Spring 2005 Issue
THE BIDDLE FAMILY
Maggie, Jane and Grace Biddle
Maggie Biddle adopted her daughter Jane from Moscow, Russia in August of 2004. In the following interview, Maggie described her adoption experience and shared her observations about her family’s adjustment.
What led to your decision to adopt from Russia?
I am blessed to have my biological daughter, Grace, and through her playgroup I met a family who had adopted from Russia, and another in the process of adopting... both through Adopt-A-Child by the way! Both described such positive experiences. These two families, so open about and enriched through their experiences with adoption, were inspiring to me. I listened throughout part of the summer and fall to my friend as she shared her excitement with our group while she and her husband waited for the referral of their baby.
After having lunch with my friend one afternoon I remember distinctly thinking to myself that adoption might be a possibility for me too. Because I am divorced and approaching forty years old I had come to some acceptance, although with sadness, that I would not have more children. Because my friends who had adopted were both married, I honestly didn’t know it was an option for me for the longest time. I just mistakenly assumed single moms weren’t eligible to adopt. When I realized that I COULD do it, I knew by that time that I wanted to. I had already become accustomed to being a single mother and I knew I had the energy, resources, and flexibility, desire, and room in my heart for another child. I wanted Grace to grow up with a sibling.
I briefly looked into other avenues of adoption including domestic and foster parenting. But really for me, the decision to adopt was tied into the idea of adopting from Russia using Adopt-A-Child. I derived a great deal of confidence and reassurance from the knowledge that others I knew had successful experiences. Ironically I’ve had a longtime interest in Russian history and literature. So traveling to Russia to fulfill my dream of having another child seemed right to me in many ways. I just knew that I wanted another child with all my heart and that somewhere in Russia my little girl was waiting for me.
From the start I was very happy with my decision. After looking into some other adoption agencies for my own peace of mind and interest, I got extremely encouraging feedback from other families I contacted who used Adopt-A-Child and read so many highly positive things about their service. I felt that in my own experience throughout the process of Jane’s adoption, Adopt-A-Child performed just as as one would hope and expect with a great deal of warmth and personal interest, yet with a thorough amount of professionalism, integrity, organization, and communication.
Interestingly, on the trip to bring Jane home, my mother and I sat in The US Embassy waiting for my turn to receive the mysterious sealed and “not to be opened under any circumstances” packet that would allow Jane entrance into America. All around us we listened to families talking about less than good experiences with their agencies, how glad they were to finally be almost home with their children, how they never thought they’d make it, and sharing stories among themselves about waits for referrals being so much longer than they’d been told, their horrible, difficult “paperchases” and other such complaints. I had a feeling of gratefulness that I could absolutely not relate. My experience in adopting Jane often seemed too simple to be true. I filled out the papers AAC sent to me, and I waited for a referral all in the timeline originally given to me by the agency. To me the paperwork end seemed like less than I might have in a week at my job. And, in Russia, the staff I met and worked with were just as good as those I met in Pittsburgh. So as the conversations swirled around us in the embassy, my mom and I just looked at Jane, combed her hair, played with a toy, waited and were happy. Everything went as planned and all was good.
In hindsight this aspect of AAC making the process easy, taking care of so much so that I didn’t have to, allowed me to concentrate on preparing for a new child as part of my family, preparing Grace for a new sibling, and to fully enjoy the special time of excitement, anticipation, and joy that precedes the addition of a child to any family.
I’ve come to believe some larger fate brought me to the decision to adopt from Russia. If I had been married I would have tried to have another biological child, if I had not met my friends through Grace’s playgroup I wouldn’t have realized the magical possibility of international adoption or known about Adopt-A-Child. The timing of everything made possible the adoption of a particular, extraordianary child who is now my beautiful daughter, Jane.
How did you prepare for the adoption; i.e. reading, web-sites? Did you access any special resources since you are a
I read a lot online and became for awhile an internet adoption site junkie. The sites I found especially helpful were: adoptingfromrussia.com, adoption.com, ruscuisine.com, babycenter.com, eeadopt.net (best mailing lists), moscowcity.com, moscowadopt.com (great information and message board), russianadoption.org, karensadoptionlinks.com (complete listing of all sites you could possibly need), mariaschildren.org, adoption-agol.org (great medical kits for traveling), orphandoctor.com, visitmoscow.com, adoptionshop.com (russian speaking dolls for children), worknotes.com/AZ/AdoptingfromRussia/Kelleher (Teresa Kelleher’s website with Russian language book for babies and toddlers).
As a single mother the very best resource was single parent list at www.eeadopt.com. The mothers on this list are a bright, successful, helpful, and a supportive group of women. It continues to be a great resource for parenting.
I also read and kept as a bible, The Russian Adoption Handbook by John Maclean.
