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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Faith

Couple's dream of adoption came true at last

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LAND O' LAKES - Byron and Tana Taylor thought they had done everything right.

They filed the endless paperwork needed for an international adoption with a Washington-based agency. They paid everything in cash as required, spending more than $30,000.

When the approval came, they boarded an overseas flight to Kiev, then took an overnight train to the southernmost point of Ukraine to meet the 2-year-old boy who was to be their forever child. Everything was falling into place. They took the train back to the capital city to wait for the final arrangements to be completed.

A call from the agency shattered everything.

"So sorry; that child is no longer in the system," the Taylors were told. "Go home and start the process over."

They tried to make sense of it all, sitting in an apartment 6,000 miles from home on that dreary day in November 2010. There was no talk of refunding their money, no empathy for their heartbreak.

And that was the final straw for Tana, 44. Her lifelong dream to be a mom - first derailed by infertility and then broken by the botched adoption - was beyond her reach. After dealing with a roller-coaster ride of a tangled bureaucracy and dashed hopes for three long weeks, she and Byron returned home. They dismantled the brand-new nursery in their Land O' Lakes home and went on with their lives.

But destiny is a powerful thing. The Taylors had no way of knowing that something wonderful was coming their way.

It wouldn't happen for three more years. And this time, the baby would be just 102 miles away: A sickly infant, weighing just 2 pounds and 2 ounces, lay tethered to machines that kept her alive in a neonatal unit of an Orlando hospital.

The Taylors think this is the little girl who was meant to be theirs, and they were meant to be her parents.

"The more you try so hard to make something happen, the more things spin out of control," Tana says. "When I finally let go and let God, that's when everything happened the way it was supposed to be."


Tana and Byron believe they were destined to be together. Only it didn't happen on their timetable.

They grew up in the same Tampa neighborhood south of Gandy Boulevard. Tana's infectious laugh and ready smile caught the eye of Byron, who was two years older. For a while, they were sweethearts at Robinson High School, joining friends at the old Roller Gardens skating rink and hanging out at Picnic Island beach.

Then Byron joined the Navy and they went their separate ways. They married other people, but both unions ended in divorce. Byron had a son and a daughter from his marriage; Tana, who struggled with fertility issues, became a nurse, then a nurse practitioner, moving to several states to pursue her career.

Twenty-five years later, they both ended up at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa. Tana worked in the spinal cord injury center, and Byron was the power plant operator.

He saw her first. Well, he didn't exactly see her. He heard her.

"I heard that laugh, and I knew it was Tana," Byron recalls. He turned in the direction of the sound and caught a glimpse of the tall blonde with that smile he had never forgotten.

When he got back to his desk, he emailed her, inviting her to get some coffee and catch up. Delighted about reconnecting with her old beau, she accepted the invitation. They found out they had so much in common: a shared passion for travel, animals, outdoor adventure sports, boating, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, family and an unwavering faith.

"And we've been together ever since," Byron says, beaming.

"I wasn't about to let him go twice," Tana adds.

They married five months later, on Oct. 19, 2009. At 46 and 44, they could have had a happy life together, just the two of them. But their family wasn't complete yet.

Tana had shared with Byron her overwhelming desire to have children. She was an only child of older parents and always yearned for a family of her own. When that wasn't meant to be, she started focusing on adoption.

Byron readily agreed. He told her he had three dreams: to have a son and daughter, to own his own business one day and to adopt a child, like his stepfather had adopted him. He had accomplished the first two dreams but not the third.

The Taylors ruled out the domestic route, scared off by stories of birth mothers reclaiming their children after the process was supposedly complete. They did some research and chose an international agency with a good track record.

It took an entire year, with money going out the door and paperwork that never seemed to end. Finally, in November 2010, they got the green light to fly to Ukraine to meet their child.

What should have been the happiest chapter in their brief marriage turned out to be the most devastating.


It took some time for the wounds to heal from the overseas adoption debacle, but eventually Tana's optimistic nature returned.

If she couldn't be a mom, she would ramp up her skills in the medical field so she could help others at an even more advanced level. She got accepted in the doctoral program for public health at the University of Tennessee at Memphis, which committed her to commuting at the beginning and end of every semester.

Inspired by his wife's drive, Byron returned to school to complete his associate degree. After that, he would pursue his bachelor's degree in engineering.

They doted on their three rescue dogs and spent weekends at area lakes on their boat, wakeboarding and water skiing. They went on cruises, took bike trips and enjoyed leisurely walks on the beach. They found a church home at Tampa Unity and hosted extended family gatherings at their sprawling house.

Then destiny, again.

Each doctoral student was assigned a nonprofit group to help with grant writing and organizational restructuring. Tana got Bethany Christian Services, the nation's largest adoption agency.

It didn't faze her.

"I was in the 'I will never do this again' mind frame, so I just concentrated on my project," she says. Only in one fleeting moment did she nudge open a door, sending a cursory email requesting the date of the next Florida seminar for prospective adoptive parents.

