|Referral Picture 1|
I return home late after an evening of teaching. I have one voicemail message — from the head of the China Program at the adoption agency. She asks me to call her back as soon as I can.
I had been expecting this call for the three years I was in the China program. And now I am scared, excited, and exhilarated beyond measure. I have heard rumors that the latest referrals are being received, and I know that this call means only one thing:
I am now a mother.
It is too late to call the head of the China Program back, so I will call in the morning. But the suspense and curiosity are keeping me up all night. My aunt has requested that even if I find out about being a mother in the middle of the night, I should phone her.
I have no problem honoring that request. A single person, I need someone to share my excitement with. Someone who doesn’t mind being woken up to hear the news.
So I pick up the phone, and I wake her to tell her the news. We talk for hours. I pull up maps of China and obsessively read to her all about the province, hungering to be with the baby that fate has matched me with. All I know is she is from Nanchang, the capital of the Jiangxi Province in China.
Morning comes, and I speak with the China Program’s director. She congratulates me and tells me that my baby girl has the chubbiest cheeks she has ever seen.
My baby girl.
|Referral Picture #2|
I receive information about her health, weight, and height and receive the referral pictures a couple of days later. The 9-month-old in the picture looks angry. She looks like a tough little girl.
But still, I am in love with her.
I am excited.
I am scared.
I wonder whether I will make a good mother and do right by the girl who is being entrusted to my care. Although from the referral picture she looks like she’s got a chip on her shoulder. I think I’m in for a challenge, but I admire her seemingly apparent chutzpah.
|Referral Picture #3|
A couple of months later, in July, my travel group and I take the 12-hour flight to China. The head of the China program and a translator is accompanying us, a group of eight families, all yearning for their babies. I am the only single person in the group, and I am one of two people in our group going alone. Most of the people in our group are not first-time moms: I’m the only first-time mom who is taking the trip alone. I opt to go alone because I want the opportunity to bond with the child, for she will be inundated with family when we return to the US.
We arrive in Hong Kong and will fly to Nanchang the next day. For some reason, I’m not jet-lagged. The next morning, the day we are supposed to meet our daughters, I get a call from the head of the China Program. Apparently, there’s a typhoon heading our way and we need to change transportation plans. We are now taking a train.
We take a train and then a bus to the hotel where the babies have been waiting. They have traveled through unbearable heat and must be hot, tired, and hungry, I think.
In a vestibule off the hotel lobby, they are handed to us. There is mayhem with the babies crying as they are placed in the arms of their new parents. I wait for my name to be called. I will meet my daughter in a few seconds. Then, suddenly, she is handed to me.
She is sobbing hysterically, looking at me often in disbelief, and simply frightened. As I smile for this picture, I feel overwhelmed with sadness for this poor child’s grief. She doesn’t understand what is happening. She had been attached to her previous caregivers, and now a stranger was holding her.
Everyone in the group goes up into an elevator and up to our rooms. Some babies have stopped crying, some are whimpering, but Ari is crying the loudest. (For the next few days, Ari cries every time we go in the elevator.)
When I get to the room, the baby punches my ear. Because it has a stud earring, it bleeds. Her referral pictures weren’t lying: she is tough. I can’t help but admire her spunk and spirit.
I lie the child on the bed so I can feebly try to open the bag of dry formula we received. Instead, I nervously rip open the bag, and the dried stuff spills all over the bed. I still have some in the bag, though, but I have already forgotten the proportion of formula to water. I do it all wrong. She refuses the bottle anyway.
The director and translator are making their rounds, and they get to my room. I’m nervous that the baby won’t take food, nor will she stop crying — loudly. The director and I strip the sobbing child to check for any injuries or signs of illness. She seems healthy. I put a diaper I brought on her, and it’s too big. We dress her anyway and lay her in her crib, and she quiets for a moment. Then she starts crying again. Then she is quiet. She has fallen asleep.
My guests leave the room, and for the first time, I am able to get a close look at her. I study her face and her body.
She is beautiful.
Tears of joy fill my eyes, but the joy is short-lived, for when I brush her hand gently, she instinctively pulls it away from me. She doesn’t want me touching her. She sleeps 12 hours, and I sleep in the bed next to the crib, getting a good night’s sleep.
For four straight days, she cries inconsolably and constantly. She is the most vocal and unhappiest of the babies. I am stressed out, as I try all sorts of ways to calm her down. If I am meeting my group for dinner at six, I bring Ari to the lobby of the 5-star hotel we are staying in and wheel her umbrella carriage round and round the marble floors starting at 4 p.m. after she wakes from her nap. I tell myself that we are getting good exercise.
I am in emotional pain, for the only time she doesn’t cry is when she is sleeping or being wheeled around the hotel lobby. She is shell-shocked and sometimes just stares into space, even when there’s a program on TV. She stares through it all.
One of the government officials who interviews me for the adoption tells the translator that Ari is his favorite because she has spunk (yes, she angrily protests and cries the whole time).
Well spunk is a compliment to be sure, but it gets old around day 2 of a 14-day trip when all one’s baby does is wail.
I bring her to the hotel’s toy room, with so many wonderful toys. Ari is hysterical there. I have to take her out of the room. All the other babies seem to be settling into their routines, but Ari is having none of her situation and none of me.
In fact, she prefers to be held by others rather than being held by me. I feel helpless. Luckily, the Chinese people are wonderful. Restaurant staff, strangers in the street, and store owners watch over Ari and try to comfort her, albeit unsuccessfully. I write in my journal nightly and cry.
Other than the situation with my new daughter, I’m a hit in China. My three years of studying Mandarin have paid off. While I’m not fluent, the Chinese people respond favorably to my communicating with them in their own language.
Day 3 of new motherhood: Ari starts studying my face, studying me. She still cries all the time, but now she occasionally stops to consider me.
The evening of Day 4: Miracle! We had just had a long day of traveling in the heat and are getting settled down for the night. I blow a “fart” on Ari’s tummy, risking more wailing. Instead, to my surprise, she giggles and looks at me with a knowing adoration.
From that day forward, Ari clings to me and hardly cries. She is a content baby who has finally bonded to her mother. On the flight home, she sits quietly on my lap for the duration of the flight.
Being Ari’s mom is a pleasure. She has come a long way — figuratively and literally. She is a sweet-tempered, kind, considerate little girl.
And she still has spunk!
|Prankster Ari and me enjoying a light-hearted moment|