I’m Joan Oleck, and my daughter whom I adopted in 1996 in Russia is now 26 years old. I ended up adopting Anya through an agency in Russia that had a connection with Spence-Chapin back in New York where I was living, and that connection was open to single women adopting which was still kind of unusual back then. So, I jumped on it. My grandparents had emigrated from Russia, what was then Russia in the nineteenth century and I had always loved Russian culture so it was a good fit for me. I passed all of the screenings I had to do. In October of 96, I traveled to Russia with another couple who were also adopting from the same orphanage. I got a tiny little baby, just five pounds, very undernourished and I named her Anya. And on the car ride back, 200 miles back to Moscow, she was on my lap, somehow I picked up on the fact that she wanted to look out the window. So I picked her up and held her against the window, and she, you know, quieted down and that was a very sweet moment. We were passing a lot of birch trees and a lot of American towels that people hung in their yards to sell for some reason. Anyway, that week will stay in my memory forever.
Ali: What is something that you wish more people knew about adoption?
Joan: That aside from the genetic issues, because sometimes, you know you need to see if you can match on a kidney or stem cells or whatever. That aside from that, that child is as much yours as if you had given birth to her or him. And I just really want people to understand that. You know when Anya was a little kid, kids would come up to her and say, “Well who’s your real mom?” and she’d go “Joan is my real Mom, that’s the only Mom I’ve ever had”, even though she and I were in touch with her birth family and exchanged letters for several years. I want people to know that these children have feelings. I, on the other hand, told Anya as soon as she could understand “you are from a country called Russia, here it is on the map”, and everytime Anya heard Russia on the news, she’d go “Mommy! They just said "Russia, where I’m from!”, and she was always very comfortable with it as a result. I was very fortunate to be adopting at a time when single women were slowly being accepted as adopted parents, and the same thing was happening with gay couples. At the time being 97’ 98’, I wrote a widely disseminated piece for a platform called Solan, and it won a national award, just interviewing singles and gay couples who were adopting, and just about the discrimination against them. To this day, it still remains that some church groups in Southern states block gay couples from adopting which is terrible because a loving family of any kind is what any child needs. It doesn't really matter what kind of family. If there’s love, there’s love.