Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Beginning of the Story

I thought I would post the beginning of our story. It has been on my mind a lot lately and I felt compelled to write it down. One of our friends told me today that they are fasting and praying for our family, for Anastasia. I just can't think of anything more wonderful. Thank you our dear friends and family that try so hard to help us. We pray that you will be blessed for your efforts.

These recent catastrophies are just little set backs which we will overcome. Thank you to everyone who cares about us - you are such a blessing in our lives. We have met some pretty cruddy people during these adoptions - people who think mainly about money and don't consider the harm they do. On the other side, we believe this experience has shown us the best in so many people.

Here is the beginning of our story:

My life started on August 12, 1994. I was thirty years old at the time, but thinking back now, I don’t really remember much before that. Looking down into the face of my newborn son, I suddenly realized why I was an important person. None of it had really made sense to me before- the waking up, going to work, going to bed and then waking up and doing it all again. I had always lacked the drive or ambition to be a superwoman, a career woman or a collector of college degrees. But now my life was finally starting and I was so thrilled and grateful.

It was difficult being a single parent, and it wasn’t the way I’d always dreamed of doing it. I always thought I would find the perfect man, get married and have lots of children. As a young woman, I dreamed of a big family and having Christmases and Thanksgivings with lots of children running around and everyone laughing and having a grand time, just like in the movies.

That wasn’t to be my path though. It was okay, I found such joy in raising my son and he brought such light and purpose to my life. It was a struggle financially though and eventually I made the decision to move in with my mother so I could have more time with the sweet little boy, Alexander, who was growing up way too fast.

My mother worked for the U.S. Department of State and when Alexander was four years old, we had the opportunity to join her in Africa. Kenya is beautiful and I was able to find a good job at the U.S. Embassy there and life was good. On the weekends my mother and I took Alexander to the game parks and we spent our time counting how many zebras and lions we saw. Alexander started school, which was great, but it made me sad when he realized that all the other children had daddies and he just had a mommy and grandma. I tried to put it out of my head because I was a 35-year-old single mom living in Nairobi, Kenya, clearly my fate was to live my life out this way.

I was shocked then a year or so later when I met a man who would change everything and bring even more meaning to my life. Robert made me feel special and loved and he also taught me that I am even more than a mother and a potential wife, I am a child of God. I didn’t know any of those things before and that truth often brought me to my knees in joy and gratitude. After three whirlwind months of dating we were married in a beautiful garden ceremony at the Ambassador’s Residence in Nairobi. I was surely the luckiest and most blessed woman alive. I had no idea why these wonderful things were happening to me, but I was just so grateful.

Robert and I set up house with our now 6-year-old son. What a miracle it was to watch Alexander with his new father. He started calling him "Daddy" right away. He had everything now and so did I.. We married on November 25, 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, how appropriate that was to me, I would always remember with gratitude all my blessings.

A few weeks later, after a day of long Christmas preparations, Robert and I lay down exhausted on the bed. I felt a slight pulling in my breast and reached over to brush it away. It hurt though and upon examination I detected a lump. I didn’t pay it too much attention because I’d rushed to the doctor too many times after finding something lumpy and it always turned out to be nothing.

When the lump didn’t go away after 3 or 4 days, Robert insisted that have it looked at. I went to the Embassy doctor, who also happened to be my mother, she decided to send me for an ultra-sound. Since I was so young, she didn’t want to risk exposing me to the radiation from a mammogram. The ultrasound took a long time. I didn’t know whether to be nervous or annoyed. The doctor kept rolling over my breast, back and forth, never speaking, never making eye contact with me. Was he finding something there?

Finally he spoke and said that I should go get a mammogram, tomorrow if possible. That scared me, but I went. It was December 21, my birthday and also Robert’s birthday, it should have been a lucky day, impervious to bad news.
Robert had to take Alexander to a birthday party so my mom went with me to get the mamo-gram done. The doctor said he would have the results after Christmas but my mom was able to convince him to read them right away. He showed me the pictures and said words that had no meaning to me at the time, "micro-calcification", "biopsy", "carcinoma"and "cancer", it wasn’t processing in my head.

