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Moscow, Russia - Trip 1

Monday, June 9, 2003

"The call"


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.

We 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.

More soon!


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

"Getting ready"

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

"Pre-departure meeting"

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.

The 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!

Nadia 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 baby.

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.

Nadia did 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 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!

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