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Thursday 30th of March 2017

Experiences

Adoption experiences/stories.

The Journey by Deborah Pope

I came home from Wuhan with my daughter just three months ago (July, 1993). She is incredibly wonderful, and I feel so lucky to have her with me. I would not want any other baby as my first daughter and I am overjoyed with my passage to motherhood. These are some bits of advice I found helpful as I journeyed to China to find my daughter. They are not in any particular order, and they reflect my experience. Your trip with probably be very different. Approaching this voyage as a great adventure, and greeting it with flexibility, are the best things you can do for yourself. Remember that the country to which you are going is the birthplace of your child. It will be nice to have good memories of your trip to share with your daughter as she grows up.

  1. Expect enormous obstacles to fall into your path.
  2. Expect to feel like everything is disintegrating. Expect to feel out of control.
  3. Stay calm.
  4. Be confident that everything will work out. Solutions WILL be found to all the enormous obstacles.
  5. The Chinese officials DO want the process to succeed.
  6. Treat your hosts with respect and appreciation.
  7. Do not exhibit anger and/or indignation.
  8. Do not be afraid of requesting the information and help you need.
  9. Understand that the Chinese love their children.
  10. Do not expect to meet your child in a calm and quiet environment.
  11. Try to ask all the questions you have about your child's history but do not expect to be able to ask or get answers to all the questions you may have about your child's history.
  12. You may bond with your child immediately.
  13. You may not bond with your child for days, weeks or even months.
  14. You WILL bond with your child.
  15. Do not worry if you wonder if this baby is the right baby.
  16. Be calm, follow your instincts and do not condemn yourself for any doubts you may have.
  17. Vent your fears and frustrations to your partner or to a close friend.
  18. Make sure that you have carefully researched the least expensive way to make international phone calls from China to the US with your telephone company. Do not make international calls on hotel lines unless collect or through ATT's USA Direct.
  19. Understand that you represent the parents who are yet to travel to China for their children.
  20. Don't drink the tap water. You CAN take showers without getting water into your mouth.
  21. The boiled water in the hotel thermos really is boiled and safe. Bring two Rubbermaid graduated quart bottles to cool it in and to mix formula.
  22. Bring mostly lactose based formula for your baby.
  23. Snuglis, or any of the carry slings, are great for transporting your baby.
  24. The Chinese tend to swarm around you when you go out with your baby. Don't be afraid of letting them see the baby and don't be afraid of withdrawing her from view when you feel you must.
  25. If you have never been to China, expect it to be completely different from any place you have ever been.
  26. Keep your paper work in one organized packet. Put all new documents and photos in this packet. Take the packet with you whenever you must accomplish any official function. Keep this packet with you as much as possible.
  27. Always keep your and your child's passports on your person.
  28. Don't lose your sense of humor. Your hosts have a sense of humor too.
  29. Do not introduce politics into discussions.
  30. When leaving China, check your luggage through to the US if you are changing planes in Hong Kong or Shanghai.
  31. Ask other parents of children from China about their experiences. Be sure to speak to families who traveled to the same city as you and/or who have traveled during the same season.
  32. Expect this experience to be one of the most exciting of your life.
  33. If you are single, seriously consider having someone accompany you. Anyone traveling with you, however, should understand that this is not a sightseeing trip. You and your baby will be the central focus and concern at all times.
  34. Expect to be exhausted even before you receive your child. The emotional and psychological strain on this trip is enormous.
  35. Expect to be even more exhausted once your receive your child.
  36. Expect to play with your child and begin to establish your own routines with her from the very first minute you are together.
  37. Through trial and error make sure that the holes in your bottle nipples are large enough for a baby who is used to getting her formula rather quickly.
  38. Don't be afraid of using the pacifier.
  39. The home recipe for pedialyte (used to counteract dehydration) is one level teaspoon of sugar and one pinch of salt in eight ounces of water. Pack a few ounces of sugar and salt, carry a tspn. and cup measure. This is very important. If any of the babies become dehydrated, this mixture will save the day.
  40. Bring antibiotics for your baby but do not administer them until you have consulted with a physician.
  41. Before departing for China, consult your pediatrician regarding what medications to bring for the baby.
  42. Consult your doctor regarding what medications to bring for yourself.
  43. Ask your doctor about the immunizations you will need: Hepatitis B, Gamma Globulin, Polio, Tetanus.
  44. Bring some food stuffs for yourself. Eating some meals in your hotel room makes life easier.
  45. Shop in local stores in China. Find foods from China that you enjoy snacking on.
  46. Do not expect your American adoption agency or facilitator to meet all your needs or to tell you everything you need to know.
  47. If something goes wrong try to concentrate on how to move forward and solve the problem. Let go of trying to figure out who is to blame and who will pay for the mistake.
  48. The only real mistake is wasting energy on anything unnecessary to getting and then keeping your baby happy and healthy.
  49. By the time you return home you will feel as if you have been away for a lifetime.
  50. You have.

