Monday, June 9, 2003
Today we got "the call." Well actually it was an email but it certainly wasn't
any less exciting.
The day started out normally, and after checking my work email and having our Monday morning meeting
I sat down at my desk to get started on my current project. Thinking that it was unlikely I'd have anything new in my personal
email I almost didn't check it. Something pushed me there though and I did. And there was the good news!!! I couldn't believe
it. I think I screamed and started yelling something about "we got the call, we got the call, we are going to Russia." Everyone
at work came running to see what I was screaming about and then I started sobbing and saying "I'm going to be a mommy." So
I lost my composure a bit...I think everyone understood.
The rest of the day was spent in a cloud. Thankfully no one
at work really expected me to accomplish much. We are scrambling to get our tickets and our visa's. We have to go to the bank
to get "new" bills so we have lots of cash with us, as well as getting a certified check to the adoption agency for our next
payment. Oh my goodness...I have to start packing and finding all our medical information for evaluating the baby.
weren't ready for this yet. We didn't expect to go on our first trip until July at the earliest. I had planned on being packed
and ready to go well before that time so I wouldn't be in this crazy state.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
I'm have today off work so I am going to go run all the errands. I don't know which way to turn
first. The kitchen is all torn apart as we were painting it over the weekend. I think I can get one last coat on it and throw
everything back on the counters so at least our pet sitter can use it.
We have our flight information. We are leaving
Friday at 8pm out of JFK on Aeroflot. We will return Sunday June 22. We hope to have plenty of time to spend with our baby
and enjoy the pleasures of Moscow.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
We met with Leslie today at the International Adoption Center (IAC). She spent a lot of time with
us going over the travel and what to expect when we are at the Minstery of Education (MoE) and the orphanage. We are feeling
better prepared now. We still have tons to do but we will get there.
We are being picked up by Daves Limo Friday at
12:30pm. I think as soon as I get to that point I'll start to calm down. I can't do much more after that then sit back and
enjoy our journey. I can't believe that in five days we will be with our baby! I can't wait to tell you all about him/her!
Friday into Saturday, 13 June, 2003
"On our way"
On our way to Russia!! We met Dave’s Limo (a van service) and headed off to JFK. A long,
hot van ride…with an interesting route taken by the driver. Friday afternoon traffic made what should have been a less
than two-hour drive about 3 and a half. We still arrived a little over three hours before our flight. I can’t imagine
doing that trip with a baby!
After going through security as we entered the terminal we went to the Aeroflot ticket
counter to check in and get our seats. After that we sat down and had a drink and some dinner, then waited to board the plane.
The plane left at 8pm and was scheduled to arrive in Moscow at 12:30pm on Saturday. Just about an eight-hour flight.
flight itself was uneventful. Both of us were able to sleep several hours. I wouldn’t call the seats comfortable, even
at only 5’3” my knees almost touched the seat in front of me.
We were excited to arrive, but nervous as
well. We were met just off the plane by a VIP service that helped us get through passport control and customs. This was an
extra service that we paid for. We breezed through passport control, as we were able to go right to the head of the line.
We were at the baggage claim just as it was starting to deliver luggage. Unfortunately, our luggage was almost the last to
come out on the belt, so the head start we had was for nothing. Our “guides” then pointed us through the “nothing
to declare” line at customs and we were done. All in all, not worth the money we paid for this. After a little confusion,
we found our driver, who was holding a sign with our name on it. Our driver, Nadia, then helped us take our luggage to her
car and took us to our hotel, The Hotel Proton, a business hotel (apparently the “a business hotel” is an important
addition to the name).
Nadia drove a black Volvo that was probably from some time in the late 1980’s. She sure
knew how to drive though! She told us that she had been a taxi driver in Moscow for ten years before becoming a personal driver
for adoptive families. She spoke “a little” English, but we managed to get by.
We were very happy to see
our hotel, as the area we drove through to get to it did not look very promising. I was getting a bit nervous about our accommodations,
as we didn’t know where we were staying until Nadia told us. Although the area around the hotel was nothing to write
home about, the Hotel Proton was not bad. It was fairly elegant inside and our room was not bad. The room was comparable to
an average hotel room in the states. We had a nice bathroom, mini-fridge, small TV (although the only English channel was
BBC-World) and a queen size bed. It would do for the week.
