Of course, fireworks were exploding, but not in celebration of a birthing bathed in mothering hormones. It was becoming a family by adoption, I guess, exploding with happiness hormones. I end entry #7 suggesting that while writers I have read may use the words ‘bonding’ and ‘attachment’ somewhat interchangeably, I may as well stick with the one that sounds like a boat anchor rather than fireworks and happiness. Clunky or not, ‘attachment’ is the broad term that covers becoming a family whether via a birthing or by adoption. And both modes of becoming family can be celebrations. Stray threads caught and carried by a little bird to build a nest must be a joy to find. Stray threads may be what adopters find to build their nests. But just as nature’s provision of twigs and grass, stray threads can do just fine in nest building.
Attachment as a concept is most often associated with John Bowlby. His findings focus on a “child’s tendency ‘to seek proximity to and contact with a specific figure’ when afraid, sick, or tired….” an inborn desire to seek closeness to protective adults. That takes care of what the child sees attachment to be. And adults? What does the term mean for them? More broadly speaking, attachment may be defined as ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings’” (Fostering Changes: myth, meaning and magic bullets in attachment theory 5). Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development by Jean Mercer settles on defining attachment as “emotional ties” and “beliefs and ways of thinking about relationships” to form an “internal working model of emotion and social relationships” (p2,3).
We had signed a file full of documents and in less than 24 hours would stand before a judge and upon the drop of her gavel, we would be a family. Yasik would be told after we left that first afternoon that he now had a mama and papa. What meaning did he attach to those words?
That evening he gave away the toys we brought for him. In celebration or because he had been nurtured in the orphanage setting to share? Had Yasik already been learning empathic social relationships in a place not usually known to encourage healthy social relationships? Was the orphanage actually a caring, vibrant social network, a good environment for the nurturing of empathy (The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog 268)?
After that sweet little smile through the banister, we returned to the hotel to have supper with Alexi, the driver, Tanya the facilitator and the translator, Elvira, realizing that while they were shy about speaking English and therefore appeared to ignore us, were actually very kind, thoughtful and helpful. Putting these three in place, arranging our flights, housing and Moscow interpreters, as well as organising the court appearance, made us realize what a large operation one adoption is.
At the meal Elvira gave us a heads up that Dave would be expected to give a little speech about how we felt about this opportunity to adopt Yasik and to request that our paper work be expedited. We also learned we would likely be in Moscow longer than we had initially understood to complete Yasik’s paper work. More time to play tourist and shed dollars. The three sharing this meal with us also noted that Yasik looked a fair bit like Dave and shared his interests in vehicles, music and art. Nice. I was later assured Yasik had eyes the same colour as mine. It is worth wondering about: this interest we have in family looking like us or fitting the proverbial ‘like father, like son’. I have wondered about the need to find resemblance to family as a kind of reassurance of our personal identity. Yet it took only a picture emailed to us of Yasik’s biological siblings to determine they were indeed his siblings. For those who do not share similarities with their adoptive families this is often a primary issue in their search for personal identity. “As Swedish as Anybody Else’ or ‘Swedish, but Also Something Else’?” speaks to this issue for the non-white adoptee, nicely encapsulated in the title alone (https://doi.org/10.1177/030857591203600309).
After a stroll along side the Volga, we went to bed. Well, actually after Dave prepared what he understood he was expected to say in court. That done, we flopped onto our separate single beds, maybe a bit high and free to daydream. Yasik was almost ours and he was more than we had hoped for. The journal also notes that we each took a Sudafed tablet. Did the Sudafed stimulate that daydreamy feeling? Or was this a peek at what the early days of attachment/honeymoon period feels like? A kind of falling in love.
