Gotcha Day

Ely, Mike, and I were a bundle of nerves on Sunday night and slept very little.  In Guangdong province, “Gotcha” time is not until 2:30 PM, so we had the whole first part of the day to get through before heading to the Civil Affairs office.  After breakfast, we took a short walk around the pond and the waterfall, took some more photos.  One of the other adoptive families was also there at the koi pond, and Ely asked the wife, Megan, if she would take a photo of all of us together.  It is nice to have a photo of all of us together that’s not in a government building of some kind. :)

When we were heading back to our hotel room, I stopped dead in my tracks.  I saw Ama (Pearl’s foster mother) and then Amei (Pearl’s foster sister) second.  We knew they were traveling from Fuzhou to Guangzhou sometime on Monday, but we weren’t expecting to see them until they had arranged a meeting with us through our guide.  Once I got over my initial few seconds of shock, I ran up to them and gave them each hugs.  Mike went up to our room while they held Celine and loved on her.  When Mike returned, we exchanged gifts and the few words of each other’s language we knew, then stood around awkwardly.  Youhong typed into her phone that Helen was going to be there at 10:30.  It was 10:15.  Only 15 more minutes of awkward silence.  I pulled out the camera, switched SD cards to the one from 2014 and began flipping through photos of Christmas, Halloween, the fall.  They got a really big kick out of seeing photos of Pearl and of the other kids.

Celine with Pearl's foster mother and sister.

Celine with Pearl’s foster mother and sister.

After Helen arrived, we sat in the coffee lounge and chatted with the help of Helen, who interpreted our comments and questions.  It was a sweet and special time, but it was also very emotional.  At the same time that I feel immense gratitude for these people who raised my daughter from the time she was a baby until the time we adopted her, I also grieve the time I missed with her during her babyhood. And, I constantly feel their sadness because they miss her and grieve the time that’s passed since they had her.  They are still so very attached to her. They have a really hard time understanding that Pearl is no longer a baby and has grown and changed in so many ways.  They remember her a certain way, and in their minds, I think that she will always be that way, but the reality is, she’s not what they remember her to be anymore.

I understand the importance of reminiscing and staying connected.  Our whole family will always be so appreciative of how they cared for Pearl.  It was a lot to think about and process on the morning of our Gotcha Day for our two new girls, but I’m still glad we were able to see them.

We really needed to get Celine down for a nap and get a snack before our big afternoon.  Ama and Amei really wanted to meet our two new girls, so we parted ways and made plans to have lunch with them on Tuesday.

After a short nap for Celine and some time preparing what to take with us for Gotcha Day, we met Helen and headed to the Civil Affairs office.  Our ride there was fairly short.  We had been worried about having to wait a long time to meet our girls, but when we arrived on the 8th floor, most of the other families were already there and children were arriving!  I am not a crier, but I teared up while I watched a few of the families we had just met receive their children.  It was so very sweet.  There’s all the emotion of a baby being born – the anxiety, the anticipation, the sheer joy.

We were not even there five minutes when a woman walked quickly by us holding the arm of a child whose hair I recognized even from behind.  This was our Abby!    I pointed her out to Ely and Mike, who didn’t realize it was her right away.  Then, we had to sit there and wait until the orphanage director was finished in the office.  After what seemed like hours but was really only a few minutes, the orphanage director brought Abby over to us.  They told all of us it was “our turn.”  We learned that Abby was called by her Cantonese name, “Hing-um” (phonetic spelling), so we called her that, and said Hi and introduced ourselves.  Abby allowed us to kind of hug her while our guide took photos.  Then, she sat next to her bags near me but as far away from me as she could get while still sitting on the seat.  I could tell she was crying, and I reached out to her, but she shrugged me off and sat stiffly with her back to me.  My heart broke for her.

The orphanage director answered the questions we had given to our guide to ask.  Then our guide turned to us and translated, “She is blind and has been going to blind school.  Were you aware of that?”  We were completely dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say.  We responded that, no, we did not know that…that we were under the impression that she had some slight issues with her sight, but that she was not blind.  The orphanage director also gave us some other answers that we were not expecting.  We didn’t know what to believe.  I started to panic a bit, but I didn’t have too much time to think, because then in walked a Nanny with the last baby of the day…our Lulu!

