"Our Leap of Faith: Finding Birth Relatives in Russia"

Finding our daughter's birth relatives expanded our family — and helped her answer some difficult questions about her past.

A teenage adoptee finding birth relatives in Russia

My husband and I always knew we would take our children back to their countries of origin. Our daughter, Marina, entered an orphanage when she was 7, after her father died and her mother, Elena, could no longer take care of her. We adopted her four years later. Over the years, she’s often wondered if Elena was OK. Last summer, when Marina was 18, after much family discussion, we decided it was time.

We boarded the plane to Russia with a few addresses for her birth relatives, little information about her birth mother, Elena, and no guarantee that we would meet anyone.

Day of Miracles

The staff of Marina’s orphanage confirmed the addresses we had. The next morning, as we approached the town, we had to decide whether to turn left toward her cousin’s address, or right toward her aunt’s. Something steered us left.

My heart was pounding as we climbed the crumbling stairwell of the apartment complex. Cousin Natasha opened the door and was shocked to see Marina. Moments later, Marina’s aunt, Galina, arrived to meet Natasha to go to a wedding. If we had turned right, we wouldn’t have found Galina at home, and would have been too late to find Natasha, as well.

The first question Marina asked was, “Have you seen my mother?” Natasha’s husband, Sasha, told us that he had recently seen her working in an open-air market nearby. It was decided. Sasha led the way.

Arms Wide Open

As we walked through the rows of the marketplace toward the area where Sasha had seen Marina’s birth mother, Marina whispered to me, “I don’t know if I’m ready.” I replied that I was about to throw up, and that made her laugh.

Elena wasn’t there. We impulsively decided to walk down one more aisle before leaving. As we neared the end, Sasha walked up to a woman at a vegetable stand and said, “Look who’s here.” The woman looked up. It was Elena! Marina walked toward her, holding out her arms for a hug. At first, they were both too stunned to show much emotion. Soon, though, they both started to cry. Elena reported that she was living with her boyfriend of several years. Marina was relieved to hear that Elena was doing well. My daughter now had peace of mind, for the first time in seven years.

Family Reunion

Our day of searching was not over. Marina’s paternal aunt, Alla, invited us all to a family birthday feast, which was underway! I asked Alla if she had any photos of her brother, Marina’s birth father. I remembered vividly the night, soon after her adoption, when I found Marina crying in bed because she couldn’t remember what her dad looked like. Alla brought out an album and gave Marina a picture of her father holding her when she was a baby. Tears ran down Marina’s cheeks as she gazed at the photo.

The evening was fantastic, with conversation and vodka flowing freely. Our family has expanded — they are all wonderful people.

After leaving Russia, we traveled to Ukraine, where we miraculously located my younger daughter’s entire birth family!

Marina has added photos of her birth family to the collection on her wall, and she is no longer anxious about her birth mother’s well-being. Now Marina has a more complete sense of self and an increased sense of security in us as a family.


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