Well, that was an eventful 2019. Let’s review.
January 2019 – Upon returning to my job from Christmas vacation, I’m called into two surprise meetings. The first, to announce that the company I work for had just been bought out by a competitor. The second, to let me know that the new owners had decided that a handsome and talented guy like myself should be set free to explore exciting opportunities elsewhere. It went something like this:
Did I mention that we were about a year and a half into the adoption process at this point? And that the people who work to arrange adoptions tend to be really persnickety about prospective parents having a means to buy food for their children? Yeah, they check on stuff like that.
January/February 2019 – There was a stretch in there where I had job interviews on eight consecutive business days. I interviewed with one company three different times. I walked into one interview thinking it was going to be a typical get-to-know-ya 30-40 minute visit, and found out after I arrived that I had been scheduled to speak to a series of seven people for 45 minutes each. I was there for more than FIVE HOURS. I answered the “So, tell me about yourself” question seven different times. SEVEN. And afterward, I didn’t get so much as a phone call to say, “Hey, thanks for giving us your whole day.” Nice job there, HR department.
But after all that, I ended up with a great job at a great company, with the means to feed a new baby and even a little to feed the other two kids I already have. I ended up with a job that, had it been offered to me while I still had my last job, I would have taken in a New York minute. What looked like a setback ended up being a blessing, because God does stuff like that.
May 2019 – About two years after first filling out the paperwork to start the adoption process, we get out match: a beautiful little girl in an orphanage in Kunming, China.
The women who work at the orphanage apparently like to dress her in different outfits and take pictures of her. And really, who can blame them?
The name given to her by the orphanage was Wu Xiao Fan. She was a little more than a year old, and according to the medical report that we got from the orphanage, she was surprisingly healthy (note: this is what writers call “foreshadowing”). At this point, every other goal in life falls into the background, and the only focus is going to get that baby. We decided we were going to name her Laine.
Mid-Summer 2019 – Medical fun! In anticipation of the rigors of international travel, Rachel and I got some checkups and had some lingering medical issues taken care of. In a very minor but still surprisingly painful surgical procedure, I had a lump of carcinoma removed from my scalp. It was cancer, but not the bad kind! (More foreshadowing.)
Late Summer 2019 – Everything is a blur of preparation for a trip to dadgum China.
It’s a weird experience, because in some ways, traveling to a large city in China is just like traveling to a large city anywhere else. But in some other ways, it’s like going to the moon.
We expected to stay in modern hotels, and ride in modern cars, and have access to modern conveniences. Cell phone coverage and wifi was expected everywhere we were going.
At the same time, we expected communication to be a challenge everywhere we were going. We knew the Chinese government was going to monitor everything, so we had to make special arrangements to communicate with anyone back home. There were rules for things we couldn’t say in emails and texts. We had to subscribe to multiple VPNs in the hope that one of them wasn’t blocked so that we could even get on social media.
Anything that was vital we had to bring ourselves, because we couldn’t count on the availability, or the quality, of anything we might get there, including medicine, diapers, and anything else you might need for a new baby.
So we got everything we thought we could possibly need, and we practiced packing it in giant vacuum bags so we could get as much as possible in our luggage. And we weighed everything fifty times out of fear we’d be over the weight limits for bags, which incidentally are a little more lenient in China than in the States. Thanks, Chinese bureaucracy!
August 2019: The Trip – The day finally arrives, and Rachel and I are full of nervous excitement as we sit in the airport terminal waiting to board our plane. Then Rachel got a phone call.
It was our adoption agency, calling to let us know they had just gotten some new information from our daughter’s orphanage in Kunming. It seems that nine months before, the previous December, Laine had suffered a seizure and been diagnosed with epilepsy. Since then, she had been getting anti-seizure medication three times a day, every day. For undetermined reasons, none of this had been included in the orphanage’s medical report. I felt like that was kind of a big miss on their part.
We knew nothing about epilepsy. How to prevent seizures, how to treat a seizure, the effects of different medications, nothing. And in two days, a Chinese orphanage worker was going to hand us an epileptic baby and say, “Good luck.” And we weren’t even going to be able to understand it when she said that.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some slight level of panic. But during our layover in Atlanta we were able to talk to one of the great doctors at Children’s Hospital’s International Adoption Clinic, who talked us down and told us all the right questions to ask when we got there. And we talked to each other about how far God had taken us already, and how there was no reason to believe He wouldn’t take us the rest of the way. On to China.
Kunming: Jet lag is a real thing. It makes you have to concentrate to do things that you normally don’t have to think about, like walk up stairs and operate doorknobs. In that fog, we navigated the red tape maze required to take custody of Laine, did everything you have to do to care for a new baby (who wasn’t super happy to meet us, by the way), and hounded everybody we could think of to get the details of her medical condition.
After extensive investigation, talking in person to lots of orphanage medical staff and caregivers, we came to the conclusion that nobody knew anything. Our best bet was to keep her on her epilepsy medication until we could get her examined back in the States.
Guangzhou: After a week in Kunming, we had to haul all the way across the country to the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou so we could get Laine’s exit visa. While we were anxious to get home, our time here was better because we were over jet lag, and we weren’t spending every waking moment grilling people about epilepsy. We had some down time for us and Laine to get to know each other. Also, we stayed at The Garden Hotel, which is, by a wide margin, the nicest hotel I will ever stay in.
September 2019: We made it home, and jet lag is nowhere near as bad going right-to-left as it is going left-to-right. However, sleep remained an issue because Laine decided it was something she wasn’t very much interested in.
She was great every other time of the day, but when it came time to sleep at night, she would fight it like we were trying to push her out of an airplane without a parachute. That kid is some kind of stubborn, which makes me think that, somehow, we might actually be blood relatives.
Fall 2019: Laine got a CAT scan at Children’s Hospital, and a pediatric neurologist told us that she showed no signs of epilepsy whatsoever.
We don’t know why she was diagnosed with epilepsy, we don’t know why that was left off her medical report, and we don’t know why they decided to tell us about it when they did. And we probably never will. All we can do is be thankful that we’re where we are now.
We got the green light to wean her off her medication, which Rachel and I were very happy about. But since we had started mixing it with Nutella, Laine probably misses it a little bit.
After many fits and starts, we began to get the sleep thing figured out. Our older kids, who had generously rearranged their sleeping accommodations for her, were able to get mostly back to their normal routines.
Day by day, we become more like a regular family of five. Which is challenging enough as it is.
January 2020: On a routine visit to the dermatologist, they discovered a melanoma on my right ear. That, my friends, is the bad kind of cancer.
If I was going to be diagnosed with cancer, though, this was the way to do it: a very small spot, caught very early. It was completely removed without too much fuss. For the surgery, they numbed the area with local anesthetic, so there a was no pain, but since they were operating on my ear I could hear the sound of them cutting my flesh and pulling through the thread to stitch on the skin graft. That kind of thing does give one the heebie-jeebies.
After that, it was just a couple of weeks of tending to the wound and having a giant, gross bandage on my ear. It was a hassle, but my wife says my ear looks twenty years younger.
We feel very blessed that it was as minor as it was, but there’s also the sense that we dodged a bullet. The doctors advised that for the rest of my life I’m going to have to hide from the sun like a vampire. Long-sleeved shirts, bucket hats, and sunscreen every time I go outside now. It’s a lifestyle change that I’m still getting my head around, but I’m glad that I have a life to style.
I was going to say that I hoped 2020 was less eventful than 2019, but if we have to have the chaos to bring more of the kind of blessings that we got last year, then okay. Let’s have it. Here’s to a chaotic 2020.