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Happiness Is A Child Called Julia

By Tina Traster

My teeth clattered as my husband and I waited on the windswept, snow-drenched runway to board the Aeroflot jetliner from Moscow to Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia. As we crossed the tarmac and climbed the stairs, I caught a lasting glance of the pelting storm walloping the frost-encrusted plane in the winter darkness. Tears slid down my checks. When we sat down in our sardine-sized seats, I said to my husband, “Do we really want a baby this badly?”

Half joke, half-truth, I felt nothing but panic when the plane taxied off the runway and lifted into the black January night. Siberia. A baby we knew merely from a three-minute videotape. We were journeying into the unknown.

Our choice to adopt a baby from Russia was not a torturous decision. My husband and I were both nearing forty. We had tried to have a baby for a year. We considered fertility treatments but found the process painful and dehumanizing and the outcome, of course, uncertain. We wanted a baby. Adoption is a sure thing: it has a beginning, middle and a miraculous conclusion, unlike in vitro fertilization, where you’re playing the odds. We chose international adoption over domestic because we did not want to deal with a waiting period that gives birth parents the right to change their mind. Russia seemed right because our grandparents had come from the Mother Land two generations ago and this completed a circle.

We deserve a place in the Guinness World Records book for the fastest adoption on file. All told, the whole thing took less than seven months. I could have used the nine months pregnant women have to prepare. But truthfully, we were so lucky for such smooth passage in an overseas adoption because many are delayed by incomprehensible and frustrating political bureaucratic upheavals.

Russian adoption requires two trips. We traveled to Siberia in late January to begin the process and returned in mid-February to finalize the adoption and bring Julia home.

On the first trip, we arrived in Novosibirsk in pitch darkness. Our driver took us to a rancid hotel. He had told us our social worker and translator would pick us up in three hours. No one at the hotel spoke English either and we were hungry but had no rubles.

We stepped outside into a burning cold of 10 degrees below zero. People appear to float by in fur coats and fur hat, trailing a stream of vapors. Nobody speaks English. We asked many people for help changing dollars to rubles but were either ignored or scowled at. Russia may be embracing democracy in Moscow but folks in Siberia still appear to be living behind the Iron Curtain.

Our translator and social worker arrived at 9 and took us to meet our seven-month-old baby. They brought Julia out of the bedroom, swaddled in a blanket, and she flashed a smile at me that made my knees wobble. They placed her in my arms and I watched her curious eyes dart around my face and then the room. She was gorgeous. And I forgot that I was hogging her until my husband said, “Let me hold her.”

I cried when we left the orphanage, which to my surprise was warm, clean and cheerful, though it housed 100 babies, ten to a room.

Just five days after returning home from our first trip to Russia, the agency told us we’d be traveling again in less than three weeks (the more typical wait is six to eight weeks).

Seasoned from our first trek to Siberia, we were armed with rubles when we arrived and had the pleasure this time of traveling with two other adoptive families. The camaraderie and compassion shared with other adoptive parents eased the chill.  

I wanted to enjoy Novosibirsk this time because it was important to feel fondness for Julia’s birthplace. Although temperatures hovered below zero, we tooled around the downtown, shopped for baby clothes, ate in the “trendy” pizza restaurant, bought maps and postcards in the bookshop. One day we will bring Julia back to this place where she was born. My husband agrees – but says it should be in July.  

On the night we left Novosibirsk, they handed us Julia – in her birthday suit – and that’s it. Break out the cigars. You are proud parents. We flew from Siberia to Moscow, endured three days in the Russian capital completing more red tape and returned on a Delta jet dubbed “the orphan express,” because the route is frequently filled with a dozen families just like ours.

We arrived back home in mid-February to a slightly soiled post-snowstorm wonderland. Within three days, Julia was sitting up. Within two weeks she crawled. We started a music class and made friends. She met her grandparents. For the first time in her life she sat in a stroller. When I took her out on a cold day, her porcelain-white cheeks chafed with windburn. She’d never been exposed to the cold or the sun.

Julia is a natural-born beauty contestant – she’s got the wave down to a science and delights passersby when she’s in her stroller.  Julia exudes joy. People constantly comment on how happy she is. She’s infectious and funny. She possesses a deep, knowing spirit; you can see an old soul in her deep brown eyes.

Julia’s life is rich. I work at home so she has a constant sense of my being here. My husband keeps reasonable hours and after we three eat dinner together, he bathes her and puts her to sleep. My baby has a circle of new friends – and so do I: a group that has enriched my life immensely because we women do not just trade tips on stroller brands and nannies. We talk about the ambivalence and joy and pain we experience in an effort to juggle our professional and personal lives.

Adopting Julia has taught me to slow down and speed up at the same time. My days are so full yet each moment seems to last longer than it ever did. As I watch her become a toddler, I already feel sentimental about letting go of babyhood. It was hard to store away her first winter snowsuit, but there will be new snowsuits this winter and the change of seasons and a lifetime of wonder that until now I could only wonder about.

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