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Editor's note: In the last several issues, we have had the sad duty to honor those among us who have gone to the Great Con in Sky. It is with unmitigated pleasure that we can rejoice with one of ours in a celebration of life!
by Mike and Linda Jencevice
Our journey began in July of 1997. We were in the park just outside Comiskey Park and we started talking about adoption. Marie and Kirby, some friends of ours, had adopted a little girl from China (they are currently waiting to adopt number three) and this gave us the idea that we could also adopt a child.
We started researching many different agencies and finally settled on European Adoption Consultants in North Royalton, Ohio. We signed our first paperwork in March 1998. But right after that Linda was involved in an automobile accident and broke her hand, delaying the process for several months.
In August of 1998, we had our home study. A licensed Illinois social worker came into our house and asked us a bunch of questions and walked around the house for about two hours. Needless to say, we had spent a couple of weeks cleaning, organizing, rearranging, and thinning out some of the "fannish" references (We all know about those "weird science fiction fans" don't we??). At first it seemed a deep invasion of our privacy but then we realized that it was completely worth it. We were going to adopt a baby and that was a big responsibility and everyone wanted to be sure we understood all the ramifications.
Imagine the worst paperwork nightmare, dealing with not one but three bureaucracies (state, federal, and Russian), and then multiply that nightmare by about a factor of five. We arranged for applications (several), references, fingerprints (twice), tax returns and financial forms (five years back), child supervision plans, employment letters, health reports, pet innoculations, waiting list letters, passport and visa applications, house appraisal, powers of attorney, and probably fifty things I've forgotten to list. We sent the (almost) final paperwork to EAC on December 28, 1998 with the fond hope of receiving a referral for our child sometime in the near future.
On New Year's Eve we received a phone call stating that a referral containing a video and a medical history was being sent to us, to arrive on January 2nd. However, the largest blizzard in 30 years in Chicago occurred on New Year's Day. Linda was outside shoveling the sidewalks and street in hopes that Federal Express would be able to make it. However, they couldn't. On January 4, 1999, we received our video of a small happy little boy. He was all bundled in a little outfit and was placed in a large crib with many other babies. Someone had shot the video through the bars of the crib. He was so very precious. We then requested a second video since we could hardly see very much of him. This one showed him undressed. He was the most beautiful baby we had ever seen.
We took the videos to Dr. Ira Chasnoff who is a specialist in dealing with children adopted from foreign countries. He is an expert at viewing these orphanage videos and looking at the sparse and often misleading medical information provided by the orphanages there. We had to wait until January 17th to get an appointment with him. He viewed the videos and went over the medical reports with us. The orphanages in Russia must put misleading and often outright false information in these medical records because "healthy" children in Russia cannot be offered for "foreign" adoption and because they receive more government money to care for these "sick" children in their facilities. Dr. Chasnoff's evaluation was that Ilya Baranov (our child's birth name in Russia) seemed to be healthy with the minor exception of a heart murmur (which is no major problem -- Mike had a heart murmur as a child and simply outgrew it); he seemed to be healthy although small for his age and underdeveloped (both as a result of orphanage life). These were not perceived to be major problems and we decided to accept him. He was born on July 10th, and the 11th was the birthday of Michael's father, Anthony Peter Jencevice. Thus it was decided to name him Peter Anthony Ilya Jencevice.
We received our court date on January 23, 1999, and the race was under way. We had to get our Russian visas, acquire our round trip tickets to Moscow and baby's one-way ticket from Moscow (thanks to EAC and their "tame" travel agent for getting us a great deal at the last minute), buy all the donation gifts, pack within the limits allowed by Delta Airlines, and make plans for an adjustable trip if things had gotten messed up in Russia. Denise Solvig, a fellow co-worker of Linda, told her that Target was having a 50% off sale on infant and children's clothes. We were able to get all 15 outfits for "donation" to the orphanage for a lot less money than we expected. We also had to provide numerous other items, and Mike managed to do most of the shopping in two days and bring the gifts in "under budget."
We had been working on the nursery for quite some time and now we were putting the final touches. Yes, it is a Disney/Space adventureland. His room was designed with Disney and Space themes covering every wall and a lot of the toys as well.
We left on January 30th and we slept most of the way there because we were able to get a seat between us. When we landed in Moscow we went immediately to the passport area. It was a little frightening because there were men carrying submachine guns, but customs never searched our luggage. Mike, our EAC representative, was holding a sign that said EAC. We were escorted to a van and driven to the Hotel Ukrania. Driving in Russia is an experience you can never imagine. It was worse than bumper cars!
