Sunday, December 10, 2006

Extreme adoptions

Some people spend their money on nice furniture or fancy TV's. Some dine out every night or go to concerts, travel and vacations. I've spent a considerable sum of money on children. I'm not talking about the typical parental expenditures on clothing, toys, braces, school, etc. I'm talking about the cost of adopting (and losing) children.

Like most duel earning families, my ex-wife and I waited until I was 40 before thinking about starting a family. And like most people, as you get older it becomes more difficult to get pregnant. After a year of trying we discovered we both had infertility issues. We both had surgeries and a year later still had no children. So we decided to adopt.

Now in 1989 most people said it was very difficult to adopt an infant. Some said they waited 5 years to adopt a child. But due to our experiences in real estate and Amway, we thought that we could cast a broad net and find a child much quicker. So we were open to adopting multi-racial children and submitted applications to several agencies stating such. We also decided to advertise. We put "want ads" in several newspapers offering to be parents and hoping to find a young unwed mother. We also put out the word to every one we knew.

Sure enough within a few months we had found a teenager that had had a previous pregnancy that ended in abortion and was pregnant again. She felt so guilty about aborting the first child that she wanted to find a home for this child. So we made arrangements to take care of her finances and medical costs. While we were waiting we got a call from an agency which had a child that could be adopted immediately. He was multi-racial in an agency that catered at that time to mostly white clientele. So we immediately agreed. The child was 2 months old and living in foster care.

This adoption agency was a prestigious institution in the deep South (and extremely expensive ~$25K) and we were living in WV at the time. One month after the agency called, we were leaving to take the 2 day drive to pick our new son up. Ten minutes out of town our car broke down. We had it towed to the garage and took our Mazda pickup truck to drive the rest of the way. It was interesting to see the look on the Adoption Agency Directors face when she helped us take our son out to the truck. Two "hillbillies" travelling over 1000 miles in a pickup with a new child stuck on top of the stick shift! I have to admit it was a challenge trying to shift with his carseat on top of the stick.

One month after we picked him up our second son was born. My wife got to be at the hospital with the bio-mother. He was born about 500 miles away from us, so I did not get to go. (My ex had quit her job by this time to be a full time mother.) This was an interesting adoption since for about three years we had contact with the mother and she saw her son several times. Eventually, she moved on with her life and I have no idea where she lives now.

So we lived with 2 infants. One white, one brown. The most often asked question we got was Are they twins? When we answered that they were 3 months different in age people gave us the most puzzled looks. No one seemed able to figure out that we had two adopted children. We just told them it was an extremely long delivery :)

One year later we got a call from another person saying there was another teenage girl that was about to give birth and asked if we wanted the child. We immediately said yes and our first daughter became ours a month later. So we went from no children to 3 within the period of about a year. All 3 were in diapers at the same time for a small period. What a stinking mess that was to deal with! I don't think I slept much at night during this period but looking back I have nothing but great memories. Maybe you think that adopting 3 different infants within a year was extreme adoption but I am just beginning this tale.

Five years later my ex-wife was getting the bug again to have more children. She was always looking at books of sibling groups and had this idea that she could have 12 children! I was pretty content with the three we had. So I pushed her to try to get pregnant again. Technology had changed a lot already by then and In Vitro fertilization was just becoming practical. The downside was that my ex had to take drugs to force her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. She found this to be too painful and so we abandoned the idea of biological children.

About six months later we saw a picture of 4 Russian siblings that were up for adoption. They were being offered through the same agency through which we had adopted our first child. (They had been forced to broaden their mission from the all-white infant crowd due to market economics & scarcity of white infants.) The cost was going to be very high, but the agency was offering to split the children up. This rang up alarm bells in my ex's head. She was now on a mission to rescue these four children so that they would not be split up (later she would push for them to be split up - but I'll get to that).

We slipped into our "can-do" mode and leaped all the hurdles involved with international adoption. These were quite extensive including FBI checks, not to mention the constant fees. I started learning Russian (the kids didn't know any English), but my ex didn't seem to think that was important. These 4 children were not infants - they ranged in age from 5-10 years old I believe and were living in an orphanage.

The trip to Russia was quite incredible. We had to take $10K in cash (for bribes I assumed) as well as office supplies (for what I couldn't imagine). We were to stay with a family in Moscow for a few days while our contact arranged for our trip to the orphanage. Moscow was a surprise to us - it looked like the city I grew up in still. In other words, it looked like something from the 1950's - not a modern city at all.

After 3 days we got on a train to take a 500 mile trip to the north. It was a sleeper car and powered by coal. Thick, black soot constantly streamed by our window. The villages outside Moscow looked very poor - what I would describe as a third world country.

We made our way to the orphanage and picked up the kids. A day later we went to a Russian court and had the adoptions finalized. Now I understood why we needed office supplies. There were no computers, just old fashioned manual typewriters in all the offices. And the Court clerk sowed the documents together with needle and thread since she didn't have a stapler!

A day later we had the kids back in an apartment in the northern city. The Orphanage director came to visit us and told us the oldest girl had probably been molested and they often had to restrain her. They also told us about the children's alcoholic mother. My ex-wife started to become extremely anguished over these revelations. Since she couldn't communicate with the kids at all, she felt very isolated. We lost our water for a day (city had only one water pump and no spares) and the apartment got pretty stinky. We finally got back on the train for the 2 day trip back to Moscow. We would have to wait in Moscow for a week to get the Visa's for the children.

