Five years ago today, I was in Kazakhstan, in the middle of the most important event of my life. I was becoming a mother! I met my daughter just a couple of weeks earlier, though I had dreamed of her my entire life.
As 5 years is a milestone, I took this opportunity to read the online journal that I kept during the experience. Perhaps it will help others in their journeys to parenthood….
Part 1: How the Journey Began
Today is my 41st birthday. And I’m finally about to become a mother!
It’s been a long, difficult "pregnancy". When my daughter arrives, she’ll be 18 months old, and will have a lot in her past to overcome. She’s currently living in an orphanage in Karakastek, Kazakhstan and I leave Los Angeles to bring her home on November 18! This is going to be a very long two weeks.
I began this adoption journey almost 18 months ago. It was last June when I realized I was coming up on my 40th birthday, and decided that I was no longer going to wait for the right man to come along to help me have a child. I’ve always known that I’d be a mother, and always believed it would happen well before I turned 40!
So, that night I got on the Internet and began researching international adoption. Something led me in that direction. The idea of a domestic adoption passed through my mind very quickly, as I didn’t think a birth mother would choose a single, 40 year old woman as the new mother for her child when a "full family" was easily available. Plus the problems inherent in the US foster care system and adoption laws quickly made me realize this was not the route I was meant to take.
My heritage is Russian, so I began researching the plight of orphans in the former Soviet Union, and found that there were over 600,000 children living in orphanages there. Though obviously not an easy process, it was one I decided to embark upon.
I began researching agencies and figuring out what paperwork I needed to assemble on the journey to find my daughter. I found two great resources on adopting a child from Eastern Europe the first night I got on the Internet to start reading. FRUA, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, at www.frua.org and The Eastern European Adoption Coalition at www.eeadopt.org
From reading these sites, I learned the first thing I needed to deal with was the INS, and submit the I600A (Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition) to get the all-important I-171H. (I’ve learned the numbers for lots of official forms in the past year!) This process can take 4-6 months, so it’s the logical first step.
The second step is the homestudy. This must be done by a licensed social worker or adoption agency in your state. A homestudy is required for any adoption—domestic or international—and is also a time-consuming process. Mine consisted of four visits with a social worker, including a visit to my home, during which every aspect of my life was scrutinized. The outcome is a six-page report stating that I’m approved for the adoption of a child. This homestudy report becomes part of the dossier that you must compile.
So, I filed the I600A, got fingerprinted by the FBI (part of the INS process), and got started on the homestudy (which includes being fingerprinted by the local police department—no, the FBI and police can’t use the same fingerprints… that would make too much sense!), and tried to decide which adoption agency to use.
I must have sent away for 30 packages from various agencies, and joined a bunch of internet mailing lists consisting of people in various stages of international adoption to get as much information as I could compile.
After about a month, I finally decided to use a small agency based in Cokeville, Wyoming, called Focus on Children. I chose them because they are small, it’s family-run (two sisters who both adopted children from Eastern Europe) by people who are in it for the kids. Their fees are low, and they give a lot of humanitarian aid to the regions that their children come from, something I can’t say about a lot of the bigger agencies out there.
I requested a baby girl less than 12 months old, and was told the wait would be 4-6 months for a referral after submitting my completed dossier. So, the paper chase began!
Once signed up with my agency, I received the information on their Russian program and instructions for assembling my dossier compiled into a red binder.
At the time (July 1999), the only region Focus on Children worked with in Russia was Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. I started learning about that region while assembling my dossier.
The process of putting together my dossier took three months. It included sending away to New York for three official, certified copies of my birth certificate. The other elements were:
-12 photos of my home, family, child’s bedroom, community, school, etc.
-The aforementioned home study, plus copies of the home study agency license and the social worker’s individual license.
-Letter of medical approval from my doctor, plus a copy of his license!
-Copy of my most recent income tax return.
-Local police statement stating that I have no criminal record.
-Copy of my passport.
-Power of attorney for my agency’s staff in Russia.
-Declaration (a form required by the Russian government).
-Copy of the INS form I171-H (favorable determination letter).
-Letter from employer stating salary, length of employment, and with a work habit comment on company letterhead.
All items in the dossier then must be notarized. If they’re copies of original documents (like passport, tax returns, I171-H form, etc.) a page must be attached that says, “This is a true and correct copy of the original.” This page must also be notarized. Then each document needs an apostille seal.
I know, you’re thinking, “a WHAT seal?” An apostille is a state seal, recognized by foreign countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, which basically authenticates the notary public’s signature. It doesn’t matter if the same notary notarizes every document, each document still needs an apostille, and the state of California charges $20 for each apostille.
Well, I got it all done. On October 16, 1999 I sent my completed dossier to the agency. I had been given a four to six month referral timeline, so I thought for sure I’d be a mom before the summer. In early November I got a note from my agency that they were expanding into additional Russian regions, and my dossier was being sent to a town called Tomsk. They said I could plan on traveling in February!
I began preparing for cold weather travel. Months passed and no referrals were coming from Tomsk. The coordinator hired by my agency in that region just wasn’t making anything happen. Then in March Russia elected a new president. No one thought Vladimir Putin would mess with adoptions, after all, there are so many Russian children in orphanages that need homes.
We were wrong. Although Putin’s intentions were in the right place, adoptions grounded to a halt. Unfortunately, not all agencies working in Russia are as benevolent as they should be. The Russian Mafia has a very strong presence, and Putin wanted to make sure some safeguards were put in place, so he issued an edict that only accredited agencies could facilitate adoptions in Russia. The problem was that not only weren’t there any accredited agencies, there wasn’t even a procedure in place to become accredited.
Over the summer, some “independent” adoptions did take place with agencies assisting families. But the procedure changed. No referrals were given to agencies. Instead, families whose paperwork was approved were allowed to go to Russia to get a referral in person and meet the child. If they accepted the referral, they had to file all the paperwork in person, then return home and wait for a court date. They’d make a second trip to Russia to go to court, complete the adoption, and bring the child home.
