Where have you traveled to that is an unexpected, or uncommon destination? What did you love about it or not?
Questions for Reflection
Each episode we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), you might find one of these PDFs useful. Choose the orientation that fits best in your journal.
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars Podcast.
Where we have honest conversations about things that make us different.
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
And I'm Beth. What are we talking about today, Steph?
Well Beth, we all want to know why Beth left the country to find her family. So where are they under a rock? What was happening, Beth? Why did you have to leave this country?
I had to go to where they were. I had to go find them.
Where were they?
So my children are both adopted from Russia. You and I like to have conversations about (like we just said) things that other people don't necessarily talk about. And I think sometimes people are afraid to ask me questions about adoption.
And I will say I'm super excited about today's conversation because we had a little bit of pre-talk yesterday, and I've already told two people about your adoption story because I was so in it. I was like, "Oh my gosh." So I want to make sure we get it all in because I'm excited.
So much to tell. So much to tell.
There's so much to tell. The first question is the question, I think, I will say I have thought it before, and haven't asked. And I've thought probably wrongly, when I hear that people adopt from other countries, I think, "Well there's so many kids in this country, why do people go to other countries?"
So that's where I want to start. Why did you leave USA?
It's a fair question. It's not that, it's not that we didn't want an American baby. It wasn't that. It was that at the time we were adopting, the trend in the United States was for open adoptions. And in open adoptions, the birth, usually the birth mother, but it could be the birth family has an ongoing relationship with the child, and I didn't think I could handle that.
So I wanted a closed adoption. And when we met with the, with our adoption agency, met with our social worker, she said, "You know, if you really want a closed adoption and you're willing to travel, you should consider international adoption." And when we looked at the countries that were available to us, Russia made the most sense for us, and it turned out that that was right.
Wow. And what year was this that you had started this process?
So this all started happening in 2002.
So a good amount of time ago.
So is the things we're talking about today, is this still all accurate?
No, none of this will be accurate anymore because actually Americans can't adopt from Russia anymore. But there are other countries that are open to having Americans come and adopt. And every country has its own rules, its own procedures. And so it's important to find a well-credentialed and reliable adoption agency to work with that will know all the ins and outs and have the right relationships.
But unfortunately, Russia is closed to Americans. And it really is a shame. In the 10 years before our son came home--so if you're talking basically the mid '90s to the early 2000's--there were over 50,000 children who came to the US from Russia.
So this was a lot of children, and that has completely closed.
Wow. Well in the United States, is adoption still all open?
Actually, I think that the trend is shifting, again. Open adoption is possible, but I don't think it is quite as common as it was, almost 20 years ago now.
So it is possible to have a closed adoption in the United States now?
Yes, it is possible, yeah.
Okay. So your big push was because it was pretty much only open adoptions in the United States at the time?
Yeah. And I mean, I just felt differently about it then. I thought if I, I had never been a mom and so I was coming into motherhood and I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea of sharing my baby with another mom. Now that I understand more about adoption, and I understand more about motherhood, I look at it completely differently, and I actually would be open to an open adoption. But I, just based on what I knew at the time, and where I was emotionally, I didn't think that I could handle it.
I know a lot of people who handle it really, really well. And so I wouldn't discourage anyone from considering an open adoption. I just, that was our reason for not staying in the US.
Gotcha. So before we get into the really cool story of going to Russia and everything. My question is, were you always wanting to adopt? Was that in your mind from childhood? Did you want to adopt? Did you try other things before adoption?
Yes. So I never thought about adoption until it was time for us to adopt. And I mean, I just really had never thought about it. I don't even know if I knew people growing up who I knew to be adopted. So we, we had been married for I guess four or five years and we were, I had stopped birth control, we were trying to get pregnant and tried for a year, and didn't get pregnant.
So then went to a doctor and then tried IVF and still didn't get pregnant. And the IVF doctor was, some people might say that it was a bad thing, but to me it seemed really kind. Because he said, "We have tried this and it did not work, and we can try it again. It will not work." Right. So he was able to give us closure on that so that we were very quickly able to turn around and say, "Okay." Well it was an interesting time because our first question was, if we can't be parents, do we still want to be married?
Because that had really been our picture of who we were going to be. We were going to be a married couple with children. And we both instantly were like, yes, children or not, we choose each other. That has been, that has carried us for years knowing that we really choose each other every day.
