Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Aren’t those Russia kids so cute!
Every time I catch a flight outta Russia, I am amazed at the number of screaming
babies I share the flight with. KLM even has a waiting list for the baby
carriages on its 16:30 Moscow-Amsterdam flight because so many infants are
in line to leave. What are there all these kids taking transatlantic flights
(and screaming in my ears) do you ask? Adoptions! That’s why!
In 1998, Americans alone adopted 4,500 kids from Russia,
(look here for USA State Department Figures)and that works out to twelve kids a day, all of which seem to
take the same flights I do. Actually, I noticed that KLM had more babies
than Lufthansa. Maybe because their service is so good, maybe because the
flight time from Moscow is convenient, but I really think its because KLM’s
USA sister airline is Northwest, serving America’s heartland and its Nebraskan
See there is a very logical explanation why Russia is so popular with childless
American families. Its not the cost, for Russian adoptions are as expensive
(around $10,000 I’ve heard) as other children. Its not
the ease of adoptions, for visas, bribes, and logistics (Where is Tomsk-42
again, honey?), make anything in Russia, including adoptions, a lesson in patience.
And its not the ease of the transitional process, for Russian orphans are
usually underdeveloped, unresponsive, and often in need of intensive counseling
and medicine. The main reason, I think, is that these kids, unlike the majority
of US orphans up for adoption, are just that, young (under three years old)
kids. Oh yeah, and their “white.”
Smile Theresa, er Tatiana!
The sick and twisted truth to the matter is that while there are thousands
of American children wandering through the American adoption/foster care system, and
countless South American, Southeast Asian, and African kids looking for someone
to call “Mom”, those who can afford to adopt kids, tend to be middle-class
white Americans who want someone who looks just like them and who is young
enough not to come with anyone else’s parental imprint already included.
Russian kids fit the
bill. The majority of Russians are “white Europeans”
(or close enough to pass off as one) and with the state of contraceptive
usage in Russia (close to nil), pregnancy happens quite a bit.
As you can tell, I get a bit cynical about the whole situation when all these
parents tell me that they are “just trying to share all their love” as they
turn Dmitry from Kirov into Danny from Columbus, but wouldn’t take in Dmitrius
from Compton. Yes, I know its hard to adopt in the USA, but why not try to change the system in the USA (I hear soccer mom’s have all this electoral clout…) and take care of our own first?
I don’t say this to the proud parents though, it’s too late to
snap them outta their little reality as they board the plane, but I’m not
the only one who shares this concern.
Before the August crisis, the Russian Parliament, alarmed by the slow
depopulation of Russia from the combination of a low birthrate, the mass
migration of single women in the arms of foreign husbands, and amazing increase
in foreigner adoptions (the 4,500 figure only includes USA adoptions, add
in the Europeans!), was trying to legislate the only part of that equation
it had any real control over, adoptions by foreigners. There was an amazing
article on the subject in the Moscow Times last winter, and I am surprised
I can’t find it in my files (If any of you have access the MT Archives, would
you be so kind as to send it to me, please).
Every Russian kid should know these two on sight!
The Parliament was considering making the rules for adoption quite tough,
with strong support, but it was running in to a lot of opposition from various
sources. The Russian Nationalists support strengthening the laws on the grounds
of national identity and sovereignty. If little Dmitry grows up as Danny,
he will never understand his true Russian roots (Russian’s belive that once a Russian, always a Russian, even if only there from zero to six months). The military supported the
ban on the basis of national security. If Dmitry leaves, there will be one
less Russian able to defend the homeland from the slow creep of the Chinese
in the East, or the speedy Armies of the West. The orphanage directors supported
the bills, because with fewer kids, they would have less money to steal for
their dachas in Sochi.
Sept 99 Side Note: I just spent a few weeks with aid organizations delivering foodstuffs to Siberian orphanages, and I’ve never seen such nice Directors’ offices and shiny Directors’ BMW’s as the ones in charge of the scariest orphanages. Where do you think all those “agency fees” go?
