First of all, my profound thanks to those of you whose sent along good wishes on our long awaited trip to receive our second daughter, Meiya Bao Kittleson Berkey, born 10/25/95 and received by us 9/23/96. These wishes were a catalyst to us during the long trip, and a welcomed reminder of your good will upon our return.
The trip, while indeed long and at times arduous, was all in all one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. My overall impression China was that it is a physically beautiful county populated by a hard working people of generous spirit who were totally committed to the best possible future for the next generation. Whether it was clucking the toes and cheeks of our daughters, or proudly showing off their own lovely children, it was patently clear that they loved and cherished their children immensely. I tried to imagine myself in their position....loving the children so obviously, and at the same time forced by circumstances to recognize that some of those same desired objects needed to be sent to good homes so very far away. I doubt I would have been quite as unselfish in my own enthusiasm at seeing the next generation depart. But by and large, all we met with were smiles and nods and "thumbs up" of appreciation at our holding and caring for our new daughter. It saddened and elated me at the same time.
My husband, Larry and I arrived in Beijing the evening of September 19th, having left O'hare in Chicago the early in the morning of Wednesday, the 18th. We were surprisingly chipper; it was not till very much later (read about 3 weeks later!) that we came to realize that were powered largely by adrenaline the entire period of our visit.
We stayed in Beijing at the Capital Hotel , and awoke the next morning to lovely weather. Larry and I took off on a foot tour of the immediate area surrounding the hotel, followed in the PM by a trip to the Marco Polo bridge.(The rest of the group, scheduled to arrive in Beijing on the same flight we were on, did not arrive until that second afternoon, their connection in LA having failed...they added a all-expense-paid jog from Narita, Japan to Singapore, then finally back to Beijing....coupled with a nights layover in the Singapore airport to their itinerary. Only funny in retrospect, I suspect!) As Larry and I toured, we were taken aback by the volume of traffic (foot, bike, motorbike, car and bus, all mixed together), and the apparent lack of coherent traffic rules....really a seemingly massive game of roadway "chicken", with surprisingly few bodies strewn in and alongside the roadway.) That afternoon, the rest of the group, along with our agency director, showed up in the hotel, bedraggled, tired, but quite bonded given the close proximity of the prior 48 or so hours. They regaled Larry and I for hours with their tales regarding the layover in Singapore, the crazy fellow who spoke no English but followed them around like a lost puppy dog everywhere, eating their cheetos and drinking their wine. Sounded like quite an adventure, but all in all, I was grateful that Larry and I dodged that bullet! (We cashed in a slew of our Frequent Flyer miles, and as such, our plane itinerary paralleled but did not match up with the rest of the groups.)
Saturday and Sunday am we toured the city and environs of Beijing as a group. We climbed a part of the Great Wall of China, I bought a tea set for our daughter Julia who was waiting for us back home. The Wall was really very impressive (duh) and situated in a magnificent setting. We also visited the Forbidden City were I was struck first and foremost by the dimensions of the buildings. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was expecting much less grand proportions. But even more impressive to me was the *detail* that was apparent in every square inch of these magnificent and huge buildings. Huge structural components -wood, I believe- so large one could not get ones arms around them, and not an inch was left un-carved or unpainted. But far and away my favorite site was the Summer Palace. What an exquisite set of buildings and walkways situated on a lovely, large (man-made, I was told) lake. At one point, we arrived at an interior courtyard. As we entered this space, I could literally feel a sense of serenity and peace overtake me. I could easily have spent the next week just sitting in that courtyard. As a result of that experience, I have made a promise to myself to study the Chinese theory of Feng Shui, which, as I understand it, deals with the issued of placement and space purposefully set in harmony with the human spirit. I am certain that I am massacring the concept, but whatever *it* was that went into creating that space at the Summer Palace, I intend to find out what it "is" and try to replicate it in my life.
But, as wonderful as the sightseeing was, what we were really wanting was for Sunday PM to arrive so that we could board the plane that would take us to Nanchang in Jiangxi Province where we would meet our daughters for the first time....all the other "stuff" was grand, but of clearly secondary importance.
And, of course, Sunday PM did arrive, and we did board the flight. Well, talk about bonding!!! The flight was approximately 2 hours long, and quite comfortable, lulling us into a mistaken believe that this intra-country travel was a piece of cake. That myth was shattered the moment we hit the tarmac, then hit it again, and then screeched to a halt about 20 yards down the way!!! We deplaned on week knees to a dark, rural airport , were shepherded onto a bus, and driven the ubiquitous "40 minutes" (everything seemed to be "40 minutes".) This bus ride, again on unlighted, rural, winding 2-lane roads, brought us to realize that the plane landing had been a relative walk in the park! After several anguished gasps (such as when our driver, coming around a curve, chose that very moment to pass the vehicle in front of us, heading straight into the headlights of a vehicle coming in the opposing direction....suddenly and miraculously, the 2- lane road became a 3-lane road, and we all survived!!), we all began to laugh and weakly cheer whenever the next near miss occurred...I think we were all a bit punch drunk!
But I am here to tell you that we managed to survive that trip and many more like it...after a while we were seasoned pros. I was speaking on the 'phone one evening with my sister, Mary Jo, who, together with Larry's mom, Marie, was caring for our daughter Julia at our home outside Chicago. I told her that I did not wish her and my mother-in-law to come to meet us at the airport when we flew back, as neither of them was familiar with the Chicago road-way system. My sister remarked, "but how will you get Meiya home in a hired car without a child seat for her?" At that point, the very concept of road safety and baby seats had long since been eclipsed with something much more like Karma, or Joss, and it took me a moment to comprehend just what she was getting at.... .quite a weird change in attitude for this world class worrier! I guess there *is* hope for me!
