Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Genice Jacobs

In 2004, Genice Jacobs traveled halfway around the world to Almaty, Kazakhstan to adopt her daughter Jiana. She kept a blog to record her journey, both to Central Asia and to motherhood.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Beginning: Thinking, Planning, and Worrying

It’s been a long, windy, and fortunately not-too-bumpy road since I first began the process of adopting my baby girl almost a year ago. I’ve known for years that I would eventually adopt a child from another country. There are so many children without families in the world, and I’ve always wanted to bring a child into my home and heart and to create a family that could be an inspiration to others.

I longed to be a mom—and I always wanted a daughter.

Even though I knew I was destined for motherhood, I feel strongly that people shouldn’t enter parenthood without careful consideration. I asked myself, Do I really want to do this? Why do I want to do this? How can I possibly do this? Is it at all realistic to take this on without a husband or family nearby? How will I maintain some semblance of balance in my life? What will become of my love life? Concerned friends had told me that I wouldn’t be able to take a shower, go to a restaurant, or to a movie theater for at least four years; my dear friend Annette even suggested that I had to make sure there were groceries in the house on a consistent basis! How was I going to manage this?

I started out knowing very little—virtually nothing—about babies. I don’t think I’d ever even changed a diaper! I spent hours getting up to speed, voraciously reading baby books, taking classes, talking to veteran moms, consulting specialists, surfing baby websites, participating in online discussion groups (including international adoption, single-parent adoption, healthy parenting, and attachment parenting). I struck out to learn everything I could about babies, milestones, and the cognitive, neurological, physical, emotional, social, and special needs of adopted children. I studied international adoption medical and health concerns and read up on strollers, car seats, child proofing, early intervention, infant CPR, child rearing, environmental toxicity, super baby food, organic crib mattresses, preschools…. And the list goes on!

I considered what it would really be like to be a mother. Where did I fall on the spectrum of child-rearing philosophies? What did I want to teach my daughter? How would I nurture her? How would I handle discipline? Education? Childcare? How would I cope with her not drinking enough milk, drinking too much milk, temper tantrums, pulling the cats’ tails, sleeping, not sleeping…?

Once I had made up my mind to adopt, I spent hours researching and considering my various options, agencies, paperwork requirements, health and social issues, and the risks involved in adopting from different countries. I wanted to adopt, but wanted to be as careful as possible. After going back and forth, I finally settled on adopting a baby girl (as young as possible) from Kazakhstan—a country I knew almost nothing about, other than that it was a former Soviet state.

I knew in my heart that I really wanted to adopt—that I had to do it. I could surrender to the fact that parenting is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. (My inner control-freak is still working on the surrendering part.) I was confident I could be resourceful, and I was blessed with an abundance of loving friends and family to lean on for support—and the chutzpah to ask for it when needed.

My daughter and I were going to be just fine.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Getting Ready to Travel

Hurray! After an eternity of worrying and waiting (the former of which I am great at; the latter, not so talented) Across The World Adoptions finally found an absolutely beautiful, precious baby girl for me to adopt.

Moldyr Ospanova was born April 27, 2004. She had dark hair, big, round, dark eyes and a round, pudgy face that just asked to be kissed. Despite her small frame, she looked like a good eater. And (being totally objective and not at all biased!) the consensus among all who saw her pictures was that she’s the cutest and most beautiful baby in the entire world. She lived at a baby home in a small town called Issyk, about an hour outside of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital.

Following an extensive review and interpretation of the four photos, the baby’s measurements, the medical diagnoses by several Russian pediatricians, an evaluation by an international adoption pediatric specialist, and the opinions of my mom and my cousin-in-law Angela (a Russian-trained nurse and American-trained doctor of naturalistic medicine), the baby got rave reviews on health and cuteness.

“Let’s wrap her up and take her home!” I told the agency director.

I expected to be traveling sometime around New Years, give or take a few days. My friend Nanci Tucker, a pediatrician out of San Francisco, joined me in Almaty on January 10th. My friend Delilah, who was on a Peace Corps assignment in the Ukraine, also met up with us for a week.

I forged full-steam ahead, shopping for baby stuff, baby-proofing, and preparing to pack for six weeks in Kazakhstan in the middle of winter. Being the committed non-procrastinator I am, I was in great shape. The baby’s room was painted, I had an organic crib mattress, adorable crib bedding, gorgeous crib, high chair, Pack ‘n Play®, baby bottles, car seat, Baby Björn®, umbrella stroller, baby monitor, a memory book, toys, books, lullaby CDs, and more clothes in the baby’s closet than I had in mine. I had also gotten a good start on collecting gifts for the orphanage—and suffered through my travel shots.

Having kept in mind that I was to be a parent soon, I tried to play, read, work, and go to the gym as often as possible. I thought in three weeks I should be able to relax!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Babies “R” Us

This evening I indulged in my new favorite guilty pleasure—wandering the aisles of Babies “R” Us. I got out tonight with only about $90 in damage, walking away with an assortment of child-proofing tools, a changing pad, closet organizer, and a pair of the cutest little pink slippers. Little-girl clothes are adorable! I can see how they could become addicting, and wonder if there is a 12-step program for infant-clothing shopaholics….

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Family Names and Baby Naming

Several people have asked me how to pronounce “Moldyr.” To be honest, your guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure who chose the name Moldyr: it could have been her birth mother, but just as easily may have been given to her by a hospital worker. Her last last name is Ospanova, which, if correct, is the same as her birth mother’s. I am told that her birth mother is of Asian or partly Asian descent (which probably means Kazakh) and her birth father is Slavic, i.e. Caucasian.

I plan to name my daughter Jiana Hilda Jacobs. Her first name is in memory of my lovely paternal grandma Janet. The middle name is for my adorable maternal grandma Hilda, the most nurturing person who ever lived—and whom I loved enormously. I intend to give my daughter the Jewish name Shandel, which was my grandma Janet’s Jewish name. (The Jewish tradition is to name children after dearly departed relatives—an honor intended to bestow virtues on the child. The names can either be of Yiddish or Hebrew origin. Shandel, is Yiddish.)

