Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another Russian Adoption Story

The news yesterday exploded with the images of a thin, pale 7 year old boy who had been unceremoniously dumped on a flight to Moscow, returned like an ill fitting garment to his birth country by his single adoptive mother. A brief letter tucked in his backpack explained that the mother thought she had been duped by officials, that the child she adopted was violent and serious psychological problems. As the story unfolded and more details were brought to light, I mulled over my own thoughts about this situation.

I have no doubt that what this mother said might very well be true. Funny I would say that, isn't it, considering I have a houseful of lovely, amazing children from the same background. Perhaps it is precisely because of that fact coupled with the tens of thousands of hours of research and real life experience that I can not immediately jump to saying "How awful! That woman is horrible!". I recognize what might just lay beneath those curt statements, I can easily imagine the specifics that might not have been articulated.

Without facts or a diagnosis, I do say this knowing what I don't know, but post-institutionalized children can be damaged beyond repair through no fault of their own. While there may be no blame to place in the lap of the child, that still doesn't negate the anger, the distorted thinking, the inability to attach to a loving parental figure...or the violence they can sometimes be capable of. A child with reactive attachment disorder, affected by fetal alchol syndrome, or who is simply so institutionalized they will never be "normal" is not the pot of parenting gold at the end of the proverbial adoption rainbow. They are a nightmare, they can be terrifying, they are so very, very sadly a product of a loveless life and remind us of the impact of alcohol and lack of human connection on the formation of a little soul.

However, regardless of what little Artyom may struggle with for the rest of his life, his adoptive mother proved to be all that a "real" mother should never be. It is hard for me to even type the word "mother" in association with this woman.

I usually try to see things from all sides, I try to never condemn anyone recognizing I have never walked in their shoes. This is one case I will not hesitate.

The way she handled this was the equivalent of tying up a bag of garbage, hauling it to the curb, plopping it there and walking away while disdainfully brushing the residue off her hands.

A child, no matter how damaged, is not garbage.

There were a million and one more mature options. None would have been pleasant, all would have inflicted yet another wound on little Artyom, but there were other more compassionate ways to handle this sad situation.

Instead she chose to get rid of the garbage.

There ARE times when relinquishment is the best option for the safety of the family. There ARE times when a child is unsalvageable, damaged beyond all possibility of repair. There ARE times when the most steadfast and caring adoptive parents simply come the end of their rope and have no alternative. I, of all people, understand what we have been fortunate enough not to face with the adoption of our own children.

What were her alternatives? Many...actually. She could have contacted her local social services department and had him placed in foster care and worked with the department to develop a thoughtful relinquishment plan. She could have searched privately herself for another more suitable therapeutic adoptive home...I know someone who has taken other Kazakhstani adopted children and readopted them after others initially adopted and were unable to successfully integrate them into the family. She could have contacted her placement agency and asked for assistance to relinquish. She could have looked into alternatives to relinquishment with therapeutic living environments such as The Ranch for Kids which was specifically designed to handle such cases of adoptees from the former USSR.

Instead, she chose the chicken way out, the immature way, the cruel way. She didn't even put him on the plane herself, the adoptive grandmother did...which calls into question the heart of yet another adult involved with this little boy.

I have to wonder, as I am sure many are right now, how this woman who went through the arduous process of pre-adoption homestudies and mountains of paperwork, didn't raise a red flag somewhere for someone as being unsuitable for adoption. Was there not a single sign to anyone that she might not be able to handle the stress of adopting an older child? And is there a social worker somewhere who is willing to be uncomfortable for 10 minutes and stare a prospective parent in the eye and say "I am sorry, I can not approve you to adopt" rather than put a child through a lifetime of self-loathing because they couldn't meet the needs of an unsuitable adoptive parent?

