Laurie McManus waited almost two decades to be a mother. A year ago, her longing to nurture a child finally came to fruition when she and her husband, Ed, adopted Max, just three days shy of his third birthday from Russia.
Laurie said Max is loving, affectionate, friendly and outgoing.
"I may have missed the birthing and carrying Max but I'm not missing motherhood. It's a dream come true. It's euphoric. It's more than I ever dreamed it would be," Laurie said. "Max is everything we'd ever hoped for and more."
Conyers residents, Laurie and Ed, both 46, tried to have children early on in their marriage 20 years ago but couldn't due to infertility. They applied to adopt a child through Catholic Charities -- a 7-year wait, they were told.
Five years into the process, they learned that many adoptions through Catholic Charities were open adoptions, meaning the birth mother could visit the child if she so wished. Laurie, an adoptee herself, thought it would be too confusing for the child, so the couple opted out.
By then, in their late-30s, the McManuses applied with an agency to adopt a child from Russia. They received a referral of two boys, age 12 and 9 months, and traveled to Russia.
After having met the babies, even giving them names, the McManuses lost the referrals because their agency operated illegally. The agency folded and the McManuses suffered devastating emotional and financial loss.
"It was so horrible," Laurie said.
At age 44, they tried once more to adopt, again through Catholic Charities and again in Russia. This time, however, the McManuses did not receive a referral ahead of time. They flew to Russia and visited an orphanage where workers, based on the couple's paperwork and interviews, chose a child for them.
The day the McManuses first met Max, orphanage staff woke the 21/2-year-old from his nap and carried the groggy baby into a room with toys. Shy and withdrawn at first, Max soon opened up to the couple.
Laurie and Ed spent two hours playing with him, though Laurie admits she kept her distance for fear of losing yet another child. Laurie said Ed knew right away Max would be their son.
"Before we left, he was crawling all over Ed's head and laughing," Laurie said.
"My first impression when he started laughing with Ed was that everything just melted and I thought he was a beautiful boy and a wonderful boy. I could definitely love this child and I wanted to take him home right then, but I was afraid."
The McManuses would visit Russia two more times before learning that Max was finally, officially their son. They flew home to the United States with Max in September 2008.
"I'm adopted as well and my mom taught us that there is more to being a mom then to giving birth. She taught us that being adopted is normal," Laurie said. "I never truly understood that because adoption is all I've every known. Now I can truly appreciate what my mom meant."
The couple knew going into the adoption that they would parent a special-needs child. Max, now 4, has fetal alcohol syndrome, but Laurie said doctors have diagnosed it as mild. He is highly verbal and, also, high energy.
"I never dreamed it would be this great, or this exhausting," Laurie laughed.
Since adopting Max, Laurie has quit her job in information technology (which sometimes required 70-hour work weeks) and Ed continues to work as a production engineer for Visy Paper Inc. in Conyers.
Laurie said that being a mother to Max has affirmed her womanhood.
"Now I feel like I'm fulfilling what I'm supposed to do," she said.