founded in 1887.We also decided to adopt an infant - boy or girl - from Russia. We liked the idea of providing a home to a child in need of a family, and we were intrigued by the thought of traveling to Russia, learning more about its history and passing on that heritage to our child.As we learned, though, international adoption has risks. We would have to select our child based on short videotapes and sketchy, and sometimes alarming, foreign medical records. The children eligible for adoption often have physical, mental and emotional delays because of a lack of stimulation in the orphanages.On a more optimistic note, these children usually catch up and have normal lives after being nurtured by a loving new family.International adoption is an act of faith, a pediatrician told me when I sought reassurance during the process. Her words would come back often to inspire me in the difficult months ahead. Paperwork and more paperworkOur dream of parenthood kept us going in the early stages of the adoption process. We spent the bulk of our time tackling a massive amount of paperwork.We filled out multiple applications. We asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to preapprove an as-yet-unknown child's immigration into the United States. We had our fingerprints taken and our backgrounds checked. We underwent physicals. We wrote essays about our lives and our motivations for adoption. We provided references. We made copies of personal documents and made many trips to notaries. We spent most of one day being interviewed in our home by Arienne Harvey, a Gladney caseworker.After approval from the Gladney Center in September, we awaited our first referral.Two months later, Gladney officials left a phone message saying they had sent our first referral packet, which contained videotapes, photographs and medical records of a child in Russia. They neglected to say whether the child was a boy or girl, or how old it was.That night, I lay in bed - sleepless - turning over in my mind what we would find in the morning mail.About noon the next day, the mailman knocked on the door. I pretty much ripped the packet from his hands.The boy was 11 months old and very cute, with a round, expressive face. I worried because he seemed slow to respond to the nurses on the three videos we received, and he didn't appear to be able to hold his head up.At Gladney's recommendation, we sent the videotapes and the boy's medical records to a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption. We selected Dr. Jane Aronson in New York because I had read her research on Russian adoption on the Internet.The first thing Aronson told me on the phone was, "This is one of the riskiest referrals I have ever seen." The boy had an extremely small head, she said, which could indicate an underdeveloped brain.She strongly recommended that we turn down our first referral.We did, but it was a crushing blow. To make matters worse, I already had formed an emotional attachment, carrying photos of the boy with me.'He was the one'On Christmas Eve, a new referral arrived: a 9-month-old boy named Vecheslav, who was in an orphanage in Pechory, in the Pskov region of Russia. The videotape of Vecheslav at 6 months showed a somewhat somber child with big blue eyes and chubby cheeks.The woman narrating the video was obviously quite taken with him, affectionately referring to him as "big potato." She could be heard on the video telling him, "you will be a hockey star," a great moment for Rob, a Dallas Stars fan.But Vechelsav's medical records included some ominous words, including pyramidal insufficiency. I looked for an explanation in a glossary of Russian medical terms the Gladney Center had provided, and read it could mean the child was at risk of developing cerebral palsy.I decided to refrain from sharing Vecheslav's photos with family or friends at work this time.Aronson, however, sounded cautiously optimistic after watching the videotape and reviewing his records. She said his birth weight and head size were on the low side, but not alarmingly so. She noted that orphaned children who have developmental delays are frequently misdiagnosed in Russia.She was concerned, though, because Vecheslav kept his left hand clenched throughout the video. She recommended getting a more recent video.The new video came more than a month later, and Vecheslav looked as adorable as ever. He even opened his left hand. But he appeared tired and stern, and not very interested in playing.Still, something told us that he was the one."Unless there is something really wrong with him," Rob said, "I want to adopt him."In our next telephone conversation, Aronson said she believed Vecheslav was a malnourished boy with developmental delays of several months. She said she suspected he might have rickets, a bone disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, because his legs appeared bowed. But she said the disease would be easily treated with vitamin therapy. She reiterated that her findings were based only on her limited viewing of the videos.That was enough for us. I relegated to the back of my mind any nagging thoughts about cerebral palsy.Vecheslav was about to become Nicholas Michael Vardon.On Feb. 11, we began a journey of thousands of miles to bring him home.The faith that Dr. Aronson had mentioned earlier propelled us along on our journey. Meeting NicholasThe first time we saw Nicholas was Feb. 14, St. Valentine's Day.He was wearing a mint-green flannel outfit, thick wool booties and a beige knit cap that made him look like a turnip.That's the ridiculous thought that flashed through my mind as a nurse handed him to me in the administrator's office at the Pechory Baby House.I had expected a somber, withdrawn boy who cried when we held him for the first time.I was the one who was crying.Nicholas