Sometime next summer—once I catch my breath—I will arrange a formal conversion and baby-naming ceremony in Los Angeles. The conversion involves ancient blessings and a dip in the Mikvah, a ritual bath. I plan to raise Jiana in the ethical and spiritual traditions of Judaism, along with the wisdom and perspective of Buddhism.

A couple notes on my family history and some interesting parallels:

• My great grandmother, Ida Cogan (a rabbi’s daughter with eight children, and widely acclaimed for her cooking skills), emigrated from Russia to American with her three sons when my grandpa Sol was just two years old. While I may not have inherited her culinary talents, it’s comforting to know that, 100 years later, I am following in my great grandmother’s footsteps as I bring my daughter to America. When the baby is fidgeting on the plane, I need to keep in mind how much harder my great grandma must have had it. For moral support, I plan to wear a t-shirt with her picture on it.

• My grandma Janet and her brother spent about a year in a children’s home in the U.S. after my great grandma Toby died of complications from the birth of her fourth child (She was only 24). My grandma lived in the home until her father’s new wife arrived from Europe and the family could be reunited. When we used to wash the dishes together after dinner, my grandmother would tell me that the scent of Ivory® soap always reminded her of the children’s home. I wonder what—if any—memories my daughter will retain from her time at the baby house.

Sunday December 5, 2004

Yippee! My Invitation Letter Arrived!

Friday afternoon I received word that Across The World Adoptions received my Letter of Invitation from the Ministry of Education in Kazakhstan, and that my adoption visa can be processed. I expect to have my passport and visa within the next 10 days—which means I can pick up my baby girl!

My current plan is to leave San Francisco on December 25 and fly to London to visit longtime family friends June and Michelle Bladon. I will be in London from the 26th (Boxing Day) until the 29th, and will arrive in Almaty, Kazakhstan on the morning of the 30th.

Twenty days to departure and counting down!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

After an eternity of waiting, I’m finally off to Kazakhstan!

I can hardly believe I am actually leaving for London—the first leg of my long journey—tomorrow. I’ve been in such a frenzy over the past couple of weeks, rushing around and handling a million details, that I hardly know which way is up.

The past few days have been especially crazy. Even an expert worrier and planner like myself can run into overdrive trying to calculate what I’ll need to pack for the up to 45 days I might be in Kazakhstan. Aside from a baby of undetermined size and a mom of undetermined ability, I’ll need to include contingencies for impressing orphanage staff, variations in weather and room temperature, potential mealtime mishaps, remedies for an array of possible baby ailments, and a full accoutrement of feeding, diapering, and entertainment tools.

In addition, I’ve had to track down newly minted U.S. greenbacks, converter plugs, travelers checks, and America-themed gifts for 20-odd people I’ve never met.

Just as the last of my nerves and sanity were about to give out, I was rescued by my dear cousin Steven, his wife Angela, and their daughter Sheinah, who came up from Laguna Hills to lend a hand and make sure I remembered to eat. During the first hour of their visit, we (read: Angela and Steven) embarked on baby proofing and transforming my home office into a nursery. After some spirited debates as to which pieces fit where, they worked speedily and effectively while I stood around trying to look like I was helping. In the end, the room came together beautifully.

As I sat with my rather weighty bags, counting the hours to departure, I took pride in my beautifully decorated nursery, the culmination of a year of combing baby stores. I am finally ready for baby.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Cheers from London!

I had such a great time in London these past three days with my dear old friends June and Michelle. My parents and I met the Bladon family 26 years ago at a hotel in Palm Springs and my mom and June have been close friends ever since. The last time I saw them in London was in 1986, during my first backpacking tour around Europe.

June, Michelle, and Michelle’s boyfriend Pasquale treated me like royalty, and it was wonderful to catch up. June is an absolutely fabulous chef and baker: homemade merengue with fresh cream and raspberries, minced pies, pasta, hors d’ouevres…. Thanks to June’s culinary abilities and my healthy appetite, I’ve recovered the three pounds I lost in my last week of pre-travel stomach upset.

Besides eating myself silly, I also got to see some London sites. Walking arm in arm (very British), June and I hit Marks and Spencer, Mothercare (for baby wear), and some other shops so I could get a full dose of London’s after-Christmas-sale insanity. We enjoyed British soaps on the telly, spent an evening drinking mulled wine and watching ice skaters at Hampton Court Palace, and I went into downtown London to visit the Tate Modern and take in the city. It was a great few days.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Snovom Godom (Happy New Year) from Almaty, Kazakhstan

I arrived safely (but exhausted) in Kazakhstan. I had a great send-off from London and an easy flight. There were only 32 people on the leg from London to Yekaterinburg, Russia, and only 20 from Russia to Almaty. It was such a thrill to look out the window of the airplane in Yekaterinburg and see all these Russians in big furry hats fixing the plane. I’ve always been so intrigued by Russia; it was amazing to finally set down on its soil—even if that just meant the tarmac.

I was met at the Almaty airport by my adoption facilitator Aigul and my translator Anastasia, who took me to the apartment I am sharing with Abdul and Rahilla Amani, an American couple adopting a baby boy and girl here. My friend Delilah flew in two hours later and joined us. We went to the bank, changed $8,000 in travelers checks, and paid the remainder of the adoption fee. Then we drove to the small town of Issyk to visit the baby house and meet the baby. It was exciting to finally be traveling to Issyk, but I was so tired I had a hard time keeping my eyes open.

I loved what I saw of Kazakhstan. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Almaty is quiet, beautiful, very cosmopolitan and fashionable. There are so many upscale stores—Yves St. Laurent, Brioni—that I don’t know how anyone can afford to shop here. The average weekly salary in Kazakhstan is just $300.

Issyk on the other hand, is a different world: it feels as if I’ve traveled back in time. The people here are very beautiful and exotic-looking with their mix of Russian and Asian features.