Deborah Pope lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her daughter Abigail Tao Yu was born on November 13, 1993.

A Small Happiness

Originally published in Good Housekeeping, December 1994 and published her with the author's permission

 

A Small Happiness... That's how the Chinese refer to the birth of a baby girl. But for an American woman who adopted one of China's abandoned daughters, the joy is boundless.

At my wedding last May, everyone wanted to hold my baby daughter, Maria. "Why don't you let me take her?" my cousin asked. "Come to Grandma," my mother-in-law said. My sister boogied across the dance floor with her toddler and Maria. This is what happens at any gathering I go to these days. Everybody wants Maria, and l have to wait my turn.

But my daughter's life wasn't always like this.

In the spring of 1994, on a hot, humid day in Wuhu City, China, someone-probably her birth mother- sneaked into a crawl space under a police station and left her there. She was l day old, with fat cheeks and a skinny body, weighing about six pounds. She was only one of the tens of thousands of baby girls abandoned in China every year.

On October 27, 1994, 1 got on a plane in New York City to go to China and adopt her. She'd just turned 5 months old. I had a wallet-size photo of her (at 2 months, looking a little like a Chinese Winston Churchill) and a glowing report on her health. Her Chinese name was Mei Yu, which means plum blossom" and "jade."

For weeks before the trip, I'd been too excited to sleep, but on the plane I was suddenly calm. It had been only a few months since I'd started thinking about adoption, and I was amazed at how much had happened to me in that short time. I'd always wanted to he a mother, and my first husband's lack of interest in parenthood was one of the reasons we broke up. But at 35, I was happily single, and though I hoped to remarry someday, I felt unhurried.

Then one Sunday I read a story in The New York Times Magazine about the huge number of abandoned infant girls in China and the eagerness of the Chinese government to have them adopted (by single women and men as well as married couples). The Chinese preference for boys is thousands of years old, but something happened in 1979 that made the Chinese want baby boys-and not want baby girls-even more: The government instituted strict birth control laws that allow most families to have only one child. Chinese women are much more respected if their one child is male. A son is a cultural and economic advantage. He and his wife will support his parents in their old age; a grown daughter is expected to take care of her in-laws, not her parents.

The one-child policy sounds harsh, and it is. But China has one filth of the world's population, and officially the edict is an attempt to limit births in order to prevent mass starvation. In fact, today in China a woman isn't allowed to have even one child unless she has government permission. If a woman is pregnant without permission or for a second time, she may be pressured to abort the baby or let a doctor put it to sleep immediately after birth. Many women in this situation run away, hoping to give birth in a place where they won't be known. But officials sometimes find them and force them to have an abortion, then be sterilized.

In the cities every married Chinese woman between the ages of 15 and 49 carries an ID card that lists her form of contraception. Villages keep track of menstrual cycles by posting them on a public chalkboard. If a woman with an unplanned pregnancy evades abortion and has her baby, the government may fine her family as much as I7 years' salary. If the family can't pay the fine, the police may confiscate their belongings or demolish their home. Yet it's illegal for a family to place a child up for adoption or abandon it: Only the state can arrange an adoption.

For a woman who doesn't want to lose her home or her honor but can't bear to have her baby killed, the only hope may be to abandon the child. Found infants usually end up in orphanages, where they have a chance of being adopted either by foreigners or childless Chinese couples.

The plight of these unwanted girls moved me, and the idea that adoption in China could be relatively easy for a single woman was interesting. I clipped the article to save for the future, in case I never remarried and wanted to adopt. But when I happened across it just two months later, I realized something mysterious had happened: I'd begun to want to adopt a daughter from China whether or not I ever remarried or had other children.

I don't think I'll ever be able to fully explain why. Maybe adopting an abandoned girl appealed to me because my mother had been young and not particularly ready for motherhood when she had me: Loving an unwanted baby girl would be one way to "fix" my own past. In any case, once I learned about the possibility of adopting a baby girl from China, it just seemed the right way for me to become a parent. I have a tight-knit group of women friends who I knew would support my decision. They even threw a baby shower for me and sewed a baby quilt. I also have close male friends who I knew would be good influences in my daughter's life. And as a writer working at home, I had the flexible work hours other parents only dream of.