It wasn’t the best scenario, but I was prepared to do that. Still no referrals were coming out of Tomsk. In the meantime, my agency was trying to get another program going, this one in Omsk. So, we moved my paperwork to Omsk...( each time it moved, I had to redo more paperwork, change the power of attorney forms, get them notarized, and get them apostilled).
Months go by ... agencies are scrambling to get the necessary paperwork in for accreditation. Some adoptions are happening, but slowly and in much smaller numbers. The coordinators in Omsk were being told the first adoptions were for older children, and I was set on a baby girl. My agency asked if I wanted to try Chelyabinsk. They’d already completed one adoption there and the coordinator thought it would move quickly. I said ok.
First problem ... Chelyabinsk needs TWO original dossiers! One for the Ministry of Education (who gives all the referrals) and one for the Department of Justice. So, off I go to re-do my entire dossier, again!
The new dossier went to Chelyabinsk September 18, 2000, and I waited on pins and needles for any word. Finally, we were told the Ministry of Education would have a referral for me in 30 days. So, again, I waited. I bugged my agency three to four times a week, and when the 30 days was up we got word that Chelyabinsk had no healthy girls.
"Healthy" meaning a child who has correctable problems. Most children adopted from orphanages in Eastern Europe have medical problems, including malnutrition, rickets, anemia, intestinal parasites, scabies, and more. "Unhealthy" would include hepatitis, TB, Cerebral Palsy, spina bifida, and worse. Thankfully there are many families out there who are prepared to raise and request children with special needs. When you decide to take this step, you must be very honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle.
Unfortunately, the only girls available for adoption in Chelyabinsk were beyond the scope of what I was prepared to handle.
The gentleman at my agency who has taken care of me since I moved to the Tomsk program, Scott Banks, felt as badly as I did and asked me if I wanted to consider a little girl in Kazakhstan. She was 17 months old and seemed pretty healthy, though definitely in need of some good nourishment and TLC.
Kazakhstan is part of the former Soviet Union that gained its independence in 1991. So, this would mean re-doing my dossier yet again! But there wasn’t too much of a difference in what was needed, and although a pain, it wouldn’t be impossible.
He said he would send me her picture, a videotape, and what little medical information they had on her if I was interested. I agreed to see the information on Wednesday, October 18, a year and two days after I sent in my first dossier.
I awoke the following morning to two pictures in my e-mail inbox of the most precious, tiny little girl. I’ve always had a mental picture of what I thought my daughter looked like, and these pictures were so incredibly close!
When I got to the office, a Fed-Ex package with very sketchy medical information was waiting. At 15 months she weighed 14 pounds, was anemic, and had some other typical Russian diagnoses that are too complicated to explain here (if you’re interested in reading about referral medical reports, you can check out www.russianadoption.org/topten.htm). I went by myself into an office, shut the door and watched the three and a half minute video, which showed a beautiful little girl, obviously a little scared by being in a room with so many people, but following every move very intently. During the last minute, she was in another room with only a few people and was obviously more comfortable, she smiled, giggled and completely won me over!
Since I had 18 months to prepare for this moment, I knew I had to think with my head and not my heart. I ran out and got the video dubbed and overnighted it to a doctor who specializes in evaluating international adoption referrals. Dr. Alla Gordina is Russian physician based in New Jersey who runs an international adoption clinic, and has seen hundreds of these tapes. She watched the video and told me that the baby looked pretty good – severely malnourished, definitely has rickets, but didn’t see anything that “lots of Vitamin M – mommy – wouldn’t take care of”!
She did want more information, since we got so little, and my agency was able to set up a call between my doctor and the orphanage doctor in Kazakhstan. Dr. Gordina told me she’ll need a lot of work – physical therapy, occupational therapy and a lot of one on one attention, but thinks she’ll do fine.
I accepted her referral October 21, and got my dossier re-done (for the last time) in record time. I am now four days away from leaving the States to meet my daughter!
I’m excited, scared, nervous, thrilled, and can’t believe I’m almost there.
Apparently, around the corner from the apartment I’ll be staying in is a cyber-café, so I’ll be updating and sending pictures too! Stay tuned...
Wow, this has been an amazing few days! I left Los Angeles
Saturday afternoon at 3:20 PM PST, and flew 10 hours to Frankfurt Germany. I had a two and a half-hour layover followed by another six-hour flight to Almaty Kazakhstan, which is where I am now. I arrived around 3:00 AM and was met at the airport by the most wonderful woman, Galiya, who works for my agency and is handling the adoption details in Kazakhstan.
She brought me to the apartment that will be my home for the next three weeks or so. For $30 a night, I have a two-bedroom apartment with a full bathroom, kitchen and living/dining room.
I was awake until about 5:00 AM, unpacking… and pacing, knowing that in a few hours I’d be meeting my daughter!
I was picked up at 11:00 AM, ran around town a bit – registering my passport, exchanging dollars into tenge, and after driving 90 minutes to a little village called Karakastek arrived at the orphanage where my daughter is living.
Words can’t describe the feeling as the beautiful little girl who will soon depend on me for everything was walked into the visiting room! For the past month I’ve had two pictures and two videos of her that are worn out from watching over and over again, and here she was. They placed her in my arms and she buried her head in my neck. I was in heaven.
We played and got to know each other for about four hours, and then it was time to leave. When I got home last night, I was totally exhausted! But I was being picked up at 9:00 AM in the morning to go back to the orphanage!
On the way Galiya had to stop by the courthouse to pick up the final decisions for two other families who had their court date the day before. When she came out, she told me my court date was Thursday! That’s the day after tomorrow! That means on Friday, I get to bring Alison back to the apartment.