In preparing for adopting a toddler I read Toddler Adoption, The Weaver’s Craft. This book can be somewhat startling and upsetting but I think it provides good advice and insight to the unique issues possible in adopting a child of this age. I reviewed developmental stages of toddlers, talked with my local pediatrician about adopting a toddler and what to expect, and had some very nice conversations and emails with Dr. Sarah Springer.
How did you prepare Grace for the addition of a sibling into her family?
It might not be possible to entirely prepare for the reality of the addition of a sibling! Grace had already been talking for some time about wanting a “baby brover or sister” so she was thrilled about the idea. She was three at that time so I decided that since it would be about a year to wait, that I would let the idea settle slowly with her just as it would if I was having a baby biologically. At first I told Grace the good news and she was both happy and excited. Then I just didn’t talk about it all that much unless she had questions. We talked a lot about families and what it was like when I was growing up with a sister and brother. She began to take a new interest in her baby cousin and we babysat a few times and Grace “helped” give bottles, change diapers, and she sang to and entertained the baby with great enthusiasm. I often read her some children’s books including A Mother for Chocco and The Red Blanket. Grace’s favorite was Seeds of Love.
After receiving Jane’s photos I showed them to Grace only after I had made a final decision. At this time Grace had mixed feelings of excitement and normal anxiety about sharing her toys, and her time with me. She is very verbal and had questions about Jane’s “birf mofer” and asked me things I had not expected. She asked if she could ever be adopted by someone else.
I took Grace on some trips and we did special activities together the summer before Jane came home. We went to Baltimore’s National Aquarium, to visit special friends for weekends, we went on two camping trips which was Grace’s idea as I’m not much of a camper, and we visited the Adopt-A-Child office and went to the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Many evenings we spent time in Jane’s new room together with Grace playing while I got things ready. She chose some of her “baby” toys to put in Jane’s room and also chose some toys that were special to her to put in her own room that she would not have to share.
The first trip to Russia was hard because we are very attached and it was only the second time I left Grace overnight since she was born. Grace helped me choose photos of our family and pets and our home to take to her sister. We shopped for a special teddy bear that Grace would send along with me to give Jane as her own special gift. We took a photo of Grace holding that pink bear and put it in the album that I showed Jane on my first trip to Moscow. We listened to Teresa Kelleher’s CD in the car and learned Russian words. Grace really loved learning some Russian.
Close to the time of my first trip to Russia Grace began announcing everywhere we’d go, “Guess what! I’m getting a little sister soon!” She would tell this to friends and family and store clerks and anyone who would listen! At that point I knew that she had fully accepted the idea and was going to be ok with it.
Did Grace travel on the second trip to Russia with you? If so, any advice for parents traveling with older children? If not, how did you make that decision, and with either response, would you choose a different route?
Up until the time I received a referral I planned to take Grace along. I couldn’t imagine leaving her for two separate weeks. However, I ultimately chose not to do so. I did pose this question to the eeadopt lists I belonged to and got a variety of answers ranging from advice to absolutely not take a three year old along on the trip to those who felt that taking their children was the best thing they ever did.
I chose not to for practicality’s sake mostly. The experience of traveling to Russia to meet my child was thrilling, exhilarating, and fantastic in every way. It is also exhausting and all consuming. There is so much to take in, observe, and there are many emotions involved. Although my mother traveled with me and was a tremendous help and support, I was glad that my focus could be entirely on Jane during both trips and that I had this time to meet her and have the wonderful initial bonding during those two weeks without distractions or any other concerns.
I would not choose a different route and will always have wonderful memories of that time in Moscow. It is an amazing country to visit and even with all of it’s many conveniences, great people that I met, I think it would be a hard trip on a younger child because of the flight, unfamiliarity of the language, and the change in foods.
Did you plan to adopt a toddler?
No, I specifically told Laura during our first conversation that I wanted to adopt the youngest available infant girl! I continued with this notion until I had a change of heart several months into the process. I changed my mind based on the reading I did in which two things stood out most to me. I read that many toddlers that reach a certain age enter into a realm where their chances of being adopted diminish considerably with each passing month and this struck my heart. Secondly, I felt that with a toddler I could be more sure of my child’s medical issues or lack thereof and have at least a little better inkling about her personality which might assure a more successful situation for all of us.
Also, I felt that I was already in the throes of raising a toddler and I love this age. I didn’t feel strongly that I had to experience the baby stage again. I also considered the reality of being a single mom with two children and that some things might be more simple for our family with a child who already had some level of independence. In addition I considered the age differences between Grace and an older infant or toddler and felt it might make a closer relationship for them as sisters.
Did you prepare in any way for the adoption of a toddler? Could you talk about how Jane has changed over the past months.
