There's a news story this week that makes adoptive parents, including my wife and me, run to turn down the radio. If you're a family with young children who are adopted, you might want to do that now.
Artyom Savelyev turned 8 yesterday. He blew out the candles on his cake in the Moscow children's hospital where he has been kept since returning to — or being returned by Torry Ann Hansen, the single mother in Tennessee who adopted him.
According to news reports, the boy flew alone bearing a note from Ms. Hansen that said, "I no longer wish to parent this child," because he was "mentally unstable."
Russian officials said they have suspended all U.S. adoptions of Russian children, but it is not clear this has actually been done. The overwhelming number of international adoptions of Russian children have been happy and successful.
Susan Branco Alvarado, a counselor who specializes in adoption, says her phone has been trilling all week. Children who have been adopted absorb the story from radio and television, at school and on the playground. Hearing about this little boy inflames anxieties their parents thought had been banished by sheer love. Their children worry that one day, no matter how happy and secure they are — no matter how good they are — they might be sent back.
Lyudmila Kochergina, director of the Moscow office of the adoption agency Children's Hope International, reminds us that many children who were abandoned have a right to be suspicious because, "they were once betrayed by adults.''
I have learned, more by being a father than a journalist, not to judge another parent from outside their family circle. I can imagine any parent feeling overwhelmed and even desperate. But my empathy falls short of putting a little boy alone on a plane with a note saying, "I no longer wish to parent this child," like some cruel contortion of the Paddington Bear story.
Adoptive parents may feel that our lives never really began until we took our children into our arms. But we should remember that some children have seen a lot of history before they ever met us. We love and root for them all the more.
Many Russians say they feel humiliated by international adoptions. But Lyudmila Kochergina says American and European families adopting Russian children have encouraged more Russian families to adopt, and that is good. The Russian Orphan Aid Foundation says there are 4 million orphaned or abandoned children in Russia today. Only a few thousand are even lucky enough to be in institutions.
The 3,000 American families now in some stage of adopting Russian children are a small number to ease a great need that I hope will not be stinted by a single outrageous case. Putting children who need love and care into families who crave a child's love is one of the great unfinished endeavors of the world.