His family’s flight was scheduled to leave in less than 12 hours, but Tom Spiglanin was still standing outside the United States embassy in freezing cold Armenian weather.
He planned to pick up his newly adopted son’s visa from just beyond the embassy’s front doors, but so far he hadn’t received any indication it would actually be issued.
“If we don’t get this visa, we don’t fly home,” he said.
Then, late in the afternoon while his worrying mounted, an email arrived saying the travel document was ready.
The touch-and-go situation at the embassy last month was just one of the final hurdles Spiglanin and his wife, Lauren, overcame to bring their 16-year-old son from Armenia to join their family in Rancho Palos Verdes. The Spiglanins had adopted Erik’s younger sister, Arianna, in 2009. Now, nearly eight years later, they say their family is complete.
The process of adopting Erik began when his grandmother died in late 2013. She had been caring for Erik since his mother died shortly after she gave birth to Arianna.
At that point, his aunt contacted Lauren Spiglanin and asked if she and Tom would adopt Erik.
“And I said, ‘absolutely,’ ” Lauren said.
NEVER FORGOT ERIK
Adopting Erik, who will keep his last name of Petrosyan, had been on her mind ever since they took Arianna home eight years ago. They’d kept in touch with him via Skype several times a year while they were raising Arianna, who was born premature and, because of complications, with a brain injury that left her with a condition similar to cerebral palsy. Now the bright, young 8-year-old gets help speaking via a display that tracks her eye movements. She’s made it clear that she’s happy to have Erik home with her, Tom Spiglanin said.
Even though they’d already adopted Arianna, Lauren Spiglanin said the process of bringing Erik to California wasn’t any easier this time around.
In fact, it was even more difficult.
Because Erik is a teenager and wasn’t living in an orphanage, new hurdles had to be overcome that the Spiglanins didn’t face when they adopted Arianna.
Right off the bat, they hit a roadblock — most of the attorneys they contacted in the U.S. to help facilitate the international adoption turned them away. Erik’s age, and the fact that he was living in a private home rather than an orphanage, were too much for them to take on, she said.
After working her way through several personal connections, Lauren Spiglanin contacted David Adishian of Palos Verdes Estates, a longtime family friend, for help. He put her in touch with his son, who finally connected her with an attorney in Georgia who said she could help them.
“I was flying high,” Lauren Spiglanin said. “Then we came to a slam.”
UNEXPECTED ROADBLOCK TO ADOPTION
Just as the couple was making their way through the U.S. side of the process to adopt Erik, they were hit with another bombshell — the attorney they’d hired to help them through the international adoption process broke the news to them that she wasn’t approved to facilitate the adoption in Armenia.
One night, shortly after that setback, Lauren Spiglanin decided to take matters into her own hands. After an online search, she sent an email to the Armenian minister of justice. In it, she told the minister that every day since they adopted Arianna she had thought of Erik, and that every single day it weighed on her.
“Basically, I just poured my heart out,” she said. “I guess (the minister) was really touched by my email and the photos I sent of Ari.”
Within hours of that email, the minister gave a special approval for the Spiglanins to adopt Erik, and they were back on track.
In what turned out to be a three-year process, they filed one piece of paperwork after another, conferred with attorneys in the U.S. and across the Atlantic and, finally, after a court hearing in Armenia, received approval to bring Erik back to California with them.
After obtaining Erik’s visa from the embassy in Armenia, the Spiglanins arrived back home Feb. 9, nearly three weeks after they’d left for Armenia.
A FULL FAMILY NOW
During the roughly eight years between bringing Arianna home and adopting Erik, Tom Spiglanin said, it felt like something was missing in their family.
“It was like there was something incomplete about us. We weren’t full,” he said.
Now, Lauren is working to open a memory care facility for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Torrance while Erik attends Palos Verdes High. He has a knack for photography and likes his history class. And the Spiglanins said they’ve been contacted by multiple teachers praising Erik.
The only bumps they’ve experienced so far have stemmed from a language barrier. But, with Tom’s limited grasp of Armenian and Lauren’s Armenian family, they eventually find ways to work around that, they said.
They’re looking forward to the future when Erik becomes more acclimated, and the communication barriers become easier to overcome, Tom Spiglanin said.
They’re planning a trip to Hawaii sometime in the future — Lauren is pushing for April, but Tom says that’s not likely.
“There’s an intensity that you’re operating at to get everything done, and this adoption is just a part of what we do,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to relaxing.”