Finally, I met the baby. She was beautiful, active, and curious. She seems to be developing on track: racing across the floor in a baby walker and babbling a bit (“ba ba ba ba”). She also appears to have a low tolerance for boredom (does that remind you of anyone?) and likes toys that make noise. She’s not as into stuffed animals—and she doesn’t like to be put down!

The baby house, what I saw of it (just the hallway and a few waiting rooms), is very clean, and the caretakers seem to be very loving and attentive. Before meeting the baby, I had an interview where I was asked why I wanted to adopt, how I was going to support and care for the child—and why I was still single! (I responded that I hadn’t given up hope.)

Saturday, January 1, 2005

The Baby and Life in Almaty

I wasn’t able to post as much as I would’ve liked to as everything in Almaty was closed for the past two days. I also wasn’t able to go to the orphanage over the New Years holiday—I think because the orphanage staff is downsized during the holiday. (I was allowed to count the missed days towards my bonding period.)

I believe there is a good chance that I will gain temporary custody tomorrow—which is absolutely the scariest thing I can imagine! Since we are working with a regional orphanage (as opposed to a city-run orphanage) the rules seem to be a lot more flexible. For instance, my travel partners, the Amanis, who are adopting two children from the city orphanage, arrived two weeks before me, had their court appearance, and have been granted their adoption, but still have to wait another two weeks to receive custody. I’ll probably get custody a full month before they do!

The million-dollar question is, what does one do all day with a very small child in the middle of winter? It’s ironic that with all the efforts I made to child-proof and prepare my house, I will spend my first three or four weeks caring for the baby without the benefit of a crib, changing table, playpen, or highchair. I’m not sure how I’m going to get to post to my blog with a baby on my lap.

In the meantime, I love Almaty. The city is much more modern and sophisticated than I ever imagined. It is also extremely fashionable. The stores here surpass those in San Francisco by far, and rival what Beverly Hills, Manhattan, Paris, or Milan. The people in Almaty dress very nicely: fur coats and hats. I love people-watching and have surreptitiously taken a lot of candid pictures.

On the other hand, I could definitely leave the food. While there are a few nice, western-style restaurants, by and large Russian food is very, very greasy and the diet consists mostly of bread, meat, and potatoes. The other day Delilah and I were in a café and I ordered the vegetable soup: “vegetable” turned out to mean meat and potato.

On the way back from the baby house, we stopped at an open-air market for some fresh bread. It was a country market, with vendors selling fresh vegetables, meat, baked goods, and other products. I felt like I was traveling back in time to one of my ancestral villages in Belarus. The experience was truly one of the greatest moments of my life.

Kazakhstan is one of the neatest places I’ve ever traveled to—right up there with Nepal, Thailand, and Egypt, although Kazakhstan is by far less touristy. As a result, it retains quite a bit of authentic charm and feels very relaxed. Because Almaty is so nice and well kempt, Kazakhstan it seem like a poor country. I’ve only seen a handful of people begging on the street and only one apparently hungover person (on New Year’s day)—way fewer than you would find in San Francisco. I feel comfortable and safe walking here.

New Years in Kazakhstan is very festive, and is celebrated similar to our Christmas, with Santa Claus and family visits. Delilah, Rahilla, Abdul, and I had planned to go out to dinner to celebrate, but all the restaurants were closed. We ended up buying food at the market, cooking dinner, and watching television in our apartment. Yesterday (New Years Day), Delilah and I spent the day roaming around the city and were able to visit the Mosque and Zenkov Cathedral, where I said my New Year prayers. Everything in town was closed, except for a few jewelry stores. I presume they were open to cater to newly engaged couples.

I wrote this in the Ramstore, an upscale shopping center. We had intended to go to the Central Museum, but it was closed today, so we popped in here. Since this may be my last day of life as I know it, I was hoping to get in as much sightseeing as possible. Later, we’re planning to hit the Arasan Bath House for a dip in the hot pools, a steam bath, and a much-needed massage.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Keeping the Baby from Crying

Now that I have caught up from jet-lag, it has occurred to me that virtually no one here speaks English—and that very few signs are comprehensible to me. I’ve been sort of coasting up until now, having had the benefit of two translators and Delilah, who, after her extensive Peace Corps language training and a year and a half in the Ukraine, speaks Russian quite well. It should be a bit more challenging once she leaves on December 6, but I’m not too worried: I have a good lay of the land, and an easy-to-use phrasebook. As long as I avoid complicated transactions, I should be okay.

I’ve been wanting to get as much sightseeing in as possible these last days before I have the baby full time. Besides walking around town, we’ve visited some of the main shopping malls. Compared with many of the places I’ve traveled, shopping in Almaty is very pleasant. The salespeople aren’t aggressive or intrusive; to the contrary, it appears they would prefer you didn’t buy anything so they won’t have to do any extra work (a great post-Soviet holdover).

I was able to go back to visit with the baby today. She is so cute! I can’t believe how tiny she is. It’s adorable when she grabs my nose. I enjoy being with her, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to keep her from crying. She seems to be able to turn on and off those dinosaur tears at will! Toys that make noises and my singing seem to help (unless she is just being polite). She is also very good with the walker; I will have my hands full keeping up with her!

While I think she is the most precious little thing in the world, I have to admit that after three days she is not yet totally in love with me. I console myself in knowing that this is actually good news, as it means that she is securely attached to her caretakers and is not indiscriminate in forming new attachments. Reactive Attachment Disorder is a huge concern with post-institutionalized children, and I have little worry of that with her.

According to the baby house staff, she tends to be very social and likes playing with the other babies. Although, at this point, I am a bit suspicious that there are any other babies in this orphanage. The halls are empty when we walk in and there are only a few caretakers around. When we visit, we are directed to a playroom and someone brings the baby in; I haven’t seen any other children.

Although the baby house is comfortably heated, the baby is always very well bundled. Today, I counted four layers on top, two on the bottom, plus a fleece hat and two layers of socks on her little feet. From what I’ve heard from other parents, this is pretty typical of baby houses here. I don’t have to worry about her keeping warm, but I am a bit concerned about promoting sensory integration. I’ve read it’s very good for babies to spend some time each day naked.

