I'm sorry it has taken me so long to update. It has been a whirlwind of activity over here, most of it not good. We need your prayers and good thoughts now more than ever.
We knew before we arrived that our judge had called a new hearing for us and another family who had had court the week after us last year. Of course this made us nervous, but once we arrived in country and spoke with our facilitator here we became much more hopeful. We learned the judge had only scheduled twenty minutes for each of us in court. Surely if she expected a drawn-out discussion she would have set aside much more time. Also, after she had requested this new hearing, the President's own spokesman had said that any family with a court decision in 2012 would be able to take their child home. Surely, this was all in our favor.
We arrived in country on Sunday afternoon. Monday afternoon we had a wonderful visit with our boy. Of course, it was difficult to just be visiting again, when this was the day we were originally supposed to pick him up for good, but we took great hope in the fact that we would just be delayed by one day, and even hoped we would still be able to keep our original flights to go home on Saturday.
When we came back to the hotel after our visit, I was excited. I unpacked Gabe's clothes and started setting aside what we would need to take the next day to pick him up. I folded an adorable gray sweater, undershirt, new jeans, socks, snow boots, hat and gloves. Our kids had helped us pick all of these out for him the week before we came here. I laid out his snowsuit and some toys to keep him occupied on the car ride back to the hotel. The plan was to come back to the hotel immediately after the hearing Tuesday, where the other mom who was staying here with us would go with our facilitator to pick up her girl. Then they would come back here and it would be our turn. Once we were all safe at the hotel, we would then go begin the paperwork to get the necessary exist documents for our kids.
Tuesday morning we drove to the courthouse again, flowing the same route as last time, except this time without the snowy roads. We arrived quickly and soon found ourselves in the same waiting area outside the courtroom. I remember remarking to our new friend how I never expected to see this courthouse again.
Soon it was time. Our facilitator would go on the courtroom first for some initial paperwork and to speak with the judge. After a while, we began to wonder why she had been gone for so long. As we waited outside the doors with the orphanage directors and social workers from our respective children's orphanages, the worry began to set in for me.
Finally, our facilitator came through the doors and went straight to the orphanage director and began speaking quickly to her. Brian and our friend were talking together at this point, but I was watching our dear facilitator, and the look on her face said it all to me. We're those tears in her eyes?
Soon she was done speaking to the director and came over and stood in front of us. Her face became like death, then she began to explain that we would not be takin our children home today. Our hearts fell to the floor. How could this be? She explained that although the judge very much wanted to issue our decrees to bus, she was prevented from doing so by a letter she had received the previous day from the Supreme Court, instructing her not to proceed until there was further clarification from them about the new law.
This made no sense to us, so of course we peppered her with questions. Apparently, the new law did not ban adoption, per say, but it banned the transition process of taking the child from the country. Once the child was in our physical custody, that was considered the beginning of the transition, and so she couldn't legally allow us to take physical custody of our own child. It still made no sense, but we knew the judge was only following the law. She urged us to appeal her own decision, even citing case law we should examine to build our argument.
We made a plan to do just that. But first, our friend had to make her appearance before the judge as scheduled, along with the officials from her daughter's orphanage. They were in the courtroom for well over an hour. Brian and I say outside the doors, listening to our own director and the area social worker discuss in quiet Russian, I'm sure, the same concerns we had.
Finally, our friend came out and explained they were all inside the courtroom trying to build our cases. The judge had long since retired to her chambers. At this point, we were exhausted. We were hungry and thirsty. We went downstairs to find a bottle is water in the cafeteria. Our dear driver was waiting by the doors to the courthouse, I'm sure completely confused about what took us so long, and why we were appearing without our facilitator. He doesn't speak much English, but in sure our faces spoke volumes and he lead us to the cafeteria and ordered us some waters. Then we all went to wait by the courthouse doors for our facilitator to return.
