Caught in Russian adoption ban, couple took ‘leap of faith’
BY CYNTHIA WOLF For Sun-Times Media | @cynthia_wolf October 16, 2013 4:04PM
Barrington residents Garrett and Heather Boehm were about a month away from completing adoption of a Russian girl last winter when a ban halted progress. They adopted their son Alek from a Russian orphanage in 2007. | Cynthia Wolf/For Sun-Times Media
After enduring the searing heartache of a premature birth resulting in death, a stillbirth and a miscarriage, Garrett and Heather Boehm turned to adoption to fulfill their dream of parenthood.
The Barrington couple researched their options. Domestic adoption had too great a chance of further heartache, they decided, given the incidences of biological parents reversing course and other common U.S. adoption struggles.
“We’d been through a lot of losses,” Heather Boehm said. “We weren’t sure we could handle that, as well.”
They decided to pursue an international adoption, and they chose Russia. At the time, it seemed to be the quickest route to having the family of which they’d dreamed.
“There are risks for any path toward adoption,” Garrett Boehm said. “It’s really a matter of deciding what risks you’re comfortable with and what you’re not, and then you have to take a leap of faith.”
They leapt, traveling in 2007 to Smolensk, about a five-hour car ride from Moscow, where they met a baby boy they later named Aleksander, who’s been part of their family since the age of 16 months. Now 7, Aleksander was almost as excited as his parents last winter, when they prepared to bring home from Siberia another adoptee.
Instead, the attempt to expand their family has thrust the Boehms into a political firestorm related to the ongoing Russian adoption ban.
On Oct. 3, the couple left for Washington, D.C. It would be just the most recent of several trips to the capital. But during this one, they were to be recognized as Angels in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Sen. Mark Kirk nominated them for the honor for their determined and continued efforts on behalf of themselves and about 300 other families swept up in the Russian adoption ban.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Garrett Boehm said. “At the same time, we’d much rather have our government negotiate a resolution to the ban that has affected families like ours.”
The emotional pain of the past nine-and-a-half months registers on both of the Boehms’ faces.
“Don’t give up on baby Anna,” Alek recently told his parents. The corners of Heather Boehm’s lips curled downward as she recalled her son’s words.
Upstairs in the Boehms’ Barrington home, a nursery awaits, decorated in gender-neutral yellows and greens. Devoid of its intended purpose, it’s temporarily strewn with Alek’s outgrown clothes.
Heather and Garrett Boehm have not given up on Anna. But they have, in the weeks and months since late December 2012, come to grips with the fact that the little girl they hoped to raise is, for now, at least, hopelessly mired in political red tape. As of July — the time of the Boehms’ last correspondence with facilitators at the little girl’s Krasnoyarsk orphanage — she remained a ward of an institution.
They met the girl in November 2012 and fell instantly in love with the then 10-month-old, the Boehms said. They returned home, completed the necessary reams of paperwork and notarizations and shipped the documents back to Russia.
But the day their paperwork arrived, news started flowing that Russian President Vladimir Putin was pushing to ban all U.S. adoptions in retaliation for U.S. passage of the Magnitsky Act, a Russia-targeted human rights bill which President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 14, 2012.
The Russian Federal Assembly passed the anti-Magnitsky Act, including the adoption ban, on Dec. 28, 2012.
At first, the Boehms believed that since their adoption already was under way, they’d be allowed to complete it. Dozens of conversations with U.S. State Department officials, meetings with Russian ambassadors and delegations, and numerous letters and appeals have ensued. To no avail.
The Boehms already had shown video of their would-be daughter at a celebratory gathering of family members, created a welcome-home banner, gathered clothing and prepared her room. Instead of welcoming home their daughter, they were left once again to grieve.
“It was almost as if she had died,” Heather Boehm said.
“You’re put in a very difficult position,” added Garrett Boehm, a Chicago attorney. “Obviously all of these parents want these kids to have a good, safe, loving home. They obviously wanted that home to be theirs. But because of these international hijinks, that opportunity has been robbed from them.”
Garrett Boehm said numerous letters to President Obama have gone unanswered, and he believes the government has not done what it could to resolve the stalemate.
Members of the affected families held a press conference in Washington in May, just before the G8 Summit. Garrett Boehm worked his phone for hours almost nightly in March and April, talking with others similarly affected, planning and composing letters and proposals, trying every avenue they could think of to effect change.
“We took out a full-page ad in The Hill, a Congressional newspaper, all in an effort to keep it in the public eye and in an effort to get members of Congress and the president to give it the attention it deserved,” he said.
“Seventy-five senators and another 80 or so representatives signed onto a letter asking Obama to take up the issue at the G8,” he continued. “We got no response.”
The Boehms said they are beyond frustrated over the fate of their would-be daughter and so many other children whose chance at a loving home is caught up in the political maelstrom.
“There are 650,000 orphans in Russia,” Garrett Boehm said. “Only about 10,000 are being adopted every year.”
While the Boehms are despondent over what’s transpired, they brighten instantly when they talk of Alek.
“We’re very proud parents,” said Garrett Boehm, adding that he looked forward to showing his son around the nation’s capital in the days to follow.
“He loves school,” added Alek’s mom after the Roslyn Road first-grader politely inquired when his parents would be joining him in the den.
“Science and math are his favorite subjects,” added his father. “He’s in the Chess Club.”
Minutes later, laughter erupted as Garrett, Heather and Alek were photobombed by the family dogs joining them in the den.