exposing the dark side of adoption
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Justice for Ethan


from: http://www.justiceforethan.com

The Beginning

The dream began long ago.  From the time I was 18 I always stated that I wanted to adopt one little boy and be married to a man who traveled quite a bit so that I could continue to maintain my independence.  I had been with my boyfriend Jack for more than 5 years and in late 2003 decided it was time to make my dream of having a son come true.

Being the person I am, I thoroughly researched agencies.  I went to 5 different agency presentations before I selected Journeys of the Heart who had offices in both Illinois, (my state), and Oregon.  I was touched by the speech from their owner, David Slansky,  who cried when he described a 12 year old girl in China who may never find a family.   I thought to myself, "Here is a man who is really compassionate and sincere." 

(I did call EAC after attending their presentation here in Illinois, but my call was never returned from their case worker.  I often wonder where I would be now if only she had called me back.)

I had been spending some time on adoption.com and had learned a bit about Russia and how the adoption process worked.  I had become  interested in JOH when I discovered that they partnered with a large facilitating group called Amrex for their Eastern European adoptions.  I spent hours on the amrex.org site, viewing the photos of so many beautiful children.  They appeared to have done so many adoptions and had been around for quite some time.  I did not see a lot of negatives on the Internet about them at the time, and so I sent off my application on December 31, 2003 as a New Year's gift to myself.

At this time I was clueless when it came to "umbrellaing" and accreditation of agencies.  I had originally planned on going to Romania, but that had become impossible, so Russia was my next logical choice.  (For those not familiar with the Russian process, as of this writing there are only 27 agencies accredited in Russia.  Many other agencies "piggyback" on accreditations and have the accredited agencies' names on the court paperwork.  In the case of Amrex my paperwork from court all read Adoption Placement, an agency I have never even heard of.  Beacon House is the only other accredited agency that Amrex uses to process adoptions through the Russian courts.  As of this writing Adoption Placement had not been reaccredited, so Beacon House was Amrex's only choice.  Luckily for Marina Zakharova (Amrex's owner), her mother Galina was the head of Beacon House in Russia.  As luck(?) would again have it her ex-husband Alexander Zakharov was the head of Adoption Placement in Russia.)

By the end of April 2004, I had completed my education classes, my medicals, my home study and my entire Russian dossier.  In Illinois, an adoptive parent also has to be licensed as a foster care provider and this was completed as well.  My dossier was sent off to the Oregon office, where it was forwarded to Amrex to be translated.  I was on my way to finally becoming a Mom!

Enter Nuristam

On June 9, 2004, I received an email from my agency with a referral photo attached.  I was very surprised by this, as I had just sent the first Amrex fee that week.  The little boy had some health concerns that I felt I could not handle as a single Mom and unfortunately had to decline.  It was a heart-wrenching decision and it caused me quite a bit of pain for quite a while.

On June 11, 2004, I received another email with a picture of a tiny boy attached.

He was barely 2 months old.  He was absolutely darling and had a decent medical report.  He was the first born of a very young mother.  I was told that he was in an Eastern region called Astrakhan down by the Caspian Sea.  He even had a really great name, Nuristam.  I excitedly called my agency and asked whether I could get a video of him for some IA doctors to analyze.  I had the video on my doorstep in 3 days.

I had Jack come over to watch it with me the first time and we could not believe how cute he was and so tiny.  I sent it off to be analyzed by two IA doctors for FAS and CP.  Both doctors described him as being Eurasian.  Dr. Todd Ochs, Chicago,  was concerned about how young he was and indicated that there were more unknowns than knowns, but stated that he was cautiously optimistic. 

Dr. Julia Bledsoe, Seattle, felt very positive about him and indicated that his name derivation was Kazak.  She could not believe that I could get a referral of a 2 month old.  He did have bronchitis listed on his medical.  She requested that I get more information on this issue and whether he had been hospitalized for it.  I pressed my agency to get further information from Amrex, but it never came and I was told I had to accept the referral by June 23, 2004 or his hold would expire.  I accepted his referral on June 22, 2004.

When my adoption was finalized I reviewed the court papers and discovered that Nuristam was not put on the database until I had committed to his referral. He was officially entered on June 23, 2004.  I had to ask myself, are children sitting in these orphanages not even being entered into the database until some PAP in the US sends their international fee?  It was very disturbing to discover this well after the fact. 

Due to the rule of children having to be on the database in Russia for at least 2 months, in 2004, I had a long wait ahead.  It was extremely stressful to have to wait for my travel dates.  I worried every day that some Russian family would adopt my son, after all he was the cutest boy in the world and who would not want him? 

I am embarrassed to admit that I had an anxiety attack during this time, which I thought was a heart attack and ended up in the Emergency Room.  After the EKG stated my heart was in excellent condition, the doctor asked me if I had any stress in my life.  Jack told him about my pending adoption and all of my worries and that explained it all to the doctor.  He suggested trying to relax and walk or do more yoga.

Russia Here I Come

On August 25, 2004, my agency emailed me with travel dates.  I was very excited and could not wait to meet Nuristam in person.  I was due to leave Chicago on the 10th of September. 

During this time there was quite a bit of unrest in Russia.  2 planes went down after it was found that bombs were planted in them.  A woman in Moscow strapped explosives to herself near the subway and they went off injuring many.  Finally, the absolutely unbelievable Beslan school takeover where children, teachers and parents were held hostage for several days.

I was planning to travel to Russia by myself and was becoming increasingly worried.  The school was about 200 miles from the region to which I was traveling and I was going to have to take a regional airline, much like the 2 which were bombed.  I in no way, however, planned to cancel my trip, because as I told everyone who questioned my sanity at this point, it was much less stressful to go through all of this to realize my dream, than to spend the rest of my life without a child.

On September 9, 2004, I got both a call and an email from my agency indicating that my trip had been cancelled with less than 24 hours notice.  I was completely shocked.  I had taken so much time making my arrangements, as I was flying on Jack's Frequent Flyer miles.  I had my bags all packed with toys, clothes and diapers for Nuristam.  I just started to cry at my desk at work.  Would I ever meet my son?

On September 14, 2004, I was given new travel dates and would now be leaving on October 1, 2004 to head to Moscow.  Once again I got on the phone with American Airlines and adjusted my trip to use the miles.  I was going to have to take 4 planes to get to my son.  I booked a route that went from Chicago to Montreal to Zurich to Moscow and then 1 day later on to Astrakhan.  I was willing to move heaven and earth to get to this little boy on the other side of the world.

I almost missed my flight to Zurich and had to run the length of 1/2 the Montreal airport in heels.  I had only 2 carry-ons, but one contained my laptop which was heavy.  I was completely out of breath and when the flight attendant asked me if I was okay, I choked up and told her that I could not miss this plane, as I was going to go and meet my son in Russia.  The rest of the way to Moscow was uneventful. 

I was met at the airport by my Amrex coordinator, Tatyana Zosimovna.  She commented on how bright eyed I was even after all of the travel.  She could sense the excitement I was feeling about meeting my son soon. 

Through the adoption.com forums I had connected with another couple who would be traveling to Astrakhan at the same time as I would.  I asked Tatyana if she had seen them yet.  She indicated that they had been delayed and would not be in until tomorrow, when we were scheduled to go to Astrakhan in the afternoon.

I arrived at my hotel in Moscow ordered room service and stayed in for the night.

To Astrakhan We Go

The next afternoon I was dropped off at the regional airport.  Of all that I had been through, this regional flight was what scared me the most.  I had heard absolute horror stories about these Russian planes and the airport I was going to.  The airport was very smoky and absolutely no English was being spoken anywhere.  I had taken a Russian class in the Summer and could read the alphabet and could make out some signs, but that was it and I was all alone.

A couple of hours later, the other couple from the US showed up.  It was so nice to have some fellow Americans there and they were just the nicest couple ever.  (If ever you are reading this, you know who you are and I am forever grateful to you for your support during that trip.)  In all honesty if it had not been for this couple, I would not have made it through the next week.

As is typical in Russian travel, our flight was cancelled and we were rescheduled for a flight 5 hours later.  We continued to sit and chat and finally boarded the plane for the hometown of our soon to be children. 

The flight ended up not being that bad.  The plane was small and old, but the flight itself was only about 2 hours and relatively smooth.  We were met at the airport by our Amrex coordinator, Olga, who was very pretty and nicely dressed.  We stayed at the Korvet hotel, which was actually much better than I expected.

The staff did not really speak English, but with my Russian dictionary and my little Russian language skills I got by.  They were very polite and the rooms were clean and reasonably priced.  They were nice enough to have a vegetarian breakfast for me in the AM as our coordinator explained that I did not eat meat or eggs.

I had brought about 30 DVDs from home to watch on my laptop.  (If anyone is contemplating going to Russia, these were a lifesaver and I hauled the laptop on the second trip as well.)  I settled in and watched a movie and tried to fall asleep despite all of the excitement I was feeling with the anticipation of meeting the son I had dreamt of for nearly 20 years, in the AM.

