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To Russia with Love - Jessica Long meets her real Siberian mom

By Anna Liesowska
07 December 2013

US Paralympic star on emotional journey back to her roots to meet the parents who gave her up for adoption.

'I really for a long time dreamed of this moment. My parents in America always told me that I was adopted,' said the US star, an inspiration to her many fans around the world. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV

The record breaking swimmer was today meeting the mother who rejected her as a severely disabled baby. The meeting came after Jessica travelled halfway round the world on a visit to her past, accompanied by an NBC film crew.

'I have a feeling that this trip was conceived by God. I do not know how my life would have developed if I had stayed in Russia. I'm very excited about meeting the family. The first time I see my father and mother,' she said as she travelled to Irkutsk region. 

Her parents gave her up as teenagers, feeling they could not cope with a child suffering from such physical handicaps. When they watched her at the London Paralympics in 2012 winning swimming medals, they did not realise this was their long lost daughter.

'I really for a long time dreamed of this moment. My parents in America always told me that I was adopted,' said the US star, an inspiration to her many fans around the world. 'It's never been a secret to me. But who is my biological mom and dad, I learned during the competition in London last year'.

Jessica had planned to visit Siberia earlier, and now she has come with her sister Hannah, to have emotional support. 

'It took me a long time to collect my thoughts and realise it. I and my whole family are very worried about me.'

Hannah said:  'We thought it would be cool to go together. Jessica wanted someone to be with her during the meeting with the family'. 

Jessica Long goes to Siberia

'I think that real disability is a negative attitude towards life. Despite the fact that I have no legs below the knees, I do not consider myself disabled. Picture: Jessica Long 

Jessica was adopted aged one by American couple Beth and Steve Long from an orphanage in Bratsk, some 2,350 miles east of Moscow, and she grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Her adoptive parents showered her with love and enabled her to reach remarkable heights, overcoming her handicap - she was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of bones in her feet - to become one of the United States' most inspirational sportswomen having won a dozen gold medals in three Paralympics. 

Her fame in London led to Russian journalists tracking down her real parents who remained together as a family. Today's meeting is also traumatic and emotional for real mother Natalia Valtysheva, now 39, who has told how she was faced with an impossible decision after her daughter's birth. 

Shortly before the meeting, she said: 'How long I am waiting for Jessica? I do not need such questions. Excuse me please.'

'I feel so sorry,' she said.  'At that time - there was some fear, I got scared. I had to leave her behind. But I did think that I would take her back. Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.'

She stressed: 'I was alone in Siberia, without my mother and father. Where would I go with her, if I had taken her? Doctors told me to leave her behind - said that I could not help her. I called her Tatiana, after my elder sister'.

She already knew Jessica's feelings before the meeting: 'I'm not angry with her. I just want to meet her. I think we have a lot in common. I know that one day I will have a family and I will have kids, and you know what, I would like to call my daughter Natalia, the name of my Russian mother who gave birth to me.'

Tatiana's then boyfriend - now her husband - said the couple felt pressurised by doctors to make the decision to give her up. He was only 17 when Jessica was born, and the couple - who have since had three more children including another disabled daughter, Dasha, 13, born with a similar condition to Jessica, who they care for at their village home. 

Jessica Long in Siberia

'I know that one day I will have a family and I will have kids, and you know what, I would like to call my daughter Natalia, the name of my Russian mother who gave birth to me'. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV

'What could I have said? I couldn't say anything because I was not ready for this. I was very shocked with the whole thing,'  Jessica's father recalled. 'I don't want to say anything bad about the doctors. They said: 'The girl has deformities and you are young, it's going to be hard'.'

He said 'of course' he and Natalia wanted to take little Tatiana (now Jessica) home, but seemed to find recalling this moment too painful to find words to explain it fully. He did, though, express his deep pride over Jessica's life and achievements in America, and very much wishes to meet a daughter he only even saw for a few minutes in the maternity hospital. 

'Of course I'm happy that we found her, glad for her and I am proud. And of course I want to meet her'.

Natalia was convinced she would be able to go back for Jessica later, despite signing away her parental rights in the days after her baby's birth. 

'On 6 July 1993 I gave birth to my second daughter Nastya, and on the 9 July American parents adopted Jessica', she said. 'Babies are normally kept in the baby orphanage until  the age of three, and I was sure nobody would adopt her. I was getting information about my daughter, that she was growing up pretty, that everybody loves her. And then I got information that she was being adopted to America.'

Jessica Long in Siberia

'Jessica's adoptive parents showered her with love and enabled her to reach remarkable heights, overcoming her handicap - she was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of bones in her feet - to become one of the United States' most inspirational sportswomen having won a dozen gold medals in three Paralympics'. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV

Jessica this week met Nina Murzina who has worked with children at the orphanage for 56 years. She remembers the day when little Jessica (at that moment she had name Tanya) was brought into the child's house. 'I remember her as little blond pretty girl when she was brought to us from the hospital, she was so pretty. Well, with such a defect - she had sore feet. She grew in our group.'