I believe I will be meeting with the orphanage director tomorrow to ask as many questions as I want about the baby’s schedule, preferences, background, medical history, etc. I should gain temporary custody on Wednesday, and I believe my court date will be on the 12th. I may actually be able to leave the country around the end of the month!

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Breaking Out

I was informed on Tuesday that there was a good chance that I would gain temporary custody that day. I was taken a bit off guard, as I was previously informed that I would just be meeting the orphanage director, but would gain custody the following day—which would have given me enough time to buy baby food, diapers, and bottles. So after a year of fanatically planning Jiana’s first five years of life with me, I was caught unprepared to greet her with the most fundamental necessities.

Prior to gaining temporary custody, I am told I will have a final visit with the baby and will feed her for the purpose of taking photos for my court appearance. The orphanage worker brings in the baby along with her breakfast, which consists of wheat porridge served in a ceramic cereal bowl with a metal soup spoon, and milk served in a ceramic coffee mug. I take a really deep breath and try as hard as I can not to roll my eyes in dismay. I start gently feeding her with the spoon and she takes it, but is a bit cranky between bites. The orphanage worker then comes over, takes the bowl off the table, and puts it under the baby’s chin, and motions that I should just start shoveling it in. I do as directed and she finishes the cereal. Then I gently put the ceramic coffee mug to her tiny lips and try to slowly pour it in her little mouth. As you can imagine, the baby, though well fed, is a complete mess by the time we finish.

Afterward, I had a really nice talk with the baby house’s head doctor. I asked about a hundred questions and told her about how much I want the baby, how I have prepared to take care of her, how supportive all my family and friends have been, how my cousin is married to a woman from Moscow, how my mom plays the dombra in the Los Angeles St. Petersburg Russian Folk Orchestra, and how I plan to send the baby to college and hopefully grad school and all that. She gives the baby rave reviews and seems genuinely happy that I want to be her mom. We are both teary-eyed in the end and give each other a warm hug. It turns out that she is the one who gave the baby the name Moldyr, which means “crystal clear water” in Russian or Kazakh. She chose the name to celebrate her beautiful eyes.

Finally, I took the baby out of the orphanage and drove back in Aigul’s beautiful Mercedes—got to take a girl out in style, you know! Delilah and Alisha, my translator, are with us. We drive back to Almaty to the well-stocked but overpriced western-style Silk Way Market. If everything weren’t written in Cyrillic, you would think you were in the States. I even find one of my favorite staples: vanilla flavored organic soy milk. I insist that we buy some milk-based, iron-fortified formula. I choose the Nestlé brand, which incidentally is the same company that was responsible for the death of thousands of babies in sub-Saharan Africa in the mid 80s. (The company failed to inform its illiterate market that they should use the formula with purified water.)

We got back to the apartment, unloaded the groceries, and everyone but Delilah and I took off. For the first few minutes, I felt sort of dumbfounded when it hit me that I am in charge of feeding and diapering this little baby—something I have had virtually no experience doing. I wasn’t sure of what to do first.

I started by removing the four layers of clothing I was obliged to dress her in to escape the baby house. She is as happy as a clam to be free to move. I took off her little socks so she could get what was probably her first-ever glimpse of her toes.

At this point, she was cooing and smiling; a totally different child than the one I met in the baby house. I think she was beginning to like me while I fell head over heels in love with her.

She had a little cold, was teething, and had diarrhea (from the change in formula), and was probably a bit disoriented from all the changes. The next day, I inquired again about the brand of formula she was used to, and am instructed to feed her cow milk. After one round of arguing, I decide to give in and let Anastasia buy the milk, which I plan to use with my cereal.

The last few days were really a trial by fire as the baby was a bit cranky. The only way I was able to console her cries was by marching around the room. (Apparently, sitting down and rocking her isn’t good enough.) By 6 a.m., I was in desperate need for sleep!

It’s been a challenge to figure out the least destructive way to feed her; I’m did laundry every day due to the fallout. It was a battle at first to get her to eat. The last couple of days, she decided that she could do a better job than me and battled me for the spoon. She was frustrated that the hole on the bottle was too small, but then adjusted. In desperation, we tried the cup method—I am afraid she will do all too well if handed a beer bong in college.

I’m planning on changing apartments around January 10th or 11th, as that’s when the Amanis are getting custody of their babies. Since all the kids have been sick, we thought it would be better to quarantine them. I understand the new apartment is near the Ram Store and Central Art Museum.

Delilah left Wednesday to head back to the Ukraine to her assignment. She was a tremendous help and a lot of fun. Nanci arrives on the tenth, so I’m on my own for the weekend.

All in all, motherhood has been a fun and interesting challenge. I’m truly enjoying it, loving her more and more every day, and feeling more and more like a mom. Yesterday I noticed that she discovered her hand. She was checking it out front and back and then checking my hand out and biting my fingers. She only has four teeth, but they are strong and bite hard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Move to New Apartment and Nanci’s Safe Arrival

We moved into the new apartment yesterday, which is not next door to the Ramstore as I was told, but in a safe neighborhood not too far from the old apartment. This apartment is much, much nicer than the other place and is very nicely appointed with beautiful furnishings and an exquisite crystal chandelier. Once I saw how nice it was I was a bit embarrassed that I had spent 10 minutes complaining to Anastasia about the location. Most importantly, the living room had two very comfortable armchairs perfect for feeding the baby, a couch for changing her, and a strategically placed microwave oven so that I could set the baby on the counter while maneuvering the microwave and kitchen sink.

Nanci, my pediatrician friend from my San Francisco Ski Club days, arrived this morning after a 30-hour ordeal that took her from San Francisco to Portland to Frankfurt to London to Katerinasburg, Russia and then finally to Almaty, where it was so foggy they were almost prevented from landing. (As I wrote this, she is crashed out with the baby.)

After a brief meeting, Nanci agreed with my assessment that the baby seems to be right on target developmentally in terms of fine motor, gross motor, and language skills. She is babbling up a storm and crawling all over the place and getting into mischief. Her only problem is that she is getting over a chest cold and has been a bit cranky. (Which I am praying is only due to the chest cold and has nothing to do with her disposition.) When she is well fed, diapered, and rested, she is usually pretty cheery.

