Putin Is Wrong About My Kids
Our adopted children escaped the misery of Russian orphanages. Others won’t be as lucky.
Our son Victor was born thousands of miles from us, near the Finnish-Russian border, and placed in a baby home immediately after birth. His mother signed away all her rights, claiming she did not have the money to raise him. He was healthy—a blond with blue eyes. Unlike other countries, in Russia newborn babies are not available for international adoption: A seven-month waiting period gives would-be Russian parents the opportunity to adopt. But in the seven months our son was in the orphanage, official documents stated that no one had come to visit him; no one had inquired after him; and no one had expressed interest in adopting him.
I had always known that my husband and I would have to adopt if we wanted to become parents. My husband was 26 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent a year of life-saving, but infertility-inducing, chemotherapy. We lived a few miles from a Pittsburgh adoption agency whose owners were immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Familiar with the system, they worked primarily with Russian orphanages; they were encouraging and supportive throughout the process, and we always felt fortunate to be working with them. I dove in, taking lessons three times a week from a severe Russian tutor in the neighborhood to prepare for Victor’s arrival, not realizing that my son, a baby, wouldn’t yet know how to speak in either language.
Victor is one of more than 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. No longer. Last week, Vladimir Putin signed a law banning parents like me from adopting children like mine.
We had been told there were 100 children between the ages of 1 and 3 living in the orphanage north of St. Petersburg where we were going to meet our 13-month-old son. We expected to hear their voices. Instead we were greeted by a silence that overwhelmed all other impressions.
It was early April of 1999, and the temperatures were unseasonably warm in the low 70s. Our driver parked near a small gated playground where there was a wooden slide, a seesaw, and an unpainted miniature merry-go-round. It was abandoned. We would later learn that the children were not taken outside because they did not have winter clothing. They played outdoors only in the summer months.
We were assured several times by our agency and by the social workers handling our case that the children were all getting the best care in this facility, though judging by the number of caretakers we saw we couldn’t imagine how this was possible.
On our limited tour of the orphanage, we saw two rooms where the children sat on the floor. There were no toys, no games, no music—nothing for the kids to do. They looked up at us but did not engage. They did not play with each other. These were children who had learned early that crying got them nothing, so they didn’t waste the energy. They were docile and obviously bored. On his first car ride our son stared at the trees outside the window, apparently fascinated because they appeared to be moving.
We were given our son’s daily schedule at the orphanage and noticed that he had a 15-minute massage every other day. “That’s when he’s touched,” the translator explained. His back was rubbed and his leg muscles stretched. This was to help his bones grow, the staff explained.
My husband and I were asked if we would like to feed our son and then chastised for our pace: One worker fed 15 children onion soup in a matter of minutes. She shoveled it into their mouths with such haste we were afraid they would choke. They ate the non-nutritious, watery soup twice a day.
Will Putin’s ban on adoptions finally help U.S. officials grasp the nature of Russia’s political leadership?