Adoption day was a beautiful early fall day, August 19, 1997. We were driven directly to the court for the region of Yaroslavl. The marble steps up to the court were worn to uneven dips. A very old building. Dave was still muttering the phrases he needed to say; Elvira, the translator, was building up to a nervousness that I began to pick up. This may have been a building that spoke power to Elvira but it lacked the power to gain a fearful respect from naïve tourists. We would more likely have picked up Elvira’s vibe had it been a Canadian court. A traffic jam had delayed proceedings, the prosecutor looked bored, most in the room were women. When the judge was heralded and appeared, she was hardly more substantial than the wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Still… she managed to feed Elvira’s fears and spook Dave and I somewhat when Elvira relayed to us that the she had been admonished to tell the truth or be prosecuted.
Dave was called first. He was asked how long we had been married, what our jobs were, after which he recited his memorized speech to request an early dispatch of paperwork. The judge smiled at his earnest tension. I stood next to give my name and affirm I was a Canadian. I sat back down and Dave was asked to rise again. “If you both work,” the judge asked, “how do you plan to care for Yasik?” Dave told her we had a plan to reorganize his classes and that between our schedules, Yasik would never be left alone. And other than one afternoon when we left him at the after-school care which did not please him, he was always with one or the other of us, or with extended family or friends. Although I am sure the question is part of the suggested adoption interview questions, there is a bit of irony in this young judge’s question. It was being asked by someone whose cultural attitude to adoption leans toward dropping off children at an orphanage while parents deal with other life stresses, a trend particularly encouraged in the Soviet period.
Dave sat down and I was asked to pop up again. Now the judge asked what we thought of Yasik. I choked and only managed to respond with “Wonderful”. Elvira misted over and Dave caught a smile on the judge’s face. There may be vitriol at the highest political levels over adoptions but person to person, however much suspicion has been whispered in our ears, we found Russian people are as human as any Canadian — a little ‘duh’ here. Too often, unquestioningly we do drink the Kool-Aid because somewhere in our psyche we have the impression that Russians are not too be trusted nor respected as we might our own good people, something to be further tested by current political tensions.
Now the prosecution and defense had their opportunities to conclude that all appeared in order to them. Writing this now I wonder who procured the defence. I remember no discussion about the need for a lawyer, again a nod to the detail involved in a single adoption. The judge rose just as he or she would do in a Canadian court, telling all that she would consider and left for a few minutes. My journal says that Tanya was passing out chocolates and flowers while we waited on the judge’s deliberations. The judge returned and declared that we were Yasik’s parents. That sealed our adoption. Tanya and Elvira hugged and kissed us, wishing us “Good Luck”.
There were still details, details, details. One detail that was given absolutely no thought by either Dave or I in our naïve happiness concerned the question of the legal status of parental rights belonging to Yasik’s bio parents. No one denied that Yasik’s bio parents were still among the living. Yasik was in the orphanage under the designation ‘social orphan’, someone who has at least one living bio parent. Had his bio parents actually given up their rights?
A fair few years later, I read that a number of Russian adoptions involved illegally obtained children, lacking parental surrender. I googled this issue and found articles that say yes Russia is as haunted by trafficking in children as many, many other countries. And Russia’s response is not to turn a blind eye, being faced with the ever-decreasing population, shorter life expectancy and distaste for the idea that Russians are being taken from Mother Russia. In fact, “In 2008, an amendment to the Russian law on human trafficking re-established that the activity of buying and/or selling a person constituted trafficking regardless of whether it was done for an exploitative purpose” (Transaction Costs: Prosecuting child trafficking for illegal adoption in Russia Lauren A. McCarthy). One article questioned the money laid out by people from wealthier countries in the quest of adopting a child even for the most wonderful of reasons, family making. This money alone likely out weighed the cost of raising that child in his or her social setting. Does this constitute “regardless of whether it was done for exploitative purpose” with the phrase ‘or not’ left unsaid?
We were told, at the time, that Yasik’s mom didn’t come back to the hospital after a visit or two so the government took over guardianship. For many years I tried to assure Yasik that her visits suggested she did care for him and placed him in government care because it was best for him, a narrative that works for adoptors. In his teens, Yasik he let me know he didn’t buy that story. Only two years ago did we learn that Yasik’s bio mother, Gurina, went to the hospital to try to get social services money for Yasik which she was denied so she quit on him. We adopted Yasik in August 1997. Our legal standing in adoption was based solely on the Family Code of the Russian Federation, signed by Boris Yelstsin in 1995. All that applied to Yasik was one line, the final point in Article 130 of the Family Code, “for reason recognized by a court as not live with the child and shirk duties involved in his/her upbringing and maintenance, for over six months”.
