Dan and Heather Ronca
18 months after our journey to adopt from China began, I couldn't believe that we were actually on our way to China on October 30th to bring Grace (Liu Xiaohong, DOB 3/28/97) home. We were traveling with 7 other families and had the good fortune to have met two of them before we traveled. All of the families were SN, we and four other families already had children, and two families were under 35.
We flew from Newark, NJ (we live the Philadelphia suburbs) to Seoul Korea, and then to Beijing. We arrived in Beijing in the afternoon and went right to the hotel where we napped and then forced ourselves to awaken and go out for dinner. Beijing was nothing like I expected. It was incredibly busy with bikes, cars and people EVERYWHERE! You really had to be careful where you walked because cars would just pull up on the sidewalk to park. We ventured outside the hotel for dinner and followed our tour guides advice and found a large, clean restaurant. He assured us this would mean a good dinner and he was correct. We made it back to the hotel and collapsed in bed by 8 PM, only to awaken at 3:30 AM for the day.
The next day (Sunday) we toured the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square and they were awesome! Our tour guide brought us to a Friendship Store nearby and most of us purchased chops for our daughters. Those who waited until Guanghzou (Shop on the Stairs) were wise because they were about a quarter of the price we paid! After a wonderful lunch we were off the airport to fly to Chengdu. We still didn't know if this would be the day we got our daughters, or if we would have to wait.
We arrived in Chengdu in the late afternoon and it was a hazy, smoggy day. We were to learn that everyday in Chengdu is hazy and smoggy. We never saw blue sky the entire time we were there and the air quality was very poor.
We met up with our tour guide and facilitator at the airport and of course our first question was, "when will the babies come???" We learned they were coming at 8 PM that evening! We arrived at the hotel and though we were all excited, we managed to put away a lot of food at dinner. The food in Sichuan was wonderful, lots of vegetables, meat was used sparingly. However, I think they toned done the spicy dishes because we were Americans.
We were instructed to go up to our rooms and wait for a phone call to come down to the room off the lobby when the babies arrived. Dan, my husband, was fooling around with the video camera, reading, and doing other non-baby things, while I was frantically nesting! I found out that it is hard to make formula with steaming hot water when your hands are shaking. (All the hotels we stayed in provided insulated containers of steaming water that were replenished often. It made formula making so much easier).
Finally the call came and we rushed downstairs. We were the last couple to arrived and we entered the room to find 6 teary-eyed nervous couples, and seven Chinese women holding seven babies! We were all looking around to see which one was our baby. The babies were all bundled up and had hats on, so it was hard to tell. We were asked our babies' Chinese name and then the child was brought to us. We were the last ones to be asked and finally Liu Xiaohong (Grace) was put in my arms.
I had dreamed about the moment I would meet Grace for so long that when it finally happened, it was surreal. I was less emotional then I had imagined I would be. All of a sudden this little stranger, who had been taken from her foster family that day and now handed to a blond woman and tall brown haired man the likes of which she'd never seen before, was now going to be my daughter. I'll be honest, it was not an instant bonding experience. I say this for all you who are out there and might experience the same thing, so you don't feel you are the only one! Of course in my fantasy there was music playing in the background and she had her arms outstretched and was mouthing the word "Mommy"! The reality was she was tired and hot and it was going to take a little time for us to all get to know one another. We took her up to our room and got started to do just that.
She was a little lethargic when we got her and as I undressed her I learned why. She had FIVE layers of clothing on, 2 were knit wool. The poor baby was hot! I took off her hat and she had a heat rash on her head. Once she was naked she came alive, smiling at us and babbling. Her eyes followed me all over the room. Although she had been in foster care, she did not appear to have gotten a lot of attention. She was quite dirty and she smelled bad (she smelled wonderful and sweet in my fantasy!). The first order of business was a serious bath and some clean PJs.
During that first night we also started to realize that she seemed younger than 7 ½ months, more like 5-6 months. We put her on her belly and she didn't move. She had obviously spent a lot of time on her back with loads of clothes on and didn't have a chance to move too much. Within a few days she was rolling front to back and since we are home she has started rolling back to front. She also now sits for short periods when I prop her up and she is bearing a little weight on her feet when I stand her up (wouldn't bear any weight 2 weeks ago). As healthy as she seemed, it was still a nerve wracking first night getting to know her sounds and sleeping noises as she slept in a cot wedged between our beds.