I am a fan of Dr. Sears’ books and found that much of what I read previously about attachment parenting with Grace applies to a newly adopted child. Even though as in Jane’s case, there are not many attachment issues, it is helpful to be prepared and recognize the signs or to begin attaching ideas from day one.
I spent several months mulling over the idea of adopting a toddler after first mentioning the idea to Laura. I really read as much as I could about other people’s experiences. I repeatedly found that others I spoke with had very good experiences in adopting toddlers. I think it is important to know that toddlers go through a period of adjustment and have so many new things to learn during the first months home. In hindsight, it seems only natural that a child would have a different understanding of family, love, affection, attention, when their imprint is based on orphanage life. Keeping this in mind, I prepared by having photos of Jane around the house before she arrived home for her to see, by holding her and rocking her, giving her a bottle, letting her be “my baby” even in the first nights in the hotel, and by learning some Russian to ease her transition.
The positives of adopting a toddler are countless. Although we have stayed close to home in many ways while she makes her transition, she can participate and be part of many family activities. She is funny, sweet, and so smart. She loves to play dress up, dance, play with puzzles, color, paint, and enjoys many of the games that Grace can play. She can feed herself a bowl of soup without spilling a drop and was entirely potty trained.
Jane has made so many amazing changes in her five months at home. She has gained five pounds and grown 3 inches! I brought Jane home wearing size 12-18 month clothes and she very quickly outgrew those and the next size as well, and is now just about too tall for her 2T pants. Most amazingly her feet have grown from size 3 shoes to size 7! Although she was animated and talkative and independent when I first met her, she has grown even more so and her confidence is soaring.
Jane was in good health during her time in Russia and I believe she received good care at the Baby Home. There were some immediate changes though that I was not fully expecting which are nearly incredible. Her hair has grown so much and it is now thicker and so shiny, her little cheeks have filled out changing the look of her face, and her complexion became rosy and healthier looking. The biggest change is the look in her eyes. It is really amazing to see the light and vibrant look in Jane’s eyes now which I didn’t notice on a day to day basis brightening. When I look at pictures of her from her first days home compared to today the change is remarkable.
Most significant is Jane’s language. She’s a total chatterbug! She began speaking several English words on the third day I visited her in the Baby Home. Now she is speaking in sentences and her vocabulary is enormous. Our local pediatrician remarked that she is speaking beyond her age in just the 5 months she has been home. She loves to recite the names of all of our extended family and she is now very interested in learning the words to songs and shouting out responses in Spanish with Dora the Explorer.
Jane is extraordinarily athletic and coordinated. She will jump into the pool without hesitation and can climb higher on our swingset than I would like her to. One change I’ve noticed is her stamina. Upon arriving home she would trip and fall down quite a bit. She had to crawl up steps and come down them on her bottom or holding my hand. Now she runs along with other children at preschool and keeps up, she walks around our house wearing her high heel dress up shoes almost constantly with quite a swagger, and she easily navigates steps by walking up and down by herself.
Jane is making an excellent attachment with me, Grace, and our extended family. In Russia, the caregivers at the Baby Home offered to begin calling her by her new name between my two trips and this was a great gift to us. I feel that in ways that they could, they helped prepare Jane for the idea of her new life, home, and for the idea of “Mama.” She is loving and affectionate, and has a good understanding of family and “others.”
A few days ago I picked up the girls at preschool and in the car asked them about their day. Grace immediately began talking and chatting and after Jane had heard enough she shouted out, “Ok, Jane’s turn, Mommy!” And she began telling me about the goo they had made that day and that she had crackers and apple juice for snack. The changes are so dramatic, thrilling, and fast, that each day is really exciting.
How are both girls adjusting? How have you facilitaed their adjustments, encouraged their relationship, dealt with rivalries, etc..?
Both girls are adjusting well. They are close and like being together but also have their own interests in play. They went through different stages of adjustment, particularly Grace, in being first thrilled with having a sister, and then not so thrilled, and are now settling into what seems like a very normal sibling relationship with many fun times, hugs and kisses, and some arguments in between!
Taking the full leave from my full time job helped me be able to spend a considerable amount of time with just Jane at home in the mornings while Grace continued at her preschool. This helped her adjust to her new home and routine.
Grace and I share “Our Time Together” each evening after Jane goes to bed. We do an art project, or watch a movie, or just do things around the house together. Grace looks forward to this time each night and it has helped her to know that she and I still have time for doing things together. I try to carve out time for each of the girls to do things with them independently.
I’ve tried to encourage a strong relationship with the girls by letting them figure some things out on their own with their minor disagreements, and encouraging Grace to feel like the “big sister” by being helpful and accountable to her sister. Grace relishes this role, and Jane seems to like it a lot too. Grace helps Jane with simple tasks like getting her shoes and coat on. She helps her learn the words to nursery rhymes and songs, and to learn all the characters names in her favorite tv shows and books.