Unfortunately, Kazakhstani law requires a 15 day waiting period before the decision is final, so we’re not leaving here for a while, but we’ll have a couple of weeks to get to know each other before we get on a plane to Moscow. Yes, Moscow. We have to go through the U.S. Embassy in order to enter the U.S. But more about that next time. I’ m exhausted....
Yesterday was the best day yet with my little girl. The caretakers tell me she is a bit spoiled and can get cranky when she's not happy (as I've noticed!). I think I discovered the source of her discontent. Hunger!
I brought cheerios and some baby cookies for her, and she LOVED them. She was very happy munching away. I need to learn the Kazak word for "chew" as she just kept putting one cheerio after the other into her mouth until it was stuffed full! I wanted to give her a bottle, but brilliant newbie mom that I am, remembered the bottle but forgot the liners! Luckily a friend gave me an Avent sippy cup, which I remembered! She used it beautifully, and it really saved me.
There's another couple here with me-- Carma & Michael Hodges from Utah-- adopting a two year old boy and almost three year old girl through the same agency. They let us give the kids lunch and they gobbled it all down. Alison ate pretty slowly, but very deliberately (I think her appetizers of cookies and cheerios filled her up a bit!). It was a three-course meal of noodle soup, kasha (a sort of cereal), a big hunk of bread, and compote (which is like a fruit tea that they all LOVED!) I got the feeling that they don't usually get that much food, but since we were there, they loaded them up!
After lunch I had the happiest, funniest, cutest little girl ever. She wanted to play games, explore my face and mouth with her fingers, and walk around the room with me holding her hands up. I have a feeling she'll be running by the time we get home! She stands and walks now, but only holding on to someone's hands.
It's 11:00 AM here on Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day) and I'm being picked up at 1:00 PM to GO TO COURT! I'll try to post tonight about how it went, as tonight will be my last night alone. Since court is at 3:00 PM, the decision usually comes down too late to get the kids the same day. They also have a little ceremony at the orphanage with champagne and chocolates (for the workers), and Alison needs to be able to say goodbye to her caregivers. So, I'll get her tomorrow... forever!
Though they are very poor and don’t have much to work with, I’ve found the orphanage to be very clean and the workers extremely caring towards the kids! The orphanage is seriously run-down and in need of a lot of repairs (don't even ask me about the bathroom....I’m trying to find out if I can donate a new toilet) but it looks like they are doing some work. I know Focus on Children (my adoption agency) has given a lot of humanitarian aid and is helping them get the building in better shape. I gave them $200 yesterday for diesel fuel, and the Hodges bought them tables and chairs for the kids to sit at during mealtime. Carla Ondrasik (wife of Five for Fighting's brilliant John Ondrasik) collected donations before I left the states, and through her generosity I was able to bring over a huge duffel bag of things for the orphanage. They LOVED it!
There's so much more to tell. Almaty is an interesting city, and some parts of Kazakhstan are quite beautiful! The ride to the orphanage is about 90 minutes each way, and we drive along a magnificent mountain range. On the other side
of the mountains is another county that was also part of the former Soviet Union,
Uzbekistan. The mountains are snow covered, and yesterday I tried to shoot video in the car on the way out. I hope it shows just how beautiful it is... I want Alison to know that the country she was born in has many wonderful features.
Unfortunately the economy forces many women to give up their children, as Alison's birth mother did. I found out she was left on a doorstep when she was approximately a month old. They estimated that she was born in early May 1999, so they named her Maigul (meaning May Flower). Since they don't know her exact birth date, I was asked what date I'd like on her birth certificate. I decided May 3, which was my mother's birthday. As for her name, I decided to name her Alison Paige (Alison, for my father Allan; Paige, for my mother Patricia).
This is going on very long... and I have to go back to the apartment to get ready for court! Happy Thanksgiving! Since I have court today, this holiday will, for me, truly take on the meaning it's meant to have!
It truly is Thanksgiving, and from now on this holiday will be the most special one for me. Today was my court date to officially adopt my daughter. The judge actually allowed us to videotape the hearing, so Alison will be able to see it when she's old enough to understand!
The entire proceeding only took about 10 minutes. First, the judge asked me why I was there. I had to respond by saying I wanted to request that the court allow me to adopt the child known as Maigul. The prosecutor asked many questions: why did I want to adopt, why specifically from Kazakhstan, why this child, questions about my income, my housing situation, and many others that I can't even remember. It will be interesting to watch the video and experience it again. Then the orphanage director was asked some questions, mainly about Maigul's background and health history. When the director was through, a woman from the Education Department (who basically acts as the child's advocate in the court) was asked her recommendation. She said she thought I'd be a wonderful mother and that Maigul would have a great life with me. Then the prosecutor asked me more questions about how I would deal with any potential health issues that might arise with Alison (Maigul), and if I was aware of her background and diagnoses.
I was asked to make a final statement to the court. I'm not sure exactly what I said, but I did include something about today being the American holiday known as Thanksgiving, and being granted this adoption today would make this holiday take on a whole new meaning for me. I also promised I'd give her a wonderful life and love her forever! (It was during this little speech that I lost it... I was able to hold back the tears until that moment.) The prosecutor said that he approved the adoption, but would not grant a "court of immediate action". This means that we must follow Kazak law that states that the decree isn't official until 15 days have passed, unfortunately, delaying my departure a bit.
The judge then declared that he would grant the adoption! Galiya, the most amazing woman that works for my agency, hugged me as did the orphanage director and the woman from the Education Department. I asked the judge if he'd take a picture with me. He reluctantly agreed... we were joined by Galiya, the prosecutor and the assistant prosecutor.
The Hodges had their court date right after mine and were granted the adoption of the two children they came for. It was a very happy day. We celebrated with a dinner at a Chinese restaurant (since Kazakhstan borders on China, I thought it would be good... and it was!) It was a long day, and we didn't get to go to the orphanage today.... but we will tomorrow!