The next morning our group met for breakfast and we got a better look at the other babies and they were all adorable ( the parents all looked sleep deprived). One of the moms, who was traveling with her mom since her husband couldn't travel, brought her baby in. She had planned to name her daughter Jade and when she brought the baby down for breakfast announced, "I'd like you to all meet ANDREW!" Yep, went to change Jade's diaper and it was her own personal Crying Game. The mom rolled with the punches and was thrilled, as was her husband when she called him.
Monday and Tuesday were our paperwork days and it all went smoothly. The orphanage staff came to our hotel, which made it much easier on all of us. They asked us a few questions, "How much money do we make", "Why do we want to adopt a Chinese Baby", "Do we promise to never abuse or abandon her" and "Are we happy with our baby???". I guess we answered all of the questions correctly because on Tuesday the Notary stood before us and pronounced that she was our daughter and we were her parents!
Wednesday and Thursday were purely sight seeing days, we were basically waiting for the paperwork to be delivered to the hotel with the babies passports. We went to the zoo and saw Pandas and saw several parks and memorials. We also went to a department store which also felt like the zoo, except we were the ones on display! I remember other list members recounting the journey and talking about how bold the Chinese people were and this is true. Women would tell us if our daughter needed a hat or if her nose was running - no need for a translator - body language worked just fine!!! Our group had been told by numerous people that Chengdu is known for its beautiful women and as my husband Dan said, "they weren't kidding!". At one point while we were in the store Dan was absolutely surrounded by beautiful, curious women (he hates when that happens) who were trying to touch or coo at Grace. Dan said he felt like a rock star, or at least that he was carrying around a rock star.
Unfortunately after one of our meals, 3 members of our group, including me, got ill. It was awful but I was thankful that it was not a day that we had anything official to do and I could just hang out in the room. It really took a lot out of me and I was ready to move on to Guangzhou. We got the babies passports and final paperwork on Friday morning, checked out and after a little more sight seeing to kill time, we were off to the airport to fly to Guanghzou.
To be continued.
We took off from Chengdu airport for Guanghzou on Friday evening, 11/7. Although I was confident that we were ultimately improving the quality of her life, I did have some mixed emotions about taking Grace away from the city where she was born.
We tried to time it so Grace would be sucking on a bottle during take-off (this helps relieve the pressure in the ears), but she had been hungry earlier and wasn't interested in the bottle. She screamed during take-off and it really sounded like she was in pain. She had been pulling on her ears and I was starting to suspect an ear infection. She calmed down pretty quickly and slept for the rest of the flight.
When we arrived at the Guanghzou airport and stepped outside. I was thrilled to see the moon and some stars. Chengdu was so hazy that we had not seen the sky in a week! The air felt wonderful, although I don't think the air quality is any better than in Chengdu. Our tour-guide met us and ushered us to a bus and we drove about 10 minutes to the Dong Fang Hotel. There were lots of hotels and neon lights and it felt like we had arrived in Las Vegas. I counted several McDonalds and almost no bicycles on the way, making Guanghzou seem much more Western than Beijing or Chengdu.
The Hotel was a beautiful 5 star hotel and the room was 3 times the size of our previous hotel. The beds were turned down for us, our guide had ordered Pizza Hut to be delivered to our rooms and there was filtered air in the hotel...we were happy. I had not slept well the last few nights and I was really looking forward to crashing. Grace had other ideas. She woke up with 102 temperature about 3 am and developed a worrisome cough. At this point I decided I just wanted to be home! Luckily Motrin brought the fever down quickly and she slept peacefully after that.
The next morning was Saturday and after breakfast we left as a group to go for the children's medical exams and vaccinations, required for their exit visas. The Consulate uses a Chinese clinic for the exams. First the babies were weighed, then they were examined by a doctor. It was really not much of an exam, but they did check for her SN (hip joint abnormality) and we were told it was normal (this was confirmed by our pediatrician at home). After getting the once over, we moved to another room for her ears and throat to be examined. I mentioned to the doctor that she had had a fever overnight and was pulling on her ears and that I suspected an ear infection. The doctor peered into her ears with her bare eyes and declared no infection! I couldn't believe it. Once we got home we learned she did indeed have double ear infections. Next was the vaccination room. Luckily Grace's fever and cough got her out of that. All in all the whole affair for our group of seven took about 45 minutes.
