Article from the Hutchinson Leader
Tuesday, November 19, 2002


From Russia with Love

By Kay Johnson
staff writer
Hutchinson Leader
November is National Adoption Month. Its purpose is to honor adoptive families and to call attention to the millions of children who still need homes. This article is the first of a two-part series on adoption. This week, Allen and Wendy Benusa of Hutchinson share their experiences in adopting their daughter Anastasia. Next week, Carol Marth of Hutchinson, talks about finding her birth mother and meeting her extended family.

Sunday, Aug. 25, will forever remain a red-letter day in the life of Allen and Wendy Benusa. It was almost three months ago, the couple brought their new daughter, 7-month-old Anastasia, home to Hutchinson from the Kursk Regional Orphanage in Kursk, Russia. Working with the Children's Home Society of Minnesota located in St. Paul, the Benusas were one of about 650 families a year who adopt internationally. Last year, 61 Russian children were placed with CSHM families.

Allen, a computer science teacher at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, and Wendy, a registered nurse at Hutchinson Community Hospital, opted for adoption rather than advanced fertility treatments when they were unable to conceive a child.

Their journey began when the couple attended an informational seminar on adoption sponsored by the Children's Home Society of Minnesota. "Dr. David Byron recommended this agency to us," Wendy said. "After the seminar, we decided to pursue an international adoption rather than domestic for two reasons," Allen said. "One reason was the shortage of children and the second was Minnesota's open adoption law. "This means the birth parents have post-adoption access to or visitation rights with the child. We weren't comfortable with this."

The process
"We wanted to be parents," Wendy said. "so we began the application process. We picked Russia because there were children available immediately."

Both Allen and Wendy said this task was daunting. They were required to fill out a massive amount of paperwork that covered everything from personal references to complete financial and legal disclosures. "It took us more than a couple of months to do this," she said. "Everything had to be notarized and then apostiled by the Minnesota Secretary of State too."

Once the paperwork was completed, the Benusas submitted it to their social worker at the Children's Home Society. She reviewed it and scheduled an appointment for the couple to come in for a face-to-face meeting. Following this, a home visit was scheduled where the social worker would come to Hutchinson.

After the home study was completed, the Benusas assembled all the required paperwork into what is called a dossier. This can take anywhere from one to three months. In the Benusas case it took about two months.

"The Russia coordinator asked us from what region we wanted a child," Allen said. "We
didn't know anything about Russia, so what do you say? We asked for guidance from our coordinator and chose Kursk because they had children available and it was close to Moscow. Once the dossier was assembled, it took another month for a referral to come through. Waiting time depends on age and gender of the child the parents have requested. "We wanted an infant under 9 months and we didn't care if it was a boy or girl," Wendy said.

On a jet plane
As part of the international adoption process, Russia requires the parents to make two trips to the country. The Benusas received word at the end of May from the Children's Home Society informing them the name, age and sex of their child.

Although the couple has traveled the Caribbean, they had never been to Europe. "My mom was worried about us traveling," Allen said, with a grin. "I have always wanted to travel and see places like the Red Square in Moscow, the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Wall of China. I never thought I'd go for a real purpose."

They took their first trip, which is typically about seven days, in late June. In addition to meeting their child for the first time, the couple also were encouraged to bring a donation of baby supplies for the orphanage, as well as a large sum in cash.

"We flew from Minneapolis to Amsterdam and then to Moscow," Allen said. "In Moscow, we were going through customs when one of the agents pointed to one of our suitcases. We didn't speak Russian and the agent didn't speak English. He motioned to me to open it. Wendy was with an agent who was counting our money, while I was with this guy and the suitcase. I opened it and it contained two cases of powdered and liquid baby formula. He didn't know what it was, so all of sudden there were about five agents around me, and they were interrogating me in Russian. They were shaking these cans and looking at them. I think they thought it was a big drug bust or something. I had no idea what they were saying, but I kept pointing to the word 'baby' on the label. Eventually, Wendy's agent came over and pointed to the picture of the baby and we got it straightened out."

The couple spent a couple of days in Moscow and then took an overnight train to Kursk, a city of about 400,000. The seven-day trip was structured with trips to the orphanage each day, plus time for sight-seeing in the area. The orphanage, although rundown by American standards, was clean and smelled faintly of chlorine. The children were separated according to age group. Anastasia was one of 16 babies in the 0 to 6 months area cared for by four attendants.