The adoption agencies, the foreign adopters, and oddly, the young ladies
who put their children up for adoption all came out in protest of the laws.
The adoption agencies didn’t like the idea of loosing their supplies, naturally,
but they did have a solid argument when it comes to the fate of the un-adopted
children in Russia. The agencies, would-be parents, and pregnant mothers
are all against the children entering the Russian orphanage system. It is
such a national disgrace, that even I have to avert my eyes from the scene.
So, even though Russia is loosing its children at an alarming rate, to be
brought up clueless as to what it means to be Russian, the alternative, the
Russian orphanage system, is so inhumane, that not even I, in my most cynical
frame of mind, will ever do anything more to stop the crying on the KLM flights,
than to bring earplugs.
September 1, 1999
Thoughts about Russian Adoptions
By Diana Gruber
I am writing in response to your web page, Random Russia Experiences –
I’m one of those middle-class white Americans you wrote about that endured
the Russian bureaucracy and spent a good chunk of my retirement money to bring
home a healthy white baby. As you point out, there are needy babies closer to
home, some of the brown, who I could have adopted for less money.
You were a bit hard on me, I think.
Sure, there are mothers I know who take in children of color. There are those
who adopt babies with Down’s Syndrome or AIDs. Some adopt babies from South
America, and others adopt older children by the handfull. These mothers are all
unsung heros. They are probably better people than I am. I, after all, only took
on what I thought I could handle.
Sure, I could have learned to love a brown baby. I could have learned all the
politically correct procedures for a successfully building a mixed-race family.
Sure, I could have endured sharing an open adoption with a drug-addicted birth
mother. I could have endured it, but I am not the only one involved. Others
deserve consideration too. I have an older son, who expects continued stability
in his home life. I have a husband, who is kind and patient, but already gives
so much for his family. I have colleagues who expect excellence in my work. I
have relatives, I have a community, I have bills, and I have responsibilities.
Taking all this into consideration, I chose to take on a smaller burden than
some of the other adoptive mothers.
What I believed I could handle was one small, barely-damaged orphan who looks
like me. Do I deserve scorn because my act of kindness was not as noble as that
of some others I know? Am I the selfish one? I don’t feel selfish. When I change
diapers by the dozen, or sit up all night with a teething toddler, or sew
curtains, or kiss boo-boos, or dispense vitamins, or watch Barney by the hour, I
feel like I am doing something good for another person. I am building a better
human being. I am giving a part of my life for the life of another. This is not
an act of selfishness.
Oh, how I envy you. Travelling around Russia, visiting marvelous cities,
meeting wonderful people, taking pictures and making web pages. Don’t you think
I would love to do that? But I have people who depend on me. I have to stay here
and give all I can to my family, my job, and my community. Somebody has to be
the mother, and for now that role has fallen to me.
And there is a lot I can give my little Russian princess. Things like
vaccinations, a pet turtle, a Nintendo, a prom dress and a college education.
But perhaps you think she should not be a princess? Perhaps you think she should
stay in a Russian orphanage so I can give these things to a more deserving brown
But that is not how it works. Adoption is not unambiguous. There are plenty
of what-if’s and should-have-been’s. But at the heart of it, I am still doing a
good deed. Perhaps by some measures my sacrifices are small. But they are
sacrifices nonetheless. I have given a part of my life for the good of another
person, and that deserves acknowledgement. Not gratitude or honors, just
acknowledgement that I am not greedy or selfish or bigotted. I am simply a
person doing the best I can with the resources I have and in the situation in
which I find myself. And I am trying to do something good in my life that will
last beyond my life.
So lighten up on us adoptive mothers, will you? Surely there must be better
targets for your scorn than us.
How come you are the only person (with the exception of one)
talking about these issues with Russian adoption? Hey I am cynical too. And yes,
we are adopting a child from Russia.
Multiply the 4,500 number of Americans adopting from Russia by the roughly
$10,000 in CASH (crisp, $100 bills) that the families have to travel with and
you will come up with: $4.5 million. Where is this money going? Some adoptive
parents really believe that this cash is going to ‘help’ the kids in
the orphanage! We don’t. We believe the cash being brought in is going in some
offical’s pocket, or some mob person’s pocket.