Meet Your Son

Below is a video that I took of Ethan that first day.  You can hear him wheezing from what I was told was an upper respiratory infection.  He was so alert and smart though and just cute as a button.  In this video clip, I am trying to capture his limb movements so that I could email the clip to Dr. Bledsoe (which I never ended up doing).  Notice the interesting daisy pacifier that he had been given at the orphanage.After getting our official referrals from the MOE we drove up to the orphanage.  It was pretty much what I expected and once inside smelled distinctly of boiled potatoes.  There were many workers around either mopping, preparing food in the cafeteria or carrying sick children out to the hospital.

We met the Director and through our coordinator started to get measurements and details on our children.  While I was writing down information, my coordinator pointed and said, "There's yours."  I looked up to behold the face of the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  They placed him in my arms and asked me, "Do you want him?"  As tears streamed down my face I said, "Of Course."

We spent the next 4 days with our kids in the Music Room.  This was a very "adoption friendly" orphanage and we were allowed to spend at least 4 hours a day with the kids.  We were able to feed them and carry them back up to their rooms when it was time to go. 

Both of the children were wheezing.  They sounded very congested.  Immediately I moved into "Mom" mode and insisted that we get some medication.  Both of the kids had what we were told were upper respiratory infections.  We went out and bought 2 kinds of vitamins and amoxicillin.  I was not used to hearing children cough and wheeze, but was told that was typical in orphanages where there does not tend to be a lot of ventilation.

The Director assured us that she would have the workers dispense the medicine and vitamins to our children.  She was a Doctor and knew exactly what the dose should be.  Each day, one child would sound worse than the other.  The cold appeared to be jumping around.  Since I was familiar with amoxicillin and its effectiveness, I was certain that when I came back to bring my son home, he would be over the infection. 

Before I left Astrakhan, I had to inform my coordinator what I had chosen for my son's name so that she could complete the Intent to Adopt Petition.  I named him Ethan Nuristam Anderson Heather and kept his birth date as April 9, 2004. 

It was very difficult to leave him the last day at the orphanage.  I held him and cried as the orphanage worker gently took him from my arms.  I just had to keep telling myself that is was only for a short while and then we would be home together forever.

We flew back to Moscow and I headed home to Chicago the next day.

For those reading this, who have not experienced an international adoption, they may have difficulty relating to this.  Half of my heart was on the other side of the world.  Every day I hoped and prayed that I would have a court date so I could go back and get my son.  It is heart wrenching to have to accept that people you do not even know are taking care of your child.

The actual waiting time would be much less than the time I spent waiting for my first trip. The difference was that last time it was a picture and a video, this time it was a real little boy whom I had fallen in love with from the moment he was placed in my arms.  I could not get over the immediate rush of love I felt for him.  It was so instantaneous and complete.  Not once did I feel panic at the responsibility, just joy at the privilege of being allowed to raise someone so incredible.

I went on the first trip alone, and felt that for the second trip, I would need some help tending to Ethan and hauling all of our luggage, and also for emotional support.  My cousin was originally going to go, but with all of the unrest in Russia was scared and decided that she could not do it.

Jack had told me from the beginning of the process, that while he would support me, I had to be ready to do this on my own as a single parent, so I was not going to ask him.  At this time one of my best friends decided that she would accompany me.  I was so touched by this, as she has 2 young children and was willing to leave them for 2 weeks to travel across the world and be with me.  I will never forget this offer and how much I loved her for this.

It was my birthday on October 11, Jack took me to dinner and told me with tears in his eyes, that he wanted to go with me and support me on my adventure to realize my dream of being Ethan's Mom.  I was so excited that the two people I loved most in the world, Ethan and Jack, would finally be able to meet and that we would all be able to spend time in Ethan's birth country together.

On November 3, 2004, my agency emailed me and let me know that I was scheduled to go to Russia on November 18, 2004, with a court date of November 22, 2004.  I was so excited I was ready to burst.  Finally this was really happening and I was going to go and get Ethan to bring him home. 

I was picturing all of the years we had ahead of us.  Getting to know each other.  Ethan learning from me and me learning from him.  As a single mother I viewed this as a great partnership between me and my son.  I was so excited to take him to the park and bring him to his first day of pre-school.  I love cars and envisioned teaching him how to drive a stick-shift, which is all that his Mother drives.  I mostly just wanted him to be a happy and healthy child with a long life ahead of him.  I even envisioned dancing with my son at his wedding, 30 years away.  Oh Ethan and I were going to have a lot of fun together in the many years to come, or so I thought.

I scrambled to book all of our tickets with Jack's Frequent Flyer miles.  It was very cool to have a ticket with the name Ethan Nuristam Anderson Heather printed on it.  The airline customer service clerk commented on what a long name he had and how it barely fit on the ticket.  An extraordinary name for my extraordinary son I told her. 

Back to Russia

We landed in Moscow on the 19th of November.  Due to the weather we had to wait 2 hours for our driver to come and get us.  It is amazing how many people want to offer their cab services to 2 Americans with 5 pieces of luggage. 

We ended up calling Val Muenargia from Amrex when Tatyana did not arrive at the airport.  She eventually arrived and we headed to the hotel.  The next day we were driven to the regional airport to get on the plane to Astrakhan.  The weather was very bad and so we were delayed once we got into the terminal.  We ended up having to sit there for 14 hours. 

We were afraid to fall asleep for fear we would miss the flight.  Every hour I would climb up the escalator to read the sign that continued to say that the flight was delayed and that there was no information.  Our 4 PM flight finally left Moscow at 6 AM the next morning.

We were met at the airport in Astrakhan by our coordinator Olga and driver, Vlad.  We had been up all night and had really not slept well on the plane.  After exchanging greetings, I was told that my son had been in the hospital all month.

I responded with absolute shock to this information, as I had not been told this at all.  Olga stated, "Automne, children do not go into the hospital to die."  She said that we would be able to go and see him later that day and that now we were heading to the hotel.  To this day I have no idea why this information had been withheld from me.  Once I had signed the Petition to Adopt in October, I had a legal right to know what happened to my child.  This was very significant information and I would have flown a doctor to Astrakhan in order to do whatever it took to save my child.

I was still reeling in shock from this news.  Jack and I went to the hotel to shower and to rest for 3 hours, before we headed to the hospital.  We were picked up again at Noon and driven to this old collection of concrete buildings.  There was a gate that had to be passed through and proper identification had to be shown.  The Orphanage Director went with us, as she was a doctor and could get us into the hospital to see Ethan.

We walked up these old cracked cement steps and through a dank hallway, up another set of cracked steps to a door with a little window covered with bars.  The Director knocked and showed her ID at the window.  We were let into a dark hallway with peeling paint and curtained windows.  We were then led to the Hospital Administrator's Office and were told to wait.  I handed the Director an outfit for Ethan, his socks and a diaper.  I was so excited to see him I was shaking.

Ethan Is That You?

The Director brought Ethan into me and placed him on my lap.  He was nervous and began to bounce.  I just held him close and looked at him.  I was completely horrified by how my child had changed in only 6 weeks time.  When I left Russia he was about 16 lbs and when I came back he now weighed about 12 lbs and had grown an inch.  His skin was peeling it was so dry.  His head and ears were covered in scabs. 

I was very worried about what had happened to my child.  I could barely recognize the once chubby little boy I had visited just a mere 6 weeks ago.  He tried to hold his head up, but it would flop to the side.  He was so light on my lap.  The 9 month clothes that I had brought were just hanging on him.  What had gone on here?  In the US when child is admitted to the hospital it is to get better not to be pitched into a downward spiral. 

(As a side note I had a friend of a friend who grew up in Russia translate Ethan's hospital notes that I was given.  She could not believe that the doctors were just guessing at diagnoses.  She also indicated that her parents had both gone into the hospital on separate occasions and she took time off of work to care for them there as the hospitals in Russia are so poor.  She also told my friend that once the hospital staff was told that an American was adopting this child, they probably did not want to spend any time or money to care for him.)

Every time I saw Ethan during the first trip I would tear up at the sheer joy of being a Mom.  The Director would always kiddingly scold me as if to say no tears, only smiles.  This time, however, there was shock along with love behind those tears.  I was just not prepared for how sick he would look.

I was only allowed to spend about 15 minutes with Ethan.  I had court in the morning and was planning on taking him back to the hotel the next day or so, once I was awarded custody.  I had been assured that he had served his 3 weeks time and was due to be released that week.  Olga stated that she had seen him here 2 weeks before and that his breathing was much better, his pneumonia was gone and that his fever had subsided.

I had purchased medicine for him on my first trip and just could not understand how he could have become sicker.  I was also very angry that I had not been given information about my child, as I would have paid to fly a doctor to Russia.  I tried not to focus on this anger.  I pulled Jack aside and told him of my concerns and how much Ethan had changed.  Jack thought it was best not to mention it and that they may not let us take Ethan home.  He thought it best to continue on and to get him home to the US as soon as possible.  We went to dinner in order to prepare for my court date in the AM.