This morning the baby and I were playing on the floor. She was crawling and I was at attempting to do some yoga. She crawled over to me and planted what I think she meant to be kisses. They were pretty slobbery—but among the best kisses I’ve ever received.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons about babies after my first six days with her. For instance, be sure to cover the entire neck area prior to feedings to avoid collateral damage. Do not surrender full control of the spoon if food is on it. Sneak vitamins and medications into baby’s bottle for ease of consumption. Under no circumstances should you ever feed a baby any form of broccoli. It has definitely been a learning curve for me—but I am also having a lot of fun.

Once everyone left the apartment, I dressed the baby up in a snowsuit and took her for a walk around the block to check out our new ‘hood. We wandered into some very nice boutiques, where I found the suede boots of my dreams for a mere $1,000 (guess I’ll pass). I also stumbled upon a nice café, where the hostess showed us to a downstairs room with a Turkish motif and lovely chaise lounges where the baby slept and I could enjoy a club sandwich and a cola. (The menu was almost entirely in Cyrillic and those were about the only selections I could decipher.)

I bought a wonderful oil painting yesterday by a well-known Kazakh artist. It’s quite large and may be a challenge to get back home.

All and all, I am having a great time. I’m a bit tired, but basically okay. And I’m thrilled to have Nanci for moral support and help with baby—I am really hoping to be able to get out more now.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

She’s a Good Eater!

That girl can power down food like a linebacker. I swear I can’t make the formula and warm the baby food fast enough. She’s always hungry. She eats something like six meals a day, at all hours of the day and night. Nanci has suggested that whenever she screams I should feed her, and it seems to work. Here I thought the major expense of raising a child would be education, enrichment activities, and daycare—it turns out to be groceries! I think she’s either ramping up for a big growth spurt or playing catch up due to being slightly underfed at the baby house. Nanci thinks that she’s a little thin for her height. She is wearing size 6-9 months, and she is swimming in all the 12-18 month clothes I brought for her.

The future Ms. Jiana is doing very well on all fronts. She cracks up at seeing herself in the mirror. It’s so incredibly cute. She is also battling me at every meal for control of the spoon. And that girl is strong. When she can’t get the spoon, she tries to stick her fingers in the food or grab at any spillage on the table so that she can wipe her sticky fingers on me. Mealtime is great fun! But, with all due respect to her, the jury is back and it turns out that I am the one to blame for messy meal times and not the other way around. My Kazakh babysitter has been found to possess the special talent of feeding the baby without creating a complete mess of everyone’s clothes. I don’t know how she does it.

This morning, after Nanci’s luggage finally arrived (another mishap on her travels to Kaz), Anastasia and our driver took us all to have the baby’s passport pictures taken. Afterward, we went to British Airways and made a tentative plane reservation home for January 23, (assuming all goes well at court on Monday and my 15-day waiting period is waived). I have mixed feeling about leaving so soon; I really, really miss everyone at home, but I am enjoying being here and I will be sad to leave. It’s ironic that I would have the world’s fastest Kazakh adoption—many parents are here for up to 45 days.

I have to say that my back is totally killing me from lifting the baby so much and from feeding her without the benefit of a high chair (and from dragging around heavy rugs—more on that later). I thought that lifting my cat Jupiter would help build me up for this (he’s also about 15 pounds), but I’m clearly not quite up to the task yet. I am in desperate need of that massage and mineral bath I’ve been meaning to get to for the past week and a half.

Yesterday, I hired the babysitter again and Nanci and I went out to the Fine Arts Museum. The building wasn’t that great, but they had a nice collection of very interesting work. As one might guess, there was a lot of Kazakh ethnic art, which I had never seen before. The museum has a couple of rug dealers and an awesome gift shop. I ended up with two rugs, which I am now wondering how I will get home. I also bought a couple pieces of century-old Kazakh jewelry, which I plan to frame.

Nanci and I took the baby out on the town last night for her very first girls’ night out. Let’s just say it wasn’t a late night!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Bonding

The baby is developing more and more every day. In the last couple of days, Nanci has taught her to give me a high five, wave bye-bye (sort of), and to take a few steps (with assistance). I think she is really beginning to bond with me, as she is not nearly as cranky as she was just a few days ago and is much more responsive to my attempts to soothe her. We even got to sleep through the night last night, which was a huge breakthrough.

Yesterday, Nanci and I finally had the chance to visit the Arasan baths, a somewhat decrepit, very traditional Russian-style bath house. The Arasan turned out to be one of those great things you find abroad but are sorely lacking in the U.S.

Nanci and I arrived at the baths only to find out that, even with Nanci’s knowledge of Cyrillic, we had a bit of a translation problem. Just in time, a Russian woman name Svetlana who spoke good English offered to show us the ropes. We purchased our bath tickets, which entitled us to a two-hour visit for around $4, then bought rubber sandals at a kiosk outside for another $3. We entered the bath and, surrounded by Russian and Kazakh women in various states of dress, were assigned a locker. The baths were an amazing experience, ranking right up there with being buried in hot sand on the beach of Beppu, Japan, my encounter with the leaf-carrying ants in Costa Rica, and dancing with the pilgrims in Muktanath, Nepal. I would’ve killed to take some photographs, but I don’t think that would have been appreciated. Women dressed, had massages, got facials, and enjoyed tea in their underwear; I couldn’t help but notice that most of them weren’t wearing matching bras and panties.

Svetlana (who it turns out works for one of my favorite American companies, Philip Morris) helped us to schedule massages and showed us to the sauna room. There were two sauna rooms: one with dry heat and another with steam. After a week and a half of carrying around a baby, my muscles were so sore that I practically collapsed in the steam room. Later, Svetletia asked if I would like to have a women beat me with a branch of myrtle leaves, which I believe is a Russian bath treatment. I couldn’t think of a good reason why not, so I said sure. The Russian masseuse gave me a good whacking in hot steam, then poured three buckets of freezing cold water over me. I was about ready to collapse (in a good way now) when she was done. I took a dip in the pool, spent more time in the dry room, took a shower and sat in a mesmerized state waiting for my massage. I visited the toilet only to find newspaper in lieu of toilet paper.

