This is Laura, Sharon’s sister-in-law. My husband and I adopted our two children from Russia in December, 2003. I wanted to share some of our experiences because of the recent, and hopefully very short-lived, policy closing Russian adoptions to Americans. Many of you reading this blog may not know about the Dima bill (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/russia-vladimir-putin-adoptions-bill_n_2374291.html) , or maybe you’re wondering why it is such a big deal. Families made by adoption are just as real as families made by biology. And the tragedy is that children are denied a family because of this spiteful political decision.
The process of international adoption begins with many, many forms and a mountain of paperwork to complete. Financial information, tax returns, medical information, marriage license, birth certificates, a social worker completes a home study. Applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service), fingerprinting with the FBI, background checks must be done. And once everything is completed, each piece of paper has to be notarized, and then specially authenticated and sealed by the State office. This authentication is called an “apostille” and it costs between $10 and $25 per seal. The irony of the amount of time, expense and effort that goes into the process to “prove” yourself to be a fit parent when others can just have a baby was not lost on us. I vividly remember months and months of effort to gather all the required documents. I brought the pristine file of papers to the State office to be apostilled, and found a sweet woman who was eating cheese puffs at her desk. I almost couldn’t bring myself to give her the file. I couldn’t risk an orange smudge! All that hard work! She smiled and said she would have the forms completed within 2 hours. I held my breath, and left her office. And when I returned, my still-pristine documents were waiting for me, each one enclosed by an official form, and each embossed with a gold seal. They were perfect!
Once the documents were all apostilled, they were sent off to be translated into Russian, and submitted to the Russian regional court. So then we wait. Adoption has been described as “pregnancy without a due date.” Once everything was submitted, there was nothing to do but wait for them to contact you. Fortunately, we received a letter from our region within a few months telling us that we were welcome to come and “pick out” our children. This was great news, but how exactly does one pick out a child?
We booked our flight, packed, and brought toys for the children. Excitement turned to panic in the airport as we waited to board our flight. What were we doing? Flying halfway around the world to a country where we couldn’t read or speak the language?? The panic subsided as I began to trust in what we spent over a year preparing for. And the discoveries of traveling in an exotic country were priceless: On Russian airlines, every meal comes with smoked salmon, and they allow smoking in a compartment at the back of the plane! The way to say “I don’t understand” in Russia sounds approximately like “Ya nee pah nee my you”. This phrase came in handy when we pretended not to understand that we had to pay an overweight baggage fee. The frustrated lady who could not speak English finally just waved us on. The taxi drivers in our region could not understand my attempts at pronouncing the name of the hotel (and told me: “Ya nee pah nee my you”, ha ha!), but I was able to write down the name of the hotel in Russian, and they got it.
Soon after we arrived in our region, we went to the children’s home, which is the name of the orphanage for children from age 4 to about 10. We met the orphanage director, and she brought about 15 children into the room and gave us a chance to interact with them. We brought plastic Mardi gras beads and doubloons and passed them out to all the children. One boy dropped his doubloon, and another boy with a crossed eye picked it up and gave it back to him. How sweet! That same boy with the crossed eye was asked to sing, and he sang a Russian song that made our adoption attorney cry. Our hearts melted. We asked about him. Was he available?
Many Russian children are placed in orphanages when a parent/family cannot afford to keep them. Often, the parent does not relinquish the child, maybe in the hopes that they will be able to take the child back when their situation has improved. However, children that are not relinquished cannot be adopted. Available children in orphanages are placed into a database, and for two months can only be adopted by Russians. After that two-month period, the children are then available to be adopted internationally. Our cross-eyed boy was available, and we started the paperwork to petition to adopt him. The workers at the orphanage said that my husband and our son “had the same face” because they looked so much alike!
We next went to the baby’s home, which is the orphanage for newborn children to age 3. We met many beautiful children again, and got to hold and cuddle with so many. I tried to be as objective as possible, but just didn’t know how! I had expected that we would adopt two boys, since there are more boys available. However, I distinctly remember when they brought in a little girl. All of a sudden, I just knew. I reached out to hold my daughter. It was meant to be.
The bonding process had begun, but we had to wait another 4 months before we were able to return to Russia to go to court to petition to adopt our children. It was supposed to be shorter, but they discovered our son’s picture had not been posted on the Russian database, so we had to wait longer. During that waiting, I had a dream that we were in Russia at the orphanage, and there was a party with many people. I took my daughter and hid with her in a closet so no one would find her before I could bring her home. I was so terrified of losing her! And I worried that our son, who was older, didn’t understand where we were and why we weren’t coming back for him. My heart breaks when I think of the families that were in the process of adopting children and now have that process terminated. How can you leave your child/ren behind?
Fortunately, in our situation, our adoption was approved by the Russian court, and we were able to bring our children home. We traveled halfway around the world to find them, but we knew them as soon as we saw them. They were born in our hearts, and I am grateful for the miracles that took place for us to have the privilege and responsibility of being their parents.