I'll be picked up at 11:00 AM to go to the orphanage to take Alison out of there for good. I'll have to bring clothes for her to wear, as she'll come to me with nothing. I will ask for something of hers from the orphanage as a keepsake, though I have no idea what they'll give me. I have a questionnaire that I gave to her caretakers to fill out asking everything from her eating habits and nap times to her likes and dislikes. Hopefully they'll give that to me tomorrow along with her complete medical file.
Luckily I've found a pediatrician in LA who speaks (and reads) Russian, that will be able to understand her history. This will be my last night as a childless woman. Tomorrow I get my daughter! I guess I'd better try to get some good sleep tonight... I may not have a full night's sleep for some time to come!
I just got Alison to sleep. This is the toughest time of the day… well, last night and tonight anyway. She fights going to sleep… climbs all over the bed (no crib here), and sobs mournfully. I did a bit of reading on toddler adoption, and they do go through a mourning phase. It makes sense.
They’re all of a sudden taken from everything and everyone they’ve ever known, and can’t possibly understand what’s going on. They also can’t express what they’re feeling.
For the most part, Alison is doing great. It’s only at bedtime that she really has trouble. She’s a very happy baby, and is absorbing everything like a sponge!
At the orphanage, it didn’t even seem that she could crawl. In the three days I’ve had her, not only has she started crawling all over the place, but last night she pulled herself up and, holding on to the chairs, walked around and around the big dining room table! She was so proud of herself. I got out the camera and shot a bunch of pictures. But the minute I pulled out the video camera, she decided she didn’t want to walk any more.
I’m sure that she’ll be walking on her own by the time we leave Almaty on December 13.
I went to the “green market” Saturday. It’s like a giant flea market, where they sell everything from toiletries and clothing to shoes, toys, meat and vegetables. Booth after booth of stuff, with A LOT of people pushing their way through. I thought people hurrying down the streets of New York were rude. No comparison! It was fascinating.
I bought a stroller for $15 and took Alison out for a walk in it yesterday for the first time. She loves the outside. Her eyes get huge as she takes in everything. They don’t take the kids outside of the orphanage, and the air in there is very stale. I know she loved the fresh air, in addition to all the things to look at. Luckily the weather has been great. Mostly in the 30s, today it was probably around 40! We’re in the southernmost part of Kazakhstan, so it’s a lot warmer than it is in the capital of Kaz, Astana, (where one of our coordinators had to go yesterday to get some papers signed for us, or we don’t get to leave. It’s about 15 below zero (Celsius). I don’t know what that translates to, except that it’s very cold. And I know that it’s been well below zero in Moscow as well. I hope the weather here holds up, because there’s so much to see here and I enjoy walking around the city. I have to be careful not to get lost since I can’t read any of the signs, they’re all !
I also have to watch everything I do in front of her, because she mimics me. Though she probably only weighs 16 or 17 pounds, she gets heavy, and I’ve let out an “ugh” or two. Well, I do it, and Alison does it! I blew a raspberry at her once, and she’s been trying ever since… usually just sticking out her tongue and blowing, but she got it right tonight.
And I make her bottles using powdered formula, which doesn’t dissolve too well, so I shake the bottles pretty vigorously. Until today, I held the bottle for her. Today she decided she could do it herself, but she keeps taking it out of her mouth and shaking it.
Bath time has been rough too. The kids at the orphanage were only bathed once a week and I don’t think they used bathtubs, I think it was just a sponge bath. She was terrified. She’s gotten a little more tolerant each night. Tonight she actually sat in the water rather than digging her fingernails into my shoulder and trying to climb over my back. She still cried loudly, but I think we’re making progress.
I am exhausted. She keeps me very busy from the time we wake up until I get her to sleep (which last night wasn’t until about 10:30, and I fell asleep with her).
My travel plans were finalized today. I will leave Almaty for Moscow on Tuesday night, actually Wednesday morning, December 13 at 2:00 AM. It’s a three-and-a-half hour flight, so we’ll arrive at 5:30 AM. Once in Moscow, we will check into a hotel, where the doctor from the American Medical Center will come that morning to examine Alison (required by the US Embassy to get her immigration papers). Then, as early as possible, it’s off to the US Embassy for our interview. The papers are usually ready by 5:00 PM if you’re there early enough. We have to get that done because my flight leaves from Moscow on Thursday, December 14 at 7:00 AM.
We’ll fly to Frankfurt, have a one-and-a-half hour layover, and then on to Miami (where we arrive at 2:15 PM). Funny, it took two days to get here, and seven hours to get home. Good thing I’ll be staying with my sister in Miami for a couple of days. It’ll take that long to get over the jet lag.
I’m beat and would love to just sit in front of the TV right now, and do nothing. Unfortunately, the only English channel I get is the Fox News Channel and I’m sick of the election deadlock. I can watch a lot of American shows dubbed into Russian, or the Russian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” (seriously, down to the same set, same graphics, but no Regis. Lucky Russians.), but it just doesn’t work for me. We also have the Discovery Channel, but only some of the shows are in English. Oh well, once I sit down and actually stop I’ll fall asleep anyway.
Well, we woke up to snow today, but it didn't last very long. I met a really great woman, Amy Von Blon, from Houston, Texas. Her husband Michael came in for court, and then went back to Houston (they have five kids at home). Amy's great... she and I have been hanging, and her son, Michael, is just a few months older than Alison. She gets to leave about five days before I do, but she's still here for about another week.
Alison and Michael slept in the same room at the orphanage, so we'll make sure they're lifelong friends.
We all went shopping today. I've attached a picture of the gang bundled up and ready to spend some of those tenge (pronounced teng-gay, Kazakhstan currency). The exchange rate is currently 145 tenge to the dollar.... needless to say, I spend a lot of tenge!
We went to the central market today, which is sort of like a mall, only different. I guess you had to be there. On the way, there were local artists displaying their work on the sidewalk and I bought a couple of paintings with local flavor. They'll look great in my house. Don't ask how I'm going to get them home! Though I do have a duffel bag that was filled with orphanage donations on the way over that I can fill with stuff to bring home...
