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Successful Russian Adoption: Lessons Shared for a Wonderful Experience

We have plans to publish our Russian adoption story more fully, but since that is a project in the making, I felt to share the lessons we learned that lead to what my wife and I feel was a successful adoption and wonderful experience. Many of these lessons apply to any adoption scenario and with any nationality. Enjoy and God Bless you as you consider or pursue this worthwhile endeavor. We are the ones who have been blessed beyond measure. This article is also posted on our sponsor’s website – www.celestinepublishing.com.

Our Advice

We felt there is a real need to explain a few things from our perspective that might be helpful to couples planning a trip to a foreign land and adopting children who are old enough to speak their native language. Here are some tips we felt contributed to our success. This is not meant to be a description of the entire process, there are great books written for that purpose. This section will help you learn some of the lessons we learned in the process and that may be helpful to making yours a smoother experience.

The Rest of the Story

Why it is the rest of the story and not starting all over again… Being in our forties and with eight children between us, people often said to us, “You are starting all over again.” To that we would respond, “We’re not starting all over again. This is simply the rest of the story.” Who says anyone is too old to adopt and can free a child from a scheduled appointment with a very dim or disastrous future.

We were not finished raising kids and though grandchildren are arriving now, we find great joy in these three light bulbs of pure love. It is we that have been blessed beyond measure. We have often said we would go back and get three more. Oh, the joy of seeing a six year old doing free cartwheels from sofa to sofa. My joy is full when I think about it.

Trust in the Lord – Have Faith

I hope what came across in Dana’s story was the fact that we trusted in the Lord with all of our heart, might, minds, and strength as little children not having traversed this path before. We sometimes look back at it in amazement – every aspect of it was beyond our wildest imagination, even now at times we look at each other and say – how did we do that?

It was a combination of faith and works. The paperwork did not get done without proactive action, and we feel our faith and prayers and the prayers of family and friends accelerated the adoption process. In seven months from start to finish our family went from three at home to six at home and that included a reapplication to immigration to snag the third one.

Adoption is a worthy cause that can add some much joy to your life, you cannot know it now. You do have to be smart about what you are doing – both emotionally and practically speaking. The recommendations here will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that could interfere with a smooth and successful adoption. Doubt not, but be believing is our family motto. But remember, the words “Don’t forget the children” came from the Spirit and you can have faith in that.

Stay Organized

The paperwork just kept coming. I usually summarize my experience with the paperwork as they must have two-hundred documents on me in triplicate, notarized, apostilled, and translated into a different language. Not to mention that every piece of paper cost me something – overnight, express postage, registration fees, apostil, translation, you name it, it cost.

This is not meant to discourage you in any way. You just need to stay on top of the paperwork. I had the luxury of working at home during our application process and tried with every ounce of my energy to turn the paperwork around quickly. If there were delays to be anticipated, we did not want to be the cause for that delay. If there were items that could be done in parallel, we did them.

Doctor appointments, home visits, notarization, you name it – almost something could be done every day to move our qualification package ahead daily. Make yourself a checklist and get several three ring binders with plastic folders – you will fill them.

Family Reaction

The family reaction to our announcement that we were pursuing adoption was less than favorable. We had only been married for two years when we started entertaining the thought of doing it and our eight kids each had their own take – the majority was not favorable. Isn’t eight enough? You can spend that money on me, you know I could use some! You’re too old to start all over again. Don’t you love us? You haven’t been married long enough yet. That’s great?

Believe us, the list went on and on, and some of the comments have been edited out and were not nice conversations everyone would like to forget – now. Our oldest son and his wife were very supportive and very involved with their reception to the States. Morgan caught on when he started speaking to them and realized they were real people and kind of cute.

There was an overwhelming outpouring of support from the community and friends for this daring venture of charity. Most people view adoption as a good thing and many, many people told us that they themselves were adopted and loved us even more. We did not seek their approval and it was not taken for praise, we truly wanted to continue raising children. Since we had seven boys and one girl between us, we wanted to balance the equation with girls, not to mention Dana had never had the opportunity to raise girls.

Knowing the girls now and embracing them as part of our family tree trivializes this section some. You need to anticipate the reaction and counter reactions you may encounter and know that ultimately the choice is yours alone to make as a couple – not theirs, positive, negative or ambivalent. We suggest you prayerfully consider adoption and then go for it if the inclinations are positive in your own heart. There may be someone out there that was meant to be yours – go find them.

Chose a Reputable Firm

We have read many stories about international adoptions in particular where the adoptive couple lost their money or found themselves in the direst of circumstances due to the agency or mechanism for adoption they signed up for. We lucked out in that the agency we found had a proven network in the United States and in Russia. They had many clients and we could talk to any of them.

