Wow! That Was Quick
In a nutshell, our adoption from Russia began in mid- February 2005 and was completed when we brought our two daughters home September 28, 2005. Home study visit was March 5th with completion of apostilled dossier in the hands of Adoption Ark by mid-April. Referral last week in April with plans to travel sometime in May. First trip May 21st -26th. Second trip September 16th - 28th.
Once the decision to adopt was made we began to research agencies. First going down the path of adopting through foster care we were quickly denied because our house was not big enough to house only two children per room. Plus it seemed that every child we looked at couldn't live in a house that had younger siblings. With so much red tape for a US adoption we entered the international adoption realm.
We began looking into Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. Considering estimated time to complete adoption, cost, post-placement reports, and in-country length of time required we chose Russia as best suiting our family needs. We narrowed it down to three agencies and ultimately chose hands down - ADOPTION ARK (AA). We felt very comfortable with them and was assured that accreditation would not be a problem since we would be going as independents. They addressed our concerns and set what seemed to be a reasonable time frame to us. We signed our contract with them mid-February and had our home study visit on March 5th and 6th. When our social worker came, John's parents took all of our kids to the skate park. Just as our first visit was wrapping up, they all showed up because our son Adam had a very hurt leg. Panicking, I played the imaginary scenario in my head. I pictured her writing up in our home study the following, "John and Christine do not work well under pressure. They seem careless in their child rearing, not supervising their children at a potentially dangerous place. I would advise against them adopting internationally as they seem to have their plate full already." With that in mind I quickly tried to gather my composure and simply apologized for having to cut our visit short because I had to care for my son and take him to the ER. Turns out he had broken his leg in two spots and needed a cast from his thigh down to his toes for about 8 - 12 weeks. The next day when our social worker came back I came clean and told her my fears about what she might say. She was very nice and told us just the opposite, that she felt certain we were capable of handling even stressful situations and she had no negative comments to make about us. She got to see first hand how we are as parents and this alarming situation actually had a positive outcome for our home study. Thankfully, our son Adam was a real trooper and came through the whole ordeal just fine.
We received our home study the second week of April and submitted our apostilled dossier by the third week. When we submitted it to AA we told them we were very open to almost any child(ren) we were referred. We were happy with one child, two children, siblings, two girls , or one boy and one girl within the ages of 3 - 11. We just wanted children that were available now. By the last week in April we received a referral for two little girls in Ivanovo whom we could travel to meet within a couple weeks. Very excited, we accepted them with only very little known about them. Just first names and birth dates. Looking at their pictures we began to think of them as our daughters. As we prepared to leave on May 21 to meet them we got a devastating call a couple days prior that they had been given to another family. With sadness that is hard to explain, we were quickly referred two more girls that day that also happened to be in the same region. With our hearts a little more guarded this time, we went ahead and accepted the referrals for these two girls as well.
As scheduled we boarded a plane on May 21 headed for JFK. With our trip going very smoothly, I allowed myself to attach myself to these girls before even meeting them. My simple prayer was, "Prepare my heart, oh Lord." Along the way, my husband and I discussed what would make us not adopt these girls. The only thing that would make me change my mind would be if during the entire trip they never smiled or showed an ounce of interest in us becoming their parents. I needed to see some sort of initial bond that just even a little smile would provide as evidence to me. However, even with that as my only criteria my husband wasn't ready to call it off if they didn't. He figured, "They may not have much to smile about." Well silly me, I think now, because Sveta and Anna exceeded both our expectations.
Learning about the girls opened our eyes to the awesome power of love. Although, finding out they were not sisters when we got to the Ministry of Education was a big surprise, it also showed us that these girls were alone. As we were told about their lives it made us sad but also forced us to realize that nothing would make us not adopt these two girls that needed parents that would love and take care of them. Wanting to waste no more time before meeting them we were taken to Deitski Dom #5 to meet Sveta. When we drove up to the dingy yellow, run-down building my emotions got the better of me. Filled with a sense of helplessness that so many children lived here without a family to call their own only deepened my desire to love these two girls and call them my daughters.