I already have something else difficult to transport that I bought a couple of days ago. A WorldClassRock.com listener who has been reading this my adoption journal wrote commenting on Alison's long musician-like fingers, and asked what her first instrument will be. Well, I bought a dombro (I think that's what it's called). It's a beautiful two-stringed guitar-like Kazakhstani instrument made of wood. I'm hoping I can wrap it up really good and stick in smack dab in the middle of that duffle bag with a lot of padding and it'll make the journey from Kaz to Moscow to Frankfurt to Miami to Los Angeles in one piece. (Am I nuts???)
At the central market, I bought a lot of souvenirs as gifts (yes, I know I'll be home right before Christmas) and things for Alison to have as she grows up, so she'll know about her homeland. I also bought myself some jewelry. I spent about $50 US dollars for a sapphire ring and necklace. Alison particularly likes the necklace. I can tell because she keeps trying to grab it from around my neck. I promised her that it's hers when she gets older. I guess motherhood has made me very generous!
I got a bunch of matroiska dolls (I'm sure I spelled that wrong), and I don't even know what else. I haven't had a chance to go through all. But I think I bought out the store, and it came to something like 22,000 tenge... about $150! I also bought Alison a traditional Kazak vest and hat that look so cute on her. I'll have to have her pictures taken in them when we get home.
Regarding the sleeping arrangements, my normally very happy, giggly little girl turns into the tantrum monster when it's time to go to sleep. She just wants to be held and rocked!
Last night I finally rocked her to sleep sitting on the sofa in the living room of the apartment where we're staying, and set her down. I think since she was used to sleeping in such a tiny crib in the orphanage, she's used to a confined space, and the bed gives her too much room to thrash about (and thrash about she does!). So, I brought the comforters and pillows from the beds and laid them out on the floor next to the sofa, and slept there. I have a two-bedroom apartment here in Almaty and I'm sleeping on the floor! It's amazing what motherhood does to you.
I've been silent for a few days. That's because my little one hasn't! She's had a cold and cough since I took her from the orphanage, and the cough medicine, vitamins and Tylenol I've been giving her haven't been helping much. The last time I wrote, I was off for a day of shopping and a massage at the Arasan Baths. It's a beautiful old building that has Russian baths downstairs and Turkish baths upstairs. (Don't ask me the difference... we tried the Russian baths. You know, when in Rome... er, Kazakhstan.)
It cost about $3 to enter (480 tenge), and the massage was 1500 tenge ($10.34)... and was one of the best massages I've ever had!
I paid the price when I got home. Alison was cranky all night (this was Friday). I think she slept pretty well that night, but woke up yesterday crying so hard...and nothing I could do would calm her. My normally voracious eater was also pushing food away, and her cough and cold were still bad. So, I decided to have a doctor examine her.
I called Galiya (my goddess of Kaz... the coordinator for our agency here) and she told me she had a pediatrician who would make a house call, and they'd be to my apartment within the hour.
Meanwhile, Alison was getting worse and worse. Screaming, and completely inconsolable. I lost it! I started crying harder than she was. She stopped crying and looked at me with those big eyes and started touching my tears. (I was holding her this whole time, as she wouldn't let me put her down.) I think my sobbing either scared her or felt good against her chest.
Galiya and the doctor arrived, who examined Alison, confirmed my suspicion that she probably had an ear infection, gave me a powerful antibiotic (the doctor said they used cheap, ineffective medicines in the orphanage), ear drops, nose drops, and two things for her stomach. One medicine to help counter any bad effects of the antibiotic, and the other to help her adapt to all the new food she was getting. (Did I mention she was constipated, too?)
I asked Galiya how much the doctor wanted (for a house call on a Saturday). 1000 tenge (under $7 US)! I gave her 2000.
About an hour after giving her the first dose of everything last night, she was much better. My happy, playful baby was back...for a little while, anyway.
I got her to sleep at around 9:00 PM. She woke up at 2:30 AM and stayed awake (crying most of the time) until 4:15 AM! Not fun.
I had asked Galiya yesterday about buying or renting a crib, and she surprised me with one this morning. She wouldn't let me pay for it and said she would keep it for future families traveling to Kaz to adopt through Focus on Children. Alison went down for a nap in it just as I was leaving. I'm hoping this will help her sleep better (and help me sleep better).
I'm heading out again with my friend Amy from Houston (who gets to leave Wednesday Night. Lucky bitch.). We're going shopping again and then, perhaps, back to the Arasan Baths for another massage. I could certainly use one after the last few days I've had.
(Who wants to come home already...)
Well, the good news is that Alison and I are both feeling much better. A few days of antibiotics has her just about back to her happy self. She loves going outside, but it snowed again the night before last, so we were stuck inside yesterday.
Today seemed nicer and the snow was melting, so we headed out. It got progressively colder, and it's now freezing!
I'm very bummed because my friend Amy, from Houston, is leaving tonight. She flies to Moscow at 2:30 AM (the same flight I'll be taking Tuesday night), and leaves for Houston Friday morning. Alison and I will miss her and her precious son, but my wallet won't!
She's been a really bad shopping influence on me! On Sunday, we went to the bazaar... we were told it was like a giant flea market... but they sell everything. I bought a beautiful Shearling jacket.... This jacket at home would cost at least $1200. I only paid $210. Amy bought a mink jacket (and also only paid around $200 for it). Yes, they had beautiful leather and fur coats at this flea market.
We also went for another massage last night. Luckily we've had the services of Jezegul to baby-sit.
I wish I could paint the picture happening right now. Amy had to leave to go for her exit interview at the US Embassy here in Kazakhstan. (I'll be doing that on Monday.) Amy and I ordered lunch, but it took so long that she had to leave to get to her appointment at the Embassy. So, she left me here, and they just brought the food.
