Originally created 12/27/99

Augusta parents adopt daughter from Russia



Her name was going to be Nicholas.

That's because Katrina Dowds parents were sure she'd be a boy. They had the name picked out. Elephants and giraffes gambol across the walls of her room onto the S.S. Noah against a background of blue paint, a special coating meant to welcome a new baby into the lives of Troy and Kim Dowds.

It wasn't a sure thing, but it wasn't exactly guesswork, either. It was the math.

In Russia, where Katrina was born, most of the children in orphanages are boys. The Dowdses were as surprised as any other parents when they were told they would have a girl, even though the news came from an adoption agency instead of a doctor. They wanted a little girl but didn't think there was a chance.

"It was a total surprise," says Mr. Dowds, a teacher at Westside High School.

And like any other parents, it took the Dowdses months of work and expectation before they saw their daughter. Unwilling to try fertility treatments and hoping to give a child a home, the couple began their search on the Internet last year, when they found a Web site for an agency specializing in international adoptions. It would be quicker than a domestic adoption, which can take up to four years.

But it still took months of phone calls, paperwork and red tape, dealing with the adoption agency, three state governments and two national governments. There wasn't a day they weren't filling out some kind of document, mailing out some sheaf of papers. They endured home visits, physicals, questions about their jobs and their financial status. Being fingerprinted in Atlanta for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. Waiting an interminable six weeks during the summer when the Russian court system closed down for its annual holiday, so all employees could take their vacation at once.

And then, a trip around the world to Russia, where conditions were so bad their host family poured pots of boiling water outside the flat to kill rats; where one of their guides bribed a steady stream of officials to speed things up.

"That's the way it's done here," the man told the surprised couple when they found out he was carrying money in the small bag he clutched.

"Going to Russia is about the most stressful thing you can do," Mr. Dowds says with a wry laugh, sitting on his living room couch as his new daughter -- dressed merrily in a seasonal red jumpsuit -- pulls out some of her toys for inspection. "We thought that in about 15 years, we would take her back there and show her where she came from, but now, I think we'll just show her the pictures. We travel a lot -- we're not novices to traveling -- but that was quite an experience."

And finally, a late-night ride to Kostroma, leaving Moscow at 11 p.m. to arrive on the orphanage steps at 6 a.m., ready and waiting for the doors to open two hours later.

"I wanted to hold my baby as soon as I got off the plane," says Mrs. Dowds, a pre-kindergarten teacher at A Child's World on Columbia Road. She shakes her head, remembering the further hoops they had to jump through even after reaching Russia: a court date, a passport and medical checkup for Katrina and immigration paperwork at the American Embassy.

They brought the little blond-haired girl home in October, renaming her Katrina Alexis. They wanted her to assimilate easily with her peers and were afraid her original name -- Svetlana Lenidovna -- would be too difficult and would set her apart, but they wanted to keep the flavor of her Russian heritage.

She had more assimilating to do -- she was terrified the first time they put her into a car seat, unfamiliar with the contraption. Accustomed to being showered down, she had to overcome her fear of baths.

Now almost 17 months old and home in Augusta for three months, she's made the transition, her parents said.

"We were very lucky -- she wasn't delayed at all," Mrs. Dowds says, offering a bottle of juice to the bundle of energy squirming onto the couch at her side. "A lot of the children in the orphanages have developmental problems, social problems because they weren't bonded with as babies."

Watching Katrina's mannerisms and the way she played with toys on a videotape the adoption agency provided, the Dowdses were sure there would be no problems. And within a week of arriving in the United States, the little girl was already beginning to babble baby-talk in English.

There are still signs of character traits her parents say they believe she picked up at the orphanage. After sleeping in a room with 25 to 30 children, she can sleep through anything. When the family goes out, she's fascinated by babies -- her parents say they think she remembers all the little ones in the orphanage.

And she's already a self-starter, able to amuse herself and fascinated by the world around her -- a world, her father points out, that is new and different from the surroundings where she spent the first months of her life with 180 other children.

"I think she learned how to amuse herself because there was only so much attention they could give her, with all of the other children around," Mrs. Dowds says, as the little girl pulls out and inspects the contents of a basket filled with toys and magazines.

Despite the waiting and the work, the Dowdses say they'd do it all over again -- and they actually might in a couple of years if they don't conceive. They'd like Katrina to have a little brother, and the reward of the adoption process was more than worth what they went through.

"I'd recommend this for anyone," Mrs. Dowds said.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223.