By the time we unpacked I was pretty much a walking zombie,
so I had to lie down. Rich exchanged some money and checked out the hotel, then took a little walk around the area. I slept
for a couple hours, then we had dinner in the hotel. That was a bit of an adventure as only a portion of the menu was in English
and our waiter did not appear to speak anything but Russia. We got pretty good at saying “spasiba” by the end
of the meal. After dinner it was back to bed.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
It seems Rich and I are changing roles. I woke up before 7am and he
slept until almost 9! We checked out the breakfast buffet. Interesting what Russians’ consider breakfast food; lots
of cold salty meats, stinky cheeses and cold salads, even onion rings. They did have some fresh fruit and yogurt, as well
as hard-boiled eggs so we made do. I did ask Rich to refrain from eating the stinky cheese!
After breakfast we went
back to the room to wait for Alyona, our facilitator to call. She had called us the night before to see if we wanted to meet
her that evening or in the morning. I was in no shape to talk with her Saturday night so asked if we could meet her today.
Alyona called us about noon and she arranged to come to our hotel then.
We met with Alyona in the hotel bar and she
welcomed us warmly. We talked a little about how the week would go and she told us that she had a referral in mind for us.
She told us about a 10-month-old boy. He was born prematurely and was still small and weak. Apparently he had been sick so
was staying in the orphan wing of a rural hospital. Alyona had arranged for a doctor that specialized in premature infants
to go with us to visit the baby. Rich and I were both excited and nervous to hear about the baby, as well as a little surprised.
We didn’t think we would find out anything until we went to the Ministry of Education (MoE) the next day. Alyona said
several times that the baby was weak, but she wanted us to see him, because she thought that love and nourishment might be
all he needed. I could tell Rich was as uncomfortable with what Alyona was telling us as I was, but we figured she knew what
she was doing so we would trust her.
After talking about the baby and what to expect that week, Alyona asked us what
we wanted to do the rest of the day. We were both pretty rested and wanted to see Moscow. Unfortunately by then we had realized
that the Hotel Proton was not near anything! They had a shuttle service that would have taken us into the heart of Moscow,
by the Kremlin, but because of construction on one of the major bridges, they were only taking people to the nearest metro
station. Rich and I did not feel brave enough to venture out on the metro by ourselves. Alyona ended up arranging for a university
student, who was studying English, to meet us and take us around.
We took the shuttle to the Fili Metro station and
met Dasha. What a darling girl she is! Only 17 she was just finishing her first year of university. Her English was very good!
Dasha took us via the metro to the area around the Kremlin and Red Square. We walked for hours! Dasha was a great guide; she
really knew her stuff. We were so impressed with her. After walking and taking pictures for a couple hours we ended up at
Arbat street and did some souvenir shopping. Then Dasha took us to a “typical” Russian restaurant. I have to admit
I was exhausted and a bit dehydrated by then. I know that because I wasn’t that interested in eating, only drinking
water! How unusual for me. I did manage to try some Russian pancakes with meat filling and a fruit drink called Moss (or something
like that) that I enjoyed. Rich had a trout dish that he wasn’t all that fond of, but he loved the hot borscht! Dasha
escorted us back to our shuttle service after dinner. Rich went to pay her, because we had assumed we would have to pay her
as our guide, but she refused to take any money. It seems the agency takes care of some of her compensation, but mostly she
just enjoys being with Americans and practicing her English. I call her our Russian Angel!
|Rich and Kristine in Red Square
|Dasha and Kristine
I was ready to get back to the room since I hadn’t used the
bathroom all afternoon! I was a little frightened by some things I had heard before going to Russia about the state of Russian
toilets so I avoided them as much as possible. Rich couldn’t believe how long I went without using one. Neither of us
had any idea my bladder could actually work that well!
We headed to bed early, anticipating a long day ahead of us
on Monday. We were both nervous, tired, anxious etc.. Again, role reversal, because I went right to sleep and Rich had insomnia.
Monday, June 16, 2003 The Big Day!
"From Hell to Heaven in 12 hours or less"
What a day!!! As Rich says, we went from the depths of hell to the heights
of heaven in 12 short hours. All I can say is we were not prepared for what was to come, but in the end we found what we were
looking for. Rich had not slept well and we were both nervous. We still weren’t comfortable with what Alyona had told
us about the baby the day before. At the same time we were excited because we hoped we were going to meet our son!
picked us up at our hotel at 9am. She drove us to the Ministery of Education (MoE) where we met Alyona for our 10am appointment.
Alyona escorted us to the fourth floor where the MoE was located. She appeared very at home there. She sat us on a bench right
outside the room that we were to be meeting the Minister in. She asked us for our passports and took them to make a copy of
our visa’s. Only seconds later she came back out and asked us why we had tourist visa’s and not business visa’s.
