Monday, August 29, 2011

Almost done...

Sorry, I felt the need to wait a few days for this.

Mildred adopted from Simferopol last year. She was finished in record time and other than her facilitator trying unsuccessfully to frighten her and her husband away from riding the bus, things were smooth.

(Families may pay anywhere from $20-70 per day for a private driver to take them to their child's orphanage or institution for visits. Outrageous. Some families have felt the need to cut back on visits, as these daily charges add up quickly. Why not take the marshrutka bus for less than 50 cents per person? I'll talk about that sometime if anyone is interested.)

Mildred and her husband decided to do a quick turn around and adopt another child right away. They were already USCIS approved and would be able to travel very soon this time. Though their first adoption process went smoothly with their original facilitator, they knew of the threats and intimidation that other families had experienced with him. This time they wanted used their own facilitator.

When they contacted RR to formally commit to the child they were pursuing, they found out that RR would not assist them in obtaining the information that is required to submit a petition for this specific child. The child's full name and location are required information to ask the adoption authority for the child's referral. So, they were forced to hire a facilitator to track down the child's information. Let's call the child Little J.

Around this time Clarice, who was also in the process of adopting from Ukraine, found out that the child her and her husband were pursuing was not available. The circumstances were beyond any one's control and they would need to choose another child. I assured Clarice that the director of RR would probably be able to make helpful suggestions for her as she had done for me in the past.

I was chatting with another adoption world friend that next week when the subject of Clarice came up. She told me that Clarice was considering whether to pursue the adoption of Little J. My heart sank. My sweet friend Mildred would be crushed if that happened.

I took a big chance and sent an email to Clarice, asking her to please call me. We talked about her situation a bit. Clarice told me that she was feeling pressured to commit to Little J quickly. It was then that I told Clarice about Mildred and her husband. Both of these families are so gentle and kind. It was my pleasure to put them in touch with one another. In an email shortly after, Clarice wrote, in part:
"I had been feeling guilty about not committing to [Little J], especially because I didn't feel as led to him as to some other children. I just didn't know what to do. Getting that call from Stephanie was a miracle, I was so happy to hear that [Little J] had a family nearly ready to travel to get him."
I thank God that I was in the right place at the right time to intervene in this situation. It turned out happily, for both families are home now with a beautiful new child each. Mildred with Little J and Clarice with her sweet new daughter.

I'm telling this true story to illustrate the difficulty and possible dangers involved in choosing to use your own facilitator when dealing with RR. As things stand right now, RR will not assist you in obtaining the information required to adopt a child if you choose to use your own facilitator. It is my sincere hope that this changes in the near future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Riding the Rainbow Part - whatever number we're on now...

The events of February 2011 were shared privately among a the subscribers to the blog I set up to help families adopting from Yolochka. Over the past year, the blog had turned into a collaborative effort with each family added as authors once they were in Ukraine. I would add new families as they made commitments to children at Yolochka.

Since there were a few families in process, no one was willing to talk publicly about what happened at that time. There are so many things that could go wrong. The time was not right.

It's important to understand that one facilitation team is responsible for providing the majority of photos and basic information about available children to Reece's Rainbow. They break the laws of their country to do it. (I'm not going to debate the merits of photo listings here. Just important to know that it's unlawful according to Ukrainian law.) According to the director of RR, the organization receives no referral fees from this team.

The notably threatening and intimidating facilitator belongs to this particular team. Or the team belongs to him. I don't know. I do know that his behavior has put Reece's Rainbow into a huge bind. If RR were to stop referring families to this team, they may lose access to additional information on available children. Their Ukrainian photo listings may cease. So far, to my knowledge, Reece's Rainbow has yet to apologize to any family abused by this team. In fact, they continue to refer families to this team.

Based on the multiple reports of threats and intimidation by the notable facilitator, one family decided in the midst of their process to make the switch to a new facilitator. Another family, prior to making a commitment to a child, also made the decision to use their own facilitator.

Their stories next time...

Monday, August 22, 2011

OK then...

OK then...this gives me no pleasure, but I will continue.

Mere minutes after I learned about the threats made toward Mattie, I sent an email to the Reece's Rainbow director explaining the situation. After a few emails back and forth, I was reassured that she would have a "stern discussion" with the facilitators in question and that they do not speak for her or RR.