As for dating, I figured that if a man didn't want to know me as a mother, he didn't really want to know me. As it turned out, my social life changed fast. I suddenly lost interest in men who were immature or self-involved, and fell head over heels for a writer named Steven Rinehart. Steve loved the idea of my adopting a baby this way but confessed to his closest friends (and later, to me) that he kept forgetting to picture baby in daydreams about our future together. His friends reassured him: It takes a while for any one to get used to the idea of life with a child. A few weeks before I left for China, he asked me if I'd marry him. He also wanted to adopt my daughter. What a wild year!

By the time Steve proposed, it was too late to include him officially in the adoption, so he wasn't on the plane to China with me. I went with my mother and seven other adopting families (five married couples and two other single women.)

At the beginning, Mom had been against the idea of my becoming a single parent. When I'd phoned my parents to tell them my plans, my father had been overjoyed. But my mother was upset. "How can you do it by yourself?" she said in a tone that suggested I couldn't possibly raise a child on my own. I tried to explain that I'd thought it through, but she was still skeptical.

Then something happy and unexpected happened.

The adoption agency suggested I get a sense of my parents' reaction to be coming part of an interracial family. I raised the issue with my mother.

"But why?" she asked. She didn't understand how the baby's race could trouble anyone in our family.

"Well." I said, "you might be walking down the street with my daughter one day and somebody might not like seeing a Chinese girl with a Caucasian grandmother, and they might say nasty things..."

"They'd better not!" Mom said.

And from that moment on, she was a devoted grandmother. She still didn't like the idea of my becoming a single parent, but she knew this was not the fault of her beloved (if yet unknown) granddaughter. The next thing I knew, Mom was asking if she could go to China with me. On the plane, she was eagerly learning Chinese from a tape in her Walkman.

Throughout the adoption process, I'd continued to read articles and books about the troubled situation of girls and women in China. There, the birth of a boy has always been considered "a great happiness"; the birth of a girl, "a small happiness."

Over one million newborn girls who should, statistically, be on the birth rolls each year in China are missing-aborted, raised in secret, murdered, or, if lucky, abandoned. Parents sometimes pin a note to their baby's clothes before they leave her, such as the one found on an infant in Fuyang: "She was born on May 24, 1992. Please help my daughter."

To adopt Maria, I went through an interview with the adoption agency, Spence-Chapin Services, a physical, a fingerprinting session at my neighborhood police station (so I could be checked out by the FBI), a social worker's visit to my home, and lots and lots of paperwork.

When my papers were in order, the agency sent them to China. A month later, I received Maria's medical report and photo. Two months later, I was ready to go to China. The process, from the day of my first interview to the day I had my baby in my arms, took only eight months-quicker than a pregnancy.

Even so, in the weeks after I got Maria's medical report and photo, the waiting was painful. I didn't know her and she didn't know me, but she was in an orphanage on the other side of the planet, and I wasn't able to get to her. I cried on the public bus. I cried listening to the radio. This is unnatural. I thought. For a mother to be separated from her baby is unnatural.

Finally meeting and adopting my daughter wasn't the same as giving birth, but it was a powerful experience. It was comforting to go to China with other families who were experiencing the same thing. We spent our first day in Beijing, sightseeing at Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 freedom demonstrations, and at the Great Wall.

Our second day we flew south to the city of Hefei. Our babies were traveling, too-four bumpy hours in a van from a Wuhu City orphanage to Heifei. After we checked into our hotel, our guide told us to go to our rooms. Our babies were coming.

At first, we were all so excited we gathered in the hallway, giggling, whispering. Finally, the elevator stopped on floor and we scrambled to our rooms. The next thing Mom and I knew, a woman came to my door holding a baby in a blue sweat suit. In my photo of her, Mei Yu was fat cheeked and had a steely gaze (a tiny person with an old soul, I'd thought). This baby had the same cheeks, the same gaze. She fixed a long serious look at me, frowned, and started to bawl. Mom was crying with happiness.

I'd read up on 5-month-olds. Steve had slipped Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care into my suitcase, and according to the good doctor, a normal, healthy 5-month-old has a fear of strangers: She'll look you over, frown, then scream. How healthy and normal my daughter was!

Everyone in our group was elated. We'd all heard or read unsettling stories about sick children-including the one about a woman who learned the baby whose photo she'd carried around for weeks had died. Or another about an infant who'd been so sick that the orphanage staff had expected her to die and had stopped feeding her; when the adopting parents met their daughter, she had pulled through her illness but was suffering from starvation.