And then the next question was, okay, well we're not going to have biological children, so what do we do? And it just so happened that at my law firm, we were interviewing for new associates and one of the associates who came through had recently adopted a little girl from China. And I said, "You know, my husband and I are just starting to talk about adoption." And he said, "Call my wife." And I did.
I called his wife and she said, "You have to call my social worker." And I did. I called her social worker, and to this day we call that social worker Granna Helen. She's a dear, dear, dear woman to us. And she helped us through the process. We met with her in the end of May, and we brought, so May of 2002. And we brought our son home in January of 2003.
Which was another reason actually, that she suggested, that she recommend an international adoption for us because it was moving much more quickly than US adoptions. And that was positive for us. We had been trying for a long time. We had been through IVF. We were really ready to be parents.
Wow. Okay. So did you spend any kind of significant money during that process before you actually started the adoption process?
Yes. IVF is not cheap, and it is not covered by health insurance. It wasn't then. I'm sure it's not now either, but so yeah, I mean thousands of dollars. I don't remember the exact cost. But you have to buy a lot of medication. You have to have shots every day, because you have to pump up your own fertility system. And so you have to like supercharge your ovaries so you have to take all this medicine.
And then, and then it's a medical procedure. So it was an outpatient procedure that they don't, at the time, at least we couldn't do it in Tallahassee. We had to go to Jacksonville. So there were additional costs involved in that. And you know, it was just, it was expensive. I mean, I remember it costing like over $10,000, but I don't remember the exact numbers. And I'm not the best with remembering numbers, so I could be off. But it had to be in that ballpark for that number to be in my head.
Yeah, that makes sense. All right, so you tried traditional methods. You tried, you had always thought of, you always knew you were going to be a mom. Is that kind of-
Yes, I really felt like I was supposed to be a mom.
And the assumption was that you were going to give birth to the child in your head, because you had never really thought in any other capacity.
Yeah. I mean I'm, I have always achieved the goals that I've set.
I will give birth to a child.
Right. Stephen and I got married when I was 20.
Because I had my undergraduate degree. We both had graduated from undergrad. He was 21 and I was 20. You know, it's like graduated from college. We graduated from high, I'm sorry. We graduated from high school. We graduated from college. We got married. We bought our first house. We bought our second house. Our second house was a four bedroom house that was between the elementary school and the middle school on a quiet street, with a sidewalk. This was going to be a place for children and everything. We had just always achieved everything that we had wanted, and then all of a sudden this thing that was so important, we couldn't achieve.
You went through the process. So you said you had a social worker. Is that the same your adoption, you said adoption something, what'd you call them?
So there, there were two adoption agencies involved.
So we had our US adoption agency and that's our social worker worked for them, Children's Home Society. Amazing. We'll put a link to them in the show notes so you can learn more about them. And then our international adoption agency was an agency called Wide Horizons For Children. And they're still in business.
They don't work with Russian adoptions anymore, because Russia is closed. But they have continued to be a resource for us as has Children's Home Society. But we wanted to take the kids back to Russia. We went in 2018 we took them back for a trip and they helped us with that. They helped us-
So it was their first time back was in 2018?
Wow, awesome. So you have two kids?
A son and a daughter.
Son and daughter. Both you got from Russia?
Yes. Different parts of Russia, different times. They're not biologically related.
All right, well I want to hear the story of the first time. Your son is the oldest, correct?
He's almost 18 he's 18, right?
Yes, he's 18. That's so scary.
Wow. And you got him, how old was he when you finally took him back to the US?
When he came home to the US he was 11 months old.
11 months, wow.
You've seen pretty much him at every stage.
Yes. Yes, we held him for the first time when he was nine months old.
Walk us through that process. So, you decide, you get him, you fill out the forms and you go over there and you get him, right?
And then you're like, "Here I am. Ready for my son."
Yeah, tons and tons of paperwork. Paperwork that you have to have notarized. And then you have to have the Secretary of State do a special form to prove to the Russian government that yes, this is a real notary that's called an Apostille. So lots and lots and lots of paperwork. I always say that international adoption requires the four Ps. It requires prayer, paperwork, patience and perseverance. Lots and lots of paperwork.
So we filed all of our paperwork and the adoption agency said, "Okay, we have an appointment for you to meet with the officials in Russia who will tell you about the child you've been matched with." So we traveled with no information. We didn't know if we were matched with a boy or a girl. All we knew is that we had asked to be matched with a child under the age of 12 months.
As we were traveling, we actually met a family, I think we were in the New York airport, and they were also going to Russia and they actually didn't even know how many children they were being matched with because they had said that they wanted to be matched with a child or a sibling group.
