Joseph and Mercedes LeBlanc have been on a more than two-year, $50,000 emotional roller-coaster ride that has seemingly ended in heartache, despair and a search for answers.
The city couple was almost finished in their efforts to adopt an infant girl from Russia when that government banned all adoptions to U.S. citizens. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the ban into law on Dec. 28.
Since then, the LeBlancs' hopes and dreams to adopt 1-year-old Svetlana from an orphanage in Volgograd, Russia, have been pulled out from under them. They think they are only one of about 100 couples in the country in a similar situation.
Dr. Joseph LeBlanc and his wife, Mercedes, of Williamsport, show a photo of Mercedes with the Russian baby they planned on
adopting during their last trip to Russia. Due to Russia’s new law banning adoptions to Americans, the LeBlancs can only wait and hope that the law will change.
They were just a day away from getting a Russian court's approval for adopting the girl when word of the ban came out.
"We've gone through a whole range of emotions," said Joseph, a physics professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology. "We were just waiting for the announcement of our court appointment when the news broke out, and it was completely turned upside down. We had some hope, but it was dashed."
The LeBlancs, like most families who have been trying to adopt a child from Russia, say the ban is in retaliation for the U.S. signing of the Magnitsky Act on Dec. 14. The act is named after Russian attorney and auditor Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed massive fraud among Russian tax officials.
He died in a Moscow prison in 2009.
The act prohibits those thought to be responsible for Magnitsky's death from entering the U.S. or using its banking system.
But for the LeBlancs, the inter-governmental dispute has hit too close to home.
"It's absolutely political nonsense. It's incredible that politicians are using innocent children for retaliation," Joseph said.
The couple, who have been married for eight years, put in hundreds of hours studying and preparing for the adoption process. They traveled to Volgograd twice and spent a week getting to know and form bonds with the girl.
"We found a beautiful girl. She's healthy, she's smart, she's available and we had the chance to bring her," Joseph said. "We promised her."
A new name - Isabella Svetlana LeBlanc - and the nursery at the LeBlancs' home will have to wait for now.
And waiting is the hardest part, the couple said. Occasional updates on the U.S. Department of State's website and media blurbs do little to quell their need for answers.
"There's not much information coming through, other than what's in the news," Joseph said.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently said that Russia's adoption agreement with the U.S. will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2014, but that all new adoptions and those that were not finalized in Russian court will not be granted, according to the Associated Press.
A Venezuelan native and now U.S. citizen, Mercedes said she and her husband have reached out for help from the Venezuelan ambassador in Moscow, but have not heard back.
Because of age restrictions and other regulations imposed by countries that adopt to the U.S., the LeBlancs said Russia was the most promising choice available to them. They said they weren't even able to adopt an American child.
Unable to have children themselves, the couple worked with a local adoption agency and Christian World Adoption in Fletcher, N.C., to try to fulfill their dreams.
"There is somebody ... waiting for an adoptive family," Mercedes said.
While there seems to be little the American government can do to sway Russia's decision, several legislators have chastised Putin and his government, including U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station.
In a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, who co-chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee with Marino, the pair said "the politically-motivated actions of President Putin are deeply disturbing and put the welfare of innocent children in jeopardy. While these actions may be in response to a recent U.S. sanction against human rights violators in Russia, there is no justification for using a human life as a means for retribution."
While the LeBlanc's have shed many tears since the cruel twist of fate that has uprooted their lives, they said they try to get through the day with hopes that they may someday be reunited with the infant girl.
"I think this is not finished. The laws can be changed," Joseph said. "It's inhuman."