Skip to main content
CNN.com /transcript

CNN TV
EDITIONS
SERVICES
CNN TV
EDITIONS

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Encore Presentation: For a Child: A Closer Look at Adoption

Aired May 13, 2001 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY MARCHINI, HUSBAND OF DEBORAH MARCHINI: It sounds corny. But all children come from God. And they come through one avenue or another, it's immaterial. I'm not interested in legacy. I'm interested in a family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All adoptive parents want a family. And each has a different story, a different path they took to find the little person who would change their lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They came to us without hesitation. We held them and played with them. Somehow they just seemed to know mom and dad were here at last.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: This hour, what adoptive parents will do "For a Child."

Good morning. I'm Leon Harris.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Daryn Kagan. I told you I am going to try to get through this hour without crying.

HARRIS: Don't start yet.

KAGAN: I can't promise.

Well, let's tell our viewers what we're talking about. As we've mentioned, this is a special hour of CNN. We're looking at adoption. We started looking into this after hearing about that cross- continental fight over the Internet twins adoption.

And in our research, we just found many people right here at CNN had adopted successfully. Today, through their varied experiences we are going to take a trip through the adoption maze. And experts will join us to inform you about adoption, some how-to's and general advice about domestic and international options. Our Deborah Marchini, Eileen O'Connor, and John Zarrella, familiar faces to all of you who watch CNN. They are all adoptive parents. They are here to share their stories.

We'll also be taking your e-mail questions in just a moment.

HARRIS: That's right. First, we want to take a quick look at some of today's top stories.

It's kind of ironic, we've been talking all this morning -- we're going to talk quite a bit this morning about changing the lives of children. This morning, we've been watching one child whose life may be on the line here. We're talking about the case in West Palm Beach, Florida, the trial of Nathaniel Brazill. We've been watching that all morning. And we will continue to.

And the 14-year-old boy is charged with killing his teacher. And he took the stand again today. He was grilled this time around by prosecutors about the shooting that happened nearly a year ago.

If convicted, Brazill -- of first-degree murder, rather -- the boy could face life in prison with no parole. Right now, they're beginning another round of testimony in this case. We'll continue to watch it. If anything big happens, we'll take you there.

Now, in about an hour, members of the U.S. House are expected to vote on the fiscal 2002 budget. The nearly $2 trillion spending plan includes a $1.35 trillion tax cut over 11 years. Republican leaders expressed confidence that the package will narrowly clear the House. They plan to put it to a vote in the Senate tomorrow.

Grid operators in California are getting ready for another day of trying to scrape together enough power to meet demand. A second straight day of rolling blackouts hit the state yesterday. Power was cut to several hundred thousand customers over a two-hour period.

And it could happen again today. Temperatures soared yesterday. And more hot weather is expected today.

KAGAN: All right, now we turn our attention for the rest of the hour to adoption. There are many reasons that people decide to adopt. And there are many ways to go about doing it both at home and abroad.

We start with our CNN financial news anchor Deborah Marchini. She takes us on her family's journey from two to three.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH MARCHINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sound of a child's laughter is a joyous thing, unless you're unable to have one. Randy and I had been together 10 years when we decided to marry because we were ready to start a family. We were ready, fate was not.

After more than a year of trying to conceive with the medical odds against us, we turned to in vitro fertilization. It was a huge commitment -- daily blood tests and sonograms, three or more injections a day, some with needles as long as a toothpick.

My husband and I made plenty of babies in the petri dish. They just didn't survive their brief stay in the womb.

Five attempts and some $50,000 later, I felt physically sick, profoundly depressed, and certain I would never be a mother. My husband was more philosophical.

RANDY: It sounds corny. But all children come from God. And they come through one avenue or another, it's immaterial.

Going through all these extraordinary hoops just to have a biological Xerox, or near Xerox, of yourself to me ultimately seems pointless. I'm not interested in a legacy. I'm interested in a family.

MARCHINI: Friends who had adopted kindly shared their experience. There is a baffling array of ways to adopt a child in the United States, including agencies and the foster care system. We chose a private adoption, finding a child ourselves with the help of a lawyer.

First, a social worker would come to our home to gauge our fitness as parents, a prospect that led to a lot of anxiety and a lot of cleaning. Fitness established, we had to distill years of longing for a child into a newspaper ad. This ad, the embodiment of all our hopes, would run in papers across the country along with a toll-free telephone number straight into our home.

We would help a pregnant woman with living and medical expenses, but only as much as the court would allow. The birth mother would give us what we wanted most, a child.

For months, we didn't move far from the baby phone, but it rarely rang. When it did, the pregnant women on the other end often had searingly painful tales to tell, explaining why they had to place their infants for adoption. I began to understand just how minute my problem was compared to theirs.

(on camera): In seven months or so, the call came that was to change our lives. She was barely a teenager, seven months pregnant, scared, and her mother had no health insurance. She wanted good medical treatment and a good home for her baby. I like to think she got both.

(voice-over): I was there when Caitlin (ph) was born, a healthy infant with her mother's dimple and her father's nose. Those tiny, perfect fingers grasped our hearts that day, never to let go. Five years later, she can read, write, turn a perfect cartwheel, and turn even the sternest frown into a smile.

What she knows about her adoption is that mommy's belly was broken, so God had to find another way to send her to us. That's exactly what I believe he did.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARCHINI: People tend to view adoptive parents as having done something heroic. But the adoptive parents are not the heroes in this story. That distinction belongs to the birth mothers.

