What is being done for someone who has had “his soul ripped out”? Yes, I heard the drama of this question as I listened to the radio on my morning commute. Yet it was the possibility of a psychological truth that held my attention. It has become the question which guides this blog as I join the search to understand adoptees who have spent some part of their early years in an orphanage – and what this start to a life brings to the struggle of the adopted person and his or her parents, both biological and adoptive. The blog will begin by establishing a baseline: seeking information about life in a Russian orphanage in the 90s, the adoption process of that decade, the early years with our child, the difficult teen years, and the current distance. And once some of the markers of these years surface, hopefully guidance will begin to come to light.
Before the search officially begins, I offer my story.
One summer afternoon when I might have been seven or eight, I watched an afternoon TV movie. A woman who apparently knows she is dying goes to an orphanage and adopts a girl of five or six. They become very close. And yes, then she dies. The husband draws into himself in his grief and so the little girl feeling shut out runs off to sit on a big rock on the seashore to cry out her loneliness to the ghost of her mother. Of course, the father comes to his senses in time to recognize that his wife knew she was dying. She had planned to replace his loneliness with a child. The movie comes to a crescendo as he rushes out to rescue the child before the tide comes in to wash her away.
With even deeper impact, in my teens, I dreamt one night that I had been given a child, a little boy with blond hair. For some reason I spent most of the dream struggling to get around a rock slide with this little boy in tow but the impression I was left with was that, though there was some kind of struggle, this boy was for me. My memory holds that I had this dream more than once or at least with enough impact that with it and the afternoon movie, I always seemed to have planned to adopt. Creating a child from the eggs within me never compelled me in the same way. Adoption had become my romantic ideal.
Samuel T. Coleridge wrote of it in this way:
And what if you slept? And what if in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awake, you had a flower in your hand? Ah, what then?
Yes, “Ah, what then?”
In my twenties and thirties I entertained half formed thoughts of adopting children I was asked to help with, but not until I was in my forties could I begin to act on what seemed to me to be simply what I must do, rather than a romantic notion. I secured sufficient financial independence and I accepted a date with a good man, Gordie. Together, over two years, we completed the requisite orientation and exploration of adoption options. Check, Check and Check. As all who have adopted internationally know, the flurry of the final weeks make up for the dragging months of the years leading up to the adoption. After rushing about getting medicals, references, finances and a wardrobe for a child of indeterminate size, we flew to Russia, drove to a large provincial town, and were introduced to our little, blond, four year old son. It still strikes me as noteworthy that at the end of the day we met our new son, we slept in a lovely old hotel in single beds – no sex required for the making of this family. The next day we stood before a very young judge who appeared charmed by our shy happiness, drove around town to remove this child from the Russian record system and then picked him up at the orphanage. In less than 24 hours of meeting him, and only having been told that he seemed to love music, he was our child. It never occurred to us at that time to think that amazing. We assumed that we likely knew as much as any set of parents holding their just born biological child. Besides which, as international adoptions only took off in the ‘90s, little easily accessible literature was available other than memoirs offering the theme “God has given us the forever child we were destined for”. These were usually written about the pre-adoption period and the first two years post- adoption, a kind of honeymoon period. Any memoir we might have wanted to write at the time would have produced that same story line.
Only once in that period was our bliss punctured for a moment. An American couple called and tried to engage us in a conversation about why their child seemed so easily disruptive. We looked at each other blankly and tossed the problem off, assuming the parents lacked parenting skills.
Andrei was beautiful, sweet and cuddly. We cocooned with him in the nuclear family dream. But this blog would not have been created if that nice and normal dream had not taken a turn toward the need to understand why adoption creates a special kind of family drama. Andrei began to challenge our ideas of the best choices for his life soon after he turned 14. We chased him down a rabbit hole for several years but around the time he turned 18, the downtown community of our town became the family and home he sought out more and more. We were asking him to make choices he could not maintain, and eventually we lost our son to the streets. As Coleridge asks, “Ah, what then?” The search to understand became unavoidable. We needed help for ourselves and for our son.