Sharon Knutson

My phone call came on September 22, 1997 telling me I was a Mom. Yi, Zhi Hua was nine months old and waiting for me in Yi Yang, China. I spent the next several hours calling all my family and friends and thought about how I got to this point.

I started looking into adoption about five years earlier. Adoption is an arduous lengthy process and being single added to the complexity. I started to save money and talked to a couple close friends about my dream. Their encouragement spurred me on. I slowly checked different agencies and in April 1996 I took the first of many steps and officially began the adoption process with Dillon International, Inc.

Adopting was not something I was doing alone, it quickly became a team project with my family and friends immersed in helping me gather all the documents required. My file was sent to China in October 1996 but was not "officially" on record until December. As I waited, I began gathering things for my little girl's room. Slowly my sewing room was turned into a beautiful baby's room. Baby clothes magically appeared in the closet and the number of baby name books piled next to my bed grew as did my favorite name list.

Christmas came and went....January and February dragged by. The referral process was being reorganized and the waiting time went from three months to six months to we are not sure.

Dillon's Beijing contact was in the United States in July 1997. I was able to meet Mahi Snell and talk to the person who would guide me through China and the actual adoption. She was wonderful and reassuring. I found out I was in the next group that should receive referrals. It wouldn't be long now. I went home and sat in my daughter's room, she had a name now, Anna Grace and I knew she was coming soon.

I got home from work one night in September and had a message from my social worker to call her, there were some questions about one of my documents. I quickly called her and heard the magic words, "Can you travel in November?" Even though I knew this call would be coming I was stunned. I stammered out yes! She quickly told me that Anna's name was Yi, Zhi Hua, her birthday was December 11, 1996 and according to the Dillon staff had lots of hair in back, not too much on top and was cute! We made arrangements for me to drive to Abilene in two days to pick up her picture and medical file. I quickly started calling everyone on my list. For hours I repeated the little information I had and laughed and cried. It was real. Anna was real.

I drove to Abilene and received a slim folder containing a tiny postage stamp photo of my daughter. I was surprised it was in color. She was propped up in a light blue fleece sweatshirt that looked as if it was stuffed with tissue paper. She stared somberly into the lens. I couldn't stop smiling. For the three hour drive back to Dallas, I kept that tiny picture out where I could see it. My daughter.

After a flurry of getting Visas and travel clearances, my group of eleven other families from Dillon would be leaving for China on October 30, 1997. More frantic scurrying, packing, unpacking, and repacking.

My sister, Mary Kay, flew into Dallas on October 29, 1997 and the next day we were off to the airport where we would meet the majority of our group coming from Tulsa for the start of our journey to get our girls. We flew from Dallas to Seoul to Beijing. It was a long and exhausting trip but after months of waiting, we were finally landing in China. Disembarking in China brought several families to tears.

We spent the next day, November 1, 1997, sightseeing and climbing the Great Wall. I stress the word CLIMBING. When you go to the Great Wall, consider using the cable cars if available....there are many steps to climb before you arrive at the Great Wall only to climb some more. The view from the Wall is stunning. There are many vendors to negotiate on the way up. All cheerfully calling out, "I will remember you, lady...I will remember you." After panting our way to the top, my sister and I took many pictures and video. The leaves were changing and the colors flowed across the ridges and hills. After returning to the bus by running the vendor gauntlet (yes they remembered us!) we had a big box lunch and continued on to tour a Cloisonne factory. The workmanship is beautiful. Many of the families chose to go to the Hard Rock Café in Beijing. My sister and I and another family returned to our hotel, the Movenpick, and enjoyed a wonderful Chinese dinner. The service was exquisite and the food delicious. Mary Kay and I then went to our room and slept (sort of), knowing the next day we would fly to Changsha and meet my daughter.

After arriving in Changsha, we were taken directly from the airport to a city building. As we walked in you could hear babies crying. At the end of a dark hall another door was opened and silhouetted against the bright daylight were the aunties holding the babies. The tension mounted as we were split into two groups and placed in two little rooms. Before we knew it, babies names were being called out and placed into their parents' arms. My sister and I were both video taping other families when we heard Yi, Zhi Hua. I turned around and there she was. The same chubby cheeks and dark eyes. But she was no longer somberly looking at me. As Anna was placed in my arms, she was grinning, showing four teeth, two on top and two on the bottom. My fears of her being terrified of me quickly vanished as my little girl beamed at me. I pulled out a white seal beanie baby for her and my favorite picture from that day shows Anna grinning and waving her seal around as I hold her and smile.

