Today is the big day—our court hearing. The judge will decide whether or not to approve the adoption. Not that long ago, these hearings were a mere formality, handshakes and smiles all around. But we’ve been warned to expect a real grilling.
The courthouse is done in early Post-Soviet Gloom. Flickering fluorescent lights, dingy floors, and a film of dust covering everything, including the people. We arrive to problems. The judge is behind schedule and quite testy, gauging by the shouts coming from his chambers. Then Gulbanu, our interpreter, arrives with troubling news. There is talk of trying to track down our child’s biological mother to give her one last chance to raise this child—our child. My heart sinks. We have jumped through countless hoops. We’ve been interrogated, fingerprinted, and jerked around for more than a year now. But if this teenage girl decides, “Why not? Yes, I would like to try raising the child I discarded nearly nine months ago,” then all bets are off. Game over. For adoptive parents, there is nothing more anxiety-inducing than the birth mother, lurking out there like a great white.
We are ushered into the judge’s chambers and sit on hard, wooden benches. The judge, a Kazakh, has a sharp, handsome face, younger than we expected. As feared, though, he is in an extremely foul mood. He tells us to stand. The questions come rapid-fire: Why do you want to adopt a child? Why in Kazakhstan? Why this child? Do you have the money to support her? Do you own your own house? What is a freelance writer?
I feel like we are on trial for some horrible, unnamed crime. The prosecutor, a severe Russian woman who looks like she hasn’t smiled since Khrushchev banged his shoe at the United Nations, asks Sharon to stand up and interrogates her about her plans for the child. How will she care for her if both parents are working? Sharon explains how we will rely on help from family and baby sitters. She doesn’t mention day care. We’ve been warned that Kazakhs consider day care a form of child abuse.
Next, the judge asks if we are aware of our child’s “medical condition.” Technically, she has a congenital heart defect. I say “technically” because doctors in Kazakhstan, as in all former Soviet Republics, take a decidedly different approach to pediatrics. We in the West consider newborn babies fundamentally healthy, unless medical tests indicate otherwise. Here they consider all babies defective by definition—flawed creatures who, with the right amount of medical intervention, prayer, and good fortune, might be nursed to normalcy. We go along with this charade, knowing that our daughter is perfectly healthy.
The proceeding continues, formal and tense, just shy of confrontational. At one point, everyone starts yelling at each other in Russian. Finally, the judge asks us to leave the court room. He will announce his decision in 10 minutes. To our relief, he has dropped the idea of finding the birth mother.
A few minutes later, we’re called back into the courtroom. This time, the judge is also standing. He’s reading from a piece of paper. The words fly by too quickly for me to catch them all, but I do hear, “Adoption approved.”
We still have a few weeks of waiting and bureaucratic hassles, but we have crossed the baby Rubicon. There is no turning back. Outside the courtroom, Sharon and I hug, fighting back tears. Gulbanu tells us to move along. We oblige. A dingy post-Soviet courthouse is no place for such a joyous moment.
Over the course of our visit, we bonded with our daughter like Krazy Glue, as doting and goofy and absurdly proud as any other parents. (Look, honey, she drooled. Isn’t she smart?) How to explain our sudden attachment to this child, who’s not of our flesh and blood? I am not one to believe in fate, but I swear she was destined to be ours. Blood may be thicker than water, but love is thicker than both. Even the dark poet Abai would agree with that.
*Correction, Dec. 22: Because of an editing oversight, an earlier version of this piece did not specify that the events in this Diary took place in September, not in December as the dateline suggests.