During the following weeks I also learned that a personal Ukrainian friend received a threatening phone call. He was warned not to help any adopting families, or else. I hesitate to even mention this because I cannot prove it, but this person was a good friend to me and several other adopting families. I believe that his phone number was harvested from the cell phone I used in country.

Things were fine for several months. I was able to help several families find inexpensive accommodations in Simferopol and navigate the public transportation system there.

Then on February 11, 2011, at 3am the phone rang. It was Allie! From Ukraine!

Allie didn't have my phone number. We normally emailed each other. Amazingly, she had looked our phone number up on the internet. Thank goodness we were the 2nd listing. I feel sorta bad for the guy who was number one and was called at 3am by mistake! It took me a moment to focus and understand what she was saying. She told me that an adopting family had been verbally abused by their facilitator. Apparently, he threatened to stop their adoption and told them to go home. They needed to speak to me immediately.

Oh dear.

This family had been under fire from their facilitator almost from day one. The facilitator thought it was inappropriate for them to go sightseeing. The facilitator didn't want them to fly to their region instead of taking the train. The situation came to a head on the day the family visited their older daughter and took a friend to help them translate.

(A side note: when you adopt from Ukraine, depending on the facilitator you use, you will not have an interpreter with you all the time. In the case of my team, I had an interpreter on the day we met our children, the day we had court, the day we traveled for new birth certificates, and passport day. Four or five days total. Ideally your facilitator is available to interpret for you by phone when you need them, but they are often very busy and it can be fun to figure things out on your own. Brush up on your charades!)

The family was adopting an older child who was quite a talker! They simply wanted to be able to communicate with her during at least one visit. Their facilitator had left town and would likely not have been available to interpret over the phone for a whole hour or two. Before the family even got into the door that morning their facilitator was calling and yelling and threatening to stop their adoption.

I called the family immediately and attempted to calm them. I won't go further into details here or this would be a book. The adoption did proceed, with the same abusive facilitator, at great personal emotional cost to the family. For instance, they were warned by their facilitator not to go anywhere, not to church, not to the valentine banquet for which they had already purchased tickets. Of course they would do anything they were told at that point, because the lives of their children depended on it. Is that a happy ending? Two children were given the gift of a family, of life. I don't know what to think sometimes.

There is more...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

There are those...

There are those who would rather that I not finish my story.

There are those who claim that I would be harming an organization that is doing good work.

There are those who feel I'm obsessed and self-centered.

There are those would prefer to let bygones be bygones.

What do you say?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riding the Rainbow Part 6

Part 6 - Where the ride starts to make me dizzy.

On February 18, 2011 I receive this comment on my comment moderated blog:

"I am curious (After seeing your comment on another blog) if you had a less than stellar RR expierence? I think if you did (or didn't even) you should share that so other future adoptive parents have resources.
By Anonymous on Wordless Wednesday? on 2/18/11"
I couldn't discuss this at the time and didn't publish the comment until many months later. But I promised myself to discuss it publicly when the time was right.

My Reece's Rainbow adoption experience was not a bad experience, if you don't count getting royally ripped off for passports. I made my own lodging arrangements, made some incredible friends, and fell in love with Ukraine. My post-adoption experience is a different story. Though I do have permission to share these stories in which I was involved, I have changed some names for privacy and security purposes.

As I mentioned, I kept my eyes open for other Reece's Rainbow children every day at the orphanage. Sometimes I would saunter over to a group of children that I wasn't really supposed be visiting if I spotted a vaguely familiar face. I might guess the child's name and if I was wrong the ladies would correct me.

I saw Sugar every day since she often shared an empty playpen with Zhen. Her parents were to travel shortly after us. Unfortunately, between paperwork problems and poor communication with their facilitators, many of their documents expired and had to be completely redone. They didn't end up traveling until February of 2011.

I spotted Janie one day playing under the shelter next to the one used by Zhen's grouppa. I was able to successfully try out my zoom lens and snag some photos for her family. Poor Janie had her head shaved and I wasn't sure it was her at first. I wasn't sure if it was a boy or a girl! But, yes, it was her. My husband fell in love with another little girl in her group, Marianna, so we made excuses to go over and chat with their caregivers. James said we would have come back to adopt her, but sadly, the orphanage attorney told me that she had "parents."