The hotel was beautiful. It was built in the 50's and had maintained a lot of the old world charm. The lobby was huge and wonderfully decorated and the ceiling had a mural of the Russian revolution. We saw wonderful little shops. We also saw men walking through the lobby with submachine guns.
Our room was a suite with a bedroom, parlor, bathroom, and entry way, with French style doors joining each room. Overall the suite was very luxurious. However, the usual amenities were missing; for example, there were small slivers of soap and only one set of towels. The hotel misunderstood a wake up call for 9:30 am and awakened us at 9:30 pm. But we went back to sleep quite easily.
The four hour van ride to Yaroslavl was uneventful. We drove through some of the most beautiful countryside we have ever seen. If you looked past the aged and worn areas you could see that, in their day, the small houses with little fences were very wonderful and beautiful.
We arrived at the Hotel Kotorosl and were escorted to our room. Unlike the other, it was very small and we shared the bathroom with another room. When we arrived at the orphanage, we were told we would have to wait for our facilitator and the Inspector for Health and Education (equivalent to a social worker) before we could go in. Then we were escorted into a music room with a lot of little tiny beautifully decorated chairs lined up around a large area rug and were asked to sit down. We looked at each other and silently agreed we would stand because the chairs would not support Linda's weight, let alone Michael's.
Then down the hall we saw a woman carrying a child heading towards us. We knew this was our little boy. Linda started shaking and crying. They handed him to Michael. Michael smiled down to him and he smiled back up at him and Linda knew in her heart that everything was going to be all right. All our fears and apprehensions disappeared. Michael handed him to Linda and she kissed him all over his face. He smiled and laughed and our hearts soared with delight.
We spent about an hour with him. As we were sitting there looking at him the Inspector asked if we wanted the baby. Linda was laughing and smiling so much all she could say was "Of course we want him." Then she was told "No, you don't understand, this is a legal question. Do you want this baby?" Linda immediately wrapped her arms around him and said "Yes, we want this baby!!!!!" We were then told we were going to go and get his passport picture. We were asked if we had a diaper with us and to go and get it. We then discovered that he was only wearing underpants under his outfit.
We drove over to a small office where a photographer took his picture with a camera that had to have been from the 20's or 30's. We then drove back to the orphanage and were told we would go to court tomorrow morning. We were so excited we could hardly sleep that night.
Early the next morning we left for court. Before we went in, Tanya (our EAC coordinator in Yaroslavl) explained to us what would happen and what we should say. We were very nervous and apprehensive, because the judge could still say no or enforce the ten day waiting period. We went into the small court room along with Tanya, our facilitator, the Inspector for Health & Education and a prosecutor. The judge was a very young man. After they read the decree and agreed to waive the ten day waiting period we were very excited. The judge and even the prosecutor wished us congratulations and their very best wishes.
We traveled around Yaroslavl getting all required paperwork completed. It certainly is a male dominated society. Linda mostly sat in the cold, cold van. Quite often Mike had to get out with Anya (our EAC escort and translator) and sign some paperwork which he couldn't understand because it was written in Russian. One of the buildings Mike went into had a door a foot thick with steel lined walls and gunports! However, on one of our stops - I believe it was Department of Vital Statistics - we both had to go in. We were escorted to a beautiful room with painted silk screened light boxes on the wall, and signed the register book.
We finally finished all the running around and arrived back at the orphanage around 2pm. We spent quite a bit of time visiting with the caregivers. They wanted to know what we would feed him. They seemed a bit concerned when we brought out a two ounce bottle of Enfamil. (We received a lot of samples and had brought them with us just in case he was allergic to one of them.) They gave us a bottle of what they feed the babies. It was keifer, a liquid type of yogurt which tastes terrible. We dressed our little one in a diaper, onsie, green Pooh outfit, socks, shoes, 2 receiving blankets, a wool bunting outfit which belonged to Michael when he was Christened, a blue velour blanket and a bath towel. It was very cold outside: 26 below zero, not even taking into account the wind chill factor. After Linda had finished wrapping him up, the caregivers then completely unwrapped him and rewrapped him. They also put a red knit hat on him. They then gave him lots of kisses and their best wishes for us.
When we got back into the van, Peter was sweating so profusely that we immediately loosened everything, but we still kept him well covered. Within a very short time he was sound asleep. We started back to Moscow with the van dying every mile or so. It seems Sergei bought some watered gas on our way to Yaroslavl. We knew it was 26 below zero on the thermometer; we didn't want to know what the wind chill factor was, especially at 80 kph (about 50-60 mph).
