Deanna, 17, who was adopted 15 years ago from a Kazakhstan orphanage and grew up in Springfield, had always felt an invisible thread connecting her to a biological family, long before she ever knew they existed.
Her parents had provided a loving home and all the trappings of American life — at West Springfield High School, she sings classical music and does madrigals in musical theater.
But Deanna couldn’t stop wondering about from where — and whom — she had come. Now, as her plane lowered over Central Asia, she was about to find out.
Americans have been adopting children from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America in growing numbers since the 1950s, with the trend peaking in the mid-2000s. The Soviet Union’s collapse opened up new adoption horizons, with many would-be parents spurred on by reports of horrific orphanage conditions in former Eastern bloc nations. After a report on Romania’s grim institutions, Americans adopted more than 5,000 children there, according to State Department statistics. Since 1992, U.S. citizens have adopted more than 75,000 children from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Many have reached their teens and 20s. Some, like Deanna’s brother, Derek, 15, who was adopted from Russia, have no interest in unearthing the past. Others have a strong desire to connect to the places where they were born.
“They’ll take trains, planes and automobiles to get to that spot on Earth . . . the epicenter of where life began for that child,” said Becca Piper, founder and co-director of the Ties Program, a Milwaukee-based organization that arranges birth-country visits for adoptees. The business has grown steadily since it opened 18 years ago and accompanies about 500 families a year to 16 countries. “It sort of actualizes them, like ‘I’m actually me, I didn’t just arrive by an airplane, I’m actually part of this country, I’m part of this culture.’ I guess it’s just a human draw to find origin.”
Not all adoptive families support home-country visits. Some worry that authorities — or even birth families — will attempt to keep their children in the country. Others have planned trips and then canceled them after learning that their U.S.-citizen children are also still considered citizens of their home countries and are subject to their laws, including military conscription.
A report on dire conditions in a Romanian orphanage prompted Chris and Glenn Hulse to adopt their daughter Natalie from Russia in 1993. Weighing just nine pounds at 9 months old, Natalie came from a Moscow institution that looked like something out of another century, with broken steps, exposed electrical wires and archaic practices.