When an email came regarding a seminar in Fort Lauderdale, she told Byron, but she wouldn't go. She didn't want any more heartbreak. Byron opted to make the trip by himself.

Then came a weekend class in Orlando last September to help prepare parents-to-be. Again, it was Byron who convinced Tana it wouldn't hurt to attend, "just in case." She went reluctantly and with much skepticism. She bought tickets to a Blue Man concert to attend while they were there so the weekend wouldn't be a total waste of time.

On Dec. 2, while Tana was in Memphis taking her finals, the Taylors got an email from Bethany about a pregnant mother seeking parents for her baby girl, due in March. All was not well: Since both parents were carriers for cystic fibrosis - their young son had the fatal disease - this infant had a 25 percent chance of having it as well.

Something tugged at Tana's heart. But with the pressure of finals, she didn't reply right away. Then another email arrived, saying the baby had been born prematurely on Dec. 8.

She weight 2 pounds, 2 ounces. With a brain bleed, a heart murmur and numerous other medical challenges, her prognosis wasn’t good.
 

With no response from waiting parents in Florida, the Bethany team sent out a third email and a picture of baby "Aria" nationally. It was cheerful, with encouraging reports from the medical staff, saying she was off the ventilator and "seemed to be tolerating" one milliliter of donor breast milk. Unfortunately, it would be "impossible," the email said, to get a definitive diagnosis for cystic fibrosis for several months yet.

The baby in the accompanying photo was anything but picture-perfect. "Actually, it showed the most pathetic looking infant you have ever seen," Tana says. No matter. She was filled with overwhelming love for this child nobody seemed to want.

The Taylors responded this time, asking that a profile book they had prepared about their lives be shown to the mother, who would make the final choice of who would get her child. They were among just five couples from across the country who took that step.

Christmas came and went. They didn't hear back. Determined not to take the rejection personally, Tana was just happy the premature baby found a loving home.

The couple usually rang in the New Year with a big celebration. But this time they decided to eat at home, hang out with their dogs and crawl into bed early to watch television.

The phone rang at 1:20 p.m., changing their plans and their lives forever.

"Come to Orlando and meet your new daughter," the caller said. The mother, taken by the fun-loving tone of the couple's profile book, had chosen them.

The Taylors don't remember the ride to the hospital. What Tana does remember is the moment she walked into the neonatal care unit and saw her baby, so tiny and frail in the incubator, for the very first time.

At that moment, in the window behind their daughter, a wondrous display of exploding fireworks lit the sky, signaling the start of a new year.

"Our miracle baby," she whispered.


It has been the most joyous chapter in their lives so far.

After thrice-weekly drives to Orlando to be by their daughter's side as she gained strength at the hospital, the Taylors took her home on Feb. 15. Paperwork was completed, and she became legally theirs on April 9.

This time, the investment was about $25,000.

Tests have confirmed the baby doesn't have cystic fibrosis. Tana and Byron say it wouldn't have mattered if she was a special-needs child. They took her exactly how she was, no matter the outcome. That they have a beautiful, healthy baby developing at the normal rate for her age is just a bonus.

"This was our last adoption for 2012 and one of the happiest stories ever," says Cheri Williams, director of Bethany Christian Services of Florida. "Here's a couple that stepped out in faith, after walking away from an experience that left them with empty pockets and empty arms. They could have shut the door, but God put a baby before them and they put themselves out there again. If they weren't obedient, think of what they would have missed."

Finding such a special home for this particular infant meant everything to the Bethany team members, who took turns in the hospital so the baby would never be alone.

"We prayed a lot," Williams says. "Every baby deserves a family. I would say they are a perfect fit for each other."

Staff at James A. Haley - many of whom didn't even know Tana - donated three months of vacation days so the new mother could take additional time to be with her baby. Even now, she is overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers.

"This is affirmation that good things happen to good people," says Gail Hartmaier, a secretary in the spinal cord unit where Tana works. "If you wait long enough, if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded. And I can't think of two people who deserve this happiness more."

In May, there were two more celebrations. Tana got her doctorate and Byron got his associate degree. He now is working on his bachelor's degree.

That she is truly a mother now, at age 47, continues to amaze Tana. It is everything she dreamed of, and more. For her husband, whose grown children are 27 and 24, it's a second chance to be a hands-on father, something he couldn't do when he was in the military. His kids are thrilled to have a stepsister.

The Taylors say they count their blessings every day. Their little family feels complete now. A sign above the door to the baby's nursery proclaims their joy for such an enriched life: "All Because Two People Fell In Love."

They call her Ava Rose, named for Tana's 87-year-old mother, who now says she has a reason to keep on living. This is her first grandchild.

"The name means 'breath of life,' and she's truly just that," Byron says.

And on the back of Ava's neck there's a tiny birthmark - in the same shape and the same place as her grandmother's.

Destiny, again.

mbearden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7613

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