Timeline of Adoption Trip
Dana's home page
|Mon, Nov 29
First heard about Dana
|Tue, Nov 30||Wed, Dec 1
Consulted with doctors about Dana's records and video
|Thu, Dec 2||Fri, Dec 3
Accepted Dana's referral
|Sat, Dec 4
Bought plane tickets
|Sun, Dec 5
Bought entire household of baby stuff
|Mon, Dec 6
|Tue, Dec 7
|Wed, Dec 8
|Thu, Dec 9
Classes - worked until 6pm. Left for airport at 6:30pm
|Fri, Dec 10
Arrived in Moscow at midnight
|Sat, Dec 11
Waited for 4 other adopting couples, then flew to Omsk, Russia at midnight
|Sun, Dec 12|
|Mon, Dec 13
Officially adopted Dana in local court
|Tue, Dec 14
Waited for paperwork in Petropavlovsk - birth and adoption certificate
|Wed, Dec 15
Picked up Dana and flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Got Dana's passport and visited US Embassy
|Thu, Dec 16
Flew to Moscow - the plane wasn't pretty. Visited doctor (Dana wasn't a happy camper!)
|Fri, Dec 17
Visited US Embassy to get Dana's visa
|Sat, Dec 18
Acted like tourists - visited Red Square, and took Dana to her first mall!
|Sun, Dec 19
Flew home on the last of our frequent flier miles (Business Class was wonderful!)
We have been looking forward to having children since the day we got married - so when we finally decided to adopt a child in July, we were very excited, and were looking forward to the entire process. And a process there was. We spent several months filling out forms, visiting governmental offices, a social worker, having the fire department examine our house, etc. Of course, with all the paperwork we do at the University, it wasn't really that bad :) Then, in early November we were done with the paperwork and just had to wait for a "referral" - when the adoption agency we used (World Child, Inc.) told us about a specific baby that we could choose to accept. The flurry of activity started on Nov 29th when we were told about little Dana - and our lives haven't been the same since.
We were given a photo of Dana, a 2 minute video tape, and a very brief summary of her medical history. Despite the minimal information, we knew almost immediately that we would accept Dana's referral. She looked at us on the video and smiled and laughed and melted our hearts. And to top it off, the medical information described Dana as being "affectionate" - a description that has proved itself over ten-fold. But we spent a few days learning every thing we could about Dana and talked to a doctor specializing in adoptions from Russia and Kazakhstan and were happy that we didn't find any surprises. So, on Friday we accepted the referral and committed ourselves to the journey to come. We were told to make sure that we got ourselves to Moscow by the following Saturday.
We spent the weekend preparing as well as we could. Fortunately, we knew this would likely happen fast, so we had previously bought a crib, stroller, car seat, and other generic bulky baby stuff. But, without knowing who the actual baby was, we couldn't buy the more personal things. But now we knew that Dana was a she, and how big she was, so we stormed Babies 'R Us, trying to guess what we might need while travelling and immediately upon our return. We bought a suitcase full of clothes, toys, books, medicines, etc. We also bought a suitcase full of gifts for the orphanage - and other people along the way. Finally, we cashed in the Delta frequent flier miles that we had been saving for a rainy day, and just had enough to fly roundtrip from Washington to Moscow business class - a luxury we greatly appreciated.
We had an incredibly busy last week at work before we left. It was the last week of classes - very luckily for us - and we finished them up. In the middle of preparing to disappear for some time, we had to finish a bunch of paperwork, including getting visas for Russia and Kazakhstan, and deciding how we were going to carry the $10,000 cash that we were obligated to carry with us to Kazakhstan. But, we finished up everything by the skin of our teeth. We worked all day on Thursday, and rushed home to find our contractor still working on our bathroom and the taxi waiting for us. We ran through the house gathering our things hoping against hope that we weren't forgetting anything crucial - and before we knew it, we were in the taxi being whisked off to the airport. The journey had begun.
We had a smooth flight to Moscow with a stop in Zurich. We even managed to sleep in the plane a little, but we were so excited that we didn't sleep much. We were happy that we had 24 hours in Moscow to relax. It turns out that extra bit of down time really helped as the following days were very busy and sleepless. Four other couples (actually, one was a single mom-to-be with a friend) were arriving in Moscow, and we all were going to adopt children from the same orphanage together. Three of the couples were American, and one was from Ireland. This turned out to be wonderful as everyone was very nice, and going as a group helped to reduce stress as we would all talk over all the thoughts and questions that were overrunning our tired brains.
On Saturday night, we all flew a local Aeroflot plane to Omsk, Russia. Omsk is about 3 hours almost due East of Moscow. We lucked out with the plane. Apparently, Aeroflot recently purchased a few new Boeing jets, and we were on one of them. Clean, quiet, and roomy - nothing like some other Aeroflot flights we have been on... We arrived in Omsk about 3am and were met by Nellie, our translator and two vans with drivers.
