‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Monday, February 09, 2009

Answering Questions About Russian Adoption

(Photo is of the village where my daughter's orphanage was located.)

A local college student interviewed me (via email) for a class project on adoption. Thought I'd post her questions and my answers in case there are any prospective adoptive parents lurking here!

How long was the process of your adoption, start to finish? I signed with my agency in September 2004. I received Anastasia's referral in late February 2005 ( after my original referral fell through). I went to meet Anastasia in March 2005, and brought her home on May 22, 2005. It was 9 months start to finish – just like a pregnancy!

Did you travel to Russia and did you visit your daughter's orphanage? If yes, what was it like? Yes, to adopt in Russia, you must make two trips. I went in March & May 2005.
I truly fell in love with Russia, but my daughter’s orphanage was a very depressing place. It was in the middle of nowhere in Siberia, and they had nothing – no toys, no bikes, no balls for use outdoors. Their food was meager, and everyone there seemed very very sad, including my daughter.

How did the staff seem? Some were nice, and some were horrible. The children were used to being beaten by their caretakers. It was the norm. My daughter was told by one of them after my visit, that I didn't like her and decided not to adopt her. This woman did this just to traumatize my daughter. That is the type of person my daughter was raised by.

Did you meet other children at the orphanage? What were they like? Very curious of me, being an American, and elated at the gifts we brought. They were desperate to find parents, and a number of them literally begged me, in tears, to “please find a mother for me."

How many other kids were there? In Anastasia’s orphanage there were 120 children ages 4-16.

Was it sanitary? It was very clean, but the children did most of the cleaning. It was quite sanitary, but devoid of even the basics we take for granted. For example, there was no toilet paper, no toothpaste or toothbrushes, no hairbrushes, no shampoo and very little soap, no washing machines. Starting at age four ( yes, four) the children had to handwash their own clothes once a week.

What did the children do during the day? They attended a school up the hill from the orphanage Mon-Sat. Sundays they took walks and sometimes watched tv. They had just been given a tv that year from another American family.

Where did they go to school? Up the hill. I visited the school. It was in horrible disrepair. The orphanage children were not even allowed lunch. Anastasia explained that they just had to watch the village children eat and would sometimes steal their leftovers from the trash. Anastasia was once caught stealing bread from the school kitchen and was beaten severely for it.

How were rooms arranged? They were arranged by age and gender. One room had the 4 & 5 year olds, another the 6 - 9, and others the 10-16. Anastasia was in a room with 16 other girls aged 10-16. There were 8 sets of bunkbeds in the room.

What were they fed? Not much. Anastasia only weighed 72 pounds at adoption. She got a hard boiled egg for breakfast, but never got to eat it, as the older girls would steal them from her. Soup for lunch, soup for dinner. Sometimes bread. she doesn't remember eating any meat. At Christmas they were given a piece of fruit as their gift.

What was the reason your child was placed in an orphanage? Anastasia's birthmother abandoned her and her older sister outdoors when Anastasia was two years old. A neighbor took them in, but then tried to kill Anastasia by placing her in an oven. Someone heard her screams and rescued her. (She still has the scars…)The police then came & put both girls in the hospital. After several months, they were taken to separate orphanages and never saw one another again. (Until we found Anya and reunited in April 2006.)

Would you say that the adoption process ran smoothly? Was it stressful? What was the process like? Can you describe it? The adoption process was not easy or smooth running or easy to predict. It was big highs and even bigger lows, and lots of frustration. You are at the mercy of our government as well as Russia’s government. The paperwork alone could fill a small room!

How would you describe your child’s transition into America culture? How was her first day of school? Has she adapted socially? Has she connected with her family?
Difficult. Because of her years of abuse and neglect, Anastasia has quite a few psychological challenges to overcome. She suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so has difficulty being in large groups of people, and being stressed in any way. School proved too much for her, and we are now homeschooling. She learned English very quickly, but it took her a long time to adjust to this life. She had never taken a shower, used an elevator, seen a washing machine or dishwasher. In fact, when I told her what the dishwasher was, she laughed at me, thinking it was a joke! She had never used a regular toilet, or even brushed her teeth -- ever! She had never had access to food whenever she wanted. During her first few months home she would open the fridge literally 20-30 times a day just to assure herself their was food. She hoarded food in her room & under her pillows for months.

Social adjustment has proven very difficult. Anastasia was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder which can make dealing with others very painful. She also cannot read social cues and assumes that everyone is 'out to get her' until proven otherwise. She has not made many friends, but we are still working on it. She has connected to our family well, though. I have three brothers and she adores them.

Have you received any professional help making this transition easier? Yes, we meet with a therapist and psychiatrist regularly. However, I've found the greatest benefit and support comes from fellow adoptive parents.

How would you define adoption? Just another way to start a family. My daughter is no less my daughter because she does not carry my DNA. Sometimes I even forget she's adopted -- not kidding!

What was adoption like for you financially? Hell. It took me five years to save up the money, and I am still recovering!

What was the actual adoption in court like? Beautiful, actually. We went to court on May 16th 2005, in Russia. My brother was with me, and Anastasia was by my side. I answered a slew of questions, and then the judge asked my daughter if she wanted to be adopted. She said yes. The judge asked why? Anastasia answered, "I'm just hoping it's better..."After 5 minutes of deliberation, the judge announced us a family!

What is your daughter’s name? What is she like? What are her hobbies? Her name is Anastasia Holly _______. She goes by Nast and Nastia, which is the Russian nickname for Anastasia. She had never been called Anastasia in her life, though, and demanded she be called Nastia for the first year. Of course that was fine with me. Her name is one of the few things that she had called her own all those years. She now prefers to be called Anastasia, as she thinks it "sounds more grown-up."

Her hobbies are: cooking, making up new recipes, thousand piece puzzles, painting, singing, scrapbooking, swimming, playing on her computer, riding her bike, sledding, taking care of her pets, travelling to new places.

Anything else you would like to share? I wish more people would adopt. There are over 750,000 children sitting in Russian orphanages alone right now. EVERY child deserves a family.


  1. Wow, what a said situation she was in! She's so lucky to have you!

  2. very heartwrenching reading this post. So glad you found each other.

  3. It's a strange kind of happy/sad to read your story. It's wonderful that you found each other and good to know more about you, but to think of what you went through... Heartbreaking.

  4. So glad you posted this. Makes me think back over our adoption story. Interesting the similarities and the differences. She's certainly blessed.

  5. I'm almost in tears over that. I have heard how awful it is for them. One time I saw a picture of babies tied to potty chairs where they sat all day. There has to be a special place in hell for people that treat kids that way. How cruel of that woman to tell your daughter that you decided not to adopt her. No wonder she has so many problems. I am so glad you adopted her.

  6. Faeriemama, i can only echo everyone elses comments- a fascinating and heart-rending read.

  7. Anonymous2:17 PM

    It was really interesting to read this. Thanks!

  8. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Yes - I'd agree that our adoptions had many similarities and difference... Would you mind if I borrowed this post idea?


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