Russian boys find a new home in Winsted

January 7, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

What a great story Sherwin and Leah Schwartzrock have to share with their two young sons, Yuri, 5, and Ivan, 18 months, as they grow up.

It’s the story of how two people from the United States traveled to Russia, where they found two young boys living in an orphanage. They wanted them to have a better future, so the couple adopted them in the foreign country, then brought them home to Winsted.

It has taken the Schwartzrocks a total of three years to adopt their sons. Both adoptions required two trips to Russia and, the process itself, was very expensive, according to the couple.

But they now feel their family is complete with the recent adoption of Ivan in October.

Of course, the family is making adjustments – to the new baby, to Yuri’s reaction to a new younger brother, as well as the parents’ adjustment in dealing with two children.

The couple has been happily married since 1993. They bought their home on Winsted Lake in 1995, and were content with their lives, without children. They were able to come and go as they pleased.

However, Leah began to feel like it was time to have a family.

They considered trying an infertility clinic, but felt they could spend a lot of money and still not have the child they wanted.

“So, we thought, do we need to have our own children, or just children?” Sherwin said.

Neither of them felt strongly either way, so they began to contact different adoption agencies.

“We looked at domestic, but it was such a long wait, complicated, and lots of scary stories where children had been taken back,” Leah said.

The decision to adopt overseas was finally made when they learned they would get a child in a short period of time.

The “Reaching Arms” agency was the agency they decided to go with, and were given the option of adopting children from Romania, Guatemala, or Russia.

When they were given books of the children’s pictures, the Schwartzrocks thought the children from Russia looked just like them and the decision was made to adopt two children from Russia.

Because the Schwartzrocks had both come from large families, they did not want to raise an only child.

The couple did not care if it was a boy or girl, they wanted the child to be under 2 years old, and in relatively good health, because Sherwin is self-employed and has health insurance which would not cover a lot of major medical expenses for a child.

While preparing the paperwork for the adoption, the Schwartzrocks were sent pictures and videos of four or five different children.

“They showed us a brother and sister, a pair of twins, and Yuri was paired with another girl, who was 3,” Leah said.

When the couple saw Yuri’s picture, they immediately knew he was what they had been looking for. They decided to forget the idea of getting two children and change the paperwork to adopt just Yuri.

“From the time we contacted them it went very fast. I started filling out the paperwork, and until we got him it was nine months,” Leah said.

They were given a travel date for their first of two trips to Russia with a two-week notice. The first trip was to get acquainted with the child.

It is estimated that there are more than 650,000 children who struggle to survive in the orphanage system of greater Russia, with only a 5 percent chance to be adopted by a Russian family.

“The interesting thing that we were finding out from our interpretor is, within Russia, there is a segment that understands the benefits of adoption, and there is a segment that doesn’t want their kids raised in another country,” Sherwin said. “When they are 16, they are asked to leave the orphanage, and given only a stipend. They have an education, but no skill. . . only 10 percent actually go on to lead successful lives.”

When the Schwartzrocks traveled to Russia, they were with other US couples they did not know, who were also planning to adopt children.

At the orphanage, all of the parents waited in the same room while the children were brought to them.

“The orphanage is old, kind of dilapidated, but they did the best with what they had. Each child had their own crib,” Leah said. “There were about 20 cribs in the room Yuri was in. They have this huge play area, and they also feed them on these little preschool tables. Tons of toys, huge windows with light coming in, and plants everywhere. They made it the best they could, and the women caring for them were wonderful.”

Yuri was the first child to come into the room.

“I was so nervous,” Leah said. “They brought him in and he was crying because he was scared. They don’t get one-on-one attention and they took him out of the room – that was something that never happened. He came in crying and they immediately handed him to me. I was a first-time mom and I didn’t know what to do, so I just walked him around. He was just so cute.”

The Schwartzrocks were able to see Yuri every day for five days. He came in crying the second day, but after that, he seemed to adjust to their attention.

