Minnesota's Adoptees Voice Discontent About Russian Adoption Ban

Created: 01/12/2013 10:47 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar will meet Sunday with Minnesota families who might be impacted by the new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children. She's also sending a letter to the State Department urging it to process pending Russian adoptions before the ban takes effect, in 2014.

The ban is believed to be in retaliation--in part--for a new U.S. policy that calls for sanctions against corrupt Russian officials.

Senator Klobuchar has rounded up some secret weapons to help spread the word that politics shouldn't stand in the way of finding loving homes for unwanted children.

Among them, Catherine Matthews of St. Paul. When she went to Russia in 2001, "there were two, sometimes maybe three babies in each crib," in the orphanage she visited. There, she met the baby who would become her daughter: Michaela, now 11. "They didn't have a lot of food to feed her," Catherine remembers.

Michaela was tiny, and sick. "She hung on to me tight," Catherine says. "She wouldn't let go and I knew right away there was a bond."

The mere thought of other Russian orphans is unbearable for Catherine. "There's nothing more sad, nothing more heart wrenching, than a child without a mom," she says.

Maureen Warren, of the Children's Home Society adoption agency, explains, "We have some families that are waiting very anxiously to see if their adoptions will proceed, or not."

Six, in fact.

In the last two decades, the agency has helped more than 900 families adopt Russian children. But now, "it's a very great time of uncertainty for them," Warren says.

Saturday afternoon at the agency, officials from Africa were checking up on children who'd been adopted by Minnesotans. They said the Russian ban just doesn't make sense. According to Desalegn Bayro, an Ethiopian administrative judge, "Politics shouldn't come--I know politics are everywhere but the best interests of the child should come first."

Four-year old Habtamu was adopted by St. Cloud parents. He calls them "nice," as he plants kisses on each of their cheeks with a giggle.

"You're not so bad yourself," his father Tony Eshleman tells him.

"You're not so bad either," Habtamu responds, with more kisses and giggles.

Habtamu's mother Laura Tripiciano says parents hoping to adopt in Russia will be devastated if they're denied their babies. "We were lucky because we got to bring Habtamu home because two weeks before, some things changed in Ethiopia. So I can't even imagine, especially after you've seen the child's face," she says.

The current Russian adoption process requires prospective parents to make three trips to the country before they're approved. So for many, they've already developed an extremely close bond with these babies they home to call their own.

"It would just devastate you, to know avail," Tony says."I mean, you would feel like you're dying."

Russia has long been wary about foreigners taking away its children, yet that concern hasn't prompted any significant increase in adoptions of unwanted Russian orphans within its own borders.

As for Michaela, "My life is perfect!" she says, smiling. No longer sick, no longer tiny, she's happy, healthy, and determined to send this message back to her place of birth:

"If no one in Russia is going to adopt them you should let people from the USA come and adopt them," she says. "Because it's not right just to leave them there to suffer."

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com