Artyom, I am so sorry about the hand life has dealt you. I am sorry that your childhood has been one of repeated abandonment and neglect. Sweetheart, I wish I had been there. I might not have been able to stop the events that unfolded yesterday and in fact might have determined myself you were a child who was so badly broken that any parent might have been incapable of "fixing you", but I would have done what your adoptive "mom" could not make herself do...I would have held your hand in mine with tears in my eyes. I would have let my heart break for you, for all that was not to be. I would have explained the best way I could why all of this was happening to you, and would have been sure you knew that it was really more the failure of adults and had nothing at all to do with you. I would have sat next to you on that long 10 hour flight and no doubt spent the entire time with thoughts rolling around in my mind of what the future might hold for you, wishing it could be different. I would have walked you off that plane, and back through the doors of the orphanage hand in hand, even if it was the hardest thing I would ever do.

Because real moms do the hard stuff. That's our job. Even moms who find themselves in the position of having no alternative to relinquish a severely damaged child who is a danger to everyone around them do the hard stuff. They do it with aching hearts, they do it with as much grace as they can muster under gut wrenchingly emotional circumstances, they sometimes do it with much regret and still wondering what else they could have done to help their child. Sometimes, real moms are blessed enough to make it through and help a child heal.

But a real mom does not tie up the Glad bag, and have her mother haul it off to the airport for her. A real mom does not feel her job has been done by typing up a brief letter to shove in a backpack.

People are human, people make mistakes...sometimes big ones. Torry Hansen made a big mistake. While I am filled with compassion for the fear that she might have felt once she brought a possibly very disturbed child into her home, I simply can not fathom her decision to handle this in the way she did. If we pulled out the adoption component and looked solely at placing a 7 year old alone on a plane to Moscow and having paid $200 to some unknown person who was hopefully going to be there when he arrived to escort him to the authorities, it is still child abandonment and ought to be prosecuted as such.

There is no happy ending here, none whatsoever. There, but for the grace of God, go my children. Thank you God for being present every step of the way. Thanks for healing, for wholeness, for comfort, for guidance. Be there, as I know you are, for Artyom. Be there for Torry Hansen. Help her see the value in human life and touch her heart deeply with compassion and lift her to a new level of maturity through this experience. Amen.


Kelly and Sne said...

Well said. I am completely sick to my stomach over this. It reminds me of people who abandon their puppies on the side of the road and drive away because they piddled on the floor. But we are talking about a child here.

I will have to say that I am sickest for the children that will be impacted by this is Russia - and now perhaps Kazakhstan - suspend or stop adoptions. And I am very sad for our family as we have suffered so much bad luck/timing and so many delays already and are now so close to travel to give a home to one more of those children...

Anonymous said...

This makes me sick too. But I have so many questions. Where was the post-placement social worker? Why wasn't she advised to relinquish here in the states? I am sure there is someone who could have been in the position to help him.
And as you said, why was she approved in the first place? What a mess this is for all those waiting children and families.

Anna said...

When I heard the news yesterday I was so broken hearted. He is still such a young child. She was the adult. I know of a family that recently went to adopt and returned empty handed and praise God that they could sense that they werent being told the whole truth about the little one and their abilities to parent. I am so sorry for their grief and shame on the families around that have ppointed fingers and said unkind and harsh words. We will all answer for our deeds. For ignoring the call. I just dont know how to feel about this mother. I have prayed all day yesterday and will continue to pray for the families in the process. I know of several that have adopted from Kazakhstan and have such beautiful children and I also know of several families in country and almost ready to go. I can feel for you. After 18 months of empty promises and being caught in red tape someone finally heard our cries and helped us. We hope to be flying soon to meet our new daughter. So, from someone that knows the feelings, just know I am praying for you........

Kathy W said...

Coupled with a revolution in Kyrgyzstan this week... not a great week for IA was it.

Kathy W

____________________ said...

Great post on a really sad topic, Cyndi. So much about this urks me, but one nagging question really baffles me - with all the security, etc. going on now, how was it even POSSIBLE to send this kid back to Russia alone? I can't figure a way the grandma could have pulled it off....I mean I understand unaccompanied minor stuff (used to be one myself a lot - flying between divorced parents) but a 7 year old, with, I'm sure, a change of planes somewhere between DC and Russia? I would like to know how it all went down to get him on the plane as well as out and about during the have been a fly on the wall, huh? Or, better yet, to have been a sane person with loving arms - one to reach out and hug the hurting child and another to close the plane door and not let this whole debacle ensue.

