Safely In My Lap: One Mother’s Response to Ending the Orphan Crisis
July 30, 2005 Journal Entry:
Dear Ian Viktor,
Your father and I approach Moscow by air. It is a sunny and pleasant Saturday morning. I press my right cheek to the window of the airplane. The warmth of the sun feels good on my face as I close my eyes and think of you. I open my eyes for a brief moment: so green and vast is the land we fly over.
I imagine, at 10:30 in the morning, what you are doing inside the orphanage you have called “home” for the first 11-months of your life. Do you feel our presence as we enter your country? Do you know that mommy and daddy are coming to you?
I see the shadow of our plane like a painting in motion, on the earth below. We fly over a river and I trace my finger along its banks. I say a quiet prayer that you, dear Ian Viktor, are healthy and safe. I say a quiet prayer that your 3-year old brother, Christian, is sleeping peacefully in America. I say a quiet prayer that your father and I will be safe as we embark on this journey to bring you home.
I take a deep and soulful breath. Exhale.
This pilgrimage has been long and at times, like your native country, epic.
These were the thoughts that filled my mind and heart as my husband, Jeffrey, and I approached the airport in Moscow. We were embarking on the second phase of our adoption journey, in late July of 2005. Just two-months earlier, we had made our first trip to Russia. That first trip, of course, had come after months of paperwork, medical testing and home study review.
Ian’s orphanage was located in the region of Samara, in the southern part of the country. After flying from Moscow to Samara, we connected with our driver and interpreter. We were then taken to a courthouse where, after a 45-minute hearing, we were given official custody of our son. Elated, we traveled two hours to the town of Togliatti, where stood the Dom Rebyonka, or “baby house.” I recall stepping out of the van and staring at the front door, knowing that my life would be forever changed at the entering of this building. Ian was coming home!
Inside the orphanage, I could smell fresh paint. The hallways had been brightened up with cheerful colors. Yet, no fresh coat of paint could mask the sounds of babies crying — orphans in need of families. The sounds are overwhelming. I can recall, in that moment, experiencing both joy and guilt, simultaneously. There was the joy of finally knowing that Ian was safe to leave with us; yet still I grieved from a place deep in my heart over the knowledge that I would be leaving so many other children behind. It is a painful realization; the feeling of not being enough even though you have moved mountains in the effort to bring one child home. A question, once submerged, begins to surface: is it all but a drop in the bucket?
There are millions of orphans in the world. The numbers are staggering and are of epidemic proportion. I have stared into the eyes of children who have been abandoned, I have held them, and I have cried — alone — for them. I have wondered, out loud and in prayer, how my one voice can possibly offer meaningful change in this broken world. I’ve adopted two children, internationally, and I have asked God if this is sufficient. Is this mother, in all of her smallness, really doing enough to assist the bigness of the orphan crisis?
I would be fooling myself, and you, if I said that this question had not kept me up more than a night, or two. Yet, when I go to a place of quiet prayer, the answer to this question becomes clear: I’m not destined to rescue every child. It would be impossible for me to adopt every orphan. What I can do is hold love in my soul for each of them, even if we’ve never met. I can reflect God’s heart for adoption. I can live with that kind of spirit. I can trust that God is big enough to conquer, in His time, this orphan crisis. I can rest in the truth that the very essence of God is for adopting everyone. My part within His greater plan was to adopt two. Two lives: two precious children who I am deeply privileged to call my son and my daughter.
Through my family, I pray to be an example that might ease any doubt or fear for others who are considering adoption: may we, in our own way, be the vital spark that urges others onward toward adopting. God’s plan is that intricately designed: family-by-family, He is working on behalf of every orphaned child.
Prior to receiving our referral for Ian, my husband and I were given a referral for another baby boy, in Russia. His name was Nikita. I remember looking at video of Nikita. He was precious, yet something deep within me didn’t feel right. I questioned Nikita’s health. The look in his eyes, the way he struggled to crawl on the orphanage floor, caused me pause. I sent Nikita’s medical information, along with the video, to an orphan specialist for review. The doctor stated what the medical reports did not: Nikita had fetal alcohol syndrome. FAS is a disorder caused by a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Nikita’s symptoms were severe.
