Twelve years ago I adopted a baby girl from Russia, a golden-haired if somewhat scrawny 5-month-old I named Anya. Landing back in New York, with my new daughter asleep on my lap, I felt joyful, giddy—overwhelmed—by lack of sleep, my rush of good fortune, and the intense emotion of having Anya and seeing her birthplace.
Vladimir, three hours northeast of Moscow, is an ancient and lovely Russian city of gold-domed cathedrals and colorful dachas. Yet I saw it mainly from a car window: I spent my two and a half days there hurrying between my Stalin-block lodgings, the orphanage, and the government building where I signed legal papers leading to that singular moment when Anya was put into my arms, for forever.
Then in a rush we were off—leaving Vladimir to return to Moscow and the U.S. embassy, for Anya's medical exam, passport photos, and visa. Yet my brief view of my daughter's roots left me wanting more. I'm curious by nature, a reporter by trade. It was inevitable I'd go looking for information, but I never imagined I'd find what—or, really, who—I did.