Janie's family, the Doe's, were the next family to travel. I put them in touch with my friend, Allie, who helped them find an inexpensive apartment for only $20 per night. This apartment was owned by Mattie, a dear friend of Allie. Allie was even kind enough to personally pay a cleaning person to get the apartment freshened up for their arrival.

On the morning of November 3, 2010, I received this message from Allie that read in part,
“The Doe family's interpreter just called Mattie (btw - She is a Christian friend that I have known for 15 years here) and said they needed the key right now. Mattie told them that they would have to wait a bit until she got there (she teaches at the university). The interpreter got on the phone and blasted Mattie -- even threatening to kill her and cussed her out profusely.

Then another man - who said he was the director of your organization (RR?) got on the phone and also threatened her. Mattie hung up on them. I don't blame her. HOWEVER, they got off the phone and told the Doe family that Mattie had threatened and cursed them. I say all that to say, I don't think I am willing to help others from your organization at this point."

The Doe family was then taken to an apartment arranged by their facilitator. In an email, Mrs. Doe told me,
"It was twice the amount of the other apt and did not have internet access. The owners, who lived upstairs, let us use their computer a couple of times but they worked until 8 and we didn't want to inconvenience them so we found an internet cafe on our own. We were set up with a driver who cost us $30 per day. When I asked about using the bus I was told how very unsafe it was and discouraged to try it."
To be continued.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Riding the Rainbow Part 5

Coming home from Ukraine was HARD. Jet lag was ten times worse coming home than going, and I had to hit the ground running. After being gone for 40 days and depending on the kindness of friends and strangers, I found that I wasn't done needing help. I was just done feeling like I had a right to ask for it.

Theodore was hospitalized in Kansas City less than a week after we got home. I had taken him to the Down Syndrome clinic at the recommendation of my poor primary care doc. I felt kinda bad bringing a half dead/dying child into his family practice, but we had to start somewhere. The doc at the DS clinic took one look at Theo, called the nurse to bring oxygen and had him immediately admitted.

I had three other children with me that day, at a hospital three hours from home, with my husband out of town. I was forced to make a very tough decision that day and break a promise. After visiting with Theo twice a day, everyday for weeks and then handing him back over to the people who failed to care for him properly for four long years, my solemn vow to Theo was for me to never leave him ever again. I left him in Kansas City. Three hours away from home. Alone.

The next day, back in Wichita, I called the Kansas City Down Syndrome Guild to see if anyone could visit him in my absence. I don't know who visited and cuddled with him until I could return a few days later. If it was you, and you know who you are, I thank you!

For ten long days Theo was in the hospital in Kansas City. Initially suffering from refeeding syndrome, he continued to lose weight even after his feeds were reintroduced. Finally after some not-so-fun day-long blood tests we had our answer...growth hormone deficiency, likely brought on by severe neglect. I spent the next month attempting to get him started on hormone shots, and finding a way to pay for it!

As we settled in with our new sons and adjusted to the new normal, I found a new passion...I turned my attention toward assisting the other families who would soon be adopting from Yolochka.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Riding the Rainbow Part 4

Ready for some weirdness?

Meeting our boys for the first time was an experience I'll never forget. Zhen clung to my husband like he knew...this was his daddy. The workers in Theo's room were clearly unprepared for any child under their care to receive a visitor, much less a set of prospective adoptive parents. He was a unresponsive stick figure baby in tie up jammies and a huge ball of a diaper. When we arrived for our first official visit the next day, one of the workers asked us, through charades, if we were really going to take him home. She was moved to tears that we came back. She obviously expected us to reject his referral after that first meeting. Perhaps that is more sad than weird.

Like any good Reece's Rainbow mom, I kept my eyes open the other listed children in the facility. I found it difficult to reconcile the photos to the actual faces at first, but soon I had found several of the children I was looking for. Aloysha, for one, was in Zhen's grouppa. I was so happy to learn that he had a newly committed family and one day I was asked by the orphanage attorney and our facilitator to get an updated photo of him. To my surprise, I was directed to take a photo of a completely different boy. Over the next few days I uncovered the fact that Alyosha's family had committed to him on the basis of the photo of a completely different boy! I was in a very difficult and heartbreaking situation. What should I tell the family who asked me to be on the lookout for their prospective son? They ended up prayerfully choosing to pursue the real Aloysha, but what about Oleg, the boy in the photo who almost got a family? I was able to get new photos of him and he got his very own listing on the RR site shortly thereafter. (This story has a happy ending as Oleg was adopted and brought home to the USA just last week.)

