Carly could have still been in China had the receptiveness of Russia toward international adoption not majorly altered the Russells’ plans. The Russells were in the middle of the process of adopting from Russia in 2003 when a political disturbance aggravated the already weak relationship between Russia and the U.S.
“We first looked at the Russian program because we had some friends who adopted from Russia and had great success there,” Mr. Russell said. “In fact, all of our papers were actually in Russia, and we were ready to be matched with a child there when the Russian program was shut down.”
He was referring to a bill President Vladimir Putin signed into action, banning all Americans from adopting from Russia. The bill was officially enacted in 2012, but its winds were already disturbing adoptions taking place around the same time as the Russells were hoping to be matched with a Russian child. A 2012 Russian poll concluded 56 percent of Russians supported the bill, while it was opposed by 21 percent. The poll also revealed supporters seemed to hold a common conviction that “American families are dangerous, cruel and at times, violent.” The bill was later named the Dima Yakovlev Law after the name of a Russian child who died after being left in a vehicle in the heat under the care of his adoptive American parents. Mr. Putin’s bill received much criticism from Americans, declaring U.S. parents were not abusive and that Russia was only depriving its orphans of what could be better living conditions. Others said the bill was strictly political revenge in response to President Obama’s Magnitsky Act, which placed restrictions on Russian citizens who were convicted of violating human rights.
Despite the reasoning behind Mr. Putin’s bill, it drastically changed the landscape of foreign adoption and complicated many American families’ dreams of adding another member to their homes. The Russells were shocked after learning they would not be adopting from Russia, but faith told them the slight change would not end their chances of adding to their family, Mrs. Russell said.
“We were disappointed and sad because we were so close to getting a baby, but we knew God had a plan and that everything would work out as it should,” Mrs. Russell said. “And it did.”
Mr. Putin’s bill was one of the major factors contributing to the start of the decline in international adoption rates. As a matter of fact, up until the ban was established, Russia was usually regarded as a top contender among the countries America adopted from most, the Bureau of Consular Affairs and U.S. State Department said in a 2015 data report. Even at all-time lows, China still ranked first in 2015 as the country America adopted most from, followed by Ethiopia, Ukraine and Haiti.
What started out as a normal day in October 2009 ended as a day that forever changed the Russell family’s life. After months turned into years of waiting, they received a phone call about their new daughter, Feng Yue Yi.
After learning they had been matched with a Chinese baby girl in an orphanage, the Russells began making their travel plans to leave for China. People who are adopting internationally do not usually have many travel options, Mr. Russell said.
“We didn’t have any choice of when we were going to travel,” he said. “We had to get whatever flights were available and whatever seats were available. We just took what was there.”
On Jan. 5, 2010, the Russells departed on the trip they had been wanting to make for what seemed like an eon of time. They spent about 24 hours in airplanes on the way to their first destination in China, Mrs. Russell said.
“We went to St. Louis to Chicago, and we flew from Chicago to San Francisco,” she said. “We arrived in Hong Kong, and we were very tired.”
According to the Russells, their firsts sights of China in Hong Kong were a surprise. The conception that China is one polluted, dirty mass was proved false right away, Mr. Russell said.
“Hong Kong is a modern city,” he said. “Everything was very clean and very pretty. It was a very nice place to be.”
It is quite ironic that the capital city of one of the leading economic countries in the world is a stark contrast to the country’s policies regarding families and children. The Chinese government mandated a one-child policy for Chinese families in 1979 in hopes of reducing its heavy population. Chinese tradition used to place more value on boys than girls, primarily because they were seen as better and stronger employees in the workforce. For years, this ideology combined with China’s one-child policy led to the abandonment of baby Chinese girls.
In 2013, the Chinese government announced the one-child policy would be relaxed and then ineffective in 2016. Chinese couples can now have two children. According to CCAI directors Joshua Zhong and Lily Nie, this relaxation has shifted the scale of international adoptions.
“The impact of China becoming the world’s second-largest economy has not only lifted millions of people out of poverty and created the largest middle-class population in the world, but it has also resulted in something absolutely remarkable: a gradual elevation of the status of females, a dramatic decrease of abandonment of girls and a rapid increase of domestic adoption,” Mr. Zhong and Mrs. Nie stated in a CCAI publication.