It was chaos for awhile as we tried to keep track of Celine who was stumbling around and whining (she picked this week to cut her top teeth), Abby who was crying and trying to get as far away from us as possible, and give Lulu the attention she deserved!  I pulled out some more snacks and tic tacs to keep Celine at bay while we took some pictures with Lulu.  Our Gotcha with both girls was nothing less than a whirlwind ride!

After we received Lulu and asked her Nanny our questions, we got out of there quickly.  Our guide told us ahead of time that the best thing to do with older children is to leave Civil Affairs as quickly as possible and go to the grocery store to get snacks, so that’s what we did.  Abby did not want to go with us, but she followed Helen immediately.   Helen is Chinese and speaks her language, so Abby stuck very closely with Helen.

When we first got the “Trust Mart,” a much more primitive Chinese-version of a Walmart, things were really tense and awkward, but by the end of our shopping trip, the cart was full of snacks, and Abby was much happier.  Ely and her began to bond by picking out the same snack on several occasions.  Abby also tried to help pick formula and rice cereal for Lulu, which was very sweet.

Helen communicated to Abby that she would be going back to the hotel with Mommy and Daddy.  When we got back to the hotel, Helen needed Mike to do some paperwork, so they left me with all four kids in the hotel room.  Let me just say that those 20-30 minutes were just awful.  Abby was completely nervous and overstimulated.  She flitted here there and everywhere, rummaging through everything.  She could not control herself in the least, and she tried to leave our room several times.  Lulu cried every time I put her down, and Celine was exhausted as well.  I sent a desperate text to Mike, asking him to come ASAP.  He finally came back, and I went to talk to Helen about setting some ground rules with Abby.  I asked her to explain to Abby who she was, that she was here to help but not here to take her back to the orphanage or away from Mommy and Daddy, and that she cannot touch everything – only her things.  Helen came back to the room with me and explained these things to Abby.  It seemed to help some.  We showed Abby some of her new clothes, and she told Helen they looked small.  LOL.  Yeah, some of them were probably a little bit small since we didn’t have the correct measurements until two days before we left.  Helen assured her that if some of her clothes were a little small, that she had other clothes at home.  Abby also informed us that her favorite color was red, and that she did not like the purple coat we had just bought her the previous day.  Good to know she’s not opinionated or anything.  Helen told Abby that Mommy and Daddy would take her to eat noodles for dinner and that she’d be back in the morning.

With two exhausted babies, one newly adopted and restless nine-year-old, and another hyped up nine-year-old, we ventured across the street to the noodle shop.  Thankfully, dinner went better than expected.  Abby picked what she wanted from the menu right away, Ely followed suit, and we ordered a bunch of dumplings and ribs to hold us over in the meantime.  It’s a good thing we ordered those ribs and dumplings, because what Abby and Ely ordered ended up being noodles with beef stomach!  Abby didn’t seem to mind, but Ely chewed on his meat for like ten minutes, and said he couldn’t chew it any more.  Poor guy.  We let him spit it out.  He was a good sport about it, though, and ate as many noodles as he could anyway.

Bedtime routines the first night were a bit nerve-wracking.  We had no idea if Abby would wear the pajamas we brought her or if she would even change at all.  Around 9:00, after the babies were in bed, I showed her the pajamas and told her it was bedtime.  She found her bag of underwear herself, picked one out, and next thing I knew, she was throwing me a towel (well, actually, it was the bath mat).  She went into the bathroom and stripped down, and I helped her take a shower.  I’m glad she knew her own routine and wanted to stick to it. After shower time, Abby went to her bag - the one we sent to her while she was at her SWI – and pulled out her brush. It was still in the package, but it had been used.  She carefully removed the brush from the package, brushed her hair, and then put it back in the packaging.  I showed her the new toothbrush we got for her (which she had played with before…she loved the rotating head). She actually turned to be and said, “Help me.”  I brought the water pitcher into the bathroom.  She looked at it, looked in it, and tried to keep pouring water into the top of it.  Then, she tried to drink out of it.  I had Ely get her a bottle of water instead, and she proceeded to use the entire thing to wash her toothbrush, brush her teeth, and then rinse her mouth.

