A fight to success, despite the press


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In the past 10 years, adopting children from Russia has become increasingly difficult.

Lately, the press has focused on the death rates and abusive charges of international adoption in American families. Thanks to this focus, Americans who are seeking to adopt a child face a major struggle.

The press doesn’t comment on the success stories of adoption. Stories like those of three Decatur families children from Russia – and loved every moment of it.

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“My parents always wanted a kid named Max,” junior Max Waterhouse said.

In the summer of 2000, Max’s parents, Jon and Andrea, met Joy Campbell McKenzie, a former actress who starred in the 1970s kid’s show “The Bugaloos.” They started talking to Campbell who told them that she was in Atlanta for the Little People of America Convention.

The actress started telling them about Max, a boy at an orphanage in Perm, Russia, a small, poor town just northeast of Moscow.

Max admitted that he never considered being adopted.

“I was five and a half, so I can’t say that I knew what hope was then,” Max said.

His parents later found out not only did they find a “Max,” but March 3 was his birthday, which also happens to be the date Jon proposed to Andrea.

“They took that as a sign when they found out,” Max said.

The adoption process itself took about two months. His parents found it very frustrating. As Max put it, it was hellish for them.

In December of 2000, Max arrived in the United States where, amidst all the change, he was faced with a new language he did not know how to speak. Luckily, though, Max had a cousin who spoke Russian and translated for him. He completed two years of kindergarten to help him learn the language and work on his speech.

During the adoption process, Max’s parents found out what the orphanage suspected about Max’s biological parents. The orphanage thought he was put in an orphanage right after he was born. Supposedly, his biological mother struggled with a drug addiction.

Over the summer, Max grew to be very close to a little person from Russia, who Max only knows as Felix. Felix is in his early 20s, but he still lives with his parents because of a lack of job opportunities in Russia. The jobs that people do find are almost impossible to live off of.

Max’s younger brother, Levi, was, like Max, adopted through the Little People of America organization. Unlike Max, Levi was adopted from Boston. Since it wasn’t an international adoption, Max and his family have more information about Levi’s biological parents.

“The family that sent him away had money,” Max said. “They had more money than us, they could have taken care of him, but they gave him up because he was a little person.”

Waterhouse said he can’t understand how a family can give a way a child just because he’s different.

“The kid is going to questions why his real parents gave him up,” Max said.

Waterhouse is very open about his adoption and where he came from, but he sees himself as American.

“I think as you get older, if you’re still in an orphanage, you would hope to have somebody who would take care of you Max said, and be there for you.”

Someday, he hopes to go back to Russia for a mission trip. He is aware of who he is and where he came from, but he said he believes that the culture that comes with being Russian doesn’t necessarily need to be incorporated in America. Max explains that being from Russia is different than living in Russia because, as he put it, it’s not easy to just apply aspects of Russian culture to America and expect it to be the same.

Max and his family don’t worry about how their cultures vary. They don’t focus on what divides them as individuals, they focus on what unites them as a family.


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At six months, sophomore Conor Lacey’s younger sister, Mariya, was adopted from Tyumen, Russia, a town in Siberia just east of the Ural mountains. Conor remembers his parents being gone for a month and returning without Mariya. The adoption process, for the Lacey family, was very stressful. Lacey’s parents waited for six weeks to go back and, hopefully, successfully adopt her. The complete adoption process took 11 months.

“I had no idea what was going on. They just kept telling me, ‘You might get a new sister,’” Conor said.

For those six weeks the family waited with anxiety, but, eventually, they were able to adopt Mariya. Lacey’s parents admitted they decided to adopt from Russia because they allowed younger children to be adopted and it was a quicker adoption process than other countries.

“International adoption provides these children the avenue to a better life. That should be the primary intention of every party involved,” Lacey’s parents said.

The adoption process itself took a huge amount of work ahead of time. The Laceys found Mariya through Christian World Adoption. This particular organization picked out Mariya for the Laceys based on their home study, or a very comprehensive assessment of prospective parents suitability to adopt. The Lacey family knew right away that when they met Mariya, she would be an amazing addition to their family.

“We always told her, ‘Hey, you’re adopted.’ We never kept that a secret from her.” Conor said.

This past year, Conor and Mariya’s parents told them that they found out the names of Mariya’s biological parents, which can be extremely hard when adopting internationally.

At home, the Lacey family made an effort to incorporate Russian culture whenever they could. From international days, where they dressed up in an outfit from their culture, to traditional Russian dancing. The Lacey family made an effort to participate in these cultural events.

“I remember one day my sister asked me, ‘Do you think that one day when I get older, I can go back to Russia and find my biological parents?’” Conor said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, you can if you want to, there’s no problem with that. If that’s what you’re curious about, and if that’s what you really want to know, definitely go do that.’”

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Evan Drenner was adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia when he was 18 months. Drenner’s Parents found him through Small World Adoption Agency.

At a young age, Drenner’s parents tried to explain to him what adoption was. Drenner knows nothing about his biological parents and says he’s never really has thought about it, but he does know that he has other siblings. He’s not sure about how many, but they were also adopted.

“I’ve never thought of finding them,” Drenner said. “I like my sister, and she’s already enough to deal with.”

The adoption process, took about three months, May through July 1996, to become official. Drenner was very young when we was adopted, so he doesn’t remember Russia in anyway. He said that as he grew up, he wondered what his life would have been like if he had stayed in Russia.

“My mom always told me that Russia was going through a hard time,” Drenner said. “So I appreciated being adopted even more.”

He hasn’t been back to Russia since he was adopted, but he hopes to go back someday.

“I was too young to actually leave a life behind,” Drenner said.

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