We just looked at her and said that was what the agency had gotten us. She started to argue with us and I told her again that
was what Leslie had gotten for us, that we had nothing to do with it, and we had paid over $400 dollars each for them.
She was a bit flustered and we knew it was going to be a problem. She went in and spoke with someone for a while, then had
us move off our bench to another bench out in the hallway. Apparently the new laws in Russia required us to be there with
a business visa if we were adopting. Alyona said we would wait until the Minister saw the other couples and then go in and
plead our case. I asked her if I could use the restroom and she took me up one floor to use one. On the way I asked her if
there was something we could do or say. She told me crying would be good! She also said to tell the minister that we had chosen
the Moscow Province to adopt from because we had heard so many good things about it, and we had great respect for it. Because
of that we had been afraid to offend them by not showing up for our appointment, and since we only had four days notice, and
two of those days were during Russian holidays we were only able to get tourist visa’s.
We waited in the hall
for almost two hours, until all the other couples had been seen. Rich was getting more and more angry. He told me that if
this didn’t work out we were going to arrange to fly home tomorrow. I tried to calm him down and kept reminding him
that all along we had believed that the right baby would come to us at the right time. We just had to keep the faith that
had taken us that far. Finally we went in to the room with the Minister and sat down at a round table. The Minister was a
well-dressed woman who appeared to be in her late 40’s or early 50's. When she sat down with us she looked at
us sternly and started to speak, she spoke in Russian and Alyona translated. She spent several minutes chastising us, our
agency, and Alyona for letting us come to our appointment with tourist visa’s. She said she was going to send a letter
to our agency and put one in Alyona file, and we needed to write an official letter as to why we had come with the wrong visa.
Rich and I just sat there holding hands and I dabbed a tissue at my eyes occasionally. I have to say our head was spinning,
we were never given any time to speak. And then…we realized she was talking about a baby. We were being given our referral!
She told us pretty much the same thing that Alyona had told us the day before about the baby. He was ten months old, premature,
the mother had abandoned him at birth and given a false name at the hospital. He appeared to have the “typical”
diagnoses of a Russian orphan. We were then shown his picture. I know it sounds cold, but both of us looked at that picture
and thought it didn’t look like a baby at all. We had been warned not to put too much importance on a picture though,
so kept reminding ourselves of that.
After all the problems with the visa, and fearing we would not be given a referral
at all, we were afraid to turn this one down, so when the Minister asked if we wanted to go see him, we of course said yes.
As we were leaving the building Rich whispered to me that the baby showed physical features of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
in his picture. We were getting scared.
We all got in the car and Nadia started to drive us out of the city. We were
told that the hospital was about two hours outside of the city and we would be picking up the doctor on the way. We had to
wait for a while for Lena (the doctor) to meet us, so we stopped at McDonalds. Maybe they aren’t as different from us
as we thought. This gave us a chance to grab a quick lunch and use the bathroom.
We finally met Lena and headed to
the hospital. We drove through a very rural area and turned off onto a dirt drive and approached a dilapidated building that
looked like it was build around the early 1900’s. The building looked abandoned, with wild grass growing around it.
It turned out the building was one of the hospital buildings. We were met by the local inspector, who then escorted us
into the hospital. The building was as bad inside as it was out, and it smelled! We thought we had prepared ourselves for
this, but it was clear we had not.
Of course by then the nerves had kicked in and I HAD to use the bathroom. When
I saw it I wasn’t sure if it might be better if I just went outside and used the tree. Oh how I wished I had figured
out how to pee standing up before this trip. For some reason the seat of the toilet had been taken off and was leaning up
on the tank, which did not have a top. There was no handle to flush, and it was evident that you did not put paper in the
toilet, but in a bucket next to it. You also had to supply your own paper, which fortunately I was prepared for. I managed
to hover over the bowl and make do.
I met the rest of the group in what appeared to be their main room and we sat at
a table. We had learned a little more about the baby on our trip to the hospital when Alyona spoke by cell phone to the inspector.
Apparently they knew who the mother was because someone at the hospital that she gave birth at recognized her, even though
she had given a false name. When the inspector went to visit her she refused to acknowledge that she had given birth. Apparently
she was handicapped and had another son that she took care of. We were never able to determine what the handicap was or why
she refused to acknowledge the birth of this baby.
