Almost two years ago, we all began to rally for a little special needs Russian orphan named "Malcolm", whose real name is Marat. We raised money for his adoption and supported the couple who came forward to make him their son, my dear friends Charles and Elisabeth Smith. I was to be his godmother. Just weeks before the Smiths were to make their second trip to Russia to be declared his parents, the door was slammed shut forever.
Finally, Elisabeth is telling the heartbreaking story of how they lost the little boy who, in their hearts, will always be their son.
We entered into the process of international adoption expecting heartbreak. We approached each milestone steeling ourselves for disappointment. Could we raise the money? Could we pass a home study? Would he like us? Would his disabilities be more than we could handle? Because of this expectation I reinforced my spine with steel and staunchly protected my heart.
We had first considered adopting Marat [aka "Malcolm"] back in March of 2012. He is a beautiful little boy with chocolate brown eyes and a spirit that shows through in every picture. We eagerly watched and re-watched a short video showing his early attempts at walking, begging every Russian speaker we knew to help decipher the garbled voices and tell us what was being said. Our community, both those we knew and those we had yet to meet, reached out and embraced him, helping us raise money for the adoption process, sending him gifts, and helping us through the perplexing and frustrating process of international adoption.
In March 2012, he was not yet 5 years old and in a baby house near Moscow. We were told that when he turned 5 in April he would be moved to a home for older children. There were fears that between his cerebral palsy and his Muslim heritage he would not be treated well in a new facility. The caretakers at his baby house kept him from being transferred for a long time but they could not prevent the inevitable. By the time we got to Russia that October, he had been in the new place for several months. It was not ideal. The man in charge viewed us with great suspicion. On the first day he fought hard to keep us from meeting Marat and we were only able to spend a short time with him – in the Director's office, at a conference table surrounded by adults. His world had been ripped from him just months before and now there were these strangers who couldn’t speak Russian trying to get him to relax enough to use the crayons they had brought. The translator told him we were his mama and papa, come to get him and take him home. I can only imagine what he was thinking.
Those first visits were not conducive to relationship building. They took place in a classroom with tables and chairs far bigger than he. I am sure he thought we were crazy when we got down on the floor to play with him – I know the staff watching us thought we were. He was hyper, excited to play with the forbidden classroom toys and pumped by the candies the translator kept giving him. Like all survivors in difficult circumstances he knew an opportunity when he saw it, and he played our visits for all they were worth. I wasn’t sure he was even capable of seeing us as anything more than a temporary means to an end, until Thursday. That was when he first made real eye contact, when he reached out to me, snuggled in my arms, buried his face in my neck and held on for dear life. That was when I let my guard down and allowed myself to believe.
When we left on Friday he helped me pack up the bag of toys we had brought and informed everyone he was leaving with his new mama and papa. It hurt to have to tell him that he couldn’t leave with us, he had to wait for what would seem like a long time. I promised him we would be back after Christmas. I hugged him, blessed him, asked Mary to protect him, and we left. The assistant director walked us out and told us we were kind people and he would help prepare Marat for our return in January. It was snowing, and I cried, hoping that the snowflakes would hide my tears. I didn’t want the staff or even our translator and driver to know I was crying.
Leaving him behind was so very hard.
Then there were days of questioning. How would they deal with those of us who had met our children? Would they grandfather us in? There was talk of 39 in-process families who would be allowed to adopt. Did that include us? My days were spent scanning Russian media with Google Translate and talking with other families through social media. Our hopes were raised and dashed, often hourly. For a while looked like we would be able to complete the adoption, we received a court date, bought visas and booked flights. Hours before our departure were we told that the court had met early and we were denied.
All this time the families were beginning to band together and working the political angle hoping for resolution. Many of us met in Washington DC in March hoping to get President Obama to appeal on our behalf. That meeting imploded under the weight of too many expectations and a manipulative “leader” who was out for his own gain. The families were fractured and often secretive with one another – each group fearing the tactics of another might jeopardize any potential resolution. Some families wanted to work back channels, some sued it in the European courts, others wanted President Obama to make an open and public appeal; each choice seemed irrevocable and fraught with risk. Parents who started out with only love and a desire to share it were now bound by the fear of what fate would befall their children.
We continued to talk to families, listen to media, and pray. I had been blessed to meet those who had contacts in the Russian orphan community and I was able the glean information that way. While attending a women’s conference here in town a week or so after the DC trip, I received word that things were not going well with Marat and he was deteriorating quickly. I was helpless; standing alone outside in the wind, again hoping no one would see my tears. Another crack in my heart resounded.
In May I heard that a Russian family was interested in Marat. There were those that advocated we do whatever we could (however little that was) to prevent them from taking our boy home. That was never an option for us. From the very beginning of this journey the most important thing was that he found a home, a family. My friends let me know what was happening in the process: when the family met Marat, their struggles with the orphanage staff, etc. The hardest thing was learning that he was still waiting for us and resistant to the new family because of it. We sent word to the family that we were very supportive of their relationship with Marat and a letter to Marat telling him we loved him and always would, but that his new parents also loved him and would be there forever. I don’t know if they received our words of encouragement but I hope they know Marat’s happiness and safety is more important to us than anything.
By the end of June we received a photo by email of Marat leaving the institution.
I hope someday he is able to know that our love for him is genuine and deep and that we did not walk away voluntarily or without a fight.
We love you, Marat.
I also hope all of those who have supported us know how important that support was and how grateful we are. There were early encouragers, financial supporters (large and small) and a surprising group of reporters and former politicians we met through the internet who tried to assist through back channels and who helped us understand Russia and the political process there and, ultimately, to come to terms with the inevitability of the situation.
Now we pray and we ask for your prayers. When a child has been institutionalized for his whole life it can be very difficult to adjust to family life. Such children don’t know how to trust, and things they did for survival in that environment don’t work in a loving family. I haven’t heard much about how he is doing, but I am sure the road will have some bumps in it. He and his new family need all of our prayers if they are to help him be as healthy and happy as possible. I also humbly ask prayers for our family. In many ways Charles and I have isolated ourselves in the last year, not wanting to burden others with our pain. Our hearts are harder than they once were and we hold ourselves too stiffly. We need our community more as we heal from this loss than we did in the process of adoption.
We love you, Charles and Eli!