But our group had been fortunate in our choice of adoption agency and orphanage. The agency had asked the orphanage attendants to cuddle and play with our babies-even take them home at night-to help them thrive, and the strategy worked beautifully.

I loved my baby's tiny fingers first. Then her feet. The next day, while I bathed and dressed her for the meeting with orphanage officials, my heart suddenly felt like your stomach feels when you're on a roller coaster. I was falling for her completely.

The adoption proceedings took place in a conference room in the hotel. One by one, each family was called to table where a translator asked what each baby's name would be.

"It's kind of long," I said when my turn came. "Maria Frederica Mei Yu Rinehart Jones." I was naming her Maria Frederica after a friend who champions women's rights.

Our group stayed in Hefei while the orphanage officials went back to Wuhu City to finalize the adoptions. When they returned six days later, we finally got papers that told us how our daughters were found and who gave them their Chinese names. I learned that after the police had found Maria, they'd taken her to the orphanage, where a doctor examined her, estimated her age, and named her. I wanted to know more. Who brought her to the police station? Where exactly was she born? Does she have a biological brother or a sister? I still don't have those answers, but I'm glad to know she was only a day old when she was left under the police station. She was too young to know what was going on.

Another baby, Marisa Hom, was older-6 weeks-when she was found. "What went on during that time?" her mother Judy Hom asked. Of course, the Homs will never know. "Someone must have struggled to keep her," Judy said.

Fanny Xi Eaton and Leah Cummings had notes pinned to their clothes that gave their birth dates, but the government refused to say what else was written on the notes.

We new parents wanted more information-for ourselves and for our daughters. Mostly, though, we were very happy. What we'd wanted most in the world was now in our arms.

When Mom and I walked down the street in Hefei with Maria, people came up to us and asked anxiously, "Boy? Boy?" They didn't want anyone taking a boy out of the country. When we answered, "No, it's a girl," they reIaxed and said, "Lucky baby!" (Now in New York, too, people come up to Steve and me and say, "What a lucky baby!" It always strikes us as odd because we feel so keenly that we not the baby, are the lucky ones.)

On November 9, I carried Maria through a revolving door at Kennedy airport, and there was my father, holding a big poster-board sign that said, "Welcome, Maria!" Behind him stood two of my girlfriends, with cameras- and Steve, weeping with happiness. I'd never seen him cry before.

China is one of the world's oldest cultures, and we want Maria to be as proud of her Chinese heritage as of her American citizenship. We've found a wonderful Chinese woman to take care of Maria while we work, and she's teaching Maria to speak Mandarin. (Steve and I have tried to learn some of the language, too, but so far our desire exceeds our abilities!)

Maria and Fanny Eaton were born two days apart and spent their first summer in the same orphanage in China; now they live six blocks apart. They play at the same playground, swinging side by side in the baby swings. We see other babies from our group, too- on Chinese New Year's, at birthday parties, at an annual Dragon Boat picnic, which is sponsored by a national organization called Families with Children from China. There's a boom in American adoptions of Chinese children: In 1990, Americans adopted only 28 Chinese girls, but the process has gotten easier, and these babies are now leaving China for America at a rate of about 1,500 a year. Maria will always know other Chinese children with Caucasian parents.

When Maria gets older, Steve and I want to tell her everything we know about her birth parents. I believe they loved her enormously. I believe they were canny and brave-they may have avoided a forced abortion and, later, an arrest to get her to a place where someone would find and take care of her. I believe that, like me, Maria's biological parents had some faith in the world. With their faith, they reached out into the unknown; with my faith, I reached out and picked her up. Now, though, only I know how well-founded that faith was.

When I think of Maria's birth mother, I choke up. I feel I'm in a partnership with her. Yet there's so much she doesn't know-how lively and captivating her little daughter is, or how we call her "Happy Girl." When Steve and I go out walking, often with Maria riding on Steve's shoulders, everyone wants to talk to her or take her picture. Everyone *wants* her here.

No Guarantees: When "Special Needs" Are Unexpected

The following article is reprinted from Volume 1, number 2 of the newsletter of Families with Children from China of the San Francisco Bay Area.

As for so many parents, the day we saw and held our daughter for the first time will be forever etched in our memories. For the Ho family, that day was December 1, 1994, a hot and humid day in Sanshui, China. After waiting for so long, we finally had our beautiful and—we thought—healthy baby.

