Russian Adoption

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[adoption announcement with his full name edited out]

You can read all of the the posts from our trips to Russia here. They go from newest to oldest.

Gus’s Adoption Story

In September 2011, just 10 months after Reed and Lena came home, we began to consider adopting again. There were a few different children that we thought might be a good match for us. We inquired about one little girl who was listed on Reece’s Rainbow. She was in Russia and Russia requires you to work with an adoption agency, unlike Ukraine. We contacted the agency and were told that there were a few other families interested, but they’d keep us updated. A few days later, we were told that there was a family seriously interested, who would be seeing if they could get a waiver on size of the family for her region. Her region only allowed 3 children at home and they had 4. Shortly later, we found out that they had been granted the waiver and would be pursuing her adoption. We believed that door was closed, and we began to consider other children.

But, just a few days later, we got another email from the agency. At their first homestudy meeting, the family decided they weren’t the best fit for her. However, they wanted to offer the other interested family(us!) the money that they had saved her adoption, which was a very large amount. Over half of what we’d need for her adoption! No way!

It didn’t take us long to say yes. We were very close to saying yes before we knew the other family was ready to go, but she needed to be adopted quickly. The money was holding us back, uncertain how long it would take us to raise the money for a Russian adoption. And here, it was being handed to us.

Yes. Absolutely yes. The agency told us that the family wanted to talk with us if possible. Of course.

Both mothers of young children and we instantly connected over our mutual love of this little girl. L asked me questions and checked my heart, but in the gentlest way. Not only would they support our adoption financially, but they’d also be supporting us in prayer and friendship.

So, it was on. We rushed through the paperwork. We did everything we could to gather papers for our first trip as quickly as possible. A near impossible feat, but we had the homestudy and entire first dossier done in 3 weeks. We had our immigration paperwork in 5 weeks. We were determined.

Just after Thanksgiving, we said goodbye to Reed and Lena and boarded a plane for Moscow.

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[Still so early in the process. Naive about what was to come.]

“Helen”

And, we met her. “Helen”, 3 years old, was spunky and sassy. Just a couple of months younger than Lena, hospitalized for most of her short life so far, but she was brilliant. Reciting a poem for hide and seek. Playing games with us. Brushing my hair.
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We wanted to connect with her, but she was attached to her nanny, who was not allowed to leave her side. We got to know her the best we could, believing that once we had some time apart from her nanny, it would be easier.

I think we left Russia with more questions than answers, but we were committed. We returned home with new determination to speed through the process.

After we had been home for about one week, the first week of December, we got an email from our agency saying that a Russian family who knew her was interested. They had spent much time with her and loved her very much. We weren’t sure how to proceed, but we have the mindset that, if possible, it’s in a child’s best interest to stay where language and culture are familiar. Helen knew this family already. On the other hand, we had been told that Helen’s medical needs really needed to be handled by an American team. That Russia simply didn’t have the advancements that we did.

It was a roller coaster ride. All of those questions we left Russia with bubbled up at the thought that she might not be ours. All of those doubts that I think any parent feels sometimes crept up. Was this the right decision for our family?

But, they decided no. The husband was not okay with adopting her.

Full steam ahead for us. It was the Christmas season, but in between shopping, wrapping gifts, and decorating the tree, we spent our spare minutes chasing papers, sending papers and refreshing our email thousands of times to see if we had a court date yet.

That court date came in mid-January. Later than we’d hoped, but it was okay.

Again, the mad rush began. Plane tickets and visas. Booked and ready.

I was emailing my coordinator with a quick pre-court trip question . Mid-day and for a simple email like that, she was quick to respond. Nothing. Okay, fine. I can wait.

I remember that day. We took the dogs out for a walk. The winter air was crisp, but it was pleasant for a walk.

As we finished our walk and climbed in the car, I glanced at my phone. Ah, finally, she responded! The email read:

We have received terrible news. [Name of Russian woman] unexpectedly appeared today with formal approval to take “Helen” into their family as a foster child. The judge has no authority to overrule the social worker’s approval. The judge told [adoption facilitator] the decision is final. Are you available to talk? I’d like to call to discuss this.

