1/ How many times did you adopt and when?
Twice, we adopted our daughter, Victoria in January 2002 and our son, Jacob in June 2002.
2/ Did you use an agency and which one?
We used Genesis Adoptions
3/ Were you happy with Genesis?
Yes! To date we have referred 4 people to them who are our friends or family and they have completed or are in various stages of the adoption process. If we didn't have a good experience with Genesis we wouldn't have referred our friends and family to them.
4/ How about the people Genesis uses in Russia?
They use Amrex in Russia. Amrex is a large adoption facilitation company in Russia, all the people we came in contact with from Amrex were professional, well connected, knew what they were doing, knew how to get things done and were so very helpful. In fact if not for the actions of the Amrex facilitator in Vladivostok, our adoption of Victoria would have fallen through while we were in country.
5/ Do you have to use an agency in the state you live in?
No, most of your contact is by email, phone, fax and FedEx anyway. Although you will have to have a social worker licensed in the state you live in do your home study. If you feel more comfortable “face to face” then use an agency close to you but it is not necessary.
6/ How did you choose your agency?
We came across the Genesis Adoptions website. While looking through the photos of children they placed we noticed Joann Vittitow had adopted numerous children thru Genesis. We spoke with Joanne and at that time the Vittitow's used Genesis Adoptions to adopt their last 4 children and highly recommended them. We figured if someone kept going back to the same agency time after time it had to be a good agency!
7/ How about adopting independently?
Are you fluent in Russian and familiar with Russian and US adoption procedures and laws? If so you would be able to do a total independent adoption. If not you may need to hire the services of an independent facilitator in Russia. In the beginning of the process we were unaware of all the many intricacies and procedures involved. We adopted twice and have become much more familiar with the process could probably pull off an independent adoption but we would still go through an agency if we adopt again. Although you would save some money with an independent adoption I would not recommend it for the faint of heart.
8/ Why adopt internationally, why not domestic and why Russia?
We felt we did not want to go through the domestic adoption process in the US. Specifically we did not want to wait many years for a young child. We did not want to have to sell ourselves to a birthmother or compete with other pre-adoptive parents for a child. We did not want a birth mother to change her mind and not complete the adoption. We did not want the birth mother or any other birth relative to come back later in our child's life in any attempt to gain custody. We felt open domestic adoption was not right for us. Wayne's ancestors are from Eastern Europe. Lastly, we felt that adopting a Caucasian child would be the best option for us.
9/ Why didn't you have bio children?
We tried in earnest for 2+ years and underwent 4 IVF cycles all of which failed. God was saying I know where your children are, let me show you the way.
10/ What was your homestudy like?
We had to fill out a long questionnaire about ourselves. Our social worker visited us at our home and spoke to us individually and together. The areas covered on the homestudy were: The Adoptive Family, Health, Marriage, References/Collateral Contacts, Financial Status, Motivation for Adoption, Children Desired, Philosophy of Behavior Management and Care, Guardianship, Affirmation and Background Checks, Attitudes of Extended Family, Adoptive Parents Biographies, Living Conditions of the Family, Expectations of Children and Recommendation. Note: Policies and procedures vary from state to state and agency to agency. Don't stress over the home study just relax and be yourself.
11/ How long did you wait for a referral? How long did the whole process take?
We sent off our I-600 INS form on August 3rd 2001. On August 24th we sent off the applications for our homestudy and for our agency, Genesis Adoptions. We went for our INS fingerprinting on August 28th. and also went to the post office to apply for our passports. By September 25th, we were meeting with our social worker. On October 8th, we accepted the referral of our daughter, Victoria. By October 17th we had our INS approval and all of our documents were notarized and apostilled on October 22nd. On November 16th we received a referral for our son, Jacob. We traveled to Russia in January 2002 to complete the adoption of Victoria. Due to numerous unforeseen delays we were unable to travel until June 2002 to complete our adoption of Jacob.
12/ Did you have a doctor review the children's information? Which doctor did you use?
Yes, we used Dr. Dana Johnson
13/ Did you request the sex and age of the child you were adopting?