In my experience, pregnant women who place their children for adoption frequently are targets of criticism when they should be praised for trying to do the best they can for their babies. It's an extremely difficult decision, and they deserve a lot more support than they typically get, Daryn.

KAGAN: Deb, thanks for sharing your story with us. You mentioned the birth mother. How often do you think of her, and how often does your daughter talk about her?

MARCHINI: I think of her every day, every time I look at my daughter, something likely to remind me of her. And it's a really pleasant thought. It's a wonderful thing that we have shared. My daughter's too young to really ask many questions about her. She's asked her name. She's asked if she could see a photo. I said, "Wait until you are older."

And once in a while she mentions the fact that she's adopted. She understands it and accepts it and doesn't feel like it's anything terribly different. But I don't think she's fully come to understand it yet. For example, at five years of age, children have no sense that males play any role in reproduction. So she's never asked any questions about her father.

KAGAN: Let's hope. All mothers want to put that one off as long as possible.

I noticed in your piece, which was so wonderful to do your family story, I noticed you chose not to show Caitlin's face. Why did you make that decision?

MARCHINI: That basically was an emotional decision more than anything else, just to protect her privacy. At not quite six years of age, I felt that she said it was OK if we came and took pictures of her to put her on TV. But given the very personal nature of the story, I just felt that we needed to preserve some of her privacy. So we tried to do that as best we could while still telling a story we thought it might help other people to hear.

KAGAN: I appreciate that. Now, this has obviously been a very successful and positive experience for you. And you are thinking about trying to do it again.

MARCHINI: We're in the process of trying to do it again. Unfortunately, I can't tell you too much more than that. But we seem to have been extremely fortunate so far. So we are hoping and praying that she will have a sibling soon.

KAGAN: Absolutely. Our best hopes and prayers are with you as well. Deborah Marchini in New York, thank you so much.

And our adoption special continues now. Two more members of our CNN family who chose different types of domestic adoption, Lori Waffenschmidt, an executive producer here at CNN, and Kelvin Davis, director of editorial operations. Kelvin, who knew you had such a big important title?

They both adopted their children from the foster care system and an adoption agency, respectively. Congratulations, and welcome to both of you. Thanks for being with us.

Kelvin, let's start with you. Actually, I want to mention with both of you, you both have different types of children. In both of your families there are adopted children, or an adopted child in your case, and birth children or child as well. How did you family turn out that way?

KELVIN DAVIS, CNN DIRECTOR OF EDITORIAL OPERATIONS: Well, my wife and I talked even before we got married about the adoption process. And at one point, she was pregnant and she had a miscarriage. And at that point, we decided to pursue the adoption route.

We went into the adoption agency, and six months later we had our son in our home. And so for us, the process was much different than what Deborah went through, especially for African-American child, the availability is lot more -- they are a lot more ready to have children be placed.

KAGAN: That's the message you want to get out there...

DAVIS: Absolutely.

KAGAN: ... that it doesn't always have to be hard. It doesn't have to be expensive. And this isn't just something that white Americans go through. There are a lot of families out there, nonwhite families. It actually could be easier.

DAVIS: Sure. I think traditionally in African-American homes, in the past anyway when my parents were growing up, people just sort of adopted without having to go through the legal process. But now with things changing so much, there are more legal ramifications that you have to go through.

And we did all of our paperwork. We learned so much in the process of the adoption about what we were willing to concede to. We wanted to have a totally closed adoption.

KAGAN: Tell us about this picture. Who is this?

DAVIS: Morgan. Joseph Morgan Davis. That's the first picture that I saw.

KAGAN: Really? Before you got him?

DAVIS: Before we got him. And when I saw him, I knew he was mine. We just fell in love with him right away. The bonding process began immediately. And we never looked back. That was six years ago.

KAGAN: That's Morgan, six. And then you also went and had a birth child.

DAVIS: After we adopted Morgan, a couple of years later lo and behold we found out my wife was pregnant again. And it was a surprise to us.

We were never told that we couldn't have children. But when she came along, Kelsea (ph), my 4-year-old, it was a blessing to us. And we're thrilled to have her too. And my son, he knows that he's adopted.

Deborah talked a little bit about some of the things that they haven't shared with her daughter yet. But our son knows what birth mother looks like. We met the birth mother. We spent some time with her. And we send letters to the agency that they provide for her. We send pictures and we give updates.

We even read my son adoption bedtime stories. And we remind him of that. He talks to us about it. So we are comfortable sharing that information with him so that as he gets older and he continues to ask questions, we wanted to have that connection established so that he didn't feel like he had to do it behind our backs -- or I think the open process is a lot more prevalent now than in years past. And we are happy with the way.

KAGAN: And just make it part of the family story.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

KAGAN: Now, Lori, you and your husband Dan went a route that a lot of people don't consider. And you adopted children who weren't infants.

LORI WAFFENSCHMIDT, CNN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: We had decided a little bit like Kelvin before we even started a family that we thought it was important to provide a home for children who needed it. We didn't even try to have birth children first. We just went to the adoption route right away and were able to get a 2-year-old initially who is now 10.

Then I did have a birth child myself, who is now 5. And then we went back to foster care system a few more times. And I have a 16- year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, and an infant at this point. So I have five children all together.

KAGAN: The Ronan (ph) family has grown incredibly. All of us at CNN have watched it grow. Now, with five kids -- you acquired five kids in about five years, I think.