I'm typing, with Alison on my lap, feeding her a Kaz pizza and eating some sort
of hamburger type dish that I guess I somehow ordered, and Amy's plate of food is sitting here as well. Feeding a child, eating, and typing email is not easy to do. The room is filled with six computers, and on four of them are American Peace Corps workers, so at least it's a compassionate group in here with me.
However, I don't think Alison's going to last very much longer sitting relatively quietly on my lap. So, I'm going to sign off now... she's getting really cranky!
Congratulations are in order! Today, my 15-day waiting period required after court ended, so it was time to go all over Almaty to get new documents.
We had to drive back out to Karakastek, the village where Alison's orphanage is located, to get her adoption certificate, and to the Almaty registration office to get her new birth certificate listing me as her mother. Galiya is now getting copies of those documents and taking them to the passport office and police department, to get the paperwork started on Alison's passport so we can come home.
A few interesting observations about 21st century life in Kazakhstan: The office in Karakastek that handles all certificates (birth, marriage, adoption, etc.) has had no phone service for a few weeks. Apparently, they have an unpaid bill of 120,000 tenge (about $80). The woman who handles these duties was going to take "sick leave". Luckily, Galiya had her home phone number and when Galiya called her last night to tell her we'd be coming today, she said she would not be in. Galiya told her that the families needing adoption certificates wanted to settle her phone debt, so she decided to come in just for us (and our money). This same woman kept the last group of adopting families waiting four hours before she helped them.
There are no computers there, so all the paperwork was done by hand and took two and a half hours to complete for three children (mine and two others). There was also no heat and it was freezing! People were lined up in the hallway to see this woman, who told them she was not working today, she was only there to take care of us.
We then drove back into Almaty to get the new birth certificates. Although this building did have heat, they too didn't have computers! They had all the birth records in archive books ... pink for girls and blue for boys, filed by year. They looked up Alison's original record, complete with made up names for the mother and father (as she was abandoned on someone's doorstep). The woman making her new birth certificate crossed out the false information on Alison's permanent record and wrote in my name and address, as well as Alison's new name.
Galiya is now rushing around trying to get a passport processed for Alison in time for us to leave Monday night. I was supposed to leave Almaty Tuesday night, go to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday, and fly home to the U.S. Thursday morning(leaving at 7:00 AM). However, Amy (my friend from Houston who left the night before last) was delayed in Moscow. She didn't get into Moscow in time to get to the Embassy that day. The Embassy must receive your paperwork, including a medical report on the child done by an Embassy certified doctor in Moscow, between 9:30 and 11:30 AM in order to get an appointment that afternoon. She missed it. Unfortunately, if I miss that window, I'm in trouble. All the flights home after the one I currently have reserved are completely booked ... for days. So, I'm frantic, trying to get out of here a day earlier than planned.
Even though Amy already left, she's still a bad spending influence on me. She demanded that I visit the national museum ... not to see the displays, but because they sell the most beautiful hand made rugs. Yes, I admit it, I bought a rug. But it's beautiful and I paid a fraction of what it would cost at home. I guess these are considered real art pieces, since I have to have an official certificate to take it out of the country. Don't ask how I'm going to get it home, with the jacket, dombro (national instrument), all the gifts, and all the souvenirs (including three old Soviet-era radios). Oh yeah, and a daughter! It is a good thing I brought over so many orphanage donations that I have an empty duffle bag. I'm sure it's full by now.
Speaking of that daughter, my skinny little Alison is now a chubbette. Remember how I said I thought I'd lose weight over here? No way! I'm fattening up this little girl with lots of butter, pasta, cheese, etc. All the food in this country is fried and the bread is fresh and delicious.
Aside from a really bad night last night, Alison wouldn't sleep and cried continuously unless I was holding her walking around, she's doing great. I, however, am exhausted. Hope to be on U.S. soil soon.
It's Tuesday, December 12, about 12:20 PM and I'm still in Kazakhstan! I should have been in Moscow by now, but Alison's visa didn't come through in time.
We had our exit interview at the U.S. Embassy here in Almaty yesterday afternoon, and our coordinator, Galiya, misunderstood when she was told that Alison's passport was ready, she thought that meant that her exit visa was ready too, which it wasn't.
So, we went to the Air Kazakhstan office to change our tickets from the Wed. 2:00 AM flight to the Tues. 2:00 AM flight to give us an extra day in Moscow to avoid any potential problems.
We got back to the apartment at about 7:30 and I finished packing. At 9:00 PM I got the call saying that Alison's visa had NOT come in, and we would NOT be leaving! Needless to say, I was not very happy.
This morning, it was back to the airline office to change the tickets back (more $$$)... and luckily our seats were still available. (At the time of the writing, I don't know that one of the other families was as lucky! There are four of them!) All three families that were supposed to leave last night were held up due to the lack of the children's visas.
So, now I'm ready to go tonight... I spoke with Michael, the coordinator in Moscow, who told me not to worry, that he'd be able to get us in and out in one day. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that my plane leaves here on time tonight (and that we get Alison's visa).
So, here we are at the Stalker Internet Cafe, Alison happily throwing cheerios on the floor, and me typing away, waiting for the food I just ordered.
I hope to not be back in touch until I'm back on U.S. soil. Now I understand why people kiss the ground when they land .... I'm ready for some dirty lips.
Nicole & Alison
who desperately want to come home already!
It's Sunday afternoon, December 17, and Alison is napping. So while I have a few moments on the computer, I thought I'd continue detailing the journey home, while the details are still somewhat fresh in my mind.
I think I left off where I found out at 9:00 PM Monday night that I wasn't leaving Kazakhstan for Moscow that night at midnight because Alison's exit visa hadn't come through. Needless to say, I was quite upset... but we were able to leave the following night.