Olga Milyutina was on duty when Stive came to take the girl. 'Steve, her dad, took her away. They decided to adopt this little girl, they liked her, they chose her from a photograph. They looked for children who have been abandoned, and liked this girl.'

Jessica now says: 'My advice - never give up. I am a Christian and I believe very strongly in God. I think that real disability is a negative attitude towards life. Despite the fact that I have no legs below the knees, I do not consider myself disabled. And I hope that people who know my story will be inspired. You know, to be adopted - this is great. And there are so many orphans who need a home.'

Comments (25)

Im very emocional to hear this story and l hope young parents think about giving in adoption before thinking in abortion Jessica is an example of been given a second opportunity for life thanks God that she found those parents that adopted her knowing her condition for me they were the angels that God sent to her to help her to show the word that important decition on life and thanks to the real mom for choosing life
Elsita, United States
09/02/2021 22:31
I'm going to do Paralympics Judo with future child (Gwen with autism) watching, because Paralympics Judo gives the visually impaired (me) special opportunities, because we VI people are special!
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI
27/01/2016 05:57
Five feet four inches as an adult I will be (that's the average American female height; 5'4" tall), as I do Paralympics Powerlifting and I bench press 400 pounds...despite being 5'4" and 42 kg (94 pounds) as an adult.
No, the average American height for woman is 5'4" tall! At powerlifting, I will do powerlifting to go to Japan to lift 400 pounds, AND to adopt Nina Kobayashi Prior, a June 13, 155 cm (petite or small 5'1"), and autistic 15 or 16 year old girl. Nina means "girl" and Nina will have Asperger Syndrome (form of autism).
Nina won't be defined by her Asperger Syndrome (under the label of "autism.") Because if it's a syndrome, Asperger Syndrome means she will have moderate autism due to visual impairment and seizures at birth. Nina, like me, will do Paralympics Powerlifting. Epilepsy is when you have seizures, and it can be scary to have someone tell you that you have epilepsy (seizures). With blonde hair and blue eyes! Nina!
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI
26/01/2016 06:33
My ankle alway tell my mom what to do, that why in Iran she cuss at me and put me down ,she listen to Rana and dei a bass , I sick off my life is missirable, why the but in me and relationship.i don't know every true they tell my mom.
Avishan, St.pete.
06/12/2015 08:58
I am a U.S. citizen as of age 6 years old (now in HS) and grew up in Sparrow Hospital as of 3 weeks old due to visual impairment from premature birth (after leaving Kiev, Ukraine). Ya sama--I can learn anything! Ya sama, ya sama; I believe over spring break, I can do Paralympics Judo. Ya sama--I can learn anything. Paralympics Judo for the Visually Impaired over spring break here it is.
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI, USA
12/09/2015 06:59
Jessica Long is a beautiful, fair-haired; Russian lady born in Irkutsk, Siberia. She is religiously Christian and culturally Jewish....What a strong, kind, very bright; humanitarian lady.
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI, USA
12/09/2015 06:56
My wife and I adopted 3 children from Russia. The tragedy of children who are abandoned and abused is real no matter where you look on the face of the Earth. The fact that some children have come from Russia to the USA and have continued to suffer such a fate is heartbreaking. Many parents are not equipped to deal with children who may have deep scares which may haunt the children and adopted parents throughout their lives. Clinical studies show that these types of troubles can be manifested in most children who lose parents. Some are slightly affected and some are devastated. We all know that there are parents that inflict unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty on their biological children regardless of the economic and social environment. What I witnessed in my three trips to Siberia via Moscow that was at times shocking. I saw the great suffering of women and children on a massive scale. I can still clearly see the many orphaned faces even though it was 16 years ago that we left behind and wonder what became of them. I saw Russian people who had great compassion but a society that was dominated by the only the strong survive mentality. I have also experienced the helplessness of a parent who can see a child who battles with the dark and elusive demons within and how the threatens them every day. Thanks to Jessica Long and her family who have demonstrated that love and compassion is what allows for humanity to go on. Both the US and Russian government could learn what we all need to be reminded of every day about the positive human spirit. The Russian government can’t possibly believe that most American adoptions result in tragic circumstances when it is so obvious to a foreigner on a short visit. The US government also knows their domestic foster parent program leaves much to be desired and abused and neglected children cannot be the product of bureaucratic failure. Let Jessica be your light for perseverance and see Jessica and her parents as the model of human compassion. The full video needs to be shared by the network now!
Parent of adopted children, USA
09/03/2014 08:46
The title is incorrect. The Longs ARE Jessica's "real parents." The others in Siberia are merely her birth or biological parents. Insensitive headline and erroneous.
Christine, Massachusetts
25/02/2014 07:52
I love seeing this story. I have adopted my beautiful daughter in 2009 who was 15 months old. We were told as much as the orphanage could of her birth and health history, but when we arrived in the USA it was discovered she was deaf bilaterally. With the medical attention we were able to give her she has bilateral cochlear implants and normal hearing with them. She is in regular Kindergarten and thriving. I hope one day to return to her home town in Kirov and find her birth parents who were very young. I want to thank them for giving me a chance to have the daughter I could not have on my own, but also to make sure that if they knew about her disability they should know she is growing and thriving a very happy beautiful loved little girl. We have 3 older boys who are very protective of her and she is so happy. I cried so hard watching this knowing how the Longs must feel hoping Jessica finds what she needs and comes home to her "parents" love to all who made this happen for her.
Tricia , Tampabay, Fl
24/02/2014 08:50
We also adopted from Russia. It hurts me to think that there are more children like Jessica, my son, or my friends' children laying in baby homes without the chance of finding a Mommy and a Daddy. Her story should be shared with Putin and other Russian officials who want to think we in the US don't take care of the children we adopted. Now my son has watched the Olympics and wants to return to Russia to visit his friends. One day we will return so he can always be proud of where he was born. You have a rich, amazing culture in Russia that I want him to know. I would love to go back and adopt again from Russia. I can only pray that our countries will start to think about the children, not just politics. Children deserve a family. They deserve a Mom and a Dad. Why does politics have to crush a child's dream of a forever family? Please share more amazing adoption stories like Jessica's. There are many out there.
Melissa Pronovost, Terryville, USA
24/02/2014 05:59
Jessica's story is nothing short of incredible! She is amazing and a role model for adoptees and athletes around the world. I have to agree with Rochelle. Jessica's "real" parents are the parents who raised, loved, and guided her to her present station in life. Jessica's "birth" parents are the Russians who gave her life. While they couldn't keep and care for her, they absolutely did the right thing in placing her (not "giving her up") for adoption. Jessica hit the jackpot twice, just as I did many years before her. I like to say that my birth mother gave me 'life,' and my adoptive parents gave me 'a life'. Big difference! I am so glad that she is getting to know both families. May she continue to attain every goal to which she aspires. Thanks to the Siberian Times for this touching story. Adoptees everywhere, and their parents, cannot read it without shedding tears of joy!
Betty Westmoreland, Collierville/USA
24/02/2014 04:42
While its great that Jessica's life has turned out so well and that she had the opportunity to reconnect with her Russian first family, the Russian adoption ban was imposed for some very good reasons (with a sprinkle of political pettiness).