So they actually didn't, they didn't know. We were like, "Oh well at least we know it's one, one child, hopefully under the age of 12 months." We had lots of interesting things happen on our way there. I think international travel is always fun in that way. And we got to the airport in Moscow and our luggage didn't arrive, and we didn't speak any Russian. And we were expecting like that at every point we would be with-
With a translator. So we didn't even bring like a phrasebook. We had, and this is, you know, this is 2002. So it's not like you didn't have Google translate on your phone or something. And in fact, we didn't have a phone that worked in Russia. And so we had to figure out, "Okay, what do you do when you're standing here and you don't have any luggage? Like where do you go? Where's the lost luggage office?" There are no signs in English. And we finally figured that part out.
And the thing is that back then our banking system just wasn't quite set up the way that it is now. And so we actually had to travel with clean $100 bills.
Because we had to pay our adoption agency personnel in Russia. We had to take the money to pay them.
Wow. So was it in your bags that were checked?
It was on our person. My husband had some of it in a money belt, and I had some of it in a money belt.
Do you have a picture of this?
I really don't ... Oh my goodness.
And, and thank goodness for the kind people at our bank who were like, "You need how many clean $100 bills, and you're doing what with them?"
It's for our son. It's totally cool and legit.
Right. We didn't know if it was going to be a son. We didn't know if it was a boy or girl.
Oh Yeah. For our child.
Yeah, for our child.
That makes it even more sketchy when you go to the bank. "We're getting a kid, not sure who they are."
I promise we're not buying a child. That's not what this is. We just have to be able to pay these fees in Russia. But they want us to pay with American currency and to prove that it's not counterfeit, they want it to be clean. And you know, all these rules.
And it seems really legit. I'm not paying for a child.
Right. I promise. I promise. We didn't buy a child. We had to go with thousands of dollars, I have say. Thousands of dollars. And so my husband had like four or $5,000 in hundred dollars bills that he had in a hidden money belt. And I had about the same and the hidden money belt. And we are there and we have no luggage. And you go through, okay.
So when you travel internationally, the first thing that you have to do is you have to get your passport stamped, right. And then you have to go through Customs to leave the baggage part of the airport. And we get to the Customs line and we have no luggage. So we look odd.
We were also both wearing trench coats. I don't know why, but we thought that was the right fashion choice, whatevs. So we go to leave Customs and the Customs agent who, I kid you not, she looked like she was wearing a costume. Beautiful, beautiful woman in this green military style outfit. Complete with the hat, set at an angle. And she had beautiful hair, black and curly, big, big curls and lots of makeup on. And a short skirt with fishnet stockings and stiletto heels.
And she was sitting there, she was the Customs agent, and we had to go through her line. And we walk up and we have nothing to put on the conveyor belt because we have no luggage. And she says, "You Americans, da?" "Yes, ma'am, we are Americans." "You here for baby, da?" "Yes ma'am. We are here. We're here to adopt. Is it that obvious? How does everybody know this?" But I mean 10,000 babies have come through. They were used to seeing Americans come to Russia for this purpose.
And people didn't visit Russia, as a vacation.
Right, right. Yeah. Which you totally should do by the way. It's beautiful country. So we, "Yes." You know, she said, "You have money, da?" "Yes, we have money hidden on our person." So I didn't say anything. I was like, I was standing like a dutiful wife behind my husband, just letting him have this conversation.
You're like, "This is totally fine. I'll be behind."
With this incredibly beautiful woman, very inappropriately dressed for her job. And so she made him take the money out. So he has to untuck his shirt, under his undershirt, get his money belt out. She takes, he hands her this pile of money. I think, I really do think it was about $4,000 or $5,000 in $100 bills. And she lifts it up over like over her head, in front of her face and she fans it out for the whole airport to see.
And I thought, "Oh, I wonder how much she's going to keep."
And I'm thinking in my head, "If she keeps all of it, what do we do? How do we, how do we replace that money?" Because we have to have it to pay these fees. And she didn't. She looked at it, she folded it back up, handed it back to him, and motioned us to go through.
We went through, we found people who spoke English. We found our people.
What, why, why did she do that?
I don't, I don't know. I don't know if it was, oh, it's a chance to see a lot of American currency that you don't get every day. Or if it was to intimidate us in some way, I don't know.
But it was quite an experience and we thought that we were just going to leave that airport. Because in Moscow you have an international airport, but then you have to go to a different airport for in-country flights. We thought we were going to go from one airport to the other, and it turned out we had to stay overnight in Moscow, and we didn't have any luggage.
