YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'90s FAMILY : Journey to Joy : Across the world, amid political turmoil, awaited a baby who needed only love. The Millers were happy to oblige.


MOSCOW — "Oh my god, they're here!"

My wife and I had endured nearly six years of anguish and had traveled halfway around the world to arrive at this moment.

We were about to become parents.

The path to Russia had been a rocky one: five emotionally, physically and financially draining years of infertility treatments followed by an attempt at a private domestic adoption that failed when the expectant young woman with whom we had worked closely for five months decided she would keep her baby.

Devastated, but still determined to bring a son or daughter into our lives, we turned to foreign adoption. We chose Russia because we were aware that there were many children available who needed homes and had heard positive stories about adoptions from that part of the world. In addition, my grandparents had come from there, giving us a familial link.

We contacted an agency in Pittsburgh, Pa., that deals exclusively with orphanages in the former Soviet Union, particularly in St. Petersburg. But we had one more twist in the road.

Shortly before we were to visit Pittsburgh, it was widely reported in the United States that Moscow had declared a moratorium on foreign adoptions in the face of growing nationalist sentiment. We were panic-stricken; Larisa Mason, the head of our agency, told us she would not match any Russian children with parents who were unwilling to deal with delays of up to two years. Katherine and I were in our early 40s, and we had already waited long enough.

But Larisa said there was another option: She had just learned about a little girl in a baby home in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic on the fabled Silk Road just above Afghanistan. The child was only 7 months old, which appealed to us since we wanted an infant.

Fittingly, the baby's Russian name was Nadezhda, which means hope. She had been born in May in Tashkent, the colorful Uzbek capital. Her biological mother was Russian; her father, Korean. And she was Jewish, as am I.

Nadezhda was, in her way, a stranger in a strange land. In a predominantly Muslim country, she was a religious, ethnic and racial minority as well as an orphan. She was also, Larisa assured us, "perfectly healthy, a beautiful child."

Indeed, Larisa, a Russian-born dynamo who has arranged the adoptions of more than 200 children from the former Soviet Union in the past 3 1/2 years, said the head of the baby home was "falling in love" with little Nadia, as they called her.

Moreover, Uzbekistan became an independent republic with the breakup of the Soviet Union, which meant that it would not be affected by any changes in Russian law regarding international adoption.

Just after Thanksgiving, Katherine and I drove from our home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh to meet with Larisa and make a leap of faith.

Heady with excitement and anxiety, we fought back a sense of unreality. In a room filled with framed photos of happy-looking children, we stared at an out-of-focus Polaroid of an olive-skinned baby lying on her back with a pacifier in her mouth, a plastic toy at her side. We needed to confer only briefly before we told Larisa: We'll take her.

We immediately went out and bought a little pillow for our future daughter. Holding something soft and tangible in our hands made the prospect of parenthood seem a bit more real. That afternoon, during our giddy trip home, we decided to rename her Julia Sarah.

On New Year's Eve, we received a seven-minute video of Julia taken by a member of Larisa's staff during a visit to Tashkent earlier that month. It was all we could do to keep from trying to climb inside the television set to hug her.

Again and again and again, we watched this incredibly alert, expressive little girl in a faraway land who, we prayed, would soon turn our lives upside-down. Our champagne and music-filled celebration with friends that evening took on an added measure of good cheer.

We soon learned from Larisa that we were among a group of parents adopting six youngsters, 7 months to 5 years, from Tashkent. Three of the other children would go to Pittsburgh and two to Dallas. We would depart in mid-March. Caretakers from the baby home in Tashkent would escort the children to meet us in Moscow.

The kids were supposed to arrive at our hotel in the Russian capital at 7 p.m. on a wintry Sunday. As we waited, I confessed to Katherine that I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the step that we were about to take.

"I've been feeling that way for months," she replied.

The President Hotel was hardly the setting in which one would imagine becoming a family. A cold, cavernous place, it is a throwback to the Soviet heyday. Protected by a security fence and a cadre of unsmiling uniformed guards, it had been a gathering place and residence for Politburo leaders. The hum of the radio receiver in our room, which we could neither turn off nor unplug, indicated that our first nights as a family would not be ours alone.


Los Angeles Times Articles