Daniel and Sarah Brewer of Hamilton have a dresser full of little girl clothes, an empty bed and a son and daughter who say prayers each night for a sister they have never met.
And thanks to the Russian government’s ban on U.S. adoptions, the Brewer children will have to wait longer to meet 6-year-old Anya, who their parents fell in love with during a December visit to the small-town orphanage where the bright-eyed, energetic girl with the quick smile has spent virtually her entire life.
Like 230 other families across the country, the Brewers are in a gut-twisting limbo: They’ve begun the process of adoption, but the ban — imposed last December in retaliation for a U.S. law sanctioning Russians accused of violating human rights — has effectively stalled their plans and left them missing children they already love. Meanwhile, the children in Russia are left wondering if the people who promised to adopt them will ever come back.
The ban has done something few other issues have: It has unified both parties in Congress. Some 154 senators and congressman have signed a letter urging President Obama to intercede with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the tally is expected to grow.
Last week, it sparked a congressional delegation trip to Russia, where lawmakers including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., pressed the lower house of parliament to let the adoptions be finalized.
Ohio lawmakers are also rallying behind the cause: All 18 members of Ohio’s congressional delegation — including both senators and House Speaker John Boehner, who rarely signs such letters because of his leadership position — signed a separate letter to President Obama.
“Please find a humanitarian solution for these children and these families,” they wrote. Obama and Putin are both scheduled to attend the G8 summit later this month.
“We’re not leaving any stone unturned,” said Jennifer Diehl, 41, of Ottawa Hills, near Toledo, who is fighting to bring 6-year-old Daniil home. She was one of a large group of families who recently visited Washington, D.C., to ask members of Congress to intervene. Among those who responded was Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to make the issue a priority.
“The parents in this process have done everything in their power to bring these children home and remain committed to finding a solution,” Portman wrote to Kerry. “…These children are loved by and have come to know the American parents who want to welcome them into their homes and provide a life filled with promise.”
The ban states that adoptions in which court decisions were made before Jan. 1, 2013, should go forward. But even those in the final stages of the adoption process have encountered problems since the ban went into effect.
Diehl and her husband Jamison met Daniil last summer when a group of Russian orphans traveled to the Toledo area for a two-week visit.
The couple, which has an 11-year-old son, had promised to host the boy for two and a half weeks. But on day two of the trip, Jamison Diehl turned to his wife and said, “This child will be part of our family.”
“It was magical,” Jennifer Diehl said.
The Diehls went to Russia in November, their son John Henry in tow, and told Daniil they wanted to be his parents. Kendra Pinkelman of Toledo sent the same message to 7-year-old Eduard, who she and her husband hosted through the same summer program. The family has readied a bunk bed for the boy, who was particularly smitten with the family’s cat.
Both families began doing all the necessary paperwork, sending it back to Russia for translation. But right before Christmas they got news of the ban. They’ve had only limited contact with the children since.
“What do they know?” Jennifer wonders about Daniil and Eduard. “Do they think we abandoned them?”
The Brewers fell in love with Anya during their December visit, seeing her for the first time on her birthday. She was shy at first — the Brewers were the first visitors she’d had in the many years she lived in the orphanage — but warmed up on the second day of their visit.
They showed her a photo album filled with pictures of their home and children. Flipping through the photos, Anya suddenly ran out of the room. They were worried: Had they upset her? Was she bored? Finally, an interpreter explained: She’d left to tell everyone she had a brother and sister.
“We had four days with Anya, but there’s an immense bonding that happens, just like holding your baby for the first time,” said Sarah Brewer, 32, who is a stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t know all the details about why Anya is in an orphanage, but she does have a blood disorder that requires constant medication.
“To have whispered in a child’s ear that you love them and you promise you’re going to be back for them — it’s impossible for us as parents to give up the fight,” Sarah said.
“To have whispered in a child’s ear that you love them and you promise you’re going to be back for them — it’s impossible for us as parents to give up the fight.”
Sarah Brewer, Hamilton