Finally, Svetlana came by to say my masseuse was ready for me. The masseuse was a big, strong woman clad in a red shirt, white sarong, and a pink terrycloth headband. She had short bleach-blond hair and was about 80 pounds overweight and perspiring (sometimes on me). But did she give a great massage—perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Nanci was her next victim. After we showered and dressed, we thanked Svetlana and exchanged phone numbers, making arrangements to meet the next day. We then headed to a small snack bar in the main area, where I had fresh-squeezed orange juice and a pastry. I pointed Nanci in the direction of the Green Market and ran off to relieve the babysitter.

Later that night we ventured out a couple blocks from our apartment and stumbled upon a fabulous Romanian restaurant. The baby got cranky after we were seated, so a waitress picked up and soothed her as we ate. (After I started following them around the restaurant, she got the message that she shouldn’t stray more than 2-feet away from me.) The waitstaff was incredibly nice and the food was spectacular.

This morning I ran out and bought a stroller at the Green Market and Nanci and I wrapped up the baby and took her to the Central Museum, where we met up with Svetlana. It turns out that Svetlana’s family is from Issyk, the same town where the baby house is located. We had a great time at the museum and gift shop and then went over to Svetlana’s house for a late lunch with her mother, daughter, and daughter’s boyfriend. We enjoyed a traditional Russian lunch of sausages, salami, mashed potatoes, cheese, juice, vodka, coffee, and pastries. I could go on and on about how wonderful they were and what a wonderful time we had.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Moldyr Ospanova is Now Officially Jiana Hilda Jacobs.
And I’m Finally a Mom.

I was a bit uneasy the night before the court hearing as I was afraid I wouldn’t be up and ready in time. On top of that, right before bed I realized I was down to three diapers. The babysitter was scheduled to arrive at the apartment by 7:30, and it seemed like I created a possible disaster that would reveal to all what an unfit mother I would be.

My insomnia got me up on time, everyone arrived, and we left the apartment by 7:45 a.m. with gifts and cakes for the baby house staff. We drove to the small town of Issyk and back to the baby house, where I had to sign the register indicating that I had visited the orphanage. We had a nice visit with the head doctor and took some pictures. Then the head doctor and Aigul (my facilitator) got in Aigul’s car to pick up a woman from the department of education and the attorney. Nanci, Alicia, and I were supposed to meet them at court. Our driver got lost on the way to the courthouse and we had to stop three times to ask locals for directions. Fortunately, it’s a small town.

We eventually arrived at the courthouse with five minutes to spare before my appointment. As luck would have it, everyone was late. No Aigul, no doctor—no one. We waited and waited and I started getting anxious and impatient (me—can you believe it?) Aigul and the doctor finally showed, but we still waited for the department of education representative and the attorney. We went into the judge’s chambers, which were completely freezing; everyone was wearing coats and gloves. Fifteen minutes later, the education representative arrives; 10 minutes later, the prosecutor finally arrived. Interestingly, everyone involved in the hearing—the judge, the attorney, the education representative, the court reporter, the translator, my facilitator, and I—are all women.

The judge was an interesting character. She had a 1970s haircut, wore a full-length mink coat, and half her teeth were capped in gold. Everyone else looked less intriguing. The doctor and I wore practically the same outfit: black pants, black boots and pink turtleneck sweaters. The hearing convened, with fairly standard questions: how are you going to support and care for this child? Does your family support your decision to adopt? Why did you pick Kazakhstan?

After I answered the questions there was quite a bit of back and forth in Russian. They asked why I was requesting an immediate decision. I had been coached to say the child needed immediate medical attention in the States. More back and forth in Russian. Finally it was translated back that they would wave the 15-day waiting period if we filled out a different set of forms. I was once again forced to do what I promised my father I would never do: sign documents without reading them. (What could I do, they were all in Russian!)

Finally, they read the court’s decision and everyone congratulated me. We then went to the Issyk Hall of Records (another freezing building) to wait for Jiana’s new birth certificate. Four hours later, we were on the road back to Almaty.

The day after, I signed more documents written in Russian and today we visited the medical clinic for my medical sign-off for the American Embassy. It turned out that Jiana has gained one full pound since I gained illegal temporary custody of her 16 days ago. Tomorrow I have my exit interview—and on Sunday morning I will fly back to the U.S.

We’ve been running around the past few days to get in last-minute sightseeing and shopping. I’m getting good at four-wheeling the stroller through deep snow and slush. We have to be very careful to make sure baby’s hat stays on straight, though, as it seems everyone on the street is very concerned when it slips down or when buttons are left open, and we are constantly being stopped by strangers requesting that we fix it.

Thursday, January 20, 2004

Jiana Meets The Graduate

Due to our flight being delayed out of Almaty, Jiana and I missed our connection to San Francisco and were rerouted via Los Angeles. When we arrived in London, we just missed the Los Angeles transfer and opted to spend the night in London and fly out the next day.

As we went through immigration, I noticed Dustin Hoffman and his wife at the next station (4-feet away). I spontaneously decided to make an impassioned plea for a picture. Being from LA, I’m used to running into celebrities and I don’t normally bother them, but with the baby, the adoption, and my camera handy, I just couldn’t resist. As I was trying to maneuver the Babybjörn®, Mrs. Hoffman cautioned me not to bump the baby’s head on the counter and took the camera as the staff at passport control yelled at us for taking an illegal picture in a restricted area.

Other than that, the trip back home was uneventful. Jiana proved to be a very easy-going traveler, who charmed the entire flight staff.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Jiana Meets Team Orange

I can’t tell you how happy I am that we are finally home. I had an amazing time in Kazakhstan, but it was such a long journey—both the trip and the adoption. It’s great to be back at home and to get on with my life. I am so grateful that everything worked out so well (I guess all my worrying paid off!), and that I was blessed with such a wonderful daughter who I adore more and more every day. I am certain my dear grandparents (may they rest in peace) served as our guardian angels.