Courting Disaster

I was very prepared for court.  I had reviewed my homestudy and all of my documents.  I was concerned that the judge might be a little tough because I was adopting as a single Mom.

Jack waited out in the hallway, while Olga and I entered the courtroom.  There were 7 women including the judge, my coordinator and me in the courtroom.  The session started without incident, but about 10 minutes into the proceeding the tone changed.

People started to talk loudly and my coordinator stopped translating, so I knew that it would not be good.  The judge had made the decision to seek out Ethan' s birthmother and verify that she had not changed her mind about relinquishing her son.  I was just devastated.  I was convinced that she would never agree to allow Ethan to be adopted once she was given the chance to get him back.  I looked at Olga and asked her why this was not already taken care of before I got there.  She indicated that she was only responsible for getting adoptive parents' paperwork in order and had no control over the judge and the proceedings. 

We went out into the hall and Jack stood up to give me a congratulatory hug.  I just shook my head no and started to cry.  I had to explain to him how the judge was insisting that my coordinator find Ethan's birthmother and have her resign the relinquishment papers.  He was in absolute shock.  It never occurred to either of us that this would happen.

Jack and I were brought back to the Korvet hotel to wait.  And wait we did for 2 long days.  My coordinator found the birthmother who started crying and said she would sign anything to get them to leave.  She brought this to the judge who decided that since she was only 19 when she had Ethan, she needed her parents to sign off as well.

My coordinator traveled back out to the country in a snowstorm to get the birthmother's parents to sign.  The mother was around so she signed the document and my coordinator brought this to the judge.  The judge then decided that the next day they needed to find her father as well and get him to sign off.

This posed 2 problems, this man only had 3 daughters and I thought he might want to raise Ethan.  Also, since the birthmother was only 19, she had hidden the pregnancy from her dad and he did not know about it.  I was just milling around the hotel room not talking to Jack and not eating.  I was absolutely beside myself with fear.  I told myself that if I ended up leaving without Ethan I was not coming back to Russia, but was going to go to Guatemala instead.

I felt sorry for Ethan's birthmother.  Here was a young girl who had a child at 19, had hidden the pregnancy from her father and had been responsible enough to have had him in a hospital.  Because of this I had been given the opportunity to be a Mother to a beautiful boy.  I was very upset that this judge was causing pain for so many people.  I also knew that I would have quite a story to tell Ethan when he was older about how much his Mother was willing to go through to be able to love him and bring him home.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Olga knocked on the door and said that she got this done.  They were able to find a document on file in the courthouse that had both grandparent's signatures on it.  I was going to have a new hearing on November 25.  She also said that we would go to the hospital the next day to see Ethan when he got his passport picture taken.

The next day we went back to the hospital with the photographer, and I was so proud of my son.  He was such a good boy when he got his picture taken.  As you can see above this is the most beautiful passport picture ever.  Apparently he had just had his pacifier in and his little mouth was still pursed from sucking on it.  His dimples are very apparent in this picture.  I did not really notice it at the time, but the hospital director was looking at me with sorrow in her eyes.  I now believe that she knew how sick my son was.  I also think that she may have been ashamed for the lack of care that they were able to provide when she saw how clearly I absolutely adored this little boy.

Court went off without a hitch the next day. (Olga told me after the first session that the ladies could not believe that I would adopt as I looked so "nice".  They thought I should just wait until Jack proposed and then have biological children.  It was funny to hear this as I looked at adoption as a privilege and not a "second best" choice.  It  just proves that many Russians really do not have a very favorable view of adoption.) The court session was about 20 minutes and one of the ladies commented that November 25 was Mother's Day in Russia and what a blessing to be a mother for the first time on that day.  I just beamed when I was given the gift of being the Mom to this beautiful little boy. I was told that because of Ethan's health I got the 10 days waived and Ethan, Jack and I would be heading to Moscow the next day.  It is interesting to note that as the judge left court the last thing she said was "It was unfortunate that this child could not find a home in Russia, let's hope that he will be able to have a good life in the US."

My Dream Come True

I wanted to pick Ethan up immediately from the hospital and give him a kiss and a hug.  We were told that this would not be possible and that we would have to get him the next day.  (Once I had Ethan with me and was undressing him for bed that night in Moscow, I noticed large bruises with needle marks on the top of both of his feet.  It appeared as if he had had IVs in them and that they had been pulled out.  To this day I wonder if he had the IVs taken out that Thursday and needed overnight for the wounds to heel before he was given to us.)

The rest of the day we went running around getting documents processed and picking up items for Ethan.  We were able to get Ethan's passport expedited overnight for $400.  We got a can of powdered formula and 2 boxes of flavored rice cereal.  There was a large stuffed train for sale at the baby store and I really wanted it.  Jack looked at me and said, "Automne we are flying through 3 airports on the way home. How are we going to haul that huge thing?"  It was too late I already had the clerk wrapping it up.  (I really wanted Ethan to have a toy from his hometown.)  Jack kept the train whistle in his pocket and it was comical as this went off at inopportune times during the next week, anytime he sat on the edge of his coat, while we were sliding in and out of cars and cabs.

On November 26, we went to the hospital to pick up Ethan, my son.  I was so excited I could not believe that after nearly 20 years I was finally a Mom.  As you can see from the picture above, I am absolutely beaming, as I am holding Ethan with one of the nurses who really wanted to be in a photo. 

We had never been allowed to see Ethan in a hospital bed.  There were curtains over the windows and I had to bring clothes and a diaper for him to be presented to me on the two prior visits.  I had again brought an outfit for him to wear, but this time it was for him to leave in.  6 nurses went into the room to dress him and get him ready to head home with me. 

I could not believe the excitement, but my coordinator explained that people rarely go to the hospital to pick up their kids.  I was told again that he was fine and that he was over his pneumonia.  He was to have been released on November 24, but they left him in the hospital until I could get him to avoid the paperwork hassles of transferring him back to the Orphanage.  I had to sign 4 pages of Russian medical notes.  I asked my coordinator what it said before I signed it.  She stated that it said he had pneumonia and a fever and that he was better.  I did not understand why one would need 4 pages to say this.

We carefully made our way down the icy steps with my little blessing finally in my arms.  We headed to the Orphanage to sign some papers.  I wanted to go in and say Thank You to the caregivers who had helped with my son.  I was told that was not going to be possible and that we would need to wait in the car.

We headed out for a late Lunch.  Ethan ate some banana rice cereal, which he seemed to enjoy.  He had a very good appetite.  I just could not believe the joy I felt holding him.  It just did not seem real.  We went and got his VISA picture and also picked up his passport which they had expedited for us.

Of course our plane was delayed from the Astrakhan airport.  We finally left around 10 PM and by the time we checked into the Moscow Marriott Grand it was well after Midnight.  I was handed a little stuffed bear as a Congratulations on my adoption.  I thought that was a very nice touch and would make a nice memento for Ethan when he got older.  We got up to the room and put Ethan down in the crib to settle in for the night.

The Nightmare Begins

Since I first had seen Ethan at the hospital I was very concerned about his appearance.  He was very skinny and had lost about 25% of his body weight in 6 weeks time.  I wanted to be certain to get his weight and nutrition back up to par.  He was very hungry and needed to eat at least every 2 hours.  He did not want to eat solid food and only wanted formula.  We were mixing the formula with bottled water and between me, Jack and Ethan, we were going through about 5 liters of bottled water a day.

Ethan did not sleep through the night the first night and was spitting up some and had a little diarrhea.  I was told to expect this due to a change in his formula.  He was keeping most of the food down and was very alert.  He had me wrapped around his finger in about 20 minutes flat.  I joked to Jack that Ethan was the first man I ever met who was able to get me to do what he wanted. 

During this time I continued to comment to Jack and anyone who would listen that my son did not look quite right.  I was very concerned that something was wrong.  I called 2 of my best friends in the US and told both of them that I was afraid that he would not make it home.  They both thought I was crazy and told me I was just a first time Mom and was over-reacting. 

We went shopping at the GUM on Saturday the 27th, and bought some Russian Christmas stockings for Ethan and 2 of my friend's Russian children.  I also stopped at Children's World and picked up more rice cereal, diapers, baby wash and lotion.  Ethan had started to realize that he only needed to make a peep to get attention, so he rarely cried.  He was eating a lot of formula and I had started to mix in the rice cereal so he could get some more bulk in his system.

On Sunday he was still sometimes spitting up.  My coordinator called to tell me when we were being picked up the next day and I mentioned that maybe we should take him to the hospital.  She told me, "Automne you tend to enlarge things.  He will be fine."  At this point I had not slept more than about 3 hours in 2 days.  I was starting to get pretty crabby.  I was not used to this lack of sleep.  I started to question my judgment about adopting a child so young.  Little did I realize how sick my poor little son really was.