We loaded our (voluminous) baggage and ourselves into the vans and started on a 6 hour drive through the edge of the frozen Siberian steppe.
We took a few pictures out the window as we driving. They didn't come out very well, but actually, they capture pretty well the feeling of the drive. During the entire drive, we passed nothing except for trees and dormant wheat fields.
Finally, we came to the border of Kazakhstan and waited at customs for a while as they checked our passports. Did they have computers to check up on us with? Someone else in our van took some video while a third person took a picture with a flash. Bad idea. Two big guys immediately came up to us and asked us to show them our cameras. Since I took mine without a flash, I decided that didn't count so I just kept it in my pocket. They were satisfied with making the video camera owner record some blank stuff over the section of tape with the customs area. This turned out to be the first of several places that we weren't allowed to take pictures. It included all customs areas, all airports, all municipal buildings, and the U.S. embassies.
Finally, around 10am Sunday morning, we arrived in Petropavlovsk. The combination of nearly 48 hours of travelling, complete exhaustion (sleep on the van was hopeless with the extremely bumpy roads), and the anticipation of meeting our new daughter added up to the weirdest kind of intense alertness. We were all staring bug-eyed out the windows at this city - the birth home of our children. What was it like? Where had these little creatures spent the first year of their lives?
Petropavlovsk is a city of about 250,000 people on the northern border of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is huge, about 1 million square miles - and it cuts the belly out of Russia. Surprisingly enough, Petropavlovsk is just about the same latitute as Moscow - due East across the Ural mountains. We heard that the main industry here used to be two military factories. But, one is closed down, and the other was converted to industrial production. The father of one of our translators works there, and she said that he hadn't been paid in a year - so I'm afraid the economy here isn't doing very well. Probably, that's one of the reasons that they opened up to international adoptions - Kazakhstan has been closed to international adoptions for several years until early 1999. Note the area with melted snow - it seems that all of Petropavlovsk is heated by centralized steam.
Most of the buildings here were built in the Soviet era, and not too surprisingly, we saw lots of large apartment buildings, but no small buildings, and definitely no private houses.
Finally, the moment we were waiting for. We drove through several twisty back alleys, and slowed down in front of this building. After what seemed an unimaginably long trip, we stopped. We were here - the orphanage where Dana, and the other children being adopted lived. The suddenness with which we switched from travelling to being outside to walking up the steps and into the building was heart-pounding. We were all holding our breath, peering down the halls, hoping for a glimpse of a little baby. The ten of us, plus two translators were ushered into a little room to meet Dr. Reema - the doctor and director of the orphanage. She gave us all hugs and kisses, and were told to sit. No minutes in our lives had been longer. The room was silent. Allison and I held each others hands and waited - all muscles taut.
And then Dr. Reema started talking in Russian to our translator. For a minute, then two. Finally, the translator started speaking to us. She said that three of the children would be brought down to us, but two of them were in the hospital! We all looked at each other, mouths open. She called out the names of the babies that were in the orphanage - Alina... Vickie's baby... and then Dana. Allison and I let out our breath - but we looked helplessly at the parents of the two other babies. Then, the translator promised us that the other children were fine. One just had the flu, and one was just there for preventive care. But, how to interpret that? The parents of those two children were put back in the van and taken to the hospital. Oh, we didn't envy them. Fortunately, we later found out that their children were indeed fine - that they were just as described.
And then it happened. Three caretakers brought in the three babies. And there was little Dana - just as we had seen her in the photograph and video 13 days earlier. Tears streaming down her cheeks, Allison was handed Dana. And Dana smiled and laughed. And Allison handed Dana to me, and she continued to smile. Weight was falling off our shoulders as the tension dissolved, and we realized that this really was going to work out. And this little beautiful baby was going to be ours. And the months of paperwork and days of travelling melted away with Dana's first precious toothless smile.
Allison had brought a simple little puppet toy that Dana loved.
We spent about an hour with her. Exploring each other...
And starting the beginning of what by now has already become the beginnings of a deep love.
Later that day and the during the next two days, we spent more time at the orphanage and with Dana. We were given a tour of the entire orphanage and realized that Dana was cared for in a surprisingly nice place.
While there wasn't much money, there was love. There were murals on the walls.
There were about 90 children living in the orphanage altogether, aged 0 to 3. They were split up into about 9 groups of 10 children. Each group with children about the same age. Each group of children had a sleep area with cribs or beds, a play area, like the one shown here, and a small eating area.
This is the day room that Dana played in. There are two large closed in areas for the children to play in. The children were sleeping now, which is why it is empty.
This is Dana in her crib, pleased to have a visitor, as usual.