We got outside and I was still okay, we got to the car and still I held it together, I remember putting on my seatbelt and then thinking how I had a perfect life. I had waited more than 30 years for my first child, more than 35 years for my husband and I had it all now. From the time we first met, Robert and I were busy planning for more children, finally after all my worrying and hoping, I would have that big family I had always dreamed of. Now those dreams were all gone, I might die and leave behind my loved ones. The lump was large and the doctor didn’t seem that hopeful.

We had a dreary Christmas, though my mom and Robert tried their best to make it special. Alexander had asked for about 10 dollars to go to the school flea market so he could do his Christmas shopping. We opened our presents on Christmas morning and what I remember most are the gifts Alexander got us. I got a candle, Robert got a plastic watch, my mom got a little pink bathroom carpet and then there were five or six gifts left over. Alexander informed us that those were the "babies" gifts and by the way, where was the baby anyway? He assumed that when one gets married one has a baby. He was so excited to have a little brother or sister. He imagined it would be immediate. We unwrapped the little toys with great care and explained that his siblings wouldn’t be coming quite so quickly. I felt such pain in my heart knowing that I would never be able to carry another child and bring another life into our family. It was unbearable.

We ended up leaving Kenya the next day. We came home and had all the tests confirmed and were told we would need to move back home long term. We flew to Kenya and said good-byes to all our dear friends, we took Alexander out of his beloved school, packed up our beautiful home and flew back to Washington, D.C. where we would live in a hotel with Alexander, our two dogs and my mother for the next three months.

What came next was a year of pain, financial drain, illness, exhaustion and uncertainty. It was our "honeymoon" year. Within the first four months of our marriage I had gained 50 pounds (from the steroids I had to take) and lost all my hair on my head and my facial hair too. But we had faith in the Lord and faith in our little family and we were able to get through it and actually draw closer to God and our Savior and to strengthen our family and our marriage. It was a year of great reflection for Robert and me and with each blessing and miracle we dropped to our knees in humble gratitude.

I still hoped and prayed every day and night that somehow we would still be able to have children. The doctors didn’t lead me on in any way, but I dismissed their reluctance to reassure me and I put my faith in the Lord. The Lord didn’t lead me down the path I expected though and He worked through the most unlikely of sources - my father.

It was about three months after I had finished the chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I was feeling very good, I had shed some of the weight I gained and even had some hair that looked like a genuine hairstyle. My father called to tell me of a program he had heard about that morning while listening to the radio. The program was called Project Hope and they had brought 30 children, from Russian orphanages, to the California Bay Area. Their goal was to try to find forever families for these little ones during their three week stay at a "Cultural Camp" organized by a church in Los Altos.

I hung up with my father and my heart began to soar. I knew, with no certainty, that we would and should do this. I called Robert at work and to my total surprise he told me to fly out to California the next day and check it out. He said that he would join us on the weekend if I felt he should. This was a huge leap of faith for my husband who usually has to analyze everything, calculate all the costs and risks and predict all the possible outcomes before finally coming to a decision. I didn’t waste any time getting our tickets.

Alexander and I arrived to find children aged four to 12, but most of them were in the 7-11 age range. They seemed like delightful children who were thrilled to be in America. Each child, or set of siblings, stayed with a host family. Some of the host families were potential parents but some just wanted to help the children find their own homes. It was a very emotional experience and I realized that Robert had to be there with me. I called him that night and asked him to come right away. He arrived the next evening and was also overwhelmed with feelings of amazement at the opportunity we had received.

In the end we couldn’t choose one child and in another leap of faith we signed a contract for two little boys, Maxim aged six and Dmitry, almost six years old. Alexander was seven years old at the time.

They took all the children back to Russia to wait for us as we collected all the paperwork required for an international adoption. We used the adoption agencies, IFS and Crossroads, that were already in place through Project Hope. We had no idea how the process worked and basically just gave them our money and prayed for the best. This wasn’t enough though and we should have done our homework too, because the agencies made a lot of mistakes, actually lost our paperwork at one point and set up back by about six months. This was really frustrating because we knew our boys, had spent time with them in California and they were waiting for us in a Russian orphanage in Vladivostok, about as far away as you could get.

