Our Russian Adoption Journey
We'll never forget the two weeks we spent in Russia, but the best part was coming home as a family.
by Victoria Moreland
Conception happened when our agency sent an e-mail. My husband, Robert, forwarded me the message to me and waited on the phone. We scrolled down the screen together until a round-faced, one-year-old Russian girl stared back at us with blue-gray eyes. "She's beautiful," he said. I took in her full face, the dimple in her chin, then found the words. "She looks just like you," I said, surprised. "I swear I haven't been to Russia," he laughed.
A video arrived a few days later. It was no longer common for prospective parents adopting from Russia to receive videos, so our agency said we were lucky to get one. When we played it, we saw a toddler who had learned to stand, crawl, and feed herself, without parents to witness these milestones. Our daughter-to-be plucked an orange toy off a linoleum floor, and watched another little girl march across the room. A lady in a kerchief folded children's clothes in the background.
Robert and I scrutinized the girl's medical records, searched the Internet, and talked to an adoption medicine specialist, and finally we asked ourselves: How could we deny this child, who was waiting for someone to love her? How could we deny ourselves? Despite our scant knowledge and the uncertainty of it all, we began to make travel plans.
Our first night in RussiaYekaterinburg lies in the foothills of the Ural Mountains, a two-hour flight east of Moscow. We landed at 2:00 a.m. on a cold February morning.
Our escort, Yuri, stood waiting for us inside the small airport. The sign he held was barely visible in the dim hall. During the ride to the hotel, Robert's hand rested on my thigh, and I looked out the window at moonlit snow and dark trees that lined the road. When we reached the hotel, Robert handed Yuri an envelope full of cash. The money was to cover the legitimate cost of the adoption, as approved by our adoption agency, but it seemed odd and somehow lurid to exchange $10,000 in the darkness of night.
"Get your rest. We will go to the orphanage in the morning," Yuri said, taking the envelope from Robert's hand, not bothering to count the money. We shook hands and said goodnight.
After Yuri left the room, I stripped off my jeans. Robert said, "Ooh, baby." I looked at him with an expression that said, "Yeah, right." I slipped on my nightgown and took a teddy bear out of the suitcase. I had been sleeping with the bear for weeks, so it would smell like me by the time I gave it to my daughter. The bear's fuzz was warm against my face as I lay in the bed, wide awake, listening to the radiator knock.
Meeting our daughterThe next morning, we drove through the congested streets of Yekaterinburg. Gray snow stood in piles against the curb. People walked huddled in coats, pulling children in sleds behind them.
We arrived at the orphanage and followed Yuri through a catacomb of halls with closed doors, the walls decorated with brightly colored paintings of animals—a grinning fox, a friendly bear--dressed in traditional Russian attire. Robert and I held hands as we waited in the orphanage's music room, then the door creaked open and we saw our daughter. We stood up and walked to her. She stood right where the caretaker left her, belly poking out, a pout upon her pink lips, her eyes cast down to the floor, absolutely motionless.
For the next two weeks, we visited the orphanage every day. During that time, she never spoke, and she laughed only when the caretaker tickled her. Yet, with each passing day, she seemed more secure with us. Soon she began stretching her body around the woman who dressed her each morning, so she could watch us watching her. I though that her cautious personality was a good sign. She had attached herself to the caretakers, she could attach to us.
Before we left to file government paperwork, I gave her caretaker the teddy bear. "She should sleep with it," I said. That night, I missed the bear's soft fur on my cheek, but I pictured it wrapped in my daughter's arms.
The final day
"All will go well," Yuri assured us as we walked through an open market in the brisk air. "You will see. The adoption court will be easy." He shifted his eyes left and said, "Keep your purse close to your side. The gypsies pick pockets."
I held my purse clamped against my side, as Yuri had instructed, and looked around for gypsies intent on thievery. I saw none. Only old women huddled in their coats, selling the wares they had made.
We wanted something to take with us, gifts that we could give our daughter as she grew, to teach her about her heritage. From one booth, we chose a smooth, sandstone horse that a little girl could hold in the palm of her hand and an intricately carved wooden box where a teenager could hide her treasures. At a store nearby we selected a nesting doll—a blonde doll in a red dress that looked like our daughter. The last stop we made was to a jewelry store, where I picked out a Russian cross pendant hanging from a hair-thin chain. Yuri's wife asked if we liked it. "Yes," I said. "How much?" "Our gift to your daughter," she replied.
After our court appearance, we drove to the orphanage for the last time. "Bundle her up," our agency had told us. "Even if it's warm." In Russia, they believe in coats and boots and gloves and hats. So we dressed her in layer after layer for the 30-second walk to the van. By the time I slipped on the little blue boots that we bought in downtown Yekaterinburg, she was unable to move her arms and legs because of the layers of clothes swaddling her body.
Homeward boundAfter the orphanage had passed from our sight, we began unbuttoning and unsnapping. As our daughter emerged from the layers, she smiled and looked out the window with a curiosity I hadn't seen before. It was as if we were seeing her enter the world for the first time. She played with everything—door locks, seat belts—and wiggled in my lap.
Later that day, we heard her speak for the first time. Robert was sitting in the front seat of a taxi, while I sat with her in the back. She looked up at me and said, "Da!"—Russian for "yes." Robert turned around. "Did she just say something?" I nodded, then looked back down at her and said, "Da!" She giggled, long and sweet, and responded, "Da!" Yes, indeed, we were heading home.
Victoria Moreland is a writer, editor, and adoptive mom. She lives with her family in North Carolina.
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