Ana Shurmer was adopted from an orphanage in Latvia when she was 7 by a wealthy Maryland family. Five years later, she was “rehomed.”
“Right after New Year’s in 2000, my dad drove me to my best friend’s house and told me I’d be spending the week there,” Shurmer, now 31 and living in Queens, tells The Post. There, her best friend’s mom delivered some shocking news. “She told me ‘Listen, your parents couldn’t do this, so I’m going to do it for them. You’re going to go and live with a family in Ohio.’ ” Shurmer says she was told that she would have a return ticket booked for two weeks out in case things didn’t work out. But when she got to the Midwest, it “clicked”: There was no return ticket.
“They told me, ‘No honey, it’s not for two weeks … a return ticket was never booked for you.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
Now Shurmer, a flight attendant who has been walking dogs and nannying for extra cash during the pandemic, says her “rehoming” was the best thing that ever happened to her. She thinks the rush to judge parents such as Myka and James Stauffer — a YouTube couple who said they’d given up their adopted autistic son, Huxley — is a mistake. “I could tell you they probably tried everything that they could,” she says.
Here, Shurmer tells The Post what it meant for her to be rehomed, and how she ended up with two sets of parents.
In Latvia, I lived with a drug-addicted mom and a baby brother who wasn’t being taken care of. I had a lot of emotional trauma that I couldn’t explain later in life. Even then, my behavior was off the charts. At the age of 3, I was moved to an orphanage, which was very understaffed. It was an ‘every kid for themself’ situation. Still, we were fed, educated and you had a place to sleep, even though you had to sleep with one eye open.
I was adopted from Latvia when I was 7 by a very nice, wealthy couple. They already had other adopted children, their own biological children, and they adopted three other kids from my group home in Latvia, so it was a big family. We lived in Maryland.
Things were good for about a year.
Even though I had a piece of home through my siblings from the orphanage, it didn’t stop me from acting out in school and having horrible behavior. I wasn’t getting along with my mom at all. It was beyond ‘we didn’t click.’ If I could do any kind of damage to her, I would.
We did everything: Family therapy, every type of doctor, brain scans, just to see what was going on medically. They put me on a bunch of antidepressants. There was a point where I was on anti-seizure medication just to wear me out. When I acted out, I would scream for hours in a locked room and hurt myself. And I didn’t know what was going on. I was about 8, and there was a major language barrier.
I got kicked out of every school in the Maryland area, so I was shipped off to boarding school in Virginia, but I was still acting out. At this point, I was reaching 10 or 11.
Of course, all of this took a toll on my family and my other siblings. Basically, my dad was of the opinion that I could be helped, and my mom thought, ‘There’s just no way.’ They tried for a good five years. This was a process — it’s not like they tried me out for a year and thought ‘this isn’t working out, let’s move on.’
One day, my parents sat me down and said ‘Listen, we have some other friends of ours who are interested in meeting you and having you over and getting to know you.’ I was confused but I thought, ‘whatever, I’ll go to some random stranger’s house.’ Of course, they were testing me out on their friends to see if I could be a good fit for them to adopt me, but they weren’t telling me what was going on.
Right after New Year’s in 2000, I was sent to my best friend’s house and told I was going to be moving to Ohio. I know it sounds horrible that my best friend’s mom had to do it. But if it had come from my mom, it would’ve escalated into something very damaging, so I can see why she wanted to protect herself from my reaction.
I arrived in Ohio to this small family — they just have one daughter. It’s kind of awkward, obviously. They said “Welcome, we’re so glad to have you. Welcome to your forever home.” I said, “Um, this is only for two weeks, I have a ticket home.” And that’s when they told me I wouldn’t be going back.
My first family was very liberal and open. This one was ultra-religious Christian. Religion ran their life. It was a culture shock all over again. But this was a smaller family. I had a sister close to my age, and I started to get really comfortable after about seven months. They didn’t force me to call them Mom or Dad, and it was a different, less crowded family atmosphere. I was still attending therapy and going to doctors.
My new parents re-named me Rachel. It was a spur of the moment decision when they were finalizing the adoption papers. My little sister was Leah, so they wanted to do a whole Bible vibe which was cute, but at 11 years old, you can’t just change a kid’s name. They tried to use Rachel but it didn’t really stick.
About a year in, I started calling them Mom and Dad.
In Ohio, I got more one-on-one time, and I was homeschooled, which was huge for me and my behavior problems. I didn’t feel like I was being confined to a system. I really excelled in school at this point because I could skip what I wanted to and work quickly.