And it was November. It was snowing.
Oh my gosh.
And my snow boots were in my checked luggage. So we had to try to go shopping. I mean it was, it was like a whole thing.
Did you have extra money?
Yeah. We brought money for just expenses. For because we were going to a country that we had never been to, and who knows what we might want to buy. But I will say that a few years later, three years later, when we went to adopt our daughter, it was not that way.
They actually used banks then so we didn't have to travel-
Okay. This is new invention. Yeah.
What year was that, did you get your daughter?
So we adopted our daughter in 2005.
Okay, oh yeah.
So it was three years later, yeah.
Oh yeah, significant change. And technology changes so much within that time period.
Yeah. And in the aughts, isn't that what we're supposed to call them?
That's the official term, is the aughts, but I think people call it the two thousands.
Okay. Well in that part of the two thousands, technology really did change a lot, yeah.
A lot, yeah. Do you remember what year the iPhone came out?
Yeah, the iPhone came out in 2005?
Oh. I thought if I said it with confidence that maybe I had a better chance of being right.
You tried so hard and you are so wrong. It came out in 2007.
Later than I thought.
I actually started working for Apple about four months after it came out. So that's how I know that date. My start date with Apple was September 14th, 2007.
So the iPhone came out in 2007.
So there was no iPhone when you got your daughter.
A world without an iPhone.
Who can even remember that? Blackberry's was like the thing, I never had one.
All right, so back to Russia. So we're in Russia. You are, you have money strapped to your body.
And you, when do you get to see your son? You get to see him on this trip?
So yes. So what you would do is, you would go and you would meet with the ministry official, Ministry of Education. They handle all of the adoptions and so they would, you meet with them and they say, "This is the child we've matched you with based on the paperwork that you've sent. And this is everything we know about the child. Would you like to go meet them?" And of course we said yes.
And actually there was a whole story with that too. We thought we were going to land in Moscow and then fly immediately to Rostov, which is the region where our son was. It turned out we didn't. It was, "No, no, you'll fly to the region the next day." So the next day we're like, "Okay, we'll fly to the region and we'll go ahead and we'll meet with the right government officials and we'll get our referral and we'll go see our baby." No, no, no.
So the next day we flew to the region and they're like, "Okay, well tomorrow you'll meet with the government official." So the next day we go to meet with the Deputy Minister of Education and they're not there. We don't do appointments. Like you just come by and if we're here we'll do our work.
Oh my gosh.
So anyway, it was delay, after delay, after delay. And then we finally got our actual referral. My husband wasn't there because our luggage had come, and so he had to go to the airport with the driver to pick up the luggage. So I ended up getting the referral by myself.
And so I'm sitting at the desk with a translator and this government official. And she has this file folder in front of her, and she shows me a picture of a little baby who's crying, like a Polaroid. You can tell someone's holding this child up in front of the camera and he's just crying and she says, "I've chosen a son for you. Would you like to have a son?" And then I start crying, "Yes, yes, yes." And then, "I've chosen him for you because he has light hair and blue eyes."
Like all Americans.
Right. Because my husband and I both have light hair and light eyes. And so what was supposed to happen, is you were supposed to go and meet the child you've been matched with, and learn their history as much as you could from their paperwork. And then you had a chance to say, "Yeah, I think that this will work." Or, "No, we need to be matched differently."
So I was trying to be really guarded. Like, this might not work out tomorrow. It turned out he wasn't in that region. We had to drive an hour and a half to where he was. And so, okay, I'm not going to get attached. I'm going to be really like brave about this. And my husband got back with our luggage and I showed him the picture and he was like, "My son." Like he was instantly attached just from the picture.
So the next day we were supposed to go and actually hold our son for the first time. But we had to get permission from his social worker in Russia, who it turned out was that a physical therapy appointment, and wasn't at the office. So our poor facilitator had to drive us all around this little town to figure out where the hospital was, where this woman was having physical therapy. Luckily, the social worker was really nice, and didn't mind being interrupted and signed off on our paperwork.
And so then we got to go. And then we had to meet with the head of the hospital, and talk to her about who we were, and why we were there. And then we finally walked into the room where this sweet little baby was, all alone waiting for us. And as soon as we walked in the room, he stood up in his crib and like looked at us like, "What's happening?" And that was it. I was a mom in that moment.
So then you took him home with you.
