While many Americans were hearing about Russia’s new law banning American adoptions, Wenatchee High School math teacher Mallory Neher and her husband were in a race against time to get their kids out of Russia before it was too late.
Neher and her husband, Steve, wanted to adopt since they first got married seven years ago, but didn’t begin the adoption process until October 2011.
“My husband grew up with a lot of exchange students in his house,” said Neher. “So, internationally adopting sounded really interesting to us. We kind of wanted to bring another culture into our home, so that we could become a part of it.”
After deciding to go through an adoption agency in Seattle, the Nehers had to complete mountains of paperwork, parenting classes, social worker visits and a psychological exam before even getting matched with their kids.
In July 2012, the Nehers were matched to 3-year-old Yelisey and 4-year-old Marina based on their personalities and the information given by the Nehers in their paperwork. After getting a referral with pictures of the siblings and their information, the Nehers had 10 days to make a decision and make their reservations for their first trip to Russia.
The couple spent six days with Marina and Yelisey, then made an official statement saying that they wanted to adopt them. Afterward, they were sent back to America to wait for a court date to be set with a Russian judge.
“That wait between the first and the second trip was probably the hardest part of the whole process,” said Mallory Neher. “Just sitting there knowing your kids are there and being excited to see them again, but waiting and not being able to talk to them is so hard. It felt like forever.”
The Nehers didn’t go back for their court date until November and spent Thanksgiving in Russia. After that, they were sent back home to wait out another 30 days before they could bring Yelisey and Marina home.
The 30-day wait ended and the couple got their official document, giving them custody on Christmas Day. They then had to pick up their kids, fly to Moscow, and spend two days at the U.S. Embassy to get their visas and fly home.
However, a few more hurdles awaited the Nehers. Not only was the new law to ban all American adoptions being voted on at the time, but nearly everything in Russia would be shut down from Jan. 1-9 because of the holiday Russia observes for New Year’s.
The third and final vote on the American adoption ban was on the day the couple received their court document.
“At that point, all of a sudden we were very nervous because we realized if (President) Putin signed it, on Jan. 1, all adoptions were going to be ended right then and there,” said Neher. “So, if we didn’t get our kids and get out of there by the first, we were going to be stuck in Russia and I don’t know what we were going to do.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, a blizzard hit and the Nehers had to beg three different drivers before one agreed to take them to their kids, so they could fly to Moscow.
“This road that we were on has a nickname in Russia,” said Neher. “It’s nicknamed ‘the Road of Death,’ so we were a little bit nervous. Luckily, we made it. I don’t know how we made it, but we made it.”
After picking up the kids and dealing with delays at the airport, they made it to Moscow three hours late to write a petition for the U.S. Embassy to process their visas faster than usual because they only had one day left.
“He [President Putin] signed it within an hour or two of us getting the kids’ visas,” said Neher. “It felt like we were chasing this bill.”
Fortunately, the visas were processed in one day, their plane tickets were changed and the Nehers were home by Dec. 30.
“The kids are adjusting really well and both seem really happy,” said Neher. “We’re a family that speaks Russian now. We speak more Russian than we do English.”
Since the new family has been home, they’ve been getting used to new routines, a language barrier and the joys of parenthood.
“It’s crazy to see how much they learn and grow so quickly,” said Neher. “I think they learn more from each other than they do from the adults.”
Neher will be taking a leave of absence for the rest of this school year, but hopes to return next year.
“I love teaching and I love being here, but right now being home is probably the most important thing to do. The kids deserve to have that one-on-one attention that they haven’t had before,” said Neher. “Taking a leave of absence was a really hard decision for me because I want to be home with my kids and it’s such an important thing, but I do love my students and what I do here at WHS.”
Though getting used to new routines and language barriers hasn’t been easy, Neher said that becoming a parent has been an amazing experience.
“Everybody tells you it (being a parent) is life changing and they’re definitely right. The kids can make you feel like a million bucks with just a simple little hug or something like that just makes you feel so good. But, it can be really hard too. It’s exhausting, but it’s 100 percent worth it.”