WAFFENSCHMIDT: Yeah, I didn't really figure the timing. Well, I guess it's been eight years all together, because we started with a 2- year-old, and he's now 10. But in my house, you never know when we are going to get another kid. So my kids, it's all out in open obviously.

Our kids are older. They know birth their parents. They've been through a difficult situation. And we just try to make everybody work together as a family.

KAGAN: What would you say to people who are or maybe not considering going the older child route?

WAFFENSCHMIDT: I think it's something, as you say, people just don't think about. Or they think it's such a horrendous situation they can't deal wit.

There are a lot of really good kids out there who have been through difficult times, varying degrees of difficult times. There's an adopt.org web site where you can check out some of these kids. And they have a whole search engine that you can say, I don't think I can deal with someone with developmental disabilities, I don't think I can deal with this, but I think I can handle that. There's a lot of variety out there. And there's over 100,000 kids who need homes.

KAGAN: I think we're seeing pictures of your kids now. So if you could introduce us.

WAFFENSCHMIDT: This is Nigel and Danny in the back and Matthew in front. And one of the things that I thought is great about the family is that they fight like brothers and sisters, and that's the best sign that I could have that they all get along together as any family would.

KAGAN: Clearly, adoption worked out great for you. Deb Marchini said that they're looking into it again. Would either one of you consider it again, or are your families complete? Let's start with Lori.

WAFFENSCHMIDT: I would consider it again. We need a little breather for a few years maybe. But, again, it's hard to turn away the stories when you see that there are so many kids out there who just need a good home.

KAGAN: Kelvin, you and Darlene (ph)?

DAVIS: Unequivocally done. There will be no more children in the Davis house.

(LAUGHTER)

KAGAN: Well, anyway, you got your boy and your girl. Very good. Davis family is complete.

Well, thanks for sharing your stories. Many other stories ahead. Leon, you take it from here.

HARRIS: Look, if I know Lori and our friend Dan, they will probably consider it in about 15 minutes.

Much more coming up here on this special hour of CNN LIVE this morning. We'll continue our discussion on domestic adoptions with the executive director of the Center for Adoption Support. And we'll also be joined by an adoption attorney. Now, you can join in this morning by sending in your questions to us at our address, morning@cnn.com. And later, we'll take a closer look at international adoptions. Our own Eileen O'Connor is going to open the to her multi-ethnic family, sharing her experiences adopting a daughter in the midst of a Russian coup.

Now, you can also read about another personal international adoption story on our web site And we also have some links that you can find here on our web site. Here we go down here to -- on CNN TV, "For a Child." You click on this story, you'll find more information and links. Just go to CNN.com, AOL keyword CNN. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Joining us now to talk more about adoption issues, including adoption over the Internet and post-adoption are Jim Outman, an adoption attorney, and in Silver Spring, Maryland, Debbie Riley. She's the executive director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education. Welcome to both of you.

DEBBIE RILEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ADOPTION SUPPORT AND EDUCATION: Thank you.

JAMES OUTMAN, ADOPTION ATTORNEY: Thank you.

KAGAN: Jim, let's start with you. You're an adoption attorney but also adoptive parent. Which one of those came first?

OUTMAN: Well, I was an attorney first. But I adopted my son -- or we adopted our son 28 years ago. So I was a couple of years into the practice of law and adopted a bouncing baby boy at 3-and-a-half weeks.

KAGAN: And he's now?

OUTMAN: Twenty-eight.

KAGAN: Twenty-eight. No longer cleaning his room when you tell him to?

OUTMAN: No, he didn't do that when he was under our roof.

KAGAN: When you think back to the days even before you started your adoptive practice, I'm sure you know how many questions people have. Obviously, we have folks watching today who are thinking about adopting but are probably overwhelmed of where do they go first. What would you suggest?

OUTMAN: One thing is -- and several of your CNN family mentioned this -- that they sought out the different options in adoption. And talk to an adoption agency. Go to adoption seminars. There are adoption education outlets all over the Internet, as well as many books now, that can ground a person or a couple in what are the options.

KAGAN: Does it have to be expensive? Does it have to cost you $25,000 to 30,000 to adopt a child?

OUTMAN: No. I noticed on one of the little factoids or whatever that you quoted a "U.S. News and World Report" from $6,000 to $20,000 is the average. And I've seen certainly in that range, a few less than that. Some private, public agencies through state department of human resources and whatever foster care adoptions can be -- there will be no placement fees, especially with special needs adoptions. And that can just be an older child like Lori and her family, may have adopted older children from foster care.

And there were no placement fees involved. So there's no agency fee that can run from $5,000 to 35,000 or something.

KAGAN: So it can get expensive, but it doesn't have to.

OUTMAN: It doesn't have to.

KAGAN: We could speak a whole hour about the topic of Internet adoptions. But obviously, we don't have the whole hour to do that. Can the Internet be a good place to get at least preliminary information, but you want to beware as well?

OUTMAN: It certainly can be a good place to get information. But you must be wary. What you see on the Internet can mask a total fraud. And you don't know who is behind that web site. And you must check out and seek counsel from someone that you can talk to and have advise you.

I like to see peopling leaning with their hearts when they go into adoptions. And they need to have somebody thinking along with them.

KAGAN: To be the rational mind.

Debbie, let's get you in here. You step in when the adoption has taken place. That's not where the story begins. That's actually where it begins. And families need support even after that point, don't they?

RILEY: They sure do. We believe strongly that adoption is a developmental process and that children and families have many challenges along the way, and that there need to be good support systems in place to help them through the -- some of the more challenging times.

