We had our adoption court hearing today at noon.
The fact that our court date came so quickly after our pre-court meeting came as something of a surprise to us. We both heard a great deal about the fact that international adoption proceedings here in Kazakhstan are lengthening, including word that the courts are moving towards a process where they will begin to expect 30 days to pass between the day that the adoption petition is filed (day +15, or the day after the 14-day bonding period) and the court date. Zhanat feels that we were very lucky, and that perhaps due to the fact that they’re re-arranging the office space of the different court divisions, we were given a court date in advance of the move. Whatever the case, we were very, very pleased.
Yesterday we learned that all of our paperwork had been finalized and that everything appeared to be in order. With that, Zhanat felt secure in our purchasing our return tickets to Almaty. Lucky us – another flight on SCAT Airlines. With that, we realized that our time here in Kostanai was rapidly drawing to a close, meaning that we all of a sudden had a large number of things to wrap up.
We spent part of the afternoon at the “west side” market shopping for some additional gifts for friends and family, as well as some mementos that we’ll give to Anika over the years as she grows up. We took a break in the mid-afternoon to go bowling (of all things) with two other American couples that we’ve met here. Both are adopting children from Anika’s group at the DBH, and so we’ve all shared similar experiences. We certainly hope that they will share our good fortune when it comes to their legal proceedings.
We opted for dinner at the coffee shop across the street from Dolce Vita. It turns out that this cafe has a full dinner menu including some very tasty pizzas. I had a pizza with some type of mystery fish, egg and cheese. It was much, much better than it sounds – trust me. Julie had a more traditional pizza with tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms. I also enjoyed a bowl of some type of goulash with potatoes, carrots, and beef that was excellent. We ended up not drinking because yesterday turned out to be a national “Do Not Drink” day. Kind of like “The Great American Smokeout”, which, by the way, wouldn’t be a half-bad idea here either. It was also Halloween here – we saw a couple of people in costume including one grim reaper outside and a woman dressed head-to-toe in leopard print clothing inside of the cafe. However, we think that this may not have actually been a costume but rather a bold fashion statement, since she was with her child who was not dressed up at all.
The rest of the night was spent in contemplating our court date and making lists of things that we need to do prior to leaving. I was absolutely exhausted by 10p and went straight to bed. Both of us were awakened at 3am by a wrong-number phone call, and as a result I was up from 3a – 5a thinking about court and thinking about our return to the US, but most of all thinking about how in the world we were going to cope with leaving Anika here for a month. Truth be told, we required a hell of a lot less than 14 days to bond with Anika, and now we’re simply head-over-heels in love with her. I mentioned to Julie the other night that if someone had brought up the idea of having children to me two or three years ago, my first thoughts would have been, “How in the world am I going to fit a child into my work schedule.” After my experience over the past month, my thoughts are more along the lines of, “How in the world am I going to fit work into all of the time that I want to spend with Anika?” While I’m certain that this is not exactly a revelation to those reading this who already have kids, for me, the immediacy of this profound and seemingly involuntary rearrangement of life priorities took my rational half a bit by surprise. That being said, the readjustment of perspective feels entirely natural and welcome, as if this is one of the answers to life’s important questions that I’ve been seeking for years.
Thursday morning brought a beautiful blue dawn. Sunrise here is much later than we’re used to: the sun isn’t up until 8:40am. We, however, were both up and ready for coffee. Sadly, Julie fell off the wagon after only 3 days and ordered up a cup of full-strength joe while only half-awake. Thursday also brought us a third day without cold water. We discovered yesterday that it is not only the building that is affected, but parts of the city. One of the couples that we know from the DBH told us yesterday that they too are lacking hot water. We took the morning to finalize our list of things to do for the day, and gather everything that we need for court. Zhanat told us that we should wear the exact same clothes for luck, so that we’ll have the exact same good outcome that we had at pre-court on Tuesday. Little does she realize that with a limited wardrobe and no ability to do laundry, we’d be wearing the exact same clothes regardless of her instructions!
We were picked up at 11:40a and taken back to the court building where Dr. Irina and Jana were waiting for us. At noon we were called back into the judge’s office where he was now dressed in a maroon robe. The prosecutor was also there, dressed in a uniform, and the judge’s secretary was present to record the proceedings. The court hearing was much more formal. Once again, the judge introduced the parties who were present. This time, the main difference was that Jana, the Ministry of Education representative, read the report of the findings of the MOE with regard to our petition for adoption. Afterwards, we each had to stand and state specifically what we were asking the court for: to grant us our request to adopt this child, and to change her name officially to Anika Irina Blackman. The entire hearing was, for both of us, very emotional, rivaling our wedding ceremony for the sense of importance that we experienced. Maybe even a little more intense because unlike our wedding, we were not 100% certain of the outcome. In addition, while our wedding was pure celebration, this proceeding had a very serious and almost bittersweet air to it. While we’re both thrilled that Anika will be our child and come to live with us in the United States, we were also acutely aware of how deeply important children are to the people of Kazakhstan, and how much it pains them that they are unable to care for all of their orphaned children at this time. Kazakhstan is a country still in recovery from decades of Soviet oppression and need their children now more than ever. We hope that we left the judge with the impression that we do not take the generosity of the people of Kazakhstan for granted in any way, shape or form, and how much we both are in awe of the dedication they show for these children.
