‘I can’t imagine what they’re going through’

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:24 PM

When Sanford native Wendy Siegner Cox adopted a 13-month-old girl from Russia, the match struck many as divine intervention.

“People could not have been kinder or warmer to us; everyone was positive about us adopting this little girl ... ,” said Cox, now a Minneapolis resident.

“They thought God’s hand had to be on the process for a family from the United States to find their child on the other side of the world,” she said.

Now 11, Cox’s daughter, Meredith, leads a healthy, normal life despite being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome — a connective tissue disorder that affects her joints. Reflecting on how the girl became a part of her family, a process which required two trips to Russia, Cox called it “one of the best experiences of my life.”

But for other American families, welcoming a Russian child into their fold may no longer be an option. A new law signed Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which takes effect on Jan. 1, bans U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

Cox said she heard the news “with extreme sadness and hurt for all families in the process of adopting, and the children institutionalized there that are not being given a chance to have a good home.”

Cox said after a difficult pregnancy with her son, she had decided to adopt her next child. That process was supposed to take place in the Ukraine, she added, but that plan did not reach fruition.

“It’s a very discouraging thing; it’s a long process, and so much of yourself goes into moving this process forward,” she said. “For the process to shut down, it’s cruel.”

According to Reuters, Americans have adopted more than 45,000 Russian children since 1999, including 962 last year. The news agency also reports that more than 650,000 children are deemed orphans in Russia, and of those, 110,000 lived in state institutions in 2011, according to government figures.

Other news outlets, including the Associated Press, have quoted a Russian children’s rights ombudsman as saying that some 46 Russian children, on the verge of being adopted, would stay in the country if the new law stands.

The U.S. State Department released a statement referring to the move as “politically motivated” and expressing “regret that the Russian government has taken this step.”

Some officials have described the decision as retaliatory for American sanctions against Russians accused of human rights violations.

“We are further concerned about statements that adoptions already underway may be stopped and hope that the Russian government would allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families,” the department says in the statement. “The limitations imposed by the Act on Russian civil society’s ability to work with American partners will also make it more difficult for Russian and American non-governmental organizations to cooperate in areas as diverse as human rights advocacy, open government, and electoral transparency. The United States remains committed to supporting the development of civil society and the democratic process around the world, including in Russia.”

Politics aside, Cox said the heartbreak of those families whose adoptions have been halted is unfathomable.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now,” she said.

As for her own daughter, Cox said she continues to celebrate the anniversary of her adoption and to honor her Russian heritage.

Meredith is hoping to someday attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and looking forward to a bright future, according to her mother, made possible with world-class medical care from the nearby Mayo Clinic. Cox said she admires her daughter’s “amazing spirit,” athleticism and commitment to activities such as swimming, her church group and volunteer work. 

And Cox said had Meredith remained in the orphanage, “I’m afraid of what would have happened.”

“I don’t know what my life would be like without her,” Cox said, describing her children as the light of her life. “It’s very sad to think this could have happened to me.”