The couple with whom I traveled on my first trip happened to be arriving at our hotel and we had made plans to meet.  Jack, Ethan and I were people watching in the lobby and I caught site of them at the buffet.  I ran up to hug them and they asked me where Ethan was.  (I was holding him at the time.)  They could not believe how different he looked from 6 weeks ago and the amount of weight he had lost.  We caught up and made plans to go shopping and have a nice dinner the next day.

That night Ethan slept 7 hours straight and I was a new woman.  I knew that my worries were due to lack of sleep and that of course Ethan was the best decision that I had ever made.  We were heading to Dr. Boris at the Filatov Clinic that morning and I was relieved as I was still concerned about how thin Ethan was.

When we got to the doctor we had to strip Ethan of all of his clothes and his diaper.  Dr. Boris looked him over and checked his temperature, weight, heart, lungs and reflexes.  I asked him to please check in his ears, as he had been tugging on them.  He looked in them and stated that there was nothing wrong.  I also asked about how thin he was and told him how he had just gotten out of the hospital with pneumonia.  He said that he would not be a Sumo wrestler anytime soon, but to get him home on some good nutrition and that he would be okay.  Ethan was crying this entire time and it was hard not to pick him up as the doctor was examining him.  Dr. Boris told me that if I kept fussing over him so much I would be carrying him around until he was 25.  That was fine by me I said. 

He pronounced Ethan fine, so we dressed him and left with our papers.  We went back to the hotel and I met the couple from my first trip so that we could make a quick trip to Children's World.  Jack and Ethan spent 2 hours together back at the hotel, eating and napping.  I picked up several outfits and some toys for Ethan.  I also bought him a stuffed Santa who danced and sang which I thought he would enjoy.

I got back to the hotel and could not believe how much I missed my son.  I just could not get over how much I loved him.  It was like nothing I had ever felt in my life.  We got ourselves organized and gave Ethan a bath in the hotel sink.  I had brought special Chocolate no more tears shampoo for him.  He did not like baths so much.  After his baths, I would wrap him in his duck bathrobe and give him a lotion massage.  He loved the lotion massage and would look at me and just sigh as I rubbed his legs and arms and tummy.  It made me sad to think that no one had ever paid him much attention, but I knew that I had the rest of our lives to make up for this.

We all met in the lobby and went underground and across the street to a nice Italian restaurant.  (I know here we are in Russia and we are eating Italian, but I was really missing pasta.)  Ethan sat on my lap for 3 hours during this dinner.  He was wrapped in a blue blanket with his pacifier in his mouth and just looked around and listened to our conversations.  He was just happy to be there and to have so much activity around him.  He also really liked music and it was being played through the speakers above.

On the 30th we went to our appointment at the Embassy.  I was in the bathroom, when I heard Ethan cry.  There were over 120 kids and parents in the room and above all of the din, I could pick out my son.  I came out quickly and picked him up from Jack's lap and of course he was fine and stopped immediately.  I never believed that a Mother could recognize her child's cry, but now I knew it to be true.

It was a lot of fun to see all of the families and all of the kids.  We were all talking and getting to know each other.  When my name was called it was the Heather Family.  Finally, it was no longer just me, we were now a family me and little Ethan.  I proudly carried my son up to the counter for my short interview.  The representative commented on how alert Ethan was, as he was always looking around and appeared to be searching for knowledge.

We next went to the Russian Consulate to register my son.  It was important to me to get this done before I left the country.  I was concerned that Ethan seemed warm and did not look right.  I asked about where I could get Children's Tylenol in Russia.  I was told that this was not available.  There were some drugs similar, but my best bet was to walk to the drugstore by the hotel and ask the staff there.

After we got back to the hotel, I told Jack that I was going to find an American to see if they had the Children's Tylenol.  I met a nice woman in the lobby who had a beautiful toddler with her.  She had a thermometer in her room and we went to get it and bring it up to Ethan.  His temperature was normal, 98.4, but I was still worried.  We set him on the bed and he spit up.  He appeared to feel a little better after this.

I thanked her and she and her son went back down to her husband in the lobby.  We got Ethan ready for bed and prepared for our last day in Russia tomorrow.

Sleep Well My Son

Ethan did not sleep well that last night.  He was up every hour or so.  The only thing that appeared to stop his fussing was pushing him in the stroller.  It could not be upright, however, it had to be tilted.  I would walk him around the hotel and our room like this for hours during those 5 days. 

That morning from 4:30 to 8:00 I sat up in a chair and rocked his stroller back and forth as I tried not to fall asleep.  He was also spitting up if Jack set him down on the bed, right after he ate.  It finally donned on us that he probably had reflux.  He was fine if we kept him propped up on pillows on the bed, or sitting up in his stroller after he ate.

Jack went out to buy him a banana which he was going to mush up and feed to him for a change.  He did not like this too well and we went back to the formula and rice cereal.  I just kept counting the hours until I would be at the pediatrician on Friday the 3rd at 10 AM in the US.  I just kept praying that Ethan would hold on until we could get home as no one seemed to believe me when I would tell them that I felt he was sick.

We went to Arbat Street to do some souvenir shopping.  We also ate at McDonald's and went to the Hard Rock Cafe.  Ethan was a little fussy, but seemed to enjoy being outside and being pushed along.  We had the cab come back and get us and take us to - Children's World.  (Trip 3 for me.  People ask me what I saw in Moscow.  Not Red Square, not the Kremlin but I could give you a tour of Children's World.)

Ethan was not much of a crier, but that day in the cab he let out a wail.  He was fine as long as the cab was moving, but once the traffic stopped, he would cry loudly.  (Just like his Mother I will add.  I cannot stand waiting in traffic.) I apologized to the driver as Ethan was never like that.  His diaper bag with his bottle was mistakenly put in the trunk, so there was not much we could do. Finally we got to the store and I quickly mixed up 8 ounces of formula.  Ethan sucked it down in 5 minutes flat.  He was then perfectly fine.

I bought a fancy umbrella stroller for the flight, as we had been using the one from the Marriott for the week.  I also got him some more outfits and toys.  He and Jack just followed me around shaking their heads at my shopping frenzy.  We got back to the hotel and put Ethan down for a nap as he had not yet slept all day.

Ethan was overly tired and was fussing around in the crib.  We had fed him and just changed his diaper.  He did not appear to be hot or cold, so we hoped that eventually he would fall asleep.  At around 5 PM Jack fed Ethan his bottle and went down to the lobby for Dinner.  I picked Ethan up and he whined.  I was concerned as that had never happened before.  He was fine once I held him and he rested his head on my shoulder while I sang to him and rocked him and told him that we were heading home in the AM and he could see his room and meet his pediatrician.

At about 6:45 I set Ethan on the bed to change his diaper and he did not look right.  He felt a little cold on his feet, so I put on an extra pair of socks under his sleeper.  His eyes would not focus for a second and I would call out his name and he would again look at me.  I immediately brought him down to the lobby.  As I closed the hotel room door, he grabbed onto my necklace with all of his might and nearly ripped it from my neck.  I now know he was saying Goodbye Mom to me.

I found Jack in the restaurant lobby and both Jack and the waitress told me that they thought he was okay.  Again, people were telling me that I was just a worried Mom. They thought that he was just tired and Jack would rock him to the sounds of the Baby Grand piano in the lobby.  He appeared to be bouncing on Jack's knee so I waved good bye and went upstairs to take a shower.

About 10 minutes later Jack entered the room.  He went to lay Ethan in his crib, as he had fallen asleep on his shoulder, and noticed that he did not appear to be breathing.  He hollered through the bathroom door and I ran out.  Ethan was lying on the bed and I screamed, Jack he is dead!  Jack was on the phone to the concierge having them call an ambulance.  I was yanking on my clothes and he was screaming into the phone.  I grabbed Ethan's snowsuit from the closet and we ran down to the lobby. 

I was hollering at the Front Desk staff to get an ambulance.  They motioned over to the Concierge, who was on the phone calling 2 different hospitals.  An American guest who was waiting for his dinner companions started CPR with Jack.  I kept hollering at the clerks asking them where the ambulance was.  Jack and the gentleman did CPR for 30 minutes with no sign of an ambulance.

After more than 30 minutes, I finally told them to stop and that I knew Ethan was gone.  The gentleman commented on how bad Ethan's lungs were and asked me whether he had any illnesses.  I told him that he had just gotten out of the hospital with pneumonia.  I was just sobbing telling Jack that Ethan would never be able to see his room.  I looked at Jack and said, I am never going to recover from this.  He told me that I would have to somehow.

The desk staff just stood there.  The American guest gave me a hug and told me how sorry he was.  I thanked him for doing all that he could to save my child.  He suggested that we call the American Embassy immediately.