I cried so many tears. My son, Christian, was only three years old at the time. How would bringing Nikita into our family impact him? Our doctor said that the risk was too high. So, with heavy hearts we turned Nikita’s referral down. I was devastated. Questions tumbled around in my head: “Would I be given another chance to adopt a baby boy?” And then, the question that caused me deepest concern: “If I don’t adopt Nikita, then who will?”
I certainly was not giving God enough credit in that moment…
Then, my dear adoption facilitator said, “Michelle, there is a family for Nikita. You are not his family. You cannot adopt every child. Close the door for Nikita, so that he may find his family and you may find your son.” This was, likely, the most profound adoption advice I have ever been given.
One month later, I received Ian’s referral photo. When I opened the photo attachment on my email, I said, “There you are! You are my son. I’ve been waiting for you!”
And, I had been waiting — waiting for that moment of knowing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I had found my son. Christian would have a baby brother, and our family would be all the richer for this experience.
Although I may never know, in this life, where Nikita is — I do believe that he found his forever family. It’s a feeling that I carry with me, everyday: a sense of peace within. Nikita’s part of my heart, although I did not bring him home.
I’m not equipped to adopt every child. None of us are. I’m grateful that God provided me the specific tools needed to adopt two amazing children: Ian and Eviana. I’m uniquely qualified to be their mother: to parent them and to love them, to guide them and to advise them.
I can be their mom without feeling guilt that I’ve not done enough to cure a crisis that only God can heal. He asks of me to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. And, I do. God also reminds me that He is the one to execute justice for the orphan. And, I trust that he is moving in this way even when I cannot see.
If you are a parent, through adoption, know that you are a part of a greater plan. Your response to adopting one, two, or more is a pure reply to what is seen as faultless in God’s sight: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. You don’t have to carry the burden of solving the world’s orphan crisis, but you can be a light for the cause as you love your child in the way that God loves us all: unconditionally and completely.
August 5, 2005 Journal Entry:
We had our meeting at the US Embassy on August 4, 2005. We received Ian’s package with passport for entry to America. Our flight out of Moscow is today, the 5th. On board the plane, there are several other American couples bringing home their newly adopted child, or children. We have, along the journey home, shared our individual stories and we have marveled at our little ones. The kids have cried. It’s understandable. So many changes… Yet, the passengers on this flight don’t seem to mind the crying. I look around me and they seem to be touched by what they are witnessing. They’re moved by the miracle of adoption.
I can’t help but think of the one little toddler boy at Ian’s orphanage who tugged at my husband’s pants as we were preparing Ian to leave. He looked so much like Jeff! He tugged and tugged and held his arms open toward us. He wanted to come home, too. And, then there was the sweet girl with the cropped off blonde hair. She was in a blue dress and was crying in the courtyard. She had soiled her undergarment and was being scolded by a caretaker. I wanted to cradle her and tell her that everything was okay. It was not my place to do so, however. I turned my back and, with tears in my eyes, I walked away.
There are just so many children in need of families. I’ve only adopted one.
Yet, here in my arms sleeps my precious new son. Ian rests as if he’s been made exhausted by the waiting: as if he knew that we would come, but he didn’t know when. Finally, we are together — flying home. And, somehow I feel as if the world is snuggled safely in my lap.
Ian is every orphan, and every orphan is Ian.
I’ve adopted one. In my heart, though, I’ve adopted them all. I will honor every orphan by raising this one boy with all the love that I can offer up. This thought gives me great joy! And, perhaps, this is how we’ll help to end the orphan crisis: one day at a time, one child at a time, and one family at a time. On this plane from Moscow to America, it seems that change is possible.
*Note: Americans have been banned from adopting children from Russia since late 2012. Michelle continues to be a voice in the name of lifting these sanctions that deny orphaned Russian children the basic human right of finding a safe home and a loving family in the US.