PDT Staff Writer
One New Boston couple just returned from Russia with a new addition to the family, a 1-year-old baby boy.
Bill Hamm, retired from the insurance business, and his wife, Dr. Cindy Hamm, who works at Southern Ohio Medical Center Minford Family Practice, wanted to have children but just weren't able.
“We talked it over,” said Bill. “The Bible talks about taking care of the orphans in the world so we decided to do that.”
Adoption seemed to be the best way for them, and there were options to either adopt a child from the United States or from a foreign country.
They went through a local “foster to adopt” program in Sciotoville and then went to classes in South Point, but after hearing the horror stories of adopting in the United States, they decided to look overseas.
“People come back and claim their parental rights weren't granted and the court system will decide on the parents,” he said. “We heard about a man who was in prison eight years and when he got out, he went to court and got his children who had been adopted. The U.S. favors birth parents whereas Russia favors the child.”
Guatemala, Russia and China were three of the countries they found that were open to adopting a child to couples outside the country.
It took the Hamms about six months just to decide on an adoption agency, a social worker and a country.
The Hamms found the Russian system seemed well developed and found that it is “known to be more honest,” Cindy said.
“There's not as much bribery that's going on,” Cindy said. “In Guatemala, the facilitators changed a lot and they weren't familiar with regulations and there is a lot of bribery.”
The paperwork begins
The paperwork takes a long time, she said. They signed up in 2004 with an adoption agency and the paperwork began, first with the U.S. government request form 1600A.
The Hamms sent the request in April 2004 and it was not approved until October.
The couple had to go to Cincinnati to get fingerprinted and get a background check. One year passed and they had to go back to Cincinnati to get the fingerprinting done again because the process was taking so long.
“Every piece of paper they ask for has to be done in duplicate, triplicate, and as much as six copies,” Cindy said.
Some of the papers had to be notarized, which was done locally, then the couple had to take it to the Scioto County Courthouse to the county clerk's office to get a paper that verifies that the notary was really a notary. Then they had to take that form to Columbus to get an apostilled, a state notary in the secretary of state's office to verify that the Scioto County's clerk stamp is valid.
“You hurry up and do all the paperwork and then you wait,” she said. “Fifty-four pieces of paper had to be apostilled.”
An invitation arrives
They waited and waited because they could not go to Russia until they were formally invited by the Russian government and the ministry of education.
“Once they invite you, it's a hurry-up process,” Cindy said. “They gave us about a week's notice. There's a number they have to send and you have to send your passports in to the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., to get a visa. So you're a little nervous waiting. (We) were on pins and needles waiting.”
They received the invitation just before Thanksgiving, leaving for Moscow on Friday. On Monday, the Hamms had to meet with the deputy secretary of adoption.
Although their appointment was at 1 p.m., they had to wait two hours. Then, the government chose a child for the couple, based on age and sex.
After seeing a picture of the baby, the minister asked them if they wanted to meet him. They drove two hours to a small town that had three orphanages. Finding the right orphanage was another challenge, first going to the wrong one.
In the middle of everything, there was more paperwork, with an “intent to adopt” that once they signed became legal and binding.
“We spent Thanksgiving over there and no one knew what turkey was,” she said. “So, we had McDonald's for lunch and later went to a restaurant and had another hamburger. They know what hamburgers are.”
The Hamms had one week of seeing the baby for an hour or two every day, driving the two hours every day.
They had a driver and an interpreter with them, paying each of them $10 an hour for their services.
brings baby home
On the second trip in February, the final paperwork was completed. The Hamms had to get an adoption certificate, a new birth certificate and go to court with a prosecutor who is an advocate for the child, the judge and a court reporter.
“They decide if you are a good match for this child and they ask you questions,” Cindy said. “They have to say the baby is sick because (he) is being adopted internationally. That is more of a formality.”
But, the first thing they did was go to the orphanage and pick up the baby who just turned one year on Feb. 5. The Hamms had to take the baby to a doctor that cost $300 a visit.
“There is a rule that you can't leave the country for 10 business days after the court hearing,” she said.
Before the trip in February, Bill looked online and found an apartment in the area. They had to be registered when they arrived in Russia. The landlady took the passports and saw that their visas had expired so she kicked them out.
In the meantime, Bill lost his wallet with all his credit cards.
“We had no IDs and no hotel would take us because we had no visas,” Cindy said. “Then, we had to turn our passports in to get our visas extended.”
Victor, their driver, took them home with him for the night and the next day, he used his passport to rent an apartment for them. The first apartment was more for tourists and housed English-speaking people but very few people spoke English in the second one.
“We had to learn a few words and got enough to speak and get juice, milk, bread, meat and vegetables at a little roadside market,” she said. “It was like ‘Amazing Race' meets ‘Survivor' with ‘Big Brother' watching you.”
The police do random terrace checks and stopped them in the car five times. The second time they didn't have their IDs, but luckily they didn't ask the Hamms for them. They just checked the driver's papers.
The weather was minus 40 degrees Celsius, the coldest in Russia since 1979.
“People were on the roof shoveling snow,” she said. “We had to boil water every day. Snow banks were four- or five-feet tall. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
After three weeks, the paperwork was in order and everything approved, the Hamms and little William Frederick “B.J.” Hamm IV left Moscow and arrived back home to Scioto County on Friday, Feb. 24.
“We do plan on adopting again,” Bill said. “From here would be nice, but if not, we'll go back overseas.”