Scott's advice about referrals... reality will eventually set in...

A few words of encouragement and a few words of caution. Remember that these are my opinions based on our experience and numerous conversations with friends who have adopted from Russia.

First, congrats on your decision to adopt. By asking people who have adopted from Russia for advice, you are doing yourself a favor, but you will also have to sort what you read because ideas may be conflicting, and certainly I don't expect everyone's opinion to match mine.

Be reassured that you will get a child, but there are hurdles which aren't necessarily a bad thing and they can protect you from making a bad decision regarding the health of your child and your experience when you arrive home after reality settles in.

One such conflicting item is Hepititis C. Lots of kids have it over there because they get it from their mothers. I'm not a Doctor, but our Doctor and several other childrens Doctors in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and the sort say if the child tests positive for Hep C, chances are they have it.

This means several things. First, you must be vigilant on any reports you receive regarding a referral. They come with cute pictures and sometimes a video, so you may end up feeling like you are playing God by saying yes/no. You must also decide if raising a child with Hep C is what you want to spend potentially the rest of your life doing. In our case, it was not.

We have seen some parents who are absolutely, totally desperate to have a child say yes to anything - in my opinion it's like marrying the first boy/girl someone kisses. We have read stories of such parents who had open hearts and minds which were open to anything (and blindly so) and lead to anguishing personal and financial scenarios and, ultimately, broken hearts.

The facts are that Russian orphanages are, by definition, a place that unwanted children end up in. Most of the children are unable to be cared for by their parents, some are taken from their parents by the state. For years under Soviet rule, parents of children with "defects" such as Downs Syndrome and other non-curable conditions were encouraged to leave their children to the state to be cared for and "try again" for a healthy child. The Soviet way, so we were told, was meant to keep mothers in the workforce instead of staying home caring for their invalid children.

Times have changed and the wall coming down has had sweeping and life affecting changes on most Russians. It is prudent to be aware that Russian women still give up their children for many of the same reasons. Of the adoptive parents we have met in person and over the internet, the overwhelming majority have had happy, succussful adoptions. Might I add that many have also denied one or more referrals before they found a healthy child and were glad, in the end, that they chose very carefully.

It is suspected that the Russians may be wise to the fact that many US parents are desperate and will say yes to any child. Some parents I have exchanged ideas with have stated the same referral scenario - sick child, sick child, healthy child. Almost as if they were passing off their problem children to foreigners and finally came up with a healthy child (of which there are a great many).

Believe me, there are few greater excitements than to receive that referral package and open it together. Remind yourself that you are making a lifelong commitment and that you will have to live with this decision for the rest of your life, not to mention the considerable expense involved in the process of adopting and raising a child. I encourage you to look at everything, ask many questions, and ask a Doctor to review the information before you make your decision. Never forget you are the customer and you must raise this child when he/she comes home.

In short, treat the referral as an application they are sending for you to approve, not the other way around. I can tell you war stories about what we saw at the US Embassy - desperate parents so happy to have a child, any child in any condition seemingly, and I'm quite sure by now the idealistic newness has worn off and the reality of potentially a lifetime of care for this child has set in. I must say agencies screen the referrals somewhat, but they are not the ones who will deal with the consequences of a poorly informed or hastily made decision.

All the kids are cute, but many have serious lifelong illnesses and are hard to place. Don't fall into the "love at first sight" stuff and immediately accept your first referral as your child. Be careful, get the facts, and then make a decision.  It is common to go through 2 or more referrals to get a healthy child, but those who are patient are glad after they finally brought their little one home. Unfortunately, this is not common knowledge. Remember that you will have plenty of time to fall in love with your child later on.

Sorry if I repeated myself, but I can't stress being careful about your decision. Best of luck to you and your family!