We waited and waited for our court date to go get our boys, but the adoption agency made one excuse after another and about eight months into the process we learned that one of the boys, Maxim, had a sister living with him in the orphanage. Russian law forbids the separation of siblings. We agreed to take the sister too but it wasn’t that easy. They had different fathers and the sister, Anastasia, wasn’t available yet. We signed some promissory notes with the Russian government and they agreed to let us take Max as long as we would come get Anastasia as soon as she was available in the summer.

The next road block came about two months later when our agency informed us that the Russian government had rejected us because of my previous breast cancer. We were now about 10 months into the waiting process and should have already had our children. This was unexpected because before we even started the process or even flew out to California to meet the children, I had told them everything. The agencies assured us that the breast cancer was no problem that they had dealt with it before and that there was ample precedent in Vladivostok with adoptions to cancer survivors.

Would it never end? Our agency was unable to get it straightened out and in another leap of faith, we flew to Vladivostok without a court date. We ended up staying there for three weeks while I got examined by Russian doctors. In the end, they decided I was fine and they gave us a court date to get our boys. During this three weeks, we were able to spend lots of time with Anastasia and we got to know her. She called us Mama and Papa and even though she was sad her brother was leaving, we could tell she was proud to show us off to all her friends.

We drove out to Maxim’s orphanage first. This was going to be the hardest part, but we had to take him away from his beloved sister. They said their tearful good byes and then she walked away, down the hall back into her room with her tiny 10 year old shoulders heaving with the weight of her sobs. We left with lots of promises to see her again very soon. We would do everything in our power to get her in June when she would be off the database which was required by Russian law.

The next stop was to get Dmitry and there would be no tears there, he was about as excited as a little 8-year-old boy could be and still keep his skin on! We got to pick our boys up on February 14, 2003. The best Valentine’s Day the Baxter family would ever celebrate. It was such a long road to that day, a road filled with lots of obstacles but also one filled with prayers and miracles. How grateful we were.

We came home joyful to have our three boys together at last, but also angry when we saw the incompetence of our adoption agencies. We were threatening to sue IFS because of all the paperwork fiascos, also, we ended up giving them about $10,000 more than we had been quoted. In addition, we had to do all the work ourselves - including getting the court date. We were mad because we had to sell our home to cover the costs and also because we left a crying and bereft little 11 year old girl behind and that was something we felt the agency should have known about before they even brought Max to their camping program in California. By Russian law, Max wasn’t even available for adoption, but through lots of hard work and the prayers of many and the sympathy and powers of a very good judge we were able to bring him home. But that wasn’t what we paid IFS more than $40,000 for.

After we came home and made our threats to IFS they handed us over to their parent company Crossroads. Crossroads agreed that they had been negligent and agreed to do the adoption case for Anastasia for no charge if we would forget any legal action. We agreed that the offer was fair and had hopes that Crossroads, as the parent, accredited, company in Russia, would be more able to help us.

When Anastasia came off the Russian database at the end of May 2003, we were ready to go get her. There were more paperwork hassles and we were left in the dark for several months with nothing happening. This was a very difficult time for Max as he waited every day for news of a court date for his sister. We all suffered and all three boys prayed every night that we would be able to bring Anastasia home quickly.

In November after agonizing months of waiting, Crossroads informed us that they had "found" Anastasia’s biological father. He had committed a crime and was sentenced to serve out a short term in a mental hospital. This action must have caused his name to pop up in a central registry somewhere. Russian law protected his parental rights and we were forced to wait. A few months ago in the summer of 2005, the father was released from the mental institution. He refused to sign the parental release forms though, saying that he grew up in an orphanage and that was good enough for him so it was good enough for his daughter.

Crossroads was unable to give us any information about anything that was going on in Russia so we hired an independent person to make phone calls and do research for us in an ongoing manner. He has been wonderful and he keeps in touch with Anastasia’s social worker and it is through her that we have been able to make the case move the little bit that it has.

The social worker initiated court action to have the father’s parental rights terminated. The case is in court now and we sit on the brink of being able to bring our daughter home when, two weeks ago, we received an email from Crossroads informing us that they have lost their accreditation to work in Russia. Sorry, they won’t be able to help us any longer. We have been working two years to bring our daughter home and now when we are so close, we are hit with another road block.