Be wise. Check their references. Do your research. If it smells fishy, go with your instincts. There are no short cuts, so if that is part of their sales pitch, avoid it like the plague. I say we lucked out because we had not read written this book yet.

Notary Public

Find a notary that does not charge you a fee. We found a corporate sponsor that allowed their company notary, their receptionist, to notarize all of our paperwork in triplicate. You can’t avoid the apostil (notarizing the notary’s credentials) but you can save on the fees if you have access to a notary and do not have to pay them for the service.

Having a notary in a corporate environment also gave us ready access to them on a moments notice during the work week. They may even live locally to you and volunteer their services on the weekend if you need them. Everyone understands the noble and worthy cause of adoption and will be willing to assist you.

Hidden Expenses

Beware of hidden expenses. Now if they are hidden, how can you know about them? Here are some suggestions. Read everything the adoption agency gives you to read, but don’t just read the material, take time to digest it and understand every point of it. If you don’t understand it, then call them and ask for an interpretation or explanation.

We found hidden expenses in getting medical examinations, apostils, transportation services while in country, tips, donations, buying flowers for the judge, translators, and even overtime. At times they could have charged whatever they wanted because we were naïve, at their mercy and they could take advantage.

We were focused on securing our children and were highly motivated to do whatever it took (legitimately of course). Hopefully, your information from the agency, a personal awareness of what is expected or going on, and the integrity of the people guiding or escorting you through the process will minimize such surprises, but expect some.

Love Them At First Sight!

We had the advantage of seeing a video of another couple that was interested initially in our little girl Cami. They had decided to adopt an older girl and not to adopt Cami – she was meant to be ours. The couple generously provided us with the video hoping someone would adopt her. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but notice in that segment of the video that neither of the adoptive adults touched Cami in any manner of affection.

From that viewing, we decided that that would not be our case. We would immediately reach out and touch this little girl like a loving parent should and she was ours already. All three girls responded instantly to the touch. On one occasion, Nikki snuck up behind me while I was in a group setting and just put her hand on me – she wanted to know that I was real.

We hugged, kissed, laughed, held hangs, hugged some more at every opportunity – we showered them with all the love we could muster and acted like that was our norm – they soaked it up. When we arrived at the American Embassy there were about forty couples and their adopted children with them. The number of babies outnumbered families adopting older children but one couple asked us if the kids that were with us were our biological kids or our adopted ones.

The reason this couple inquired of us was because the girls were all over us openly showing affection and kindness, while most other adoption children there were stoic, sat motionless and scared, not knowing what to expect in their new circumstances – as were some of the couples. The language of love bridges all barriers – we knew it and we recommend it. From the moment you see them, don’t restrain an ounce of you – make them yours.

Don’t Believe Everything They Tell You

We cannot tell you how many times the story changed or we were surprised by what information they claimed they did not have. Our biggest consternation was the fact that we inquired several times regarding siblings and were told they did not have information on any siblings. That was a flat out lie in the end.

There was not only family, there was extended family for all three. The fear is that if you learn about the families, there is a reluctance to break them up and not adopt anyone except single children. We may have made different choices than what we did make, but it wasn’t for them to decide for us through deception.

No we couldn’t adopt whole families, but in the orphanage environment, there are very few sibling relationships that maintain the family ties that may exist in a functional home environment. Generally speaking, they get integrated into a completely different society and don’t even have the opportunity or foresight to maintain something they never knew existed or could exist.

On another occasion, our translator informed us against their wishes for us to know was that Aliana had a disease that labeled her as damaged goods. We asked for a blood test, but decided in the process that no matter what the outcome, we would adopt her. The blood test came back negative but we would not have known to even look unless someone was honest with us. The bottom line is they told us what we wanted to hear in many cases because they generally did not want us to change our minds or direction.

You need to establish your standards for honesty up front with your agency and anyone who is your escort and translator. Don’t mistake cautious behavior as dishonest either. You have to gain their trust in some cases that you too are honest and decent people. We all have the children’s best interests at heart.

Don’t Forget the Children

Dana explained that on one of the days we travelled, our guide Alex had to stop at another orphanage to make arrangements for adopting other children and we waited near the car. I needed to use the outhouse behind the orphanage so they brought us to it.,, two disgusting holes in the ground without a seat to rest on.

As we walked through the orphanage on our way to the outhouse we passed by two rooms. The first room was full of boys from approximately ages eight to twelve wearing only blue shorts and laying in their small beds. It was nap time but no one was sleeping. They were watched by several attendants to make sure they adhered to the quiet time rules, but as we passed a dozen or so sat up and took notice. It was one hundred and ten degrees in the shade and there was no air-conditioning in this building. My heart reached out to them all – they were beautiful. At that moment the spirit whispered – “Don’t forget the children.”