Towards the end of the proceeding, we were very pleased to hear Dr. Irina, Jana, and the state prosecutor all state that they felt that the adoption was solely in Anika’s best interest and that there were no objections to any aspect of our petition. We were told by the judge that the final decision would come at 3pm and that we were to return at that time.
Zhanat hurried us home to change clothes and we quickly made our way over to the DBH to visit Anika, feed her lunch, and then bundle her up to take her to get photos taken for all of her immigration documents, her passport, and her visa. We had no idea how she’d react to leaving the baby house by car and going out in the world. From what we understand, she’s only been out of the baby house once – and that was to go for a medical exam a couple of weeks ago. Well, it took about 30 seconds for us to find out. She was scared, plain and simple. Every aspect of the car trip was very upsetting to her and we were only partly able to console and distract her. Once we arrived in the city center and exited the car, she settled down because we were outside, but once inside the photo studio, she was once again very upset. Of course the photographer wanted her photos to be of her with her mouth closed – a nearly impossible feat given that she was either crying or sticking out her tongue! It took about 20 attempts, but we finally got a picture of her with her mouth closed. I feel bad that this will be her passport photo for the next 10 years, but what are you going to do?
After the photos were done, we bundled her up, ran back to the DBH and dropped her off, and then headed home again to get changed back into our dress clothes in order to be at court for the 3pm decision.
We were escorted back into the judge’s office where it was just me, Julie and Zhanat. The judge had excused Jana and Dr. Irina so that they could return to work. The decision was a 3 page document that the judge read aloud and in its entirety. He reviewed our petition, the findings of the court, the relevant Kazakhstani law, and at the end stated that the court found in favor of our petition and that this child’s birth certificate will be change to indicate that her mother is Julie Denise McNeill and her father is Samuel Charles Blackman, and that the child’s name will become Anika Irina Blackman. We were given copies of the judge’s decision and told that it will become finalized 15 days from tomorrow (November 17th).
Afterwards, in personal comments to us, the judge stated that he also felt that Anika would also be much better off with a family and parents than left in the orphanage, and that the adoption was truly in her best interest, but that he felt the weight of this process and knew that her future was on his shoulders. We reassured him that he would not be disappointed. Afterwards, he congratulated us and we said farewell. Zhanat recommended that a picture of Anika happy, thriving and back in the United States would be a fitting token of appreciation for the judge, and I can’t agree more.
So there you have it. Nine months to the day that we filed our initial application to start the adoption process, we are now parents of a beautiful, healthy, and wonderful little girl. Despite the thousands of words written on this blog, it is not possible to fully express the full weight of this process or it’s full emotional impact on Julie and me. We truly thought that we had our fill of truly incredible, life-altering events. Little did we realize that at our ages, not only would we have the chance to experience one of the best events life has to offer, but also that we both will have subscribed to an entirely new series of such events as we embark on this new journey as a family. We feel, today, at this very moment in time, as alive as we have ever felt. In fact, we feel truly reborn as an entirely new people, with every aspect of ourselves recast in an entirely new light. We suppose that it is this feeling that is part of the true essence of being human – that there is rejuvenation and renewal in children, and a sense of hope and possibility that makes the seemingly impossible, possible.
Finally, it is also not possible to describe the hundreds of acts, and hundreds of people who all played role in this process over the past 9 months. We have been supported by so many wonderful people: the Boston- and Portland-based staff of MAPS International, to their staff in Almaty, Astana and Kostanai; our friends and families; those who have cared for our home and pets (Pam, Scott, Lara and Grayson), and our patients (Jessica and Christy); our co-workers at Faulkner Hospital, New England Baptist Hospital, the Dana-Farber, and Children’s Hospital Boston; our employers who have been so wonderfully flexible and generous to us (especially the people at AAM, OPRS, DFCI, and CMR); the innumerable US agencies (state and federal); the innumerable Kazakhstani agencies (city, state and national). Most importantly, we are forever indebted to Zhanat who has guided us every step of the way for the past 5 weeks and who has been a remarkably strong shoulder for both of us to lean on, and finally everyone at the Delphin Baby House who loved, cared for, raised, and nurtured Anika until we had the remarkable fortune to find her and make her ours. Julie and I are both incredibly humbled by all of this, and are grateful to everyone who played a role. No matter how big or small, every part was essential to making this remarkable day possible for us, and for this we are both so very thankful.
For tonight, we will go to a restaurant called ‘444′ to celebrate. I have bent to Zhanat’s will and will partake in the ceremonial “lizard vodka”. We were also told that the camel’s milk that we keep seeing in the grocery store is a good hangover cure, so who knows, I may be partaking in that as well tomorrow. We will post something tomorrow after our final visit with Anika, and then probably something from Almaty and from Amsterdam as we make our way back to Boston.