We are trying now to find a new agency to help us. So far we haven’t had any luck, it is just too difficult and Anastasia is in an orphanage far away - about three hours outside of Vladivostok in a little town called Pokrovka on the border of Russia and China. Also, it is difficult for agencies to take over a case that another agency has started. If we do find someone who will take our case, we will have to start all over again. We are told that if the parental rights are terminated as we expect, Anastasia will probably have to go back on the database for six more months to be displayed as available to the Russian people before foreigners are allowed to adopt her.

The person we hired to help us in Russia was able to send someone out to Anastasia’s orphanage for a visit. We desperately want her to know that we love her and haven’t forgotten her, we still work everyday trying to bring her home. We wanted this person to carry the message for us, to bring her some small gifts, just some chocolates or something. But she was not allowed to see Anastasia. However, the orphanage director told her a story about an incident that happened recently. Apparently a new boy showed up at the orphanage and his last name was the same as Anastasia’s. Somehow one of the children got wind of this and assumed it was her brother who had finally come back. Anastasia rushed to find him only to learn it was a stranger with her last name. We are told she spent the rest of the day sobbing mournfully. We have been fortunate enough to call the orphanage twice and to be able to get through to her. These occasions were so sad though that we have stopped trying to get through. She cannot understand anything about judges and laws that affect her life, she still calls us Mama and Papa and says she wants to come home.

Our friend in Russia is planning a trip to Vladivostok in December. He will carry with him a letter we have written her and also some more little gifts and some pictures of Max and our whole family. He has a journalist’s pass that should afford him access to Anastasia and we pray that he in his kindness will be able to make her understand that we are still trying to come.

We have nothing left to sell to make this happen but we make once again a huge leap of faith and know that the Lord will sustain us if we just do our part.

This is my story, but it is only part of the story really. There are so many people who have been omitted from these pages, people who are helping us, who fast and pray for us, who have supported us in these endeavors. It is for these people and for my children that I write this story down. I want them to see how far they’ve helped us come and how important they are in making good things happen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Oh, will the frustrations never cease? I have been highly engaged trying to find an adoption agency to help us now that ours has lost its accreditation to work in Russia.

It is unbelievable - no one will take our case. It is complicated, of course, aren't all things Russian? Each agency is allowed to work at certain orphanages, our problem is that Anastasia is in an orphanage that agencies don't work with - we were the first ever to adopt from there (Max was there). It is a home for older children and it is way out on the Chinese border in the middle of nowhere.

I finally spoke with a large international adoption agency (they asked not to be identified) last night, they are about the biggest agency in Russia these days - and one of the few still working in the Vladivostok region. They are considering our case. I sent them an email last night with all the details and they are going to forward that to their Russia office and have that office try to make some phone calls or whatever and see if they can help us. In any case, they are really, really nice and helpful. All of the other agencies refused to even think about our case, or, even tried to talk us out of adopting another older child - can you imagine??

We are all praying that this new agency will agree to help us because they are our last shot. Even at the best case scenario though, it is a dreary scene - we have to start all over. It means another $20,000+ and we are going to have to make 2 trips to Russia. We have no idea how to come up with this kind of money, we are working on pure faith here. Robert says we will have to take out loans and just go back home in July about $40,000 in debt and rent a small apartment for a few years (with 5 kids and 2 dogs!!), until we can dig out. Still, that isn't so bad - not when you consider what we are doing. Anyway, last night Robert said he was feeling a slight glimmer of hope about Anastasia - his first one in over a year or so. I listened real hard and felt a glimmer myself - so it can't be all bad!!!

The boys remain positive and continue to pray for Anastasia. They are aware of the impending sacrifices and are ready to face them. Well, as long as Alexander has his own room!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Report on Anastasia

We were so lucky to develop a special contact in Russia. Mary and Alex have been helping us for quite some time and recently Alex had a friend who was in Vladivostok. She agreed to go out to Pokrovka (about 4 hours by train and bus) for us to try to see Anastasia.

The orphange director wouldn't let her see Anastasia which is so sad, but did tell her that the trial for termination of parental rights is nearly finished and in her view (the director's) the trial is going very well and parental rights will definately be terminated. We don't dare to hope too too much but we pray this is the news we are waiting for.