We initially requested only a referral of a boy under 1 year old. Our first referral and video was of a 15 month old boy. Our case manager Susan Secor, also put on that tape and referred to us a quite, serious little 2 ½ year old girl. Susan said she knew we weren't looking for a girl and she was a bit older but felt we just had to see this little girl. We declined the referral of the boy and fell in love with the girl, Victoria who would soon become our daughter. We weren't looking for a girl and weren't looking for a child 2 ½ years old. Funny how God's miracles work! Not long after that we were referred a 6 month old boy who would soon become our son, Jacob. Susan is now the director at One World Adoption Services.
14/ Did you choose the region where your children were?
No we didn't and actually didn't even think of doing that. Our agency works in many regions in the country. We told Genesis what we were seeking in a referral and they found our children for us.
15/ Did you have to travel to Russia?
Yes we had to travel to Russia. Both of our adoptions were under a “1 trip system” where we flew to Russia, met our child, had court and came home with our child. Most regions, but not all, in Russia now are under a “2 trip system” where you fly to the country to meet your child, then return home to the US. Once a court date is set up, anywhere from weeks to months later, you return to have court and come home with your child.
16/ Was it scary and how was the travel there?
It was not scary, we felt safe both times we traveled. There is always apprehension of the unknown and the language barrier was a factor but we had 2 very good journeys to Russia, although it is a very long trip. While in Russia the Amrex people took superb care of us.
17/ Where did you stay when you were in Russia? How were the hotels and food?
We stayed at the Marriot Grand and the Marriot Renaissance hotels in Moscow. We stayed at the Vlad Motor Inn in Vladivostok. All 3 hotels were very nice. We found tasty “American” food at all the restaurants. In addition we ate at TGI Fridays, McDonalds and Sharro Pizza (were we in Russia? : )
18/ What airline did you fly?
We flew Lufthansa to and from Russia and Domodedovo within Russia on Victoria's adoption. We flew Aeroflot and Air France on Jacob's adoption. All airline flights, planes and crews were very good.
19/ Did you get immunizations before you traveled?
Yes we got a full set of immunizations, we thought the inconvenience and cost was worth the extra insurance the immunizations gave us.
20/ Can you drink the water?
NO! It is recommended to not drink the water, it can make you sick. Use bottled water it is readily available. We really saw it when we gave Victoria a bath and the water in the tub was a nice rusty yellow color!
21/ What did you wear?
The advice is to wear dark colors, the advice is correct. The vast majority of the people we saw dressed in dark colors. We thought it would make us stick out just a little bit less if we dressed as the majority did. Also to cut down of the weight of your luggage take clothes you can mix and match and take advantage of the hotel laundry. Be sure to dress in layers in the cold weather. It's cold outside but inside the buildings is always kept hot. It's helpful to be able to shed layers when going inside so you don't sweat to death.
22/ Did you learn how to speak Russian?
We learned some Russian before we traveled. The majority of it came through Theresa Kelleher's “Adopting from Russia” book and CD. This book/CD is geared toward phrases you can speak to your child. We HIGHLY recommend this especially if the child you are adopting is old enough to speak. It is so helpful to be able to communicate with your child in their language even if it's just a little bit. The book/CD also has phrases to use when dealing with adults also which came in very handy and was appreciated by the people we met. Another excellent and similar CD is Bobbie Steve's “Russian for Adoptive Parents”.
23/ What was the orphanage like?
Both the orphanages we visited were in very old buildings although both were very clean and neat inside. All the furniture, toys, strollers, clothes, beds, etc., were well used but that would be expected with such a volume of children coming and going. Both orphanages had outside playgrounds that were well worn and in need of repair.
24/ Tell me about court in Russia
a/ What did you wear?
Wayne - suit, Nancy - long wool skirt, sweater set, boots.
Dress well, just as if you were going to an important court hearing in the US. I would recommend being well dressed for court. It shows your respect, gives a good first impression and is one of the most important days in your life.
b/ Who was there?
Us, our translator, the judge, the prosecutor (for the child), court clerk and social worker. In Vladivostok a doctor who had seen our child and testified as to her medical condition. In Moscow the director of the orphanage was in court. All parties except for Wayne were female.
c/ What questions did they ask?
Our Amrex facilitators and translators prepped us quite well before court as to what was going to happen, what was going to be asked, a few things to say and a few not to say.
In court the judge checks your passports.
You must stand while answering questions.
General questions first verifying info on home study, who we were, where we lived, verified salary, etc.
Then the judge started asking questions:
Have you seen your child?
How many times?
What does he/she look like?
How your child acted with you, does he/she like you?