Finally, do you know anything about this "treaty" Russia proposes the U.S. sign? Just from the sounds of it, it doesn't sound good...hopefully the U.S. WOULDN'T sign anything like that. But if not Russia (and thus Kazakhstan, etc.) could say no more adoptions to the U.S....which would be their right entirely but a tragedy as well, of course.
Shan in CO

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing your compassion for both sides of this issue. I would agree with you that there were certainly other options for this family. However, having been through a relinquishment, I will also say that sometimes those other options aren't apparent, and particularly in the cloud that comes over a family dealing with severe attachment issues.

It's strange, the way such a cloud can form. It often begins with one's heart in the right place, I believe - with that notion maybe not of saving someone but of loving someone into wholeness and, at the same time, achieving the dreams of a child and wholeness as well. What sometimes follows though, without the help of many and many who are educated in post-adoption issues, is a downward spiral of isolation. The adoptive parent is met with the comments of "oh you're such a blessing for saving this child" - which, in the face of not knowing how to deal with the child's issues become this sort of burden. One realizes they're failing in loving away this child's pain, but they're supposed to be the child's savior, so one feels they can't express these feelings of failure. Or else one expresses the failure and is met with "oh that's how ALL kids are" or "why did you adopt him then?"

I realize that these comments from others are not made with ill intent. But I also remember too well what can happen next. The parent doesn't speak out for fear of being judged. Doesn't ask for help for fear of the whole world knowing that they're failing, they have failed.

Now isolated, the feelings become huge. The mission becomes huge. The adoptive parent is even more determined and even more lacking in resources. And when love isn't the magical answer to the child's enormous issues, then the adoptive parent is even more lonely, even more desperate and more and more prone to making stupid decisions.

It's tragic. It is avoidable, yes. But, when not avoided, tragic to everyone involved.

My prayers, with yours, for this child and for this woman. For all of the families waiting for their Russian child and Russian children waiting for their families.


Carol said...

Very well said, Cindy. I agree 100%. I thought about this situation yesterday, and although my initial reaction was one of great outrage toward the adoptive "mother", I stopped myself and tried to have more compassion. But try as I did, I just couldn't find it. You are right... no matter WHAT, there were many other more mature options to choose from. Something went terribly wrong here, and Artyom will suffer even more now because of this... and, unfortunately, so will others.

Maureen said...

I had not heard about this story and now that I have found some web articles and read about it, it makes me just want to cry. As you said, I feel for this woman (Torry Hansen) and the struggles I'm sure she went through. It can be so difficult, confusing, and scary. BUT, there are so many options, so many places to turn to for help. I just can't believe that the option she chose was to just send that little boy on a plane all by himself. You are so right that she is not his Mom. I do hope she has to go to court for child endangerment. I don't wish ill upon her, but I want her to realize that no matter what she was the grown-up and it was her responsibility to take care of that little boy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, each of you, for reminding me to stop and have thought and compassion for more than just Antyom, but...

How did this happen? We live believing, counting on, the world to have checks, to have safeties, to have brakes when events begin to spiral out of control, and then we are abruptly reminded that the brakes don't always work, and there is resulting hurt and pain.

Thank you for reminding me that not only Antyom was impacted and will suffer the pain, and yet, for the moment, I am living more in the heartache and outrage than the compassion. There is fallout wherever the story is heard. My prayers are expanded thanks to each of you.

With tears,

Anonymous said...

People like Ms. Hansen make me want to throw up. She should've never been approved to adopt, simple as that. I know that this is going to sound very unchristian-like, but she doesn't deserve any sympathy in this case.

Tammy said...

For whatever reason, this incident has been really hard for me to swallow. Yes, hearing about kids who are abused and murdered is hard but this one leaves me feeling physically sick to my stomach and I am having a hard time letting it go.

Yes, there are times when relinquishment is the only option. But the selfishness that went into this decision makes me want to go down to Tennessee and take care of some street justice of my own. She either has no idea or she really doesn't care what this means to everyone else, not just her and this little boy. I very much worry for those who are still in process. Some have traveled to meet their child and are just waiting to bring them home. And I worry about the kids who will get left behind because of this.