KAGAN: You're in Silver Spring, Maryland. Of course, there are adoptive families all across the U.S. Where would be a good place to turn if they're looking for that kind of support if they're not in your community?

RILEY: Well, services are sometimes difficult to find in certain communities. And certainly we're advocating to ensure that across the country post-adoption support services are in place. Certainly, you can try with your adoption agency that you have worked with.

There's been a movement across the country that they are assuming some of these responsibilities in providing the kinds of support services. As shared earlier, there are local support groups. And through the Internet, you might be able to find information as well.

KAGAN: We want to tell our viewers that both Jim and Debbie will be answering any questions you have. So send them along e-mail. Our address once again is morning@cnn.com. And we'll get to those a little bit later in the hour. First, here's Leon.

HARRIS: We're going to get to quite a bit this morning. Don't you go away.

KAGAN: I'm not going anywhere.

HARRIS: You have to stick around too. We've got quite a bit to talk about this morning.

We're going to take a break right now, of course. But after we come back, the journey overseas in search of a child to love. We're going to turn to the topic of international adoptions coming up.

KAGAN: Yes. This is going to turn our attention to our Eileen O'Connor. She takes us to a Russian orphanage where she was on assignment. She found much more than a story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Look at those faces.

All right, let's move on now to international adoptions. Many Americans look overseas when they think of expanding their family.

CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor is among them. Eileen, you see, is the former CNN Moscow bureau chief, and she adopted a daughter in Russia. Here now her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): People adopt overseas for many reasons. Some cite national or ethnic ties to a particular country as an inspiration. Some say they've had difficulties with adoptions in the United States.

DEBORAH MCFADDEN, INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S ALLIANCE: In the United States, we have been more and more pushing communication with the birth mother, and many families say, you know, "I'm -- I'm thankful to the birth mother who has relinquished her child, but I don't want this person to be in my life every day."

O'CONNOR: For me, it was different. The year was 1990. I had a baby, Makalah (ph), who was almost 8 months old when I met her future sister, Marina, at a Soviet orphanage that I was filming for a story on CNN. We were the first Western crew allowed into an orphanage, and Marina's was one of the best.

She was a very spunky 19-month-old who was in a group of older children, but the orphanage director said Marina would probably not be adopted for various reasons. Even though the children were relatively happy, you could see they lacked physical warmth. Even with a spirit like Marina's, I thought the system would eventually break her down.

(on camera): The obstacles were enormous. Soviet authorities weren't yet allowing Americans to adopt. Yet they were allowing other foreigners. It was a pride thing I kept hearing. "We take care of our own." Yet, after many of our Russian friends called and wrote the authorities on our behalf, we were given the OK to adopt and told to bring our papers on Monday.

(voice-over): But that Monday, all hell was breaking loose. There were tanks in the street. A coup attempt was in full swing. Between running after Boris Yeltsin, as he got on that infamous tank, I ran the documents over the barricades to the office two miles away.

Surprisingly, the authorities at the children's court said they would still proceed, and we got Marina a few weeks later. She is a joy.

Most adoptions are not quite as dramatic at that. In fact, most international adoptions are quite straightforward.

Those of us at CNN have adopted all over the world, from Russia like me and China and Korea, even Uzbekistan. That's Mura (ph) with her new sister, Emma. Her name means peace. But all advise find a reputable agency with experience in that country and be prepared to help your child assimilate into what will be a strange culture, the United States.

MCFADDEN: In a family that goes into this -- again, with that idea of "I'm rescuing them, and they should be grateful" -- is missing that this child needs a transition time. They need time to learn to bond and to trust.

O'CONNOR: And there are certain things families adopting overseas might want to consider, like joining an adoption network with families who've also adopted in that same country.

MARILYN SCHOETTLE, CENTER FOR ADOPTION SUPPORT: They should read everything that they possibly can about the country itself and about adoption in that country, and they should contact people in this country who have already adopted.

O'CONNOR: And nowadays a homeland journey is often recommended for children approaching their teenage years with rising self- awareness to help them in their search for identity.

SCHOETTLE: And so the country becomes their heritage and their roots. So it's a very important thing for adoptive parents, whether they go back or not, to really enrich those roots and find people from that country to help the child feel that closeness.

O'CONNOR: It's a trip we still plan to take with Marina.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: Look at that picture. Look at those faces. Here is one of them now. Eileen, you know you're a hero in this newsroom and throughout this network, all of us who know about your story.

I have to ask you, first of all, about this idea of the identity. I mean, have you talked at all with Mura exactly about how you plan on going about helping her maintain some sort of identity or whether or not you will or should?

O'CONNOR: Well, Marina is -- we have talked about this and, in fact, she -- we were talking about going back to Russia in the next year or so. I mean, we're very lucky because we then lived in Russia for a while, and she grew up there and learned to speak some Russian, and also we have her godmother, Lana Bedozoska (ph), works in the Moscow bureau...

HARRIS: Really?

O'CONNOR: ... and is -- and is Russian and keeps in touch with her and sends her gifts that are traditionally Russia -- Russian, and also we have a lot of Russian art that we talk about in our house, and so we try to keep that culture alive, and I think she really appreciates that because it's very much her heritage, and now she's very proud of it. She had mixed feelings, as children do, and, you know, dealing with adoption for the child is an evolving process.

HARRIS: Let me ask you about -- about the emotions that you went through in this process and perhaps the rest of your family as well. How much of this idea of you rescuing Marina from some sort of -- you know, that life in that particular country -- how much of that played inside of your head?