I just looked at my poor son with his eyes open and his arms over his head and sobbed.  He would never see a Christmas, he would never wear his Halloween costume, he would never make it home to the room I had so lovingly decorated and he would never hug me again.  I was beyond devastated and had to take a chair in the lobby as my legs gave way beneath me. 

Eventually I went up to the room to call my coordinator.  She happened to call when I went to look for her number.  At first she did not understand what I was saying.  I had to repeat that my baby had died.  She said that she would be right over to the hotel. 

After 1 hour 45 minutes one of the two ambulances finally arrived and pronounced my son dead.  He was only 7 1/2 months old.

This is Support?

The hotel manager came over and told me that the police were on their way.  I asked him for a translator to be sent over.  Quickly they arranged to have a former hotel employee come and translate for us.  I will be forever grateful to her for her sympathy and understanding that evening.

We were led into a small room behind the Front Desk.  The hotel staff was nice enough to give us lots of bottled water.  The Manager apologized in advance for how we may be treated by police in another country.  The questions started reasonably enough.  Basic information was given through my sobs.  The Manager came in to see how we were doing and I asked if they could remove the crib and stroller from the room.  The translator said the police needed them to stay as it may be considered a crime scene.

I just about fell over, but continued on with my story.  When I got to the part about not being told about my son's hospitalization and how much weight he had lost, the two policemen just shook their heads.  I do not think that they could believe how sad this story was.  Ethan's passport was in the center of the table.  The picture was slightly visible and it was difficult for me to look at it. 

The hotel manager came in again and the police told him it was okay for him to remove the crib and stroller and that this was obviously just a very sick child who had died way too young.  The hotel changed rooms for us as well.  The police indicated that I would need to stay for at least 2 more weeks in Russia to make the burial arrangements and to see the autopsy results.  I explained that my VISA was expiring in a day.  They did not know what to say to this.

During this time the Manager passed a card in to me from Galina Bonderenko (Marina Zakharova's mother) Beacon House.  I did not know who this agency was and told this to the Manager.  He indicated that the owner of the card had said I might not know who she was.  I did not let this person whom I did not know into the room.

After the police left my Amrex coordinator, Tatyana, Galina and Alexander Zakharov (Marina Zakharova's ex-husband) arrived.  My coordinator indicated that they were there for support.  She seemed very concerned that they were not allowed to be present while I was being questioned.  Immediately the questions started.  Alexander Zakharov asked me if I had taken my son out of the hospital too soon.  I explained that I had not taken him out, but that he was due to be released 2 days before, and they kept him in to avoid the paperwork transfer.

He next asked me if I fed my son enough food according to the instructions that I was given.  Jack explained that we were not given any details on how much he ate, but that he was taking at least 4 ounces of formula every 2 hours.  Tatyana then piped up about how I told her I had added rice cereal to the formula and maybe that did it.  I started to get mad and firmly said that how one mixes formula is not going to kill a child.  They then backed down.

I got the impression that the police could come back and question me again.  I did not feel safe at all in this room and knew that Jack and I were on our own.  Even the Embassy had told us to call back only if we were detained, which we weren't.  I asked these representatives if I was being detained, and they said no.  I then asked them if they could arrange to cremate my son's body and have his ashes flown back to the US.  They agreed to do this for me.

Before Tatyana left for the night she said, "Automne you should pursue an adoption again.  Not in Russia, but you should be a Mother again as you adored your son."  This still sticks with me today.

There was no point in sitting around any longer.  We needed to get up to the hotel room and make some calls to the US.  The question was how could I tell my parents that their one and only grandson had died without their ever getting to hug him?

That evening at the hotel I was called by both my agency in the US and by my Russian coordinator and told not to speak to the media.  At the time I thought it was to protect me from being put into prison, I now know it was to protect them and their reputations.

Part of Me is Missing

Jack and I awoke the next morning and I looked for Ethan's crib.  I looked over at Jack and asked him if it was a dream.  He replied unfortunately it was real and a nightmare.  My son was gone.  I was completely numb and now had to face 2 long flights to get home to Chicago without my child.

My parents had been planning to come from Minnesota to meet us at the airport and were going to stay with me for a week or so while Ethan and I got settled in.  Jack had to call them the night before and tell them what happened.  I could hear my Mother's anguished cries through the phone receiver.  I just am so grateful that Jack was able to make the call that I could not.

I was afraid to stand in the lobby of the hotel for fear the police would arrest me.  I had my coordinator call me when she was downstairs so I would not have to face anyone.  It was very difficult not to have Ethan with me.  In the few days that I had been his Mom he had become a part of me.  He went everywhere with me.  Taking care of him was natural for me.

Each night I would lay out our outfits for the next day.  When Jack moved rooms he had to pack away Ethan's outfit I had laid out for our plane ride home.  He even had matching red socks to wear.  I did not know how I was going to get through this grief and get on with my life.  Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

Jack and I looked over our shoulders as we went through passport control.  Was the KGB going to come for us?  We really had no idea.  He had to explain to Lufthansa that we would not be using Ethan's ticket.  I am certain that the clerk wondered why we had a huge stuffed train and an umbrella stroller with no child, but she said nothing.  My Amrex coordinator, Tatyana, did not feel that we needed to give any details out to the airlines.  Again I feel that they were trying to protect themselves.

I was in absolute shock during the plane ride home.  As we flew over Moscow on that dreary day a sunbeam shot through the clouds and I believe it was Ethan letting me know he was okay.  It gave me a small bit of peace as I looked down at my empty lap where my son should have been. 

Since my parents were now not coming to the airport, Jack's friend Mark, Jack's son and my 2 cousins met us.  Their faces were so sad.  I was coming through customs with empty arms when I had been planning to be greeted by my entire family who had made signs to welcome Ethan to America, that now we would never see.

We got back to Jack's and I spent some time going through the events with a pretty matter of fact approach to it all.  Now I know that I was in denial and shock and that in the next few months the grief that would consume me would become nearly unbearable.

For some reason I felt the need to wash every single item from this trip.  I washed all of Ethan's and my clothing.  This would prove to be a hasty move when in the months to come I tried to compile DNA evidence for my court case .  I just felt that if I could clean everything somehow it would make the horror of this experience dissipate.  Unfortunately it did not.

An Empty Room

The next day Jack took me to my house.  My neighbors had hung up a huge Welcome Home Ethan banner on my door.  It was so nice of them to think of me and my son.  It also made me very sad to know that now I would have to face everyone who had known about my adoption and explain what had happened, when even I did not have any answers for it.

I now had to deal with emptying out our suitcases.  Jack and I had left the bottles, diapers, lotions, baby wash, spoons, pacifiers etc.. at the hotel in Moscow.  We did find odds and ends in our pockets over the next weeks.  Jack had a diaper in his coat and I had Orajel® in my purse.  I also found a pacifier that Ethan used on his last day in Moscow.

I had to put all baby items into his room and close the door.  I also had to remove his name plate from the door for I knew it never was going to be his room now.  I had a huge map of Europe that I had matted and framed in my living room.  I had cut out the Russian flag and pasted it on Astrakhan so he could identify his birth city when he was growing up.  I also put this in the room with his car seat and high chair. 

The morning after we got home I went onto the adoption.com forum and posted the following:

Subject: I was a Mom for 5 days

Unfortunately my adoption journey does not have a happy ending.  My beautiful son passed away on Wednesday in my boyfriend Jack's arms.  When we arrived in his region in Russia on the 21st we were informed that he had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks with pneumonia.  I was very shocked by this news and further shocked by his appearance when I saw him that day.  He had lost over 2 lbs. in the six weeks since I had seen him last.  He could no longer sit up on his own or hold his head up very steadily.  We had problems in court during the week and were finally allowed to take him out of the hospital on Friday afternoon.  I was assured that since he had served his 3 weeks time that he was due to be released that week regardless.
We flew him up to Moscow that evening with limited instructions regarding his care or feeding routines.  The first 2 nights he was up crying every hour and needed to eat.  He was taking over 4 ounces of formula every two hours or so.  He could not keep a lot of it down, but we were told to expect there may be some adverse reactions to his diet changes.  We went to the doctor on Monday for his Embassy physical.  He was at 12.5 lbs. at almost 8 months.  The doctor assured me that once I got him home and on some good nutrition he would catch up.  I just could not get past how his skin was hanging on his body and how you could count all of his ribs.
During the time we had him he did try to crawl and play a little but never really smiled and appeared to be uncomfortable.  I found another American on Tuesday to come up to our room and take his temperature which was normal, but I just felt that something was wrong.  But we had been to the doctor on Monday and I had an appointment in the US on Friday, so we continued on.
On Wednesday we took him out shopping which he enjoyed.  He ate quite a bit and was keeping all of his food down.  He was a little fussy around 5:30 PM so Jack fed him and went down to dinner, while I rocked him for about 1 1/2 hours.  I sang to him and told him that everything would be great once we got home to America and I could get him to the doctor.  I know that when he looked deep into my eyes he understood.
At about 7 PM I set him down on the bed to change him and he did not look right.  His eyes were no longer focusing and his limbs appeared a bit cold.  I carried him down to the lobby where Jack was having dinner.  He sat on Jack's lap and appeared to be enjoying the piano music.  Jack thought he was just tired and would rock him to sleep while he ate.  I went back up to the room and took a shower.  Jack came in and when he put him down in the crib, he noticed that he did not appear to be breathing.  I tried clapping to wake him up as he appeared to be in a coma.  Jack called down to the desk 4 times demanding an ambulance.  As he was lying on the bed I could tell he was gone.
We raced him down to the lobby where Jack and an American guest performed CPR for 30 minutes, while we continued to wait for 1 of the 2 ambulances who had been called to show up.  Finally they came after an hour and pronounced him dead.
The police came to question us and I was very concerned that there would be a criminal investigation.  After hearing my story and seeing my obvious hysteria, they let us go and ruled it a non criminal act.  It appears that due to his illnesses he had severe dehydration and his organs had shut down.
I am in the process of having him cremated and the ashes flown back to the US where we will sprinkle them on all of the places he would have played had he made it home to me.
While this journey has been full of ups and downs I do not regret a moment that I spent with my beautiful son and feel that we were chosen to come into a very sick child's life to show him some love and joy in his last days, that he never would have experienced otherwise.
I just hope that he felt one tenth of the joy that he brought to me in those five glorious days I had being his Mom.

