WASHINGTON, January 11 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) The message that came from an adoption facilitator in Russia Friday morning was, in a word, life-altering for one American couple in the tumultuous, final stages of adopting a young girl from a Russian orphanage.
“Up until this morning it was still really dicey as to whether now was the time to come, and then we got this message that said, ‘You can come. I can’t tell you how long it will take and there may be some delays, but you can come now,’” said the adoptive mother in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is it, we are going, we are picking her up,’” the woman added. She asked not to be identified for fear of further jeopardizing the adoption.
On Christmas Day, she and her husband completed their mandatory 30-day waiting period after a Russian court approved the adoption in November. They might have been able to bring their daughter home the next day.
But with holidays looming in both countries, on the advice of several people guiding them through the process, they bought tickets for a final trip to Russia to get their daughter in January.
In the ensuing days, a move to ban Americans from adopting Russian children moved rapidly through Russian Parliament and was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on December 28, a move that affected hundreds of Americans in the midst of the time-consuming and expensive process of adopting a child from Russia.
Almost immediately there were questions with no clear answers.
Although the ban went into effect on January 1, there was word that those families already approved for adoption would be allowed to complete the process. But who exactly did that refer to?
Then there was a proposed Russian amendment to allow adoptions of special needs children to move forward. It has since been withdrawn.
And comments by Russian officials and media reports the last few days led some to believe the ban might be delayed for up to one year.
Then on Friday Russian children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said that the fate of every child whose adoption was approved by a court prior to the New Year, but where the paperwork and travel were not completed, would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Recanting the news, her voice at times breaking with emotion and giddy with excitement, the woman said in recent days she sometimes felt “just ready to crawl into a hole,” not knowing if the ban would apply to them or not.
She and her husband have readied a room. They’ve built a big playground in their backyard. And she has spent months sewing outfits for her daughter-to-be.
“I feel like I’ve been threading on really thin ice, you know. I wonder, ‘If I put the child seat in the car, am I jinxing myself?’ I did a ton of clothes shopping last night… and then you ask yourself, ‘Is all this stuff going to have to go back? Can we cut the tags off?’”
It is an excruciating journey that hundreds of prospective American parents of Russian children have traveled in recent days, and for most of them, the outlook is grim.
“I think people are starting to get frozen now, because it’s tough to know what to believe,” said the head of one adoption agency who agreed to speak anonymously with RIA Novosti.
“It’s the nature of international adoption at its worst,” she said.
Her agency has ten families in various stages of the Russian adoption process.
One family was supposed to have their day in a Russian courtroom on Friday.
“We told them not to go,” she said. “The safest thing you can do is to lower your expectations. And we didn’t want them in the position of being in a courtroom where a judge might feel he has no choice but to deny them.”
Most of her families, she said, are “not doing well. They’re in disbelief and trying to find ways to make sense of this and it makes no sense. This came out of nowhere.”
Much of the blame, she said, belongs to American lawmakers who approved legislation known as the Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law by US President Barack Obama last month.
It provides sanctions against Russian citizens deemed by the US to have violated human rights.
The adoption ban is part of Russia’s response to the Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblowing lawyer who died in a Moscow pre-trial detention center in 2009.
“After years of working with the Russians, you would know you can’t sort of defy them and expect them to just walk away. They are fighters and they are going to come back swinging,” she said.
The US State Department said Friday it is in discussions with Russian officials in an effort to resolve the dispute and allow as many US adoptions as possible to proceed.
“We are hopeful, based on the more positive comments in recent days about these cases before the courts, that some will be allowed to go forward but we have a broad range of families in various stages of the process we just don’t know which will be allowed to go on,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Friday.
The adoptive mother who received good news on Friday will travel with her husband to Russia on Sunday. They are hoping when they return home, they’ll have their daughter with them.
“Then we can start learning to be parents,” she said with a laugh.
Hundreds of other families are hoping they, too, will get that chance.