After a few minutes, the interviewing process began. I was one of the first to be interviewed. I was ushered into a room where three stern looking men were sitting and ruffling through papers. I sat holding Anna while my interpreter, Clayton, translated the questions and answers. When I was asked what my job was, I answered a paralegal. They did not understand what this was, so I said I worked for lawyers. That did the trick. One of the men behind Anna gave a sudden huge sneeze and Anna whipped her head around. This brought big smiles to the men before they quickly dropped back into their "official" faces. The last question was what did I think of her. I replied she was beautiful. He seemed pleased with this answer.

At the hotel, Mary Kay and I undressed Anna. She was dressed in four layers of clothes. The outer layer was a brand new sweat shirt and matching split pants. She also had on a turtle neck with a vest as well as a long sleeved shirt in addition to a second pair of split pants. We undressed her and put her in one of the new outfits I had brought for her. I prepared her first bottle in a hurry, fumbling as I went. Anna quickly drank it and watched us. After a quick bath, which was a little scary for her, she cried for the first time for about 15 minutes. We took out some toys and crackers. We gave Anna a cracker which she readily accepted but just waved around. We figured out she did not know what to do with it. We sat in front of her and showed her how to put the cracker in her mouth and chew it up. She studied us for a minute and then took her first bite....mmmmmm she quickly shoved the whole cracker in and grabbed another. She played a little bit with some toys and then seemed very tired so I changed her into her pajamas and she went right to sleep in her crib. My sister and I soon followed. Anna slept through the night, only waking once and after drinking a bottle went back to sleep. I must admit I woke off and on just to look at her sleeping under the quilt her aunt had made for her.

The next day, we and three other families piled into a van and drove for several hours to the city Anna was born in, Yi Yang. Driving in China is a special art form. Lanes mean very little, and passing is constant and at times harrowing with horns beeping as a form of signaling ones intentions. There would be as many cars abreast as could fit and sometimes seemingly more than the road would allow. I learned to watch out the side window but not to look out the windshield at what was heading seemingly straight for us! We traveled out of the city limits of Changsha on modern highways until the traffic thinned as we got out into the country. Bicycles and carts were common as were rice fields. We were traveling to meet with notaries and the orphanage director where our girls had been kept. After several hours we turned down a very narrow dirt path that was bordered on either side by hand carts and stalls of a market place. The road was so narrow it was necessary for several vendors to pull their carts back over ditches on either side to allow enough room for our van to ease its way through. Our driver turned the van around and opened the door for us to climb out. We walked over to a building and were interviewed again and signed many copies of documents pledging we would never abuse or abandon our little girls. Anna was great through the whole process. As I signed papers, my sister took pictures and Anna was held by one the notaries. He was standing right next to me but after a couple of minutes, Anna started to fuss enough so he handed her back to me. For the first time she put her head on my shoulder and sighed. I almost cried. She was ok with me being her mom. smile We paid our fees and it was here I learned Anna's birthday was not December 11, but instead December 21, 1996. She had been found on the steps of her orphanage on Christmas Eve.....a true Christmas miracle and a gift from God.

We were able to meet with the orphanage director who was able to give us general information regarding the girls. We took her picture holding the four girls.....once one started to cry all four babies wailed. It was one of the few times Anna cried in China. As we left this building, we walked out into even a larger crowd than when we had arrived. Apparently word had spread that Westerners were here. The people swarmed our van, poking their heads inside, gesturing at the girls and smiling. Clayton carefully shut the door and we inched our way back down the dirt path onto a main road where we stopped at a restaurant. We were ushered into a private room and Clayton ordered a feast for us. The food was delicious and plentiful. We then returned to the van, again working our way through a crowd of onlookers. Throughout the trip in China, the people were universally kind and happy. They would give the thumbs up sign and those that could speak English would murmur "lucky girl, lucky girl". I would always reply that I was the lucky one. We drove back to Changsha and Anna fell asleep in my arms during the ride back. I marveled at her ability to adapt to new situations. She took everything in stride, a very good thing to be able to do on a trip like this.