Jade was approximately four to six weeks old when we brought her home. Over the next several months she developed normally and, with the exception of chronic ear infections, was healthy. By the time she was eight to nine months old, we became concerned because she could not sit up at all, nor could she crawl. She had learned to roll over at around six months, and that was how she moved around. At first our pediatrician thought she was just developmentally delayed because of her time in the orphanage in China. By the time she was ten months, however, she was showing no progress, and we were very concerned. We were finally referred to a pediatric neurologist at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. The afternoon of the day she had her MRI, the neurologist called us with the diagnosis “cerebral palsy due to brain damage.”

At first we were so relieved to know what was causing her problems, it did not really sink in that Jade had brain damage and a potentially disabling condition. Our next reaction was anger when the doctor said the type of injury Jade had probably could have been prevented. This type of injury normally occurs during or after birth because the baby is mishandled. Of course, we will never know what really happened, and we quickly realized anger would not solve Jade’s problem. We then asked the doctor, “What can we do to help her?” Jade’s prognosis was good: the part of her brain that was damaged controlled her gross motor skills (sitting, crawling, standing, and walking). The doctor felt that with physical therapy she would eventually overcome all or most of her disability. We immediately put her in therapy, and after five months she has improved greatly. She can now sit and does a “combat crawl.” This tiny child has the determination and motivation to keep trying again and again.

Why am I writing about this? One reason is that our doctor took Jade’s MRI to an international conference of neurologists and explained her history. Afterwards two doctors from Mainland China came up to her and stated that if that child had been left in the orphanage, she would not have made it. That was such a horrifying thing for us to hear. Apparently there are many children in China with cerebral palsy caused by widespread but dangerous birth practices.

If anyone reading this has been thinking of adopting a special needs child—go for it! While at times it has been difficult (especially when people say to us, “Why don’t you take her back and exchange her?” and other insensitive remarks), it has also been more rewarding than I can put into words. Each time she accomplishes something, we celebrate, because we know she has worked so hard to do it. Jade has some additional problems related to cerebral palsy, but regardless of what some people think we should do, we would not trade this beautiful little bundle of love and happiness for anything in the world. She has changed our lives in a way we never imagined when we decided to adopt—all for the better!

Terry Ho lives with her husband and daughter Jade in Concord, California.

Qiu Meng Visits China

This article is reprinted from the January 1996 issue of Families with Children from China-New York's newsletter and may not be reproduced without permission. For permission to reprint, please contact the editor, Susan Caughman, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As I said good-bye to our new Chinese friends at Wuhan International Airport with tiny Qiu Meng in my arms and tears in my eyes, I wondered when I might ever meet them again. It was August 1992 and after three weeks in Wuhan I was anxious to be home to rejoin my family (husband Harry Fogarty and our then 7 year-old daughter Mairin) with our beautiful, longed-for new daughter. The experience in Wuhan had been wonderful but difficult too. Adopting independently, before the procedures were as routine as they are today, we were grateful for the kindness and assistance of volunteer guides and translators such as Suhai, a Wuhan high school student who had become Qiu Meng's honorary older brother, and others without whose assistance we would have been quite lost. As I departed, I was hoping that at least we might write to one another and, although I fantasized about a return trip to China one day to see sights such as the Three Gorges before they were flooded for the new dam on the Yangtze, the possibility seemed far in the future.

Little did I realize then just how strong the ties to China would become in the next couple of years nor how soon we would be returning to Wuhan. In fact, less than three years after that teary-eyed good-bye, Mairin, Qiu Meng and I were going back through those same airport gates again. But we were not there for a Yangtze river cruise, and Suhai was now a college student in Boston. Greeted upon arrival by Director Li of the Wuhan Foundling Hospital, filled with excitement and great anticipation, I knew tomorrow I would hold our third child and newest daughter, Mei Lan. It was March 22, 1995.

It had been natural to write and send pictures to our new friends and the staff of the orphanage once we were home in New York City with baby Qiu Meng in 1992. Over time those connections had deepened, especially after a visit by Director Li to the United States the next summer, and we wanted very much to return to Wuhan when we adopted a second time.

We did do some sightseeing in Shanghai--- before being totally caught up in the joy and mystery of the new baby, I had wanted to see just a little bit of another place in China. It was a fabulous two and a half days. Met at the airport by sisters of one of our Wuhan friends, and taken on a tour of the city by a friend of one of our early adoption contacts here, it provided the perfect transition between leaving home with two children, and the emotional intensity of meeting our new baby, and beginning to care for her.

