ArmeniaNow.com - Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 12 , 2003 


Two Rooms, One Family: Six members become seven with surprise return of first son


A late-night stranger told Laura her son was alive, but could not sit nor stand alone. The mother now knows better.

In a Yerevan hospital, 26-year old Laura Yeritsyan faced a decision motherhood could not prepare her for. Her child, and, significantly, the family's first boy, would die within 10 days, doctors told her.

She had just given birth to Hayk, her fourth child. Tatevik, Anahit and Gayane, were age 9, 8 and 2 and healthy. Laura and her husband Vartan wanted a son, but when their wish was granted, the child they got was born with severe problems. Specifically, the baby was born with a cleft lip and a hole in his palate.

A micro-surgeon told the parents that the baby had no chance of living.

Even if a surgery could be arranged, the baby would require numerous costly follow up procedures and at-home treatment. Neither Laura nor Vartan had a job. So Laura signed a paper giving up guardianship of Hayk, and left him with the hospital to await the inevitable.

"I had three other children," the mother, now 29, says, not as an excuse but as a pitiful explanation. "I thought if I brought him home and something happened it would be worse for the other children."

Laura left the hospital, and never heard any more about her son.

Hayk was born February 7, 2000. The story moves ahead to this August.

Near midnight at the Yeritsyan's hovel of a home, a woman knocked on the door and said she had some legal papers she'd like Laura to sign concerning the adoption of a boy believed to be Laura's son.

Hayk doesn't yet understand who Laura is, but is learning.

The child, now 3, was in an orphanage in Gyumri, the late-night visitor told Laura. The boy was mentally ill and could neither stand nor sit, the woman said.

Laura did not agree to sign the papers. Instead she called relatives in Gyumri and asked them to go to the orphanage and check out the woman's story. (She now suspects that the woman was trying to make money by trying to help someone adopt Hayk.)

Relatives indeed found Hayk, but not as the woman had described. The boy was not only healthy, but energetic. A program - Operation Happy Smile - sponsored by World Vision, British Airways and the British Council had paid for a surgery to repair Hayk's lip and for a prosthetic that covers the hole in his palate.

All Laura had known of her son was that he had blond hair and blue eyes.

"I wanted to go and get him on that very day," Laura says. She was told though that she'd have to wait until proper documents could be prepared. But within a few days of learning that Hayk was alive, Laura went to the orphanage and "adopted back" her first son (in the interim, she'd given birth to Hovaness, now 1 year old).

"I changed his clothes immediately in the car," she says. "As soon as we started driving back, he put his head on my shoulder and fell asleep."

The fairytale could end there. But this is no happy ending story.

In a path of destruction that will one day be Yerevan's glitzy North Avenue, the Yeritsyans live in two rooms, each about eight feet by 12 feet. Two adults, two girls about to be teenagers, a pre-schooler and two babies, in a space equivalent to two minivans. What passes for a kitchen is an entryway where Laura prepares meals for her husband and children over a propane tank; she has no oven. The toilet is a separate room reached by first going outside, and the water freezes in winter.

Big family, lots of laundry, and frozen water in the winter . . .

Vartan, 31, is working now as a driver, so things, Laura says, are better than before when he was back and forth to Russia looking for work. Driving pays well by some standards; Vartan makes about $100 a month. Still . . .

Hayk gets free speech therapy and psychological counseling through a World Vision-sponsored center in Yerevan. Laura cries when she says that Hayk still has no idea that she is his mother. To him, she is just someone who might be visiting the orphanage.

Taking Hayk back is a decision that, in many ways, might not be to the Yeritsyan's advantage. But it is a decision made with much greater clarity and infinitely less soul searching than the decision to give him up.

"Life demands that you must force yourself to do things for your children," Laura says. "I grew up in a time when things were good and my family had a comfortable apartment. I want the same for my children.

"I started believing in miracles after we got Hayk back. So I believe that one day things will be okay."

World Vision is an international agency offering several means of humanitarian work in Armenia. To learn more about them, visit www.wvarmenia.am. To make a gift to the Yeritsyan family or others with need through ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta project, click here.


 

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