We left and flew to Guangzhou where we would process Anna out of the U.S. Embassy. We stayed at the White Swan Hotel. The White Swan is exquisite. One side of the hotel looks out on the city while the other overlooks the Pearl River. Anna has been delightful during our travels. She smiles and watches everything. When she figured out I would feed her as much as she wanted when she wanted she was in heaven.

Our interview at the Embassy was scheduled for the next day as we were rushing to complete the process before a holiday. We walked early the next morning to the Medical Exam office. The exam was quick and after having more documents stamped we were finished. We then stopped at a photo shop for her visa pictures on the way to the embassy. That accomplished, we walked to the U.S. Embassy. Even though it was still early in the morning a long line of Chinese people stood quietly in place. Being Americans, we were able to walk right in and upstairs to the office where our interviews were being held. After some tense moments because due to our rush in trying to get processed out, all our forms from the medical exam were not with us, Clayton our facilitator smoothed things over with the officers at the embassy and our interviews proceeded. After a few questions we were through. They did not require my copies of my tax returns or bank information but I would bring them just in case if asked. We returned to the White Swan for rest and shopping.

The shopping at the White Swan is fun. My sister bought an amazing kite for Anna that we shipped home through the hotel so we did not have to carry one more box. I also bought several outfits in various sizes for Anna for the years to come. The book store there is great. We got several Walt Disney stories written in Chinese. The infamous "Shop on the Stairs" was by far the best shopping we had. We returned there several times over the two days we were in Guangzhou. I purchased Anna's chops there. The chops are basically a stamp carved from stone where her name is carved in both English and Chinese. The figure on the chop was the "lucky baby" figure. They also gave Anna a little jade bracelet on red thread as well as a necklace. The women were very kind and gracious to us.

We returned to the Embassy the next afternoon and picked up Anna's visa. It is in a sealed envelope that you are instructed to "NEVER" open or fiddle with. We have the choice of staying on at the White Swan for a few days of sightseeing or leaving the next morning for home. My sister and I decided to go home. She wanted to get home to her own family and I simply wanted to get my little girl home in familiar surroundings ( at least to me!)

We left with three other families for the airport on our first leg of our trip home. We waited in line for awhile and I walked with Anna back and forth. A Chinese gentleman walked up to me and asked me questions. Where was Anna from, how old, where was she going, where was I from etc. I answered him as Anna smiled up at him. As we finished our talk he reached out and patted her on the head and said as he turned away, "She is such a lucky girl." I smiled through my tears. The Chinese people love their children and wish the best for them. The kindness we were shown repeatedly over our journey throughout China by its people was proof of that. We flew from Guangzhou to Hong Kong to Seoul to Los Angeles and finally to Dallas. It was 30 + hours of traveling. Anna slept for approximately three of those hours. She was usually happy just not willing to sleep during all the activity. We sat in the bulkhead row and had a bassinet for her. One thing to consider, the bulkhead wall is where the movies are shown so she watched The Lost World on the return flight! She did not cry once until we got on the last plane in Los Angeles. There she had a meltdown and who could blame her. I felt like crying too! But after crying inconsolably for fifteen minutes she crashed and slept for the rest of the flight to Dallas.

We were met by some friends who video taped us dragging off the plane. I refused to look at the tape for 4 months. My sister has yet to watch it. But what I saw was a very tired little girl being carried by two very VERY tired women beaming with love. But through it all was a sense of utter and complete happiness. My daughter was home at last. I had been given the most incredible gift, a daughter.

We have been home for six months now. Anna is healthy and happy. At sixteen months old she weighs 20 pounds and is 29 inches tall. She is starting to talk, "bird" and "oh-oh" being her favorite two words. She is cherished at daycare and is the light of my life. She does not walk through life but runs head long through it. Our days are filled to bursting with new things. She is truly the single best decision I have ever made in my life. She is my child and my heart song. God has given me such love through her.

Sharon Knutson

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