In 2005, over Labor Day weekend, we made the four-day journey to Astrakhan Russia to meet our child. We drove to Chicago on Thursday night, and flew out Friday morning. Our twelve hour flight spanned nine time zones, so sometime late Saturday, we arrived in Moscow. We met the other American couple (the Ribeiros) who were also adopting with our agency and had dinner with them in our fabulous luxury hotel. On Sunday, we, the Ribeiros, and a plane full of burly suitcase-wrapping, gun-carrying, vodka-drinking hunters, flew to Astrakhan, Russia. You must understand that they carried both the guns and the liquor on to the plane! Per our translator, Astrakhan is known for its hunting and fishing. It is on the Volga River Delta that opens to the Caspian Sea. We landed in what looked like a war-torn, third world country. It looked like Fantasy Island without the Fantasy. I remember about 12 ferrel kittens running all around the open-air waiting area of the old, dirty airport. Shell-shocked doesn't quite describe how I was feeling. The stress of our impending referral was weighing heavily on me.
Our family video from Monday morning before we met our child is hilarious! I had just fallen out of the phone-booth sized shower and twisted my ankle. I was a nervous wreck. Our week in Astrakhan was truly a roller coaster of emotions. We had to visit six or seven different Russian physicians to prove we were healthy enough to adopt, and we were in a very remote region where English was rarely spoken. Above all, I had to answer the deepest fear in my heart: Could I love a child that someone else gave birth to just like I would love a child I had given birth to?
I never really believed in love at first sight until I saw this picture. This is Alex's referral picture. We saw it for the first time on September 5, 2005. They told us his name, how old he was, and then asked if we wanted to adopt him.
We then travelled to the orphanage to meet our child. The staff brought in a little boy, but they didn't say whose baby he was. I remember feeling so guilty that I couldn't even recognize my own child, who was now a year old from his infant photo. The first baby was for the Ribeiros, so we waited some more. Those few minutes seemed like years. Finally, they brought me a smiling baby boy. We each held him for a few minutes and then he began to softly cry. As Charlie quickly quit video-taping this precious memory, translators and social workers flocked to my side to help comfort this sweet boy.
We got to visit Alex every day and get to know him more, and we ran errands necessary to completing our adoption. One day, our translator had Driver drop us off at Sans Pizza. They served American style pizza with or without fried eggs. For dessert, we had the best cappuccinos. Later that week, I met a super sweet girl at the film store in the mall. I practiced the question over and over and then put away my dictionary. I asked the question correctly, "When will the film be ready?" I just didn't study what her possible answers would be. When she answered me, I had no idea what she said. I also met another nice girl at a kiosk in the middle of the mall. She was studying English, and I was studying Russian. We talked a bit, and she gave me a pencil. At the end of the week, we had a wonderful tour of the city's Kremlin followed by dinner at a trendy coffee house. I ordered blini (thin pancakes) with cream and berries, and it was delicious! Best yet, we had a very real chance to be parents, pending our court date in October.
Leaving Alex for six weeks while we waited for court was difficult, but it was part of the process, so it was accepted. During that time, his birth mother would be asked to again resend her rights as his parent. She could change her mind, but it would be very difficult for her to regain custody of him and highly unlikely that she would pursue that option. We left Russia exhausted and emotionally drained, eager to return as soon as possible. The Ribeiros were no longer strangers but friends for life, and for the first time in many years, we had the hope of becoming parents.