So that was November of 2002. And although I felt very much like his mother, the Russian government wasn't convinced yet. And so you have to apply to the court, just like you would in the US. You have to file a petition with the court and the judge has to review it, and you have to be given a date that you can come back and have a hearing.
And so we actually, we were in Russia for about a week that time, and then we flew home. And we thought, "Okay, we'll just go back in a couple of weeks." The judge just has to review our paperwork. And well, a couple of weeks later, the adoption agency called and said, "Bad news. The judge doesn't have any more time on her docket this month, and she's going on vacation for all of January. So you'll go back probably February, probably."
Probably February. Our son was in a really small town. And in that town, you didn't move to the orphanage until you were a year old. We met him in November. He's nine months old.
And in February he was going to turn one. So I said to our adoption agency, I said to Wide Horizons, I was like, "Do you understand that in, if you can't get us a court date until February, he's going to turn a year old, and they're going to move him from the hospital where he lives to an orphanage and then he'll move from the orphanage to our home. And I don't think that extra transition is in his best interest. So I would like for you to get me a visa so that I can go back to Russia, because I would like to be with him through that entire process so that there's at least something constant. And so that we can begin our bonding." And I think at that point they were like, "Oh, she crazy. Okay."
This mama bear. She's going to make it happen.
So said, "Okay, well we, we hear you, we understand you. Let's just, we'll work on it a little bit more. We'll call you back." And it was actually the first time that we had, that my husband I had like asked our church to pray for us. And we started asking everybody to pray, like pray that we can get a court date. Just pray, pray, pray. And like three days later, well that was like a Friday. So then the next Wednesday. It's so weird that I remember these details. But the next Wednesday I was at work, and the adoption agency called and said, "We did it. We got you a court date. December 26th."
Oh my gosh.
So our wedding anniversary is December 23rd. So on our wedding anniversary we flew back to Russia, and we landed there on Christmas Eve and we weren't staying in a hotel. At that point we were staying with, we were staying in a home stay in someone's apartment who was working with our agency.
We show up for Christmas Eve, and she's like, "Oh, American Christmas." So she had made ... I don't even know where she found this thing. But somehow she had gotten like a bird. I don't know. I don't think it was a Turkey. I don't really remember. But and a bottle of champagne and confetti. She wanted us to have like an American style Christmas and that's what she had, that was her understanding of what it was. It was really, really generous of her. And then the next day on Christmas day, we got to go and see our son again. We hadn't seen him since before Thanksgiving.
Wow. Do they have Christmas in Russia?
They do, but they actually, their big holiday is new year's because under communism, no religious holidays were celebrated. So new year's is the big, big holiday. And then they have a smaller celebration for Christmas, but not until January 6th cause that's the Orthodox day for Christmas.
You, when did you get to have him and take him back home?
So we went to court on December, on December 26th, yeah. And Russian law, at the time, required a waiting period in case somebody heard about the adoption and wanted to contest it. Which is weird, because it's like there was a prosecutor there representing the state, and then there was us and our translator representing ourselves.
I just remembered something funny that happened actually. We were in court and because I was practicing law at the time, I was pretty comfortable, even though it was a foreign court. And I was doing all the talking, and the judge asked something at one point and I answered on behalf of my husband and I. And she finally said, "Does he talk?" And I was like, "Oh, Oh no. I didn't even let him introduce himself. I have been doing all the talking." So yeah, that was just kind of a funny thing to happen.
Did she understand that you were a lawyer?
Do they call it lawyer there? Well I guess it's a different, a Russian word.
Yeah, it's a little bit different system, but yeah. So Russian law, at the time was that there had had to be this waiting period. So you could ask for it to be waived. But usually in our region it didn't get waived. And also our translator forgot to ask, so we didn't get it waived.
So we had to have this 10 business day period go by. But remember where they are on December 26th and new year's is a big holiday. So there were, it turned into much longer than a 10 day period. It turned into, it was more than two weeks and we went and visited him every day to every other day whenever we could get a driver to take us. Not everybody wanted to work on new year's day, because it was a big holiday.
So whenever we could, we would go and we would visit him. It was an hour and a half drive each way. So it was, and it was snowing, it was the end of the end of the year in Russia. But then finally in January, we actually got custody of him, and got to bring him back to the hotel with us. And then the next day we flew to Moscow. And met with the American embassy and all that stuff.
Do you celebrate the day that you adopted him officially? Like there's so many dates where you guys, do you celebrate any of those?