was much more animated than he had been in the videos, warming to Rob and me immediately and grinning when we showed him the Winnie-the-Pooh rattle and stuffed bear that we had brought for him. He was very alert, although obviously suffering from a cold."I'll always remember your big blue-gray eyes as the nurse brought you in. They were darting about - so curious," Rob wrote in the journal I was keeping. "You took to us almost right away, like you could sense our anticipation of meeting you and that we already knew who you were."It was an overwhelming relief.The visit to the orphanage had been such a long time coming. We had spent an exhausting day and night flying - with several delays - from Dallas/Fort Worth to New York to Munich, Germany, and finally to Moscow. We had stayed two days with a family in the frosty Russian capital.On the second night, we boarded an unbearably stuffy train for the 12-hour trip to Pechory with our translator Natasha, our Gladney guide Tatyana, and two other families who were adopting children through Gladney.With our families so far away in Southern California and Las Vegas, this group became our family for this amazing landmark in our lives. Still, I couldn't help thinking how much I wished my family could be there. I remembered the excitement of being in a hospital three years earlier when my sister gave birth to twins.I felt more at home when we met Tatyana, and recognized her voice as the one who had called Nicholas "big potato" on the video. She was a master at maneuvering through the twists and turns of the Russian adoption bureaucracy, and she made sure the process ran smoothly for us."There was a great deal of joy in that room," I wrote in my journal. "Three sets of parents who had worked so hard, had waited so long and had had many dreams of that moment."Nicholas was vigorously shaking his rattle in my face with one hand and grabbing my nose with the other.I was happier than I had ever been in my life. A Russian support teamRob and I often felt intimidated as we navigated our way through the complex adoption process in Russia. We had learned only the Russian words for "thank you," "good boy," "cat" and "dog," and most of the people we encountered knew just a smattering of English, at best.Natasha, our interpreter, studied English at a Moscow university. She made sure we knew what was being said, be it at the dinner table or in a Russian courtroom.In the two weeks we were there, we completed paperwork in Moscow and Pechory, a court date and trip to the passport office in Pskov, a medical examination for our new son in Moscow and a visit to the U.S. Embassy for his visa.While in Moscow and Pechory, Rob and I stayed with kind and generous host families who kept us well-fed, entertained and provided much-needed emotional support.They took us on some sight-seeing jaunts - Red Square, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and a breathtaking 500-year-old Pechory monastery built in caves. Sightseeing, however, came a distant second to holding Nicholas and gazing into his amazing blue eyes.In Moscow, we roomed with Galina, a widow whose extensive travels are documented with scores of souvenirs - toy trolls from Norway and china bearing the visage of Queen Elizabeth - in her cozy eighth-floor apartment.In Pechory, we stayed with Misha and Marina. Among the Gladney families who stay at the couple's bright yellow frame house, Misha is famous for plying unsuspecting Americans with his 120-proof apple moonshine, and for his stunning upsets in the card game Uno. A baby and a blanket of snowThe day we took Nicholas out of the orphanage was one of great celebration for us all, including the nurses and administrators.We stripped him down to his diaper, put a new sweat suit on him and bundled him in a thick, white fleece sleeper. Then we gave the clothes he had been wearing to the orphanage to be worn by other children.It was an exhilarating, but difficult day. Nicholas was sick with a cold, there was a chilly wind outside, and a blanket of snow covered the ground.We spent our first night as parents in the small, swaying compartment of a Moscow-bound train, about as far from home as we could be. Nicholas cried a little, but eventually fell asleep. He displayed his quirky and now-familiar pre-sleep ritual: putting his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and sweeping his other hand over his eyes in dramatic fashion.Like many new mothers, I was wide-eyed all night.I didn't get much sleep when we got back to Galina's house, either. We had four more days before we could fly home, and Nicholas was lethargic and feverish.A sick child at home is always worrisome, but in Russia, as a new parent, it was terrifying. I spent one tearful night shut in the room with Nicholas, sick with frustration and fear.Rob and I were armed with Tylenol drops and Dimetapp, but we couldn't have made it without the support of Galina and her family. A baby TexanNicholas has been in Texas for three months now.When he first arrived, he couldn't sit up or crawl. His pediatrician put him on antibiotics to clear up his cough and ear infections.He has proved a persistent little guy, with an indomitable spirit. He has a good nature and is considerate to his parents: With a few exceptions, he has slept through the night since we brought him home.He has gained 6 pounds, which have made his cheeks look impossibly chubby.Much to our delight, we learned that Nicholas doesn't have rickets.He has learned to sit up, and we are working with a physical therapist to strengthen his muscles so he can crawl and walk.I try not to pay attention to baby books that say a child should be doing this or that by a certain age.In the past three months, Nicholas has brought Rob and me inexpressible joy. Our home is now the Happiest Place on Earth.