"Everything is scheduled and structured," Allen said. "It was about 90 degrees when were there and there's no air conditioning. When we met Anastasia, I was sweating and she was bundled up in about three layers of clothing. That's how all the children were dressed. I don't know if they thought it was cold or what." Wendy confessed that it was difficult to leave their daughter when it was time to go home.

On the road again A call from Children's Home Society in mid-July notified them of their second trip to Russia. "We got about a week's notice," Allen said. "Our employers were both aware of our situation, so taking off for three weeks with such short notice wasn't an issue."

The couple's second trip, which is 21 days in length, resembled the first trip except it was longer and this time they would be bringing their daughter home with them.

"This time we had a better idea of what to expect," Wendy said. "When we were on our way to the airport, my mother told me my great-grandparents were Russian," she said. "That meant a lot to me. I didn't know that. Apparently, my great-grandparents had concealed the fact that they were Russian."

The trip to Russia went off without a hitch, except the couple's luggage got sidetracked for about a week. "We had to go to court and we didn't have our luggage," Allen said. "I had to borrow a pair of pants from our driver and I was able to buy a shirt and tie." "I wore what I had on - a pair of khaki pants and a shirt," Wendy added.

The court hearing is an opportunity for a judge and a prosecutor to meet the prospective parents and to discuss their plans for this child.

"Our interpreter had given us a page of questions and answers to review the night before we went to court," he said. "I'm glad we did. I was asked how would we provide for her?" "I was asked what kind of support system we had?" Wendy said. "We were also asked why we were doing an international adoption?" Allen added. "They knew all about the open adoption situation."

In addition to the Kursk court appearance, the child was also required to have a medical examination. From there, the couple attended a meeting at the United States Embassy in Moscow to obtain the child's visa. After completing all these the steps, the parents were free to return to the United States with their child. Depending on the region and judge, the Benusas may also be required to submit reports and photographs of Anastasia to comply with Russia's post placement reporting requirements.

"Anastasia was handed over to us about 9 p.m. at night just before we boarded the train to Moscow. I wanted to know if she came with instructions," he said, shaking his head. "She was on a schedule, so we followed it," Wendy said. "She cried the whole overnight train ride to Moscow, but eventually it all worked out."

'Show me the money'
Allen and Wendy both admitted that the cost of the international adoption process was something they thought about before proceeding. "When we were all said and done, we spent about $27,000," Allen said. "I don't know about you, but we didn't have this kind of money sitting in the closet, so we took out a home equity loan to pay for it."

According to the Children's Home Society of Minnesota Web site, the tab for an international adoption includes the Children's HomeSociety of Minnesota processing and program fees, which are determined by a sliding fee scale based on the parents' gross income, typically run from about $4,600 to $7,100. Russian program fees range from $10,500 to $12,000. Also factored into the overall cost is the two trips to Russia, including airfare, hotel accommodations, and walking-around money, plus $700 in translation and communication fees, about $400 for miscellaneous fees, $200 for medical examination and $335 for a visa. "Don't forget to add overnight shipping charges to the Russian embassy in New York because of lost paperwork," he quipped.

Homeward bound
Wendy's parents met the couple at the Minneapolis airport. When they arrived in Hutchinson, signs and balloons decorated their home on Kay Street. "We have all adjusted surprisingly well," Wendy said. "We've gone with the flow and it's worked out." Allen said it was more of an adjustment for him. "I was used to just going out the door when I wanted to. Now I have to think about day care and being there at a certain time.

"It's really been a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he continued. "How often do you get an opportunity like this? We were able to spend a lot of time in Russia. It's an amazing place. The people are very friendly. I was surprised at how well everyone dresses. The women wear skirts and three-inch  high heels and the men are always dressed in dress pants, and a dress shirt. You don't see anyone dressed casually like we do here.

"I also learned what it would be like to be illiterate," he added. "We couldn't read the signs or talk to anyone. It's a good lesson.

When we were there, we saw the grand opening of a supermarket in Moscow on Russian television. This was big news. They don't have stores like we do. They're small and with a limited selection." According to Allen, at the local grocery store, goods are grouped together with their own clerk and checkout. It's similar to our farmer's market where each vendor handles their own products. "Shopping in Russia  takes a long time," he said. "There are lines everywhere, too."

With their daughter Anastasia crawling across the living room floor, Allen and Wendy watch her antics with parental pride. Even though the cost is great, they both said they'd do it again. "It's been a very good experience," she said, as Allen nodded in agreement. "Someone asked me, how can you love an adopted child? How can you not?" she asked.