So a lot of families have what they call a gotcha day, which is that they tend to, people tend to celebrate on the day that the court like, yes we have stamped it official you are a family. We celebrate the day that we held our children for the first time and it's like their day like this is our son's day, this is our daughter's day. Because really, in that moment, that's when we really feel like we became a family.
So that would have been the first time you went to Russia?
Would it be in-
Yeah. So November 13th.
Yeah. That's the day we celebrate our son's day. And then for our daughter, it's in April.
Nice. Do they also get a birthday?
Wow. So they get two all day.
They do. They get two days that are just about them. And their birthdays, we celebrate with friends if they want to. But that day is just for family, yeah.
That's so special. Very cool. So you don't know how much overall you spent on the adoption process and everything? I was just curious.
Yeah. What I remember is that I think they, the adoption agency told us to budget $18,000 for the adoption. I don't remember how much of that was fees and how much of it was travel. Because there were two of us, and we had to go to Russia twice. And the second time we were in Russia for a month.
So I don't, I don't remember the breakdown of it, but I think it was about $18,000. Now the US Government, and this may still be true, but you got a $10,000 tax credit in the year that your adoption was completed.
Not a deduction, but a credit.
So that was-
For both your kids, each time?
For each of them, yes.
Why is that? That there's a tax?
I want to promote adoption. I mean, I think it was-
And it doesn't matter where you adopt from?
Like if you adopted-
You adopted in the US and you have-
You do have to have those expenses. So if you spent $3,000, you would get a $3,000 tax credit.
But yeah, we had more than $10,000 expenses.
So you got your son and you're like, "Woohoo, this is awesome." And that is like, that's an experience. So I know that you have a daughter too, from Russia. So my question is, did you always know you wanted two kids? And also, really, you wanted to go back to Russia even after all of that?
Yeah, well, our overall experiences in Russia were very positive. And once we knew what to expect, it was even easier to go back. But also, we wanted our children to have that in common. We wanted them to share that. And initially we tried to go back to the same region where our son was born.
So the first time we went, we were like just a healthy child under the age of 12 months. But then once we had a son, we were like, "Yeah, we would really like to have a daughter to complete our family." And the facilitator there contacted the adoption agency and said, "It's going to be a long time before any baby girls are available for adoption." And so they said, "Well, we've talked to our facilitator in St. Petersburg and she knows that there is a baby girl who's available for adoption." Meaning parental rights have been voluntarily relinquished. "And we could move your paperwork to St. Petersburg." And we were like, "Sounds good. Let's do that."
Part of the paperwork process in Russia, and this is true in American adoptions too, I just don't think people realize it. We have birth certificates that list us as the birth parents.
Yeah, so we have-
From Russia, Russia, birth certificate?
We have Russian birth certificates that list us as the parents, and Russian adoption certificates that lists us as the parents.
That's nice that you can have that, because what happens in the US?
No, I think it gets changed.
It does get changed?
I think so, yeah.
Oh, I am curious, when you went to get both of your kids, did they already have names? Did they have names they were being called?
Yeah, so they did have names. But we do know that in the case of our son, he was named by his birth parents, because in Russia, your middle name is your father's name, with an ending based on whether you're a boy or a girl. So if you are, if your father's name is Boris, and you're a boy, then you're a Borisovich. And if you're a girl, you're Borisavna.
So we knew that our son had been named by his birth family. And my daughter was named, her birth family named her as well. But we changed their names. So we wanted to make it really clear to them that they were a part of our family. And so our son is named after his grandfathers.
Nope, that's not true. He's named after his great-grandfathers, our grandfathers. I skipped a generation. And our daughter is named after two women on my side of the family. Yeah.
So it was important to you to change their names for that family connection? Did you have any conversation about how to still honor their Russian heritage? Is that part of it?
Yes. So from the moment that they have been in my arms, they have known that they were adopted, and that they were adopted from this beautiful country called Russia. And I would tell it to them as part of our bedtime routine like, "Mommy and Daddy really wanted to be a mommy and daddy. And mommy and daddy prayed to God and said, 'Help us find our baby.' And God said, 'Oh, your baby is in Russia' And mommy and daddy said, 'Russia, that's really far away.' And then God said, 'You need to fly to Russia.' So we flew to Russia, boy did our arms get tired. We flew and flew and flew." So you know that kind of a thing-
And then this lady at the airport took our money, and fanned it out. Is it that detailed or not so much?
Not so much. Not so much all those details. And then I made them each a life book, which is a great thing for adoptive families to do. And the point of a life book is it's sort of like a scrapbook, but you tell everything that you know, because that way you're honoring everything about where they have lived before they were placed with you. And you're embracing fully, their story.
