After a roller coaster week, Kendra Skaggs sat down to vent on her blog. She had used that space to document her 13 month journey of adopting a young girl named Polina from Russia. But now, with that dream just weeks away from fulfillment, she described her frustration, fear and anger as she watched it being snatched away.
"I have no control. I'm on the other side of the world and I can't hold and comfort my daughter as I wait to hear if we will forever be separated," she wrote in a passionate entry
Her writing seemed to speak for hundreds of American parents whose hopes of adopting a Russian orphan were dashed today when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial ban on adoptions to the United States. The move is part of Russia's retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this month. Critics, including the U.S. State Department, say the adoption ban is playing politics with the lives of children.
Russia is the third most popular country for Americans to adopt from, but in recent years the issue has become a political football in Russia. Americans have adopted over 60,000 Russian children since the fall of the Soviet Union, but Russian officials have seized on the cases of 19 children who died after being adopted by Americans.
In 2010, a 7-year-old adopted boy named Artyom was put on a plane back to Russia alone by his adoptive mother from Tennessee with little more than a note saying she did not want him anymore. The case touched off a wave of fury in Russia and adoptions to the United States were nearly halted.
Just a week ago Kendra and her husband visited Polina at her orphanage outside Moscow. The bubbly 5-year-old suffers from spina bifida, a condition that has left her numb from the waist down and unable to walk. They showed Polina photos of her new bedroom and told her about her new family. They played together, hugged each other, and promised to see each other soon when they returned in January to bring her home to Arkansas.
The adoption ban legislation, meanwhile, had just been introduced by Russian lawmakers. Kendra had hoped their case, which was nearly completed, would sneak in under the wire. She held out hope again after a Moscow court approved her adoption on Monday. All that was needed was a 30 day waiting period before they could bring Polina home.
It appears even that was too late. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, but Russian officials have said even cases of 52 children who are within weeks of traveling to the United States are now frozen. Authorities have pledged to find new homes for them in Russia.
For the Skaggs family, it is agonizing to be so close to bringing her home, yet so far. Kendra fears Polina will think she was abandoned again.
"It's the fear of what she is going to think, that we forgot her," she said in an interview with ABC News.
"She's out there and I can't take care of her," she said, crying softly. "I can't help her. I can't tell her I love her. So it's really hard."
She also worries what will happen to Polina in Russia, a country with scarce accommodations for the handicapped.
"Russia really isn't set up for people with disabilities. You can't get into the metro even to get around because it's just levels and levels of stairs that you have to go up and down and there's no handicapped access to the buildings," Kendra said.
Putin's Adoption Ban Breaks Kendra Skaggs' Heart
Hundreds of thousands of children languish in what are often described as Russia's under-resourced orphanages. Many of them, like Polina, have special needs, which is one of the reasons they may have been given up at birth. Often those children face an uncertain future once they leave the orphanage system when they turn 18.
Kendra described Polina as a fiercely independent, intelligent, and determined young girl.
"She's very loving, very kind. She loves to sing and dance to music and listen to the music," she said.
In a home video that Kendra and her husband took with their cell phones, a beaming Polina proudly counts to 10 in English. In another she waves hello to her new grandparents. An overjoyed look envelops her face as she realizes that she will soon have grandparents. In another she tells Kendra she loves her.
With no way of contacting Polina, Kendra said she wishes she could send her a simple message.
"I would tell her we love her and to be strong and that were going to do everything we can to come back and get her. Everything that's in our power. We want to bring her home with us and have her to be our daughter," she said.
"I'd give anything to go see her and just wrap her in my arms and tell her I love her and to bring her home," she said.
At the end of their last visit, Kendra, mindful of the pending legislation, broke down in tears as she said goodbye. This time it was Polina who comforted her.
"Don't cry mommy, be strong,'" she said.