Even though this relatively new cultural shift sounded beneficial to Chinese orphans, especially female orphans, it created a new need for adoption of a new sector of adoptees: those with special needs.
According to the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), the depletion of China’s one child policy decreased the amount of healthy Chinese babies in orphanages and increased the number of special-needs children available for adoption.
One way the Chinese government is currently trying to popularize the international adoptions of special-needs children is by selling a shorter wait to be matched with a child, the DAI said.
Over 98 percent of adoptees registered with the CCAI today are considered special-needs children, Mr. Zhong and Mrs. Nie said.
“You will find hardly any healthy children in China’s orphanages today,” Mr. Zhong and Mrs. Nie said. “Large numbers of handicapped children have been abandoned as a result of their birth parents’ fear of social discrimination and the outrageous medical costs that can easily bankrupt any family. They live in beautiful but loveless facilities, without any hope of a loving family in China.”
While the drop of China’s one-child policy allowed for more domestic adoptions within the country, the need for international adoption did not go away. Although it is not publicized often, the need for growth in international adoption is perhaps stronger than ever for children with disabilities.
At the time of Carly’s adoption, the one-child policy was still in place, so more Chinese baby girls such as Carly were readily available for adoption.
Continuing their journey to Carly, the Russells realized the conception of China being polluted was not completely wrong.
“We arrived in Nanchang, and it was a very different feel,” Mrs. Russell said. “We got off the plane, and immediately, when we were going into the airport, we saw Chinese soldiers with guns.”
It was in Nanchang, China, where the Rusells received Carly.
“Carly actually came to us the second day we were there in Nanchang,” Mr. Russell said. “So we actually had her from the second day forward.”
While the Russells were there to welcome Carly, they were welcomed by the city’s citizens warmly, Mrs. Russell said.
“Everywhere we went, we got a lot of thumbs-ups and smiles,” she said. “Our guides told us that the Chinese people are very happy that the babies are being adopted and getting families and getting out of the orphanages.”
The Russells were travelling in a group of parents adopting with the CCAI agency. Once the Russells and other adopting families settled into their hotel and received word that the orphanage would be bringing their children to the hotel, it was not long at all before the Russells were standing in the same room as their daughter. Carly was simply handed to the Russells once she arrived. The surrealism of the day they had all been waiting for took control of the moment, Mr. Russell said.
The Russells had to start adjusting to life with a new baby right away in unfamiliar territory. Even though she was under a year old, Carly started expressing herself right away, The Russells said.
“We had been told in all our training they [the adoptees] would typically like one parent over the other, and in my mind, I just thought Steve would be okay with that, and it would be fine,” Mrs. Russell said. “I never considered I would be the parent she didn’t like, but in fact, that was how it turned out. She did not like me very well at first.”
According to Mr. Russell, one of the first lessons Carly taught Mr. and Mrs. Russell was how to find solutions to some of the parenting challenges that can occur in international adoption.
“So I carried her for the rest of the trip, pretty much,” Mr. Russell said.
The Russells and other adopting families finished their time in Nanchang and Guangzhou, China, completing government-mandated procedures that had to be done before the Chinese children could be brought to the U.S. Some of the procedures included a series of physicals and immunizations for the children, signing more paperwork and documents, and taking an oath of citizenship for at the U.S. Embassy, Mrs. Russell said.
“After 17 days in China, we were ready to bring our family home,” she said. “We were very tired, but we made it home. We just kind of settled in.”
After being told they could likely experience some transition problems with Carly, the Russells did not know what quite to expect bringing a Chinese baby home to Arkansas. However, Carly showed no signs of any complications, the Russells said.
“She was just a baby coming home,” Mr. Russell said.
Since she was nine months old, Carly began learning words and speaking mechanisms right away. She still showed no hindering signs to her learning ability, contrary to what some people thought would occur, Mrs. Russell said.
“They did tell us she would have a language delay, but she did not,” Mrs. Russell said. “She was just very smart and curious and has always been a happy baby. We went back to just enjoying her and being home together all as a family.”
Having to readjust as a family and to a culture is a huge part of international adoption. Upon the Russells’ arrival back to Arkansas, neighbors commonly expressed their misconceptions about Carly in public, which were often humorous, Mr. Russell said.
“A lot of people we ran into were very curious and would ask kind of odd questions,” he said. “They wanted to know if she wanted to eat rice all the time. They had this stereotype of a Chinese person.”