WENDY'S CHOICE

SHE WAS PROMISED SHE COULD ADOPT A RUSSIAN BABY IN EXCHANGE FOR HUMANITARIAN AID. IT WASN'T THAT EASY.

Brigid has since described the hospital as resembling One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest "minus the modern conveniences," but both women were charmed by the doctor, a kindly, smiling woman in late middle age, with painted-on eyebrows and a paper hat. In her journal, Wendy wrote of Dr. Nina, "She's worked hard in life, you can tell, and she has a very distinct and loving way about her."

Through years of authoritarian government and into the current political chaos, Russian citizens have been loath to stick out their necks (especially for strangers), lest they be cut off. Dr. Nina was no exception. She and Violet explained with much shrugging of shoulders and wringing of hands that they were powerless.

Brigid seized the moment by exploding into make-believe tears. She turned to Violet and demanded she translate her every word, then wailed, "Where is your compassion? We can't have babies," she lied--she is single and has no plans of becoming a parent in the near future, but the act was having its desired effect. "You have all these babies who need parents," she continued. "We flew across the world to help you and you don't care."

Wendy and Violet sobbed from the intensity of the performance, and so did a pair of nurses who witnessed the theatrics. Dr. Nina closed her eyes in pained understanding and gave a quiet order to the nurses, who then left for the nursery and returned carrying babies.

Of the seven or eight orphans they brought, some were clearly crippled from fetal alcohol syndrome, others had correctable cleft palates or other infirmities. Brigid held an Azerbaijani boy with a thatch of hair as thick as a Russian fur cap.

Then everyone turned to the sudden vision coming through the glass doors from the baby ward. A nurse cradled a tiny, blond infant--the child Wendy had dreamt about--and handed her to Wendy. "She was barely through the door and I said, 'Oh my God, this is the most beautiful baby I've ever seen in my life!'" Wendy recalls. As if waiting for that moment, the baby came alive in her arms, giggled and cooed, reached out for Wendy's face, and grabbed fistfuls of Wendy's hair.

"All of a sudden, she started laughing," Wendy continues, and she thought, "Why would anyone give up this beautiful child? She looks like a porcelain doll." She fell instantly in love. "It was unbelievable the way we connected, and who would ever believe I would adopt her?"
Tears flowed down every face in the room at the surge of serene energy emanating from the tall, blond American woman and the tiny Russian baby doll.

The child's name was Diana--though Wendy didn't know that--and she had been born with a mild heart defect. Her mother was an unwed 16-year-old girl who wasn't sure she wanted to raise a child, but had not officially given her over for adoption.

Wendy handed the baby back to the nurse, handed over the gifts she had brought to the doctor and nurses. Dr. Nina shoved pantyhose into her desk drawer.

"I will try to help you," she said.
That night, as she recorded the day in her journal, Wendy wrote, "I have named her Andrina," which was the respectful name that Violet used to address the doctor. "She's beautiful, and one day I hope to adopt her. But for all practical purposes, the red tape is as thick as it can get here in Russia, and it will take a very large act of God to get her home."

Wendy had correctly predicted the future.
@rule:
@body:The next day, Wendy and Violet and Brigid met with Dr. Nina and made a deal, not a formal contract by any means, but rather one of those verbal agreements that one doesn't dare put into writing. Wendy was to obtain an ultrasound machine for the hospital, and in exchange, Dr. Nina would arrange for three infants--Andrina, another baby girl named Albina, and a boy named Vladimir--to be made available for adoption. Dr. Nina would do what she could to skirt the usual legal obstacles, which entailed signatures and approvals at two ministries, Ludmilla Fimina's office and the local government.

Dr. Nina dictated a letter granting power of attorney to Violet so that she could legally manage the Russian red tape after Wendy returned to Phoenix. The letter had to be translated into English, typed in both languages, and notarized at the U.S. Embassy. Violet did the translation, Peter's secretary did the typing, and the three women piled into the car to try to get to the embassy before six o'clock, when, as a voice on the phone at the embassy had warned her, the "building closes up like a prison."

According to the clock on the car's dashboard, it was 5:45. The streets were clogged beneath falling snow, but the traffic was dark and silent, as Russian drivers use neither horns nor headlights. Peter's driver was aggressive, veering out into oncoming traffic to pass cars, then swerving back at the last moment. "People were driving up trees to avoid us," Wendy says.

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