Sleep well my dear boy, Ethan Nuristam, and know that forever I will love you with all of my heart.


Your Mom

In two days there were over 2600 views to my post.  Over 50 responded to this post offering their condolences.  At the time I thought that Ethan had passed away from being so dehydrated in the hospital.  I later found out that this was far from the truth. There are also some time differences that I have pieced together more correctly over the past months, by filling in with Jack's memory which was much more lucid than mine at the time.  I also was planning many places to scatter his ashes.  Places that he had never made it to that we would have enjoyed over the years.  This also proved to be something that was taken from me as so many things would be in the months to come.

My agency called me to tell me that Amrex had seen my post and was not too pleased.  I had the moderator of the forum remove it that day.  At this point I still had faith that my agency and Amrex would do the right thing and help me to bring a child home in the future.  I did not want to do anything to upset anyone or to jeopardize my future adoption.  I now know that it would not have mattered.

Documents Anyone?

When Jack and I left Russia all of my son's documents and copies were taken from us.  We were in a state of shock and we handed them what they asked for at the airport. Tatyana promised me that she would send back the originals and all of the copies with my son's ashes.

After I had been home about a week and started to collect my thoughts it occurred to me that I had no proof of my child.  They had taken even his passport and the Immigration folder.  I was starting to panic as I realized that in our grief we had made a huge mistake letting all of this go.

I called my agency and asked when they thought the autopsy would be ready.  They did not know.  They also did not know where my original documents had gone and whether I would get them back.  One thing they did know, however, was that Ethan's ashes were not coming back to me as Amrex had taken it upon themselves to bury my child in Moscow.  It took me several weeks to find out where he was buried, as they sent me pictures of the grave I may never be able to visit in my lifetime.

I was absolutely horrified by this news.  If I had known that he was going to be buried I would have remained in Russia and tried to extend my VISA.  I also could not understand when he was legally my son, how they could have accomplished this without a Power of Attorney from me.  To this day I fear that they told the authorities that I abandoned my child.  I am devastated to think that anyone could believe that I would do such a thing to my son.

I was told that because it was discovered that he was Muslim that he had to be buried.  Muslim is a religion and not an ethnicity.  Once he was adopted by me he had become Presbyterian.  I still do not understand this rationalization and why they would have lied to me about cremating my child.  I now believe that they would have told me anything in order to get me out of Russia.

In the weeks to come I would have people tell me that they were concerned about getting me home safely and that the police might have arrested me.  Looking back on it now, the police were not the people who frightened me.  It was my agency "support" staff who acting accusingly towards me and made me question my ability to care for my child.

My agency informed me that Amrex was willing to do another adoption at no charge.  Based on the preliminary autopsy they thought that Ethan passed away from a bacterial or mold infection in his lungs.  There were obviously no bodily injuries and they were now testing blood and tissue samples to verify this news.  In the same breath I was also told that they had to have the actual autopsy report in order to move forward.  How long could this take I wondered.  I had no idea that it would be a 1/3 of a year.

Over the next 6 weeks I called and emailed my agency weekly.  I was overwhelmed with grief and continued to question what else I could have done to save my son.  I had returned to work on January 3rd, but after one week back, I knew that I could not continue to pretend that things were okay.  I resigned from my job as a Credit Manager that I had held for nearly 3 years.  I just could not bear the phone calls asking what had happened to Ethan when I had no answers.

Finally at the end of January I called David Slansky, the owner of Journeys of the Heart.  I asked him why we could not start processing paperwork towards another adoption when they were now testing blood and tissue.  My son had been buried for 6 weeks at this point and I felt that it was very clear it had been nothing that Jack or I had done.  He told me how macabre this whole thing was.  I asked him how did he think I felt as it was my child and I did not even get to see him buried or now have a grave to visit.  Again I repeated, with tears choking my voice why can we not start processing papers.  He replied, Well you never know they may find a fractured skull.

I had a very sharp intake of breath at this point.  I could not believe that someone would say this to me.  I quietly said I do not even believe in spanking.  He said, Well no one expects to find this, but you never know.  I knew then that this was heading in a very bad direction very quickly.  I was really all on my own and needed to get answers and these people were not going to help me in the least.

Enter Irina

Now that it had become apparent that my agency was powerless and Amrex was going to get me my autopsy report and my son's documents on their own sweet time (if ever at all), I knew I needed help.  Where does one go to get help for a troubled Russian adoption?

I had read stories about Irina O'Rear and people seemed to say very positive things about her.  I had also read her book when I first had chosen Russia as the country where I would find my son.  I emailed her at the end of January and briefly told her my story.

She answered back and asked me to call her when I was ready.  In the meantime I had numerous unfruitful conversations with my agency regarding my son's autopsy report and his documents.  At this point, I had received copies of some of his documents, but no one was able to provide me with the originals, and no one had any clue when the autopsy report would be done.

I finally called Irina in February and just started to sob into the phone.  She listened to my story and was the only person who appeared to have any compassion at all so far.  She was a mother herself and said that she could understand how sad it would be to have an empty room that someone should be living in but was not. 

She agreed to help me write a letter requesting my autopsy report.  She indicated that since he had been buried for 2 months, it was unlikely that it was still not done.  We spent the next couple of weeks drafting a letter that would be sent to Moscow.

In mid-February, I emailed my agency again asking for an update on the autopsy report and Ethan's original documents.  I was told that the report was done, and that the man from Amrex had to pick it up in Moscow.  I emailed Irina and told her to hold off on sending the letter as it appeared that I may now get my report after all.  I gave my agency another 2 weeks in which time no one seemed to have a clue about the report and its whereabouts.

It had now been 90 days since my child had passed away, and 87 days since he had been buried.  I now did not believe that I would ever see this report and that I would spend the rest of my life wondering what had killed my child.  I signed the letter and had Irina send it off to Moscow.

The Damage is Done

Throughout this time I had been trying to get straight answers on where my son's documents were and when his autopsy report would be done.  I am a very assertive person and it was making me crazy that I could not get this information on my own.  Ethan was legally my son, why would I not be entitled to his information?

On March 7, 2005, my agency finally emailed me with a cause of death: consecutive multiple organ failure due to complications from cystic fibrosis.  Cystic Fibrosis, a fatal genetic disease.  My poor, sweet son never even had a chance.  I now knew what everyone had tried to tell me, that there was nothing I could have done to help him.

Finally having an answer provided me with some peace.  Obviously the grief over my son's death was not lessened, but knowing that he would not have been able to live a full rewarding life allowed me to understand and accept why he had passed away at such a young age.  I tried to find some solace in the fact that he had been loved and adored in his last days.  He had given me a tremendous amount of joy and I hoped that I had done the same for him.

Again, I continued to ask my agency when I would get the actual autopsy report and where my son's documents had gone.  They repeatedly had absolutely no answers.  I was on a quest and approached this with a vengeance.

I called Dr. Boris at the Filatov Clinic, who had given Ethan his Embassy physical.  I asked him whether he could help me get his autopsy report.  He asked me whether I had done anything to him.  I was horrified and replied of course not.  I told him that he had cystic fibrosis and he stated that he could have picked this up in the orphanage.  I had to explain to him that it was a genetic disorder.  He stated that he could have had that for a while.   I was just astounded by the lack of medical knowledge he appeared to possess.  Without even knowing my name he stated that he would call Val (from Amrex) and see if he would give it to me.  I stated that Amrex was unwilling for 3 months to help me.  He asked me to call him in a week as he knew the doctor who had performed the autopsy at the criminal lab in Moscow. 

