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Becoming an older child adoptive family is exciting, challenging, surprising, and rewarding

I’m a 44-year old single mom, born in Detroit, wandered the world in my 20s, now live in Nashville. Hannah is 6 3/4, from Rybinsk, Russia, got home in November 1997. She’s truly an exceptional child and I am very blessed. Getting us to “family” has not been easy.

The Decision The process went quickly. Called my local agency in May, left for Russia in November. Of course it had taken me six years to move from “I like kids” to “. . . Me a mother. . . ?” to “Yes, I can do it!”

I started with China. The abandoned baby girls. . . a trip I took in 1990 to China with my Dad. . . I was convinced that the “reason” for the trip was connected to adopting a girl from there. When my social worker came, she said, “China is inactive right now. Unless you’re committed to China or are not in a hurry, I’d suggest you consider another country.”

Over the next couple months, I explored Vietnam (maybe), Russia (possible), Guatemala (only babies available), and Liberia (could I mother an African child?) In the end, Russia just seemed right. As to selecting an international agency, I did not do a huge amount of research. (I’m embarrassed to admit that but the end result was good.) My local agency recommended AIAA–they had good experience with them in regards to Russia. Since I had developed a respect for my local agency (their role = home study, post placement, general support), basically I said, “ok.”

Next question. . . what age? In the end, I felt, as a single mom and active person, I needed someone that would fit with my life style. Somewhat self-sufficient with dressing and eating, and able to ski, bike, and Rollerblade with me! Four – five years old sounded right.

The paperwork, of course, is un-ending. My “trouble” was over fingerprints. (Everyone has something!) First time, the agency I used (in TN you must use ‘certified’ fingerprinters) argued with me as to which forms to use, how to fill them out, where to send them, etc. Of course, I was right and she was wrong. The state set of prints were returned. I went back, got them re-done. Unreadable. Used someone else. . . third try worked.

AIAA helped me preliminary consider five girls. We narrowed it to three, then to two. . . Then I gave them “my list.” (Is anyone else as amazed as me that in adoption, we can ask for what we’d like?! We all know there are no guarantees about anything in life. . . but still . . . ) My list was 1) healthy, 2) smart, 3) coordinated/active, 4) sweet. (Asking for the moon. . . I know!) My case worker talked to me about my top two possibilities, she re-reviewed their videos, then she recommended the 6-year-old girl named Olga. I asked a few more questions and said “send the packet.”

Despite getting a very good 12-minute video, 10 pictures taken at 2 different times, and the equivalent of 6 pages of medical info (I say equivalent because although I had 12 pages, much of it was repeated) it took me over 6 weeks to make my decision. Four doctors and a pediatric development nurse (I can’t remember her exact title) looked at the info.

In my talks with the doctors, we discussed the usual, Apgar, FAS/FAE, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language ability, affection, interests, inter-personal skills, BCG, rickets, birth family traumas, etc. Based on their input and my continued reading, I had various questions and requests for Russia–new measurements, head circumference size, info about the ‘discovered’ siblings,’ birth date confirmation (we had two dates), etc. In the end, I held my breath for two days and finally said, “Yes!”

Yikes, I was really doing this…!

The Departure that Almost Didn’t Happen

Nine days before departure, I got a message from my local social worker. “There’s a problem in Russia. Call me.” Her line was busy for the next 32 minutes. I had good reason to be frantic.

According to the Russians, Hannah might have active TB. (To this day, we can’t figure out what triggered this concern.) She had been moved to a hospital. If it was active, the Russians would not let her leave the country. It didn’t matter to the Russians that the Americans (according to the described level [minimal] of possible TB) had no problem with her entering the US. With the Russian treatment methods, it might take a year to treat her. [All of this has been simplified. Many of the details have been blotted from my mind.]

Phone calls between me and my two agencies ensued. E-mails went between various parts of the US and Russia. I called Dr. Jenista in her hotel room at a conference in California (she’s a saint!). The phone in the hospital where Hannah was, did not work (!!!!) making it a challenge for the agency to get information. They told me we would not know until Wednesday–three days before my scheduled departure–if I was to leave or not.

I could only proceed as if I were going to leave. Its very hard to explain the emotions of packing to go get my daughter (excited, nervous, adrenaline rush), bundled with the emotions of potentially not leaving (fear, questions, traumatized, disbelief). I just plodded ahead.

The schedule of my pre-departure days was as follows: Saturday–fix her room. Sunday–finish packing. Monday–teach class and wrap up some work. Tuesday and Wednesday–Texas business trip. Thursday–fly from Texas to Mississippi for another project. Friday night–return to Nashville. Saturday–leave for Russia at noon. Yea, yea, I know. . . !

On Wednesday, I stood at a pay phone in the middle of a state park in rural Texas. My first message was from a friend who said her mother had put Hannah and me on her church’s prayer list. I had never even met Johnna’s mother. I stood and cried. The next message said “it’s a go!” I dropped the phone and sat on the ground and sobbed.

I arrived back from Texas and Mississippi at 8 p.m. Friday. Two packages were to have arrived–my “grow bag” (donations for the orphanage from my agency) and my tickets. My grow bag was there. The tickets were not. I had spent so much effort during the previous week trying to remain calm, that at first I didn’t even scream! But then I got mad. Real mad. I spoke to 5 different supervisors at FedEx. The tickets were found in a town 25 miles away. It was promised I would get them “first thing in the morning.”

The morning phone calls went something like, “Yes, yes, the driver is leaving any minute. I’m sure he left some time ago. No, I’m not sure where the driver is. Well. . .I’m sure he’ll be there soon. Hmm…I don’t know. Yes, I do understand, but. . . . Gosh, you seem fairly upset. . . . ” I was planning to leave the house at 9 a.m. The tickets arrived at 9:30!

When I got on the plane, I was so relieved to be there, I almost forgot what I was about to do!

A Perfect Meeting

Welcome Home

My agency (AIAA) is excellent with the details! Once I arrived in Russia I just looked for what they told me, went where I was directed, did what they said, distributed gifts as instructed, and signed where they told me to sign!

The morning after I arrived in Moscow, we left for Yaraslavl (north of Moscow) by van. It was me, my coordinator Svetlana, my translator Sasha, (a mother and son team) and the driver, no other families. We made two stops–at the oldest active monastery in Russia, and at a restaurant for lunch. We traveled along pine-tree lined, snow-covered, two-lane roads. We saw colorful, wooden, homes and occasional onion-domed buildings.

After six hours, we drove up a snow-covered lane to the hospital where I was picking up Hannah. Everyone else got out of the van and I was left there alone. Looking at the back of the building. In the cold. Engine turned off. No sounds. Snowing lightly.

Sasha came back and said, “She was taking a nap but they’re getting her dressed now. You can come up.” I made sure I had the right knapsack and shakily got out of the van. We walked up three flights of stairs (dim, bluish lights, grim colors, women in white lab coats washing the stairs by hand).

We opened a door into an office. Svetlana was seated at the back of the room talking to a little girl whose back was towards me. Was that her? Would I recognize her? She spun around as the door opened and walked quickly toward me. As she got in front of me, she glanced down and held up her arms. I leaned down and she leaped into my arms. She wrapped her arms and legs around me and buried her face in my neck. I couldn’t remember ANY of my Russian! Finally, I said, “Ya tvoia mama.” She smiled and nodded and re-buried her face in my neck.

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