The second room we passed was likewise filled with young girls from the same age group. My heart was broken twice as much as I saw these beautiful angels all without a home, a family, a mother and a father. They were fair, they were beautiful, they were innocent victims in a very cruel world. How could this be?
Please let this message be a clarion call to all who have it within their hearts and means to adopt, to simply do it, and the God of creation will bless you. Petition your governments to relax timelines, paperwork, and expenses associated with adoption. Open your borders to all those who would adopt, adopt if they could. The highest priority for humanity must be its children – please don’t forget the children, please don’t.

Check Your Motives

Step Back and take a minute to evaluate your motives to adopt before doing so. This is a lifelong commitment and the glory of doing a good deed passes quickly if there were any to start with and as the necessities of life take over you may wonder what made you do this when the times get tough – notice I said when the times get tough for they surely will. You need to be well grounded in your choice to adopt, both for the welfare of the child or children (biological and adopted) and you.

Dana and I went from concept to action within a few weeks and wondered if we were just talking ourselves into this. So we called a time out to consider this more seriously. The following weekend, only days from standing back to reconsider, we were at church in a combined Relief Society and Priesthood session where they showed a video regarding adoption and teenage pregnancy.

President Hinckley was narrating and encouraged all those who could adopt and found it within their hearts to do so, and then they should prayerfully consider doing it. At least that was the message we walked away with. We felt that we had received our answer and moved forward with faith and vigor to adopt – and you have the rest of the story.

Language Barriers

We had recently moved from Maryland to Virginia and in Maryland we did not know anyone who remotely knew Russian. In Virginia however, there were a number of Russian speaking people to act as translators when we returned with the girls from Russia. Several were employees with the State Department, returned missionaries and a young lady named Vika we met at the Immigration finger printing session.

Everyone readily volunteered of their time and we paid to help her with her immigration expenses. We called the girls just about every weekend to assure them that we would return. Vika would translate and we just enjoyed listening to them. When we were in Russia, we had our agency translators for most of the day, but when the evenings came, the local Latter-day Saint missionaries stopped by to help translate and help with instructing the girls on family rules.

When we returned home we had someone come over about every three days to go over family rules, discuss routines, schedules, events, and answer any questions they had so far. They were quick to learn the language because they were young. Our son Morgan spent a lot of time helping them with numbers and the alphabet. The girls also learned by signing English songs and church hymns. In school we arranged for special instruction called English as a Second Language (ESL). All of these different methods to accelerate the language transition for the girls combined to make for a wonderful experience.

Why Stavropol, Russia?

After church services on Sunday in Stavropol, Russia, where we were invited to bear our testimonies, the Branch President who was Russian and knew English, followed us out to the parking lot and asked me, “Why Stavropol? Of all of the children in the world that needed adopting, why did we come half way around the world to adopt in Stavropol?” I thought about it only for a moment and then said, “the Holy Ghost.” He smiled at me in acknowledgement and said, “Fair enough.”

I told him we were blessed by the Spirit to know the correctness of our choices and it just happened to be Stavropol, Russia. They were very kind to us and later that week I was blessed to go out with the missionaries to visit a non-member who had been attending the church there for three years and had not been baptized. It was a wonderful visit and I could have been his friend for a lifetime.

Adoption is ultimately a very significant spiritual experience and you can anticipate the Spirit being a part of that experience regardless of your religous persuasion.  If your heart leads you to Russia, China, Korea, the United Staes or elsewhere, your children are out there – you just need to find them.

Determine Up Front What You Want – It’s Okay

When we entered into the decision making process and pipeline to adopt we were immediately confronted with choices we had not considered before. What sex, ages, races, illnesses, handicaps, nationality, the number of children, siblings, etc. would we accept into our home. At first we felt a little less than worthy acting as we thought like God in choosing who was worthy to enter our home.

We both had a love for all children and had to come up with a logical way to decide what our boundaries were and we balanced that with prayer, appealing for heavenly insights on which way to go. Yes we prayed often as you can see throughout our story. We don’t know any other way, especially on important decisions of this nature.

We considered our family dynamics and the changes or cultural adjustments we might have to make when they arrived and our long term commitments and challenges we could expect from our choices. We considered our skill set, what we felt we could handle, careers, availability, and every possible circumstance within our preview, and made a choice. You have to be brutally honest with yourselves on this or you could be headed for disaster and you don’t know it yet. Remember, this is not all about you, it is all about them and you matter too.

At first we decided on one, then two, and finally three girls. That would balance the family of seven boys and one girls and would give Dana an opportunity to experience the joys of raising girls. Vinny always believed that you do all you can and throw one more in for good measure. Three would top us out. We wanted healthy girls at first, but it is hard to tell what the issues would be until you had them examined by your family physician and dentist. Decide what you want and seek on bended knee the approbation of heaven in the process – you can’t go wrong.

