Previously: Part 1
One Plot Twist Before Continuing…
I skipped over one important development in my previous summary of our travel to China: a phone call that changed the complexion of the whole trip.
We were sitting at our gate in the Birmingham airport, full of nervous excitement, waiting for the flight that would deliver us to the grueling Atlanta-to Shanghai leg of our journey. Rachel’s phone rang and it was our adoption agency.
“Sorry to call you at the last minute,” said our case worker, “but we were just contacted by the orphanage and wanted to tell you as soon as we could. They made a mistake and left something off of your child’s health report.”
When we were first matched with our daughter, we received a report about her health and physical condition from the orphanage as a standard part of the process. As we aren’t doctors, and also can’t read Chinese, we ran it by the Children’s Hospital International Adoption Clinic. The doctors there were great and thorough, and they said her report looked good. In fact, they said it looked unusually good; children coming out of Chinese orphanages for adoption by Westerners typically weren’t this healthy.
Great!, we said. We felt blessed, and relieved, and we set about preparing ourselves to adopt a healthy, one-year-old baby girl.
“She had a seizure last December,” said our case worker. “She was diagnosed with epilepsy and she’s been on anti-seizure medication three times a day since then.”
I felt like that was a pretty big miss on the part of the orphanage, the kind of thing they probably should have remembered to include on the original health report.
And then we got on the plane.
The thirty-minute hop to Atlanta was quiet, prayerful. Then we hit the ground at Fulton County Airport, and as soon as we could turn on our phones we were calling and texting everyone we knew who might possibly know anything about epilepsy. Because we didn’t know anything — what did a seizure look like? what triggers them? what do we do if she has one? — and in about 48 hours someone was going to hand us this baby and say, “Good luck.”
Then we turned off our phones and got on an 18-hour flight to Shanghai.
Now, back to our story.
August 25, 2019
Once we made it to Kunming, we had about 24 hours to get our feet under us before someone handed us a baby. Exhausted but not sleepy, we tried to shake off jet lag and gather our thoughts.
Our first meal in China. Experiencing the culture!
August 25, 2019, later
I posted this kind of ironically about the presence of familiar American brands in faraway China. But throughout our trip, KFC and Walmart and Starbucks would be crucial resources for all kinds of reasons. When you’re going out on a date, sometimes it’s fun to try to negotiate an exotic menu in a foreign language. But other times, you just need food.
August 25, 2019, by Rachel
Hard to believe this day is finally here! We will meet Laine in just a few hours. Her home city is Kunming. It is known as the spring city because of it’s year round spring like weather. Our guide said this is the warmest summer they have had in 50 years. The highs have been in the 70s this week. It feels wonderful! The area is known for it’s pu’er tea, jade, flowers, and over the bridge noodles. It’s a popular tourist destination. We will have a little time this morning to explore the city and then at 3pm local time (2am cst) the fun begins.
August 26, 2019, Gotcha Day
Featured on the breakfast buffet this morning: snails!
We ate (no snails, though) and killed time waiting for our appointment at the child welfare office.
Is everybody aware of how big a city Kunming is? It is e-frickin-normous.
And then we went across town to an apartment that had been converted into an office suite. We waited there with several other families who were getting their children that day. And then…
We got her. There’s Rachel holding Laine Anderson.
After two years of waiting, it was a thrilling moment for us. How did Laine feel about it? Long story short, she was angry with a capital “A.” And who could blame her? Everything she knew had just been ripped away from her, and she found out that this goofball was going to be her father:
Understandably, she didn’t want anything to do with me. It probably didn’t help matters that almost all of the caretakers at the orphanage were female, so she had only very rarely had anything to do with any men at all.
But she did connect to Rachel pretty quickly. At least, she would go to Rachel, and let Rachel hold her without the death stare and frantic crying that I got whenever I got near her.
They brought a couple of doctors from the orphanage to answer our questions about Laine’s condition and the medication we were supposed to give her. We got two pint bottles of sodium valproate with little dosing cups. They told us she was fine as long as she was taking the medicine. Just put a little in the cup and she drinks it right down, they said.
It was a mad blur of activity, not least because there were three other families in the little office with us also getting their adopted children that day, and much like Laine, those children were less than pleased with the situation. Throughout the screaming and crying and picture taking and paper signing, Rachel and I asked all the medical questions we could think of.
The other families we so patient with us as we monopolized question time, because all their kids had medical issues too, and they had their own questions. But they all knew how this information had been dropped on us, and they cut us all kinds of slack. The Chinese child welfare workers were great too, answering every question, some of which I probably asked two or three different times. Our guide and translator, Susan, was invaluable, passing information back and forth as completely, and as encouragingly, as she could.
I thought everyone was great at the time, because I was so desperate to fill in some blanks and glad to have people there who could do it. In retrospect, though, the demeanor of the orphanage’s head doctor struck me. I don’t speak Chinese, so I don’t know exactly what he was saying or even how he was saying it. But I do speak body language, and when I think back on his, it is obvious to me that he did not want to be there. I still wonder why.
But as with every new parent, there came a time when you have to leave the good graces of the medical professionals and take your new baby home, where it’s just you and her and your parental judgement. As far as Laine was concerned, this had probably been the worst day of her life. Rachel and I were stressed and tired, so we tried to comfort ourselves by comforting her, to limited success.
Back at the hotel room, “What’s wrong with this stupid remote?”
When it came time for her first dose of epilepsy medicine, we poured it into the little cup, but she did not “drink it right down.” She fought us like an animal, spitting and screaming. We hoped we had gotten her to keep most of it down, and we thought that it would get better as we got used to each other.
Blessedly for us that first day, Laine was so drained and exhausted, she slept.