O'CONNOR: Well, my husband and I had actually, when we got married, talked about -- we had both worked with special needs children when we were growing up, and so we talked about wanting to adopt a child, perhaps actually a special needs child, one who might have had a handicap or...

HARRIS: Really?

O'CONNOR: ... or a physical disability, but -- to add to our family at some point, but, in the end, when I saw Marina, it seemed like the system was almost going to be handicapping her.

She was this spunky great kid, and yet, you know, you could see that developmentally, if she stayed in the orphanage, it was going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that she would be affected negatively.

So I wasn't -- I have to say, though, I don't like -- I probably shouldn't have used the term about the system breaking her down. I don't feel like we rescued her as much as she's been really a gift from God to us, and...

HARRIS: Yeah.

O'CONNOR: And she's -- I always say to my husband, you know, she's our gift from Russia because the Russian authorities were very good in allowing her finally to adopt -- us to adopt and -- and have been very supportive since then, and they've helped me actually help other people adopt. So there's a lot of other children that we've helped place with other families, and the Russian authorities have been really good about that.

HARRIS: What about the rest of your families, though, you and your husband's other familiar, your own brothers, sisters, moms, dads, everything? Did -- did you get pressure from them to say -- if you were going to adopt -- I'm sure you discussed it with them. Did they pressure you to adopt someone from the United States as opposed to adopting someone from Russia? Did they talk -- try to talk you out of it at all, or -- or what? I'd like to know about that.

O'CONNOR: No, they didn't. I mean, I think that both of our families were very, very supportive.

In fact, my husband's family -- his sister is adopted, and they've -- and they have been very, very supportive. And, in fact, she's been very supportive in talking to Marina about being adopted at times when Marina has shown a bit of confusion about that issue, and -- and I think that that's been a really big benefit for Marina to have her aunt available.

And my family were very, very supportive. I come from a big family. I'm one of five children, and my -- and there's -- my parents have 13 grandchildren. So their attitude is the more the merrier. They don't care where they come from.

HARRIS: Look, I'm one of five. That's why I only want two. Get through with that.

All right. Stand by there. We'll get back to you in just a minute, Eileen.

We want to have our folks who are sending their e-mails into morning@cnn.com send any questions they may have to you.

We're going to move on and talk this morning about our Miami bureau chief, John Zarrella. He also stood in the path of countless oncoming hurricanes and other news stories that we've covered on this network, but nothing could have prepared him for the turmoil and the joy of bringing twin daughters from halfway around the world. The Zarrella family grew by two a couple of years ago, and here now is John to tell us all about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J. ZARRELLA: This is our family -- me, my wife Robin, Michael, Andrew, Anastasia (ph), and Angelina (ph). The girls came into our lives two-and-a-half years ago now. Pardon the cliche, but it does seem like yesterday. And every day since that snowy day in Russia when we adopted the twins has been a blessing. This is our story.

Miami airport, Friday, October 30th, 1998. At times,Robin and I wondered whether we would ever see this day. ROBIN ZARRELLA, ADOPTED TWIN DAUGHTERS FROM RUSSIA: A dream come true.

J. ZARRELLA: A dream in many ways. It had been nearly six months since this video arrived from Los Ninos, the U.S. agency specializing in international adoptions. On it, two little girls. Identical twins.

Based only on the tape, some basic medical records, and a leap of faith, we decided Anastasia and Angelina should be ours. They were orphans half a world away in a distant Russian City.

But to protect orphans from falling into the wrong hands, the governments of Russia and the United States require extensive paperwork. We were fingerprinted, submitted to an FBI background checks, physicals and AIDS tests were required. We were visited by a caseworker who evaluated our home, even interviewing our 11- and 9- year-old sons.

Now, after six months of paperwork and a year of waiting, we couldn't get there fast enough.

The flight across the Atlantic took us first to Frankfurt, Germany.

(on camera): It's a long trip.

R. ZARRELLA: No sleep.

J. ZARRELLA: No sleep.

R. ZARRELLA: For days.

J. ZARRELLA: Seven hours already.

(voice-over): From there, we flew to Moscow, another three hours in the air. It was Saturday when we arrived. From Moscow, we flew east across the euro mountains. Twenty-one hours and 10 time zones after leaving Miami, we arrived at midnight in Chelyabinsk on the edge of Siberia.

Our first glimpse at the city came the next morning, Sunday, through the double-pane glass of the apartment. Our host for the next three days, Rita (ph), was camera shy.

(on camera): Hi, Rita.

(voice-over): Her apartment was in one of several buildings surrounding a muddy courtyard. Somewhere in the distance, beyond the tenements, was an orphanage and two little girls who were about to change our lives.

Sunday afternoon we finally held them. A caretaker brought Angelina Senya (ph) to us first just up from her nap. Anastasia next. But there's confusion over who is who. A red piece of string tied around Anastasia's wrist tells them apart. Mara (ph), the adoption agency representative in Chelyabinsk, and Mila (ph), our interpreter, tell us we'll figure it out eventually.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will see they are different, but it's hard. When you take care of them every day, you will see.

J. ZARRELLA: They came to us without hesitation.

R. ZARRELLA: Hello, precious.

J. ZARRELLA: We held them and played with them. Somehow they just seemed to know Mom and Dad were here at last.

(on camera): No picture? No.

(voice-over): It was just meant to be. We spent an hour with the girls, then had to leave them. They wouldn't be ours to take until after the Russian court approved the adoption.

