My friend Tati is here today as our guest blogger. Tati is a Russian adoptee who is all grown up and was willing to share her journey. I am thankful for any Russian adoptee who is willing to share their story, but even more so excited that she in particular took the time. I met Tati in the most unconventional of ways. My first week on Facebook I scrolled through a Russian group (not even an adoption group!) and found a young college student who said she was a Russian adoptee, she shared the region of her birth and the baby house she called home for more than three years before her adoption. She shared a photo more than a decade old, grainy with wear. The picture included a photo of the orphanage director; who I knew personally. I would never forget this woman as long as I live. Smiling in a picture with Tati’s mother and Tati was the same woman who stood up in a Russian courtroom with me and testified that my husband and I clearly loved the boy we were asking to parent. Our experience in Russia was different than many you hear. It wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy by American experiences, but it had it’s moments. Our son’s director kissed us in greeting right before court and told us through an interpreter “It is cold, and your boy is sneezing, but he is well. He is bigger than last time because he eats good. He is a good boy, you come see him today after court.” is one of the highlights for me. She shared about meeting us with a surly judge; she pointed at me and our interpreter whispered “She says you are very good with children and you will give him a good life and attention.” I will simply never forget that chance scroll and the moment my eyes laid on those unconventionally warm Russian eyes from our director, and tiny little Tati in a room I had also stood. I’d imagine Tati’s mother, a single mother had the same nerves that I did. I’d imagine she found this soft and caring director gave her butterflies some peace as well. All that to say, Tati is one of my favorite people on the internet. I am in awe of her, proud of her, and thankful for her for so many reasons. I am ridiculously thankful that she was willing to share her story. At this time, Intercountry adoption is not an option in Russia for Americans. It really is a shame, Tati is a testimony. Tati was raised in an institution with very limited resources and even further limited expectations for her. Today Tati is a college graduate with a life full of loving relationships and promise, and she took the time to pour out her heart with us today……
When I think about adoption many different emotions come to surface, it is a wonderful experience, and a life changing choice to give a child a permanent place to call home, but as a Russian adoptee I feel like there is a missing piece. The pain of this process is unspoken but very legitimate. There is pain for the adopted child as well as for the adoptive family and although felt in different ways, I think it is often this missing piece that bridges families together.
The only way I can explain it, I feel like my life is a mosaic. It is a beautiful mosaic certainly, but it has several missing pieces. Several years ago, I found out that I have a biological brother living in Russia. He was adopted by a Russian family at three years old. It is such a complicated feeling to be happy that he has a family that loves him, but simultaneously feel sad as I have to accept that finding my brother is a slim chance and this reality is devastating.
In the early 1990’s when I was adopted, it was a very bleak time to be living in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, just a year after I was born and the disorder and chaos that followed had a disturbing result on the country’s economy. Russia’s political and economic troubles had a direct and brutal effect on every part of daily living. For children residing in state run institutions, there were limited opportunities, specifically for children with disabilities; they were automatically outcast and doomed for a life without parole in an insane asylum. Overall the care that we received in the orphanage was minimal; we were not often allowed outside of the orphanage walls and the playground where we played had one wooden swing, an alligator structure that the kids used to sit on and a dumpster. As an activity the staff told us to pick up the leaves in our buckets and throw them into the dumpster. In the baby home where I lived for the first four years of my life, I remember my little friends; we were so close I considered them my brothers and sisters. Every time a visitor would come to the orphanage they would swarm, starving for attention and love, I remember on the playground my friends hanging on my mother as she watched me play, pulling on her arm to play with them and from a distance I watched and yelled over in Russian, “Get away, that’s my mother!” This comment made the staff die of laughter and my mom who was completely clueless laughed too.
Inside the facility clothes were neatly laid out on chairs in the living room, but I never had any of my own clothes and going home in the clothing the baby home provided was unacceptable. They were very strict about bringing clothes, so my mom bought my first outfit and I went home on the plane with oversized pants and shoes 3 sizes too big for my feet. Everything was shared, clothing and toys. Looking at some old photos, I notice some of the boys were dressed in girls clothing, or perhaps they were girls that looked like boys because all of us had very short hair cuts so it is hard to tell. In the room where I slept there were beds neatly in rows and beautiful oriental rugs displayed on the walls to keep warm in the frigid winters.
The staff members in the orphanage were not unloving or unkindly, but they did not always know how to treat our individual needs. Most of the children I lived with had mild to moderate disabilities, I remember a girl named Marina, who needed glasses, she couldn’t see but the staff thought she was stupid, once they realized that she was unable to see they gave her glasses and she thrived in her surroundings. I was born with very mild cerebral palsy, but even extremely mild conditions like mine were not treated in the orphanage. There was no physical therapy, no way to help me learn how to walk. They did not try because they did not know how to help. I met my milestones late, but I learned to walk and talk on my own. I decided in any way I could I would engage myself in my environment and so this is what I did and this is how I survived every day. There was no medical treatment or surgeries until I moved to the states, but once I moved to America I was quickly integrated into school and started receiving the medical attention that I desperately needed.
When I was adopted by my mother in September of 1994, I was almost four years old, there was much to learn and to catch up on developmentally and socially; learning how to use the stairs at home was very entertaining and it was complex. I could be downstairs while my mom was upstairs and she could still hear me if I screamed up the steps. I did this on many occasions and I was amused. My teachers thought it would be helpful to do an extra year in preschool to become proficient in English. The first few days after coming home, I had numerous tests completed at Boston Children’s Hospital. Doctors suspected that I had rickets which was likely due to deficiency in vitamin D because I didn’t go outside much and didn’t have proper nutrition for the first several years of my life. This was common for a Russian adoptee, or any child who spent extensive time in an institution setting. Eating was challenging as I ate soup for the first several years, so I had difficulty chewing and swallowing much of the food I ate.
As I got older, I underwent physical therapy and gait retraining to correct my gait as well as two Botox procedures to loosen up my tight heel cord. Each time I was in a cast and after surgery went through more intensive physical therapy. I remember spending an ample amount of time as a child waiting to be seen in the doctor’s office, sometimes the doctor was so late, my mom got tired of waiting and I wouldn’t be seen because after a three hour wait we were both exhausted. I remember sitting in waiting rooms and having my legs measured to monitor my leg length discrepancy and I remember the doctor who almost put the botox injection into the wrong heel. She had no clue she was dealing with my mother.
Despite a few unfortunate experiences as a Russian adoptee, I have been so lucky to have the finest medical treatment and am so grateful for the care I continue to receive from my current providers. I often wonder where I would be had I stayed in Russia and the answer is very clear that if I stayed I would not be where I am today. I am 25 years old now and I have graduated college and I am successfully finding my way. I graduated with my bachelors in Psychology in 2014. Last year I began an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, back to where I first began, this time helping children like myself, working with child life on the orthopedic and surgical unit. I have so much appreciation and affection for the work that I want to pursue in the future. I plan to go back to school soon to become a certified child life specialist. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate career choice for myself and I am so fortunate to have this opportunity to give back to a hospital that has helped to put me on my feet.
Thank you so much Tati for taking the time to share! I am sure our audience is so appreciative of you taking the time to give us all a peek into your experience as a Russian adoptee. As a mother of a Russian adoptee, I am forever in your debt and I hope we can actually meet in real life some day! Want to read the story of our adoption from Russia? <— well here you go!
*Photos are copyrighted and used with permission.