My mom and her partner Will met us at San Francisco International Airport. They came bearing bialys, chicken cacciatore, Mandelbrot, and various cakes and candies. (So much for my weight!) They drove up from LA and ended up beating me by two days due to my flight delay. Aside from filling my refrigerator with assorted goodies and helping to straighten up, my mother also took on the task of reorganizing my disorganized closets (which I’m all good with) and redecorating my house (which I was less enthusiastic about). As I unpacked, I was also in the process of “redecorating.”

As I write, Jiana is playing in her ExerSaucer®. I was thrilled to be able to escape to the bathroom without having to carry her on my lap. And I’m so thrilled to be able to sit here and write while she entertains herself.

Jiana, Jupiter, and Sunkissed (a.k.a. Team Orange) seem to be getting on well so far. There’s a lot of curiosity and smelling, but no cries or hissing—thank goodness! It would be so tragic after all we’ve been through to have to find Jiana a new home because she had conflicts with Team Orange. I think as long as Jiana stays away from the scratching post, everyone should get along well. As a goodwill gesture, I stragetically dressed her in her “I Heart My Kitty” pj’s.

So far, I’ve adjusted well to being a mom. I haven’t found it to be nearly as tiring or as stressful as people have made it out to be. I am actually more relaxed since becoming a mother than I have been in a long time—probably because I’m busy enough not to have too much time to spend in my head.

On some levels, being a mom is not so different from having cats. Here’s how Jiana and her furry siblings stack up:

• Both wake me up out of full REM sleep to meet various needs and demands, and are equally persistent and persuasive.

• Both will gently hit me to get their points across.

• Both Jiana and cats cry when they want to eat.

• Both hate to take baths. (Although bathing my cats is slightly less traumatic than bathing Jiana.)

• The cats are much neater diners. Jiana’s table manners are more similar to those of our occasional raccoon visitors.

• Jiana is easier and lighter to carry than the cats. Jupiter in particular must weigh at least two pounds more than her.

• Feeding medication to Jiana and the cats is equally difficult.

• Both have low tolerance for boredom and demand my full attention at playtime.

• It is equally difficult to type with a cat or the baby on my lap. No multitasking allowed on either front.

• Jupiter and Sunkissed are much harder to get into the car and are a bit more cranky on driving trips.

This morning I had my first experience of feeding Jiana while Jupiter cried for food. Later, while I was feeding Jiana a bottle, Jupiter was demanding my attention for a round of CatDancer®. I tried to hold the bottle while also navigating the catnip toy. Somehow, Jupiter seemed to sense my lack of enthusiasm.

Overall, I’ve had such incredible great fortune throughout the adoption process. My daughter is beautiful, charming, and amazing—a true joy. I’m lucky the legal process went unbelievably smoothly; I met a woman at the airport who adopted a little girl around Jiana’s age from the exact same baby house and her adoption included a three-week initial visit, during which she was required to travel to the orphanage every day for two hours. She then had to return to the States for two weeks and fly back to Kazakhstan for another 10 days before the adoption was finalized.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Now That We’re Home

It’s taken me a bit longer than expected to get back on track now that I’m home. I was so zonked out this week that I am just now getting around to returning phone calls and catching up with loved ones, and I even managed (totally uncharacteristically) to sleep through dinner plans on two nights. But overall everything is going quite well. Jiana seems to be enjoying her new digs and her great windfall of toys, and most importantly she is getting along quite smashingly with her aforementioned cat brothers, Sunkissed and Jupiter.

Anyone who has spent any time with me and Jupiter (my younger orange cat son) knows that he is absolutely addicted to his CatDancer®, a wire toy with cardboard pieces attached, which is meant to be flung about for him to chase. Jupiter just loves the thing and he constantly walks around the house with it in his mouth, drops it at my feet (or the feet of any sympathetic bystanders) and cries and bats you with his paw until you play with him. It can be hard to get any work done with him around. My first few days home have challenging as I fed and played with Jiana while I attended to cat demands.

Miracle of miracles, Jiana seems to not only have hit it off with Team Orange, but is even beginning to master the thrashing of the Cat Dancer®. She has quickly taken to grabbing the cardboard pieces and dragging it or bouncing it about, and Jupiter seems to like her style. This is huge! To have Jupiter and Jiana entertained at the same time is no small blessing. Jiana is further delighted to see Jupiter jump 3-feet in the air when I thrash it about with him. Sunkissed has also been gentle with the new baby, and is a bit more cautious.

On another domestic front, Grandma Elinor (formerly known as my mom) has completely reorganized my entire kitchen, bathrooms and living room: we’re talking every closet, cabinet, refrigerator, and cupboard cleaned, sorted, alphabetized, and strategically reoriented. It’s been amazing to watch her in action, but a bit tiring to participate. Somehow, I did not inherit my mother’s organization gene (it must be recessive).

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Being a Mom Versus Thinking About Being a Mom

Now that I’ve unpacked, recovered from jet lag, and caught up on my sleep, I have time to reflect on all that has happened over the past six weeks—and how reality has shaken out as opposed to how I imagined life as a mom would be.

Many have asked me how it feels to be a mom. In short: it’s great!

Being back in familiar surroundings, my life doesn’t really feel all that different. Sure I walk around the house wiping up spit and picking up toys all over the place, do 10 times as much laundry, take three times as long to have breakfast, and shower a lot less often than I used to. But, for the most part, having Jiana around has been pretty easy to adjust to.

Jiana is a wonderful little trooper and has been a great travel companion, bunk mate, and teacher. While a bit manic at times, she is quite resilient and generally cooperative. She likes for me to hold her a lot and goes into conniptions if I attempt to put her down for more than 10 seconds, but in general she’s very cheery, bright, a good eater, a sound sleeper, and doesn’t make a big deal regarding the status of her diaper. Most of the time, she is positively delightful: silly at times and very entertaining. We spend a lot of time looking into each other’s eyes and just giggling hysterically.

