No longer an orphan
This diary entry serves the purpose of sharing my adoption story while also presenting a wholistic perspective on adoption that I hope will be useful insight for everyone impacted by adoption or trauma in some way.
Eighteen years ago, I was adopted into a family on June 3, 2002, at four years old. My parents, Ryan and Nikki, were a young married couple who had been unsuccessful in having children of their own. They desired to have children and decided to look into domestic and international adoption. After researching various agencies, they found a group called “Ukrainian Angels”. The head of this group provided them resources and assistance in completing an independent adoption. An independent adoption is where no adoption agency is involved and the adoptive parents do all the necessary paperwork and submit it directly to the Adoption Center in Kiev. The adoption paperwork process began in November 2001 and resulted in an appointment on May 28, 2002, with the Adoption Center in Kiev.
The process at the Adoption Center consisted of meeting with workers and looking through around 1,500 pictures of the children that were available for adoption. They looked through 16 books of children and chose 8 children that were a possibility. The thought of choosing some children and not others was incredibly difficult for them. They had the opportunity to go back to the apartment where they were staying to think and pray about it overnight. Ryan felt they really needed to go see the two children in Donetsk, so they made an appointment to see a girl and a boy there. After making the appointment, they traveled from Kiev to Donetsk by an overnight train.
Upon arrival in Donetsk, their first stop was the orphanage where they met the two children which they were scheduled to see. The orphanage workers had the children demonstrate some learned skills like putting a round block in a round hole. Everyone left the room and let Ryan and Nikki talk. As they were thinking through what they should do, their translator came in and said there was one more little girl they wanted them to meet. The orphanage worker brought out a girl in a pretty pink dress and big white bow. This little girl was me. Nikki knew immediately and looked at Ryan and said, “She’s our daughter.” They had been praying that God would show them who their child or children were. They were willing to adopt any siblings, but I had no siblings in the orphanage with me. Ryan heard them say that my name was “Katya” and Nikki heard “Kati”. When they met me, Ryan and Nikki gave me a teddy bear (Mishka). The orphanage workers said they needed to attend a celebration. Again, several children demonstrated their abilities and I was included this time, but I was developmentally delayed a lot. A little while later, they found out some of what took place while they were getting the first two kids ready. In the orphanage, the kids knew when they were getting ready to be seen by prospective parents. They normally wear tights and a t-shirt and then they would be dressed up in order to make a good impression for prospective parents. After Ryan and Nikki had decided to pursue adopting me, their translator told them that, as I saw the other kids getting dressed to be seen and I wasn’t, I told the orphanage workers in Russian, “my mama and papa are coming for me”.
Typically, the Ukrainian adoption process is very strict. Prospective parents were not allowed to see kids unless they had an appointment from the Adoption Center in Kiev. However, the orphanage workers called the national adoption center to get permission for Ryan and Nikki to meet me. Normal procedures would have made them return to Kiev first to make a new appointment. The next three days Ryan and Nikki were allowed to come and visit me for a few hours. On Monday, June 3, 2002, they went to see a judge to complete the adoption process. Normally, there is a 30-day waiting period before an adopted child is allowed to be taken out of the country; however, the judge waived the waiting period because the orphanage director said I needed medical attention. After the adoption was official, Ryan and Nikki traveled to Horlivka, where I was born, to get my new birth certificate. On Tuesday, June 4, Ryan and Nikki picked me up as their child, and we began our lives as a family.
We had a long train ride to Kiev and I had many fears. On Wednesday, June 5, we traveled to Warsaw, Poland to get my Visa and finalize the paperwork necessary for me to become an American Citizen when I landed in the United States. The flights went well for the most part, but I refused to be put in a seatbelt and when I did fall asleep, I would wake up screaming. Other than a few minutes, none of us really slept on the flight back. We landed in the United States on June 11, 2002 to many friends and family who were there to celebrate our family and meet me. The total trip to Ukraine and back to the States took 13 days. Many international adoptions can take months to process in country and there can be up to several years of paperwork and requirements to complete in order to begin the adoption process before even arriving in country to adopt. Being in a new home took some adjustment. I was scared of bathrooms, ceiling fans and the family dog. I was too scared to sleep in my own room, so for a while I slept in my parents’ room and I rocked myself to sleep every night. I was, also, protective of my food. The impacts of institutionalization in Ukraine left me to weigh only 19 lbs at four years old. After two weeks, I was no longer fearful of bathrooms, and it took several months for me to be okay in water and use a real toilet seat. My parents constantly taught me words in English as we did things. I gained weight fast and Ryan and Nikki were intentional about making sure I knew they were my parents, that I was safe, and loved. Some of the other challenges I had were that I was delayed in school with learning disabilities and I always cried when saying goodbye to family or friends in fear that I would never see them again. Much of this, I have grown out of, but many of the unexplainable emotions remain. My parents have given me a wonderful life and I’m so thankful for all they are to me. They came for me when I was left in the world. They welcomed me as their own. They provided for my needs when I was most vulnerable. They remained with me all these years. Their lives reflect the values instilled in me. Their wisdom and guidance has helped me become who I am today and has taught me what true unconditional love is. They introduced me to the Greatest love of all. Without them, the center of my heart would remain hallow. My parents are irreplaceable to me.