“I will be home in twenty minutes. Call me then.” I sent back.

The minutes chirp by and I really tried to grasp the situation. What did this mean? For Helen? For our family?

We talked. It was final. Just like that, she was gone.

The adoption community, they just carry you through a time like that. One of my dearest (also adoptive parent) friends came over that night, just to be there. The messages, comments and emails we received were so kind. Bible verses and fitting songs were shared.

Starting Over

In the midst of the grief, we had a decision to make. We had plane tickets booked less than 3 weeks out. Reece’s Rainbow told us that we either needed to pay the grant money back or chose another child to adopt.

We knew we wanted to still wanted to adopt, and within the next few days, our facilitator sent the information about available children.

How do you choose in a sea of faces? And when you’re masked with grief?

We prayed, but we could not agree. Aaron was drawn to one little boy, but I wasn’t certain. So, late at night, I mindlessly used my internet search skills while nibbling on my only vice, mint chocolate chip cookies.

I found the website of the orphanage where nearly all of the other children we were considering were. I browsed the pages of children until one face stopped me…

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Andrei. That was it. How can you not smile when you see that sweet face? I knew, right away, looking at that photo, that he was the one.

So, the next day, we made our commitment. This was late January and we knew that his birthday was coming up fast, sometime in February. We were scheduled to travel the second week of February, accept his official referral and meet him on February 14, Valentine’s Day, 2012.

This trip was harder. Oh boy. Moscow in February is a cold, dark place. We decided to stay at an apartment for this trip instead of the hotel we stayed at last time. We had the apartment company driver pick us up at the airport and we ended up standing in the -20F night for about 15 minutes, waiting for the driver to meet the apartment owner to let us in.

That’s just a little aside, but it’s a memory I won’t soon forget of our roller coaster second adoption.

February 14. Our facilitator picked us up that morning and her greeting was solemn. Knowing what we’d been through, she was so sweet and gentle with us. The truth was, at this point, our hearts had been sad enough in the past few weeks and now we were in anticipation of meeting our boy. In a way, the first part of that morning was a bit of deja vu, as we returned to the Ministry of Education to receive his referral. They were kind, too, and prepared for us. We got so many apologies that day for what had happened with “Helen”.

We later found out that we were the last Americans to get a referral of a child under 2 in Moscow City. Maybe it was luck that we got Andrei’s referral, but I wonder if they took some pity on us.

Meeting Him

As you anticipate meeting your child for the first time, you have some thoughts on how you’d like it to be– angels singing and all. But, it’s never like that.

We were taken to a room set up for music class. First, we sat on the tiny furniture and were taken through his entire history. I took notes. The facilitators always say that they will translate all of these documents for you, but I hate to miss a single detail, a single implied subtlety in the director’s voice, so I take my own.

They brought Andrusha in. He was… uncertain. It was so, so healthy to see him cautious about these new people stepping into his world, but it’s hardly climactic. It’s hard to feel you’ve made the right decision about a child, when he’d really rather you left.
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He had just gotten over the chicken pox. He looked tired. He giggled when Aaron squeezed a hollow block near his face and some air puffed out.
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We spent the next few days trying to get to know him. He was quiet. He was observant. He liked music and chewing on things.

He smiled rarely, but we tried to be okay with that. We were new. Unfamiliar.

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After a few days, we returned home, as planned. We hoped to be back soon. We just had a few changes to make to our court paperwork– to update it for Andrei. But, back soon, right?

The Dark Days

We thought we’d be back soon. Some friends of ours were set to travel for their court date at the end of February. On the day that they were leaving, we received an email from them, sent from the airport, saying that Moscow wanted to stop all international adoption court hearings and please pray. Of course, we were concerned for them, but we were also concerned for us. What did this mean? Would Andrei not come home either?

Our friends got our court date, and their approval, but that was it. No more court dates. Indefinitely.

