Alison's Journey Home: An Adoption Story - Part 2
By Nicole Sandler
Once signed up with my agency, I received the information on their Russian program and instructions for assembling my dossier compiled into a red binder.
At the time (July 1999), the only region Focus on Children worked with in Russia was Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. I started learning about that region while assembling my dossier.
The process of putting together my dossier took three months. It included sending away to New York for three official, certified copies of my birth certificate. The other elements were:
-12 photos of my home, family, child's bedroom, community, school, etc.
-The aforementioned home study, plus copies of the home study agency license and the social worker's individual license.
-Letter of medical approval from my doctor, plus a copy of his license!
-Copy of my most recent income tax return.
-Local police statement stating that I have no criminal record.
-Copy of my passport.
-Power of attorney for my agency's staff in Russia.
-Declaration (a form required by the Russian government).
-Copy of the INS form I171-H (favorable determination letter).
-Letter from employer stating salary, length of employment, and with a work habit comment on company letterhead.
All items in the dossier then must be notarized. If they're copies of original documents (like passport, tax returns, I171-H form, etc.) a page must be attached that says, "This is a true and correct copy of the original." This page must also be notarized. Then each document needs an apostille seal.
I know, you're thinking, "a WHAT seal? An apostille is a state seal, recognized by foreign countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, which basically authenticates the notary public's signature. It doesn't matter if the same notary notarizes every document, each document still needs an apostille, and the state of California charges $20 for each apostille.
Well, I got it all done. On October 16, 1999 I sent my completed dossier to the agency. I had been given a four to six month referral timeline, so I thought for sure I'd be a mom before the summer. In early November I got a note from my agency that they were expanding into additional Russian regions, and my dossier was being sent to a town called Tomsk. They said I could plan on traveling in February!
I began preparing for cold weather travel. Months passed and no referrals were coming from Tomsk. The coordinator hired by my agency in that region just wasn't making anything happen. Then in March Russia elected a new president. No one thought Vladimir Putin would mess with adoptions, after all, there are so many Russian children in orphanages that need homes.
We were wrong. Although Putin's intentions were in the right place, adoptions grounded to a halt. Unfortunately, not all agencies working in Russia are as benevolent as they should be. The Russian Mafia has a very strong presence, and Putin wanted to make sure some safeguards were put in place, so he issued an edict that only accredited agencies could facilitate adoptions in Russia. The problem was that not only weren't there any accredited agencies, there wasn't even a procedure in place to become accredited.
Over the summer, some "independent adoptions did take place with agencies assisting families. But the procedure changed. No referrals were given to agencies. Instead, families whose paperwork was approved were allowed to go to Russia to get a referral in person and meet the child. If they accepted the referral, they had to file all the paperwork in person, then return home and wait for a court date. They"d make a second trip to Russia to go to court, complete the adoption, and bring the child home.
It wasn't the best scenario, but I was prepared to do that. Still no referrals were coming out of Tomsk. In the meantime, my agency was trying to get another program going, this one in Omsk. So, we moved my paperwork to Omsk...(each time it moved, I had to redo more paperwork, change the power of attorney forms, get them notarized, and get them apostilled).
Months go by... agencies are scrambling to get the necessary paperwork in for accreditation. Some adoptions are happening, but slowly and in much smaller numbers. The coordinators in Omsk were being told the first adoptions were for older children, and I was set on a baby girl. My agency asked if I wanted to try Chelyabinsk. They"d already completed one adoption there and the coordinator thought it would move quickly. I said ok.
First problem... Chelyabinsk needs TWO original dossiers! One for the Ministry of Education (who gives all the referrals) and one for the Department of Justice. So, off I go to re-do my entire dossier, again!
The new dossier went to Chelyabinsk September 18, 2000, and I waited on pins and needles for any word. Finally, we were told the Ministry of Education would have a referral for me in 30 days. So, again, I waited. I bugged my agency three to four times a week, and when the 30 days was up we got word that Chelyabinsk had no healthy girls.
"Healthy" meaning a child who has correctable problems. Most children adopted from orphanages in Eastern Europe have medical problems, including malnutrition, rickets, anemia, intestinal parasites, scabies, and more. "Unhealthy" would include hepatitis, TB, Cerebral Palsy, spina bifida, and worse. Thankfully there are many families out there who are prepared to raise and request children with special needs. When you decide to take this step, you must be very honest with yourself about what you can and can't handle.
Unfortunately, the only girls available for adoption in Chelyabinsk were beyond the scope of what I was prepared to handle.
The gentleman at my agency who has taken care of me since I moved to the Tomsk program, Scott Banks, felt as badly as I did and asked me if I wanted to consider a little girl in Kazakhstan. She was 17 months old and seemed pretty healthy, though definitely in need of some good nourishment and TLC.
Kazakhstan is part of the former Soviet Union that gained its independence in 1991. So, this would mean re-doing my dossier yet again! But there wasn't too much of a difference in what was needed, and although a pain, it wouldn't be impossible.
He said he would send me her picture, a videotape, and what little medical information they had on her if I was interested. I agreed to see the information on Wednesday, October 18, a year and two days after I sent in my first dossier.
I awoke the following morning to two pictures in my e-mail inbox of the most precious, tiny little girl. I've always had a mental picture of what I thought my daughter looked like, and these pictures were so incredibly close!
When I got to the office, a Fed-Ex package with very sketchy medical information was waiting. At 15 months she weighed 14 pounds, was anemic, and had some other typical Russian diagnoses that are too complicated to explain here (if you're interested in reading about referral medical reports, you can check out www.russianadoption.org/topten.htm). I went by myself into an office, shut the door and watched the three and a half minute video, which showed a beautiful little girl, obviously a little scared by being in a room with so many people, but following every move very intently. During the last minute, she was in another room with only a few people and was obviously more comfortable, she smiled, giggled and completely won me over!
Since I had 18 months to prepare for this moment, I knew I had to think with my head and not my heart. I ran out and got the video dubbed and overnighted it to a doctor who specializes in evaluating international adoption referrals. Dr. Alla Gordina is Russian physician based in New Jersey who runs an international adoption clinic, and has seen hundreds of these tapes. She watched the video and told me that the baby looked pretty good - severely malnourished, definitely has rickets, but didn't see anything that "lots of Vitamin M - mommy - wouldn't take care of"!
She did want more information, since we got so little, and my agency was able to set up a call between my doctor and the orphanage doctor in Kazakhstan. Dr. Gordina told me she'll need a lot of work - physical therapy, occupational therapy and a lot of one on one attention, but thinks she'll do fine.
I accepted her referral October 21, and got my dossier re-done (for the last time) in record time. I am now four days away from leaving the States to meet my daughter!
I'm excited, scared, nervous, thrilled, and can't believe I'm almost there.
Apparently, around the corner from the apartment I'll be staying in is a cyber-caf", so I'll be updating and sending pictures too! Stay tuned...
About The Author
Nicole Sandler is the owner/producer of Legacy Video Productions, specializing in producing adoption stories.