A home for Hannah
BOSTON — 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.
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.
Despite Bob's lack of interest, she began gathering information about both domestic and international adoptions.
But it was when a booklet from Wide Horizons for Children, an adoption agency based in Waltham, Mass., arrived at her home that the subject acquired urgency for Mary.
That was when she saw a picture of Anna and somehow instantly felt that this little girl was meant to be their daughter. Her coloring and expression reminded Mary of Abigail. She could just picture Anna romping in the backyard, playing on the living room floor, sleeping in one of the little beds - living a new life as their adopted daughter.
This type of powerful emotional response to a child's photo is not unusual, say adoption workers. For Bob also, the picture was the turning point. "Once there was a real child, his heart just melted," recalls Mary. Suddenly he was on board and the process was under way.
The family began referring to Anna as "Hannah," a name they preferred because of its biblical roots, and decided to add as a middle name the Christian virtue of Faith.
Typically, it's about a year from the moment prospective parents in the United States contact an agency about a foreign adoption to the day they finally hold a child in their arms. There's a great deal of paperwork to be completed, a home-study must be done, and, in the case of Russia, there's at least one trip overseas to be taken, to actually pick the child up.
For the Rockleins, the process looked like smooth sailing - until they ran up against Anna's medical reports. The American doctor who read the remarks of his Russian counterpart recommended that the Rockleins pull back. Anna's problems looked severe, the doctor explained, and the couple would be taking a serious risk. Another American family before the Rockleins had considered adopting Anna, but also backed away when they learned the extent of her potential mental and motor problems.
Mary and Bob underwent days of anguish. But when the answer finally came they felt it was one based on prayer. "We went more with faith and our hearts rather than the facts that were given to us," says Mary. They told the agency they wanted to proceed.
The Rockleins are waiting, daily expecting to hear the date of their trip to Russia. They hope it will take place this summer. Mary has been busy decorating a room for the girls to share, buying mountains of new clothes and toys for Hannah, filling a box with gifts she plans to take to the other children in the orphanage, and preparing Abigail for the idea of a new sister.
This morning in July begins just like every other morning as Anna wakes up once again in bed No. 15. But by the time the day is over, everything in her young life has been turned upside down.
She eats her breakfast at one of the small tables with the other children and takes her turn being washed and dressed and goes to play in the yard, just as she always does.
But later in the day, after the normal lengthy afternoon nap, there is a surprising change in the routine. Anna's caretakers pull her aside from the other children and wash her and put a brand-new dress on her. They comb her hair and even try to fasten an elaborate bow in it, although the fine strands refuse to hold it firm.
Then, holding a caretaker's hand, Anna walks down the hall to a meeting room near the director's office where the Rockleins wait.
Meanwhile, Bob and Mary, still exhausted from their flight to Moscow, are sitting nervously on the couch in the director's office. Mary, clutching a stuffed kitten for Anna, is close to tears.
Suddenly she appears.
"All I could think," says Bob later, "was that she looked just like her picture."
Anna goes to him, stretching out her hand.
Mary cries. "It just seemed like a dream," she recalls afterward.
The Rockleins visit Anna four more times in the orphanage. One day is also spent in a Russian court finalizing the adoption.
Finally, Mary and Bob are able to take Anna away with them, to stay for two more nights in the room they've rented in the apartment of a Muscovite. They also give Anna the first pair of shoes that are really hers to keep, and they fascinate her. Her clothes and shoes from the orphanage are left behind for the other children.
Some children grieve when they leave the orphanage, the only home they've ever known. But not Anna.
The first night with her new parents she's so excited she can't sleep and wants to laugh and chatter and bounce on the bed. Bob finally has to sit on the side of her bed in the dark repeating over and over in Russian, "Quiet," and "Sleep."
The next day they take her to the US embassy to get a travel visa for her, and they're now ready to head home.
Mary is worried about the two flights ahead of them. It means a total of 11 hours in the air and she's afraid Anna will cry or be scared and that it will be hard to comfort her without speaking Russian.
But Anna - now adjusting to being called Hannah - takes to flying easily and seems completely at ease with her new mom and dad.
The plane ride actually turns out to be the last peace Mary and Bob will know for a while. They are greeted at the airport in Boston by big sister Abby and also by Hannah's older half-sister and brother, and three cousins from Connecticut. It's a joyous reunion, but soon the happiness turns to despair.
Abby is thrilled to have her parents at home again, but much less thrilled to have a new little sister. She knew Hannah was coming, but somehow this complete absorption of her parents' time and attention wasn't exactly what she expected.
Hannah too is sometimes overwhelmed by strange emotions. Although she's generally cheerful and adapts with surprising speed to her new surroundings, she alarms the family with occasional bursts of temper that sometimes include biting and spitting. She's comfortable only with routine, and any slight change - particularly the arrival of a visitor at the front door - can send her into a frightening tantrum.
These moments pass quickly but they scare her new parents, who are unprepared for the violence, and sometimes feel they simply can't understand this little stranger who has so unsettled their household.
The two girls fight constantly.
"I just felt overwhelmed," Bob recalls later of the first days at home with Hannah. "I wondered if the rest of our lives were going to be like this."
"There were moments when I questioned my faith," admits Mary.
Actually what the Rockleins experienced is a typical scenario, says Lisa Summers, the Russian specialist the Rockleins worked with at Wide Horizons. "Love takes time," says Ms. Summers. "I tell them to look for small improvements every day."
As for the temper tantrums, Summers says it's important to remember that Hannah is processing enormous change in a short period of time and may also be frustrated by not understanding English. Give her time, she counsels the Rockleins.
