Myshko: Mom's Third Little Hercules
Myshko is one of very few Ukrainian children living with HIV who have been adopted.
Two-year-old Myshko doesn’t want to leave the swing. Riding in it is one of his favourite entertainments: sitting on his ‘throne’, the boy observes everything around him and greets familiar faces with shouts.
The boy’s smiles and desire to communicate represent the huge victory of a kind-hearted woman – a woman who took HIV-positive Myshko home from an orphanage six months ago. When the boy joined Myroslava’s family (names have been changed for ethical reasons) in November 2008, he was afraid of everything and everybody. The first time Myroslava visited him at the orphanage, he ran away from her. Then, during his first three weeks with his new family, he didn’t allow his new mother to leave him – he’d start to cry until he was blue in the face.
Today the boy takes great interest in the world around him. Recently he enriched his vocabulary with the new word “gutyonka” – his own pronunciation of the Russian word for condensed milk, with which he washes down one of his antiretroviral drugs. It is very bitter, and it’s the only way for Myroslava to administer medicines to the boy.
Myshko is one of two HIV-positive children who have been adopted in Cherkassy oblast since last fall. The children’s adoptive parents participated in training organized by the local branch of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV (PLWH) and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners. One of UNICEF’s activity areas in Ukraine is supporting family-type adoption of orphans to ensure that their time at the institutions will not affect their future lives.
“We have been looking for adoptive parents for HIV-positive babies for a little more than two years. It’s extremely difficult to find such people,” says Olena Stryzhak, the head of the Cherkassy division of the All-Ukrainian Network of PLWH. “We believe that instead of running after large numbers of people and having large problems afterwards, it’s better to ‘create’ several families and provide them with all the necessary support. The majority of HIV-positive kids suffered through orphanages; they need special care.”
“This is Your Mom, and He is Nice”
Myroslava, a mother of two young sons, met representatives of the Cherkassy branch of the All-Ukrainian Network of PLWH at work. When she was still married, she participated in training sessions for foster parents. And when she saw Myshko, she just couldn’t let him go.
Today Myroslava is bringing up the three boys on her own. Before taking Myshko home from the orphanage, Myroslava had a serious conversation with her oldest son, six year-old Serhiyko. It turned out the boy couldn’t wait to see his new, youngest brother. Six months later all three have become real brothers and have started to engage in real naughtiness. One day Myroslava complained to Serhiy how difficult for her it was to deal with all of them. “Then you shouldn’t have given birth to Myshko,” the boy answered, despite being fully aware that the little boy was adopted. Myroslava smiles as she recalls those words – they mean that Myshko is dear and equal to her own two children.
It was more difficult for three-year-old Borys to get used to Myshko’s arrival. Before Myshko, he was the youngest son and mom’s favourite, and now here was a rival. “This isn’t your mom, it’s my mom!” argued Borys. But two months later Borys brought Myshko to the kitchen, where Myroslava was washing dishes. “This is your mom, and he is nice,” the middle brother told the youngest.
The two older sons of this energetic woman attend kindergarten. Myshko, who still needs some vaccines, is under observation at the day-care centre of the Cherkassy division of the Network of PLWH. This allows Myroslava to go to work.
It took Myshko several months to adapt completely to his new life. He stopped resisting when someone touched his face – previously he allowed no one to do so. Moreover, he did not understand what hugs and kisses were all about. The boy finally learned to fall asleep calmly, whereas earlier he became hysterical before going to bed, and if someone tried to handle him, he went stiff. Men also started to become Myshko’s friends; earlier they scared him to death because he had never seen them except for the orphanage’s plumber.
“When we picked Myshko up from the orphanage, he was 20 months old. I thought he was too young to be affected by his time at the institution, but it did affect him,” Myroslava says. Recently the words of the social workers who visit the family made her very happy: “If we didn’t know the boy was from an institution, we would never have guessed it.”