Adoption in China
Our Adventure in China

     We traveled to Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, and adopted our daughter on February 25.  I'm not an author, but I think I can write this from my heart.  I'll try to keep it brief, pardon the punctuation!  Words cannot express the pure joy that Marissa has brought us.  The Lord is very gracious, and His time is truly the best time.
     First, our history.  We were married in 1988 and saw our first fertility specialist in Jan. of 1990.  In June of 1996 we hit rock bottom with that.  After years of telling each other (and everyone else) that we would never
adopt, we decided to adopt.  I guess it takes some of us longer to get to that point than others.  Now that we have Marissa, we know that God had intended for us to have HER all along.  We saw a newspaper article on
Father's Day weekend of 1996, by Jim Higgins who had adopted a daughter from China.   Knowing that a domestic adoption was not for us, and taking into account that Alan had spent a great deal of time in Asia with the US Navy (and loved it),  we started checking into agencies concerning Asian options.  After making numerous inquiries and phone calls all over the place, we ended up with Holt International, and cannot say enough good about them.  We were pleased from start to homecoming! We filed our application with them the
last week of Aug., 1996.  We were pleased they would work with us, even though we would be special needs due to our ages, and the special needs reorganization was looming overhead.  We literally worked on something adoption related every day until our dossier was sent to Beijing on Dec. 20,1996.    By this time we had been informed that our waiting time would be very uncertain, and we were given the option of switching to another country, but our hearts were already in China.  We found the APC list one
week later!
     We kept ourselves incredibly busy, doing all sorts of things around the house that we knew we'd wanted done for a long time.  We did everything from organize 10 years worth of photographs to refinishing the woodwork in the house.   However,  we really didn't do much in the room that would be Marissa except for a few things that we knew we'd want done regardless of whether or not a child would occupy that room.
     On December 5, Alan was at work (12 hour shifts) and I stayed at school to finish up a lot of things in my classroom.  Usually, I went to school on Saturdays to take care of a lot of odds and ends, but I had the feeling that I wouldn't want to go to school the next day.  By the time I got home, it was 6:55 Central time.   My heart stopped when I saw 6 messages on the answering machine, four were from our agency.  Praise the Lord that the wonderful people at Holt left us a home phone number of someone to call "to receive a good message"!  I  quickly called Alan, as I knew he would just be leaving work and told him that I just wanted to give him something to think about on the way home, and told him I suspected Holt had our referral.  During that half hour that it took him to get home, I paced and made a list of questions that I wanted to ask.
     By the time Alan got home, I was so nervous that I was in tears.   We each were on a phone, when we heard the joyous news that we had a referral of a child in Yiyang Social Welfare Institute in Jiangxi Province.  Her name was Yi Li Lan and was born on July 19, 1997 -   She was only 4 1/2 months old! Yikes, not what were expecting - we had requested ages 0 - 2.  Her special need was listed as a heart murmur (atrial septal defect).  We were encouraged to wait for the paperwork to arrive before accepting the referral, and
unfortunately, it didn't arrive for 11 days.  The only additional information on the paperwork was her height and weight.  We accepted our referral that same day.   We then busied ourselves gathering the dreaded second dossier documents, which we were being told to gather, "just in case".  Of course, we had just sent them to be authenticated the day  we received word that they would not be needed.
     Our travel date was delayed by the Chinese New Year.  The time between referral and notice of a travel date was the worst part of the whole adoption process.  We started slowly gathering things to pack during the last week of January and were actually sort of glad that we had so much time to think about it.   (Although, if someone would have called and told us to be on a plane in 24 hours - we would have been thrilled!)  We finally received a date on Feb. 6 and were told to be in Hong Kong on Feb. 22 for orientation.  We worked with
Dorothy at Azumano Travel , and were very pleased.  We would leave on Feb. 19, the day that Marissa would turn 7 months old.  We then started packing in full force!
     Just a few words about packing.  We took the advice of someone and vaccuum packed as much as we could in gallon size ziploc bags.  We would put about 10 diapers in a bag, kneel on it, and zip it up!  We did this with the two blankets we took for Marissa, her snowsuit, onsies, socks, underwear, and whatever else wouldn't wrinkle.  This made a tremendous difference.  Just remember, the weight really adds up when everything is so compacted!    We tried to limit the amount of clothes we took for ourselves.  (We thought that for the sake of space and time, the laundry service at the hotels was money well spent.)  My Mom found a stroller made by J.Mason at K-Mart that fit in our suitcase, and we simply packed around it.  It folded
in half the opposite way of an umbrella stroller. (I hope that makes sense, when folded, it was a flat rectangle.)  We're glad we had it along. We only used it in the hotels, but Marissa was very content to sit in it and people watch, while we ate meals!  We had a Sara's Ride which worked well for us,too.  (We also used the Sara's Ride to secure her to us on the flights - especially during take off and landing.  We don't know how secure it actually made her, but we felt a lot better!)  We packed everything we thought we really wanted along and were a few pounds overweight on the flight from Hong Kong to Nanchang, but were not charged any overweight fines.
