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Our Second Adopted Child From Russia Changed Our Lives Forever

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Kid Companions- Chewelry: Our Second Adopted Child From Russia Changed Our Lives Forever

October 27, 2010

Our Second Adopted Child From Russia Changed Our Lives Forever

November is National Adoption Awareness Month This year's National Adoption Month initiative targets adoption professionals by focusing on ways to recruit and retain parents. The 2010 theme is:
"You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."
Join Danette and Lorna Thur. Nov. 4th on The Coffee Klatch Tweet Chat at 9am Eastern Standard Time to discuss issues brought out in the following post.

This guest post was written by Danette M. Schott.
Danette  is the proud mother of two beautiful children adopted from Russia. After facing challenges of ADHD, social skill deficits, anxiety, autism, and more with her daughter she was led to research these topics. Danette founded S-O-S Research to provide parents with guides with three stages containing easy-to-follow steps to walk them through the problem-solving process on various topics such as ADHD/ADD, Anxiety and Stress, Aspergers, Autism, Play Skills, Social Skills and more. She also maintains Help! S-O-S for Parents, a blog dedicated to providing tips, resources, book reviews and giveaways, and guest posts on special needs issues.  This post originally appeared on S-O-S Research blog. 

 The Moment We Saw Her We Knew It Was Going To Be Different
There she sat, in the corner, under the table, behind the desk, against the wall. She hated us to pick her up, but we tried anyway. She hated to be held, but we continued. She actively avoided our eyes, but we insisted on gazing upon her. She was a beautiful, green-eyed blonde, 18-months-old, and not yet walking. She did not utter a word, barely a sound. She was our new daughter, brought back home from her Russian stay. That was over ten years ago.

Our Experiences
Our first adoption from Russia was in 1997. We traveled to beautiful Yaroslavl and stayed with a family in their home on the Volga River. The wife was very proud of her home and put us in the master bedroom, canopy bed and all. I can still remember the day we picked up our son at 20-months of age. While I was holding him, he was speaking Russian, admiring my earrings, and commenting on the light in the room. As we left the building for the final time, all the attendants had formed a circle around us and were crying. They knew this was for the best, but he had been loved and would be missed. He basically hit the ground running and he has never looked back.

Our second adoption was in 1999, and we traveled to Moscow to pick up our daughter. We stayed with a family in a typical communist-era apartment. The first time we laid eyes on our daughter, we already knew this was going to be a different experience. She was not the healthy, almost walking toddler that had been described. She weighed but 14 pounds at 18-months-old. She arched her back as I held her, pulled her head away from me, and avoided my eyes like the plague. The day we were to take her, she was all but shoved into our arms as we were pushed out the door. As we left the director’s office, a guard stood watch to ensure we exited the building.

Before our court appearance a few days later, we learned more about our new daughter. She could only go to sleep if she was up on all fours and rocking from front to back. I remember one night we tried to hold her and soothe her to sleep, but she just cried. We figured we could deal with this when we got home. We just placed her down and put her in motion to rock–rock so we could all have peace.

When sleeping, she also violently rocked her head from side-to-side. I would sometimes put pillows against the wall so that she would not bang herself. There was very little response coming from her and while in Russia we were already formulating our game plan. I remember saying to my husband that this was going to change our lives forever. And it did.

We were not naïve; we knew that love would not conquer all. We knew that we had hard work ahead of us. But during our journey, we were destined to discover that no amount of reading, no amount of experience, no amount of research, could have prepared us for what we were up against. But it would have been helpful to have more support than we found.

What Can Go Wrong?
We are all familiar with the horror stories surrounding international adoptions. I am aware of 15 Russian children who have died at the hands of their U.S. adoptive parents since 1996. Then there’s the most recent story surrounding Torry Hansen, the mother of a 7-year-old boy adopted from Russia. She sent her son back to Russia this past April. He traveled alone, except for a note from his mother stating that she could no longer care for him.

On the surface it is very easy to judge these parents. How can they commit these acts? How does this happen? But we need to take a closer look at what may contribute to these situations.

Who Are These Children?
In Eastern Europe, times have been tough for years and many birthparents can not afford to care for their children. But if we are honest, it goes even deeper than this. Sure, some of these birthparents have fallen on hard times in countries that are struggling economically. But others are struggling due to issues closer to home. Some of these women have their own set of learning disabilities and/or their own behavioral disorders that have contributed to them experiencing hardships. For some, these problems also have been compounded by drug or alcohol abuse and/or mental health issues.