The next morning, we went to court to officially adopt Dana. We went to the city municipal court house, and one of the judges had reserved the whole morning for the five adoptions. Each session (which was closed) took about a half hour or so. The rest of us waited together, showing pictures from home, and trying to distract ourselves. We tried to take pictures, but were told not to. Finally, Allison and I were called in, and we went into the judge's chambers. The judge sat behind his desk, and we were ushered to the side of a long table. Our translator was there along with a secretary and a "prosecutor". I never really did under the prosecutor's role since she seemed to be more on our side than opposing us. We were asked several questions about where we were from, why we wanted to adopt, how we would support her, etc. I was asked financial questions, and Allison was asked how her colleagues accepted the idea of her working and taking care of children. Then, Dr. Reema came in and gave a statement about how the child needed medical care that couldn't properly be given at the orphanage (although there is nothing at all wrong with Dana). Finally, the agency coordinator gave a statement about the suitability of Allison and me for taking care of Dana. We then were taken out of the room, and not even five minuts passed before were called back in, and the judge told us that he approved the adoption, and that we were now officially the parents of Dana!
We kept Dana's name, although we changed the pronounciation a bit. The people at the orphanage prounced it Dana with a soft 'a' - it sounded similar to the way we pronounce 'Donna'. We changed it to a hard 'a' so it rhymes with 'plane-a'.
Later, we went back to the orphanage where we again met with Dr. Reema, the orphanage director.
Allison signs her book, declaring that we are taking custody of Dana.
And, then I signed the book.
Then, we all had a big celebratory lunch in the orphanage.
We still had one more day in Petropavlovsk without Dana. We had to wait while all the paperwork was finished, and many copies were made and signed. Also, we were given birth and adoption certificates for Dana. So, we spent the next day, Tuesday, waiting. We spent several hours at the orphanage playing with Dana, and then in the afternoon we went shopping and wondering around the city. One of my favorite things here were these "snow towns" built of ice blocks to celebrate the new year. Here, I am holding an ice block, thousands of which were used to create arches, walls, and decorations throughout the city. People will gather here for the new year's celebration. And, there is no risk of it melting. It was about 15 degrees farenheit when we were there, and we were told that we were extremely lucky it was so warm. It will be well below 0 before long.
We spent some time resting in our hotel room. We were pleased to find that we had lots of hot water, and so this sit down shower was heaven.
Finally, early Wednesday morning, we all picked up the babies and got ready to fly to Almaty, the ex-capital of Kazakhstan where the U.S. embassy is located. Here, Allison is holding the wrapped up package which is Dana along with Nellie, our translator. Everyone in Petropavlovsk has a fur hat. Our flight to Almaty was delayed several hours because of fog, and we actually had to go back to the orphanage with the babies - but then, the flight was on again, and we went back to the airport, and before long, we were off. And for the first time, we were responsible for Dana. What a responsibility. One second, we were playing with a baby in someone else's care, then snap. In one second, the baby is ours. Now, we have to keep her warm enough, and find enough food, etc.
It turns out that food was somewhat of a problem. Our adoption agency, while excellent in nearly all other respects, gave us the bad advice of not bringing any food. The idea was that we would just buy whatever food she was eating here so we wouldn't change her diet while we were travelling. Well, Dana is eating entirely solid foods - and so she eats whatever the orphanage has. And we had nothing. So, the night before we left, I frantically searched for food. Our translator and guides were strangely nonchalent about food, and were of no help. I was able to find some bananas and fruit juice, but that's about it. For the rest of the trip, we were stuck taking whatever food we were eating and trying to smoosh it between our fingers and feeding it to her. Finding snacks for inbetween our meals was extremely difficult. Fortunately, one of our co-travelling parents, Brad and Michelle, had brought a little extra food and gave us some. That helped tide us over when were absolutely out of other food.
We flew on a very small plane from Petropavlosk to Almaty. You can see from the round window that it is a very old plane. They made windows round when the planes were still being modelled on sailing ships!
We arrived in Almaty, and are leaving the airport. This is me with Dana, and Michelle with Alina.
We arrived in Almaty and rushed to the U.S. embassy there. While we only had to fill out a simple form there to bring to the embassy in Moscow - it was crucial. We arrived an hour before they closed on Wednesday. Fortunately, nobody told us until afterwards that had the plane been delayed just one hour more - we would have been stuck in Almaty for 4 days. The embassy was closed Thursday and Friday for a holiday, and wouldn't reopen until Monday. We narrowly avoided a four day delay. While this wouldn't have been so terrible as Almaty seemed like a very nice city, we were quite nervous because the U.S. embassy in Moscow was shutting down on Dec. 24th for a whole month, and sending all their employees home to avoid any potential Y2K trouble. We only had 4 days to spare, and losing 2 of them would only leave us 2 extra days in Moscow. If we missed that deadline, we would have to spend a month in Moscow because we didn't have a visa for Dana, and she wouldn't be able to travel anywhere with a Kazakhstan passport.