Our short stay in Shanghai was a very special and memorable time for me. I knew these were the last few days of just Mairin and Qiu Meng , the relationships as they were and the dynamics among us that had developed over the past two and half years. Soon a third child would enter the mix, a new person with the demands and the gifts she would bring to us. We had the spirit of adventure in us. We were at this point travelling without Harry who joined us later in Wuhan — I had wanted to get on a plane as soon as it was practically possible after receiving word that our approvals were complete, but Harry needed to make arrangements to be away from work in a more orderly fashion. It was great for the children. We were able to visit some interesting places - Old Town, the Zoo, Yu Yuan Garden, Jade Buddha Temple. Mairin played the piano in a music class at the Children's Municipal Palace, we saw T'ai Chi being practiced early in the morning along the Bund, ate great dumplings, and best of all had a home-cooked meal in the home of Suhai's grandparents. We had a chance to recover from the long journey and to adjust to being in a different time zone, let alone a different world. And, significantly for me I was able to see and be with Mairin and Qiu Meng in a way I never had before.

We must have been a sight as we ventured out to the Bund, or at least it seemed so by the attention we attracted. Mairin had a video camera and a set of “dog tags” around her neck (we had had our Culture Class teacher write out in Mandarin the girls' names, identifying information and our contacts in China on little cards to wear on chains around their necks in case they ever got separated from me), and I was trying to keep up with her sister. People didn't seem to know what to make of Qiu Meng, exhuberantly running ahead of us, glad to be free after so many hours cooped up on a trans-Pacific flight, jacket open, hair flying ...

When I looked later at photographs I took of our walk along the Bund and our visit to Yu Yuan Garden I could clearly see why. The Chinese children near Qiu Meng in age were either being carried or their hands were held so they stayed close by an adult. They looked all bundled up in padded jackets or several layers. I couldn't help but think I was getting disapproving looks and so felt somewhat self- conscious, and then guilty that on this Qiu Meng's first day back in China I was not really taking proper care of her. But, Qiu Meng is not one to be restrained and the sights and sounds were all too exciting and her energy level too high. It was wonderful for me to see her there, in the land of her birth, and to see how she related to people and they to her.

Qiu Meng was not quite prepared for the welcome she received at the orphanage. It was hard to think of it as a homecoming for her because she had been in their care for such a short time, but she was greeted by the directors and orphanage staff with such warmth and affection. She held back at first which is her way, being shy and a bit reserved (which actually made her appear quite well-behaved!). In the time we were there she warmed up, especially toward the friends we saw most often. When she was feeling more comfortable, she had a complete and irrational tantrum, as only a two-year old can. Unfortunately it was while we were travelling in the van with Director Li. I kept myself from feeling totally mortified by reminding myself that Director Li is around young children all the time, athough I couldn't imagine any raised-in-China children behaving like this. On another occasion, again while riding in the van with Director Li sitting just in front of her, Qiu Meng began singing, almost as if on cue, "Zao ya, zao ya, zao ya, zao, Zao dao yi ge hao peng you." Director Li turned aroound, obviously pleased and joined Qiu Meng in singing this song she had learned in her Chinese Culture Class about finding a friend.

I don't know what Qiu Meng really understood of the orphanage except that she knows it is where we went to meet her new sister. Mei Lan was very small, and sound asleep, being held by her foster mother when we arrived. No one else was there in the room with us except one of the administrators and our translator who had been with us when we first met Qiu Meng, so it was a very special quiet and private time. I am grateful now that it was just that way because Qiu Meng and Mairin could be involved in those first moments with their new sister without distractions going on around them. If Qiu Meng has any memory of this first meeting, or if the few photographs taken then evoke any for her, I hope it will help her to know the joy Harry and I felt when we first saw her.

Later that morning when we were taken through the orphanage Qiu Meng retained her reserve, especially when staff members approached and greeted her, but she accepted the oranges they gave us, eating one right away. One image I know she came away with was that of the children being fed an apple with a spoon. She thought this was a great idea and reminded us of it after we got home when she asked that we feed her that way and suggested it when Mei Lan was old enough for solid food. We spent a lot of time in the rooms with the toddlers and pre-schoolers. The sight of Qiu Meng among them, and then several days later with children her age when visiting a day care center, remains so strongly with me, the ways in which she is similar yet already quite different.

The afternoon of that first day with Mei Lan we decided to go out for a walk. Mairin wanted to be first to carry Mei Lan in the snugli. Qiu Meng wanted to carry her baby too, so we put her doll in Mei Lan's quilted pants which had drawstrings at the waist (I'm sorry to say that like most Americans adopting we changed the baby into an outfit we brought with us almost as soon as we got back to our room with her. I wish now that we hadn't, leaving her in the comfort of the clothes and at least some of the smells she knew while first having to adjust to the strange images and voices we presented.) We were able to rig these pants up for Qiu Meng to wear as a great dolly snugli. The picture of the four of them ready to go out (Qiu Meng's doll included) is one I will always treasure.