I also emailed the Embassy and told them my story.  They called the Russian Amrex representatives who stated that my documents would be returned upon my arrival back in Russia.  Amazingly they had suddenly been located after 4 months.  I forwarded this to my agency and demanded that they be overnighted to me immediately.  They were actually in the US after all this time and I had them within a week.

On April 4, I finally received a copy of my autopsy report in Russian and English.  The report had been completed on December 24, 2004.  It had taken them 100 days to get this to me.  They had conveniently not translated one paragraph on the report.  I asked my agency about it and was told that they thought it described the autopsy process and that it would be too painful.  The translation is below and as you can clearly see this only confirms how very ill my son was:

" Chronic tracheobronchitis with cystic dilation of lumen of mucus membranes. Obstruction of part of bronchi with mucus and erythrocytes and cast-off epithelium. Pulmonary heart. Hyperplasia of spleen. Hyperplasia of cells of adrenal cortex. Focal necrotic excretory nephrosis. Edema of lungs. Edema of brain. Transformation of thymus, 2nd grade. Localized form of cytomegalia (cytomegaloviral sialoadenitis). "

I was still under the impression that I was going to get an adoption done through my agency and Amrex.  Deluded as it may have been.  I had my friends redo their reference letters.  I updated my medicals for the homestudy and wrote a section on my son and how his death had affected me.  I was trying to get an adoption moving so that I could be a Mother again.

Amrex Calling

At this point I had not had a response from the letter that Irina had sent on my behalf.  I was under the assumption that nothing was going to be done with it and had put it in the back of my mind.  On April 18, I had 2 calls on my Caller ID from Amrex in Alpharetta, Georgia.

I emailed my agency to ask them why Amrex was calling my unlisted home number.  No sooner had I sent the email than a Private Call come through.  I answered and it was Tracy Kellogg of Amrex calling to ask me some questions.

Now I was very shocked by this call.  I had always been under the impression that Amrex did not call families directly and they had called me 3 times in one day.  Tracy started by explaining that they ordinarily do not call families, but rather than going through my agency, she wanted to speak to me about the situation at hand.

She immediately asked me whether I had used Irina O'Rear's services.  I simply stated that she had helped me to translate a letter requesting my autopsy report and my son's documents.  This had been sent to Russia on March 1, 2005, 90 days after my son had died.

She insisted that a formal complaint had been filed in my name at the Moscow Prosecutor's office.  I was baffled by this.  I told her that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

She then proceeded to discuss Elizabeth Case and her "evil" ways. (For those of you not in the Eastern European adoption community, Elizabeth Case and her husband Daniel lost their son Cyril in Russia 5 years prior nearly to the day that Ethan passed away.  The Cases have been very outspoken about the horrible treatment they experienced at the hands of their agency.  They also have included stories of many other adoptions gone wrong on their website, www.bewareof bbas.org , this outspokenness has angered many people.) Tracy just did not understand how Elizabeth had such a vendetta against Amrex when they had nothing to do with her adoption.  I could not answer this and only indicated that she had emailed me her condolences in December.

Tracy then went on about how Alexander Zakharov from Amrex in Russia had been called and how upset he was.  He had tried, in his opinion, to do the right thing in regard to my son.  She carried on about how he washed my son's body and arranged his services.  I told her that I wanted him to be cremated and would not have left Russia had I known they were going to bury him.  I also added that he was very rude to me at the hotel by asking me about whether I cared for Ethan properly, within hours of his passing.  She indicated that I must have misunderstood.  I knew that I had not.

I told her that I thought it was horrendous that their representative in Astrakhan knew that my son had been hospitalized and that no one had bothered to tell me.  She indicated that Amrex had to make some changes in how they relayed information from Russia back to the United States due to my case.

I went on to tell her how badly my situation had been handled.   I reiterated that the autopsy report was done on December 24 and that it had taken them 100 days to get it to me.  I also indicated that they had kept my documents for 4 months and lied about not knowing where they were.  She was going to check on these issues and get back to me.  To date I have never had a response to this.

After 45 minutes, and my crying some of the time, we ended the conversation with me in absolute shock and asking her what the next move would be.  She indicated that either she or my agency would call me back. Call she did.  2 times on the 20th, 2 times on the 21st and 2 calls and an email on the 22nd.  I finally emailed my agency to tell her to stop calling my cell, my home and emailing me.  I knew it was time to get very serious about retaining an attorney.

Define Loggerheads

After this call from Amrex, I knew that I needed to get serious about finding legal representation.  I had consulted with an adoption attorney back in March and she was trying to find a Personal Injury attorney to take my case.  I had been continuing to hope that JOH and Amrex would do the right thing and complete an adoption, but this appeared less and less likely as the days went on.

During this time, I had been trying to get an updated homestudy out of my agency.  As I was leaning towards going to a new agency, I had to salvage something out of this mess.  I was having trouble choosing a country and Amrex had already asked my agency to try to determine whether I would be willing to go to Ukraine, Guatemala or Kazakhstan instead of back to Russia.

In early May, my agency called me and indicated that Amrex needed a letter stating that I received the documents that I had requested.  They were under the impression that this would somehow stop the investigation in Russia.  They also were looking for something that would indicate that I had not filed a formal complaint.  I told them that I would need to see the letter that had made its' way to Moscow.  It could have been what I wrote, and just had been misinterpreted.

On May 12, I received a copy of the translated letter and was surprised to see that it was in the form of a formal complaint and included many details that I did not know would need to be revealed to the Russian government.  I only wanted help in obtaining Ethan's documents, his autopsy report and confirmation of his burial place, but to get anyone's attention I believe that the full horror of my story needed to be revealed.

I called my agency and let them know that this was not what I thought I had sent, however everything written was true and I was not willing to recant any statements in the complaint.  I also indicated that I was not going to write any letters on Amrex's behalf regarding my documents, until I had in writing that they had a referral for me or were returning my money.  He did not think that they would do this, but he would ask.

On May 18, my agency called me again and asked me whether I was willing to write a letter.  I said that I was not going to do anything until I got my money back.  I had been through enough with these people and knew that they were not going to complete an adoption for me at this point.  My agency asked me what money I was referring to.  I just about lost it and said the $18K that you sent to Amrex.  My agency stated that this money was non-refundable.

I was really beyond upset at this point and asked whether they were going to consider this a reasonable conclusion to an adoption.  I had been given a child with a fatal illness who died within 5 days of my taking custody.  They really did not know what to say to this at all.

During the next week, several emails went back and forth with them asking me to write a letter and my stating that I had no incentive to do anything until they put into writing that I would get a refund.  We were officially at loggerheads.

Getting On With It

After nearly 6 months of crying and frustration, I finally decided that I needed to get on with my life.  I found an attorney to take my case on contingency and knew that I just had to put the money these people had stolen from me in the back of my mind.  I could not spend another day of my life entrenched in their duplicitous ways.

I had made the decision to go to Guatemala.  Interesting how this is the country that I had decided on back in November while waiting at the Korvet to see whether Ethan would ever become my son. As you now know he did, but for much too short a time.  I was so worried in that hotel room that I would never get custody of him and that Jack and I would go home alone. Tragic that I did get custody and went home alone anyway.

What was so interesting to me is that Amrex thought they could control me with the fact that they had my money.  I had nothing left to lose as my child, who was the most precious thing in the world to me, was already gone.  Yes, I was out $30K and it made me very angry, but realistically I could come up with the money again and already had due to the bad direction this had been heading in for quite some time.  Money meant nothing to me at this point.

Another thing that baffled me was that Amrex would potentially lose more from just one PAP seeing my website, than if they had just returned my money to me or completed another adoption, so many months ago.  As evidenced by the impact that bewareofbbas.org has had on Building Blocks you would think that they would have been concerned. 

Maybe they did not realize the depth of love I had for my son or the amount of rage that I possessed over this monstrous tragedy.  Maybe they did not know that I had created websites in the past and had the capabilities to get this done in a few days time.  Maybe they really did not have a clue.

Maybe you have read this entire site and questioned some of my decisions.  Maybe I would too, if I were on the other side of this.  Bear in mind that I am a graduate degreed person, who owns a home, a new car, my own company and lives in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city.  Maybe I am just like you.  I just made a very bad decision regarding the choice of my agency and their partners, and that is my one guilty action in this disastrous mess.  It could happen to any one of us.  By reading my story perhaps you have saved yourself from walking in my shoes.  All I know is that I would never wish what has happened to me on my worst enemy.

I still believe that international adoption can be a great thing.  I did a large amount of research before pursuing it and obviously should have done even more.  By publishing my story, I am hoping to educate people to be aware of the perils that one may encounter on an international adoption journey.  One just needs to remember to enter this with an open heart and even more widely open eyes.

May your experience be much more successful and may you get your son or daughter home safely and in good health.  I am hoping for the same in my next adoption journey.