What is your child's personality like?
Do you want to adopt this child?
Do you want to change your mind?
Are you aware of your child's medical condition?
Who will take care of your child/children? (the judges don't seem to like if you say you are going to put your child in day care - they believe family should take care of children.
Do you have a supportive family?
Is your house safe?
Do you have a room for your child?
How are you going to communicate with our child?
Were we going to keep up with our Russian?
Do you have any children?
Why do you want to adopt?
Do you know of anyone in your town that has adopted from Russia?
What does your family think about you adopting from Russia?
What do you think of the Russian people?
What are you going to name your child?
d/ Who did they ask, husband or wife?
Mostly speak to husband who goes first, and not as many questions to wife.
e/ How did you deal with questions like "Why Russia"?
My response was my ancestors are from Eastern Europe and from what we have seen of the orphanages the children are well taken care of.
f/ How long was your court proceeding?
About 30-40 minutes. Then the judge then took 5-10 minutes to consider the case and make her decision.
g/ Did you get to pick up your children right away?
In Vlad the 10 days was waived, if court was earlier in the day and the orphanage closer to the city we could have that day. Unfortunately, with Victoria our court was on Friday but we couldn't pick her up until Monday, the baby home wouldn't let her go because she was just getting over Chicken Pox. With Jacob the 10 day waiting period was not waived and he remained in the orphanage during that time, after the 10 days we could pick him up.
25/ Did your children speak Russian?
At 2 ½ Victoria spoke some Russian as her speech was developing at this point. Jacob was only 1 and not speaking quite yet : )
26/ How quickly did your children learn English?
Victoria at 2 ½ years old learned English incredibly fast. We swore she could understand what we were saying almost immediately. We were convinced of this a few weeks after we returned home. The best we could we spoke to her in both Russian and English. In a few months she was using English words. In a few more months she could communicate quite well. In 1 year she was caught up to or even more advanced in her language her peers. Jacob started off speaking English, he was only 1 year old at the time of adoption.
27/ Did you change your children's names, why, to what?
Yes and no. We could never decide on a girl's name in all our discussions about having children. Victoria was referred to us and we both liked the name very much and decided our daughter would be named Victoria. Her middle name was changed to Ruth in honor of Nancy's grandmother. Shortly after we were married we decided if we ever had a son his name would be Jacob Wayne, named after Wayne and his father Jacob.
28/ How much did it cost?
This is a personal item we are not going to list here. A typical adoption from Russia generally ranges from $20,000 to $35.000 (note: some may be outside of this “average range”). The costs vary due to various factors such as number and ages of children adopted, which region you traveling to, which agency you use, etc. If you are adopting we will be happy to discuss the matter further and provide more detail, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
29/ How do you afford to adopt?
Here's a helpful site: Available Resources to Help Defray or Cover the Cost of Adoption. Much of the info is for domestic, but a lot would apply to international also. Also the $10,000 tax credit per child may play a large factor for those in a tax situation to be able to take full advantage of it. Also there are usually reductions in fees from most agencies for older, waiting and special needs children
30/ What is the most important advice to give us?
Agency, agency, agency! Get a good agency that is going to work for you to bring home your child. We have been involved in Russian adoptions since 2001, have adopted twice and helped friends and family in their Russian adoptions. We talk to many people about adoption, read a lot about it and are active on many adoption groups and met adoptive parents. We are thoroughly convinced a good agency is the key to a good adoption from the professionalism of the US agency to the abilities of the agency's people in Russia. We have learned a lot over the years and would rank agency selection as being one of the most important steps in a successful adoption adventure.
30/ What is your second most important piece of advice?
Loosey, goosey, go with the flow! The Russian adoption process is a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs. And just like a roller coaster you are not in control of the ride. There is a lot of paperwork, procedures and people you must deal with and the process seems insurmountable at times. Don't expect the New York minute, Fed-Ex, rush-rush pace of what you have come to expect of dealing with people in the US, Russia doesn't work that way. The Russian government is not like the US government and works very differently, very slowly, there are many holidays and vacations, the laws change quite frequently and the laws are subject to different interpretation in the different regions of Russia. It's enough to drive you crazy at times. So loosey, goosey, go with the flow. Relax, enjoy the ride, you are in for the journey of a lifetime and you have God's greatest gift, your child waiting for you at the end of it.