Three Times the Expense

There are three things you need to be aware of regarding your expenses or adoption budget. Sometimes ignorance of these things is good and if you have sufficient faith that the windows of heaven will open and pave the way on this, go for it – we did.

Regardless of how many children you adopt, a good rule of thumb for us is to take the agency fee and multiply it by three for international adoptions. Of course domestic adoptions are more predictable and less costly overall, but the same three categories apply regardless if yours is a domestic or international adoption.

The three areas you need to be aware of and plan for the best you can are (1) the agency expenses, (2) the additional processing and travel expenses, and (3) the new addition expenses. Our agency charged $18,000 for the first child, $27,000 for two children and $30,000 for the three of them. Their administrative burden did not change with one family qualifying and we could take the $30,000 IRS tax deduction if we qualified.

Now the expenses associated with the paperwork, notary, apostil, home studies, travel, lodging, translators, transportation, gifts, meals, bottled water, ticket expenses for multiple trips and the ride home for your family are just a few of the known expenses. Add a few unknowns and you can easily send the same amount of money on the process as you did on the agency.

Adjusting you home environment to accommodate the new arrival(s) may or may not impact your budget. It depends on your circumstances. We had to build up something from nothing. We had a graduating senior boy and were adopting three little girls. We had to buy beds, cloths, shoes, toys, bikes, outfitting multiple bedrooms with furniture, etc.

The living expenses ran up and rounding them to the nearest thousand, it was about the same. Remember, they come to you with only the shirt on their backs, and the orphanage even took that back when you dressed them in their new cloths. It is all worth it. You just need to be aware of them and plan accordingly.

Apply for Three – You Never Know

What do you think the difference is between one, two or three when you are filling out the immigration or home study paperwork. We applied for two and this is as far as our vision could see at the time. But if you could afford one more it doesn’t hurt to fill out the paperwork for the home study which is validation of your capacity to handle three new additions and the immigration paperwork with depends on the home study recommendation to adjudicate its response.

You may never have any intent to have more than one, but it will save you time, paperwork and expense should you decide like we did to go the extra mile and adopt more than you planned. If you are marginally qualified, consult with your home study facilitator for advice.

In other words don’t get disqualified if their assessment says you can only reasonably handle only one. The change in paperwork and home study update cost us three months, some cash, and a lot of unnecessary anxiety. So, our recommendation is to apply for at least one more than you planned, just in case.

Bringing Grandma

One of our daughters had some special needs we decided to make a priority and invited Dana’s mother to come along to when we were approved to bring the girls to America. Cami had only been in her orphanage for a little more than a year and she had a grandmother that used to visit her on occasion. We were told that her grandmother had died the month prior to our return and that Cami trusted older people.

Cami instantly warmed up to Grandma and that special relationship continues today. Cami barely listened to me and was standoffish for a number of weeks. In fact, until Grandma departed Virginia and returned home to Utah, she barely warmed up to Dana. Eventually she adjusted naturally – we are kind of fun, but we loved her at every opportunity.

So I guess our advice to you is that you need to know all you can about the emotional needs of your children or the child you are adopting. The more you know the better equipped you are at bringing them into your fold with only minor perturbations. Nikki and Aliana knew each other in their orphanage for five years, so they had friends in each other before sisterhood. Cami was completely solo to the equation. Grandma was a godsend and the two older girls quickly adopted her as one of them.

Family Ties & Free Agency

They are ours now but there may be roots back to their homeland and families that can be monitored depending on their circumstances. As they integrate into your family, learn the new language and forget their native language, they may not want to keep those former ties alive. We recommend you don’t force any relationships on them and assume it is just the “natural” thing to do. You are now the natural parents and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Leave the decision to keep some of their sibling and former family ties up to them as long as it is healthy and doesn’t undermine your relationship with your child. Life has unusual twists and turns that you just might want to keep the door open on. They become who they are and while you can shape and mold them to some degree.

Love conquers a lot of things, but each person will deal differently with their past. Be flexible and spend lots of time getting to know your children. Protect them from being told by outside forces what they should or should not feel or believe in. You are their sentry now, their parent.  Work hard to integrate them into existing family networks and relationships. Bring them to weddings and funerals, on vacation – treat them as you would your own, cause guess what – they are and happily so!

Gottcha Day

Every year on October 2nd we celebrate the day we arrived in America, or what we call “Gottcha Day.” It is our annual family celebration and welcome home, we missed you party! We simply encourage you to keep track of significant event dates like this and perhaps break out the albums if you feel so inclined to remind you of the trek. Lately we have made the trip to Red Lobster for an anything you want to eat feast with our girls and other family members. It brings back memories of when we were on the streets of Russia and the girls bought salted fish to chew on like lollipops.

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