So in their life books, they each have their own. I made these really nice scrapbooks, and then I made color copies so that even when they were toddlers they were like, they had their own copy that they could put their hands on. And it tells everything we know about their birth family, everything we know about where they lived before they came to be home with us, all the people who helped us, pictures of all of it.
And then there's this one page that is really important to me, and it says, why was I adopted? And it says something to the effect of all of the reasons why babies get adopted have to do with their birth families and their adoptive families. Nothing that the baby does has anything to do with why they are adopted, because they're just goo goo gaga babies. They can't do anything. Because I never wanted my children to think that they were placed for adoption as a result of being rejected based on who they were, because they were just babies.
So you have two kids. Oh, did you? Why did, did you always want two kids?
Yes. So I always wanted two kids. And I liked being the little sister, so I actually was hoping that our son would be the oldest. But we really didn't specify. It really did just work out that way.
And part of the reason that I wanted two kids is when I was a teenager, my oldest brother was killed, and I thought, how sad would that be to be parents of one child and lose that child, and have no one else? In our adoption process. We actually met a family who had lost both of their children in a really horrible accident. So that kind of brought it home too, that we really wanted to be the biggest family we thought we could manage. And for us that was two kids.
So I think it's perfect. I grew up with a brother and I think, yeah, two is perfect. To wrap this up, I feel like a good question would be, I mean, I've never adopted a kid, obviously. I've adopted a dog, which is not the same. I don't think it's the same. But I do know a little bit about adoption just from that, not the same.
So I'm curious though, is there anything that if we meet someone that is adopted, or has adopted kids, is there things that we shouldn't say that you wouldn't want to be shoulded on you?
There are some things that as an adoptive mom, I don't like to hear. There are some things I love to hear.
I love it when people say, "Oh, I didn't know your kids were adopted." Because I want people to just look at us as a family.
And I love it when people say that my kids are amazing, because they are.
And I love it when people tell me that my beautiful daughter looks just like me, because I get to say, "You're right. She's so beautiful, and I have nothing to do with it. But she's so gorgeous."
You guys do, I don't look at your family and be like, "Oh those don't." I don't know. I've never looked at the family. I don't know, even when I knew your kids were adopted because I don't feel like I knew that right off the bat.
Yeah. I talk about it so much that I feel like everybody just knows.
But even when we took our son for his very first haircut, the barber not knowing that he was adopted was like, "Oh my gosh, look, he has your exact cowlick." The barber said to that to my husband, and we were like, "Wow, that's neat."
So what not to say to adopted parents. Please do not ask me if I couldn't have children of my own.
Because I have two children of my own. I went halfway around the world to get them.
I did way more work than most people do to give birth.
Yeah. When I'm feeling really sassy, I'm like, "You know, biological families, they just have the kids that they just got stuck with."
"But we like really had to like work on this hard. We like really had to search you out." So I don't like it when people ask if I couldn't have children of my own. And I don't like it when people say things like natural, like, "Oh, they have two natural children and an adopted child." What?
The adopted child is not unnatural. What are you talking about? Of course, you're meaning biological, right? So use the word biological, that's okay.
So that's okay, to say biological?
Yeah, that family has two biological children and an adopted child.
That's perfectly fine if you're, if for some reason adoption is relevant.
If it's not relevant, don't even bring it up. And I also don't like it when people say that my children are lucky. I know that it's meant as a compliment. "Oh your children are so lucky to have you." Guess what? I'm lucky to have them.
My husband and I went into adoption for completely selfish reasons. There are some people in this world who like they set out to adopt for really generous reasons. That just wasn't our story. Our story was, we wanted to be a mom and a dad.
We really wanted that for selfish reasons. And so we did it in the way that worked best for us. I mean, they did not live in ideal situations. Our son was in a children's hospital. And our daughter was in an orphanage that serviced up to 99 children under the age of three, with about six caregivers, and she was never held. They would pick her up out of her crib, which was really like a pack and play, and they would move her to a bigger one where they would sit all of the children together. She would do that for a couple of times a day maybe, for a limited period of time. And that was the extent of her interaction with people.
So I do think that it's better to be in a family than to be in that situation. But that wasn't our purpose. We weren't like, Oh we can't, we're doing-
Your reason wasn't to save a kid. Your reason was to be a family.
We just wanted to be a family. We weren't trying to spare someone from a life in a Russian orphanage. That was not, it's not what it was about for us.
