Friday, August 28, 2009

Memories of the Gotcha Day

(....continued from 8/26/08)

We arrived the night prior, to a sweltering Hunan airport. The tropical plants and palm trees were a change from Beijing's more familiar environment. The humidity clung to everything. We were hustled along in the dark by a young woman who would become our guide in Chang-Sha, "Vicky." She moved us en masse, with all our luggage, into a waiting van.

The vans smelled a bit of mildew, which would become a common scent here and farther south in our journey. I had tried to do a little laundry in Beijing the day before, washing it by hand in our hotel room and hanging our thin, microfiber clothing to dry in the bathroom and bedroom. Needless to say, the short turn-around time and relative humidity of China made air-drying nearly impossible, and our luggage was now significantly heavier, as we carted around very damp clothing.

We were very tired, and eager to go to bed. Our hotel was stunning on the inside -- featuring a massive lobby with marble pillars, koi pond and dramatic gold accents along the walls. We checked in to the Dolton, selected our pillow preference (feather and buckwheat for me), changed some money in the lobby and headed to bed.

Upon unlocking the room and heading inside, I was struck by an unfamiliar but momentous sight -- a crib, tucked in the corner, awaiting its occupant. All the talk, the work, the expense to prepare the papers, to nest, to pack, and to make the long journey to get to this room, with this crib, was suddenly very much in the past. Looking at the crib, I realized that everything from here forward would be different. We unpacked formula, bottles, a few things we needed in the morning. And although our beds were as unyielding as plywood, we piled on the comforters, said goodnight to each other and the room that would soon be filled with a world we had only imagined...and went to sleep (one of us needing a sleeping pill to calm his anxiety).

The next morning, we headed to the hotel buffet. The big event wouldn't occur until after lunch, so we joined our fellow travelers and worked at calming nerves enough to eat a meal. Following a joint meeting in the hotel conference room to review all our paperwork and meet two other families (from Maine and Minnesota), we headed out to lunch (who could eat???) and then to get the babies. Three families proceeded to the county offices in Chang-Sha, while the two others (second-time adopters, matched with slightly older children) settled in for a long drive to southern Hunan for their girls.

Two years later, I can't remember if the bus riders were quiet or bubbling with excitement. Three of the six future parents had never experienced parenthood before, so I am sure that even if there was noise, there was nervousness as well! We pulled into courtyard alongside the building and proceeded inside. At each step, we were asked to wait -- just a minute here or there, but it was agonizing. Other vans would pull up and we would get excited, thinking that the babies were in the vans. But one after the other, the vans were just delivering more prospective parents. We started to cluster in the lobby until we were invited into small elevators for a trip upstairs. Again the crowd built, as adults speaking several foreign lanuages spilled into the room. Some took posts along the walls, some in the ornately carved wooden benches throughout the room, and some just milled around blocking the doorway. We quickly prepped the camera for video, having run through the basics in the hotel room that morning (why I hadn't taught him to use the video before this day, I'll never know! Fortunately, he did great).

Then, Chinese women carrying babies began to enter the room. People were craning for a look at the children, seeking facial characteristics they could recognize from the pictures we had coveted for month or more. It was an amazing moment to realize that the 2-D image that filled your dreams and palms for so many days was now a physical presence, breathing, blinking and, in some cases, crying in the arms of the young aya's (nannies/caretakers). I saw a baby I thought was Grace, and we craned our heads for a better look. But a Spanish family crowded around her and gathered her up as I stood there, shaken by the thought that I didn't really know what my child looked like.

Then our guide returned, with three babies and ayas behind her. The noise was now cacaphonous, with various languages, cries of happiness and relief from the parents and sadness, fear and separation emanating from babies. R. turned on the camera, narrating his top-of-mind thoughts about the crowd and chaos. Suddenly, he spied Xue Chun. R.'s remarkable facial-recognition skills gave me instant relief, as I knew our daughter was finally here. He followed her with the camera as they first offered her and then retracted her until I could present my passport for identification. Xue Chun was staring around, expressionless but alert. When they handed her to me, my arms lifted a bit, overestimating the weight of the slightly built little gift that was now, finally, ours. She gripped firmly to a tissue box that was her comfort or toy -- I had imagined her playing with it on the long drive to the official building and now, needed this familiar object among all that was noisy and erratic and new.

She was so very soft, with arms and legs that while not sickly, seemed to have no muscles contained within. I couldn't believe this delicate little child could so tightly grip the tissue box, or so steadlily hold her head aloft. But she did -- watching with intense interest and growing horror at the crying and screaming of her fellow babies. Finally, she started to cry too, a loud and unending protest, her sweaty head and face turning red and anger pouring out of her. I cooed "bu pa" and "wu aie nee, xue chun" (don't be afraid, I love you) and her new daddy started the rocking that would not stop to this day, the swaying to calm an upset child (or maybe parent?).

Otherwise, she looked well. Her hair was fine and uneven, evidence of being shaved for some medical procedure (they would reportedly draw blood from the side of a child's head, or for other purpose). She had a few large red bumps on the back of her skull, from heat, we were told. Otherwise, was fine-featured and beautiful. Her clothes were cotton separates, made in India with the odd slogan "Ethnic Baby" imprinted in a colorful orange pattern across the front (just bizarre). Someone has tied up the undershirt strings and rolled down the waistband of the shorts to keep the clothing from falling off her.

We were finally removed to the van to return to the hotel, mothers now holding their precious babies, fathers gearing up with bottles and plastic keys and any manner of tchotchkes to calm the children's fears and provide entertainment. One baby peed all over her mother, and we all suddenly realized our daughters were not wearing diapers. Quick diapering ensued, and then we were at the Dolton.

At this point, Grace had stopped crying and was nearly asleep, worn out from the effort and the trip and the trauma. I can't quite recall whether we slept first, or bathed first. Either way, both were done as was a successful bottle-feeding. Shi-goo stopped by with the type of formula they used at the orphanage ("Sanlu" -- later found to be the brand contaminated with melamine) -- at the time, we were just thrilled to provide some continuity to our new little baby. After all had rested, we dressed her and went downstairs for a late and quiet dinner. She was calm, quiet and taking in everything with her lovely, shiny dark eyes.

I remember tucking her in her crib that night, incomplete phrases from dozens of lullabies and nursery rhymes floating through my head. We snapped a few pictures of our sleeping beauty, kissed her goodnight and went gratefully to bed.

I'll close this post by saying that following the hand-off, Grace never again had a crying spell in China. She woke up the next morning, cheerful and alert. She slept through the night, except when she needed a diaper change. We even realized that when we held her over the potty, she would pee -- an awareness that would later in her life lead to a very easy and early potty training. She was a happy, well-adjusted baby who took her bottles well and tried many solid foods at many Chinese buffets! She could suck a noodle like a champion, and, despite having no teeth, would go with gusto for fruits and rice, eggs, soft meats and other foods. We enjoyed our time with her in China, delighting in her laughter and surprise, her many facial expressions and interests. For the duration of our trip in China, passersby would stop to interact with Grace, saying to us "beautiful baby, clever baby," and we agreed.

On this second anniversary of our first Family/Gotcha/Adoption Day, we are no less thrilled, thankful for or awed by our sweet and spirited, intelligent and lovely little girl. We love you, Grace Xue.

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