It was so cold that metal sucked out all our heat, especially from our feet so we put our suitcases on the floor with our feet on top which made quite an improvement. As we were stopping and going so much we feared that we could possibly get stranded and frozen to death and wouldn't be found until Spring. It was a good thing that Michael is so prepared because one time when the van stalled Sergie got out and discovered his flashlight was dead. Michael pulled out his Mini Maglite flashlight and saved the day (night actually).
Since water is heavier than gas, Sergie was able to drain the water from the gas tank and (I'm glad I didn't have to crawl under the van a 26 degree below zero weather and drain water from a gasoline tank.) Of course Sergei came back smelling like gasoline and as soon as he was finished he stepped back outside and lit a cigarette! We half expected him to go "poof." We finally continued to Moscow without further incident. Thank you, Lord!
We finally made it back to Hotel Ukrainia, Peter slept all the way back. When we arrived in our suite, Peter decided he had slept enough and wanted to be awake. All during that night and all the next day he slept in fifteen minute increments. He was VERY UNHAPPY!! He cried and cried and cried and cried. We called it the "Night of the Devil Baby." We wondered if we had adopted Satan's spawn! We had taken him away from everything he knew. He was with strangers, in a strange hotel room, eating strange formula, wearing strange clothes, attempting to sleep in a strange bassinet we had borrowed from Don in the EAC suite. Peter had several bouts of diarrhea as well.
On Thursday, we went out to the US Embassy and waited for Peter's immigration visa. We were told to sit down with about thirty other American families who were all adopting while Mike from EAC went to all the different windows and ran around for all the paperwork. Other couples were not so lucky. We are very thankful for the people at EAC who made this a wonderful memory. The visa wait was fairly quick and we were back at the hotel by midafternoon with lunch in hand. When we saw other rooms at the hotel we were glad we had followed the advice of EAC and spent an extra $40 a night to get the suite. We probably had 4 or 5 times as much space as a normal room. We would've been nuts in that cramped quarters for a week!
Peter could go from sound asleep to starving in 1.2 seconds. When he started crying, he set off another child, which in turn set off a third child. You have never seen anything until you see three new mothers all diving for the diaper bags and preparing a bottle at the same time!
On Friday, we decided to play tourist. Mike from EAC had agreed to take us sight-seeing. The temperature was in the high thirties, so we knew we could take Peter out without too much concern. We went to Red Square, The Armory, Saint Basil's Cathedral, and the Cathedral of the Assumption. We wished we had an extra couple of weeks to see more because we barely scratched the surface, but we needed to get back home with Peter. Ah, well, maybe we'll win the lottery someday and go back in style!
Saturday morning our flight left at 7:20 am. The driver from EAC (another Sergei!) picked us up at 5:30 and drove us out to the airport. He then parked his van right in front, helped us in with our luggage, and breezed us right thru the outbound Russian customs officer who never even looked at our luggage or papers. He departed as Mike tipped him the last of our disposable Russian rubles. Passport control gave us not even a second glance (whew! That was the last hurdle as far as Mike was concerned). As we waited to board our aircraft, we met another couple from Virginia, whom we had seen at the Embassy on Thursday, and their newly adopted child. We all agreed that we wanted to stay a little longer; however, it would be nice to get home to our beds, our cats and most of all to a place where we can read the signs.
Peter slept the entire flight to Zurich, Switzerland which lasted about three hours. Then we had a nine hour flight back to Chicago. We had purchased a seat for Peter but put all our stuff there because he refused to sit still on the second flight. Linda stood in the galley and rocked him all the way across the Atlantic. Peter became known as the "Baby from Russia" in spite of the fact there were other babies.
We landed in Chicago and since the INS people had been through this many times before it was relatively painless and quick. We were even waved through customs without ever slowing down. As we walked out of the International terminal, we were met by Brian and we could see Randy in the background with the video camera going. We hugged and kissed everyone. Randy had arranged for a white limousine to take us home. so we rode back in the limo, sharing parts of our trip while sipping Coke and relaxing with special friends.
When we got to the house there were signs all over the door welcoming us home. We were met by Gloria, Bonnie and Patti (and two cats who were v-e-r-y glad to see us after our week-long absence. There were also a lot of presents, a large sign welcoming Peter to his new home, and a large helium filled Mickey Mouse balloon. They had also decorated Peter's door. We were very happy to be back home.
On Sunday, less than 24 hours after our return from halfway around the world, a meeting of Q-Q3 was still scheduled. In our absence they had scheduled a baby shower with Peter as the baby guest of honor and everyone was there from the club. We had wonderful food and enjoyed sharing our stories and opening the many presents that people had brought. We were still exhausted and jetlagged from the journey, but it sure was good to be back among the special people in our lives.
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