Patience and leap of faith overcame infertility and fears of parenthood
At this point in my life, I thought I would find myself sitting with you at a benefit luncheon. But I am even more surprised to find myself standing here speaking to you as the mother of three, newly adopted, older children from Siberia, at the age of 54! In November, 2004, my husband Peter and I went to Tomsk, Siberia, Russia, to adopt Anastasia – age 10, James – age 10, and Alexander – age 9, who were all in an orphanage for 4 years. The boys are brothers and the girl is a friend. It’s funny because I feel like this happens to other people that you read about in the papers. But now I am living the story.
You are probably wondering how this all started? Well, my husband Peter, who is actually the fourth kid at heart and in life, planted the seed. Peter loves kids. He is ready to be Santa at Christmas, go to an amusement park or movie on a moment’s notice, even on a school night. He does zany things and thinks like a child. We got married at age 38 and could not have children even with technology’s help. We accepted the fact, and continued along with our lifestyle of being first born, workaholics and house renovators. We also enjoyed spending time with all our family and friends.
This went on for 15 years. Occasionally, Peter would suggest to me that we should go to China and adopt an infant baby girl. I always looked at him like he had two heads. How was I going to take care of an infant and continue working on Wall Street? I eventually quit my job after 21 years, and have been working in Peter’s office for the last 10 years, still in workaholic fashion. Time past and then Life threw in twists and turns. Within the last few years, we saw Peter’s mother die suddenly of breast cancer.
My dear father who had heart disease became increasingly sicker, and died right after the children came home. I knew he hung in there to see them. We saw our nieces and nephews grow older. And we experienced some business difficulties. Each of us began to reassess things in general unbeknownst to the other. Then one day, Peter, who is an oral surgeon, was treating the last patient of the night. She blurted out to him, “You look sad”, and then asked why. In his usual, honest style he said, “I have no children”.
She said, “You look like the father of three”. She told Peter and then I that she read in the Huntington church bulletin about a summer program to host older children from Russia on a trial basis with the hopes of adoption. Neither Peter nor I said anything about it to each other. A week passed and one night after work, I asked Peter if he wanted to go to his college alumni dinner or the adoption meeting in town. He immediately said, “The alumni dinner can’t help us.”
And off we went. At the end of the adoption seminar, the speaker asked any interested parties to come forward and complete an application to be a summer host. I looked at Peter and said, “What should we do?” He gave me a St. Michael the Archangel coin which had an inscription on the back that said, “Rise up and meet your challenges”. Peter is a quiet soul and always said, “God had a plan for us”. I would ask him what is the plan? He would say, you need to get quiet and listen. I was fearful, but I began to think children were part of the plan. The mounds of adoption paperwork began.
You truly needed a PhD in adoption. Peter said, let’s do it quickly because he had a sneaking suspicion that the Russian government was going to halt adoptions. So we did. It was April 2004. The adoption facilitator helped us select a girl, Anastasia. She dropped off her picture and placed it under our front door mat with her half page of information. We decided to go ahead with Anastasia. We wanted to get two children and started to inquire about a boy. But the adoption agency said that there were no single boys left at Anastasia’s orphanage, only siblings. (In Russia, prospective parents have to adopt multiple children from the same orphanage).
I went to a pre-adoption meeting, and there was a table of pictures of unassigned children. Somehow I moved toward the table and immediately picked up the picture of two brothers who happened to be in Anastasia’s orphanage. I was drawn to their faces, and brought the picture home to show Peter. I said, “These boys are adorable, but we can’t adopt 3 children”. Peter said, “Why not, of course we can”. We then decided to host all of them for the summer of 2004. We told our family at Easter Sunday Dinner and everyone was excited and supportive. I will never forget the look on my Dad’s face. He was surprised and happy. He said, “Great, Marie, Congratulations”. Our patient, Linda, who started the ball rolling as God’s messenger, was also thrilled.
But then we began to think we lost our minds, three kids in our 50’s! The monsignor at our church said, “Peter, less is more.” So after much agonizing thought, we both agreed and told the agency that we would just host the girl. Well, as luck would have it, Linda, the patient came back for a follow up visit. Peter told her we decided to just host Anastasia. She looked Peter straight in the eye, and said, “Do you want those two boys?” He of course said, “Yes”. We changed our minds again. We decided that God has a plan with perfect timing which is pre destined. It was no accident that this series of events led us to our family.
The three kids came for the three weeks in summer of 2004 and all went very well. They called us Momma and Poppa. We called them the munchkins. They spoke Russian. We spoke English. After three weeks, we knew that God selected these children for us, and selected us as parents for these children. It became very clear that there was a reason that 15 years had passed us by without any children. They returned to northern Siberia, in a town called Kolpashevo, while the paperwork was being finalized.
