Family Navigates Russian Adoption Ban

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Produced by Melissa Frey
Photography by Kathleen Spencer

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A parent’s love is undeniable and the lengths they will go to protect their children is remarkable.

A Corvallis couple is an example of a true family. But to know why, you must know their whole story. When Russia decided at the end of December to sign a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children, it threw dozens of U.S. families into limbo. Many of those families were in the final stages of adopting their little ones, but with the ban in place some of them didn’t know if they would ever see their children again.

The Vails, from Corvallis, were one of those families, and their journey to complete their family was one of courage, compassion and continuous faith.

Half a world away a bright blue-eyed, blonde-haired, beauty sat waiting in a Russian orphanage, waiting for life’s plan to pan out. Here in Corvallis also sat Kayla, Justin and Braden Vail, hoping to make their family of three a fearless foursome.

“We have always wanted to adopt,” said Kayla Vail. “Every child is born with a clean slate, and if they aren’t brought up in a home with love and care, they don’t get to take advantage of some of the opportunities we take for granted,” said Justin Vail.

The Vails say they were drawn to Russia because some orphans have a bleak future. Some even become the victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. “We felt like if we could hopefully rescue a girl from that, that would be a huge blessing for us,” said Kayla.

It hasn’t been easy. “There’s so many peaks and valleys in this experience,” said Justin.

The Vails started looking for their little one two years ago, and in that time there were countless hours of paperwork, trips to Russia and to court, and even grieving one adoption that didn’t go through. “We had so many moments of doubt calling it quits, and we just never really felt that was the right decision,” said Justin.

Then in September of 2012, word came and the Vails were on a plane to meet their little Elena. We asked Justin about that first meeting: “We anticipated this moment for a year and a half, so I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to prepare for that.”

“It was very fast. They basically brought her out. It was a ‘look her over and tell us if you want her,’ and we were being watched, and it was this strange interaction,” said Kayla. Justin thought, “Wow, she’s adorable! And we gave her a book. We brought toys to interact with her with. She was so overwhelmed by something as simple as a book.”

And they too were overwhelmed. “After signing the paperwork, there was definitely a little fear. Is this the right decision? What are we doing here? This changes our life forever,” said Kayla. Regardless of any fears, it was still their dream to bring Elena home.

But the months to follow would be another test of endurance. The Vails still had to go through adoption court in Russia, more paperwork and a waiting period, so they came back home. This was the point where those peaks leveled off and quickly became a vast valley of uncertainty. In late December 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that would block all American adoptions of Russian children.

“At that point our agency was telling us you passed court, the decision is legal, but as things progressed there became talk of not letting these 46 children. They kept throwing out different numbers, and it became more and more clear that we were one of those that they were not going to allow our daughter to leave the country,” said Kayla.

“Everybody in the U.S., even a lot of organizations in Russia were desperately trying to find out what the implications of this were,” said Justin. We asked Kayla if there was a ever a point she didn’t think she was going to get her. She said, “We did. We did at one point. I remember praying that God would provide a Russian family for her.”

A childless crib sat waiting, but the Vails wouldn’t give up. “There was a roller coaster of emotion again thinking that we would never see her again and days of hope where we felt like ok we can go get her,” said Kayla. And in those days of hope is when Kayla made the courageous decision, after hearing that in fact Elena’s paperwork was complete, it was time to bring their baby home. As a family they decided Justin would stay behind with Braden in case the situation took a turn for the worse. There was a chance Kayla could be arrested, and we asked her where she found the courage to go. “That was probably the most difficult part. There were times when I was thinking this is crazy,” she said.

“It was probably the hardest week I’ve ever been through,” said Justin. Kayla and her father flew into Moscow late on a January day and at first light went to the passport office. “It was amazing. Usually passports take a little while–days, sometimes weeks–and she had her passport in a couple of hours,” said Kayla.

