Real Life

One day: I found my Russian birth mother after two decades

Alex Gilbert is a 24-year-old Kiwi who was adopted out of Russia in 1994. As part of our One Day series, he tells us about the moment he met his birth mother for the very first time.
Alex Gilbert meeting my birth mum

Alex Gilbert meeting my birth mum

“I remember waking up that morning in Moscow, Russia at about 5.30am. I had to leave within the hour to get to Rybinsk, a town 300 miles North.

We were going there because I was to meet my birth mother for the very first time, a woman I had never known but always wondered about as I grew up here in New Zealand.

I was adopted out as soon as I was born. Coming from the town of Arkhangelsk, my mother Tatiana was simply unable to take care of me, and so had handed me over to the local orphanage. She skipped town shortly after and never told my father I existed.

In 1994, my adopted parents Mark and Janice Gilbert came over to Russia and started the process of adopting me and and another boy – Andrei – and taking us back to New Zealand. In August of that year, the papers were signed and we made it to Whangarei, where we were raised.

Growing up, I had always wondered about my birth parents, but I had no idea how to go about looking for them. In 2013, I decided to give it a go – but this is no mean feat when you are dealing with Russian names and scraps of information from the past.

The orphanage where Alex was adopted

Using community groups, I finally managed to find Tatiana, my mother, and arranged to fly over to Russia to have our first meeting.

Nothing could have prepared me for the anxiety that would ensue.

For six hours in the car from Moscow, I couldn’t sit still. I have never, and probably never will be, so nervous. I couldn’t focus on anything.

When we pulled up in Rybinsk, the driver pointed out a figure in the distance and said simply: ‘there she is.’

I walked up the path towards her modest apartment, where she was waiting for me outside. A simple hello was all I could manage.

Showing me round her tiny apartment, that was cramped and fill of people passing through, Tatiana asked me about myself and how I was feeling. It was very surreal and not a situation you can even really plan for. I didn’t know what to say or how to act around her.

After seeing her living conditions, we went to a Café so we could talk more and try and make sense of one another.

I asked her a lot about her story and why she gave me up. She told me the truth – she had no money and could not give me the right life. Life had been hard to her, she said.

Rybinsk in 1994

Alex grew up in Whangarei but now lives in Auckland

Despite all that was between us, my birth mother did not talk a lot. I know that she was nervous and wanted to know me, but really I don’t think either of us knew what to say or where to start.

I left our meeting feeling pure relief. It sounds cliche but I felt complete – like the puzzle of my life had come together.

As a result of what happened to me, and due to meeting a wonderful woman – Margarita – we set up ‘I’m Adopted’ that aims to help adopted people in similar circumstances.

It’s an organisation that has helped countless individuals find their birth parents and is also a place to share advice and information.

A girl in the US thanked me on Russian TV recently for helping her find her birth family, and for sharing her story. People just help each other on the page and that is exactly the way it should be.”

Visit the I’m adopted Facebook page here.

If you’d like your story to be included in our #OneDay series, drop us a line at [email protected].

Related stories


Get your favourite magazines home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.