Anyway, we went to bed that evening (we stayed at the Qing Shan Hu Hotel in Nanchang - very nice and very comfortable) in great anticipation of the events of the next day. We arose, again to lovely weather, and joined the group in the lobby restaurant for our last meal which would remain entirely on our plates....not spread over our chests and on our laps and our daughters entire upper torsos. We were all sort of goofy with anticipation. When our agency director announced that the bus carrying our babies and their foster mothers was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 am, there was an audible gasp, and we all began to stare out through the lobby and into the parking lot...We were ushered reluctantly upstairs to our rooms to await the babies arrival. Refusing to go any further, we all stood in waiting outside our rooms....some of my most cherished photos are of expectant parents, usually clutching a baby toy of some sort, standing in the doorway, nervously jumping every time there was a noise. There were lots of anticipatory tears and nervous laughter. Finally, the elevator doors opened, we heard baby babbles and laughter and cries, and there they were, our long, long awaited daughters, each held in the protective and caring arms of her foster mom. I was certain that after probably something in the area of 400 hours of accumulated staring at Meiya's referral picture, I would recognize her immediately. I was wrong. She looked not the least as I expected her to, but she was lovely beyond description nevertheless. She is diminutive...from her photo I expected much broader features. She has alert, intelligent eyes, a stylish buzz cut, and a tiny, expressive mouth. Her coloring is exquisite. She was held in the arms of her foster mother who was trembling and softly weeping and clearly in love with this little girl whom she had nurtured and loved as a daughter the entire 11 months of Meiya's life.
And Meiya clearly reciprocated. While she allowed me to hold her and speak softly to her, she was constantly arching around to ascertain that her "Mama" was still in sight. I came to understand that this lovely lady had received the newborn Meiya as her first fostering assignment . When Meiya was referred to us back in April, the foster mom began to teach Meiya the work "mama" in anticipation of our arrival. However, somewhere along the way, I believe she lost her objectivity, and began to allow Meiya to call *her* mama. I am a bit surprised of myself that I do not resent this, but I very certainly do not. It was so obvious that this generous lady had put her heart and soul into raising Meiya, and the proof of the pudding is in Meiya's being today; she is a self confident, loving, affectionate, jolly little girl with, I might add, a will of iron. She grieved inconsolably for the entire length of our stay in Nanchang....she wept piteously and cried repeatedly for "Mama, Mama". She would not eat, nor would she accept comforting from us. The one activity that did seem to comfort her was bathing. She, unlike her mom and older sister....(she reflects her father's tendencies here...), is totally unafraid of water, and just loves to splash and dip her face in the water and laugh....what a welcomed sight and sound that laugh was amongst all the tears I will always associate with city of Nanchang! (With condolences to Steve Hardy! Actually, I liked Nanchang very much, but I was just sort of consumed by worry over Meiya....most everything else is a blur.)
I would like to mention that Meiya's foster mom had written a letter describing Meiya's likes and dislikes, her feeding schedule, etc. The letter was three hand-written pages long and was written in Chinese. The foster mom had somehow managed to have the letter translated into English. As she struggled to get the letters out of a plastic bag she carried with her, her hands trembled and tears coursed down her cheeks. She was so determined to do everything within her power to assure that Meiya's adoptive parents were given as much information as possible to ease the transition for Meiya's sake. One of the best decisions I have ever made was to compose a note of thanks to the Foster mother, together with a copy of Meiya's referral photo, hoping that I would have an opportunity to give it to the Foster Mother in person. In the letter (which I had had translated into Chinese), I told the foster mom that we were eternally grateful for the love and good care that she had bestowed on Meiya, that we would love Meiya and raise her as our daughter, and that we would always remind Meiya of the kind ministrations she had received from her foster mom. The foster mother took a few minutes to read my letter, and I take great comfort in being able to say that the letter seemed to afford her a substantial degree of relief. I believe she was then able to assure herself that Meiya would indeed be loved and cared for by us much as she had been by her foster mother her first 11 months on this earth.
And so began our life with our second daughter. We loved her sad little countenance with all our hearts. We worried that she had some sort of eating disorder.. .she was so very small and simply refused any sustenance the first several days. She arched away from us when we sought to comfort her; only her "mama" was going to be allowed that privilege. I recall thinking what a loyal little soul she was. The rational part of my brain told me this was all part of normal, healthy mourning, the rest of my being cried out for some relief, both for Meiya and for us.
Carrie, one of the adoptive moms, initiated what was to become a daily ritual and, IMO, a very beneficial interlude for all of us....children and parents. Several times a day, she would place a large blanket on the hall floor, and have her adorable, chubby cheeked daughter Lea play on it. One by one, parents of babies who were not napping would plunk down on the floor with their babies, and soon the whole crew, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 months, (the kids, not us.....we are somewhat older) would be getting down and dirty....and just as with the bus rides, we relaxed a bit and allowed our kids to play as a group....sometimes crawling off the protective blanket, sometimes playing with somewhat soggy toys, the whole schmere. The children were all marvelously healthy....some runny noses and loose bowels, but no scabbies or lice or ear infections or anything we had expected and were prepared to deal with. Meiya seemed to relax more in the presence of these other children, and would sometimes even present a smile....until she looked around and realized that "mama" was not there...then it was back to the tears. She had the most heart wrenching cry, her entire face seemed to collapse inward. She cried copious tears. I know this will sound nuts, but I feared that her tears would cause her to become dehydrated, since her intake was virtually nil.
Continue to Part 2...
Would love to hear from other families with children from any orphanage in Jiangxi Province. If you'd like to share any information, ask questions, or post your child's photo on this site please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.