     We went to Hong Kong a couple days early to allow our bodies to adjust to Marissa's time clock and to do some sight seeing.  In our opinion, if you have time in Hong Kong, some of the things worth doing are:  Victoria Peak (we enjoyed the tram ride up and took a taxi down),  Kowloon Park, walk around the market areas (easy to find Asian dolls), definitely visit the new "Bird Garden" (very easy to get to with the MTR - just take it to the Prince Edward station),  also visit flower market street if you do go to the bird garden,  (It's pretty much right by the entrance to the bird garden,)  The Jumbo restaurant is sort of a fun touristy type thing (I think it's billed as the world's largest floating restaurant), and Alan said to be sure to mention the Bull & the Bear - a British type pub where the sailor's used to hang out.  (the food is very good, I really can't remember how the prices were).   We went to Toys 'R Us, and remembered someone had mentioned the Hong Kong version of Monopoly, which we found  and liked, and then had to drag all over China!   Toys 'R Us did have a big selection of cars seats, about the same prices as in the US, perhaps some were even a bit more expensive, they also had a large selection of Chinese - English flash cards, which were lots cheaper than the ones we saw later at the White Swan.  While in Hong Kong, we'd suggest riding the subway (MTR) as much as possible, its probably the quickest, easiest , and cheapest way to get around, except for the Star Ferry, which is also a must do.  Just a few words on the MTR (subway)... we felt very safe using it, it was very clean, and simple to use.  By using it, we could get relatively close to wherever we wanted to go, or connect to a bus that would take us the rest of the distance to wherever.
     We stayed at the International House YMCA, which was very nice and reasonably priced, breakfast was always very good there.  In the past we had also stayed at the Eaton, which was very nice, but also rather pricey.   By Sunday morning, we had figured out who two of the couples in our travel group were, and did a few things together.  Monday morning, we had our orientation, and the rest of the day for ourselves.  Tuesday morning a very excited group of 7 families met in the lobby to proceed to the airport where we would fly China Southern to Nanchang.  The flight was fine, and service was good.  (Alan said the aircraft used were German).
     When we arrived in Nanchang, we had arrived in another world.   We enjoyed our bus trip to the Lake View Hotel and had our introduction to the famous traffic.  All we have to say is that we saw only one accident the entire 16 days in China, and since you can't do anything about it, just sit back and enjoy the sights!  Remember the saying "in Nanchang, stoplights are only a suggestion".  Crossing the streets really isn't so bad...once you start walking, don't stop, the cars WILL miss you.  We saw hundreds of very talented bike riders, who could haul anything on their bikes.  We saw everything from loads of lumber, 6 foot high loads of laundry, and entire households being moved.
     The Lake View Hotel was a great place to stay.  We were to meet our children in the hotel around 7:00 that evening.  I think I burst into tears when I saw the crib set up in our room, but I really don't remember much about what happened between arriving at the hotel and meeting Marissa.  The Lake View Hotel is circular, and the center is hollow, so you can see the entire corridor.  We were asked to wait by our rooms, and the babies would be brought to us, after they were cleaned up in our facilitator's room.  The babies were being brought by a 7 hour train ride.   We knew that our children were coming from 3 different orphanages, and that the other child from Yiyang was a three year old (who was an absolute delight, after getting over
her first few hours of terror).  When we saw the three year old, we knew that the other child with the aunties was our daughter.  It took a bit of time for the 3 year old to settle down enough for the orphanage director to
leave their room, and we wanted to abide by their wishes to stay by our rooms, so all we could do was watch Marissa on the other side of the hotel.  Someone took a photo of Alan with his fingers to my neck taking my pulse during this time...I don't remember any of that!
     Having the babies delivered one by one was wonderful, as far as the camera and /or video department was concerned.  Everyone took pictures of each other's special moment.  When Marissa was brought to us, she really didn't cry, she just sort of had a bewildered look on her face.  About 2 minutes after we had her in our arms, we were given an opportunity to ask the orphanage director and caregivers questions.  They took their time and tried to answer the whole list of questions we had written up ahead of time (23 questions!).  Unfortunately, the only questions they really could answer were about eating and sleeping habits.  We had a small tape recorder along and are glad to have the conversation on tape.  They told us to keep her clothes "for her to remember China".  We later were able to buy some split pants type outfits to replace the clothes we kept.