Summers's words prove prophetic. The fourth week home, Mary takes Hannah to the doctor who recommended against her adoption. She examines the child and pronounces her absolutely healthy. Her mental and motor development seem a bit behind but this is typical of children who live in institutions. In Hannah's case, she appears bright, and there is every reason to expect she will quickly catch up.
Hannah's eating habits stabilize as well. First out of the orphanage and constantly hungry, she grabbed at everything in sight with two hands. Now, confident that food is available, she eats more normally.
But most important, Hannah and Abby begin to forge a mutual understanding. The fighting subsides and the two girls begin to learn to play together and even seem to enjoy one another.
Abby had seemed particularly possessive of Bob at the start but now, she tells him one night as he kisses her goodnight, "Don't forget to kiss Hannah, too."
Mary - who had been suffering under the strain of the first unhappy weeks - is overcome with relief. And now, she says, if it weren't for the cost (the whole process - including $7,900 to the adoption agency, $9,000 to the Russian government, and travel expenses - cost the Rockleins about $23,000), "I'd love to adopt another one."
INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION INFORMATION Office of Childrens Issues Room 4811 Overseas Citizens Services Bureau of Consular Affairs US Department of State Washington, DC 20520-4818 (202) 736-7000 http://travel.state.gov
NATIONAL ADOPTION INFORMATION CLEARINGHOUSE 330 C Street SW Washington, DC 20447 (703) 352-3488 www.calib.com/naic/
AID TO RUSSIAN ORPHANS ARC (Action of Russian Children) Checks made out to ARC can be sent to: Mrs. Clare Renton 52 Alderville London SW6 3RJ ENGLAND ARC is 100 percent volunteer, with all money going to children. Volunteers aim to improve the lives of abandoned children.
1) BED NO. 15 : Anna Sinyaeva is one of 105 children in her Russian orphanage. 2)Soon she will have an American mom, Mary Rocklein, and sister, Abby. 3) No. 15, hanging her little towel on hook No. 15 - has been added another element. 4) To this child who has never owned anything suddenly has a picture book that's just for her. And to her daily routine - playing in the yard, using potty. 5) DAILY RITUAL Caretaker Lyubov Lasitsa gives one-on-one attention to Anna. Since two or three caretakers look after 15 children, there's only so much time they can spend with each child. 6) The children all go to the potty at the same time (far left), and are asked to sit until everyone has finished. 7) FRESH AIR : Each morning during warm weather, Anna's group goes outside to play in the yard. The children play independently of one another and seldom fight over toys. When one falls down, usually there is no crying because caretakers can't always come to comfort them as a parent might. 8) NOT A DROP SPILLED : Anna and the other children eagerly eat everything offered to them. Although the food is bland and monotonous, they never seem to get enough. 9) Lunch is porridge, bread, and weak tea. 10) PORTRAIT OF A FAMILY : Bob, Abby, and Mary Rocklein, above, in front of their home in Groveland, Mass. Mary herself was adopted as a young child and is thrilled to offer the same opportunity to a child without family. 11) Abby proudly displays each dress they have bought for the Russian girl they will rename Hannah, as well as some of her own hand-me-downs. 12) ANNA ON THE BIG SCREEN : Mary Rocklein watches a video of the little girl she will soon adopt. The video, taken by another adoptive parent, shows Anna as an active, curious, functioning child, which helped the family decide to take her even though American doctors warned that she might have developmental problems stemming from her mother's alcoholism. 13) THE BIG DAY : As three of her little companions watch two caretakers carefully put a new dress on Anna and comb her hair in preparation for the big meeting. 14) Minutes later, the orphanage doctor introduces Anna to her new parents for the first time. Bob reaches out his hand to the little girl as Mary, holding a stuffed kitty, softly cries. 14) Showing Mary Rocklein playing with Hannah. 15) WAVE BYE-BYE : Anna says farewell to her caretakers as she leaves the orphanage for good. No tears are shed. They all know she will have a better life with a family that loves her. Anna's clothes will be changed and left behind for the other orphans to wear. 16) She is most thrilled with her new shoes. 17) LET'S GO RIDING IN THE CAR : Sandwiched between her new parents, toys piled up beside her, Anna is ready to go. She doesn't cry or become ill as many orphans do when experiencing their first car ride. 18) THE WAIT FOR A VISA : The Rockleins and other American couples who are adopting Russian children wait in a room at Moscow's American Consulate to get US visas for the adoptees. 19) The plane ride actually turns out to be the last peace Mary and Bob will know for a while. 20) AFTER THE STORM : Hannah's tears are quickly conquered by a cookie after she throws a tantrum in the Frankfurt airport during a layover. She recovers enough to go around meeting many of the passengers in the waiting lounge. Although Hannah handles the trip like a veteran traveler, the changes she's experiencing affect her behavior later. Her Russian passport (top, left) bears her new American name - spelled in English letters with Russian pronunciation. (Hannah will become a US citizen in several years.) On the flight, she behaves better than children traveling with their biological parents, rarely crying and fussing, and she clearly enjoys all the new sights and sounds. 21) Showing Hannah's passport. 22) NEW SIBLINGS : Abby's world is turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of this toddler who commandeers her parents' attention and plays with her toys. The early days and weeks of their adjustment are rocky and unpleasant for all. Gradually Abby assumes the role of big sister as protector and teacher, happy to have a little sister to play with. 23) A SLICE OF LIFE : At a Friendly's restaurant, Hannah chows down on French fries like any American kid, while Abby wipes off a drip of ice cream. Hannah is thrilled with everything she sees. 24) Mary pushes a stroller with both children inside past their bright yellow house.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society