Thursday, September 29, 2011
A little more insight....
I love this post! Gabrielle Shimkus, one of the waiting moms, does an excellent job telling about her and her husband's wait for their little boy, Azamat. Her post is unique because it touches on why some prospective adoptive parents gravitate toward international adoption and how hard it is to parent a child from so far away. Please take the time to read. I guarantee you that you will be touched!
Most people would agree that adoption is good and noble cause. That said, the issue gets complicated from there on. I’ve found that while many like the idea of taking in a child who was not wanted for whatever reason, the thought usually does not translate into any action. When I dig deeper, I’ve heard those same people say they “want their own children,” or “it costs too much,” or they “would like to, but…..” . I’ve concluded it must just be a big mental leap for some people to transition from wanting to adopt, to actually doing it. Having bridged that divide myself, I can say it is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life; it is also the most tragic.
I always wanted a son. My husband, Frank, has four adult daughters and a son from his previous marriage. Seeing the statistics I had a feeling that there would be more girls than boys in our future. Not wanting to leave life up to chance, we decided to adopt an infant son to love and cherish. When it came to deciding whether we would take the domestic or international adoption road, for me, there really wasn’t a choice. My belief is that children in this country have a chance to be adopted, whereas for children in foreign countries that chance is greatly diminished. For children in poverty here, there are still federal programs and safeguards in place for babies up for adoption. In other countries, orphanages guarantee children a life of institutionalization, but not much else. So, if I was going to adopt, I wanted to make a difference in the life of one of these children. Little did I know what a difference one child would end up making in my own life.
His name is Azamat. He was born June 27, 2008 to an unwed woman in the former Soviet country of Kyrgyzstan. Upon seeing his severe bilateral cleft lip and palate at birth, his birth mother immediately gave him up for adoption, citing on his paperwork she did not want him because of his “deformity.” Azamat was two months old we got his referral. At the time I we were married four months, and discovered I was having problems getting pregnant. Knowing we wanted to both adopt and have biological children, we decided to work both ends to start our family immediately by both adopting and undergoing in-vitro fertilization.
We never intended on adopting a child with special needs. To be honest, that first referral picture of a frighteningly frail, very sick little boy in need of obvious extensive surgery really scared me. So many thoughts went through my head, but they all came back to one central question; Can I be the mother this child needs? I kept the referral picture out on the kitchen table and stared at it for most of the day. When I returned to it the next morning it was like an “ah ha” moment, and I was able to say definitively; this is my son.
We re-named him Aidan Josiah-Azamat Shimkus, and made immediate plans to travel half way around the world and visit him, in Kyrgyzstan, in November of 2008. It was the best two weeks of my life. Here was this little boy, all of about 5 pounds, who needed me as desperately as I wanted him. I would hold him, and talk to him, and tell him all about the life he was going to have with me as his mama. He slept on my chest and felt the seemingly endless number of kisses I places upon his beautiful little face. I was so in love, I didn’t even notice his cleft. Leaving him was the single hardest thing I ever had to do thus far in my life….but I promised him I would return in six weeks for our court date and take him home. That day never came.
In January of 2009, the government of Kyrgyzstan placed a moratorium on all international adoptions out of fear of corruption. In one day they essentially threw out every law on the books that dealt with international adoption with the hopes of someday fixing the system they saw as broken. What they failed to realize however, was that there were 65 American families who, like us, we weeks away from their final court hearing to adopt their children. We became stuck in the pipeline, with no legal way out.
At first we expected the moratorium to last a few months. I was blessed to became pregnant through my first in-vitro attempt and I believed I would still be in my first trimester when I would be traveling back to Kyrgyzstan to pick our Azamat. Everything was supposed to be ok. It wasn’t ok. And it hasn’t ever been ok since.
It is now three years later, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have fought to bring my son home every single day. Through pictures I have watched him grow up in the Bishkek Babyhouse orphanage. Realizing there were 65 families going through the same horrible ordeal, we banned together and began calling ourselves “The Kyrgyz 65.” In the past three years, two of the original 65 children have died do to medical conditions treatable here in the United States….(One of whom is Altynai, for whom this fund honors.) Every day I fear that Azamat will get some kind of infection or disease and be the next one to pass. Every day I worry if he is getting enough to eat. Every day I wonder if someone is taking a few minutes to pick him up, provide a little attention or affection. But I know in my heart that is not happening. It is one of the awful nightmares any parent can imagine…and the worst part is that it doesn’t end.
The fight to get him and the other kids out doesn’t end, either. We have monthly conference calls with the US Dept. of State. We recently hired an international adoption lawyer as a group. The waiting families set up a yahoo blog over which more than 17,000 emails have been passed back and forth to date. It is a way for us to provide not only critical information about our situation, but also much needed emotional support. Our situation is so unique, it is impossible to find anyone who understands the emotions, fears, and frustrations involved. I compare it to having a missing child, although, it’s twisted. Kyrgyzstan allows me to “parent” Azamat from half a world away. I contacted a group of German/Swiss surgeons and had them travel to Kyrgyzstan to operate on his cleft. So much time had passed, that my original plan of having him operated on at Geisinger Medical Center in PA had to be changed. Azamat is getting older with each passing day. If his cleft isn’t fixed, the greater the possibility is that he will suffer greatly from eating, speech, and breathing issues. I arranged the surgery, and the Kyrgyz government allowed me to do it. Azamat is three years old, and just learned how to walk in June. His orphanage is not providing him with the proper nutrition his little body is craving. Saying I fear the long-term affects the neglect and malnutrition is causing is a grave understatement. Not to mention the attachment issues that he as a three year old institutionalized orphan is going to undoubtedly face when he does come home.
The psychological affects this trauma is causing in our life is not lost on me. For three years I have walked past Azamat’s room as it lies untouched. The stuffed zoo animals are not played with, the new crib has not been slept in, and the clothes in the closet with tags still attached have long been outgrown by the little boy who was supposed to arrive at 5 months old. His pictures hang on the wall, and I struggle to explain to my girls, two year old Emerson and ten month old Greyson, that baby “A” is their brother who lives far, far, away.
I pour myself into understanding every facet and every player in the volatile new democratic government that makes up Kyrgyzstan today. I travel to Washington DC and New York City to meet with senators, congressmen, and members of the Kyrgyz parliament. I am constantly working every contact I can think of to get information on my son, The Kyrgyz 65, and the daily ongoing of our advocacy efforts. It takes an enormous amount of work to gain an inch of progress. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally been informed by Congress of our dire situation. It took three years to raise the issue to that level. Getting my son out of a third world orphanage is easily a full-time job, and most definitely an obsession. But I believe that for many of us, being obsessed is the only thing that is going to get our kids out of this country.
I don’t know what I am going to do. I am stuck in an abusive relationship with a country that is holding my son hostage. There is no manual on how to deal with this kind of situation and it’s hard to even talk about. This is as personal as it gets. He is my son….not some random orphaned poster child you see starving on television. This orphan has a home. He has a family who loves him, and a mama who refuses to stop fighting for him. There is an old Jewish saying I will always remember, “To save one life is to save the world entire.” I made a promise to my son. It is as simple and as complicated as that. The only thing I do know is that I am the only person in the world who loves this boy. If I don’t fight for him, no one will.