MOSCOW — From their faraway homes in the American West, the two couples made repeated missions of love to Moscow, each seeking to adopt children with Down syndrome.
Now, with court approval at last in hand, a political squabble with a trace of Cold War friction has derailed those plans, leaving them in anxious limbo.
Brian Preece had been hoping his life as an adoptive father would have started by now, perhaps with a special treat for his 4½-year-old boy.
"I was planning on going swimming with my son," he said. But instead of splashing around in a pool in Nampa, Idaho, Preece and his wife, Rebecca, sat in a Moscow hotel lobby last week, at loose ends after officials refused to turn over the boy even though a court approved the adoption last year.
With them was Jeana Bonner of South Jordan, Utah, on her fourth trip to Russia as part of intensive efforts by her and her husband, Wayne, to adopt a 5-year-old girl.
"There is no process set up, there is no information specific to our case," said Bonner, who left her husband behind in Utah to care for their two biological daughters, including one with Down syndrome.
The Bonners and Preeces have run into a legal cul-de-sac. After their adoptions received court approval, they expected to wait nervously through a 30-day period in which the ruling can be challenged, then get the decree allowing them to take custody of the children, obtain needed documents and take them home.
But during those 30 days, Russia enacted a law banning adoptions by Americans. The ban was rushed through parliament and sped to President Vladimir Putin's desk in less than 10 days in a surge of retaliatory anger over a new U.S. law calling for sanctions on Russians identified as human-rights violators.
The hasty enactment left many questions unresolved. Although Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that adoptions already approved by courts could go ahead, the Preeces said they were told that the ban has left a legal vacuum — with no mechanism for issuing the decree that finalizes the case.
"The process used to be all streamlined and fairly straightforward. Now there's no instructions," said Rebecca Preece, on an emotional knife-edge as months of visits and paperwork hit a roadblock.
"He understands that we're coming for him," she said of the boy they hope to adopt. "We were able to visit him ... and he talked about going in a car with us, in an airplane.
"He knows. He calls us 'mama' and 'papa'," she said, on the verge of tears. "We've come for him three times and three times we've had to leave."
A spokesman for Russia's Supreme Court, Pavel Odintsov, told The Associated Press that the high court is seeking information that would allow it to make recommendations on establishing a legal framework for resolving the dilemma.
It is unclear when that clarity might come, but "we are not talking about months; possibly a couple of weeks," he said.
Now, Preece said, the question is whether to stick around in Moscow to see the process through and hope things don't go further awry, or go home and wait it out in Idaho.
The Preeces have three other children, including one with Down syndrome.
Jeana Bonner, in a telephone interview before leaving Utah, said she and her husband have felt so enriched by the experience of raising their own daughter with Down syndrome that they wanted to adopt a child who also had the condition.
"It was something we felt we could do — we had experience, we had the resources and support," she said.
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