Prepared only by what we were told, I never expected to feel the love and excitement that I had when Sveta walked into the room. Throwing logic out the door, I let my heart embrace her and couldn't help but love the small, shy, blue-eyed little girl that stood before me. Introducing myself as Mama, I kissed her and told her I loved her. Our coordinator was very nervous that so much love was going towards Sveta at this time before a commitment to adopt her was made. But as I was showing her pictures of her new family, I glanced over at John and we gave each other a look that said, "Of course we'll take her."
Leaving the orphanage to go to the Rec Center where Anna was, I couldn't imagine having a first meeting with her as awesome as it had been with Sveta. But again, God surprised us when little Anna walked into the room with a sweet, innocent, yet curious look on her face. As if she was already our daughter, she came up to us and sat on my lap to look at the scrapbook we had brought of our family. Surprised by how small she was, I wanted to pick her up, wrap my arms around her and squeeze her tight in a big embrace as if to protect her from future painful memories. Instead, I told her, "I love you," as she put her arm around my neck. Her laugh was bubbly and sweet.........like music to my ears as I watched her play with her new Papa. And I thought to myself, "We'll take her too!"
As soon as we got home, we quickly prepared our second dossier in hopes that it would get our daughters home sooner rather than later. With excitement we described Sveta and Anna to our other children and they too could not wait for them to come home. Our daughter Julia was anxious to hear their voices so we made it a point to call them regularly. It was hard not being there for Sveta's 8th birthday but we managed to send a package for her with another family that was traveling. We also called her to wish her a happy birthday and tell her we were thinking of her and missed her very much. We were disappointed to find out that Anna was still at the Rec Center and sad that we would not be able to talk to her personally. Hopefully she got our messages.
With many weeks having passed since our trip at the end of May, I began to get frustrated with how slow things were going. Finally, at the end of August we got word that our court date would be at the end of September. Overjoyed at the news, I could hardly wait to see them again. On Anna's birthday, September 16th we called her and Sveta to tell them we would be there in three days. We felt it was the best birthday present we could give her at the moment. With it being 17 long weeks since our first trip, I was giddy with happiness that we were leaving in the morning for our 2nd trip. I couldn't wait to see Sveta and Anna again.
This time we flew Aeroflot direct out of Los Angeles to Moscow. We knew it was going to be a long flight, but with so many bags this time we felt one flight would significantly decrease the chance of the airline losing our luggage. Already missing my children that I left at home, I reminded myself that I would soon be reunited with the children I had been longing for since May. Only one more day, I thought as we landed safely in Moscow. Happy to be greeted by a familiar face, we followed our driver out to the car so we could begin the five hour drive to Ivanovo. We were told that we would not be staying at the Tourist like we did on our first trip but rather at another hotel not far from it called the Sovietski. Upon arrival we also found out that there was no hot water in the city until the 23rd and it was barely early morning of the 18th. Oh great, I thought as we walked down the long hallway on a floor of the hotel that had not yet been remodeled like the others. At that moment, I was not a happy camper but I think it was the first of many tests that I would go through to learn to appreciate what I have. As I fell asleep that night, I pictured what I would look like in the morning after not having a shower for the third day in a row (two days traveling). Arghhhh!!!!!
In the morning we were taken to the orphanage to see Anna and Sveta. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for was here! As we entered their room on the second floor we were greeted by all the children. Anna and Sveta ran up to us and we gave them the biggest hugs ever! Just like a mother hen counts her chicks, I looked them over to see how they had changed and couldn't help noticing their longer hair and even sweeter smiles. With so much catching up to do, we looked forward to spending the whole week with them and the children in their group. After giving each of them belated birthday presents we asked the orphanage staff if we could spend time with all the children since this was Anna and Sveta's last chance to spend with their friends. We also felt it would be good for our girls to see that giving all the children attention was the right thing to do since they did not have parents to take them home.
