The first time Jessica Veselica met the 14-month-old Russian baby she planned to adopt, she braced herself for a rocky start. The toddler had bonded with her caregivers in the orphanage, no doubt; the 32-year-old Columbus woman and first-time mother shouldn’t expect an instant rapport.
Yet Veselica’s first meeting with her prospective daughter in mid-November in Russia turned out to be “picture perfect.” She recalled, “She’s usually shy when it comes to strangers, but she came right to me.”
Now, the picture-perfect ending is anything but clear, and for reasons that Veselica and hundreds of other American families could never have anticipated. On Dec. 28 Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by American citizens, at least temporarily halting the homecoming of Veselica’s daughter and hundreds of other children waiting to go home to their new families.
“I told her I’d be back for her,” Veselica lamented. “I’m breaking my promise, and that’s heartbreaking to me.”
Advocates for the families believe that the children are being held hostage to petty politics. Putin’s move is widely regarded as retaliation against the United States for pressuring the Russian government to punish human rights violators. The controversy has strained diplomatic relations between the two countries, but its most profound impact is on a much smaller level.
When Veselica first met her daughter, “she had that lost look in her eyes,” she recalled. She could barely walk or talk.
“Within six days, she was almost walking on her own,” Veselica said. “That lost look disappeared after a week. Even a 14-month-old knows you are supposed to have someone who loves and cares for you.”
It was hard to leave her newfound daughter, but Veselica felt comforted by the knowledge she would soon be bringing her home for good. Now she doesn’t know when, or if, that will happen.
But she hasn’t given up hope, and neither has her adoption agency, Christian World Adoption. It’s unclear what will happen with the adoptions in which the families already had traveled to Russia to meet their children, fulfilling the required first visit before the child can come home for good. One Russian news agency reported Thursday that the banned could be delayed for one year.
“It’s a waiting game,” said Anya Rutherford, Russian program director for Christian World Adoption, based in Fletcher, N.C. “We are waiting for clarification about the 35 families from our agency who were already in the process. We are devastated for them.”
All of the children being adopted by American families already had been offered to Russian couples for adoption, Rutherford said: “For these children, this is their only chance to be adopted. These children are being used for political gains and that isn’t right.”
Rutherford said the Russian public is largely opposed to the new law and have held protests against it. “The Russian people understand these children have only one chance to have a family,” she said.
Veselica doubts that these orphans will be adopted by Russian families and worries that these children will suffer lifelong feelings of abandonment. “My daughter has been in the orphanage her whole life,” she said. “These kids have moved from the baby home to the orphanage and switched caregivers so many times. It could be detrimental to their ability to trust later on in life.”
Despite the painful setback, Veselica isn’t giving up on her quest to become a mother. “I have always wanted to be a mother and a wife,” she said. “Marriage hasn’t happened for me yet, but so many children need a mother. I have the ability to love and care for them and I see no need to wait.”
But she’ll have to, for a little while at least. “I have faith that God is going to work this out,” Veselica said. “I believe that God hand-picked her for me.”