I keep asking myself why I am writing in such detail about a ten day adoption process long abandoned. The adoption process in Russia and many other countries has improved.
So why rake over long dead coals? I insist it is for personal insight. Yet out of curiosity I googled adoption processes and found the site, International Adoption.org, which points to several countries that continue to process adoptions almost as quickly and at roughly the same cost as our process in the 90s: Malawi, South Korea and India among the list. There is still some relevancy to my pursuit.
So, yes we are still in the doctor’s office meeting Yasik. I know most parents meet their child in the midst of hovering professionals; adoptive parents experience no more privacy. Nurses or doulas may be bending over a new mother learning to breast feed, and in the case of adoptive parents, orphanage staff are hovering around as these new parents are taking in the look of their about-to-be child. When I think back on what they shared with us about Yasik, the sum message was positive. They were telling us Yasik was their little assistant with the younger children. I guess in an elder brotherly sort of way. He helped a two year old Down’s syndrome girl learn to walk. They said he was their favourite – and we would see how that might be possible many times in the years ahead. On a kindergarten outing a few months later another kid was left behind because the staff were focused on taking pictures of Yasik. But maybe a reflexive sales pitch is given to all adoptors. Who knows? We had no trouble believing it. They also said he was an intelligent, beautiful and loving person.
We just kept saying ahh…ahh…ahh. Taking him from Dave’s arms, I held him too. But I could see he was becoming overwhelmed and then he cried. My first real mommy moment and I scared the kid. Good start. The very solid book, Thicker Than Blood by Marion Crook, tucks in a healthy bit on page 65 to ease a new parent’s fear of bonding – sometimes it happens instantly, sometimes it takes a while, but either way it is going to happen though toward the end of the same page she temporizes with “Bonding can occur despite…”. The doctor with the sweetest looking face took Yasik from me and folded him into her lap. Now all the women were crying, maybe even the one who never looked up from her work. Dave though appeared thrilled, beaming face and expanding chest.
Yasik consoled, we moved from this room to the doctor’s office and she told us about Yasik’s time for the first two years in the hospital. I am using the word ‘told’ loosely but we did manage to learn Yasik got rickets while at the hospital. The questions I was encouraged to note as we drove to the orphanage were mostly met with blank stares and dodges back into safer territory, translator or no translator, it seemed to me. In the past few years I have begun to fill in some of the gaps they chose not to fill with my own reading. Any blanks I have filled in, as limited as they are, have come from Google searches, searches of studies I found up at SFU and from the few books on my reading list about life in Russia.
Yasik did not walk until he was moved to the orphanage. Some of the orphanages in Russia have what is termed ‘lying down’ rooms. Was Yasik in a ‘lying down’ ward in the hospital? In other words, did he not walk because he was not given opportunities to get out of bed to walk? Was he left to lie in bed for much of the two years he spent in the hospital? Did he have rickets because of the lack of proper diet and exposure to sunshine while he stayed in a substandard hospital. No appropriate judgement can be made. To be fair, I actually could not at the time have fathomed asking why he had rickets or why he could not walk until the age of two. My questions were more mundane: “What does he like to eat?” And maybe it was pointless from their perspective to waste time answering that sort of question, given they may have assumed if we could come all this way to adopt a child, we would be providing a different diet than orphanage fare. (I say this, aware of a potential stereotyping profile and the gossip monger’s love of scratching around in the dirt). At any rate, Yasik took over responsibility for teaching us his likes and dislikes the moment the van left the orphanage the next day.
The negatives brushed over, the conversation skipped on to other positive notes. Perhaps even allowing us to know about the rickets and slow start to walking was to suggest that though the hospital provided poor care we could be assured the orphanage rescued Yasik and gave him the Vitamin D he needed to deal with rickets and the stimuli to encourage him to walk. And we have never doubted that his bones and coordination were not hampered by the lack of care in the hospital. And so, as I write this I have to conclude this sweet looking doctor was doing what she had likely done over and over, focus on the positives unless it was necessary for the future of the child to bring up the negative. Yasik learned to walk. Childhood rickets do not have lifetime impact if treatment catches the problem before disabling deformities develop (lots of downer ‘D’ words there which did not come to pass for Yasik). Notching the positives up, the doctor went on to say Yasik had musical interests and liked to draw and within a split second, Dave whipped out his ever-present sketch book and crayons. He drew a circle on the page and Yasik got right into it, drawing lines to connect the circle. Then he carefully returned the crayons to their right place. We saw no males in our brief time in the orphanage but I didn’t question why when Yasik needed to go to the toilet, he chose Dave to take him, a male he knew only as a hugger, circle-drawer and gift-giver. He said to Dave, “Kakas”(I doubt I need to offer translation), and taking Dave’s hand, led him to the toilet. Dave helped him do his job and pull up, Yasik stopping first to point out his deposit for some reason.
Before this one opportunity to learn about the first four years of Yasik’s life was brought to a close, we measured his feet and took him with us in the van to buy a pair of shoes and get his passport picture taken. Can you imagine that, this four year old child had known us for one hour, yet my notes say he went with no hesitation, allowing Dave to carry him out to the van in the company of four strangers: Dave, me, the driver and the translator. In the van, he held my hand, and as Dave talked to him, he started to talk back with tiny, shy, little words. The store we went to was a set piece for an early century western movie, the shoes were a little boy’s oxfords from the middle of the century but the clerk was the first retail person who smiled and treated us with genuine friendliness – likely responding to Yasik’s charm.
I was 47 in ’97 and had dreamed of being a mother to an adoptee for nearly half my life, yet until that afternoon I merely stood to the side only ever looking on at mothering. That is lots of time to develop either a sense that like any other job I had handled to that point, this was one more job I would be competent at, or as in my case, a deep insecurity about how to do it right. In Thicker Than Blood (70,71), Marion Crook writes, “[M]otherhood wasn’t a professional job or a test for which you got a grade. It was a living situation that changed constantly, and I was expected to simply do as well as possible.” She concludes when she came to terms with how her mothering was going to play out that she was “happier with myself when I accepted that I wouldn’t be perfect”. So far I had managed to make Yasik cry and when we needed to make Yasik a bit more presentable for his passport picture, I was at a loss taming his hair. Three other women, more maternal than I perhaps, jumped in to help me out or at least to comb his hair in what looked right to them as Russian women of the 90s.
Returning Yasik to the orphanage, we hugged and kissed him – was it a natural or expected response? How do people bond in three hours? He followed us out of the room and then the journal says “I was last and he peeks through the bannister to smile and wave. The image I was left with at the end of the day – a happy smile”.
In the evening writing in the journal, I conclude, “He was beautiful in every way. His ears are big! He looks directly and openly, and intelligently and he has such a sweet smile”. And that was what we knew about our child-to-be before he became our child 24 hours later.