I tucked her in bed just as I did Ely that night, gave her a kiss on the head, and told her I loved her in three different languages.  She brought the baby’s remote control toy in the bed with her, and we heard it for about ten minutes, then silence.

Lulu was not too difficult for us the first night, although I could not put her down.  I fed her at dinner like a baby bird, and Mike and I both snuggled her at night until she was almost asleep.  She hated being put in her crib, but she did eventually go to sleep. More on Lulu later. :)


Our First Day in China

We arrived in Guangzhou around 12:30 AM this morning, Saturday, January 3rd.  It’s crazy that it’s still today.  Wow.  We really have no idea what day or time it is right now.  We met our guide, Helen, after we left immigration, and she rode with us back to our hotel.  She was very peppy and chatty at one in the morning.   We talked about the details of the next few days, including Abby’s two Chinese names (one in Mandarin and one in Cantonese), neither of which I can pronounce correctly.

We all slept a bunch on the flight from Seoul, so it was hard for us to go to sleep again after we were all checked in and settled.  We skyped with Pearl and Finn and left a message for Milo.  Celine walked around and played.  We discovered that the “baby mattress” for Celine smelled like a barn.  It seems to be made of some kind of compressed material.  Hay?  Grass?  Who knows.  It was as hard as a rock, but I think a rock would have been more comfortable.  I chucked it out of the crib, and Mike and I used a baby comforter and wrapped the crib sheet we brought around that and the crib bottom.  All our work was for nothing since Celine screamed and would have none of it, even though she’s usually a really good sleeper at home.  She ended up in the bed with me and initially fell asleep, but then I made the mistake of trying to transfer her back to the crib.  That was the end of the sleep for both of us.  I spent the next three hours trying to succumb to the effects of the painkiller I had taken while Celine spent the next three hours whining, trying to stand up, then laying back down and scooting around the bed.  I think she finally fell asleep around 6 this morning.  We both got only an hour or so of sleep before we were up again.

Before I went to bed, I also discovered that our toilet seat was heated.  Toasty buns.  Interesting.  Not sure what to think of that one.

Everyone was thrilled about breakfast, except Celine, who picked at her food, whined, and then drummed on the table with two spoons.  We figured out later that she had pooped and was leaking through all her clothes.  But, she was still happy with her spoons.

Ely ate three plates at breakfast. Bacon, ham, donuts, dumplings, fruit, raisin bread, and lots more.   Three plate proved to be too much later.  I immediately thought of Pearl when I saw the watermelon.  She ate watermelon every morning for breakfast in China.  Sweet girl.  I miss her so much.

After breakfast, we walked around the grounds of the Garden.  It is so beautiful here. Koi ponds, waterfalls, gardens, and walking paths everywhere.  The weather is beautiful, too.  It was in the sixties yesterday, and we were soon ditching our outer layers.   Most Chinese people still were wearing winter jackets and fur-lined boots, though.  We even saw a baby or two in a snow suit. Crazy, I know.

We ventured across the street to the mall and wandered around the H&M store.  They have a lower level that is for kids 0-10 years of age.  There were very few people there.  I was thinking it would be a good place to bring Abby to let her pick out an outfit.  Not very crowded and not tons of choices, which are both ideal for a newly adopted child.

We walked a few blocks to the Aeon grocery store and had a great time perusing all the different kinds of foods.  Ely got to experience all kinds of new foods and smells.  We recognized some of the snacks and drinks we came to enjoy last time we were in China, so we picked up a bunch.  Most of the drinks we bought were for Celine, since she won’t drink orange, grapefruit, or kiwi juice (the three drinks that are offered here for breakfast).  Kiwi juice…it’s kind of weird drinking green liquid, but it’s actually very good!

Many people stared and pointed and talked about us as we wandered around.  We’ve come to expect as much, although at times, it is still unnerving, especially for me.  Mike doesn’t seem to care.  We will really get stares once we add another toddler and another nine-year-old to our crew tomorrow!