The next day, Monday, we spent two and a half 2 hours in court, snow falling as we left late in the afternoon. Now the parents of Angelina Senya and Anastasia Marie.

R. ZARRELLA: New beginning.

J. ZARRELLA: We didn't get much sleep that night -- or any other night for that matter. Up at 3:30 every morning, Robin wrote in her diary. When the sun came up, it was an icy, cold Tuesday. We spent the day going from agency to agency finalizing documents.

(on camera): We started out. We had to go get adoption certificates. Then we had to get birth certificates. Then we had to go and get more passports.

(voice-over): While waiting for the passports to be done, we stopped at a cafe for coffee and pastries. By now, it was too late to pick up the girls. We would spend one more night apart.

Wednesday morning, we were packed and ready. On the way to the orphanage, we stopped at a church to buy pictures of the Russian saints the girls are named after. The orphanage wasn't far.

When we arrived, there was one more event. With champagne, cake, and candy we had purchased, we celebrated with the orphanage staff. Symbolically, this was Angelina's and Anastasia's birthday.

R. ZARRELLA: Let's go bye-bye.

J. ZARRELLA: As we left for the airport and our flight back to Moscow, the orphanage staff looked out the windows and stood in the doorway waving good-bye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: And the Zarrella clan -- or at least part of it -- joins us now live. Good to see you, guys. Oh, look at that. They've got a couple of hams in there, John, I can see.

J. ZARRELLA: Yeah, that's -- that's Anastasia.

HARRIS: All right.

J. ZARRELLA: And that's Angelina over here on the right. And the boys are in school, thankfully.

HARRIS: And you know what? You couldn't deny those boys, man. They look just like you, too. Hey, listen, let me ask you about that. How did you prep the boys for bringing these girls home?

J. ZARRELLA: Robin, you -- you did a lot of that prepping, didn't you, with the boys and...

R. ZARRELLA: Right. They were a part of the process. The social worker made them sign a contract that they were going to be good brothers, and they were part of the whole adoption.

HARRIS: You made them put this in writing?

R. ZARRELLA: Well, that is a commitment that they make, that they're a part of the decision and the future of the new children. So they were happy to do it, and they were very pleased that they each had a new sister coming.

HARRIS: Now so -- did that surprise you at all, to see how acquiescent they'd be?

R. ZARRELLA: No. They -- they knew all along that we wanted a baby sister and another child, and they were really happy with that. They are very generous boys with their energy and their time, and there was no problem. They really enjoyed it.

J. ZARRELLA: They do. They really do, Leon. It's amazing, I think, how the two boys -- you know, one's 13. One's 12. You'd think, at that age, they're kind of going, "Oh, man, I don't want to be bothered around these little girls," but...

HARRIS: No boy I know that age wants a sister to begin with, you know.

J. ZARRELLA: But they take them to the park. They walk them to the park. They play with them in the backyard. They really, really are exceptional as far as that goes, the boys.

HARRIS: Yeah. Now I -- you may have asked me ask Eileen O'Connor moments ago about the idea -- what her family -- what pressures her own family might have put on her in going for an international adoption here. Did either of you experience anything like that? Did you have anybody, I guess, inside your own families try to talk you out of this or -- or talk you into it or whatever?

J. ZARRELLA: Not -- not talk us out of it. I mean, people always say, "Gee, internationally. Are you sure?" You know, the -- you hear all of the stories about the children and "Oh, my gosh, are they going to be healthy?" and this and that? But, beyond that, I -- there was no -- no pressure. I think pretty much everybody told us to go for it, didn't they?

R. ZARRELLA: Right. Everybody was very supportive, and -- and it adds a little extra culture into our lives, and -- and they were much so precious and irresistible.

HARRIS: Yeah.

R. ZARRELLA: There was no question.

HARRIS: Now what about -- we also talked earlier about the -- maintaining an identity or some sort of a link back to their own home countries. How did -- have you guys to decide to handle that particular issue in -- telling them that, first of all, that they are adopted and how much of their past you would be able to tell them?

J. ZARRELLA: Well, we brought a lot of stuff back with us, as much as we could physically carry that was...

R. ZARRELLA: That's right.

J. ZARRELLA: ... part of their city, Chelyabinsk in Siberia, and part of their culture, and -- I don't know if I'm going to keep on -- are you going -- are you going to leave me, Anastasia? And...

HARRIS: Let her go. I know how they are. Let her go.

J. ZARRELLA: But we tried to bring all kinds of things, including the video that you saw that we shot of the girls, lots of mementos from there because, you know, we have every intention, when they get older, of letting them know what their heritage is and their culture and -- right?

R. ZARRELLA: And there was a social I.D. number for their mother if they want search her out in the future. After they're 18, I think, they can...

HARRIS: Well, what do...

R. ZARRELLA: ... contact the agency.

HARRIS: It's early to think about that right now, but what are your thoughts about that, about them contacting them their mothers? Would you urge them to? Would you -- Is that the kind of thing you'd drag your heels on doing, or what?

R. ZARRELLA: No, I don't have any objection to it. I -- they'll know the situation of their country and the mother's life situation and know that it was impossible for her to provide, and we discussed with them how families are created and that God meant for them to be with us, and this was his arrangement, and they came to us through his plan.

HARRIS: That's interesting, Robin, because I would imagine that most mothers, once you do get a hold of one, they -- that's all you want, is you want them to be only yours. R. ZARRELLA: Well, you have to let them go. They make their decision as they become adults, and I don't think they'll give us up to go search for mother in Russia, but that's just an extra element in their life. They'll have even more of an enrichment, maybe from that side of the country, too.

