Posted by Deb Shrier

When you meet Eleni, you cannot help but notice her warm disposition, good sense of humor, and playful manner. Surprisingly, at 16, she has experienced her share of losses, traumas, and disappointments. Throughout it all, her adoptive mother has stood by her side.

This trip back to her birth country has been several years in the making. Eleni was always eager to learn more about her birth family as well as her own Russian heritage. Three years ago, with the help of a searcher in Russia, Eleni and her adoptive family learned that her birth mother was alive and that Eleni had two birth siblings -- an older sister and brother who were very young at the time of her birth and relinquishment. In time, the two sisters were connected and corresponded by letters. They exchanged photos and eventually, Natalya sent a video where she expressed her shared interest in meeting Eleni someday.

With that in mind, the adoptive family made future plans to travel to Russia and meet birth family. The idea of the trip was not just Eleni's -- her mother also was eager to develop this connection for her daughter and extended Russian family. It took time to plan and finally, the adoptive family found what felt like the "right time" to embark on this journey. Through the searcher, birth mother and birth sister were notified of the family's schedule. A meeting time for the two families to meet was arranged. It was unclear whether or not birthmom would actually show up that day, explaining that she had to work. But Natalya claimed she was thrilled to finally meet the sister that she had learned about only a few years ago.

Eleni and her mother left Moscow and traveled for several hours to the town where the birth family resided. They were met by a guide who helped them navigate the area and would interpret during this important birthfamily meeting. Eleni was excited, yet understandably somewhat nervous about finally seeing her sister. What could they talk about? Were they as similar in person as they appeared to be from the photos and video? Did they have any shared interests or the same taste in music? Did they have the same laugh or smile?

The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday. When the guide called to confirm the night before, Natalya seemed to be looking forward to it. Yet on Tuesday afternoon, she didn't show up at the small cafe where the initial visit was supposed to take place. Eleni and her mother were discouraged but felt that perhaps Natalya needed another day -- after talking with her, the guide learned that Natalya was now married, has an infant, and lives with her mother. Perhaps it was a lot to juggle but Eleni remained hopeful. They would be leaving to return to Moscow on Wednesday -- would Natalya be able to meet in the morning?The meeting time came and went. With packed suitcases and gifts in hand, Eleni and her mother sat waiting at the cafe. As they departed her birth city, Eleni wondered what kept Natalya from keeping her promise. Was it fear or disappointment, loyalty to their mother (who refused to meet Eleni), or strained ambivalence about finally seeing the sister she never knew?

Deb ShrierYou can read more about this amazing trip in my previous blog post.

Deb Shrier is the DIrector of Post-Adoption Services at JF&CS.