But, everything worked out. We spent our first time alone with Dana in the hotel room pictured above. It was truly a wonderful moment. Dana happily played with the toys we had brought. We both breathed relaxed sighs of relief. Although when it came to sleep, it was a little difficult. We all tried to sleep in one bed, and Dana wasn't interested in that. So, eventually I got her to sleep on a couch, and I slept on the floor next to the couch so if she fell out, she'd land on me instead of the floor! Needless to say, this led to one of many nights during this trip without much sleep. Actually, I don't think we slept well any night during the trip.
Of the 9 plane trips we took for this trip, the flight from Almata back to Moscow was surely the most interesting. We flew on the local Kazakhstan airlines. But the interesting part was the night before. The plane was full and so we were obligated to buy business class tickets (which actually, we were quite happy about). We had paid, and had the tickets in hand. Then, late that night, the coordinator knocked on our door and explained that we must pay 50% more. We didn't understand why, but we paid. Later, we met another American who had been at the airport and explained what happened. Another flight was cancelled and so many more people wanted to get on this flight. The airline spent several hours deciding what to do, and then finally, they decided that since more people wanted to fly, they would just raise the rates. If we wanted to keep our tickets, we had to pay 50% extra! And not only that, we were demoted to economy class. We were promised an extra seat for the baby to make up for losing business class. But when we boarded the plane, not only were there not extra seats, there were barely enough seats! All the seat assignments were wrong, and we spent a very stressful 30 minutes or so trying to get all the parents seated next to each other. And, the plane was delayed 3 hours as well. So, we had a very tight, hot, and smelly four and half hour flight to Moscow, but eventually, we made it.
When we first got to Moscow, we went to a Russian doctor to get Dana officially checked out. This was required to by the U.S. embassy where we were headed the next moring.
Finally, we got to our hotel and boy, were we pooped! But, this time, the hotel got us a crib, and Dana loved it. The room was boiling. We all took off our clothes and were still sweating. But Dana didn't seem to mind - actually, her orphanage was quite hot, and I think she likes it that way - although Allison and I could barely breathe!
The next morning, we went to the U.S. embassy and it was baby central. There were at least 30 adoptive parents and their new children waiting to get visas. But, walking into that embassy turned us all patriotic. It was clean, and the people were friendly and treated us well. It felt good to feel close to home. We had all of our prodigious quantities of paperwork in order, and had no problems. In fact, our interview with the embassy official only took about 45 seconds. The visa for Dana would be ready later that day, and that was it - we were free to go home! So, we ran to the airline office and changed our ticket. We weren't able to get a flight on Saturday, the next day, but managed to get one on Sunday.
And, so during our rest day on Saturday, we wondered around Moscow a bit. We visited Red Square with Dana bundled up - it was cold! This is Red Square.
And, we took her to her first mall - Allison was quite excited about this. Naturally, I was resistant to start exposure to shopping so young...
We found a nice little cafe in the mall, and we had our first meal in a restaurant with Dana. She was very good about it. She loves eating, and doesn't seem to care where she eats - as long as she eats. Did I mention that she likes to eat?
And, then, one more night, and we off to home. Here we are on a beautiful, clean, and spacious Swiss Air flight home. Ben and Dana conk out. Dana takes the flights very well. Dad was a bit cranky. There was some extra leg room (that's why we wanted Business class), so we put some bags by the aisle, and Dana had a very nice playpen on the floor where she spent hours playing with her toys. Then, when she got bored, we brought her down the aisles to visit other people. She smiles at everyone, and we made lots of friends.
When we arrived at JFK in the U.S., Ben's parents met us at the airport - and Dana was able to meet some of her grandparents for the first time for an hour. It was wonderful. Eight flights down and one to go.
At the end of the odyssey, we found that Allison's sister, Erica, had come to house in Maryland and decorated it for our return. I would have given her a big hug if she was there - that made for such a warm way to finally return home.
And Dana slept well in her new crib at home - although for the first week, she was on Kazakhstan time, 11 hours different - so she was sleeping during the day and awake at night. But, at the end of the first week, she has mostly shifted to local time.
Allison teaches her how to dance. She loves it! Actually, Dana loves everything. We can see that she is just blossoming - a sponge soaking up everything around her. She studies everything, and accepts such dramatic and traumatic changes with such poise, that I cry just to think about how much her life has changed - and how happily she accepts it, and us.
We have been home just nearly a week now, and only met Dana two weeks ago - but already we feel that she was meant for us. And already, I can barely remember life without her.
(A note on the photographs: they were taken on a regular small 35mm automatic camera and digitized with Kodak's "Picture Disk" service at the time of processing.)
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All text and photos Copyright (c) 1999 Benjamin B. Bederson