Many children who are adopted from Eastern Europe suffer deprivation and trauma in their early lives in the orphanages. They experience huge amounts of neglect along with lack of physical contact and warmth.

This lack of initial maternal nurturing always makes me think of Harry Harlow’s experiment with rhesus monkeys. He varied situations, but basically monkeys were reared for various amounts of time with different levels of care to complete isolation. The experiments illustrated the importance of early nurturing and bonding between a caregiver and infant. Without this, some of the monkeys ended up being severely disturbed.

It really should be no surprise that these children are at an increased risk for problems in the following areas:
• medical: e.g., tuberculosis and hepatitis;
• physical: e.g., delays and/or permanent problems in both fine and gross motor skills;
• developmental: e.g., delays and/or permanent problems in speech and cognition; and
• emotional: e.g., difficulties forming attachments, post traumatic stress, and behavioral problems.

In reality, this is a very short list of problems that many adoptive parents actually encounter. These problems can be particularly hard for U.S. doctors to assess. First, there isn’t a lot of available information on post-institutionalized children, because research is limited. Second, parents are typically provided with very little to no medical history. If any medical history is provided, the accuracy is usually in question. Finally, many western doctors have minimal to no experience with these children.

What Kind of Support Do Parents Receive?
Prior to the adoption process, parents work with an adoption agency that is responsible for conducting a homestudy. We attended a number of classes provided by our adoption agency. We also worked with a social worker who conducted our homestudy. We completed questionnaires, were interviewed by the social worker, and had our home inspected. After that, we moved over to another agency who worked directly with officials in Russia. There were many more papers to complete that were specific to Russia.

I researched international adoption and we visited with a couple of parents who had already gone through the process. Neither the adoption agency, social worker, nor Russian agency prepared us for even possible minor special needs.

After the completion of the adoption, Russia required that three follow-up visits at designated intervals be conducted by the social worker and that a report be submitted. Since it was apparent very early on that our daughter had severe issues, we discussed it during our first follow-up visit with our social worker and the Russian agency. Surprisingly, we were never contacted again for another follow-up. We never heard from our social worker or the Russian agency after that first visit. (Note, we had been through the adoption process two years earlier to bring home our son. We were required to complete all follow-ups.)

Our adoption experience occurred more than ten years ago and is the experience of one family. But this one family received close to no education prior to our adoption regarding the truly significant issues. Once home and aware that we were facing major problems, we were truly on our own.

In Conclusion
It is obvious that changes need to be made, so that parents do not find themselves so overwhelmed and stressed that they harm their child or put him on a return flight to Russia. I do not condone any of the actions of these adoptive parents. How could I? But I do wish there would be more education prior to the adoption and support services and resources after the fact.

Individuals wishing to adopt internationally should proceed on the premise that any child they adopt will be special needs. Prepare yourself: read, talk with other parents, join mailing lists, and do your research.

If your child arrives home unscathed, then you are one of the lucky ones and you’ll never have to look back. But if your child has developmental delays or more, your preparation and jump start will be a blessing. It is important to know what the future may hold—the impact on your family, the impact on your finances, the impact on your marriage, and the impact on you.

Adopting internationally is not for everyone, but it is for some. For those of you who educate yourselves and decide to continue with an adoption, your lives will be enriched in more ways than I can describe. You will increase your compassion for others and admire your child’s accomplishments, no matter how small. You will learn to appreciate what is truly important in life and you will never judge others like perhaps you did before. And you will love a little being like you never thought possible, until you become a parent.

Below are a few support services and agencies for parents who adopt internationally. This is by no means comprehensive, but it is a start.

Adoption Doctors

Dr. James Reilly
Dr. George Rogu
Dr. Nicholas Rogu
(631) 499-4114
Adoption Medicine Program and Clinic
University of Minnesota
Dr. Dana Johnson
(612) 624-1164
Association for Research in International Adoption
Dr. Teena McGuinness
(205) 934-0630
Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment & Remediation
Dr. Boris Gindis
Dr. Ronald S.Federici, Psy.D. & Associates
(703) 830-6052
Eastern European Adoption Coalition (EEAC)
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption
Orphan Doctor
Dr. Jane Aronson
(212) 207-6666
Post Adoption Information
November is Adoption Awareness Month. There are many children waiting to be adopted and there are many parents wanting and waiting to adopt. What do you think is the biggest obstacle that must be overcomed for successful adoptions to take place?

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