     We unbundled her very slowly.  She was wearing 5 layers of clothes, two of which were heavy jackets.  Each layer was tied on around the wrists and around the waist.   The bottom layers were wringing wet and smelled like either an incense or wood smoke.  At this point that smell is still very clear in my mind!  Marissa looked very healthy, other than being much smaller than we were expecting.  We had received an update on Dec. 16 (more than two months earlier) which listed her at 17 1/2 lbs.  She was no more than 12 lbs. when we got her.  She looked just like her referral picture, but with a bit more hair!  She had an orange powder of some sort all over her.   It was really thick in her ears and skin creases. Someone thought it was de-lousing powder...we really have no idea.  Other than the orange stuff, sweat, and having an acre of dirt in her belly button, she was really quite clean!   We gave her a sponge bath, put her into a pajama, fed her a bottle,  and she fell asleep.   What a wonderful feeling to have a child fall asleep in your arms - I had been waiting for that for a long time!   Unfortunately, it has been a rare occurence since then, she is happiest about going to sleep when she is simply placed in her crib with a blanket against her cheek.  She often wakes up at night (or during naps) and sort of "licks" her blanket a few times, we suspect as a security measure.    (Can babies get hair balls?!)
     Marissa was extemely quiet and curious during these first few hours.  We were amazed at how alert she was.  Alan baptized her that night, before we phoned home.  We slept very peacefully that night.  She only woke up at midnight for a bottle.   Her caregiver had told us that she drinks 4 - 5 oz. every 3 hours!  Yikes!   She DID need a bottle that often during the day!   Marissa would not take her bottle even slightly cool, and the playtex disposable bottle liners worked great for us.  Some of the children were in need of  a doctor's care, mostly for mild cases of bronchitis.  Many of us had antibiotics along, but  the Lake View Hotel had a doctor on staff, who did treat some of the children with amoxicillin for an extemely reasonable rate!  (I think the exam and medication was a total of $8 US).  The girls responded very quickly to the antibiotics. 
     The next morning, the last couple received their daughter.   We then registered our adoptions at the Civil Affairs Office.  Our pictures were individually taken here, and mounted on our paperwork.  The interview was no problem, we had been told that we may need to WRITE a statement as to why we wanted to adopt from China, how we intended to care for the child, and promise never to abandon or abuse her.  We did have a statement written out so that we could simply copy what we had written and wouldn't have to think on the spot.  As it turned out, we were not asked to do this!   We were orally asked a few questions, asked to sign, and give our thumb print.  When the foot print time came, Marissa had plenty of ink left on her foot, and we had her travel journal along (The International Adoption Journal by Mary Petryl - which we loved) and put her foot print on that day's page,  she still had plenty of ink on her foot to put another footprint on a piece of hotel stationery which will go into her baby book.  We were all set to do this, so it only took a few seconds, and the officials didn't seem to mind.  After the adoption was registered, each child was given a porcelain plate by the adoption officials.  That afternoon, we went to the Ministry of Justice and finalized our adoptions.  If I remember correctly, we were only asked 4 or 5 questions.  We walked back into the waiting room (which was somewhat removed from the offices), and what a feeling to have the rest of the group applaud, and someone from our group picked up our camera and immediately took our photo as a forever family - adoption completed!!!!
     We spent a total of 6 nights in Nanchang.  We waited for the Chinese passports and for our papers to be translated by the notary.  During this time we were taken on short tours by our agency, which were all optional.  We went to an art musem, a restoration of a former prince's palace (Teng Wang Ge), we saw Renmin Square (the second largest city square in China), went to a department store, visited a rural village, and were taken to some sort of an "ethnic restaurant run by a minority from SW China" (we never did
get the name of the place - but I think it was across from the Jiangxi Hotel- it was a lot of fun), we also saw some sights that deal with the history of the Chinese military.   We spent a lot of time just wandering around Nanchang.  It was a great time.   Nanchang is a university town, so many young people would come up to us to practice their English. They would usually end up translating for the crowds that would gather!   Everyone would want to know why we had a Chinese child, how old she was, and where we were taking her to live.