While I felt all of us being there together was wonderful and the right way to have done it, it certainly had its challenges. Mothering three children while travelling , with each child having her own set of needs, was not the least of these. Mairin needed to talk and to have time to read and do home-work, Qiu Meng to play with someone and to find an outlet for her energy, and the baby to be fed and changed and held, all while trying to absorb the new experiences we were having. But, I can't imagine not being together through this. I know it was profoundly important for each of us and especially significant for Qiu Meng to have made the journey to China. And I can't help but think that it will mean a great deal to Mei Lan as she hears her story and reviews the pictures to know that we were all there.

It is a year now since our papers were on their way to Beijing and we were waiting to hear who our new baby would be. Often then, when she was taking her bath, Qiu Meng would pretend that she was “swimming to China to get my baby sister.” Soon after we came home she began to play a game in which she reenacted the airplane ride. She would line up little chairs to make the seats of the plane, fill them up with her dolls and animals to be the passengers, and get at least one of us to play with her too (she was always the pilot and of course controlled the action). In some variations she had a pink house in China and was bringing us there to visit. One of her favorite movies “The Blue Kite”, which she first saw a few months after we came home, is set in China and made there with English subtitles, so she only hears Chinese and focuses on the visual. Recently she has talked about wanting to go to China, asking if she can visit our friends there, and saying she will take her whole family with her when she goes. The overall feeling is that she has very positive associations to China and that it is real to her.

This seems to be a time of sorting out for Qiu Meng as it may well be for many three year- olds. She has been asking lately why we wanted her, why we went to China to adopt her, and to adopt Mei Lan, a baby sister for her. She asks these along with why I married Harry, if we are going to die, and other such serious questions. Qiu Meng clearly knows she is adopted and has some understanding of what that means or at least of the process as it was for her and for her sister. And while she had been able to say for some time before we went back that she was born in China, she could not have known what that meant. Now she has a concept of China based upon a reality she knows, images of it, and memories, some of which I'm sure are positive. All these will go along way I hope in helping her to understand and accept her own story.

I feel that China, and something Chinese, has been integrated into our lives, is part of who we are, because of this particular journey, and of having been there as a family. I suppose for some people contemplating a second adoption it is just too much more to also consider returning with their first child and all that that would entail. I know too some adoption agencies actively discourage it. But, what a loss I feel it must be for them. The experience of going to meet Mei Lan was rich beyond measure for all of us, and the benefits for Qiu Meng continue to unfold and reveal themselves in new and unexpected ways all the time.

It's never too late

The following article is reprinted from the December 1995 issue of China Connection, the newsletter for FCC New England. Please notify editor Julie Michaels (617) 929-2809) for permission to reprint.

 

I spent a long time thinking about what it would be like for me, an older single person, to become a first-time mother. Many people gave me advice, warning me of the difficulty of parenthood and that it would be especially difficult becoming a parent at age 46.

``You really don't know what it's like until you've done it,'' they said. I was told that I would always be exhausted, that there wouldn't be any time to do my art work and the generation gap would be too big. I heard, ``Imagine raising a teenager when you're 57 years old!!!'' Someone even said, ``Why don't you get another dog. They're much easier than kids, especially at your age.''

After considering this input and my lifelong desire to raise a child, I made the decision and decided to adopt a 3-year-old girl from China. Here is how it has gone for me.

In March of 1995, I left for China by myself and traveled to several cities to learn a little about the country. With every child I saw, I wondered if my daughter, Tian Tian, would look like her. I was an anxious mess. Finally the day came to meet her, April 3, and she was brought to me in my hotel room in Yanzhou.

I had prayed that she would have a great temper tantrum when the people from the orphanage left her alone with me. This would tell me if she had emotionally bonded with someone else and was emotionally capable of bonding again with me. Let me tell you, Tian Tian had a colossal tantrum that could be heard from my tenth floor room down to the hotel lobby! After allowing her to kick and scream and and throw her stuffed animals around the room, she was quieted by playing with the T.V. The first hurdle into parenthood was over.

That first week in China was a very important time for us to begin establishing our closeness. I learned that Tian Tian did not use this name, although that was her legal name. She was known as Mai Mai. Because she already knew a lot of Chinese, I decided to keep this nickname. It was a custom in China for children to use their nickname until they go to school and then switch to their given name. I figured that Mai Mai was dealing with so many changes that I did not want to also throw in a name change.