Make no mistake (and you haven’t): adoption in the US is a HUGE business,
whether it be from China, Korea, Vietnam, Guatamala, Brazil, Panama or Russia.
Let me give you a rundown of the expenses on this side of the Atlantic (and
Pacific): INS: $455 Homestudy: $850 – $2,500 Certification for dossier: $150
Apostilling for dossier: $200 Passports for two: $140 agency fees so far:
$3,000. Don’t forget the Business Visas we will need once we travel: $350. This
process is not cheap and it is not easy. People doing this have really got to
want to do this.
And the adoption agencies (some of them) give a hard sell. They do the
‘horse and cart’ shows of ‘here is little Russian/Chinese/Vietnemese
Princess who did so well once we brought her home.’ Their literature is
filled with happy little girls (little girls are HOT. Americans WANT little
girls) dressed in American clothes and stories of how fast the children were
Check out some of the agencies sites. You’ll know what I am talking about. Go
to www.adopting.com and go from there.
They have links for agencies, facilitators and attorneys.
Unlike many others adopting children, make no mistake: we are not rushing to
Russia (bad pun) to get our ‘prince’ or our little darling boy. We are
attempting to give a child an opportunity; we are not ‘saving’
anybody. Truly, I don’t have visions of happy Slavic boy dancing around our
house singing songs about the narod or his rodina. Instead, we think about the
reality of raising a child who may turn out to be totally whacked out.
Parenthood is work; I will not need a ‘Mother Heroine’ award for
raising little Misha, Sasha or Dima. Nobody is a saint for adopting; nor are we
Also be aware that, according to a NY Times article published in Oct. 1998,
the price of domestic WHITE adoption can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.
Hey, if the kid is Aryan enough, let’s put a price tag on it! It’ll sell just
fine (and people WILL pay the money). Okay. I am cynical.
Thank you for giving me the Russian viewpoint of adoption. We know that it
isn’t rosy. We also know that $$ talks and if it’s white, it sells.
January 9, 1999, From AP via Johnson’s Russia List (Note: this isn’t
the article I’m looking for)
Russia Beckons Childless Americans
By Nick Wadhams
MOSCOW — Americans Tim and Beth Milbrath had just returned to Moscow from
the cold, windswept expanses of central Siberia, exhausted and dazed, but
jubilant. Their 10-month quest was over, and the reward was in her arms, dressed in blue pajamas and little booties, crying
for more apple juice. With 14-month-old Daniel, the Milbraths joined the
growing number of families that have made Russia the most popular country
in the world for Americans adopting foreign children. Milbrath, an Air Force
colonel, said that by adopting they felt they could change the life of one
child and give him the opportunity to succeed.
Think how fast he could be if he just had Nikes!
American and western European couples have turned to Russia since the Soviet
breakup because it has a growing number of unwanted children and has been
relatively open to adoptions by foreigners. Americans adopted more than 3,800
babies from Russia in 1997, the State Department says. Some American families
have reported problems, delays and corruption on the Russian side.
And there have been a few isolated, but sensational cases of children allegedly
being mistreated by their American adoptive parents. In response, Russia’s
parliament proposed legislation last year to make adoptions by foreigners
much more difficult, but the final version has not hampered the process,
adoption agencies say.
Russian families rarely adopt, and given the country’s economic straits, far
more children are put up for adoption than are taken in. Russia now has over
600,000 orphans, many of whom are underdeveloped and receive relatively little
attention in state homes. Some have physical and mental disabilities. ‘The
caregivers really did love these children,’ said Mrs. Milbrath, a lawyer.
‘But it isn’t like they’re in a family. They don’t have the care and the
constant love that a family gives.’