At this point a nurse brought the baby in to the room and handed
him to me. It was an emotional moment and of course I started to tear up. He went to me easily enough but never looked at
me, just threw his head back and started at the ceiling. He smelled and did not look clean. He didn’t react at all to
our voices and never made eye contact. I held him for a few minutes and then gave him to Lena to do the exam. She did the
Denver Developmental test on him and even from our minimal reading on it we knew he was not doing well. He didn’t appear
to hear at all, or process the sound if he could. Rich taped the exam while I watched. At one point I just looked at him and
shook my head. We knew it was not good, and he was not our baby. Alyona and Lena spoke to each other throughout the exam.
It was very frustrating because Alyona did not translate their discussion for us, but we could tell it was not positive. Lena
finished the exam and said he was very sick. He appeared to have FAS, and was exhibiting autistic signs. Developmentally he
was closer to a three month old than a ten month old. She eventually told us we did not want that baby. Alyona agreed with
her. It was very sad and emotional, but Rich and I already knew that this baby was too sick for us to be able to help. We
were scared though that we would not be given another referral. We thought we were going to leave but the doctor of the hospital
came in and started to argue with Lena about the results of her exam. Even the inspector tried to convince Lena that the child
was not sick. I’m still confused by this as it was so clear that he had problems that could not be corrected. Finally
we were able to leave. Nadia took the inspector home and we waited for her at a small market across the street. The sky had
been dark and gloomy most of the day and it started to rain as we waited.
Alyona called the MoE and told them about
the baby and that we were coming back for another referral. At least we were relieved to hear that we would be shown another
Another two hour ride, this time back to Moscow. We dropped Lena off at
her car and headed for the MoE. As we were walking into the building the rain stopped and we had a glimpse of the sun. Back
up to the fourth floor and the round table. It was about 5:15pm and Alyona told us the MoE closed at 6pm. The Minister was
not in her room. Alyona spoke with several people in Russian, as we sat and waited. At one point she asked me if we would
be willing to consider a child over a year old, as there would be more available. I didn’t know what to say. We had
traveled all that way, gone through hell so far that day, and now they wanted us to change our mind? Unbelieveable. The
faith that I had had earlier in the day was starting to leave me.
Finally the Minister came in, carrying shopping
bags! She said hello to us and sat at her desk. A different woman who had been in and out of the office several times while
we were there sat down at the table with us. She apologized for the condition of our first referral, and started to tell us
about another boy. We were told his name, Vadim, and the name and age of the mother, and that he had been given up at birth.
Then we were told his birth date…I heard 11 February and started to think, oh great…a baby over a year…and
then they said 2003 and I realized he was only four months old! I was very surprised as we thought the youngest child we could
be referred would be six months. After the information we were shown his picture. He looked like a real baby!! When they asked
us if we wanted to visit him we said YES, of course we do!
We left there feeling like a huge weight had been lifted
off of us. As we walked outside the sun was shining for the first time all day. Alyona asked us if we wanted to go visit Vadim
right then, or wait until the morning. Of course we wanted to go right now!! This baby home was in Vidnoe, about 45 minutes
outside of Moscow. Apparently it was the closest baby home to Moscow, and Alyona said her favorite one.
her magic, got us through Moscow traffic, and we headed to Vidnoe. We picked up the director of the baby home on our way so
she could let us in. She escorted us to a large building, old, but appeared to be well maintained. The grounds were well kept
with playground equipment in various places around it, as well as flower gardens.
We went in the building and up a
flight of stairs and to her office. She gave Alyona Vadim’s file and she told us more about it. Alyona read to us from
the file and was able to give us more information about the birth mother and the circumstances for Vadim being available for
adoption. We also were told more about Vadim. Vadim was healthy other than for a short stay in a hospital with
RSV shortly after his birth. He was about 7 ½ pounds at birth and had an APGAR score of 8/8. He was moved to the baby home
on April 11. After we were told all of this a nurse came in carrying a darling little boy. He was all big brown eyes.
She handed him to me and he smiled this little toothless grin. He was wonderful. It was love at first site for both Rich and
me. We couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, he looks like a baby, a real baby. Sounds kind of silly now, but after seeing
that first poor little boy it was such a relief to see a normal baby. Rich and I held him and played with him. Of course he
is only 4 months old so he wasn’t doing much, but we were able to do some basic tests on him and could tell that he
could see and hear ok, and he reacted appropriately to stimulus. He made eye contact and smiled. We could tell he was tired
and were told he had been woken up so we could see him. We didn’t stay long, but knew we would be back in the morning.
Lena was going to meet us there and examine him for us.
Rich and I couldn’t believe our luck. We knew we had
found our baby! We were in love, enthralled, enraptured with little Vadim, soon to be known as Noah Alexi.
|Our first photo as a family!