“He is a very easygoing child,” Leah said. “He bonded right away with Sherwin. Yuri likes to be entertained, and Sherwin would entertain him with different noises.”

The second trip for the couple was more official and demanding.

“There is just so much stress in traveling to Russia. We had never been out of the country, except to Mexico,” Sherwin said. “You are carrying thousands of dollars on your person which is stressful, and you hear of these awful stories about the Mafia,” Sherwin said.

“The cash had to be in crisp bills, in 100s and 50s all printed after 1996. We split the money between us,” Leah said. “We felt like we were a little illegal,” Sherwin said.

“The money is handed over to the interpretor and the cash is distributed to the powers that need to be in order to get us through the system easily,” Leah said.

The couple appeared before a woman judge in a courtroom and “it was pretty intimidating,” according to the Schwartzrocks.

“She asked some tough and personal questions, and you had to answer. If she approved, then she signed the paperwork, and you got to pick up your child,” Leah said.

So was it a happy ending for the Schwartzrocks? Did everything go well?

“Well is not a word I would use,” Sherwin said.

“We had never been parents before, and we were timid and erred on the side of being too generous. Yuri just picked up on it. Before we left Moscow, in the restaurant, he got to choose what he wanted to eat, which is a first. He had two adults doting on him. It didn’t take long for him to wonder, ‘What else can I get?’” Sherwin said.

So, for a year after the Schwartzrocks brought Yuri home, they adjusted to having their first child, and they put off the adoption of the second child they knew they wanted.

“We didn’t want another child to be too far apart in age,” Sherwin said. “We realized how much Yuri enjoyed playing with other kids – he just craved it, and we live semi-isolated. Our neighbors are adults without children”

For the time the Schwartzrocks had waited to adopt their second child, the Russian adoption process had shut down in Moscow and each of the regions were told to handle international adoptions on their own. Each agency needed to be recertified through the region.

Another year went by and no referrals were coming to anyone.

“We were thinking maybe God doesn’t want us to have another child,” Sherwin said. “The paperwork was expiring and just as it was ready to expire, we got Ivan as a referral and we had two to three weeks to redo this mound of paperwork.”

“For the third time – once for Yuri, the second adoption which expired, and within two weeks for Ivan,” Leah said. “It is crazy. The paperwork is two inches thick and everything has to be notarized with both signatures, then sent down to the secretary of state and they put their seal on it. Then, it has to be sent off to the adoption agency in California.”

This time, the Schwartzrocks were going through “Adoption Options” from San Diego. They knew the drill and prepared for two more trips to Russia.

When they met Ivan, they were invited into his home room to get him. He was crying and someone just handed him to them.

When other couples that were with them were nervous about the crying, Leah told them with a voice of experience, not to worry, “It gets better.”

“We would pick Ivan up every day in the morning and he would cry. Then we would pick him up in the afternoon and he would cry again. The second trip, he had kind of warmed up to us where he wouldn’t cry, but he would not latch on to you, and he wouldn’t even look at us at all,” Leah said.

“When he finally would want to just sit on my lap, that was huge,” Leah said. “Every once in awhile, I would catch him glancing up at me, and then he would look back down. It just broke my heart.”

Now back home in Winsted, when some of the days are difficult dealing with two new personalities in the family, Leah finds herself looking at the overall picture.

“I think of where they would be in Russia right now or what would have happened to them when they turned 16. I look at the kids’ progress – Ivan making eye contact and Yuri speaking English and using huge words. When I see their progress, that is fun,” Leah said.

“It is the overall picture,” Leah said. “To know that they will have a good life here.”

“And through it all, you just appreciate America. We live in the best country in the whole world. Everything works here and people are patient here,” Sherwin said. “They form lines here. There is chaos over there. The airport is a freak of nature and it is just bizarre. Maybe that is their culture, but you come back and say, ‘thank you, God! I am home.’ You just can’t wait to get home.”