At least this verifies that the adoption was legal, small comfort, but that is as good as the surrender of parental rights were in his case. Yasik, that young judge proclaimed, was our son from now on.
As I mentioned above, we found out two years ago why Gurina actually came to visit Yasik at the hospital to seek money designated for his care. She stopped coming to visit her youngest son when she was denied this money. A year after we adopted Yasik, the Gurins made an attempt to gain access to money for her children’s care through the court. Following is a summary of a copy of the actual court documents of this couple’s complaint before the court, given to the adoptive parents of Yasik’s sister at her adoption:
March 11, 1998 re: the case brought by Gurina L V (age 28) and Gurin NG (age 36) for depriving them of parental rights and exacting alimony for the children’s maintenance.
The court findings:
Gurina is a single mother of the two older children. She married and has two children with Gurin. At the time of this court hearing the girl born in 1991 was still living with the Gurins. The other three had been placed in care. The report says, “The son Yaroslav was adopted without his parents consent due to Article 130 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation.” The response to the Gurin’s complaint was to detail “the parent’s neglect their children, do not care for their lives, do not support them”. Yasik had been taken to the town hospital “due to social reasons”. The Gurins “have deprived themselves of the parental rights”. “The son Gurin Yaroslav was adopted without the parents consent as they [Gurins] refused to take him home from the hospital”. Yet Gurina continued to ask for financial support after which she said she would care for her children. Their argument was lack of money though a court investigation found that the Gurins worked at a factory which paid them in food and china to sell for money. To sell the china they needed to travel past the care homes three of their children were in. Not once did they stop to check in on their children.
A sister of Gurina’s testified to the Gurins lack of care for their children. Because the couple could give “no good reason’ for their lack of care the court hearing recommended that the parents be deprived of their parental rights and be ordered to hand over a portion of their wages to the children’s care until the children came of age…. According to articles 69, 81, 84 of the Family
Code of Russia, articles 191 – 197 HAS DECIDED: satisfy the claim by the Education and Youth Affairs Department. Deprive Gurina LV of the parental rights to [both her and their] minor children…. the children should be placed under the care of Guardianship and Care body”. The Gurins were given the option to appeal in 10 days.
As we exited the court house after our hearing, a radio interviewer waiting outside approached us to ask, via Elvira, what we thought of our experience, what we planned to do and why had we chosen to adopt in Russia. She asked us if Yasik would know about Russia. Since reading about how to help a transnational adoption go more smoothly for the child and about the Magnitsky Law and the Canadian counterpart, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the question about retaining ties to Russia carries more weight. At the time we probably responded with only vague assurances and little understanding of our new child’s need for support as he began to discard one concept of himself, his language and culture, to build a new one.
We drove with our team or should I say darted about ‘as the crow flies’ on dirt backroads to stand by as Tanya saw to the signing out of Yasik’s life in Russia: the passport office, adoption center, and …? Sometimes we were asked for our signature, more often Dave’s, because it was written on everything that ‘the boy is travelling with his father’. Between stops and while waiting for business to be completed, we talked with Elvira; her English was very strong. We compared teaching experiences, the biggest difference being that she was not merely the teacher but also her classroom’s maintenance person. She fixed her own roof. At noon we returned to the hotel for lunch. We talked perestroika and President Yeltsin’s attempted coup, the dissolution of the USSR, the gulag and the New Russia. No, we didn’t really talk these things for Dave and I could only listen and become increasingly aware of how little we knew of the world our son had been part of for almost 5 years, five potent years as far as his own development was concerned. How Russian was/is he? And how deeply will all these components that make him Yasik impact all that he is and will be through out his life?