I want to address the reality that all adoptions have different outcomes. There is no “one-size-fits-all” scenario. Many people have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they adopt. The choice of adoption is packed with a multitude of choices within. For those who prepare, there is only so much a person can do to supposedly be ready for such a life-changing experience on all sides, as with many other situations in life. Adoption can be a sensitive topic for many people and for a variety of reasons. Everyone is at different places in their own lives. No matter how you’ve been impacted by adoption, how you feel about it is not something to be ashamed of or to permanently neglect. There is often a reason for your consistent feelings, whether you’re conscious of it or not, and that’s okay because it’s not good or bad, it is a part of life. When we come to understand this, the door opens to a deeper level. Often people get caught in this phase and attention gets distracted. We as humans often feel a need to find a direct cause for a negative outcome and it can sometimes essentially turn into blaming something or someone. Often there is a displacement of blame that transitions into unconscious projection onto others (or intense reaction to others), while we regress as a person. This is a natural response to trauma. As a child, I often had nightmares of my parents either dying or abandoning me, and I would wake up shaking and crying in the night. Once in a while, I still have these nightmares. I also felt indifferent being an only child. I’ve always emphasized to people that I was adopted as an only child, because I never new if I had birth siblings and I had no control over the fact that I could not be a part of their lives. A year ago, I discovered that I have four biological half-siblings, yet three of them I may never get to have contact with. I’ve come to view struggles I face in life as an affect of different mixes of people’s good and bad experiences throughout life that get blended together to create it’s own unique mix. I personally do not believe that all of the emotional challenges that I have are an entirely direct result of being adopted, while it may be one of many factors. Regardless of the direct influences of trauma, where do we go from there? I believe there are even deeper roots. Addressing the manifestations of these different roots is whole other topic for another time. Many people experience trauma from other happenings in life besides adoption. Although there may be a majority of people in our sphere of influence who are not adopted, it is likely that they also have trauma of their own. While the experience of trauma may be different, the pain, grief, loss, and even anger are aspects that we can all relate on. I desire to see more compassion, grace, love, and unity amongst a people who are all carrying burdens, even though they may be different kinds of burdens that weigh differently. True and supportive community lays down defenses and helps lift each other’s burdens. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I personally believe there are burdens of personal enslavement that can eventually be completely surrendered at the cross of Jesus’s perfect sacrifice and lifted by God, and we can be freed from it, and grow from it. But we cannot grow from something that we don’t work through or heal from something that we don’t attend to.
There is a sad yet prevalent reality of adopted children who not only don’t receive a love and care that every child needs, but they also don’t get replenished nourished from what they lost. I believe that how the parents view adoption and address it greatly influences how the child views adoption. The reality of parents carrying the weight of unaddressed baggage while caring for a trauma-inflicted child is whole other topic. Many unaddressed internal wounds display themselves in actions and words, but they are disguised in an array of actions and words as a result of other things in our lives that have impacted our view of the world. It wasn’t until I went through counseling later in life that I and my family came to understand the non-verbal memories of trauma within the critical stages of child development. Growing up, one of the first questions people would ask me when they found out I was adopted from Ukraine was, “do you have any memories?”. The truth is, I have no vivid memories of any events in my life prior to my adoption. However, I do have some imaginations in mind that I’m not sure if they are memories or made-up from realizations over the years. As expressed in my story, abandonment, malnourishment, neglect, and inconsistency can have profound negative effects on a child that can last through the years. Adoptive parents face many different emotions and adjustments throughout different phases in their child’s life too that I can’t even imagine as an adopted child. Including the impact of and upon siblings in the mix is also another side to the story.