Posted by Deb Shrier
For each adopted person on this homeland trip to Russia, every step has been critical to putting together the pieces to puzzles - an understanding of the life they had before their adoption. Birth, relinquishment, orphanage life. Decisions about their lives were in the hands of other people and the children are processing the losses they have experienced during their earliest years. Some children were adopted at six months, others closer to three years. Memories may be faint but nevertheless, important to understand.
I went with a family to visit with the director of a former baby home (orphanage for young children in Russia). While the teen, Robert, was eager to meet the director with his adoptive mother, he was deeply saddened that he would not meet his biological family. Although efforts were made, they were unable to make a connection on this visit due to the unwillingness of extended birth family.
We were welcomed at the baby home by the staff. The director spent time answering Robert's questions - did she remember him from the baby home? What type of child was he? Were any of his caregivers still there? With each question, the director gave open and honest answers - she did not remember him since she had seen so many children in her 25+ years in this line of work. Did the family know what group number he was in? No, neither Robert or his mother had any idea. They looked through a photo album but nothing was familiar.
Anne, his adoptive mother, remembered a big orange ball that she had seen during her initial visit to the baby home. Robert loved playing with that ball and over the years, a photo of him in a room with that special toy held a place on their refrigerator. This item was a common toy for children but that color was popular for one particular group. When the family asked about the orange ball, the director promptly recalled one of the current caregivers who might have been with Robert 16 years ago. Fortunately, she was working today.
Olga entered the room, took one look at the photo of Robert at 22 months of age and smiled. Yes, she had remembered him. She said he was a sweet boy - and well liked by the other children. She recounted a story about Robert being very upset when one of his friends took a toy from him. Robert asked what type of clothing he wore and Olga was able to bring him a couple of outfits that were typical from that time. He asked her how she felt when children she cared for were finally adopted. Olga, in a reserved (yet emotional) manner, explained that while she is happy for the children, she was sad as well because she has "lost one of her children."
Later, a nurse on staff came in and stated that she, too, remembered Robert. Was he very sick, he wondered - she reassured him that he wasn't. She said she remembered his dark hair and eyes. He hadn't changed a bit and she was pleased that he came back now as a young man to see his Russian roots. Nadia clearly knew Robert - "he's one of ours" she exclaimed when she walked into the room.
After an emotional goodbye, the family gave the baby home various items for the children there - toothbrushes, wash cloths, band aids, and diapers. They left the director with a photo album of Robert of his life in the United States. She said they were proud of him - of his accomplishments and love for his adoptive mother. They thanked Anne for being such a wonderful parent and raising a healthy, happy, and bright young man. For Robert, some of his new found pieces are just beginning to fall into place. Although he is hopeful that at some point he will meet with his birth family, he knows in his heart that he was always loved.
You can read more about this amazing trip in my previous blog post.
Deb Shrier is the DIrector of Post-Adoption Services at JF&CS.