Finally Home

After I had accepted that I was going to get nowhere with Amrex or Journeys of the Heart, I started to focus on my rage at having my son buried without my permission.  I still was completely baffled at how the Amrex people were able to accomplish this without a Power of Attorney from me.

I contacted the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for help.  I had to scan and email Ethan's burial papers and his death certificate for the Embassy to review.  I was told that the burial papers were not completed properly and that it may not be possible to proceed with the exhumation.  My contact at the Embassy was going to consult with a funeral home to see whether we would be able to proceed.

As is typical in Russia, I waited several weeks for a response.  I called my contact at the Embassy and just started to cry.  I asked him how it was possible that I could not get my own son exhumed?  I also wanted to know how Amrex was able to bury my child without any documentation from me authorizing this.  He did not have any answers, but assured me that he would contact the funeral home and get an answer for me.

I received an email within a week indicating that we would be able to proceed.  Unfortunately, a few days later, I received another email stating that due to a new Russian law, a body cannot be exhumed without having been buried for at least a year.  This made no sense to me, but there was nothing that I could do.  I would have to wait it out.

Ethan had been buried on December 4, 2004, so on December 1, 2005, I emailed the Embassy and asked where we were at with the arrangements.  As of December 5, 2005, the funeral home was going to proceed with the exhumation.

On December 19, 2005 I received an email from my contact, stating that the exhumation was being carried out and that Ethan's remains were due to arrive in Chicago on the 21st of December.  I read this email at work and just started to sob.  My son was finally coming home.

My cousin, Sara, is a funeral director in Milwaukee and she was handling all of the arrangements for Ethan's burial.  I had already selected a beautiful cemetery less than 2 miles from my house.  Since it was a Catholic cemetery, they had a section called Holy Innocents, where children were buried.  It was sad to see so many headstones for children whose lives had ended so soon.  I decided that this was where I wanted Ethan to lay to rest.

On Wednesday morning, my cousin called me before 6 AM, and my first thought was that Ethan was lost.  She stated that his remains were fine, but the documentation that was attached to his casket had been lost on the flight to Amsterdam, and the only information available was my cousin's name and the phone number to her funeral home in Milwaukee.

I had to make three calls to the cargo area in Amsterdam and fax Ethan's passport to prove that his remains were in the casket.  He had already missed the flight for the day, and would have to be put on the plane for Thursday.  Sara and I changed the burial and arranged for a funeral home in Palatine to pick him up at the airport and keep him overnight, as his plane would arrive too late for him to be buried that day.

On Friday December 23, 2005 my son was finally laid to rest here in Palatine, Illinois.  I finally had as much closure as I was ever going to get from his death.  It was a huge sense of relief that he was at last at peace and resting where he should be.  I visit him every Saturday morning and tell him about my week.  I also had a wreath made with silk roses and teddy bears and hearts that is standing at his grave until the ground thaws enough for his headstone to be placed down.

His headstone is above and we are planning to have a dedication ceremony on what would have been his 2nd birthday.  We had a very private burial with just me, Jack and my cousin attending.  The Chicago Tribune was also there to take pictures for my story that I had decided to make public.  They were very respectful and kept their distance.

It is still difficult for me to believe that the beautiful little boy I held and loved is now buried in the ground.  The tears no longer flow on a daily basis, but my heart continues to carry the grief and sadness for his life that was cut much too short.  I often wonder what would be be doing today if he were still here?  I know he would be walking and talking and calling me Mommy.  I also know that having cystic fibrosis would have been a difficult road for him and that there would be many things that he could not do. 

I am forever grateful to my Ethan for showing me how much I really wanted to be a Mom and for giving me the strength to pursue an adoption again. 

A Mom Again

In May, after I had realized that in order to get an adoption done I needed to make a change, I emailed Elizabeth Case and asked her who she would recommend for a Guatemalan adoption.  She had a recommendation from her website, as her friend Linda had adopted through Casa Quivira in 2000.  www.casaquivira.org

Elizabeth had not been able to find any negatives on CQ and neither had I during my research.  I was concerned about how a new agency would deal with the fact that I had already lost a son in the adoption process.  I emailed Casa Quivira in May and within 2 hours I had a call from the owner Cliff Phillips.  I explained how I had lost my son Ethan in Russia and I started to cry.

He assured me that they had done over 1000 adoptions and that they would get mine done.  He was very sympathetic about my situation and offered his condolences to me.  His sympathy was more than I had gotten from my former agency ever.  I decided that CQ was the organization for me and I would proceed with them.

The next issue I had was trying to get an updated homestudy out of Journeys of the Heart.  I had paid $400 back in April so that they could add in a section about Ethan's death and a change of country to Guatemala.  It took a call from an attorney, and numerous calls and emails from me to get them to come out to my house in June.  Then it took another 5 weeks for me to get the report, which came with corrections needed.  I finally received a corrected homestudy 4 months after the $400 check had been cashed.  In the meantime I terminated my contract with JOH, once I had received the homestudy.

On August 8, I received a call and an email from CQ.  They had a little boy available.  They emailed pictures to me and he was absolutely beautiful, even at 8 days old.  I accepted his referral within hours.  The concerns for Guatemala just were not the same as they were in Russia.  Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was relatively rare and there was limited information on health and the birthparents, so there was not much to evaluate except his measurements and blood work, which were fine.

The process in Guatemala is so much different than Russia.  I received pictures and updates every 2 weeks.  I received his measurements every month and there was a doctor on staff at the orphanage to see the children every week. 

Based on what happened to me with Ethan I took advantage of the fact that I could visit often.  I went to see my son in October, November and January.  CQ has a guesthouse where you can stay with your child during your entire visit.  They have cribs and swings and it is much like staying in a home complete with a kitchen and laundry facilities.

On January 23, 2006 I received a call from my coordinator that I was out of PGN and I was officially a Mommy again.  I just started to cry and scream.  I was so happy.  My dream had come true again.

Jack had not yet met my son, but was going to go with me to pick him up.  Due to the backlog at the Embassy in Guatemala, we had a delay in getting our appointment for a VISA.  Jack and I decided to head to Guatemala and wait it out.  We got to Antigua on February 12.  We picked up my son, Connor Hayden, from the orphanage and gave all of the nannies a cosmetic bag with lip glosses, nail polishes and lotion and also a box of Valentine heart candy.  There were about 40 nannies and I was very grateful to them for all of their hard work.  I also included a picture of Connor as the gift tag on the bag saying Thank You to My Nanny.

Jack and I ended up staying in Antigua for 10 days.  It was very relaxing and a great time to bond with Connor.  We could walk everywhere from our hotel and people were very pleasant to us.  In Russia I always felt resentment from people that we were Americans "taking" their children.  We seemed to be very welcome in Guatemala.

On February 22, we boarded a plane bound for Atlanta and then on to Chicago.  Walking through O'Hare it finally hit me that after more than 2 years I had actually been able to bring a child home to the U.S.  I had to stop for a moment as I was overcome with emotion.  Jack just hugged me and said, "Automne, you got him home."

Being a Mom again is everything that I thought it could be and more.  I am lucky that Connor Hayden is healthy and on target.  We went to the pediatrician when we got home and they were impressed that he was all up to date with his immunizations.  CQ does a great job.  He is alert and happy and definitely knows that I am his Mom.  He needs to know where I am at all times and will fuss if I try to leave the room. 

One of our first stops after we got home was to go to the cemetery and introduce Connor to his brother Ethan.  I want Ethan to be a part of our lives and for Connor to know that he forever has an angel looking over him.

As I stated before I think that international adoption can be a great thing.  My second adoption had a happy ending.  I know now that things happen for a reason and if I had not been led to Ethan I never would have been led to Connor.  It has been a long arduous path, but ultimately all worth it.

In the end I have spent close to $70K in order to get a child home.  To date I have not received any money back from either Journeys of the Heart or Amrex.  The only return of funds was my deposit for post-placement reports and this took nearly 10 months.

Both organizations have taken the position that they did what they were contracted for.  I vehemently disagree.  I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect that when you adopt a child, he will actually come home alive.  I also should have been informed that he had been hospitalized for a month. 

If you are a PAP who is researching agencies I hope that you will take all that I have gone through into consideration when making your decision.  I am honestly a very private person, but did not want anyone else to have to experience what I did.

Best of luck on your journey and where ever your decision takes you.

In Memory

This is a dedication to my dear sweet son Ethan Nuristam

Who made me believe that I really could love someone more than myself

Who gave me a reason to wake up with joy in my heart

Who looked deep in my eyes and wordlessly told me how much he loved me

Who held on until I could come back and get him despite his pain

Who is resting on the other side of the world all alone

Who is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing at night

Who had me wrapped around his finger despite my insistence that this would never happen

Who watches over me each day and gives me strength

Who is my angel in Heaven who has led me to his brother

Who I will one day join and hold again for the rest of our days

I Miss You