The Milbraths, a Maryland couple in their mid-40s who already had one son
and one daughter, wanted to adopt a young, healthy boy. They found Kirill
in the central Siberian city of Tomsk. He was healthy, but about six months
behind in development. Kirill, now called Daniel, had rarely, if ever, been
outside his orphanage. His new parents said he would be thrown into American
‘I just know he’s got to be at a soccer game on Saturday morning at 9 o’clock,’
his father joked.
Business Week, July 26, 1999
Spotlight on Moscow: A Brisk Market in Babies…Sparks Action for Reform
By Margaret Coker in Moscow
The blonde, 22-year-old single mother felt she had only one option: Pregnant
again, with few job prospects in her village in the Republic of Moldova and
with no child care available in any case for her four children, she answered
a newspaper ad promising a trip to Israel and cold cash in exchange for her
unborn child. ‘I needed to feed my other kids. I was told he would be given
to a good family, and that seemed better than a life in an orphanage,’ says
the woman–currently serving two years in prison for trafficking a minor.
A black-market baby trade is flourishing in Russia and the former Soviet
states, which use Moscow, with its international flights, as a transfer point
to fly out expectant mothers. Investigators say the Moldova ring this woman
fell into has sold at least 50 babies to American and Israeli families in
the past two years, while a separate Moscow ring has sold 20 babies to American
families, with each sale netting $20,000 to $30,000 per infant. These numbers,
however, are dwarfed by the number of legal adoptions: Last year, U.S. citizens
alone adopted some 4,500 Russian children.
trafficking is a large enough business to have prompted an investigation
at the U.S. Consulate in Moscow about how these pregnant women got to the
U.S. and to have instigated Moscow’s first prosecution. ‘People have turned
a blind eye to this trade for years. Now, some feel the tide must be stopped,’
says Kiril Mazurin of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Dept.
The number of orphans living in Russia climbed to 482,000 in 1998, the highest
level since World War II, while money to care for them has shrunk to 30 cents
per child per day. Bad as these institutions can be, however, life beyond
Authorities report that 40% of the youths who leave such institutions at
18 end up homeless, 25% acquire criminal records, and 10% commit suicide.
Yet legal adoption is neither easy nor cheap. According to Russian law, the
process should take about five months and should be free to citizens and
foreigners alike. Reality, though, is much more complex. ‘If you want your
child before he’s an adult, everyone knows payments must be made [to local
officials]–not once, but multiple times,’ says one Moscow representative
of an international adoption agency. Fees to a licensed Western adoption
agency, plus the expenses of traveling to Russia to meet a child, slicing
through bureaucracy, and speeding legal proceedings, can reach $40,000.
Just grab one, Honey!
If baby trafficking endangers the welfare of the child sold, it also harms
children in institutions. The State Duma Committee on Women, Family &
Youth Affairs is responsible for securing budget funds for orphans and programs
targeting single mothers and needy children. Critics of the chairwoman, Communist
Party Deputy Aleftina V. Aparina, say international adoption is her target
of choice to whip up anti-American sentiment and raise her profile within
the party. ‘She spends an inordinate amount of time on this issue while
ignoring our efforts to expand programs,’ says Alexander Smuckler, a political
While the prosecution of the Moscow smuggling ring has been applauded by
human-rights workers–those arrested included an ex- spokesman for the Duma
International Affairs Committee–it’s unclear how deep a dent the one case
can make. A source at the Moscow investigators’ office concedes that pressure
brought to bear from U.S. authorities eager to stop the visa fraud perpetrated
by the ring was instrumental in bringing about the arrest–and that conviction
is still not certain. The publicity has fed the political backlash, including
restrictive laws, against foreign adoptions in general, making U.S. officials
wary. ‘We don’t want to hurt kids,’ says one.
A long-term solution would be to develop national foster-care programs like
those implemented by Konstantin Titov, the governor of Russia’s Samara region.
At the end of 1997, only 239 foster families existed in Russia. In one year
alone, Titov signed up more than 500 families in his program–and saved about
$5 million in budget funds.
Titov is rumored to be considering a run for President of Russia in 2000.
If he wins, child-welfare officials hope change will come in time to save
a half-million Russian orphans from a grim future.