Waiting in Kazakhstan - Part One


Mariechan Atterbury
Focus on Adoption magazine

MarieChan opened her heart in Kazakhstan and the result is a story of longing, love, and family. Here, a husband and wife decide that it's not too late to build their family and begin a journey that takes them half way around the world to meet their children.

Three weeks before going to Kazakhstan, I had a dream that a young man was at the back door of my Coquitlam home. In the dream, the young man was not threatening but seemed to be someone that I would welcome into my house. I now look back on that dream as a foretelling of a journey that began the next day.

My husband Douglas came home on a cold afternoon in January 2010 and said that our adoption agency had called, and we had received an invitation to visit Kazakhstan for the opportunity to adopt twin girls. The call came as a shock. After waiting for three years to adopt a girl, we had given up hope and had put our dreams of a family away forever. It took two weeks of discussion, but we finally decided that this was probably our last chance to build a family, despite my misgivings that I may be too old to be a mother.

The invitation was for three months, March 15-June 15, 2010, and allowed us to visit in the northeastern region of Kazakhstan called Pavlodar. By the time that we arrived in Pavlodar, on March 23, we had already lost eight days of our three month visa, and every day is critical as there are orphanage visits, court dates, and adoption paperwork to arrange. We immediately lost another few days waiting for the end of the spring equinox (Nowruz) celebration when all businesses would reopen.

Waiting to begin

We were met in Pavlodar by the team of Kazak women and men who would become our guides, friends, council and my lifeline in the next couple of months: Svetlana, the lawyer; her father: Guannadiy, our driver on the many, many visits we made across Pavlodar; and Tanya, the translator. Tanya was seven months pregnant and would be replaced later by Elena because the rough roads were too dangerous for Tanya in her condition. We would soon be joined by another member of the team: the village’s social worker who had to accompany us on all orphanage visits.

Before we could make any visits to the orphanages, we had to go to the Department of Education to get an authorization letter. Finally, on Thursday, March 25, we accompanied Svetlana there to get the letter of permission. The kind woman at the office told me that it was very good that we came during Nowruz because it is a new beginning, and she promised to write us a letter to visit the “babyhouse”--the name given to group foster homes for babies and toddlers up to the age of four.

We waited for the letter back at the apartment. Elena called in the afternoon to say no letter yet. It was 9:30 pm when the letter was received; so, the next morning, Guannadiy, Svetlana and Elena picked us up to go to the Department of Guardianship to pick up the social worker who would go with us to the babyhouse.

At the Pavlodar children’s home, we were led into a large room where we waited for the twins to be brought in. The door opened and two very rambunctious girls ran in and just seemed to take over, grabbing my purse and taking Douglas’ laptop. Douglas started to laugh but I thought, “This is no laughing matter.” We finally got one twin to sit on Douglas’ lap and I had the other girl on mine, and I took her face in my hands. She would not look at me, and seemed very vacant. There was no feeling—not from her, not from me. I think Douglas was in shock, too. This was not what we had expected. They asked if we would like to see any other children and we agreed. They brought in a girl who was deaf but had not been taught to sign, and who also had hip problems. She was shy and I could see that she was very intelligent. But I knew that I was not ready for a child who needed so much care.

As the children were led away, Lena turned and said, “Oh, the girl who is deaf is crying.” And then I realized that I was also crying, and the tears streaming down my face would not stop. I was prepared for the logistics of the adoption visit; I had been advised to bring a notebook and to familiarize myself with the signs of FASD, mental impairment and medical issues. But nothing had prepared me for meeting and having to say “no” to these children.

Svetlana asked if we wanted to visit some other children's homes in the area and Douglas I agreed that since we had come on this long journey, we should try to visit one or two more even though time was ticking.

Finding Valya

The next day we went to Kachiry, a small village about an hour’s drive from Pavlodar. We arrived at an old, grey building, and went to the director’s office where we explored files of the children available for adoption. It was hard to get a sense of the children from a file—their pictures were old, usually taken when they first arrived at the orphanage—in Valya’s case three years earlier. Then the children were brought to a large playroom and two girls sat between a few boys on a long bench. The children speak only Kazak and Russian so interaction was limited to play, but one girl caught our eye partly because she ignored us.

The older of the two girls was very interested in us and wanted to play ball and kept trying to get our attention, but Valya was interested in the slide in the play area and played by herself while we observed her. After a little, while I realized that this little girl needed so much to be loved. Something inside me wanted to protect and love her. I felt a very deep connection to her and told Douglas, “She’s the one.” When we told the director that we were interested in Valya, she said, “Yes. But she has an older brother. He’s about 10 years old.”

Douglas and I were sure about Valya, but I was not at all sure about adopting an older boy. I didn’t know what kind of emotional trauma a child that age may have. And our adoption forms were for a child up to six years old, not for a ten-year-old. “Even though Valya is our first choice, I’m not sure we can adopt the brother,” I said to the director.

Douglas and I went home and discussed the prospect of adopting Valya and her brother, and finally agreed that it was more than we were prepared for. It was a devastating decision, because I felt that Valya was the girl who could complete our family. But we couldn’t adopt her without her brother and we couldn’t reconcile ourselves to bringing both of them into our family. We told Svetlana that we would not be pursuing the adoption of Valya, and we went back to square one: considering a single child to bring into our family.

The search continues

While we were at the Kachiry children’s home meeting Valya, we had also met a sweet, redheaded four-year-old boy. We hadn’t asked for any information on him, so we thought perhaps we would go to Svetlana’s office the next day and request the papers to visit the boy. We were serious about adopting him. But during our visit with him, the only feeling I had was numbness. When we got home, I tried to explain to Douglas that I felt that all I could give this boy was a house and clothes and not much of myself. He couldn’t understand my lack of feeling. “I would rather go home without a child than go home with a child that I didn’t feel I could be a good mother to. It’s like getting married—you cannot find any man and just get married. There has to be a connection. I think it’s the same with a child. You must feel something."

The next day, in her office, I told Svetlana that we couldn’t continue with the adoption of the boy. I assumed that she and everyone else would be very angry with me, but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t continue. Svetlana was very understanding and talked to us about her experience with the older kids in the orphanages. She explained that sometimes when she visited them, they would ask her, “Have you found me a family yet?” and she started to cry as she explained that she usually had to tell them “No”. “People usually just want babies,” she said sadly. “Are you sure you don’t want to just meet Valya’s brother?” she then asked us.

We had a lot to think about when we went back to the apartment that evening. Time was running out for us—we had already been in Kazakhstan two weeks. Over dinner at The Englishman restaurant, Douglas made a case for Valya’s brother. “Let’s just go and meet the boy,” Douglas said. “We’ll meet him, we won’t make any commitments and then we can go home and everyone will be happy. We don’t have anything to lose.”

Read part two.