Text, photos and video by JENG-TYNG HONG
May 15, 2013
Last December, President Putin signed the Dima Yakovlev Act, banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Controversial rhetoric echoing the Cold War era emerged almost instantaneously. While Putin cites years of American families abusing Russian orphans, citizens from both countries see it as a political play. The adoption ban appears to be retaliation on the U.S. Magnitsky Act, enacted just two weeks prior; President Obama threatened sanctions on Russians accused of human rights abuses. Soured relations between the United States and Russia may have political and global implications, but the ones impacted directly by the adoption ban are the families waiting to adopt.
Even before the ban went into effect, the adoption process was long, expensive and discouraging. Michele Quigley, a resident of Long Beach, flew to Russia in 2010. She was working for a non-profit that provided basic services to children undergoing open-heart surgeries. Masha, then seven years old, was lying on the operating table while Michele ran to buy toys and supplies for the Russian orphan. When Michele was getting ready to leave, Masha started screaming in Russian, “No, no, no, mama, mama, mama.” Michele was not looking to adopt at the time, having just lost a stillborn child. When she returned home to Long Beach, she told her husband Tony of Masha. The two were ready to welcome Masha into their family.
After a two-year ordeal, Masha landed on American soil. Soon after, the Quigley’s realized that their new daughter’s health problems were more extensive then they thought. Masha was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition common in Russian orphanages. As such, all of her nerves were damaged at birth. She has optical nerve damage, hearing problems and developmental impediments; her body does not absorb fat, so it is difficult for Masha to grow. She has undergone two open-heart surgeries; the second was unsuccessful. Masha had woken up in the middle of the operation and yanked out her intubation tube. The doctors said they had “medicated for her size, not her spirit.”
Masha’s spirit is what the Quigleys have grown to love. “We went up to visit some friends in Vermont and they’re doctors. And Masha’s like, ‘I’ve told you three times. I can’t hear you. Can you please speak up?’” The Quigleys are learning to handle all of Masha’s health problems and social anxieties. “When I go to the doctors, I say worst case scenario. I just need the worst case scenario,” shares Michele. And for now, everything seems okay. Masha goes to a special school where she works individually with a physical therapist and occupational therapist to help her learn basic motor functions like turning the pages of a book.
“When I’m twenty-six, I really want to be a vet,” said Masha. It’s uncertain if she’ll make it to that age, but the Quigleys are ready to do anything. Michele pays for Masha’s medical procedures out of her own pocket; medical insurance does not cover much of it. “She’s my baby. She’s our family,” said Michele.