MERIDEN — This father’s day will be extra special for Justin Piccirillo. It’s been a long, complicated and sometimes frustrating process for Piccirillo and his wife Jennifer to become parents, but the couple refused to give up and have recently welcomed a new son into their home.
“I knew stepsons were part of the package and I was excited about that, but I wanted to have one on my own,” Piccirillo said, as his 20-month-old son rested in his arms.
The trip to bring Anders Yeongmin Piccirillo into the family’s home was a long one, both literally and figuratively. Though he may not be the biological son of Justin and Jennifer Piccirillo, two months after his move to Meriden, Anders is fitting naturally into the Piccirillo home.
“He’s my best friend,” Justin Piccirillo said. “It’s wonderful. It’s great. It’s everything I imagined and more.”
Married since 2008, Justin and Jennifer Piccirillo discussed the possibility of having a child together even before exchanging their vows. Jennifer Piccirillo has two sons: Clayton, 20, who lives at home and Adam, 19, who is serving in the Navy.
The couple met while seeking their master’s degrees, but weren’t close until years later, Justin Piccirillo said. Justin Piccirillo is well-known in Meriden and throughout the area for his art and musical talents and is an art teacher at Lincoln Middle School. Jennifer Piccirillo is an elementary school teacher at Yalesville School in Wallingford.
After marrying, they knew adding a third child would be a challenge with Jennifer Piccirillo having already undergone tubal ligation. Still interested in natural birth, she underwent a medical procedure to reverse it and later the couple explored assisted reproductive technology.
Unsuccessful, the Piccirillos began to consider the adoption process. In 2009, they began meeting with a New York-based adoption agency to learn what countries were offering children and the pros and cons of each. They settled on South Korea because the children often have fewer health risks and it had a shorter wait period than China.
They quickly learned that the process can be challenging.
“Over the course of the years, there were so many obstacles,” Justin Piccirillo said.
“It’s hurry up and then wait,” his wife added. “You have to hurry up and rush to fill out paperwork or send something and then it’s a long wait.”
The process included filling out stacks of paperwork that were inches thick for both Connecticut and New York. There were in-home visits to ensure the Piccirillos had a suitable home, a referral process and even dealing with Homeland Security. They had to track down international pediatricians and deal with long waits just to learn the next step. Both questioned whether it would ever work out.
“I have the utmost respect for anybody who has adopted because I know all of the challenges we’ve endured,” Justin Piccirillo said.
They knew things were moving in the right direction last summer when they got home from vacation and had received a phone call from the adoption agency. The Piccirillos were informed there might be a child available. A few months later, around Christmastime, they were told it was time to book a trip to South Korea.
There for 12 days, Justin and Jennifer Piccirillo were only allowed two one-hour visits with Anders. Justin Piccirillo described the child as “standoffish” for the first 45 minutes of the first visit before he warmed up to Justin. During the second visit, Anders was quick to gravitate toward Jennifer Piccirillo.
While in Seoul, the Piccirillos had to go before a judge to explain why they were adopting and their plans for their future son. The South Korean government, they said, wanted to make sure that the culture was kept alive if they were granted a child. The Piccirillos saw where Anders was cared for in a maternity ward-type setting with close to 20 other babies. Justin Piccirillo described them all as “the happiest kids,” which encouraged them that Anders was coming from a suitable place. Rather than an orphanage, Anders was placed in a foster home after the maternity ward, which they were also pleased with.
“It’s kind of emotional because you see these kids growing up parentless, just waiting to be placed and every one has a story,” Justin Piccirillo said. “And we had been with Andy those two times, but then there’s still seven or eight days left of the trip and you know you can’t see him anymore and that was tough.”
When they traveled back to the United States after a few days of sightseeing and some meetings about the adoption, the waiting game began again. It would be another few weeks, but then they were notified by the adoption agency that the family was approved and a phone call could come any day notifying them that Anders had to be picked up in South Korea.
“I had my phone on my desk in my classroom and had it on in case I got the call,” Jennifer Piccirillo recalled. “My class was with me through the whole process and then I got the call and they were excited and I was so happy.”
Having never taken a flight by herself, Jennifer Piccirillo was faced with having to make this one on her own in order to bring Anders to his new home. Admittedly nervous, she said it was important to treat the process like a mission in order to bring her new son home. Upon arriving, Jennifer Piccirillo was pleased to learn that other families were also adopting at the same time and they stayed in the same hotel and traveled together.
“It was just heart-wrenching and very sad and overwhelming because he is leaving his foster mother who he loved,” she said. “But I felt it was all on me and I said ‘I can do this. I have to get him home.’”
After a few more days in South Korea and a long 14-hour flight, Anders was home.
“Once he showed up, I almost completely forgot about the last four years,” Justin Piccirillo said. “They were almost irrelevant.”
Anders is the name the couple agreed upon. Justin Piccirillo said he liked the name and noted that it had a musical connection: it was the name of one of his favorite drummers and the name of a relative Justin Piccirillo traced back to the 1600s who was a trumpeter.
With Anders having been in Meriden for two months, both parents say they are loving the experience with Justin Piccirillo raising his first child and Jennifer Piccirillo going through it for the first time in several years. Anders has quickly taken on Justin Piccirillo’s passion for playing the drums and music in general. After getting home from work, the two go into the basement every day. While Anders bangs on cymbals and some of the drums, Justin Piccirillo keeps his feet moving, keeping the drum set’s hi-hat cymbals and bass drum going.
In the family’s living room, Anders comfortably made his way around the room, playing with drumsticks, looking through books or stopping to dance to a song in a movie featuring Elmo and various Muppets. Because in Korea it is considered typical to hold children until they’re 2 or 3 years old and to feed them with a bottle until they are 2, Anders is still working on his balance while walking and is using a bottle but has been weened off formula, Jennifer Piccirillo said. The family has tried to continue him on various Korean dishes, but he already seems to prefer American food, especially pizza and spicy food.
He has also preferred American cartoons and Elmo in favor of Korean sensation Pororo, a small computer-animated penguin. Justin Piccirillo painted a mural of Pororo on Anders’ wall, along with Scooby Doo playing the drums, Smurfs and Puff the Magic Dragon.
Like with any child, the costs add up, but an adoption can only amplify them. An original estimate of about $30,000 for the full process ended up closer to $50,000, Justin Piccirillo estimated. Whether they are large costs or smaller ones, like $45 per family member for fingerprints, they all add up, he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, which oversees inter-country adoption, the adoption process “can be long and trying. It can also be complicated and expensive,” which the bureau outlines on its website for prospective parents.
“Long term, it is probably patience that will help carry you through this sometimes arduous process,” the website reads. “After you’ve done all your homework, just being patient may be the only thing you can do.”
While Justin and Jennifer Piccirillo said they understand the difficult process and cost could deter someone from the adoption route, it has been worthwhile and they could not be more pleased with the result.
“Everybody tells us that Andy is so lucky to have parents like us in his life,” Jennifer Piccirillo said. “No, we are so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s just so loving and really amazing.”
“In case somebody is on the fence who is wondering if this is for them, I would say definitely go for it,” her husband added. “It’s a long process, but there’s so many advantages and benefits from this that it definitely outweighs the financial strains or just the waiting game. Those things don’t matter once he’s here.”
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