(Reuters) - For months, life for Ann and Kurt Suhs has been a whirlwind of assembling documents, getting fingerprinted and scheduling evaluations of their Atlanta-area home in preparation for welcoming a Russian child into their family for a second time.
Now, the couple - who adopted their son Ben, now 7, from Russia at age 13 months - say they were blindsided by news that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday banning Americans from adopting Russian children effective next Tuesday.
“It’s hard to think that it would all stop, that it would all just come to such a screeching halt,” Ann Suhs said. “We haven’t talked about a Plan B. We hope and we pray.”
She and her husband are among some 1,500 U.S. families who are in the process of adopting a child from Russia, according to an estimate from the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Council For Adoption. Some of those families had just started paperwork, while others had already been matched with a child and, in some cases, had the chance to meet the boy or girl.
The Russian measure was passed in retaliation for a U.S. human rights law - approved this month as part of a trade bill and signed by President Barack Obama - that bars entry to Russians accused of involvement in the death in custody of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other alleged rights abuses.
Putin has defended the Russian law by saying his country should care for its own children. But critics including child rights advocates say it is an unfair move that uses orphans as pawns in an unrelated dispute.
Ann and Kurt Suhs, who were waiting to be matched with a child, had been frantically checking every morning for news about the Russian proposal moving through the legislative process. They had chosen Russia in part because Kurt Suhs’ grandmother grew up there.
On a recent day, “I looked at Kurt and said, ‘Do we know what we’re going to do if this goes through?'” Ann Suhs said. “We can’t put our heads around it to say, ‘OK, we give up on this dream.'”
A November agreement between Russia and the United States calls for a one-year transition period in the case of either country banning adoptions, said Lauren Koch, a spokeswoman for the National Council For Adoption.
“All we can hope for now is that President Putin will honor the terms of that agreement and at least, at a very minimum, allow those families who have been matched with a child to bring him/her home,” Koch said in an email.
But Russia is withdrawing from that agreement under the law Putin signed, and there was no indication any American adoptions now under way would go through other than six that Russian officials said have been approved by Russian courts.
‘ONCE YOU‘VE MET THAT CHILD’
Americans have adopted more than 45,000 Russian children since 1999, including 962 last year.
More than 650,000 children are considered orphans in Russia - though some were rejected by their parents or taken from dysfunctional homes. Of those, 110,000 lived in state institutions in 2011, according to government figures.
Many American families are now in limbo.
“Once you’ve met that child, that’s your child, and that child is in your mind, he or she is in your heart, there are pictures on your refrigerator,” said Frank Garrott, president of Gladney Center for Adoption, a Fort Worth, Texas-based adoption agency working with about 25 families now in the process of adopting a child from Russia.
In Oakland, California, the news from Russia has Lease Wong holding her little girl especially tightly. She and her husband, Marty, arrived home from Russia about a month ago with their newly adopted daughter, Brianna, who is now 23 months old.
“I think she knows she has a family,” said Lease Wong, who owns a toy store. “I have to think of all those other children. They’re losing their opportunity for a family.”
As Wong spoke, the girl chattered away in the background.
Those are sounds that Kim and Robert Summers are desperate to hear. They traveled to Russia in August to meet the boy who they call Preston - he’s known as Stanislav in Russia - then returned to Russia earlier this month to continue the adoption process. They had expected to go back to Russia in January to bring the boy home to New Jersey.
At their home in New Jersey, a stroller for the red-headed 21-month-old sits in the dining room and his crib is already partially assembled.
The Summers’ two-year adoption journey followed eight years of infertility struggles, three miscarriages and four unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization. After soul-searching and prayers, they turned to international adoption, and the match with the boy was approved at a December court hearing, they said.
Kim Summers, a chef who has no other children, said she quit her job to become a stay-at-home mother to Preston.
When they left Russia in December, they were so sure they would be back the next month that they left their diaper bag with a family there.
On Friday, Kim Summers expressed shock, outrage and a determination to bring her son home in January as planned.
“I promised this baby I was going to be his mommy,” she said. “I‘m a mommy on a mission.”
Editing by Paul Thomasch, Will Dunham and Alistair Lyon