Establishing closeness happened quickly for the two of us. The first night she slept alone in her single bed, not welcoming me to sit with her. I did not push her to be close to me. The next morning I tempted her onto my bed with a box of raisins. From that point on we had great play time in our beds. Mai Mai was attached to objects to sort, pile, and put into a box. The toys I brought with me were really not of any use because she didn't know how to play with them. She had never seen stacking blocks, a doll nor a toy car before. (She catches on fast now when a new toy is introduced, learning quickly from her peers at Day School.)

We were both exhausted when we arrived home from our extensive travels. I did not take a stroller to China, which was a mistake. Because Mai Mai did not have good leg strength I carried my 30 pound daughter almost every where we went. We became bonded with each other during this week _ at the hip.

Poor leg strength is a typical developmental difference between Chinese children and American children. Chinese children are swaddled longer and wear many layers of clothing, which limits mobility. This coupled with being carried when taken out of the orphanage and spending many hours in a crib each day resulted in weaker leg muscles. I am happy to say that Mai Mai developed good standing balance and a love for running and jumping within two months after arriving in her new home.

Now that we are home, sleeping has been our biggest problem. Mai Mai would wake up frequently during the night. She seemed very frightened, something that she never seemed to feel during her waking hours. During the first two months I stayed with her in her bed until she fell asleep. Then I realized that I could not do this any more.

When Mai Mai woke up crying, I listened to the type of cry she had. On most nights, I would stay in my bed and call out to her that everything was OK, Mama was here and she could go back to sleep. Those other cries required my going to her and giving her much needed physical comforting. Now we have a real bed-time routine which prepares her for going to sleep, from brushing teeth, to the last good night kiss and a reassurance that everything is OK and she is absolutely safe. We stayed real close those first few months and she got a lot of comfort sleeping in my bed. Now she infrequently finds her way in to sleep with me.

Mai Mai is learning English as a second language. This has been hard for her because she does not have the English words to express everything she wants to say. Her frustration is heard as whining and/or crying. She has quite a command of the word ``NO'' and she uses it as readily as most three year olds! At the same time, I also am frustrated because I cannot communicate information to her because I don't know her dialect of Chinese.

It is important for me to always remember that we have only been together for six months and her English is coming along GREAT. This week we passed a milestone when Mai Mai announced ``I did it!'' She was as proud of completing a task as she was of learning the language.

I have experienced two difficult times with my daughter when she has felt absolutely terrorized from hearing loud noises. Once was a reaction from a train passing at night and the other was from a thunder storm, first thing in the morning. Fortunately, both times we were very close. She became rigid, panic filled her face, she cried very hard and said ``No! No!'' and maybe other words in Chinese that I did not understand. I can only imagine what she was feeling. My heart hurts for her when she goes through these experiences. What does this mean? What causes such a strong reaction? Now when she hears routine loud noises, such as a truck or a motorcycle, she says, holding her ears ``Too Loud!'' I ask her to tell me what is making the noise and she names it. This seems to bring the noise into a present reality and she relaxes. I believe that these two episodes are but two more of the pieces to the puzzle that explains who my daughter is. Someday the whole puzzle will come together for us.

We talk about China in a very simple way _ reading books, looking at pictures of special places in China, meeting with Chinese and other Asian people, listening to Chinese children's music and looking at photographs that I took of her friends and her room in the orphanage. We are so lucky to be able to maintain and develop a friendship with one of my daughters friends from the orphanage, Nicole. She was adopted by a family north of Boston one week before Mai Mai was adopted. We are committed in providing the girls the opportunity to maintain and broaden their friendship, the only relationship which predates their adoptions.

Mai Mai is aware that she is from China and she clearly knows the difference between people from the East and people from the West. I am sure there will be more talk between us about her adoption in later years.

I feel that my daughter is strong, healthy and happy. The basis for this was laid down in China by the orphanage when Mai Mai arrived there at two months of age. In going to Mai's orphanage I felt the environment was cold and sterile but the staff was warm and caring to each child there. She received basic good nutrition, was cared for by gentle people and received

special love from at least one nurse.

Mai Mai sparkles with life and is very happy. She is secure and brilliant. She loves people and looks to please others without compromising her own desires. We make a great family and I constantly sing my little jingle to her ``Mai Mai and Mama make a family. Mai Mai and Mama, together we will always be.'' We both have made huge changes in only six months. In some ways it is like we have always been together.

So, I've discovered that my friends were right: I am exhausted most of the time, I never have time to do my work and this is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. It is also true that raising a dog is easier than raising a child. But I wouldn't have missed this chance for the world _ to share my life with my daughter.


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