Now the day arrived!! November 11, 2004. We were leaving for Siberia for two weeks to bring the munchkins home. We boarded the plane from JFK to Moscow and it took 10 plus hours. We stayed one night in Moscow, and went to another airport to get on a 10 pm flight to Tomsk, Siberia. This flight took 6 hours. It was a small, old plane with ripped, plaid seat covers and lots of Russian people talking loudly. I was nervous, and scared, and felt like I was in a movie. Peter was taking it all in. It was an adventure. Peter was also busy writing a journal, which he continued throughout the trip. One hour before we were about to land in the dark, coldness, Peter turned to me and said, “I always knew God would give me children, I just didn’t know how”.
The plane landed and we descended the steps onto the frozen tarmac as it was snowing. It was 4 am. I got a hot flash, my heart was palpitating. I stopped in my tracks as we walked to the small building to get our luggage. I told Peter that I was frightened and this was the scariest thing we ever did. I said, “Let’s turn around and get back on the plane”. He grabbed my hand and said, “Everything will be all right”. We arrived at the small pensione hotel in Tomsk, Siberia at 5 am and went right to sleep. A few hours later, the phone rang and then came a knock at the door two minutes later.
The three munchkins were standing side-by-side all bundled up with the Director of the Orphanage who had brought them to us. I will never forget their faces dressed in orphanage clothes and excited to see us; just as excited as we were to see them. Then we went to court where a judge had a proceeding where she questioned us for three and one half hours. The children also testified. James said he wanted to go to America to get a good education and a good job; Alex said he was already in America in his mind; and Anastasia said we were the only parents she ever knew. We all celebrated after the judge granted us permission to adopt.
We flew back to Moscow and hired a tour guide who was a translator. In the Kremlin Museum, the tour guide showed the children all the icons, and said that Momma and Poppa were praying for children of their own. The children told the guide that they were also praying for a Momma and Poppa to come and get them. We arrived home on the night before Thanksgiving, 2004. And it has been a whirlwind ever since; a process of becoming a family that continues to evolve every day. Now, I know how hard our parents worked at raising us and loving us. And I am amazed every day by what they did, and am forever grateful. Thank you Mom and Dad and thank you to all the Moms here today.
Our families and friends have been a constant source of support and help during this transition and adjustment for all of us. It seems like we always had kids. They do bring a lot of joy and a lot of work. And the children have come to know what an extended circle of love means: Grandma, Aunts, Uncles, Sisters, Brothers, Cousins and Dear Friends.
Immediately after their arrival, we got the children tested by a well-known Russian/American psychologist, Dr. Boris Gindis, whose expertise focuses on internationally adopted children. He helped us deal with school and emotional issues. After testing the children for two days, Dr. Gindis sat back and looked at us. He said there was nothing wrong with the children, but he wanted to know what was wrong with us for adopting three at one time when we were 52! To keep our sanity, we hired a translator and had family meetings every week. We also have a tutor come after school 4 days a week and hired household help.
The kids thrived and learned English and are now speaking fluently. They made school friends, play sports, have sleepovers, go to summer camp and have had several family vacations. They are kids like all others: they laugh, scream, cry, fight, yell, and give you a kiss when you least expect it and are trying to find themselves. These kids are survivors and adapt easily. They have experienced many new firsts, and so have we through their eyes. But most of all they are kids who no longer have the worry of abandonment by alcoholic, drug addicted parents, nor the worry of food or shelter, as they lived in non-heated huts with dirt floors and plastic windows in Siberia.
There are over 700,000 of these children in Russia alone. There are many childless couples or couples who want to expand their family and adoption could be a possibility. For me, it only became one when I allowed myself to take a big leap of faith and move out of my comfort zone. As Willa Cather said, “Miracles surround us at every turn, if we but sharpen our perception of them”. Today, April 26th, is our son James’ 12th birthday and we are especially happy to be celebrating it with him and his brother and sister. Who would have thought!!! I would like to close by reading you the postscript to my husband, Peter’s journal, which I wrote, in Siberia late one night after the adoption court date.
“Dear James Yuri, Alexander Francis, and Anastasia Helen Norma: We know you will be reading Poppa’s journal of your adoption someday when you are older. Momma wants to tell you that your Poppa is truly God sent to me and now to all of you. You should realize that he is a quiet, patient soul who waited 15 years for you three to arrive in his heart and home. He never doubted that God would grant him children; he just didn’t know how. His unwavering faith, gentle spirit and patience changed Momma’s heart and allowed her to overcome her fears of having children in her life. Poppa supported Momma through the entire adoption process and was a guiding light and beacon of strength. We are so happy to have you in our lives now, and look forward to our journey together where we will make a new life as a family like God intended us to be. We want you to know that in Siberia, Tomsk Region, Federation of Russia we found you; but we also discovered ourselves, two parents who love each other so much, and who want to share that love with you. Today, on the day of your adoption, the 17th November 2004, we promised to love you unconditionally and shepherd you to become the best person you can be with God’s help. Let the adventure begin… Love, Momma”