You can imagine our emotions and discussion at this point. Honestly, I think we were all in a bit of shock. What now? What did all of this mean for us? Our facilitator was already volunteering her time and great efforts for us, since this new law also made it illegal for her to work for an American company. At what point would she quit?
She soon descended the stairs and we went to the cloakroom to gather our coats, the snow was now falling and it had turned bitterly cold outside.
As we drove, we discussed our options. We decided that now, since we were being impossibly swallowed up by this new law, it was time to get loud. The day before, we had determined it was best not to speak to any media, who had been chomping at the but to talk to families like us, who were in the middle of all of this. But now, it was time to talk. We decided that getting our story out there, showing the real life side to this horrible new law was our only hope while we waited for the legal system to try and do its job. We also decided to stop by the US Embassy on our way back to see what thy might know. We walked quickly up to the guards at the Embassy gate, told them we were American citizens and with tears in my eyes I told them the Russian government wasn't allowing us to pick up our own children. We were told to call the officials in charge of adoptions to be allowed inside the Embassy. So we called, standing in the subzero temperatures, shivering so hard we could hardly dial the numbers. No answer. I began to leave a desperate message only to be cut off before I could leave our return phone number. At this point, the Russian security guards took mercy on us and told us to wait a moment and someone would come for us. Our shivering suddenly stopped and we realized this wasn't a good thing...hypothermia and shock were beginning to set in.
Finally, they told us we could come in. We were pointed up some steps to a door that was impossibly heavy to open, realizing it must not only be bulletproof but bombproof as well. Then there was another door just like it before we arrived in front of a security guard and metal detector, where we had to show our passports and empty our pockets. We quickly made our way through yet another bombproof door to some windows like you'd see at the DMV or something in a reception area. By this time, the mama bear inside me was in full force and I was appointed spokesperson for the three of us. I quickly told the woman our situation, then she sympathetically told us this was not the immigration area of the embassy, but she would go contact them.
After a couple minutes am American woman arrived at the window and I have her my speech again. She said that yes, they were hearing similar stories come in from other families in country and unfortunately they were not hearing anything from their inquiries to the Russia government. She asked us if we were involved in the conference call with the department of State the day before. WHAT? This upset us greatly because we had followed the Department of State's instructions before we left the US and had contacted them to be in on this call in country. She did, however, give us the email of the Embassy official who was in charge of immigration and urged us to contact him. You can bet that was the first email that went out when we arrived back at the hotel.
When we arrived back at the hotel we began emailing reporters who had already contacted us or other in-process families. The first of them, from the Associated Press, arrived at our hotel within 20 minutes. Wow. From that moment, it was a slew of reporters and cameras all afternoon and into the evening. We didn't stop to eat or drink, we just kept talking, begging whoever might be listening on the other end of these cameras to have the decency to help us! Our children were being held against their will and against all legalities in their orphanages.
The reporters were all very professional and sympathetic. As I talked to the Associated Press reporter, as my emotions bubbled to resurface, his own lip quivered and tears welled in his eyes as he scribbled on his notepad. Each reporter expressed complete and utter disbelief that this was happening. None could understand why we're not being allowed to take custody of our own children. We did our best to explain to them that even though the President's own spokesman had said that families like us would have no problems, he was not a lawyer and the courts could only abide by the courts above them, and no one was instructing them how to proceed.
We urged those lawmakers to give some kind of instruction to the lower courts on how to process our exit paperwork. The law was so vague and didn't address this, and so the courts' hands were tied.
I pleaded with them, as one parent to another, PLEASE let us go to our children.
Finally, after many, many phone calls and bright lights, we ate a sandwich and returned to our rooms, more depleted of energy than if we had just run two marathons. I immediately saw all of his little clothes I had laid out just the night before, and I wept.
Our bodies hit the mattress and fell immediately into a deep but fitful sleep. I knew this would be one of those times where I would wake up and then the whole situation would hit me like a freight train as I realized it hadn't all been a bad dream.
I have to take a break from writing for a moment, but I will update again soon.