Pavel Astakhov, Russia's Child Rights Commisioner, was quoted in this New York Times article as saying, “The children who have been chosen by foreign American parents — we know of 46 children who were seen, whose paperwork was processed, who came in the sights of American agencies,” Mr. Astakhov said in his statement. “They will not be able to go to America, to those who wanted to see them as their adopted children. There is no need to go out and make a tragedy out of it.”
He's right, I suppose. As we all learned from Dirty Dancing, a tragedy is twenty men trapped in a mine, or monks burning themselves in protest. These children are probably not going to die as a direct result of this decision. So in that sense, it's not a tragedy.
But that is a very limited interpretation.
Anyone who has read the post I wrote yesterday will know what Hopper and I went through when we adopted Boo. Intercountry adoption is not something to be taken lightly or done on a whim. The people who are currently in process (somewhere between 46 and 250 families) have been through a lot to get where they are. I grieve for those families. But I cannot speak for them.
But what about the children who are already here? 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families since 1992. On Friday, I told Boo that Russia has made it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children. In the same breath, I assured her that this will have no effect on us: she is safe. We are a family. Nobody can change that. But she keeps asking me, "Why?"
Boo has no memory of Russia because she was 8 months old when we adopted her. She has photos of our trip, guide books with pictures, and a book I made her about our adoption journey, but no memories of her own. Yet she is intensely proud that she was born in Russia. Her schoolmates know that fact about her. She wrote a report in first grade about Russia, and proudly brought in artifacts that we have in our home. When she had to bring a piece of art to school that hangs in our house, she chose a watercolor painting of the famous statue of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg. And she dreams of one day visiting Russia so that she can see it herself.
But that was before.
Now, Boo is hurting. She feels, I think, that our family has been seen as wanting. Her happiness, her sense of safety, her feeling of belonging in America has been judged as wrong by the Russian government. And they wish to deny those things to future children. This makes no more sense to a nine-year-old than it does to her mother.
When I first heard that this law was pending, it was last Tuesday. It was shocking because I didn't hear of it from an adoption contact, but from a friend living in Moscow. I knew, because of that, that this wasn't a rumor like so many I have heard over the years. It was true. It was particularly painful because I have a friend who was scheduled to meet her baby the following Monday. And it was agonizing because only four days had passed since the massacre at Newtown, CT.
As the day progressed, I read as much as I could find about the pending legislation. I spoke with my friend who was desperately trying to find out whether her adoption would continue (at that time, it seemed that it would, so my friend traveled to Russia and met a little girl whom she may now not be permitted to adopt.) And as the day progressed, I began to feel weak. While I was teaching that afternoon, a headache began. By the time I got home, it was a full-blown migraine. I vomited the pain and the anger most of that evening and had to take the following day off from work to recover.
I didn't get the connection until this week when I thought back on it. This law is punishment for the death of Dima Yakovlev, who died when his father accidentally left him in a car all day. The father in that case had a nervous breakdown when he realized what he had done. It was a tragic mistake, but it was a mistake, and this father has suffered greatly for it. Jail, a conviction, would have done nothing to add to his suffering. It would have done nothing to protect children: this man will not adopt again. This man will grieve until the day he dies, just as the parents in Newtown will.
But because of his tragic mistake, now thousands of other children will suffer. Some will die in Russian orphanages. Many will lose out on life-saving, and certainly life-altering, therapies that are available in the US. Most will be cast out of the orphanages when they turn 16 to an uncertain future with no support and little education.
That, I think, is why I became physically ill from hearing this news. It felt like a punishment for being a victim. Every parent's greatest fear is that a child will die. There is nothing worse anyone can imagine than losing a child. But when you are an adopted parent, there is an added fear. If I lose my child, I will be judged. I will never be given another. To have that punishment visited not only on the neglectful parents, the violent parents, but on parents who have not even begun to parent, and to have that punishment visited on Americans just days after twenty of our precious children were murdered in cold blood was too much for me to handle.
You see no tragedy, Mr. Astakhov, but I see many tragedies. The tragedy of loss that would-be parents will suffer over the next few months if your scheme is allowed to stand. The tragedy of lost potential among the thousands of Russian children who will be stranded in your inadequate orphanage system. And the loss of pride in their country of origin among the 60,000 Russian orphans who have already become Americans.
Is that not a tragedy too, Mr. Astakhov?