Manitoba couple begins quarantine with 11 adopted kids from Ukraine
Sharon and Rob Steeves were already in Ukraine to pick up their children when the pandemic was declared
Parenting during a pandemic is hard — especially if you're under quarantine with 11 children. But Sharon and Rob Steeves aren't sweating it.
The couple from Pansy, Man., have just arrived home from Ukraine with eight new adopted children, adding to the three they'd adopted more than three years prior. They now have five boys and three girls, aged five through 16.
The family of 13 is now settling in for a 14-day quarantine, which is mandatory for those who have arrived in Canada from overseas during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's actually not bad," Sharon told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"The first night was funny, though, because I made dinner for 11. And then Rob says, 'Well, where is our dinner?' And I said, 'Well … we have 11.' And he said, 'Yeah, 11 kids. There's 13 of us.' So we had a sandwich."
From 3 kids to 11
The Steeves didn't mean to travel across the globe with eight children in the midst of a global pandemic. It just worked out that way.
In December 2016, the couple went to Ukraine and adopted three children from an orphanage there, according to Steinbach Online, which first reported this story.
Over the years Niamh, Conor and Declan would talk about the friends they'd left behind at the orphanage.
Their eldest girl had a friend there who she missed dearly and who she'd always hoped would become her sister.
But it was the middle boy, Conor, who really pushed the issue.
"Conor has a very sensitive heart and he feels things very deeply. And even upon his arrival when he was adopted into our family, he very quickly — and probably more so than the other two — has a real deep sense of appreciation for what he's gained by leaving Ukraine; by being adopted; by coming to Canada," Rob said.
Conor wanted the other kids at the orphanage to have that same experience.
At first, the Steeves told him that it would be impossible. They couldn't afford to expand their family again.
"I quite firmly said, 'No, this is the end of discussion. This is not happening. If when you get married, you marry somebody who is open to adopting, you can adopt as many children as you want,'" Rob said.
"There was no more discussion beyond that point, but I had quite an internal struggle over it for the next four to six months."
It was something his pastor said that finally made him change his mind — that people should allow Jesus to govern when they say yes, and when they say no.
"The Bible very clearly teaches that true and pure religion involves taking care of widows and orphans. It's God's will. It's God's design," Rob said.
"He wants us to take care of people that are destitute and less fortunate."
International adoptions in a global pandemic
So in March, the Steeves found themselves back in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine, at the same orphanage, meeting their eight new children: Saoirse, Sinead, Róisín, Meara, Fallon, Aodhán, Brendán and Patrick.
Then the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. Borders were shut down. Their March 21 flight home was cancelled.
They were struck in Ukraine for three weeks with their new family members before finally getting Canadian consular assistance to come home.
"It was getting very uncomfortable there because even people in the street were were sort of looking at us funny because we talked with an accent or they didn't understand us. And I think they were all scared we were carrying the virus," Sharon said.
"So we were so thankful to get home."
The Steeves said their neighbours and church members have been incredibly supportive throughout, raising $60,000 to make the adoptions possible, buying them a van and a brand new washer and dryer, and dropping off groceries on their front step.
But the biggest display of kindness came when they first arrived back in Pansy on March 26, and were greeted by a welcome parade in front of their home.
About 50 vehicles in total drove by, celebrating their family's arrival while abiding by the province's physical distancing measures.
"Every vehicle came either with a Canadian flag or with writing on it," Rob said. "'Welcome back.' 'Welcome home, Steeves.' 'Welcome to Canada' to the kids. And I started to cry."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Sharon and Rob Steeves produced by Kate Swoger.