My new parents also taught me how to socialize. I didn’t know that beating up kids that I was threatened by wasn’t right. At the orphanage, if someone tried to take your doll in the middle of the night, you punched them! In Ohio, I learned to share and that I didn’t have to always be so aggressive.
After about a year in Ohio, my first family was reintroduced. They all asked me if I wanted it, so we started writing letters and sending birthday gifts. Everything was on my terms. Growing up, I was never upset or bitter. I didn’t understand why things happened, but I also didn’t really have the mental capacity to understand because I had so many other issues going on with me.
In the long run, it was for the best. I was put in a home where the parents could cater more to my needs. Not everything needed a medical explanation there. With my new family, I was able to do a lot of things I never thought I would be able to do. I graduated high school, I learned to drive. I never thought I’d be able to hold down a job, and as a teen, I had my own lawn mowing business and a baby-sitting business.
In my previous family, everything was done for you because they had the funds to do it. It was like ‘We’ll give you money, have at it, and if you need more come back.’ That’s not what I needed. I needed someone to teach me structure, and the importance and value of things. I learned about having a work ethic, about honesty and loyalty. It’s common sense to people, but even as a teenager I had no idea about these things.
Learning to work hard became a big part of my identity; no one could take it away from me.
I was able to take away good parts from both families, and from growing up in two homes. I wasn’t this liberal kid growing up in Maryland going to boarding school, and I wasn’t this kid from small-town Ohio, but together they provided my morals, my spirituality and who I am as a person.
I learned later that my first parents found my Ohio ones through mutual friends of my best friend’s mom, who thought they would be a great fit for me. It was the best-case scenario. My first parents never missed a birthday or Christmas, I just didn’t live with them and didn’t have their last name.
Today, I feel like I have two families. I have 10 siblings who are all fantastic and a lot of them have kids. I actually found my biological brother in Eastern Europe on social media. He has a little daughter, too. It was bittersweet to meet him because he had a much harder life growing up on the streets since he was 14. He had nobody and I have this big family.
I think my first parents were ashamed of rehoming me. They didn’t want to tell anybody what they had done. They always made up excuses to their friends for where I was, which wasn’t unusual because when I lived with them, I was always at boarding school or at a treatment center. As I got older and reconnected with family and friends from Maryland, I explained what had really happened. I told them not to blame my parents, and that they just could not handle who I was and what I needed.
Today, my four parents don’t really talk to each other often, but they talk through me. One set will say “How’s your Mom and Dad?” and the other will say the same thing and “Tell them I say hello, give me their address so I can send a Christmas card.”
When I heard about Huxley’s situation, I thought of my own. There’s a lot of medical needs there, and the thing is, we’re not in this family. We don’t see the struggle or the fight. We don’t know the family dynamic. I know for me, my parents used to hide how they got bruises on their arms.
It’s almost like being abused on a daily basis and saying ‘Oh, I fell down the stairs,’ when in fact you’re being abused to a level you can’t handle. I’m not saying that’s the situation here, but it’s kind of the same mindset that you’re always covering up what’s happening and there’s never a moment where you just feel like everything’s OK. I knew that feeling growing up. I was putting my siblings, myself and my parents in danger.
My first mom owned an adoption agency, and I went to help her out a couple years ago and learned rehoming is not that uncommon, especially for international adoptions. Parents are not taking the proper counseling lessons to prepare for such a drastic change. They aren’t prepared — like my parents weren’t.
For Huxley’s parents, it’s not like, ‘They didn’t like him and threw him away.’ At a certain point, you have to seek other methods. Ultimately it has to be for the safety and happiness of the child.
For me, being rehomed was like a rebirth and the chance to get the help that I needed. If I wasn’t rehomed I would probably be in an institution. I think about it a ton. I was escalating worse and worse every year in Maryland.
My advice to other parents is to be open about it with your child. It’s like a divorce, in the end, it’s about how the parents are able to come together to handle the situation. Honesty is the most important thing. That’s something I would’ve appreciated from my first set of parents. If they had been more honest, it wouldn’t have been as hard to work through in adulthood.
About five years ago, my parents handed me over all of my documents, and I read them and cried. I was labeled “retarded” when I was 6 years old by the Latvian doctors. Here, I was diagnosed on the spectrum for autism. There were a lot of factors: I was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. My mom had me when she was 15, and she was a party girl. There was definitely some brain damage.
My first set of parents were told that I would never be able to function in school, those doctors did not have high hopes for me at all.
I still have that paperwork and I laugh at it from time to time.