There we were, eight years ago this week, traveling to Russia for the second time. Far Eastern Siberia, to be precise. A place that is cold and foreboding, yet strangely warm and comforting at the same time. And here we are now, eight years later, celebrating our son Jhenya’s Adoption Anniversary. He’s a charismatic, spunky little spark plug of a boy who is nothing short of a miracle. Actually, in my view, a series of miracles.
Jhenya stole our hearts on our first trip to Russia in March, 2009. You can read more about that here. Two agonizing months later, we headed back in hopes of finalizing the adoption in court and bringing him home.
Finalizing the adoption was no easy task. It involved Derrick and me being examined by a series of eight doctors in a strange, rather creepy Moscow Hospital. A psychiatrist, cardiologist, dermatologist, internist and others, all strangers, who poked, prodded and peppered us with questions.
Russian authorities had to track down all of Jhenya’s birth family and relatives to double check that no one else was willing to adopt him. Then we had to go to court in front of a Russian Judge to plead our case and promise to take good care of 33 month old Yavgeniy Alexandrovich Yakimov, (nickname Jhenya in Russian) who was about to be ripped away from the only world he’d ever known. The one and only time I have been to Russian court instilled so much fear in me I felt I couldn’t breathe.
Adoption Anniversary: Leaving the Orphanage
The judge, after a two hour hearing, approved our adoption. We left the Orphanage on May 21st, 2009. We were allowed to leave with nothing but Jhenya. No clothes, no possessions, nothing. The hundreds of children who lived in that very spartan institution all had to share the very few clothes and toys that were always in short supply. I loved getting 33 month old Jhenya dressed in his going home outfit, and loved the tiny glimpse of a smile on his sweet little face as he admired his new shoes. We donated about a dozen snowsuits and pairs of sneakers to the Baby House. The extra weight in luggage was probably just as expensive as the clothing!
He cried so hard as we left, and some of the caregivers were also in tears. Jhenya was okay with hanging out with us by then, but only if someone else he knew was close by. Yet, things quickly got better.
The orphanage director had told us Jhenya likes to go the hospital when he’s sick because it’s his chance to see the outside world. On the car ride to our apartment, he was wide-eyed. Yes, he was scared, but too amazed by the sights of the Siberian countryside to cry.
Jhenya was leaving his home, his ” Caregiver Mamas,” the only life he had ever known. His new parents were American strangers who could only say, We love you”, “Time to eat”, “Time to sleep” and a few other phrases in really awful Russian.
We got to our apartment in Chita, Siberia, and he was immediately fascinated. No more institutional living! He opened and closed doors, played with light switches and had a blast. Here’s a very short clip of that day.
He pointed out the window, exclaiming, “meena!” (The Russian word for car is pronounced “Machina.”) He loved eating Cheerios and fresh cucumbers. He played and laughed. For the first time, he had a few small choices and a little bit of freedom.
Then, a few hours later, he put on his little jacket and stood by the door. He couldn’t say it verbally, but every fiber of his little 33-month old being communicated loudly and clearly, “It’s time to go home.” He had enjoyed the “visit” but didn’t want to stay. He was simply beside himself in tears as we explained in our extremely poor Russian that he would be staying with us. It was a heartbreaking moment, but we are so blessed it was one of only a few heartbreaks in this arduous adoption journey.
The next day we flew to Moscow and there was a new flood of tears when Jhenya seemed to think our room at the Marriott Grand was our new home. (It’s actually a very nice hotel!)
There were more tears as he refused to take off his new shoes even to sleep. And terrified screaming fits during his first tub bath.
But, things got interesting for this toddler as he saw the sights and smells of Spring in Moscow. Jhenya slowly let his curiosity outweigh his fear, and very quickly trusted me to the point he was super-clingy. He would sit quietly on my lap just hugging me as I wrote email updates to friends in Atlanta. He started to smile more and on our second night in Moscow had a few moments of absolute silliness and laughter.
Celebrating an Adoption Anniversary: Gotcha Day
In the International Adoption Community, there is a lot of support but also some disagreement about all the labels we put on the many milestones we go through on the long road to parenthood. Many celebrate what’s known as “Gotcha Day,” the actual day they took custody of their new son or daughter. Others believe “Gotcha Day,” is too informal a phrase for such a momentous occasion. One of my favorite adoptive parents says it’s an acronym for God Ordained This Child’s Happy Adoption Day. I simply refer to those magic days when we met Jhenya, when we left the orphanage, and when we brought him home as our Jhenyaversary.
We brought James Christian DeCarlo, formerly Yavgeniy Alexandrovich Yakimov, home to Atlanta on May 23rd. But he’s still Jhenya.
Jhenya is a Russian nickname for Yavgeniy. Yavgeniy translates to Eugene in English. It means Well Born, despite the fact that this little preemie was abandoned at birth, not due, we are told, to poverty, drugs or alcohol, but due to entirely different circumstances. He was meant to be my child.
Jhenya is a blessing from God and a miracle. So is his biological brother, Nicholas. For both, on this Adoption Anniversary, I’m eternally grateful.