Americans aren't entitled to adopt Russian kids - it's a privilege that Russian is entitled to revoke for any (or no) reason at all. The ban was imposed because the US government violated the bilateral adoption treaty mere weeks after it came into force in November 2012 by failing to allow Russian officials consular access to an abused Russian-born boy in FL, 20-21 Russian kids were killed by their US adoptive parents and countless others were abused and discarded in horrific yet non-fatal ways (Masha Allen, Reuters Child Exchange investigation).

Clearly the "oopsie, 20-21 dead kids is no biggie" approach to getting the ban lifted has failed. Why not lobby the US government to hold up its end of the bilateral treaty and screen PAPs better??
Carlee, Houston, TX
23/02/2014 23:12
What a beautiful story, my tears flowed, so much like my daughter's story. We adopted her from the Archangel Region near the White Sea. She was 18 months old and had mild cerebral palsy. She is almost 21 and has struggled with her two stories, she also embraced the Anastasia story, even naming her dog "Pooka." We always called her a Russian Princess. Her talents are not physical but she sings like an angel! We hope someday that she too can come to know her Russian family and make her life whole. Thanks for sharing such a personal journey!
Arleen Mack, Denver CO
23/02/2014 14:18
I can't STOP CRYING sense watching the Jessica Tatiana Long story. What an amazing woman she is and with the love of her parents she is an example that never let your past define YOU. I have a lot of Russian friends and I was said to hear that Russia will no longer allow children be adopted by American families. I am SAD to say this is the TRUTH about the Russian Government. American's shouldn't be shocked by this. The men who run there country will never let the past between these 2 Nations be forgotten. As Jessica's grandmother wrote its sad for all the children that will not be given the chance Jessica was given. I say as an American Citizen there are children in other Country's as well as in USA that want love. This is sad but the Russian Government will NOT forget we must always be aware of this. Jessica was very blessed by the parents who had to leave her for the parents that would find her and now we are blessed to hear this amazing story. Thank You Jessica.
Alison Wroblewski, Livingston NJ.. USA
23/02/2014 13:28
Wonderful story and one close to my heart! I only wished the writer would have used the word "biological mother" instead of "real mother" when talking about Jessica's birth mother, Natalia. In fact, she used the word "real" every time when describing Natalia. Maybe this story was translated from Russian, or the writer was unaware of the semantics of "real" and "biological."

Obviously, had Jessica's bio parents kept her and raised her in Siberia, she would have never become a world-class swimmer. So, her "real" parents are the Longs of Baltimore.

I am the "real" mother of a boy my husband and I adopted from Vladivostok, Russia in 2007. His mother abandoned him at birth and we were told from the beginning that he would have "mental" issues because his birth mother had learning disabilities and behavior problems. Our beautiful boy is Autistic, but extremely bright, articulate and creative. God has blessed all of us.
Rochelle Kaplan, San Clemente, CA, USA
23/02/2014 11:55

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