Adopted twins see their first American Christmas
December 25, 1998
(CNN) -- On October 30 at the Miami airport, John and Robin Zarrella wondered whether they would ever see this day.
Nearly six months had passed since a video arrived from Los Ninos, a U.S. agency specializing in international adoptions.
On it were two little girls. identical twins. Based only on the tape, some basic medical records and a leap of faith, John and Robin decided Anastasia and Angelina, orphans half a world away in Russia, should be theirs.
"It was hard to imagine the suffering they had already endured," said John. "Our road was nothing like theirs."
At 2 months old the girls were taken from their mother. They recovered from abuse and malnourishment in a hospital and spent a year in an orphanage.
To protect orphans from falling into bad homes, the governments of Russia and the United States required extensive paperwork. The Zarrellas were fingerprinted, and their backgrounds were checked by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. They took physicals and AIDS tests, and met with a caseworker who evaluated their home and interviewed their sons, 9 and 11.
Then came a big break. The Zarrellas could go to Russia to see the girls. Adoption was likely, but not guaranteed.
"After six months of paperwork and a year waiting, we couldn't get there fast enough," said John.
Flying to Russia, they brought three boxes and a suitcase filled with donations of clothing for the orphanage, and another suitcase with diapers and baby clothes for the twins.
They touched down in Moscow, where they piled their luggage in two cars. Suspicious of the packages, a police officer stopped one of the vehicles briefly, looking for drugs.
"Our first glimpse of the city came ... through the double-paned glass of the apartment (of) our host," said John.
"Somewhere in the distance beyond the tenements was an orphanage and two little girls who were about to change our lives."
The next afternoon the family held the twins. A caretaker brought Angelina Kseniya first. Awoken from her nap, Anastasia Marie came next. There was some confusion over who was who.
A red string tied around Anastasia's wrist told them apart. Tamara, an adoption agency employee in Chelyabinsk, and Mila, an interpreter, told the couple they would sort them out eventually.
"You will see. They are different. When you take care of them every day, you will see," Mila said
"We held them and played with them. Somehow they just seemed to know Mom and Dad were here at last," John said. "It was just meant to be."
John and Robin spent an hour with the girls but then had to leave. The children wouldn't be theirs to take until the Russian court approved the adoption.
That afternoon they had an early celebration. Their first stop was a local food mart to pick up vodka and pickles, a Russian tradition. They went to the dacha, or summer home, of their driver Victor.
The next day the Zarrellas spent 2 1/2 anxious hours in court. Snow fell as they left the building, but inside they were warm. They were officially the parents of Angelina Kseniya and Anastasia Marie.
"We didn't get much sleep that night, or any other night for that matter," Robin wrote in her diary.
They spent the following day going from agency to agency to complete numerous documents like adoption certificates, birth certificates and passport applications.
By the time they finished, it was too late to pick up the girls. They spent one more night apart.
The next day on the way to the orphanage, they stopped at a church to buy pictures of the Russian saints for whom the girls were named.
At the orphanage they took part in one final event. With champagne, cake and candy, they celebrated with the staff. The gathering served as a symbolic birthday for Angelina and Anastasia.
On Friday the twins celebrated Christmas, still enjoying the gifts of November: a new country, a new home and a new family.
John Zarrella is CNN's Miami Bureau chief.
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