On another weird note, I was contacted by a family that hoped to adopt a little 4 year old boy in Theo's grouppa. I blogged about meeting him one day and they emailed me with lots of questions. This part of my trip was so very weird that I'm not even sure I can relate it without totally confusing you. Apparently this family had asked some missionaries to go to the orphanage and make some monetary donations for him. They wanted the missionaries to beg the director to keep him in the baby house and not transfer him to the mental institution. (All the children in this facility are transferred at the ripe old age of 4.) Knowing that the director was bound by law and concerned for the good reputation of the missionaries, whom I consider to be dear friends, I asked them not to do this. Later, on September 28, when I inquired with the adopting family about their timeline, I received this message, " we believe that you are the person that put many of the children at Yolochka at risk. Many of them will be transferred, now, due to your intervention." Crazy! How could I be personally responsible for the transfers? They've been happening for ages. (This family did end up adopting, in the spring of 2011. No one could have kept that child from being transferred for so long. I know I did the right thing.)

A word of caution here for adopting families...keep the safety and good name of your missionary contacts in mind. The adoption world can be ugly. That is all I'm going to say about that for the time being.

I found the passport application process to be quite unnerving. It was like going to see the wizard where you wait at the door forever waiting to be admitted. We waited for a very, VERY long time in the hot, hot sun. My facilitator even asked me to find some shade for the children. When we were finally admitted there was a huge, empty, AIR CONDITIONED waiting room. What was the purpose of making us wait out in the hot sun? I had paid my facilitator in the car prior to ringing the bell. She insisted on $300 in US Dollars for each child. "The families who were here just a couple of weeks ago only paid $200," I protested. I had only budgeted $200 each. I took the extra money out of my food envelope and gave it to her. What was I supposed to do? No real choice here. And why couldn't I just pay the passport lady myself? Weird. (I recently learned that passports only cost 550 Grivna, or $68.75. What happened to the extra $462.25?)

Wow, this is getting long. Are you still with me? Did I tell you about the day we sat at the bank, trying to close our boys' pension accounts? It was a long and tiresome afternoon. The bank wanted one more document...that our facilitator apparently didn't have. There was yelling. There were phone calls. There was a dog wandering in and out of the bank. The security guard yelled at my son, Wesley, when he closed his eyes for a moment. Apparently the guard, who was smoking and constantly rearranging chairs and telling people where to sit, thought he was going to take a nap!

Eventually the teller counted out a HUGE stack of bills. Our facilitator asked me to go out in front of the bank and yell for Dima. What? Who is Dima? (He was the orphanage bookkeeper, how was I to know?) Why is he hanging around out front of the bank? Dima arrived and stuck the HUGE stack of cash into a folded up newspaper and walked out of the bank. We were done. Weird.

Our understanding was always that we would donate the money back to the orphanage. I have since learned that this is not an expectation on the part of the orphanage director. The money belongs to the children and can be used for their therapy or medical bills or whatever the parents decide. I do not believe that it is wise to present cash to the orphanage director. Our boys had many, MANY thousands of US dollars in their accounts. That is an incredible temptation in a land where salaries are low and corruption is prevalent.

My advice to future adopting parents is to find out ahead of time how much money is in the child's account. The director should have the child's bank book. Don't wait until the last minute or you will run out of time. If you wish to donate this back to the orphanage, ask the director what would be most helpful for the children and then plan a shopping trip to purchase the items yourself. Be certain that your facilitator understands your plans well in advance.

OK, is that enough weirdness for one day?

***UPDATE*** Added August 2
The issue of passport prices is a fuzzy one. We received the blue passports and waited almost a week for them to be available. My understanding is that you can request expedited service for an extra fee. How that works is unclear to me. In regions where red (and ready on the same day!) passports can cost quite a bit more. Up to $1000 US.

I'm very interested in YOUR passport experience. How much did you pay? In which region? Who did you give the money to? Post anonymously if you wish, but be honest.