Elaine DePrince thought her family was done with adopting. She and her husband, Charles, had five boys: two biological sons and three special-needs sons adopted from overseas. Despite the adopted boys’ hemophilia, the family was an active bunch, backpacking and camping all over the US and Canada.
Elaine was a doting mother. She carried clotting factor, a treatment for hemophilia, wherever they traveled. They might be in a campground in the middle of nowhere and there she would be, infusing the treatment in the predawn hours, in a tent. The boys all lived very normal lives. That is, until HIV affected their blood product, and the three youngest boys contracted the disease. Elaine braced herself for the worst.
Devastation hit when her baby, Cubby, died first on June 9, 1993. "Everybody knows that your baby is always the closest to you," she candidly recalls. Nine months later, Michael, her 15-yr-old, passed. They knew that Teddy would not live much longer; the drugs available in the mid-'90s didn’t make HIV very manageable. She had to face the fact that she would soon lose a third child.
It was a succession of tragedies that might break even the strongest among us. So what did Elaine do? She mourned — and then she adopted six more orphans in need. Her capacity for love (and, apparently, her threshold for pain) is astonishing.
YourTango first became acquainted with Elaine at the 2013 Women In the World (WITW) summit hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, where she accompanied her 18-yr-old daughter Michaela DePrince, who was being honored. Michaela — whom Elaine rescued from a war-torn orphanage in Sierra Leone — has the distinction of being the youngest member of the acclaimed Dance Theater of Harlem.
Originally, only Michaela was to speak at WITW, but it seemed a natural and fair progression to also honor the woman responsible for rescuing this child and setting her life on a whole new and amazing course. And so, Elaine DePrince took her place among esteemed speakers such as Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton. She told the tale of traveling to the Sierra Leone orphanage to adopt one little girl, and leaving with a second — a girl born with vitiligo, a skin pigment condition that left her with "spots" and stigmatized as a "demon child" whom no one wanted. That little girl was Michaela.
Elaine told a story of calling her husband, who was away on a business trip, in the middle of the night to tell him she'd adopted a second girl. He called her the next day, recalling "a dream" in which Elaine told him she was coming home with an extra daughter. "Um, that wasn't a dream," she interjected. "It was real. I signed the papers. She's ours."
But when Elaine came back to the states with two little girls instead of one, it wasn’t that much of a surprise to anyone else — or it shouldn't have been to those who knew her well. Keep reading ...
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