Our afternoon was uneventful since we all slept.  Our bodies thought it was nighttime, so it was really hard to drag ourselves out of bed at 5:00.  Celine was really upset about waking up.  We had to try to get up and eat so we could beat the jetlag!  None of us really felt like eating (well, except for Mike, who said he was starving and wanted to eat at lunch even though we skipped it), but we set out to find somewhere to eat anyway.  After walking down a street that was very obviously non-food related, we turned around and went the other way instead.  We found lots of different options, although the first few had nothing on their very large picture menus that appeared even remotely safe to us.  Since all of our stomachs were eh, we decided upon the Irish pub so we could eat something kind of American.  Just so you know, even an Irish pub in China is still very “Chinese.”

Most people seem to like the Paddy Field, but we weren’t fans.  The waitresses were very nice and friendly.  One even gave Celine a candy bar.  LOL.  We tried to order what we thought was Orange soda.  The waitress said, “no Sunkist, orange.”  We said okay, thinking we were still getting orange soda.  She came back with orange juice.  I ordered fish and chips, which was the best meal out of all our meals.  The fish, fries, and tartar sauce were all good.  The “coleslaw” tasted like pickled fish.  Mike wanted to know why I even tried it.  Sometimes, I like to be adventurous. ;)  Celine’s and Ely’s burgers tasted like meatloaf, and Mike’s chicken tasted only of garlic - really strong garlic.  In China, there’s really no sending a meal back or asking them to take it off the bill, so we ended up spending way too much for food we didn’t eat.  Oh, well.  Next time, we’ll just eat noodles.

We stayed up as late as we possibly could, skyped with Milo, and gave Celine a bath.  She played hard and then crashed hard, and so did we.  I wasn’t even coherent enough to finish my blog post.  It’s getting finished right now, on Sunday morning instead.  :)

Here are some photos from our day.


Lulu’s story

What do we do when our child dies?  Adopt.  What do we do when our adopted child dies?  Adopt again.

After Rose died, our kids began asking right away if we could adopt again.  At first we questioned their motives, but we told them we would think and pray about their request.  We talked about how adopting again would not take away our sadness and how a new child would not be Rose.  We talked about how things would be hard and that we’d have to adjust as a family all over again.  In the best ways we knew how, we helped our children to understand the sacrifices and realities of another adoption.

For a little while, Pearl was very confused and thought that if we went back to China, Rose could come home again.  Then, she thought we left Rose in the hospital. Although Pearl’s reactions were difficult to respond to at times, I was also not surprised.  Milo had the same sorts of thoughts and questions as Pearl did after Stella died.

As if to say, “I’ve got this,” God provided a sizeable amount of money after Rose’s death. We used what we needed to make up for Mike’s lost income (from when Rose was in the hospital), funeral expenses, a grave marker, etc.  But, we had a decent amount left.  We didn’t want to just dwindle it away.  We wanted it to have eternal value and carry on Rose’s legacy.  It was just enough to begin the adoption process again.  Not enough to finish, but enough to begin.

When Celine was only a month old (in December), we had our one year post-placement visit for Pearl with our agency social worker, and we brought up our thoughts about adopting again. Her reaction was one of “cautious support” as she put it.  However, after she discussed our desire with the rest of her local staff, we were met with far more resistance.   Additional discussions ended with disappointing comments from their side.  We were excited about the possibility of adopting again, but we questioned whether their reaction was God’s way of telling us we weren’t ready or whether it might mean our new child was with a different agency.

We called up our fabulous independent social worker, Donna, who started with us when we began the process to bring Pearl home.  She recommended an agency that had helped one of her families complete the adoption process even after the husband unexpectedly passed away.  The agency we mentioned was the same agency several other friends in the past and had also recommended to us.  The next day, I called WACAP and spoke to one of the workers.  I explained our situation, our desire to adopt again, and asked if there would be any problem from their end on allowing us to do so.  All the while, our family was praying that if God did not want us to go down this path, that he would drop a boulder in our way.

