by Jody Kerzman  | Submitted Photos

Fifteen year old Daria Schumaier is a typical American teenager. She’s on her school’s volleyball, golf, and science olympiad teams. She plays chess and is learning to sew. And her favorite food is pepperoni pizza.

That’s a fact that makes her parents, Barry and Paula, laugh and reminisce.

“When we first got her we tried to give her pizza, and she kept spitting it out!” laughs Paula.

That was in Moscow in 2006. The family was there to adopt Daria and bring her to North Dakota. Daria was nearly three years old then, but Schumaier’s journey to adoption started long before she was even born.

“We went through miscarriage after miscarriage. We did have one daughter biologically, but after her birth, we just couldn’t get pregnant again,” explains Paula. “We prayed about it and felt like God was leading us to adoption.”

They got on a waiting list for a domestic adoption. They waited and prayed for two long years.

“We just knew we were supposed to adopt,” says Paula.

But it wasn’t until a conversation with a stranger at a fast food restaurant that they started thinking about international adoption.

“I was visiting with some friends about the adoption process,” remembers Barry. “A man came over and said, ‘I don’t mean to get personal, but I overheard you talking about adoption.’ He proceeded to tell me about his family’s international adoptions and even connected me with the agency, All God’s Children. I still have his contact information in my phone.”

A few weeks later, Paula’s sister mentioned the same adoption agency.

“We figured that was a sign!” laughs Paula.

Not wanting to waste anymore time, the Schumaiers signed up for an adoption from Bulgaria. Adoptions there were moving quickly. But shortly after signing up, Barry and Paula learned that adoptions from Bulgaria were closed.

“There was another door shut,” says Barry.

Then another door opened. Their social worker suggested adopting a child from Russia. In a matter of months, they got a referral—a two-year-old girl named Daria.

Less than a month later, Barry and Paula were on their way to Russia to meet the girl they hoped would be their daughter. Russian adoption rules require couples to make two trips there before an adoption is finalized. Barry explains that the first trip is to meet the child and to see if the parents and child are compatible.

“It is very nerve-wracking,” says Barry. “But we immediately felt attached to Daria.”

Typically, it takes about three months at the most from that first visit to when a couple brings their child home. But the Schumaiers were given another hurdle. Their paperwork had been lost, so they had to redo it all, a costly and time-consuming task.

“We redid it all through a lot of tears,” says Paula.

Finally, in April 2006, the family made their second trip to Russia, this time with their 10-year-old daughter Rachel along. This time they stayed for nearly three weeks.

“The court proceedings were in Russian. We had an interpreter but we had no idea what was happening. The judge could have said we couldn’t adopt Daria for any reason and that would have been that,” says Barry.

But the judge determined the Schumaiers would be Daria’s new parents, and the next day they picked up Daria. They spent the next few weeks in Russia getting to know each other.

“We had done a lot of reading, and our adoption agency really prepared us that it is not a fairy tale,” admits Paula. “Daria was terrified when we left the baby house. I don’t know if she had been in a car before. All she had even known was that baby house.”

“She didn’t understand a word we were saying; she was almost three years old and spoke fluent Russian while we spoke English,” adds Barry.

Still, Daria started calling Paula ”Mom” before they even left Russia. When they arrived home in Bismarck, the real adjusting began.  

“We were told we needed to bond, so we spent that first summer pretty much at home,” says Paula.
“She learned English incredibly fast, but she was slower to accept her sister Rachel,” says Barry.

“Rachel had been praying for this sister. I was sad and frustrated when Daria didn’t really want anything to do with Rachel. I remember Rachel saying, ‘Dad, you can’t rush it.’ Here was this 10-year-old giving me advice.”

Today, Rachel and Daria have a pretty typical sister relationship—they fight and binge watch Netflix together. And Rachel continues to protect her baby sister, the one she prayed for and waited for.

“God had it all worked out. There was a little girl that needed us, and we needed her. If everything would have worked out the way we wanted it to originally, that wasn’t the right plan. It sounds weird to say, but I am thankful for infertility because without it, I wouldn’t have Daria,” says Paula.

Daria has always known she is adopted. She says sometimes she wonders if she looks like her birth parents, but she admits, she doesn’t think about them very much.

“I’ve learned that parents are not only the ones who give birth to you, but they’re the ones who raise you up most of your life,” says Daria. “My life is an incredible story. Even though I was given up by my biological parents, I was chosen by these parents.”

Daria’s name is a gift from her birth parents; Barry and Paula chose to keep it. In Russia, Daria is a common name, and girls with that name are often called Dasha, which means “gift from God.”

The Schumaiers couldn’t agree more.