There were more destinations after lunch for even more signatures and paper wrap – ups. Sort of wish I now knew what all these stops were for. Finally, around 6 pm Alexis and Tanya were done and returned for us. We were about to step from bystanders to parents. OK, let’s see how we do.
The orphanage was down a back drive off an alley, fenced in and fronted by unkempt flower beds. Inside though everything was tidy and warm, if institutional. I remember seeing a children’s playroom as we passed through to the doctor’s office. We were not invited to view any rooms. We do not know where Yasik slept. Did he share a bed? Was he in room of cots looking like army barracks? This would have been helpful as we had a bedroom waiting at home just for him. It is notable to me that when Julia inspected our home before giving the OK for us to proceed with adoption, the one concern she had was if the bedroom we had prepared for Yasik was big enough. It was the master bedroom in our 1950s era suburban home. It seemed, at the time, an over-the-top expectation. How would Yasik handle waking in the night completely alone in a very big room? It wasn’t long after we returned home that he would wake in the night to crawl into our bed.
Again, Yasik was brought into the doctor’s office, this time carrying what little remained of the gifts we given him at our first meeting the day before. The rather expensive drawing book Dave had given him was now filled with scribbles, the crayon set bedraggled. Dave wanting the best for his son and this new little son happily accepting. We dressed Yasik in the new clothes we had brought for him. I think they mostly fit. He liked the shoes we purchased the day before. We still have them in a memory basket, very proper, sensible little things. I might put the word NOTHING in caps to stress that Yasik took not one personal item from his first five years of life with him as he left to become a little Canadian in the Vincent family. John Brooks in his memoir of his and his wife’s adoption memoir, The Girl Behind the Door, wonders if it might not have been a comfort to their newly adopted baby had they thought to ask for some item the baby had to comfort herself. Yasik was shy and quiet during this initiation. And then came the good-byes. The doctor kissed and hugged us. I would love to have the opportunity to talk with her now.
A pretty young nurse had tears in her eyes. Had she been a staff member who had a special relationship with Yasik? Bruce Perry in The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, along with other more recent writers, points to research that acknowledges a childhood in the care of more than one caregiver does not have to be disastrous to a child’s emotional development but do assert that the number of caregivers needs to be small, and above all, consistent. From the time Yasik was taken to the hospital at around the age of one, how many caregivers did he encounter with shift changes in the hospital? Would there have been the remotest validity in asking whether or not the option for ‘baby-led or demand breast or bottle feeding’ was an option, among other considerations that contrast nurturing a baby in an institution versus a family home? How many were part of his daily experience for the approximately two years he lived in the orphanage? What was the impact of the severing of these relationships?
Yasik had two big, crystal-clear tears holding on the edge of his eyes but he was smiling all the same. Dave and I came into the adoption with months of preparation. Yasik was expected to un-attach from all he knew as family and willingly embrace a whole new attachment within a 24-hour span. Lost &Found (41) asks about the impact no opportunity to mourn the lost life has on the adoptee. In fact, you the reader can not help but note that everything written thus far is about Yasik joining our dream, nothing about this process from his perspective, leaving behind a biological family with a mama and papa, a brother and two sisters, and then those he engaged with in the hospital and those he had human bonds with in the orphanage.
About five children, one being the little Down’s Syndrome girl Yasik had big brothered, were on the front porch to see him off, calling “Das Vadanya.” Wasn’t it the protagonist in Cider House Rules who watched child after child leave the orphanage, each time wondering why not him this time? Did any of these children left behind wonder if they too had a waiting mama or papa coming for them?
We climbed into the back of our get-away van. Alexi had sad music playing on the car radio. Just a little over 24 hours from a couple to a family.
We haven’t tied up the concept of attachment and moved off into nuclear family bliss. As good ole’ Arnie says, “We’ll be Baaaack…” for as adopting older children (p140) reminds adoptors in the centre of the book, “adoption is a process and not an event.” Stating the obvious of course but a centering reminder all the same.