RALEIGH — Jim Dotson felt a whir of conflicting emotions when he learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
A North Raleigh father of four, Dotson had a sense of relief as he looked at his fourth-grader – 10-year-old Aselya, who joined his family in 2003, when she was just over a year old.
But Dotson had heartache for the many Russian children who haven’t made it out of orphanages as Aselya did – children now caught in what many have described as a political tit-for-tat that Russian leaders are having with Americans.
“My heart broke as soon as I heard the news,” Dotson said. “Immediately my mind went to our daughter and the orphanage where she was.”
The adoption ban, set to go into effect Tuesday, has crushed the hopes of hundreds of American families planning to adopt a Russian child. It has caught the four-dozen American families who were partially through the protracted and costly process in a tailspin of uncertainty.
Carolina Adoption Services announced Friday that it was closing its program in Russia after the news from Moscow. The agency, based in Greensboro, and its subsidiary, ABC Adoption Services of Virginia, have helped place more than 500 Russian children over the past two decades, officials said.
Julie Glandt, the executive director, said the organization is focused now on helping families with pending cases.
“This is really a big shock,” she said, “because it’s accelerated through the system.”
Families with pending cases are being asked to let the U.S. State Department know about their situations. But what will happen after that is uncertain, Glandt said.
“It’s really a tragic situation not only for the families, but also for the orphaned children,” Glandt said.
Some North Carolina families – it’s not clear how many – are among the 46 thought to be in the final stages of adopting Russian children
The Russian ban came as retaliation for a U.S. law aimed at stopping human rights violations by Russian officials.
Dotson, who left the fast track of the corporate pharmaceutical world, is now the Raleigh-area director for Mission Increase Foundation.
He and his wife, Ann, decided in 2002 that they wanted to adopt a child from either China or Russia. They chose Russia, he said, because it would take less time.
A sick child
In 2003, shortly after they moved to Raleigh, the Dotsons received an email with a photograph and a huge question. They had just one weekend to ponder a major life decision that has brought them much joy and wisdom about the adoption process in Russia.
Aselya’s Russian mother had abandoned her at a hospital.
“Aselya was a third child,” Dotson said. “She was very sick, and her mother could not care for her.”
Doctors in the United States reviewed Aselya’s medical records for the Dotsons, and the family went ahead with the adoption.
They made two trips to Russia, spent about $50,000 and adopted a child who, on Friday, was engaged in a fierce game of Bananagrams with her three older siblings.
The orphanage where the Dotsons first encountered Aselya housed 65 children under 3. It was woefully understaffed, Dotson said.
In her early days in Raleigh, Aselya showed signs of how little individual care each child in the orphanage had received.
Her father recalled her squirming and wanting down when her new family tried to hug and hold her. He remembered how for two years she would sway back and forth in her crib, rocking herself to sleep as she and other children in the orphanage had learned to do by themselves.
“The orphanages are overwhelmed,” Dotson recalled. “It’s just hard to believe when there are families who want to adopt that this can happen.”
Although China has surpassed Russia as the nation providing the largest number of American adoptions, many U.S. families continue to seek Russian children.
Putin and other Russian leaders, though, have adopted a different portrait of American families in their political speech – focusing on the 19 deaths of Russian children reported by the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption while under the care of their new U.S. parents.
One such family in 2005 from Wake Forest created an international furor after a mother was accused of shaking the young girl she had adopted from a Siberian orphanage to death.
But those are the outlier stories, adoption officials quickly point out. They say the number of happy and healthy experiences are far greater.
‘They’re probably cold’
Aselya, her father said, has blossomed into a quick and vivacious child who reads voraciously, likes to learn about the country of her birth and enjoys family moments.
She likes it best, she said, “when we all sit down and eat and just watch TV or watch a movie.”
“The Boxcar Children” is her favorite book, Aselya said. “I like mysteries.”
She worries about the children who remain in Russian orphanages.
“They’re probably cold,” she said.
And, at the moment, they’re caught in a Cold War of adoption politics.