We then headed to The White Swan for shopping and then lunch at a wonderful restaurant in the city. That afternoon we went to the Chen Family Temple, which is also a folk art museum. It was well worth the trip. On Sunday we went to a tomb (can't remember the name) that was 2,000 years old and was found in 1983 when a building was being built. Upon finding the tomb, the building ceased and a museum was put up. It was really interesting and I recommend it.
On Monday we were up early and off to the Consulate for our Visa interviews. We were the first group in and the woman interviewed each of us very briefly. Due to Tuesday being Veteran's Day, we were promised the Visas by 4 o'clock that day; normally they are available the next day. After that we went shopping and to lunch at a restaurant that is famous for its moon pies. Moon pies are usually only made during the Harvest Moon Festival in August, but at this restaurant you can get them year round. They were good, kind of like a heavy Fig Newton. We then went back to the hotel to rest and pack...we were leaving on Tuesday!
We had to be up at 5 am on Tuesday, November 11th. We ate a quick breakfast and were off to the airport. Our flight to Hong Kong left at 8:20 am, but there were a lot of people for this flight and it took a long time to get everyone through. While in line I started talking to the woman in front of me, only to learn she was an e-mail friend of mine that I had met through the APC. I knew she was in Guanghzou at the same time and had tried to reach her at her hotel but kept missing her. Talk about a small world.
We arrived in Hong Kong and had to wait around for the Korean Air desk to open to get our boarding passes. While waiting I noticed a man waiting that looked a lot like Martin Sheen. After looking a little closer I realized, that WAS Martin Sheen! Although I didn't meet him, he did come up to several in our group and introduced himself. He was very interested in the babies and thought it was wonderful that we had come to adopt them.
We finally boarded Korean Air (which if I haven't already said, I highly recommend. Excellent service) and headed for Seoul, about a 3 hour flight. We had a brief layover in Seoul and then it was on to Newark, NJ via Anchorage. Gracie did wonderfully on the flight and slept for most of it in the bassinet. Unfortunately Dan and I only slept about 3 hours each. We arrived in Anchorage at 8 AM their time and saw the beautiful snow-capped mountains. I was dying to get outside and breath some of that fresh air. After about an hour wait we re-boarded for the last leg of our trip, a six hour flight to Newark. Grace continued to sleep for most of the flight, something we would pay for later.
When we touched down in Newark I cried. I was so happy to be home, relieved that we had all made it safely (I had left my 3 year old son at home and was so worried that something would happen to us) and so happy to have Grace in my arms with us. Immigration and customs were nothing, took about 20 minutes in all. We promptly got our bags and headed toward the crowd that was made up of friends and family waiting to meet the babies on our flight (there were 5 of the seven families at this point). It was a wonderful moment walking out with Grace, the little one that we had gotten to know so well, who we were now going to introduce to her brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My sister was there with the video tape so we will be able to add our homecoming to the tape we made in China, making the story complete.
We arrived at our home just outside of Philadelphia by 11 PM and after friends and family left, got to bed around 1 am, exhausted. Grace, having slept most of the flight, went to bed at 1 AM and awoke at 2 AM for the night. Dan and I took turns with her, but then my son was up at 6 AM for the day, so we all were awake. The first few days were a blur. I was so tired I was dizzy. Grace had her days and nights back in order in about 4 days (we had to nudge her a lot to keep her awake during the day), but I took a lot longer. I would say it was about a week and a half before I felt human again. But I talked to another woman from the trip and they felt fine after about 5 days, so it really depends. My advice is to sleep on the plane as much as you can!
Well, it is hard to believe that this part of the journey has ended. Now we begin the journey adding Grace to our lives. My son is doing well and every now and then will pat her head or kiss her, so I think he is OK with the whole thing. The journey was certainly longer than we expected (we expected her LAST Thanksgiving), but the pain of the wait disappears when that child is in your arms. And besides, if it hadn't taken as long as it did, I wouldn't have THIS Grace. Best of luck to all of you who are still waiting.
Dan and Heather Ronca-
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