I feel very good about my decision to adopt from Kazakhstan as opposed to Russia. I believe my daughter received very good care in the baby house, and as a result seems to be very well adjusted. Of course, I worried myself crazy about alcoholism in Kazakhstan and the possibility of prenatal exposure. While I read a bit about this risk in adopting from Kazakhstan, I didn’t see much evidence of alcohol or drug abuse on the streets. But it turns out that virtually all of the children adopted from Kazakhstan are healthy.

I spent a great deal of time strategizing as to what I was going to feed the baby, how I would put her to sleep, and how we would bond. And in the end, those ideals were not as perfectly executed as I had envisioned. But Jiana appears to be very resilient, and it turns out that she doesn’t melt if I let her cry for 15 seconds or if I inadvertently feed her something out of sequence.

As for my trip to Kazakhstan, I regret that I didn’t get to see as much of the countryside as I would have liked. I also didn’t get to see much traditional Kazakh culture, camp out in a yurt, or eat out enough. I didn’t make it over to the Chabad House to meet Rabbi Liftshitz and couldn’t get in touch with the staff of the Feminist League in Almaty, even though their offices were just a few blocks from where I was staying. I guess that all goes with the territory of being a mom. I’m just getting used to that.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Being Home

We have now been home for around six-and-a-half weeks and are just beginning to settle into a schedule. I’ve taken time off from work to bond with Jiana and we are having so much fun getting to know each other. I love being a mom. Jiana has proved to be a really easy-going baby. She eats well, sleeps a good 10-hour stretch, and is generally pretty cheery. She is as smart, curious, outgoing, assertive, and funny as can be. I happen to think she is the most gorgeous child on earth.

The going-to-bed thing was bit a dicey for a couple of weeks as I tried to transition Jiana from sleeping with mom to sleeping in her own room, and then just getting her to bed period. My darling daughter is a fireball of energy and like her mom doesn’t want to miss any of the fun. Last week, I went over to my travel partners’ (the Amanis) house and saw that they had swings for their babies to sleep in. I hightailed it to Babies “R” Us and bought one. It’s been a great way to get Jiana to bed at a respectable hour.

Jiana is making great strides on all developmental fronts—but slobbering is her specialty. She is very talkative and seems to have a lot to say. Mostly “bla bla bla”, “gaa”, and “kit ca”. She is quite fond of her cat brothers, and spends a good deal of her day pursuing them.

Jiana has a pretty varied diet at this point, including formula, organic baby food, as well as tofu, pasta, bananas, avocados, and Cheerios®. My little gastronome is also showing increasing interest in everything I seek to put in my mouth, so I’m having to learn how share. Fortunately, I think I can still justify not feeding her Indian food.

Jiana seems to have become very attached to me. In fact, she never wants me to stray more than a few inches at any given time. Her favorite pastimes include dancing, mouthing things, fondling cat food, sticking her hands in my mouth, and yanking on my curls (ouch).

Just this week, she seems to have officially entered the getting-into-everything stage. She has a proven ability in clearing off the coffee table and climbing halfway up the stairs. (Yes, I am aware that this is a falling hazard and I have gates installed.) I really have my work cut out for me.

Since arriving in the U.S., Jiana has gained citizenship, obtained health insurance and a social security card, and is about to open a college savings fund. (Now all she needs is a job!)

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Jiana Takes Her First Steps

My baby girl is walking! Jiana took her first steps last Saturday at a gathering in memory of my friend and has been doing just great standing on her own. She seems to get a real kick out of taking a couple of steps and then falling into me. What joy on her face! I’m told by veteran moms that this is when the real trouble begins.

Now that she’s a bit faster on her knees and can leverage a stand, she is really going head on with Team Orange. Yesterday, she reached over to Jupiter and yanked on his whiskers, which he really didn’t seem to appreciate. The cats generally tolerate her advances, but everyone has their limits.

Today I finally got around to hosting Jiana’s 1st birthday party. We had 14 adults and four little ones. It was an all-day open house and a lot of fun—as can be expected, I bought way too much food.

Having been home for just over three months and having yet to receive an inappropriate comment from a stranger, I was beginning to think that everyone thought Jiana was homegrown. So there we were in the supermarket last week, minding our own business singing, dancing, and generally making fools of ourselves in the checkout line, when I am approached by a young toe-headed blonde, who asks, “How come her hair is black and yours is light?” I stop, look at her calmly, smile, and respond, “I don’t know…it just worked out that way.” She looks at me, thinks for a second and responds, “You look 19!” I say, “Wow, that’s great! I’m actually 41. Do you really think I look too young to be a mom?” And then, she shakes her head yes and walks back to play with her sister. The cashier and everyone else within earshot were just cracking up.

So much for dealing with the dreaded question—that little busybody made my night!

Next Tuesday, I will be depart for Los Angeles for Jiana’s conversion to Judaism.

And tomorrow will be my first official Mother’s Day. I think Jiana plans to let me sleep in late and then treat me to lunch and a massage. (Hey, a girl’s got a right to dream!)

* * * *

To see photos of Genice and Giana and their adventure,

visit the following websites:

Genice’s photos

Delilah’s photos

Nanci’s photos

For more information on Kazakhstan and Kazakh adoption:

Yahoo Groups: Kaz Single Moms


http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/Kazakhstan/Kazakh.html

 

* * * *

Genice Jacobs is a high-tech staffing consultant living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to being a mom, she traveled to around twenty-five countries throughout Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and the Middle East, and lived in Japan. She is madly in love with her daughter, and is convinced that Jiana is the cutest, smartest, child ever.

Jiana, age sixteen months (at this writing) is a good eater and is walking, running, and babbling in four languages: English, Spanish (thanks to her Guatamalan nanny), Baby, and Cat. She is very curious and outgoing and enjoys terrorizing her cat brothers. Jiana just obtained her U.S. passport, and mother and daughter are conspiring on their next international travel adventure.

Delilah Raybee has recently returned from Peace Corps assignment in the Ukraine and is planning to attend graduate school in the fall. Dr. Nanci Tucker is a pediatrician practicing in San Francisco.

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