The only thing I know about my birth mother is that she left the hospital two days later after a complicated delivery. When she entered the maternity ward the day before my birth, she had no identification—and when she left days later, she departed with no forwarding address. A week later I was transferred to another hospital and remained there for over two months before entering the orphanage.
It’s important to understand my personal situation, but equally important to understand the struggling situation for so many Russians during the communist era.
Communism held Russia back in terms of their attitudes and development in many areas.
It was hard living during such an unforgiving time.
A year after I was born, the Soviet Union collapsed, the disorder and chaos that resulted had a direct, brutal effect on every aspect of daily living. The country's corruption, unfortunately, impacted us as a result. Life was desperately challenging in Russia during the early 90s.
When I think about my life now, I think how remarkable it is that I survived my birth. I entered this world so untimely and during such a time of hardship; the fact that I am here today, I think, is even more miraculous. I am grateful for the journey I've been on, but my life has not come without adversity; it has incredible fortune mixed with profound loss.
I think, for me, the greatest loss comes from not knowing my homeland.
International adoptees deal with so much loss from the very beginning such as the loss of connection, native tongue, culture and the life as we knew it before adoption. There is so much pain in something so beautiful. Loss has changed my life permanently.
But, I am not the type to sit and wallow for too long. This burning desire to know my roots has given me the courage to reach out to people from my past. I am asking questions now that challenge me and—with support—I’m learning more about myself, finding some of the answers to my deepest questions.
It has rekindled long lost relationships and I am very happy that it has been a positive experience so far.
Life today is a stark contrast from the orphanage I lived in for the first four years of my life, a place that had very limited resources and further limited expectations for me. The recollections of my previous life are now a distant memory, though the memories remain in certain ways, sometimes in daily routines, other times in more obscure ways. I have maintained some of my native language and am proud to keep it alive. Hearing that language gives me a sense of security and belonging when I feel like I am so far removed from the life I once knew. It bridges me to my culture and heritage; it gives me a sense of who I am and reminds me of where I came from. Remembering is important to me because it has been a key to opening up and understanding myself, as well as appreciating my journey.
The children I lived with in the orphanage are frozen in time.
This is probably the hardest part about accepting what happened there.
I have a memory of my friend Marina who was blind and she couldn’t see her food. This memory has remained with me for 22 years.
Sometimes certain smells will trigger memories.
The smell of the orphanage I recall was a nauseating scent of cabbage and the odor of urine. Eventually, the smell just became the fabric of everyday life.
I try not to think about it or let it overwhelm my thoughts.
When I am transported back to these quick moments, it’s like looking through a peephole to see what’s on the other side.
The best thing I have learned to do is write or talk about my memories with people I trust. A friend suggested to me that every time I think about Marina, I should try changing the narrative. Marina could be a chef in France or she could be a model. This simple statement is so profound and this is how I look at it now.
My years in Russia have changed me in ways I can’t explain, but I want people to know the truth. It was not a time in my life I think back on with fondness. The system is putting children’s lives in jeopardy and it’s unacceptable. It is devastating to think that innocent children are living in despicable circumstances. If only they knew the devastating effects of institutionalization… I do believe that they just didn’t know and—although they should have known — I can’t dwell on something I can’t fix now. The only things I can do are to know it and make it known to others: educate and talk about it because change can only happen this way.
When I resent Russia for those years I spent not living, I try to change the way I think about it because there is good there too. There are good people; they are strong and, for everything the country has been through, they stand united. For this reason, I respect and am proud of the Russian people.
There are many people who have played a fundamental role in my life and it has not gone unnoticed; they are the reason I am here.
When my adoptive mother adopted me, I had emotional and physical challenges to overcome. In the days after arriving to the US, my mom and I would make regular trips to the doctor’s office. I had numerous medical issues due to living in the orphanage for the first years of my life. I was severely developmentally delayed, though I was able to learn how to walk on my own. Later, in the states, I would undergo Botox treatments to loosen my tight heel cord. I then went through gait retraining at Spaulding Rehab. I would not have recovered without the aid and dedication of numerous physical therapists and a caring, compassionate team of physicians, and am in awe of the hard work of these professionals. But, it is because of my mother’s dedication and her desire to have a family that I have had this life and opportunity. My relationship with her has rough patches, but in the end, she has always been my greatest encourager and advocate. She is always sharing what she knows, especially the fact that the world is large and you can’t look at it through a magnifying glass. She constantly reminds me there is always another way to see the bigger picture.
Today I am 26 years old and there’s a new fabric of my life, one I am grateful to have daily: my family and friends, as well as the opportunity to pursue higher education. There are challenges that come along, but they are normal struggles of life. Today it is about finding balance around eating well and creating/maintaining relationships that are important to me. But, I expect my challenges will change as I continue to evolve through different phases of my life.
In some ways, I suspect parenting will be a very different experience for me. It will be bittersweet to see my child developing in healthy ways, reaching developmental milestones and having a natural curiosity about the world. But, I also look forward to this challenge, because it will be the first time for me to see the world through their eyes as they discover themselves, how they will learn to bond with me and how they will learn to relate to the world in healthy, appropriate ways.
I am sharing my story because I find it incredibly healing to talk about my past. To understand my past is one thing, but to accept it and say, “Look how much I have gone through and am still surviving. I am alive!” is another entirely. I have this chance to live and see the world differently; through my eyes, it’s a beautiful gift.