WACAP was very encouraging and talked us through their process.  We were not ready to commit yet, so I thanked them and hung up the phone.  But, I did join a facebook Child Advocacy Group.  Big mistake. ;)  LOL.  Within days, we had spotted a little heart baby, and were very interested in her.  The agency she was with?  WACAP. Coincidence?  I think not.

I contacted WACAP, and there were several families reviewing her file.  None of them had said “yes” yet, though.  In order to have the chance to potentially lock her file, we would have to have an application on file with WACAP.  We sent in our application and application fee right away and waited anxiously.  WACAP emailed me the file, and we began reviewing it.  We asked our pediatric cardiologist to review her file, and in several days time, he came back with an extremely favorable prognosis for this little girl.  I was ready to say yes.  Mike was nervous and not as drawn to her as I was, but since she already had surgery and her outlook was very good, Mike also said yes, let’s go for it.  We told WACAP we would like to lock her file.  We were one day too late.  Our application had arrived later than another family who also wanted her. The other family had her file on hold and had two weeks to decide whether or not to proceed.  We were so bummed but decided to wait it out.

Meanwhile…Another mom in one of my newly joined FB groups was in the process of reviewing the file of a little girl with limb differences.  She was looking for someone who had a child with a similar special need, and I spoke up and said our daughter had the same special need.  She PMed me, asked me questions, and wondered if I’d mind reviewing the file for her.  Of course I said I’d be happy to.  When I opened the file she emailed me, I saw the most precious little girl, only ten months old, with cleft hands and feet.  The attached video showed her playing with her toys with gusto.   It was obvious to me that she was very intelligent.  I discussed my thoughts with this Mom over FB messenger, encouraging her that this child’s special need was really very manageable.  I told her, “If this was my referral, I’d say yes!”  She sounded very optimistic and told me she’d let me know.  I didn’t hear anything from her.

Two weeks went by, and we heard nothing about the little heart baby.  I checked in with WACAP again and again, and finally, we heard that the family had decided NOT to proceed.  Yippee! It was not our turn!  I told WACAP we were ready to say yes, and then the disappointment came:  there were two or three families wanting this little girl.  They asked us if we wanted to wait for WACAP to have a meeting to decide which family would be best for her, but there would be no guarantee we’d be selected.  (It’d all depend on who was further in the process, had access to medical resources, had more experience, etc.) We said that yes, we did want to wait for the meeting.   The meeting wouldn’t happen for at least another week or two.  We waited some more.  And filled out more paperwork, of course. ;)

The next day, I received an email from WACAP’s Waiting Child Mailbox.  We had been signed up for the email list after we applied and checked off what needs we’d be willing to consider.

I almost jumped out of my skin.  It was HER.  The little girl whose file I had reviewed!  I couldn’t believe it.  The family had returned her file, and now she was available.  Mike came home a few minutes later, and I showed him her photo.  He said, “I want her.  Yes.  Contact them now.”  I sent an email immediately back to WACAP.  I was the first one who responded, but within the day, two other families also came forward for her.  Now, WACAP said they would have to have the same kind of meeting to determine the best family for her.  They said they had never had this type of situation - one in which multiple families are all ready to say yes to the same child. They asked us to fill out paperwork for her, too.

There were lots more details, but basically, we went back and forth with WACAP on both girls for another week.  They asked us to choose only one girl we wanted to be considered for, but there’d be no guarantee we’d be matched with either one.  We asked if we could be considered for both.  They said no, because they were too close in age and too many people wanted them.

We agonized and prayed and waited and prayed and agonized some more.  We were torn.  The heart baby’s meeting was scheduled to be before the limb difference baby’s meeting. But, then the meeting for the limb difference baby got moved up.  We all decided to ask to be considered for Qiu Lu.  We spent more time filling out paperwork, answering questions about why we’d make the best family for Qiu Lu, how we’d give her great medical care, etc.  If you know me, you know I wrote some words.  Well, a lot of words. ;)

We got the call on Friday afternoon.  We had been chosen!  Qiu Lu was ours!

Qiu Lu means Autumn Light.  Our autumns have had so much darkness in them.  I believe God interwove our story and hers, all along.

We are leaving to get her in 5 days!!!!  Our Lana, our Lulu.  Our Autumn Light.