We told the orphanage staff about all the crafts and activities we brought to do with the children and they seemed very happy that we wanted to include all the kids. One day we brought muffin mix for them to bake and eat. Along with that, we brought each child a bright colored water bottle with a twisty straw. I think they really liked the bottles because we must have refilled each one with bottled water three or four times each. We sat beside the children at our own little table and had tea and cookies with the other adults while the children had their own mini tea party. Another day we brought string and Froot Loops to make cereal necklaces. They enjoyed stringing the cereal so much that they saved their string after they had eaten all the Froot Loops to make Cheerio necklaces the next day. The day after that was "Magic Day." We presented them with colored capsules that when put into hot water they turned into different shapes and animals. To top it all off we lastly gave each of the children their own magic towel. It was first a hard tablet shaped into a flower, boat, or football and when soaked in warm water it magically turned into their own personal wash cloth. Thinking how cool the magic towels were, many of the children asked us to take a picture of them holding their wash cloth. Happy to oblige, we made picture-taking an activity in itself. Wanting to capture the moment for our girls to remember we even let the kids take their own pictures. It was really a fun afternoon for all of us. Seeing how our attention meant so much to the kids only made me sad knowing that we would soon be leaving Ivanovo. With this being our last day to really spend with the children we tried to make the most of it. Finally, as evening approached we said good-bye so we could prepare for court early the next morning. Thankfully, we were moved to a room on a floor that had been remodeled just in time for us to have a hot shower in time for court. The concept of hot water in a room proved to be a real luxury that I take for granted living in the US.
At 8:15 am on Thursday, September 22, 2005, we headed for the courthouse. Hopeful that we would be the legal parents of Anna and Sveta in a couple of hours, I remember my husband and I sitting in the hallway saying a little prayer just as we were called into the courtroom. Interestingly enough, once it was made clear who would speak first out of my husband or me, the judge simply asked him to state our intentions to adopt. Feeling the question was vague, he stood up and said, "My wife and I, Christine and John Reed would like to adopt Anna and Sveta so that they can join our family as our daughters. We can emotionally, medically, and financially provide for their needs." When he was done speaking she threw us for a loop when all she said was, "And.......?" Both of us looking a little confused, she realized (thankfully) that we needed further prompting as to what to say. She asked John to tell her everything he knew about the girls, how he would provide, and why we wanted to adopt. After that awkward beginning, the rest of the court session went very well. When it came to the point that I was supposed to speak, again, I wore my emotions on my sleeve. Asked why we would want to adopt the girls knowing what they have been through and the resulting problems they were diagnosed with I could not help but defend our little girls. "Why wouldn't we adopt them? Do they not deserve loving parents too? I don't care what they may be diagnosed with because I love them anyways and we will try our best to handle things as they come up. To imagine them being neglected by their birth parents breaks my heart and I want to make sure that never happens to them again." Naturally as I said all of this, tears were sliding down my cheeks, but I didn't really care. I had spoken the truth and from my heart. Thankfully again, the judge was keen on our sincere intentions. Shortly thereafter, we became the new parents of Anna Susan Reed and Svetlana Elaine Reed.
Shouldn't I be on Cloud 9?
For the rest of the day, we ran around doing errands and getting our girls' passports. Once we were finished we were free to leave Ivanovo. Wanting to spend more time with the girls where they had lived all their lives and save money on a less expensive hotel, we decided to stay through the weekend and leave for Moscow on Sunday morning. However, since we had gotten a call during our visit with Anna and Sveta that we had been moved back to a room with no heat or hot water we all thought it would be best that Anna and Sveta stay at the orphanage. Friday morning on our way over to see our girls we were told about a couple having to stay at the orphanage. Knowing that taking our girls today would make things easier for everyone I expected to feel more excited than I was really feeling at that moment. Unexpectedly, I felt fear come over me and I hoped I could come up with some excuse as to why we couldn't take them yet. "What about the heat and hot water?" I asked hoping that I would remind them why this wasn't an option. "Let's call," was their response as they dialed the hotel and tried to pull some strings. Successful at moving us to a room with both amenities I realized that Anna and Sveta were coming with us. Though I had reservations, I relished in both my husband and daughters' happiness. The smile on their faces was absolutely priceless! Not quite sure why I was having these feelings I decided to put them on the back burner and focus on this special event.........Our daughters were leaving the orphanage!
