Our adoption journey started the way many do. After a couple failed IVF attempts, my husband Greg and I began researching adoption. We knew a few people who adopted internationally and decided to explore Russia as an option. It was a well-established program and we could select an agency with a physical presence in the country, which would aid us when we traveled.
In February 2010, we met with our agency consultant and began filling out our initial application. We knew there was a possibility of a long wait—a year and a half to two years—to get a young child. Our families and friends were very supportive and excited, but also cautioned us not to get too far ahead of ourselves with preparations.
After a few months completing our initial paperwork, home studies and parenting classes, we submitted our dossier (the packet that details every part of your life from birth to present) to Russia. Time flew from February to May, but once those documents went into the FedEx envelope, it felt like the clock stopped. We busied ourselves with prepping the baby’s room and purchasing things we knew we would need when he or she came home, but there were many days where that wait took its toll.
In a matter of a mere two months, our lives forever changed on July 23, 2010.
The phone rang as I was getting ready for work, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer. Within a minute, our landline rang. Caller ID showed our agency’s number, and I started thinking, “Oh no, what document did we not have stamped correctly?” or “Maybe we’ve been registered in a region, making us one step closer to receiving a placement.” When I answered, I could hear the excitement in our consultant’s voice. She was calling with wonderful news and was forwarding me an email regarding a 9-and-a-half-month-old baby girl in the Kaliningrad region. No words can describe how I felt at that moment! After hanging up, I immediately called Greg to share the news. He was in disbelief as well, as neither of us expected this to happen so quickly. I had waited to open the email until I was on the phone with him; we looked at the words on our screens, then finally saw the two beautiful pictures of the little girl who was already ours in our hearts. With our emotions in overdrive, we reviewed her medical information and social history, then made the decision to travel to meet her.
Just two-and-a-half weeks later, we took our first of two trips to Russia. Our nerves were high; we were traveling to a nation where we didn’t speak the language (we planned to learn more, but due to the short wait time we had, we only got through basic pleasantries). We were comforted knowing our agency had a strong presence in Russia, and that we would have a guide to travel with and an interpreter when meeting with orphanage personnel and government officials.
The first time we saw our daughter, we held back our desire to scoop her up, hug her and tell her how long we had waited for her because as much as we wanted to do those things, we didn’t want to overwhelm her. As we had learned from adoption professionals, while we were feeling the excitement and anticipation of creating our beautiful family, this child—regardless of how young—had experienced great loss through her life, and didn’t have continuity of care during time spent in an orphanage. We approached her with nothing but love in our hearts, and patience unlike we had ever known. We had a week in Russia on our first trip; only a few of those days included visits with our little girl, but we spent quality time bonding with her and were very grateful for every second. My husband and I instantly connected to her and it was painful to say goodbye when our trip ended. We felt blessed knowing that the caregivers in her orphanage seemed to take incredible care of her, and although there were a number of them, she responded very well to their love and affection.
Many families wait months after coming home the first time before receiving their next travel date, but we were given the return date for our second trip (and court date) before we even left Russia. We had to wait only six weeks before returning to go to court and bring our baby girl home.
A family photo after picking Anna up from the orphanage.
We were awarded custody on October 1, 2010, three days before our girl’s first birthday. The judge who presided over our case allowed us to have our daughter stay with us almost immediately after we were given custody. Russian law usually mandates a 10-day wait from custody being awarded to the day when parents were allowed to pick up their child, but in our case, we could bring her back to our hotel and begin our lives together from Day 3.
For those unfamiliar with the Russian adoption process, imagine having a child in your care for less than 24 hours, then boarding a plane from the child’s birth region, to fly to Moscow and spend 48 hours (including a long meeting at the Consulate’s office), only to board a plane and fly many hours to get to your home. In many cases, those first few days are the only time families have spent together, and children have no bonding time before they head to their new homes. Those extra days together allowed us to bond in a way that my husband and I will be forever grateful.
Our homecoming was very low-key. Our immediate families met us at the airport and helped us to reacclimate. Everyone was excited to meet our new addition, but because the three of us were so incredibly exhausted—physically and emotionally—we kept things pretty quiet. In the weeks that followed, family members hosted baby showers and welcome-home parties, and everyone was able to meet our beautiful daughter.
Over the last six years, we’ve watched our daughter grow and become an amazing little girl. Her heart is bigger than we could ever dream, and the love she shows to her family and friends is incredible. We’ve always talked very openly about her adoption, and have made it clear that she can ask anything she feels comfortable asking. We know that all adoptions are rooted in loss, and while we are incredibly blessed to have each other, there will be days when the questions may become more difficult, and that is something we prepare for. Each night, we pray a special prayer for her “tummy mommy in Kaliningrad” and do what we can to foster the knowledge that our family is blessed by adoption.
We are thankful for the path that we walked, because without our struggles many years ago, we would have never known this amazing gift of adoption.
– Brooke Schemers is the proud mom of Anna