Of course, this leads us to another dilemma - our dossier is still in Russia in the hands of our now impotent adoption agency. We have to get it back so we can try to start over with another agency. We have no idea how we will possibly come up with the funds for this - again. What will we do? But, we must be ready, just in case they "trial" is over and they say we can take her.

In the report that Alex's friend sent us she told of a sad story. Apparently, recently, a young boy arrived at the orphanage and it somehow got to Anastasia that her brother was there. I can't imagine how this happened but she rushed to go see him and of course it wasn't him. We are told she cried in despair all day. I can't possibly convey what this does to my heart, I could weep right now just imagining it.

On the good news side, Alex is going out to Vladivostok for us next week. He is going to take some little gifts and a letter and some photos to Anastasia for us. We are hoping he can get in to see her because he has a special reporters pass that should allow him access. He leaves beginning of December. He will try to meet with the social worker too and verify the story about the "trial" and see where we stand. Our greatest fear is that the court will insist that Anastasia go back on the "registry" where she is to be advertised to Russian families for 6 months before being released to foreigners.

We are praying and praying that somehow we can conquer all of these obstacles.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

We lost our adoption agency....

Happy Thanksgiving to all from the Vienna Baxters!

We have some sad news. After two years of struggling, trying to get our daughter and Max's sister home we got a bomb dropped in our laps. The agency that we were working with has lost it's accreditation to work in Russia. We don't know what this means to us, we don't know where we will go from here. It is quite upsetting and we haven't really broken the news to Max yet. We understand that other agencies don't want to take over clients who have already started the process. In addition, it means we lose the financial investment that we've already made and we have to start that over again.

We don't understand why this has been so hard for us and for Anastasia, who is just a little girl who needs a home. We are praying and fasting and looking for the direction the Lord wants us to go. It is confusing though. If we don't get her before we leave Vienna, we don't have high hopes.
If we have to redo our homestudy in the U.S., we probably won't qualify since they require you to have a separate bedroom for each child 10 yrs and over. Checking on VA housing pricing lately - there is no way that is going to happen!

Don't want to be a big downer as things here are wonderful with our three boys and life is really good. We got our first snow today and everything looks so beautiful.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Alexander's Grades

Well, Alexander has brought home his first Middle School Report Card. Here are the results:
Math B+
Science B-
P.E. B+
Language Arts B+
German B
Social Studies B
Health A (Yes, mom, I guess he gets that from you!)

Since his classes are pretty hard, we think he did well. He also got "Above expectations" on his Optional Class, which was as a journalist for the Middle School Newspaper. Each of his classes is 75 minutes long! That is just unbelievable to me, I don't think I could have sat in Math or Science for 75 minutes - it is tough!

Max and Dima seem to be doing well, but we haven't received their report cards yet.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Reunited At Last

Alexander and I have been enjoying the last two weeks of being able to spend lots of time together. He had the first week off school and we went to Germany - I got to go to the Temple, we visited some friends and went to the Army base to shop for some American stuff. Other than that, we watched a lot of movies, lounged around and just enjoyed our time together. Alexander went back to school on Wednesday after a 10 day break (they call it Autumn break here), but we've still been enjoying our time together. However........boy do we miss the rest of our family.

Robert has been in the States for the last two weeks getting testing done on the boys. The doctor here recommended it and it has been pretty helpful. Looks like one of them has ADHD and both of them have some attachment issues (we knew that already). However, mostly, they are coming back with high praise from all the doctors who tested them. They are both really smart boys and have really impressed everyone with how much they have learned in the last 20 months since they have been with us. Wow. You can barely even hear an accent on them anymore.

Anyway, they will all be home tomorrow and though my house won't be clean anymore, I sure am excited to see them. They had lots of adventures in the States, including a short trip to Knoxville where they got to meet an Aunt, Uncle , 2 cousins, brother, sister-in-law and two nephews that they hadn't met yet. They also got to spend lots of time with their brother Scott-- they really love all their family and are soo excited to spend time with Scott and Stewart and his family. Thanks to all of you for being so kind to my boys.

Alexander and I had some adventures of our own when Shasta got ahold of a bag of chocolate chips. She had explosive diahhrea and vomitting for two days. Well, okay, maybe that isn't quite as exciting as going to Knoxville.