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A home for Hannah

By Melanie Stetson Freeman and Marjorie CoeymanStaff photographer and writer of The Christian Science Monitor respectively / September 15, 1999


As three-year-old Anna Sinyaeva opens her eyes to greet the morning, there are few mysteries awaiting her. Each day, she knows, will be exactly like the one before.

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This tiny occupant of bed No. 15 in a state-run orphanage two hours outside Moscow is well accustomed to the highly ordered institutional rhythm that shapes her life. She and the 14 other two- and three-year-olds who sleep in the same room all rise at the same hour every day, bathe and dress at the same hour, and share the same kindly but limited atten-tions of the orphanage employees.

Anna has never known any other existence.

Her mother, listed as an alcoholic on hospital records, abandoned her at birth.

She did come back to visit the child twice early on - drunk on both occasions. She hasn't been seen since.

The identity of Anna's father is unknown.

When no known relatives came forward to claim her, Anna became one of the more than 600,000 Russian children whose parents have either died or abandoned them.

Because she has no family ties, she is considered eligible for adoption. The state prefers a domestic adoption, but in the last few years, because of the stigma attached to adopted children in Russia and the country's economic crisis, the number of adoptions by Russians has plummeted. Since no potential Russian parents have taken an interest in Anna, she is eligible for international adoption.

Adoption of Russian children by Americans has risen sharply in the past few years, hitting a high of 4,491 last year, up from only 324 in 1992. But most would have called Anna's chances of attracting foreign parents slim at best. Her medical records suggest signs of fetal alcohol syndrome. The doctor who examined her called her unresponsive and developmentally impaired.

What the medical records don't tell, however, is that Anna has

already proved herself to be a fighter. At the age of 15 months she became seriously ill and entered the hospital, with little hope of recovery.

But the child fought her way back to health and eventually rejoined her tiny colleagues at the orphanage. A doctor who saw her records called her a "miracle child."

And, now, once again, it seems a miracle has come to Anna's life. Far off in the United States, a family has decided they want her to join them and become their child. They've already sent a photo album, showing pictures of their smiling faces, their large home, and a newly decorated bedroom - all waiting for Anna.

So this child who has never owned anything - at the orphanage even the children's shoes are shared - suddenly has a picture book that's just for her. And to her daily routine - playing in the yard, using potty No. 15, hanging her little towel on hook No. 15 - has been added another element.

She can occasionally page through the new book.

Whether she understands what the book means no one really knows.

It's a hot June day in Groveland, Mass., and in this quiet, affluent exurb an hour north of Boston, the only sound to be heard is the twin dronings of lawn mowers and air conditioners.

But on this particular morning, Mary Rocklein is concerned with neither the weather nor the state of her lawn. She's sitting in her darkened living room watching images from a grainy video flicker across a large-screen TV.

"That's her! Right there, that's Hannah," she tells her visitors. And momentarily frozen on the screen is a close-up shot of little Anna, captured on camera by a visitor to the orphanage. It's a scene Mary has reviewed now dozens of times, with her husband, Bob, with her mother and sister, with anyone else who cares to watch.

It's an image of the little girl the Rockleins have decided they need in order to complete their family.

Playing with a doll next to the TV screen is four-year-old Abigail, Anna's soon-to-be-adoptive sister. Abigail doesn't bother to look up. She's seen the video many times before.

Bob and Mary have been married for 10 years now. This is a second marriage for Bob, who works as a mortgage broker and has three children from his first marriage. After Abigail was born to the couple, conceiving a second child proved difficult.

Bob would have been content to simply continue their lives as they were.

But Mary, adopted herself at the age of 2-1/2, was immediately drawn to the notion of providing such an opportunity to another child.