guest post – missohkay on russia banning international adoptions

Last Friday afternoon I was playing with Ky on the floor in the kitchen with the TV on in the background in the other room when I started hearing words like “adoption, ban, international, & Russia.” As an adoptive mom, I find myself always wanting to stay in the loop of what’s going on in the world when it comes to adoption, even if it’s a type of adoption situation that is different than the one we are in.  I just feel like I need to know what’s going on in the world when it comes to adoption.  I was immediately drawn to the TV and watched as the world found out that Russia would be banning international adoptions (even ones already in progress) to US residents.  My heart dropped.  Every adoptive parent’s nightmare is having a match disrupted.  I can not even imagine how heartbroken so many waiting parents are right now.  I’m just incredibly sad for them.  In saying that though, I knew there was much more to the decision than the adoption ethics explanation President Vladimir Putin was using as his reasoning.

Our guest poster this week is missohkay, who brought her beautiful baby girl E home last February from The Deomocratic Republic of the Congo.  She was matched many many months before and was legally little E’s mom long before they finished the last of her paperwork that allowed her into the United States.  I knew she would be on top of what was going on in Russia and would have a great perspective on the situation – as a mom of a child adopted internationally.


I heard the news today, oh boy…” My heart sank this week when I saw the headlines that Russia was considering – and then passed into law – a ban on Americans adopting children from Russia. In the last ten years, Americans have adopted more than 32,000 children from Russian orphanages.

So what happened? Backing up – in 2009, a Russian man worked for an American law firm with an office in Russia, and he uncovered a massive tax fraud being carried out by Russian police. After making public accusations, he was arrested, tortured, and died in police custody. A few weeks ago, the U.S. passed a law that, among other things, blacklisted Russians who were connected to that death (and other human rights violators) to prevent them from entering the U.S. or using the U.S. banking system.

News accounts report that the Russian adoption ban was passed in retaliation for this U.S. law. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Russia has been souring on American adoptions for several years. The Russian bill was named after a Russian boy who died last year when his American father inadvertently left him in a hot car all day. And, most notably, when an American woman penned a note to her son’s coat and sent him on a plane back to Russia in 2007. (It’s obvious but must be said – there’s no excuse for that. There are services that help families and children with difficult placements, and, worst-case-scenario, an adoption can be legally “disrupted,” which doesn’t involve an airplane or handwritten note.)

International adoption can feel so tenuous – a race against a deadline that may or may not exist. You fill out papers as fast as you can, and then you wait. You run around getting photographed, having your fingerprints taken, and having doctors’ appointments, and then you wait. You are matched with a child and then you wait. You legally become that child’s parents, and then you wait. You worry that during this wait, your child won’t have enough to eat, or will get sick, or the laws will change. In addition to the emotional pressures, there is the financial pressure as you continue to spend money on things like translators, attorneys, required country visits, etc. which (usually) can’t be recovered if something goes awry. (And Russian adoptions are usually the most expensive international adoptions.)

A country changing its laws or closing down entirely while your adoption is pending is one of the biggest fears for a parent in the process of adopting internationally. And it hasn’t been uncommon in the recent past – Guatemala, Nepal, Vietnam, Haiti, and Cambodia, to name a few. Often the reason for the halt is to implement better laws in the country to protect children from exploitation – definitely not a bad thing – but it can interrupt legitimate adoptions and can delay children from finding families for years (and realistically, children are less likely to be adopted once they pass a certain age).

Late last year, when our adoption from Democratic Republic of the Congo was nearly complete, the country had its second democratic presidential election in recent years. Even though we had no reason to expect that Congo’s adoption program would shut down or drastically change, it was one of the most stressful times in our life. Our daughter was legally ours (meaning that we had completed the court process and we were her legal parents) for five months before each of the final painstaking steps was completed that would allow her to exit her country and come to ours.

I am so sad for the families who were in the process of adopting from Russia and for the children whose futures are uncertain now. I know from past country closures that there are dozens of U.S. families who were far enough along with their adoptions at the time the country closed its adoption program that they are still trying to get children that were legally theirs out of Guatemala and Vietnam and other countries. Sometimes the U.S. and the other country work together to help these children unite with their parents; it appears that Russia will not be taking those steps, as President Vladimir Putin stated he would find these children other homes in Russia. A noble goal, but not a realistic one – Russia is said to have more than 700,000 orphans and domestic adoption there is uncommon. The future for an institutionalized child there is grim.

Situations like these also make me sad for the future of international adoption, which is at an all-time low in the U.S. – just over 9,000 in 2011 versus almost 23,000 in 2004. There are an estimated 147 million orphans worldwide (though not all are legally adoptable), and news stories like this one scare away potential adoptive parents. A country is certainly entitled to pass laws to protect its children, but they shouldn’t be used as pawns in a political tit-for-tat.


What are your thoughts on this situation?

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  1. It’s very sad. I heard about this reading Elaine’s blog storm in my tea cup as she is one of the families affected. To hear if 700,000 children that are orphans literally breaks my heart.

  2. Thanks for all the background information on this topic, much of it was new to me. I was sad to hear about the news too, especially knowing the families already in the process are just out of luck. Kids should not be caught in the crossfire of political crap.