Alison slept a bit, and we were picked up for the ride to the airport shortly after midnight. We were flying Air Kazakhstan to Moscow... a five-hour flight, departing at 2:20 AM. We were taken to the Air Kaz terminal in Almaty, not the airport, where we checked in, went through security, had our baggage weighed (and I got hit with $160 fee for 55 extra kilos!), and then got on a bus which was to take us to the airport.
Sitting on the bus with Alison on my lap I felt it...that familiar warmth and rumble that let me know she had just pooped! I thought, "no problem, I'll just change her when we get to the airport, before we get on the plane." Well, the bus took us right to the plane... we got off the bus and herded up the stairs and into our seats. The plane was packed.... they loaded it and we took off, and I felt that familiar sensation AGAIN! Yes, my darling daughter pooped again in an already poopy diaper.
I figured I'd just change her as soon as the fasten seat belt light went off. After about seven minutes or so, I saw someone walking up the aisle to the rest room and just followed. The flight attendant told me I had to sit down (in Russian), but I motioned to her butt and showed the diaper, and he let me go in to the bathroom.
This had to be the smallest airplane bathroom I'd ever been in (and it was also the first time I'd ever tried to change a diaper on an airplane, so it just might have felt really small). There was no pull down changing table, so I closed the lid on the toilet and put down my little changing pad and attempted to lay Alison down on it. Her reaction was similar to her first experience in the bathtub... screaming at the top of her lungs and claws in my neck.
So, I was wiping lots of poop off her butt (it had crept up her back by this time), off her clothes and off my clothes... and putting a new diaper on her, all while holding her attached firmly to my neck! Quite an experience.
She did really well for the rest of the flight. We actually both slept a little, even when Air Kaz served an entire meal at 3:30 AM, with really bad Russian music playing rather loudly over the intercom system!
We arrived in Moscow at about 5:00 AM local time (by then it was 8:00 AM in Kaz...three hour time difference...the first of many time-zone changes over the next couple of days), we were met by our Moscow coordinator Michael, and we then drove to the hotel...the Marriott Tverskya.
How wonderful to be in a luxurious hotel! On the way there, Michael explained our schedule for the day. He would come to our rooms (there were two other families in addition to me and Alison) and go over all our paperwork for our interviews at the U.S. Embassy, which would take place later in the day.
A doctor would arrive at around 7:00 AM to examine the children. This is one of the U.S. Embassy requirements, a medical report from one of their approved doctors. So, the doctor showed up, told me Alison looked pretty good, "examined" her for all of five minutes, took my $100 and filled out the necessary paperwork. Then we got to go to breakfast. A great buffet, though Alison wouldn't let me put her down to get the food! We managed.
I had to copy a few papers for Michael, who would then take all the paperwork to the Embassy and call to tell us what time to be ready for the appointment. We went to the room, took a nap, and were told to be in the lobby at 3:00 PM.
At about 1:30 PM, Alison and I headed out to take a little walk in Moscow (and I needed to look for a store that sold diapers!). We walked fairly far, and I never did find the diapers. The weather wasn't bad...probably upper 30s, but very damp. We got back to the hotel, and waited for the van to pick us up. When it hadn't arrived by 3:15 PM, I got impatient and called a cab. I wasn't about to come this far only to miss our embassy appointment and have to wait another day to head home.
We got the U.S. Embassy at 3:40 PM and went right in. They've just started a new procedure there that makes things run much more smoothly than in the past. In all my research on Russian adoptions, I'd heard the U.S. Embassy was very stressful. Well, with these new procedures in place, it was a breeze. The stressful part was getting there!
Our hotel wasn't far from the embassy, but traffic in Moscow is unbelievable. And this is coming from someone who's lived in L.A. for the past 13 years.
At the embassy, we were asked a few questions, given all of Alison's original paperwork and a sealed packet that I was to give to the INS officials when I reached the states, complete with Alison's immigrant visa stapled to the front of it. We were officially ready to come home. What an amazing feeling!
By then it was about 4:00 PM and our flight heading back to the U.S. was leaving the next morning at 7:00 AM. So, we had very little time for sight-seeing.
Michael arranged for a van and a guide to take us to a few places, and after some confusion and an hour of waiting for the "third family" (Peter, the guide, mistakenly thought that Dan Charles, with his adopted daughter Nastya and I, with Alison, were one family and that another one was still coming....) we were on our way.
We drove to Red Square where we first went in the mall to do some last minute souvenir shopping. Then it was a stroll through Red Square, past Lenin's tomb, and winding up at St. Basils Cathedral...which is as breathtaking as you imagine it would be.
Then it was back into the van, and a LONG drive back to the hotel... once again, due to the crazy Moscow traffic. I really don't know how I can ever complain about L.A. traffic again.
At the hotel, I did what I'd been looking forward to for three weeks...ordered room service. Alison and I had a great dinner, and we went to sleep after calling for a 3:45 AM wake-up call. We were to meet in the lobby at 4:30 PM to go to the airport.
A quick aside here.... for the past three and a half weeks, the only English language television I had was the Fox News Channel, providing a very conservative slant to the whole election debacle. Finally in Moscow, I had CNN, and this was the day that the Supreme Court finally (sort of) put an end to the situation. I had seen every bit of coverage of this thing from November 20 until this day, and now...when something was finally happening... I didn't get to see either Gore or Bush make their speeches! I did think I'd get a very cool souvenir by having the Moscow Times on December 13, the day the headline would announce the new president, but it wasn't out before we left the hotel or available at the airport before we boarded. Ugh!
So, we leave Moscow at 7:00 AM for the three hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. This time there were no poopy problems on the plane, and Alison did just fine.
We landed in Frankfurt, had just enough time to wander around the airport a bit and get to the gate for the 10:05 departure to Miami. I think there was a two-hour time difference between Moscow and Frankfurt, so we landed around 8:30 local time).
