Today I feel compelled to stray a bit from the subject of Assisted Reproduction; yet my topic is well within Creative Family Connections’ founding principle: that everyone can build a family. Yesterday, sadly, Russian President Vladimir Putin dealt a blow to this principle when he signed into law a ban against adoptions of Russian children by Americans. The ban will take effect on January 1, 2013. As meager justification for this law, Putin said he would look into improving the conditions of the Russian orphanage system… showing that Putin understands nothing about the value of the family.
I will start by disclosing what many of you already know: I adopted both of my children from Russia, so I been inside Russian orphanages. The staff I observed was caring and made what little they had (no milk or formula, for example) go a long way. Yet, there is a big difference between institutional living and family life – and the differences and effects on the development of children have been researched and well documented by early childhood development specialists. I have seen first-hand how “failure to thrive” manifests in babies. For example, despite the fact that both my children were reportedly orphanage “favorites” and therefore received more attention than the others, at 13 months old, my daughter weighed only 17 pounds and could not yet stand up by herself. My son’s daily breakfast consisted of an Oliver Twist-like “gruel and tea.” And there was no heat in the orphanage, despite the snow outside, so all the babies were bundled up in blankets against the cold.
My children have both thrived with the love of a family (including the non-traditional family that my daughter started out in when I adopted as a single mother) and good nourishment. They also know that when I give them my word, I keep my promises. (Consequently, when I say, “We’ll see…” they know that really does mean “maybe, maybe not!”) When I say I’ll do something, they know I will do it. And I do.
I cannot help but think about the crushing blow to the children whose future adoptive parents left them – after their first or second visits (three trips are now required by Russian law) – with a promise that they would be back for them, never dreaming that politics would prevent them from returning. Will someone explain to the little ones that it is not the parents’ fault that they will not return? Will they be able to understand? Young children in divorced families often think that a divorce occurs because they misbehaved. Will these young children think something similar in their bewilderment? It is truly heartbreaking.
And then there are the prospective parents. When I met my children, I was smitten within minutes. When I adopted my daughter, Russia had not yet added the requirement of a second or third trip. Except for the fact that I got terrible food poisoning, it was all quite simple once I got there.
When I adopted my son, a 10-day waiting period had just been added, as had the requirement that the cases be heard in the court of appeals. Our case was the first case to be heard in the appeals court in Ryazan, which sits in the heart of Communist country. Toward the end of the court hearing, the judge (who was seated about 10 feet higher than us, like something out of a Kafka novel) leaned down and asked if I wished to add anything. I stood up, more nervous than I had ever been when arguing in front of US courts of appeals (and in my coat and boots, as there was no heat in the courtroom either) and stated that we had a 5-year-old daughter waiting eagerly at home for us to return with her new brother. I asked her to please consider waiving the 10-day waiting period, as we were very certain about wanting to adopt our son and this would allow us to get home to our daughter sooner. I thanked her, sat down, and the judge gave me one of the most serious scowls I have ever received. The interpreter got up, and, after also scowling at me, talked for about 10 minutes. I could not imagine what she was saying, given that I had only talked for two. Finally, she scowled at me again, sat down and the judge got up and left. Wide-eyed, I looked over at our agency coordinator, who said that she had gone off to decide what to do. I muttered to my husband that I was no longer sure that she was even going to grant the adoption, let alone a waiver of the 10-day waiting period.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, the judge returned, banged her gavel, granted the adoption, granted the waiver, then broke into a smile and declared: “Let’s take pictures!” I was elated. However, just like when I adopted my daughter five years earlier, I was not yet worry-free. I did not breathe completely at ease until our airplane’s wings lifted off the ground from Russian soil with all of us aboard. Only then, I knew we were really a family.
I cannot say I how sorry I am that the worry I felt turns out to have had some justification. Although nothing intervened between the grants of adoption and my own airplane lift-offs with either of my children, politics have intervened for all the families whose departures are currently pending for their Russian children. I have seen some estimates that put that number at 200-300. And that does not count those that are in the incipient stages.
The Russian government says the new law is in retaliation for US sanctions against Russian human rights violations. Yet, the name of the law is the “Dima Yakovlev” law, the Russian name of a newly adopted toddler who died in Virginia when his adoptive US father inadvertently left him unattended in a locked car on a hot summer day. The Russians were outraged that the father was not sent to prison. And so, instead, Russia has found a way to impose its own retribution: The negligence of one adoptive father is going to prevent adoptions by other US families, “punishing” both prospective parents and the Russian children in the orphanages. This is the price of politics. But it is not justice. It is injustice in every sense of the word.
Diane S. Hinson, Esq.