That next step was the orphanage. “She looked up and she saw me, and she started giggling and squealing with joy,” said Kayla. Kayla called Justin and told him she had her. “I wanted to scream like a little school girl,” said Justin.

Then it was off the airport with still the uncertainty of whether they would be allowed out of the country even with the approved travel documents. To her relief she was able to pass through the airport. Kayla says she feels like she was being watched over every step of the way.

And, oh how fast three became four. “My favorite part was Braden, our son, and them getting to see each other for the first time, and it has been exciting and amazing,” said Kayla.

“The worst is behind us. She’s home, and she’s not going back to Russia. She can be part of our family now,” said Justin. “Our hearts are so full,” said Kayla.

But their hearts are also heavy. It’s unclear whether future Russian children will ever get to call Americans mom and dad. “Very sad, the other children in the orphanage that we had met going there and picking her up and looking down at those other faces and knowing that the chances of them being adopted are very slim now.”

If it can’t be Russia, the Vails at least want to let people know adoption stateside or abroad is a blessing. “She has an incredible purpose here, and she is just such a miracle. She was meant to be here, and I am so excited to see why,” said Kayla. “It’s just a miracle. I mean, we have a blog, and we call it our Russian miracle,” said Justin.

And like most miracles, we may never understand the details along the way. What we can understand is this outcome, and once in a great while there will be those like the Vails who will inspire us all to dig deeper and find the courage to never give up hope.

For more information on adopting children from Russia, click here.


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  1. Ron says:

    I guess the Vails didnt qualify or refused to adopt a US child…sad..very sad.
    They should have moved their butts to Russia…LOSERS!!

    1. Myra says:

      Wow, Ron, this is one of the most uneducated and spiteful posts I have ever seen. ALL children deserve a home, regardless of what country they are in. The fact is that to qualify for international adoption is as difficult and often much more difficult than to qualify for US adoption. Also, families are often drawn to different countries for many reasons, including ties (we are ALL immigrants – unless of course you are a Native American), and also knowledge of what future these children have. Look it up sometime, a large majority of children age out of orphanages in international countries to be immediately picked up as slaves or beg on the streets, there is no aid for them. Be thankful that you/your family has immigrated to the US where there is much more hope for your future.

      I applaud the Vails and all those who are still struggling to bring their children home. Your faith and perseverance are greatly admired!

  2. A G says:

    I guess Ron didn’t learn love and compassion for others, how sad, very sad. This awful post should be removed. How could you not be happy for a little girl to have a family. Shameful of you.

  3. Lisa says:

    Beautiful story of an amazing family! Blessings to them!

  4. Dawn Fischkelta says:

    I have been following this beautiful story since the beginning and commend you both on your courage. You meant the world to that little girl from the moment she saw you and you essentially saved her life. Russia was an excellent choice, considering the odds of her having a condemned future. In comparison to the U.S., a Russian orphanage does little to foster a healthy environment that is necessary to nurture a child. There are endless documented accounts, news blips, etc., in regard to the ‘less than favorable’ conditions in which Russian foster children are kept, so those who are quick to judge should educate themselves first (Ron ^). Your decision was well though out. I am so happy for you! Best wishes to you and your family!

  5. Kayla says:

    Everything we do is for God. God forgives Ron and so do we!

    “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

    What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

    Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

    In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

    -Mother Teresa

    1. Donna says:

      Amen… My wise daughter. I am so blessed to have an amazing opportunity to watch my precious adopted grandchild grow into the little girl and woman that GOD intends her to be. She is truly our families MIRACLE and we are so blessed to have this joyful, full-of- life, blue-eyed , curly- haired, amazing survivor in our lives. We love you, Elena

  6. Eileen says:


    I am an adoptions social worker and former foster parent who adopted from DHS. I believe I have the right to judge families and their choices of where they should adopt. And I don’t.

    Each family must choose what path is right for them and why. If you personally have not adopted from the child welfare system, who are you to judge others for the choices they deem right for them?

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