As I got to the gate, they informed me the flight was delayed, and we'd be leaving at 11:30. Alison and I went to the restaurant and had brunch. Then we did a little shopping. She got a beautiful little gold ID bracelet (that she won't let me put on her), and we bought Pop Pop (my father) some Swiss chocolates from the duty-free shop.
We boarded the plane and I felt that familiar poopy feeling again. But this time I had time to change her before we took off, and the bathroom had a wonderful pull down changing table. We took off and 10 minutes into the flight, the captain came on and said something lengthy in German (we flew Lufthansa). I could see people were concerned and shaking their heads. Then he spoke in English and explained that two systems had failed (the altimeter and odometer!)... that we were in no danger because of all the backup systems in place. But it was Lufthansa policy to turn around and land back in Frankfurt. The only problem was that we were fully fueled and too heavy to land, so we'd have to circle for an hour or so and dump fuel. So we did.
By the time we landed and disembarked and got back to the terminal it was around 2:30 or 3:00. They said we'd board again at 5:30 for a 6:00 departure. I was waiting for them to bring my stroller, that I had to check at the gate, and it never came. I patiently(not) explained that there was no way I could carry this child around for three hours and that I needed the stroller, which for some reason, they never were able to get for me.
Somehow, Alison and I wound up in some special Lufthansa area that had a playroom for kids, and they went out and brought me lunch. They said someone would come to get me when it was time to go back to board.
So, we passed a couple of hours in there. At about 5:15 PM I started getting antsy, and asked when we'd be heading back toward the plane. That's when I was told that the new departure time was 8:00 PM. I thought I was going to die. I was exhausted and Alison was definitely way past tired and cranky. They brought me to another room that had a couple of sofas and cribs, and said we could lie down and take a nap, and they'd come wake us when it was time to go. That's exactly what we did.
They got us at about 7:15 PM, drove us back to the gate (Alison pretty much slept this whole time). We boarded the plane and took off. Though I was in coach, I had a bulkhead seat, and they have bassinets that attach to the wall. So, once we hit our cruising altitude, they set up a bassinet for Alison. I put her in it and she slept for the next eight hours or so. It was a nine and a half hour flight to Miami, and we arrived at about 12:15 AM Friday morning, December 15 (only 10 hours later than scheduled).
We made it through customs and INS, and my sister was waiting for us at the gate! We got back to her house at about 2:30 AM, and the barking dogs woke my two and a half year old niece Lindsey, so we all spent the next few hours catching up.
And here we are. Trying to get over the jet lag!
Alison met her grandfather yesterday, and as soon as she wakes from her nap we'll go visit him again. We'll be here until Wednesday, when we get to take our last plane ride for a while, to go home!
It's taken me almost 48 hours to write this my adoption journal entry, as now that we're home, I seem to have no time to get on the computer at all. Alison is doing very well, though I think she's a bit confused about where we are now (I keep telling her, "we're home!").
Our flight from Florida to L.A. was only delayed an hour (nothing after my Frankfurt experience), and using all my miles for a first class ticket for our final leg was a great decision. As it was December 20 and the beginning of the Christmas rush, the plane was packed, but luckily there were two empty seats in first class. The flight attendants moved one person so that Alison could have her own seat. She slept for most of the flight and I was able to enjoy a decent meal (and a hot fudge sundae) without having to share it with her!
My friend Dan, who had been using my car while I was gone, picked us up at the airport. I left the car seat at my house, and told him to install it before coming to get us. When we got to the car, I saw the seat installed rear-facing, sitting straight up. Needless to say, it was wrong. So, the two of us sat in the parking lot with the manual for the seat trying to figure out how to put it in while Alison sat patiently in her stroller waiting to go home.
We pulled up in front of the house and the first order of business was to go next door and get Sandy. She had been staying there for the past couple of days after spending most of the time I was gone at home with her friend Drake (a border collie) and our friend Melissa.
Dan held Alison while Sandy and I said hello. I'd never left her for more than a week... let alone a month. I really missed her, and it finally sunk in that I was finally home! After lots of hugs and kisses (yes, I am talking about a dog here), I introduced Sandy and Alison. Alison giggled at this big furry teddy bear. Sandy just wanted to lick her, but Alison didn't seem to like that. (We're still working on that one.) I wished I had my camera handy about an hour ago when we were all on the big sofa in the living room, Sandy asleep at the one end with Alison asleep right behind her.
We all came in the house together, and my neighbors helped Dan bring in the two giant stuffed duffel bags (now stuffed even more with a lot of clothes for Alison, courtesy of her cousin Lindsey).
Alison's sleep schedule is still a bit screwy. Just as she was adjusting to east coast time, I brought her to the west coast! She woke yesterday at 5:00 AM, and today at almost 5:30 AM. I tried to get her to go down for a late nap this afternoon, but she fought me on it (she's a tough little girl). She finally fell asleep at about 6:00 PM, and it's now 9:40 PM. I hope she wakes up soon so I can give her dinner and a bath, but I have a feeling she might sleep for awhile and I'll really be in trouble!
We went to the grocery store today and she was great for the first five minutes or so, then started fussing, fidgeting, crying, and screaming. She wanted me to hold her, which I wound up doing, while pushing the cart and loading it up (and unloading it at the check out). When we got home, I noticed that she had another one of those annoying poopy diapers, so I'm hoping that was the cause of her outburst (though she doesn't like to be restrained, and would rather have mommy hold her than have to sit in anything).
The nanny starts on Tuesday, and I'll go into work for about an hour. I guess it's time for the next part of our life to begin.....
And here we are, five years later. I still haven’t found the man of my dreams, but Alison and I have a wonderful life together. I can’t imagine these past 5 years without her. She’s a beautiful, smart, healthy, funny 6.5 year old…going on 30. She’s the light of my life. I’m the luckiest mom in the world!
About The Author
Nicole Sandler is the owner/producer of Legacy Video Productions, specializing in producing adoption stories. You can see Alison's Journey Home, the video at