While in the apartment with the guest family (they had 5 children of their own, so it was pretty crowded), my ex decided to enforce some discipline. She got mad at the oldest boy and wouldn't let him eat his lunch until he apologized for some infraction. Three hours later the women of the house was threatening to call the police and report us for child abuse. My ex went into the bedroom and started crying. She didn't stop until we left Russia 4 days later.

I tried to stay in the bedroom with my ex to comfort her and the 4 children went wild in the apartment. I finally called our Agency contact and demanded that they move us. So they put the 6 of us up in a Youth Hostel - a single bedroom with 3 beds and no toilet. There were no restaurants nearby so I had to walk through these strange neighborhoods over a mile to find a McDonald's every day, fears of the Russian mafia in my head. My ex stayed in bed the whole time crying about how she had ruined her family.

It was finally the day to leave. The man at whose apartment we had originally stayed with was to drive us to the airport. When we got there we tried to get the kids out of the car and they refused to get out. So here we were dragging and pulling screaming children out of a car while a policeman watched us. I was scared to death. The kids were scared and my ex was in the middle of her nervous breakdown. While standing in line at the airport an American who spoke Russian assured the kids that they would be OK in America. Turns out that they had been told some horror stories about children going to America to be harvested for body parts.

The flight back was uneventful and I was hopeful that the worst had passed and things would be OK. But it was not to be. Once home my ex became convinced that there were serious defects in the Russian children. I'm not sure if she was plotting how to get rid of the kids from the beginning or not. She thought the kids might be suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but later decided they had Reactive Attachment Disorder. How she came to that conclusion, I don't know. She started isolating the Russian children from our first 3. Sometimes she split the four all in separate rooms and wouldn't let them communicate with each other. She became convinced that when they talked they were plotting against her. She screamed at them to speak only English (they knew none) and once even washed their mouths out with soap for speaking Russian.

I asked her to take the kids to a child psychologist. She went alone. When she came back she announced that the 4 Russian children were going or she was taking our first 3 children and leaving. No discussion. Our social worker recommended that someone take care of the Russian children for a weekend so we could get a break. I was heartbroken as I had bonded with the 4 children.

The family that offered to take the kids were two houses down from a new house we were about to purchase. We didn't know them well but they had adopted 17 children so we thought we could trust them. After the weekend we were scheduled to pick them up on Monday. I had the "walk through" of the new house the day before closing, so I thought I would call the neighbors once we had done the walk through. We saw the kids playing outside from our new house. So I called to say we would pick the children up. One of the teenagers answered the phone and said the Russian children had gone out for ice cream with her father. We thought that strange. Five minutes later I saw the neighbors car drive by our new house when suddenly one of my Russian children's faces popped up in the rear window. My God - they were kidnapping our children! I tried to chase them down but to no avail.

So I called 911 and the police came by. We went over to the neighbors house with the police and talked to the teenage daughter for about two minutes when their phone rang - it was for the police! (Looks like they had planned this well in advance.) Their attorney was on the phone telling the police that a Judge had given the neighbors temporary custody of the children. I have never been in such a state of shock in my life. I couldn't believe the series of events that had occurred between my ex-wife's ultimatum and now a sanctioned kidnapping of my children!

Despite my wife's misgivings I loved the Russian children. Since I spoke some Russian I new that their behaviour was mostly a function of fear of their new surrounding and maybe my ex's actions towards them. I had tried to assure them everyday that we loved them and this was their "forever" home.

But now we were being accused of child abuse again! We contacted an attorney who thought the charges and Court order were bogus. Two days later I went to Court thinking that this would be overturned. The local Child Protective Services was on our side. It turns out this other family had "kidnapped" some Russian children in Kentucky and taken them to WV. WV CPS forced them to return the Kentucky children. So this was not new behaviour. But they had a lawyer that was on the inside with the local Judge and the Judge to our shock awarded them permanent custody of our 4 Russian children. It was hard to believe this could happen in America.

Now my ex-wife refused to move to our new house since she didn't want to be anywhere near the Russian children. I felt concerned for the safety of the 4 children and was concerned that they might be abused by this other family (We learned through CPS that they had a history of taking blond, blue-eyed children from other people). CPS agreed with me, so I appealed the decision to the WV Supreme Court. My plan was to have our original adoption agency place the children in another home. After 3 months we won the case. However, the other family refused to turn over the Russian children. They contacted the local TV and newspapers and fed the media a sob story of how they had saved these children from abusive parents and were sooo happy. Every night I would turn on the 6 o'clock news and our names, as abusive parents, was the top story. We were breaking up their beautiful family -what terrible people we were. I did not speak to the media due to legal advise but I know I could not have won that battle.

Finally, the State Troopers were called and removed the children. They were placed from what I understand with a nice family in Texas that had no small children. We continued to be shown on the local news and my ex-wife left the state with our first 3 children, never to return to WV.

I eventually transferred to another state and my ex came to live with me for a while, but the strain on our marriage was too great. I don't think my ex recovered from the whole ordeal - she was chronically depressed for many years. We eventually divorced.

To this day I am still paying for this adoption nightmare. It cost us well over $100k for adoption fees to get the kids and legal fees to overturn the local Judges decision. Later it led to divorce which separated me from half my assets and my kids.

So what have I learned from all this? Like with my first real estate investments, its far too easy to bite off more than you can chew. Whether it was trying to manage 24 rental units in a bad market or 7 children with a dysfunctional wife, it was more than I could handle. Some people are very cautious in life, but that has not been my personality. It has cost me plenty both financially and emotionally.

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