  3. SO MANY THINGS I DID NOT KNOW! Thank you for this!

    I have a friend who is currently hosting an eight-year-old Ukrainian boy for a month through an international hosting program and I’ve been thinking about him a lot ever since this headline popped up on my radar. Although I don’t know how conditions may be better or worse for a Ukrainian orphan vs a Russian one (I know in Ukraine their futures are very, very bleak– the majority end up as criminals, sex slaves/prostitutes, or just plain committing suicide) I wonder if he may now be in a far better position, even as an older child, than an orphan in Russia.

    I wonder about international adoption in other parts of the developed world– do people in Canada, England, Spain, other countries in Europe in particular adopt internationally as a general practice, or is it very rare?

    • Not sure about the other countries but I know in BC alone international adoptions are SUPER high. Just in my neighbourhood there are a ton of babies who’ve come from different parts of Africa recently. I don’t know of many from Eastern Europe though.

  4. Oh this saddens me so much!! My great friend and former roommate has adopted twice from Russia. Her girls are so beautiful and happy- they are a marvelous little family. When we were in the midst of our own IF drama, we briefly explored Russian adoption. We found that both the wait and the expense were going to be too much for us- particularly as we were already, by that time, considered “older” parents. I was so dismayed at the condition of some of the orphanages – babies with flattened backs of their heads, who were being put down in their cribs all day long on their backs with no changes or stimulation, delayed learning from lack of stimulation, potty training by being sat down on buckets or potties for hours on end. Really horrifying. I don’t know how much of these tales were factual and how much were exaggeration or even fabrication. What I did know, is that there were far too many children in need of good homes and not enough families in their own countries adopting. I also knew that the majority of these children were the products of drug addicted parents, and struggled with withdrawal symptoms, emotional issues or severe learning/ social drawbacks. All very challenging stuff for any family, made even more so by the added stresses of adoption, and international adoption at that. It broke my heart and I did not think we had the fortitude for such stresses. Selfish sounding, I know. But I knew our limitations. Obviously the woman who sent her child back on an airplane had underestimated her own limitations, which is tragic. I wonder how common that underestimation actually is? I know there are so many deserving families out there who desperately want children through adoption- and how many of them end up facing problems they never could have imagined? I also wonder if the sharp drop in international adoption rates coincides with a rise in infertility treatments and successes here? Could it be that all of those families who were historically adopting are now having greater success conceiving their own children? Has science made such great strides with infertility treatments that adoption itself is becoming a “thing of the past” for those who cannot find success with IF treatments? I really hope not. There must be many many families out there who choose adoption for the sake of wanting to adopt- period. I think of adoption as something truly beautiful and noble. I have often thought about our own decision against it, and for moving forward with a gestational carrier so we were able to have “our own” children. I have guilt about this. I sometimes still consider adopting- though by now we really are much older parents! (And really couldn’t afford it) If I were to pursue adoption now, it would definitely have been through Russia. It breaks my heart to know that petty, political backstabbing will hinder this process when so very many will suffer. And who will suffer most from this decision? Innocent children in need of loving homes. I hope Russia is prepared to find more (desperately needed) funding to support the ever growing (now even more so) population of these children, and to keep the orphanages already so underfunded, running, staffed, and stocked? If they won’t accept American parents, will they accept American dollars to at least try to provide better environments for the growing number of institutionalized minors? One can only hope.

    • Great questions. I too wonder if the decline is because of the availability of fertility treatments now and the advancements in Science that allows so many alternatives to family building before people may think of adopting.

      • I actually think (and I may be totally wrong) that its the decline in COST of infertility treatments, which while still exspensive are way less than an international adoption, or even domestic adoption (unless you adopt through foster care). We looked into both international and domestic adoption and it is the sheer cost that has prohibited us thus far from pursuing either. We are licensed to take a foster adoption at any time but there are other issues there that I won’t get into as it does not pertain to this. BTW, FABULOUS write up missohkay!

  5. Putin is an ass and should be ashamed at himself for retaliating using these children. I hope he is prepared to take all of them into his home to make up for the damage he has caused. There is a lot about the Russian government that is sketchy and criminal, but his legislation takes the cake. I can’t imagine the heartbreak the families and children who were almost finished with the process must be feeling as well as wondering if this decision has condemned the children in the system to a likely horrible life.

    Excuse the strong feelings, but I cannot condemn Putin’s selfish, horrifying decision enough.

  6. When I heard about this the other day, I was heartbroken for those children and for all my ALI/PAIL sisters who were in process with them. It’s gut wrenching to even think about.

  7. Makes my heart sink, makes me frickin’ angry. . There is so much about international adoption that I know nothing about, and this just reminds me of that. I read this over at the Huffington Post the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterwards:

  8. I also wrote a bit more about this in last night’s post…

  9. Here from Cristy’s blog – this is so sad. Unbelievable that any country would put politics behind the health and happiness of children.


  1. […] wrote a guest post over at PAIL today about the Russian adoption ban. Feel free to check it […]

  2. […] featured a special guest post from missohkay discussing the tragic Russian ban on international adoptions. She gives us insight into the emotional process and political implications of international […]

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