Reece’s Rainbow Report #42: Anderson-Hansen Family

When Liz Anderson first saw the listing for two brothers from Ukraine in 2014, she laughed. Bert and Ernie, really? Like the brother-characters from the fictional children’s show Sesame Street? 

Code names are commonly used in adopting listings, this the registered nurse already knew, but these particular faux monikers also got the pair noticed. It wasn’t long before adoption advocates began regularly posting about the non-Sesame Street Bert and Ernie, in the hopes that a family would step forward soon. 

Spoiler alert: the soon part didn’t happen. And there were plenty of twists along the way, like Ernie being adopted by a Ukrainian family and American parents who initially committed to Bert but had to back out. Yet all that social media advocacy worked, eventually, at least. The boy once known online as Bert is now Nikita, Anderson’s son and the happiest 15-year-old in Connecticut. 

“He just basks in the love of a family. He soaks up all the attention from his siblings and us,” Anderson says. “We ask him, ‘Do you love having a mom, dad and family?’ and he nods yes with the biggest grin. He is definitely ours, and we are his.” 

The “ours” refers to Anderson, her husband Charlie Hansen and their five other children ages six to 18, including Cameron, adopted from foster care. 

Both Nikita’s and Cameron’s adoptions came in 2021, a solid seven years after Anderson chuckled over Nikita’s and his brother’s listing names. 

“We are just normal people,” Anderson says. “We just do things a bit differently, that’s all. Our family is definitely not any different than the next; we just decided to take the leap of faith, and this is where we ended up!” 

It’s a dream that started when Anderson, age 41, was six years old, after seeing an article about adoptions in China. “I’m going to adopt from China someday,” she told her mom. It made sense: she came from a large family and had a heart for the underdog. 

But then life happened. After Anderson’s first marriage ended in divorce, she met Hansen, a coworker. They both had discovered Reece’s Rainbow and often discussed wanting to separately adopt a child featured on the website. 

Another spoiler alert: Anderson and Hansen wound up getting married and adopting Nikita together. 

“It never looked like we would be adopting internationally. I didn’t know the first thing about adopting from another country,” Anderson admits. “It sounded too difficult, and I didn’t personally know anyone who had.” 

But around 2019, she joined the Reece’s Rainbow Facebook group. Nikita was Mr. Popular amongst the advocates but desperately needed out of Ukraine with cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder, he was dangerously fragile and not receiving vital care. Anderson made an online deal as time passed: she would buy Nikita’s plane ticket home, if only someone would say yes.

While she waited for acceptance of her offer, Nikita’s photo kept popping up on her feed. Maybe it was a sign? She re-watched his video. 

“One little moment had my heart. His little hand struggled to grasp the stroller, and I knew he would never survive to adulthood,” Anderson says. “His little tongue poked in and out of his mouth between smiles; his squinty eyes reminded me of my husband’s eyes, and I was smitten!” 

One night, Anderson cried in bed beside Hansen. “This boy will die soon, if not already,” she said. “I feel so strongly that he’s ours.” 

Hansen, a 37-year-old travel nurse in a Boston ICU, replied, “Well, then let’s go get him.” 

Cameron’s adoption was finalized the next week and their international adoption homestudy kicked off. Nine months later, Nikita arrived in the U.S., sobbing most of the flight home. 

“It was really a lot like bringing a newborn home. We didn’t even know this kid, how to feed him, what he likes and doesn’t like. It was surreal, really,” Anderson remembers. “Maybe a bit scary, but mostly because I was worried about him aspirating or having a seizure or whatever.”

But the very next morning, Nikita revealed his true personality: joy upon joy. 

“He was so happy, and to be honest, I thought it was too good to be true, like a honeymoon phase!” Anderson says. “We loved him instantly.” 

As the months passed, Nikita revealed himself to be much more cognitively aware than his new parents had initially been told. Mostly nonverbal, he at first nodded at every question but Nikita has now learned how to get his point across, on par with a six- or seven-year-old.

Though he has retained his original easygoing personality, the teenager can crack jokes, belly laugh loudly, make kissing noises, understand English, respond appropriately to requests, tease others, tattle on his siblings and even demand a stop at his favorite sweets shop. 

“If we drive by Dunkin’ Donuts, Nikita will flail around in his car seat and wail until we look at him in the rearview mirror, and then he nods at Dunkin’,” his new mother says. “We probably feed into it a bit by getting him his favorite double chocolate donut or hot chocolate. He spent so many years never having anything to himself, I’m quite alright with spoiling him a bit.” 

The Anderson-Hansen siblings feel the same. Ethan, the oldest, has an especially close relationship with Nikita. During his recent high school graduation, he gave a rose meant for someone special in his life to his little brother. Nikita, meanwhile, has signaled his intentions to someday live with Ethan, his best friend. 

“I am completely shocked by how well adjusted he is, really, all he went without,” Anderson says. “His sweet spirit stayed intact for so many years. I just don’t know how.” 

Current Nikita goals: getting him to weigh at least 50 pounds for a future scoliosis surgery. Despite his passion for food sent to him via an NG tube the weight gain has proven difficult. Nikita doesn’t care. He’s too busy enjoying his life, hiking strapped to his dad’s back, seeing his new country (“He’s been to tops of mountains and Mount Rushmore,” Anderson says), visiting Home Depot and Wal-Mart, spelunking in caves, painting, playing on the trampoline, swimming, getting massages and watching the rain. 

“Play is his work right now,” Anderson says. 

The experience has been so positive that Anderson and Hansen will soon be returning to Eastern Europe, this time to adopt a daughter from Bulgaria. Despite some people’s disbelief that they actively chose to parent a “forever baby” like Nikita, Anderson jokes that it can’t be all bad if they’re doing it again. 

Spoiler alert: unlike the public’s perception, Anderson and Hansen feel they are the lucky ones, not Nikita. “Waking up to his smiling face every day is a dream come true, really,” she says. 

A dream on a real street in Connecticut, with laughter, learning ― and love ― guaranteed every day.

Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.
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