HARRIS: All right. Well, we sure thank you for enriching us this morning.

J. ZARRELLA: It was our pleasure.

HARRIS: Hey, all right.

J. ZARRELLA: And we actually got them to stay pretty quiet.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Can you teach me that trick or teach my kids that trick?

R. ZARRELLA: It's amazing.

HARRIS: All right. Thanks, guys. We'll talk with you all later on. The Zarrella family there. At least in part. Now they're going to stick around. Our correspondents and experts are going to stick around, and they're all set to take your questions on adoption. So send them in now. The address is morning@cnn.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Welcome back to what has turned into a really special hour here on CNN.

We're going to be getting to your e-mails. Once again, the address to send any questions you have about adoption is to morning@cnn.com.

Now, before we get to that, though, we want to bring in an international adoption expert. She is Susan Soon-Keum Cox. She is the vice president of Holt International Children's Services. She joins us now from Eugene, Oregon.

Good morning. We thank you so much for your time today.

SUSAN SOON-KEUM COX, HOLT INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S SERVICES: Good morning.

HARRIS: I want to ask you about this process of the international adoptions, first of all, starting with the cost. you know, we've been hearing of -- our friends this morning walking us through the processes that they went through, but we've been hearing behind the scenes here so many different -- the word is about it costing between $12,000 and $50,000 for this sort of thing to happen. Why does it cost that much money, and where does the money go?

COX: Well, the $12,000 to $50,000 is, obviously, a huge range, and it shouldn't be costing $50,000. There are appropriate fees for services, and one of the things that parents really need to do is to investigate what are their fees going for, and any reputable agency should be very transparent about what those fees will provide.

HARRIS: Are you concerned at all about the Internet being a factor in some of these adoptions? We got this idea of doing this show...

COX: Sure.

HARRIS: ... looking at what happened with that one notorious -- now notorious case of those two -- of those twins.

COX: Right.

HARRIS: Are you are concerned about that happening more and more?

COX: I think the Internet is a wonderful resource, and when you really look at that particular case, the problem wasn't so much the Internet. It was that so many things were circumvented in that process.

So I think it's important to see the Internet as a wonderful resource but also be careful about the boundaries of respecting children and their identity and remember that the Internet goes worldwide, so it isn't just in a restricted area.

HARRIS: All right. Well, then can you give us then this morning, for anyone who is watching right now and maybe even e-mailing us for some advice coming up -- how would you use the Internet, if you were to say to -- if you had a friend you wanted to walk through an international adoption process, how would you use it?

COX: Well, I think a lot of people don't realize that many agencies, in fact, are in need of families. There are children available for adoption, and there are so many Web sites.

One that I think is a very good resource is the National Adoption Information Clearing House, that it's not a placement agency but a source of information, and there are a lot of adoption-parent group chat rooms, and that's unfiltered information and parents just really telling it like it is, and you need to investigate an adoption as much as you would do any other important decision in your life.

HARRIS: Susan Soon-Keum Cox, stay there. We're going to bring in some other people to talk about all of this stuff as well -- Daryn.

KAGAN: To answer all the e-mail that has been pouring in since we put up on our Web site, CNN.com, yesterday. We also want to bring back adoption attorney Jim Outman, Debbie Riley of the Center for Adoption Support and Education, and we have Ms. Cox, of course. Also, two of our anchors and reporters have stuck around...

HARRIS: Thanks, guys.

KAGAN: ... two of our adoptive moms here at CNN, Deb Marchini and Eileen O'Connor. Thanks for staying with us.

Let's get right to the e-mail.

HARRIS: Yeah.

KAGAN: Do we have the first e-mail ready to go?

HARRIS: What's the first e-mail that we've got. Here we go.

KAGAN: Here we go.

HARRIS: I'll read this one.

KAGAN: OK.

HARRIS: "I would like to know if international adoption records are sealed as they are in most states here in the U.S. Also, do you feel adoptees should have an open -- should have open access to their original birth certificates?" That's from a viewer in New Hampshire.

KAGAN: Ms. Cox could start with that one. First of all, are international adoption records sealed?

COX: Actually, that isn't true, and I agree fully with the person who said that adoptees should have a right to their information. I personally did a search for my birth family, and that would have not been possible if records weren't available, and families who look at the intercountry adoption as a way to avoid contact with birth parents -- that is not true. Adoptees have a right to their history and will very much be interested in that as they grow up.

KAGAN: Let's move on to our next e-mail, so we can get through as many as possible. This one is from Larry Mainland in Georgia. He asks, "Do you think society's attitudes concerning adoptions have changed very much over the last -- past 25 to 30 years? In your opinion, is openness a more important issue today than it was, say, five to 10 years ago?" Why don't we let our moms tackle that one.

HARRIS: Yeah. Hey, Deb.

KAGAN: Deb or Eileen.

HARRIS: Go for that one, Deb.

MARCHINI: I've got a feeling that perhaps openness is more important, and that's a good development. Perhaps 30 years ago, it was considered scandalous for a woman who was not married to have a baby, and she tried at all costs to keep it hidden. There was a great deal of shame attached, and a lot of those mothers didn't want the children coming back and disrupting what they had hoped was an incident they'd put behind them.