How do you take care of yourself in terms of getting a break, seeing adult friends?
I’m still working on this one! To some extent the age of my children really dictates that my life revolves around them and their schedules. Since I work, I cherish my time at home with them in the evenings and on the weekends. I have a part time babysitter who comes to the house each day after preschool during the girls’ naps and until I get home from work. She helps me tremendously in this way, and with household chores so that I am able to really spend time with Grace and Jane in the evenings. The best way I’ve found to take care of myself is to try to get enough sleep and some exercise.
We have family close by and my sister and parents are so helpful to me. We visit with them quite a bit. This is a nice way to be with the girls but also be with my family. I also have some great friends and really nice neighbors who have children similar ages and we spend time together with our children.
I’m trying to get better at recognizing that having some time to myself is a good thing, but I can’t say I’ve really found a way to do it! I enjoy being with my children more than anything else so I don’t feel deprived. In my work I have considerable interactions with grown ups and am often just glad to be at home with my amazing girls.
From the Director’s Desk: Sonia Girel
It is my honor to announce that in November of 2004, the Yevgeny Girel Orphans Foundation was established by a group of parents who adopted with our Agency. The mission of the Foundation is to provide support to children living in Russian orphanages, and to assist young adults who were not adopted as they prepare to live independently.
When Yevgeny Girel, my late husband, and I founded Adopt-A-Child, Inc., in 1992, it was our goal to bring orphaned children and loving families together. During our many visits to the orphanages, we saw the dedication of the orphanage staff, as well as their struggle to provide in the face of limited resources. Yevgeny and I frequently spoke about how we could further help the children. And over the years, many families have also inquired as to how they could give back to their children’s first homes. The creation of the Yevgeny Girel Orphans Foundation can now address these dreams.
The Foundation’s first event was a dinner and dance in November of 2004 at The Club of Nevilwood, in Nevilwood, Pa. Close to 200 people attended and everyone agreed that it was a festive, elegant and beautifully executed evening. I thank all of the attendees as well as those who sent donations for making this such a successful event. I also extend my sincere gratitude to the Foundation Board for their vision and hard work, the result of which will directly impact the lives of Russian Orphans.
The Yevgeny Girel Foundation’s first project will be the much needed exterior renovations of our orphanage in St. Petersburg. This is the very first orphanage that Adopt-A-Child became affiliated with in Russia, and for those who adopted from St. Petersburg, this is where you met your child. Over the years, we have assisted with interior re-modeling and the purchase of supplies, toys and medicine for the orphanage, but until now, we did not have the resources to address more substantial renovations. The Foundation is currently reviewing competitive bids from Russian construction companies and will soon begin work on the orphanage.
The Foundation’s next fund- raising event will be a 4 person, scramble style golf outing at the Club at Nevillwood. This outing is scheduled for June 20, 2005 and will include lunch, dinner and a silent auction. Nevillwood has a renowned golf course and this is sure to be a wonderful event. Invitations will be sent shortly, and if you are able to help in any way, please contact Diane Rasz at 304-737-9883, or Tammy Engle at 412-835-1342.
I would like to share the following correspondence which I recently received:
Dear Adopt-A-Child, Inc.,
My name is Jacob Bombard and I am the former President of the Student Government Association in South Boston Harbor Academy. We are a small organization of students from Boston, Massachusetts who attempt to be the voice of our student body, while doing work to improve our world at large. We recently ran a campaign in which over the course of several months, we collected change from every class in the school. Every person in our school took part to help your cause. One of the guiding pillars on which our school was based is investing in the future of children. We know that our donations will not do much to assuage the suffering of orphaned children, but we hope to have some effect; because hope is another one of our guiding principles.
Enclosed was a donation of $483.00 for the Foundation. On behalf of the Foundation and the children, I extend my thanks to this group of committed students whose charitable values will directly help those in need. Great effort Jacob and members of the Student Government Association from South Boston Harbor Academy!
Finally, I would like to encourage families to obtain birth certificates for their children from their state of residence after completing the adoption. Each state has a different procedure, but typically your local Register of Wills can advise you. It is easier to do this soon after the adoption when parents’ paperwork skills are finely honed and your child’s adoption documents are easily accessed. Proof of your child’s U.S. citizenship should arrive about 6-8 weeks after returning home as the federal government now automatically sends each child a Certificate of Citizenship.
Please mark your calendars for our Annual Reunion which will be held at the Pittsburgh Zoo on May 22, 2005, along with the Foundation Golf Outing on June 20, 2005. I look forward to seeing you at both events!