In the U.S. we talk about Russian children coming to a better life with families in the United States. We got it half right. These children are going to a better life because they are joining a family who loves and needs them. It has nothing to do with "Coming to America." Children don't need to move to the United States to be happy.
In 2005, my wife, Amy, and I adopted three children from Russia. As we were wrapping up those adoptions, we saw a document indicating that our new daughters had older siblings who were living in other orphanages across the country. It took us another year and a half to locate these two children, but they are now part of our family of eleven, too.
The hardest part of adopting from Russia is called the "in between time." Russia requires parents to make multiple visits prior to finalizing an adoption. Obviously, parents are excited and apprehensive as they prepare for the first trip, when they will meet their new child. Apprehension fades quickly though, even during an introduction. After holding a child and realizing that they will be yours, your heart melts. With older children, when they let down their guard and call you Mama or Papa, you feel your heart will burst. Within days, you have to tell them goodbye. I vividly remember my daughter, Sarah, wailing, screeching and crying when she realized she would still have to wait before we took her away from the orphanage. My heart was crushed right along with hers.
Sarah's heartbreak was the first thing I thought about when I heard about Russia banning U.S. parents from adopting and stating that all in-process adoptions would be shut down. My knee-jerk reaction was fury. Most of all my heart went out to the parents and children of the "in between time." I knew that their pain could only be compared to what they would experience with the death of a family member.
As I became more and more angry, I tried to find a silver lining. Sarah had a best friend at the orphanage, Marina. She was 7 and was one of the most beautiful little girls I had ever met. Russian adoptions are legally sealed, so I thought we would never see Sarah's best friend again once we left Russia. I was wrong.
Serendipity played a part in our family finding little Marina, who had been adopted by a Russian family. I have had the opportunity to visit with her and her wonderful family several times in the past few years, and our families have come to be dear friends.
My little friend Marina is a case in point. While Sarah was adopted into an affluent family and Marina joined a middle class family, Sarah is no happier than her friend. It was much easier for Marina to adapt than it was for Sarah, and this shows up when comparing their academic achievements and various struggles since their adoptions.
When Amy and I began our Russian adoption experience, it was almost unheard of for Russians to adopt anyone but infants. That is changing, and so is the negative stigma Russians associate with adoption. I think sometimes we forget that the U.S. underwent a similar evolution a few decades ago.
In the United States, it was 1909 when Teddy Roosevelt gathered together leaders to address the orphan problem. At that time they decided it was better to give financial assistance to struggling parents than to place children in orphanages. That was the birth of our current welfare system. Unfortunately, it took another fifty years before we went to work to eliminate institutional orphanages in the 1960s.
Russia is just now putting into place welfare and foster care systems to deal with their orphan problem domestically. This, in reality, is a good thing, not a bad one.
The challenge is adoptions to the United States are not being allowed to continue while the evolution of a new Russian social and welfare system moves forward. I'm afraid it will take longer than the Russian people think it will. Still, when it is done, it will be good for Russia and her children.
Meanwhile, I'm still sad. My wife and I sat down and had a good cry with our children when we told them about the ban on U.S. adoptions from Russia. To all of those families in the "in between time," our thoughts and prayers are with you.