There seems to be more acceptance in society today of that, and as a consequence, while the birth mothers I think, don't get the respect they deserve in a lot of cases, there is a greater willingness for them to accept, you know, what is a piece of their lives and to have children to come back and look for them when they're old enough to do that.

KAGAN: Eileen, do you notice a difference between your daughter's experience and what your sister-in-law went through as an adopted child?

O'CONNOR: Well, no, because we actually have some information but very limited information and, in fact, the records were sealed in Russia, at least the letter of abandonment from the mother, which gives you an indication of who the mother was.

We were, as I said, one of the first people to adopt, the first America really to adopt, and so we had to petition the parliament, the -- in order to get that letter of abandonment open to us because the United States government needs that in order to grant the visas and everything. But I'm really glad we got it because it does give a clue to how Marina will be able to search out her birth mother in the future.

And I respect her birth mother tremendously. Abortion is readily available in the Soviet Union -- at the time in the Soviet Union, and -- and I think it was -- that it was very brave of her to have Marina, and she felt she was doing a good thing in having the orphanage there, a good orphanage, take care of her.

So I'm really pleased to hear, of the CNN families, how willingness they are to support their child, if their child chooses to search, and I think what's important to recognize is that it's the child's search. It's not us as adoptive parents' search, and I think that's really important to point out.

KAGAN: Debbie Riley, let's get you in here on this because I'm sure you deal with all sorts of issues in talking about adoption with both the kids and the parents in terms of openness and in terms of acceptance. How does your center notice how it's changed over the years?

RILEY: Well, I think it's changing dramatically. I think the children are asking more and more questions about birth families, whether it's domestic or international adoptions, and demanding more information as part of their search for identity and their trying to ascertain why was I placed for adoption.

HARRIS: All right. Let's take -- get to the next e-mail and see if we can get some more in here. What's the next one we've got here? This is from David Hughes. "What sort of consideration is given to the health history of the adopting parents? My wife recently finished treatment for breast cancer, and we are concerned this could negatively affect our ability to adopt in the future."

KAGAN: I think Jim, as an adoption attorney...

HARRIS: Jim, that's a great question for you.

KAGAN: Yeah. HARRIS: Yeah.

OUTMAN: Well, the health history of the adoptive parents -- the best interests of the child are that the child would end up in a stable home and have parents that would hopefully outlive the child.

So agencies are concerned and look into the health of the would- be adoptive parents, but I don't know that an incident of cancer would be an automatic knockout. I would certainly hope not, and I think that's one of those things that you'd dialogue with your agency about.

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, I've got a question, I guess, in reverse about the health. I want to ask Deb and Eileen have you all considered or are you concerned at all about health problems down the road with your children, considering things like now that we know about DNA testing and whatnot, you can screen, and you can probably find out if your -- you know, if there's some sort of -- some sort of thing lurking in your genes somewhere. Are you concerned about something popping up in your children that you may have not been aware of before?

MARCHINI: Leon, I can tell you, you know, from my perspective, it's not something I worry about. My own gene pool isn't so great.

(LAUGHTER)

MARCHINI: I had asthma as a child, I am horribly uncoordinated, and I could list a number of other traits that are not desirable to pass along. Somehow out there, I had this idea that maybe God culled me from the gene pool for a reason.

But, that said, no, it's not something I really worry about. You know, it's a different situation if you know, for example, that a mother drank heavily during pregnancy and there is a possibility that the child may be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is very tremendously serious. Then you have to be ready to deal with a special needs child.

But, no, in terms of worrying about -- about future problems, I'd say she's got to be at least as healthy as any offspring I could generate and probably more so.

HARRIS: You do have the humility gene. We can see that very well.

How about you, Eileen? Did you ever consider that, or is that a problem, or did it ever come up at all?

O'CONNOR: No. You -- no. You know, because -- I mean, with your own children, you just don't know. I mean, with your birth children in the sense -- you know, so with your adoptive child, it's -- it's the same really, and so I'm just like Deborah, is it's not something I worry about.

And, you know, the one question a lot of people always ask me is: Is there any difference between your adoptive children and your birth children and -- in the way that you love them and -- they're all different people just like health wise and emotionally, and you -- you love them all differently, but it doesn't mean you love any one more than the other.

HARRIS: There you go.

O'CONNOR: But, again, I don't worry about it.

HARRIS: Perfect answer, Mom. Way to go. We want to thank our in-house moms here, Deborah Marchini and Eileen O'Connor. Thanks much for coming in and sharing your stories with us this morning.

KAGAN: Happy early Mother's Day to them.

HARRIS: Yeah, that's right. Perfect week for this topic, huh?

KAGAN: Thanks so much.

HARRIS: We also want to thank, Susan Soon-Keum Cox who we had to let go. She was out in Eugene, Oregon. We also want to thank...

KAGAN: Debbie Riley.

HARRIS: Debbie Riley.

KAGAN: And Jim Outman. Thanks to both of you for your expertise. Really appreciate it.

HARRIS: Yeah. Good luck down the road, guys. Really appreciate it.

Now, as we have seen, there are so many issues involved in adoptions. You can check out our Web site and find out a lot more about both domestic and international adoptions. The address, of course, CNN.com. And the AOL Keyword is, of course, "CNN." Check it out.

KAGAN: And that's going to actually wrap it up. That went fast, didn't it?

HARRIS: Yeah, it did.

KAGAN: We could have talked all day about this. That's it for this CNN presentation of "For a Child" -- a closer look at adoption.

I'm Daryn Kagan.

HARRIS: And I'm Leon Harris. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

 Search   


Back to the top