As we were saying our good-byes, I realized how much our girls would be missed. Getting to know everyone over the past week convinced us that our girls had been very well taken care of. To top it all off, we were handed a stack of old pictures of the girls. With little of their past to share with them as they got older, I felt this gift was priceless and one to cherish for years to come. Good-bye Dietski Dom #5. One day we will back!
Feeling better that my worries seemed to be just that, I enjoyed getting to know my two new daughters. Taking them to explore the city was so much fun! The walk to the Silver City Mall was an adventure in itself. Pointing out a shiny ruble on the ground began a treasure hunt. With little exposure to the outside world, everything was new to them. At the mall, their favorite thing to do was ride the escalator. Up, up to the top then down four flights of stairs. Seeing how much they enjoyed this simple pleasure, we eventually rode to the top of the mall nine or ten times. Exhausted, we happily took a break and bought them marozhenae (a.k.a. ice-cream.)
After having a wonderful time, we decided to go back to the hotel. Little did I know what was about to happen next. Halfway back to our hotel, Anna began to cry. Trying unsuccessfully to comfort her, it turned into the worst tantrum we had ever seen. John taking it with a grain of salt, I on the other hand began having second thoughts again. Finally getting her to settle down, 30 minutes later, I confessed to my husband the feelings I had been having. After talking, I finally chalked my feelings up to post-partum depression. Ashamed, and alone (or so I thought) I couldn't believe what was happening to me. Having given birth six times prior, I had never, not even for one second experienced any sort of depression..... so why now? With hormones being a valid reason in my mind for a woman to have the baby blues after birth, I felt that I had no excuse for what I was experiencing. I hadn't just given birth, so what was my problem? Thankfully, without judgment, my husband was there to offer up encouragement and endless support.
On Sunday, we went to Moscow, where I continued to experience highs and lows. Feeling like a yo-yo, all I wanted to do was go home. Being with Anna and Sveta made me yearn for my other children as well. Just barely going through the motions I finally had had enough and needed to go home. I missed my other children, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Anna and Sveta adjusting quite well, I felt selfish that before I could be a better mom to them, I would need to put them in the same position that left me feeling isolated and alone. Again thankfully, my God is gracious and calling on Him for strength and resolution I found Him whispering in my ear that everything was going to be all right. Miraculously, we were able to fly out three days early, and I found myself feeling less and less depressed as we got closer to home. On the plane ride home, it wasn't just coincidence that we sat next to an American-Russian translator who helped us with a list of basic phrases we thought might be helpful. In addition, I don't think it was coincidence that the plane was filled with wonderful Christian people who had just spent three weeks in Russia building a 3,000 sq. foot orphanage in Vladamir. Listening to their stories reminded me of why we were all here on the plane in the first place. Looking at my girls as they finally slept, I felt that everything was going to be ok.
Thirteen hours later we landed in LAX and Anna and Sveta became U.S. citizens. Making our way through the airport, we finally got to our car. Happy to be in higher spirits, I looked forward to getting home and introducing my children to each other for the first time.
Yes, it was worth it!
The union between our children was great considering it was almost midnight when they met. Exhausted, I can only imagine how tired and irritable they all must have been. That night after kissing and hugging all of my children and then tucking them in bed for the night, I laid down for the first time in what seemed like ages feeling content with my life and our decision to make Anna and Sveta our daughters. Welcome home devochkee!
Journaled November 12, 2005
Looking back, our journey to adoption has been a very special event in our lives that I equally compare to the birth of my biological children. Each of my children means so much to me and I find that each one holds a special place in my heart. Though things didn't go quite as I had planned, the course was set by God who planned it for a reason. Not sure why I experienced a brief moment of depression, if I had to do it all over again I would. Nothing that I experienced resulted from anything that Anna and Sveta did. They were just being children afraid at the moment of what the future would bring. After 1 1/2 months being home, I see how God planned for us to all be together. If nothing else but to share my story and encourage even just one person that bringing home a child is worth climbing any mountain than I know my reason.