You wanted to complete your family, because you were a family, you and Stephen were.
So is there anything else we should not say to adopted parents or adopted kids? Anything that, if someone, a kid's been adopted?
I would encourage people to talk to the adoptive parents rather than the adopted child, and to kind of get permission from the parent because really the child is not going to know that much about their adoption probably. I mean sometimes kids are older when they get adopted, and then they have more of a memory. But you don't know if those memories are positive or if they've been through some trauma.
So if you really have questions you need to go through the parents, not through the child. And I actually put together a little PDF, we'll put a link to it in the show notes, that kind of outlines why, well the different kinds of adoption like open or closed or domestic or international. And then kind of these things to say or not say. And the bottom line is, it's okay to ask questions but just be respectful.
Thank you for joining us today. And thank you Beth, for sharing your adoption story. That was super interesting. I'm really glad we got to do this. It's been on our list, and I'm like we had to make this happen.
So we want to remind you guys that the documents that Beth talked about, about adoption and all of those fun things, they are on our website and we'll put a link to those for you to check those out. They're good reads. I looked through them, and I'm not in the process of adopting, but it was super interesting. And what not to say.
Yeah, what not to say. That's helpful to everybody.
For sure. Exactly. And we do want to remind you that my book, Discovering My Scars is now fully available in bookstores everywhere. All the bookstores.
Everywhere. Amazon bookstores, your local bookseller-
Can you name five bookstores? Go.
Barnes and Noble, Books a Million.
Amazon, you said that.
Amazon, are there other bookstores?
Oh yeah, Target and Walmart book sections. Yeah. Yeah. That's true.
There are other bookstores too. There's a ton of bookstores. There's indie bookstores and there's Indigo and Powell. One of them is a Canadian one, yeah. So there's a lot of bookstores, lots of options.
And then we also have a, someone has called in to one of our questions from a previous episode. We want to go ahead and play that for you now.
So we do always have a question and you're welcome to call in and answer any of them from anytime. So this is a question that we posed a little while back.
Hi, this is Charlene, I'm calling from Ethiopia today. I just wanted to let you know, I also love Zaxby's and a good-
Buffalo chicken salad is the way to go.
probably once a week.
But not while you're in Ethiopia.
[crosstalk 00:41:36] Chick-fil-A. So those would be my favorite places to eat. And just wanted to say hi from Ethiopia. Have a good day. Great podcast today.
Thank you. Well Ethiopia, that's not in this country.
It is not just on the continent of Africa. So she must have been traveling there for work. But she was referring, we talked a while back about-
Zaxby's chips are the best.
Yes. How you love Zaxby's chips. And that my tip from Zaxby's was to order the kid's meal.
But she said the blackened chicken salad?
I got to try that. I haven't tried that one.
I don't know if she said salad or sandwich. And she said Buffalo chicken, not a blackened.
I said all the things that were wrong. I'll have to listen to it again.
Yeah. Buffalo chicken. I'm going to have to try that. Actually my family's probably eating at Zaxby's tonight because I got a text message from my son, who we've been talking about this entire episode saying, "Hey, can you get some Zaxby's for tonight?" Yes, I probably can, and I'm going to get some chips.
Because Stephanie taught me that they are good.
They are so good. Love the chips.
So our question for this episode, and remember you can call and answer any of them. But our question for this episode is, where have you traveled to that is an unexpected, or uncommon destination? And what did you love about it or not?
So I shared today about how my husband and I had been to Russia multiple times. That's sort of an unusual destination. And Charlene called from Ethiopia. Not everybody's been to Ethiopia.
So give us a call and tell us where you've been.
Does the US count?
I have not been out of the country.
That's okay. You can still call in Steph, and tell us where you've been in the US that is an uncommon but, but interesting destination.
Okay, I'll call in. I won't tell you now. If you want to call, that number is (850) 270-3308, and you can also text message that number.
At the end we like to end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that we've written, and Beth will read them and leave a little pause between each one for you to answer to yourself. Or you can get a downloadable PDF on our website.
Number one, have you ever adopted or known someone who adopted?
Have you considered adoption? Why or why not?
Can you think of a time when you met someone who was adopted from another country? Did you wonder about their story? Were you afraid to ask? Why?
Has this conversation changed how you think about adoption or international adoption?
Has there been a time when something important in your life was completely out of your control? How did you handle it?
This has been the Discovering Our Scars Podcast. Thank you for joining us.
Mental Health Advocate. Author. Podcast Host. DIYer. Greyhound Mom.