So very selfish and so very stupid.

Anonymous said...

While I'm in total agreement that this woman had, and should've utilized the many other options available for relinquishment, I can't agree with the statements that SOMEONE should've known she would be inappropriate for this type of adoption. Although she is single, she has a child already, she's a nurse and seemingly had family support (Her mother, etc...).

NO social worker can predict how a particular adoption is going to work out. They're trained to determine the best possible placements for a particular family, but they don't have a crystal ball. Hopefully, this child can heal and others that are now in this mother's situation, feeling as though they cannot effectively parent a child with challenges such as these, have now learned what NOT to do and can make better choices.

Ann said...

To Cindy and to Kelly and Sne... First to Kelly.. that bad timing.. I hear you. When this story broke I was on trip one, I had just returned from meeting a little boy who I hope to call son. I had just returned from the medical clinic where I was inspected (with and without clothes) by no less then 6 doctors. And now what? I am to suffer the same fate in this adoption as my wait with Kyrgyzstan. Because of a totally unthought out decision by one family. They could casue the delays for hundreds of children to have the right to a family. So unfair, so wrong. So wrong to Artymous (sp). But I can't help but thing there is another fault here. What happened to the six month post placement report? The problems the child was having did not happen overnight. Why was this not picked up by by the adoptive agency during post placement visit which should have been last month. Sad that she felt that packing him up and shipping hom back was the answer. While I do not discount that she was at whit's end. I am furious over her decision of how to act. Furious, Angry, Sad, and scared. All I can do is Pray Pray Pray that God will let this mess calm down and the adoption folks can get this straightened out.

Debbie said...

This is a very sad situation all around. Everyone involved needs our prayers. I think that it must have been very scary and hurtful for Artyem to fly back to Russia. Many of the articles are sharing misinformation and that is making the situation every worse. I assume that Artyem flew nonstop from DC to Moscow as we did and children are allowed to do this all the time although I cannot imagine.
I'm concerned that the Russian authorities are reporting that Artyem is perfectly healthy. How can they know this after a few days in a setting where he is getting special care and attention? RAD does not typically rear its ugly head until the chid is in the intimacy of a family setting.
We first turned to our agencies when we realized that our child had serious issues. The placement agency told us it was not their problem and that we needed to call our homestudy agency. The homestudy agency told us it was not their problem and we needed to call the placement agency. Most people around us didn't understand and we got many comments such as "just love her and everything will be fine" and "what a blessing you are to her". Well at the time she didn't want our love and her behavior indicated that we were anything but a blessing to her. I cried many tears and wondered what I had done to my family. I asked God over and over how much more would we have to take. I wanted to rewind our lives to before the adoption (even though our youngest daughter adopted at the same time was doing very well) and take another path. I was hurting, my husband was hurting, and our other children were hurting most of all. I finally learned that we weren't crazy and "not loving enough" through the support of an online group and a local adoption preservation group that a new friend told us about. This was 2 years after the adoption. No one had offered any help before then.
Yes, what happened to the boy is sad and the way he was returned was wrong. But, we don't know the whole story, and as someone else wrote, may families are reluctant to be honest with the issues for fear of judgement. You just don't know how bad it can be until you are living it. Our daughter with RAD has healed and is a miracle child. She is a joy and blessing to us but I would never had chosen to go through what our family went through.
Just my experience.....

Mary Sue and Nick said...

Cindy, this was so well put, and one of the key reasons why I regularly read your blog. You are so right, and thanks again for sharing your perspective.

Truly Blessed said...

Your thoughts and mine are exactly the same on this one. On one of my Yahoo groups someone made the comparison to APs "disrupting" in-country after only a few days, deciding that the child was too damaged and choosing to not to proceed. I cannot fathom trying to create any similarities between that scenario and what Ms. Hansen and her mother did to this child. And now I read that she is in the process of trying to adopt again...I certainly hope that every agency she contacts will turn her away now that we've all see the type of "mother" she has been.
My heart simply breaks for this little boy.