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Paralympic swimming champion Jessica Long meets her natural mother in Russia

December 09, 2013, 18:14 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Jessica’s teenage mother gave the baby up on the insistence of her relatives
1 pages in this article
Jessica Long

Jessica Long

© EPA/JONATHAN BRADY

MOSCOW, December 09. /ITAR-TASS/. U.S. Paralympic swimming champion Jessica Long, who was rejected by her teenage Russian parents when she was one year old, has met her biological mother. The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily tells Jessica’s story in an article published on Monday. The extracts from this article are given below.

The girl was abandoned in a maternity home 21 years ago. She was adopted and raised by an American couple. After all those years, Jessica found strength to meet her biological parents.

An express train Irkutsk-Ust-Ilimsk is running through the Siberia. The trip will take several hours… and Jessica walks out of her compartment into the corridor. Thoughtfully, she looks at the changing Siberian landscapes. Can it be true that she was born here in this Siberian hinterland? It’s now warm and sunny in Baltimore where she grew up. And here, the cold and vast expanses are stretching for kilometers ahead. Back in Baltimore, she has a big family. Her mum and dad are bombarding her with messages in social networks. And what’s waiting for her here? Is her biological mother Natalya looking forward to see her?

Bratsk is the next stop. She has been travelling for 18 hours. She has covered most of the way now. But prior to that, she had to take a long flight from Baltimore to Irkutsk. She had to fly via New York and Moscow. Her air trip lasted for several hours. And still…

“This trip has been ordained by the Lord. I have been dreaming of it for so long,” Jessica thought, waving her head from side to side. She was worrying how a meeting with her natural mother would pass.

“I am not blaming my mother for giving me up. I am immensely grateful to her for giving me a life,” Jessica thought.

This story started 21 years ago, in 1992. A sixteen-year-old girl, Natalya Kirillova, from northern Bratsk gave a birth to a baby girl. The little one was doomed. She was born without fibulas, ankles, heels and most of bones in her feet. It was clear that with those physical defects, the baby would be unable to walk. Jessica’s teenage mother gave the baby up on the insistence of her relatives. Tanya’s (that was the name which Jessica received at birth) fate was pre-determined: a baby house, an orphanage and finally a house for invalids, and no future.

But Jessica’s life took a different twist: life rewrote her sad story into a Cinderella-like fairytale. An American couple, Beth and Steve Long, adopted the smiling fair-haired girl when she was one year old. They took her to the United States. They gave her a new name and a new life. Tanya-Jessica had to endure a lot. The girl got interested in swimming. She swam in the swimming pool of her American grandparents and made great achievements. She became the 12th-time Paralympic swimming champion in London. It was during the Olympics that she learnt about her Siberian past.

The village of Tem is located in the Bratsk district of the Irkutsk region. A bumpy road, unsuitable for most foreign-made cars, leads to wretched rickety houses. The village has only one shop which is always full of drunken visitors who come here to buy vodka. Most of them are young people for whom every day is like a holiday. This is where Jessica’s birth parents live. Her mother Natalya works as a cleaning lady at the village school. Her father Oleg is a rotation worker who drives a logging truck.

“I started dating Oleg when I was sixteen,” Natalya Valtysheva started her confession, sobbingly.

“My little girl was born pre-term and I was told that she would be an invalid for life and that she would be unable to walk. Doctors kept saying in one voice that I should give the baby up,” Natalya went on to say. “You are still young and you will be able to give birth to a normal child,” the doctors told me.

Natalya and Oleg did not want to abandon their newly born daughter. However, Natalya’s mother-in-law had the last say. She said she would not raise an invalid child. So, Natalya and Oleg left Tanya at the maternity clinic and returned home.

“What a worthless thing am I? I kept thinking of her all the time. I hoped to persuade my mother -in-law to take the girl back. But then I learnt that Tanya was adopted by an American couple. A year later, I gave birth to our second daughter, Nastya, who was followed by two twins, a boy and a girl,” Natalya said.

But people say it is a fatality of life. Natalya’s youngest daughter Dasha was born ill. She suffers from infantile cerebral paralysis. “This is my cross and I carry it,” Natalya said.

In the morning, a jeep stopped near the house of Jessica’s parents. She got off the car and got stunned. She saw a village where she could have grown up herself - here, in this old dilapidated house with a faзade which had not been painted for years and all the modern conveniences located outdoors in the yard.

Tanya-Jessica cried when she met Natalya who put her puff-jacket over her shoulders with mother’s care. They are so much alike, the two soul mates. And the village, well, she will write to them, and she is going to help them without fail! She may even visit them once again.

“I am glad that I have come. I am not disappointed in anything. I met my sister and saw that I looked very much like her,” Jessica said. It was hard for her to find the right words for which she was searching carefully. She felt like crying at the top of her voice. But she could not. It would have been so much un-American-like.

“Nastya is just a year younger than I am. I gave her an elegant bracelet as a gift. It matches her hair perfectly. I also gave a necklace to my mother and a Russian-language Bible to my father,” Jessica said.

Nastya gave her sister a ring, and mother Natalya gave her daughter pickled cucumbers. She knew for sure that her Tanya had never tasted such a delicacy before.

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