I just fell apart. We lost “Helen” and now I looked like we might we lose Andrei too.

March was a hard month. There was just so much uncertainty. At the end of the month, we got news that a family who had travelled shortly before us had a court date of April 13th. This offered us a bit of hope, things we were moving again, although slowly.

We had left a disposable camera with Andrei in February, hoping that they’d capture photos of some of the time that we’d missed. We asked this family to pick it up for us. Nope, the orphanage wouldn’t return it to them. Our hearts sunk a bit more, just wanting to see our boy.

Then I got a Facebook message on the morning of April 12, “Wake up, friend! I have a surprise for you…”

This family had given their camera to our facilitator during their visit that day, and she visited Andrei. 11 new photos of my sweet boy, taken just hours before.

He was walking, smiling, studying our photo on the cover of his photo album.
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I still think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Photos of our boy and hope when we needed it most.

Things looked up from there. At the end of April, we received our court date for May 29. I still clung to it cautiously, but hopefully.

Court

At the end of May, we returned to Moscow again, this time, beautiful. Things were in bloom, daylight was long and warm, and we could open the windows of our apartment to let the sounds of the city in.

We got to take Andrei outside. He fell asleep in my arms on the swing.
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He had grown up since February. He ran around, he tried to eat rocks, he leaned in for kisses. It was these same days that we saw our moose, the one this blog is named after.

May 29 was court day. A strange quirk, that this night owl wakes up early when she is in Eastern Europe and I woke up extra early that morning. Anxiety and anticipation being the likely causes. There was much time to pray and be along with God, before Aaron even woke up. I wrote down my anxieties for this day and my hopes for Andrei’s future.

I did the main speaking in court. My knees and my voice trembled and I worried so much about screwing it up. But, by the time my husband stood up in front of everyone, I realized that the judge, the prosecutor and the baby house director were all smiling. All would be okay.

We walked out of the court house as parents of August Andrei, who we’d now call both “Gus” and “Andrusha” interchangeably.

We went straight from the court house to see him and it was like he knew. He was no longer calm or shy with us. He giggled and smiled.
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He was alive.

And, he was ours.
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That day, he became both legally and affectionately my baby.
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The next 6 weeks of waiting for him to come home were long, but we stayed busy.

July 8, my mom and I flew to Russia to bring him home. And on July 9, I picked him up as his mother. The court-document-holding kind of mother, who never has to put you down if she doesn’t want to. I didn’t want to.

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(those wonderful smiling people in the background are the orphanage director and our facilitator.)

We spent the next few days in Moscow waiting to get his passport and visa and exploring. And, those were some good days.

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My mom was the perfect companion to have on that trip, because she was helpful with Gus, but also encouraged me to go out on these outings each day, to explore the city. We’d walk miles each day, visiting Red Square, Gorky Park, Arbat Street, among others.

On July 14, we returned to America, spending one night at my parent’s house and Gus meeting my side of the family. And, on July 15, we flew home to Kansas, where Gus met his siblings for the first time.
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(what he was doing when he became an American citizen)

That’s the story of Gus’s adoption. We weren’t expecting Gus and without so many little details coming together, we could have missed him. But, now, he’s a brother and a son. Not a day goes by that we aren’t thankful for him.

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One thought on “Russian Adoption”

  1. “The court-document-holding kind of mother, who never has to put you down if she doesn’t want to. I didn’t want to.”

    This is perfect, and something I was never able to put into words. When you have bio-kids, this isn’t a milestone. When you’re waiting for your referral and court dates, it’s so similar to pregnant waiting, the excitement and the worry. But….that stretch of time in adoption, when you know your child, with all the love and committment that goes with it, but you’re not a paper-holding mom… That’s the hardest. And when it’s done, the relief and gratitude is remarkable. We can’t help but take it for granted that bio kids are “ours,” but being legally granted “mom” is amazing. That you and your child are truly safe, AND, that somebody really, willingly gives you legal mommy-status.

    So happy for you, and so grateful to be reminded what a gift it was to be made “mom!”

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