People also wanted to know if we loved the child.  By the third day with Marissa, we had our facilitator write us a note in Chinese answering each of those questions in a nice paragraph.  We did gets lots of thumbs up, with the phrase "lucky baby" added.  The language barrier didn't always allow us to get across the point that WE were the lucky ones to have her.  Yes, the women would check out how many layers the children were wearing, and if they weren't satisfied, we would hear about it!  The crowds sometimes got a bit overwhelming, but we just kept smiling!
     On Monday afternoon, March 30, we flew to Guangzhou.  The children all did pretty good on the flight.  It was great to have Barbara from Holt meet us at the airport with bellboys from the White Swan!   That night  we went over our paperwork for the consulate with the Holt staff to be sure everything was in order.  We unpacked a bit, ordered pizza from the Song Bird Restaurant in the Hotel, and went to bed.
     The following morning, we went to the medical clinic for the exams.  Marissa was weighed and measured (5.8 kgs, about 12 lbs, 12 ozs. and 24 1/2 inches).  A doctor felt her stomach, listened to her heart, looked in her ears (from over 12 inches away) , looked in her throat, and clapped his hands in her face.     Done in less than 10 minutes.
     On Wednesday, we had our consulate interview.  Everyone's seemed to be a bit different, but ours was over in 5 to 10 minutes.  The following day most of our group took a tour to the Chen Family Academy, a jade factory, and the Qing Ping Market.  The visas were picked up that afternoon around 4:00.  After that each family left at various times to catch their flights home.
     While in Guangzhou, we wandered around and did a bunch of shopping.  The shop on the stairs IS a good place to shop.  We had nice chops made for all of our nephews and nieces for Christmas (medium size ones for about $6 each).   The White Swan Deli does have good deserts!  We found water and diet coke was cheapest at a little stand next to the photo place were visa pictures can be taken (not far from the White Swan).  We ate at the Tree Restaurant (good), as well as accidentally eating at the restaurant NEXT to
the Tree Restaurant.  We didn't realize that all of the sidewalk tables were not for the same place!
(pay attention to where the tablecloths stop).  We had inquired about a table, and were ushered down an alleyway full of dining rooms.  We were given one of the very few empty tables.  The menu was 6 - 7 pages long, and contained MANY items that had intestines, heads, "medicinal stuff" , etc.  But, we found 5 dishes that we thought looked pretty safe and loved them! It was one mistake we were glad to have made!   We also ate at Lucy's, which was okay.  We went to the Nan Feng(?) department store to look for something like baby dimetapp, and as the husbands said, we found everything but that!  Marissa's Grandfather loves to have fun, so Alan couldn't resist buying Marissa a pair of shoes to wear whenever Grandpa Zimmerman babysits. They have squeakers in the toes!  We also found some children's CDs, Isomil formula, a bell for my bell collection, and a rattle that was light enough for Marissa to hold on to.    The department store is just off the island, across from a park that has a big ferris wheel.  The Qing Ping Market was a great place to visit.  Yes, the "meat department" does require a strong stomach, but I'm glad we went.  We saw all sorts of "delicacies" from scorpions to wild boars, and creatures of every size in between.  It seems that early morning or late afternoon is the best time to go.  We also were sure to visit the Hard Rock Cafe one evening with a
families from our group - great time!  Marissa loved getting out and about.  We spent very little time in our hotels during the day.  She seemed comfortable in the Sara's Ride and would sleep for hours while we walked
     On Friday, a family from our FCC group arrived at the White Swan, so we were able to spend an evening with them and their second daughter from China - Another real sweetheart.  We were thrilled to be able to cross paths with them.
     We left for home on Saturday morning.  Just a note.   Please, check your luggage all the way to your final US destination  FROM Guangzhou.  Yes, you'll need to reclaim it for customs at your point of entry, but it will
save many problems in Hong Kong.  A group of about 6 families were in line in front of us to check in at the Northwest counter at the Hong Kong airport after arriving on the flight from Guangzhou.  Their bags were not checked through, and Northwest then needed to print out the tags for all of their luggage (a sizable amount), and identify all of their bags.  This took a considerable amount of time.  Please people, try to take everything in stride while on your journey.  This is where we encountered the only outwardly rude people, and unfortunately, they were the "ugly Americans".   They made quite a scene as they insisted that others from
their same group had cut in front of them in line.  We had taken the 8:15 flight from Guangzhou to connect with our 11:05 flight from Hong Kong.  We finally reached the counter at 11:10.  When we told the woman at the counter that our bags were checked through, she smiled and asked us to wait a moment.  She then had someone else take over the window, and personally took us through the airport, taking us to the front of every line of waiting people and took us directly to our gate, where they issued all of our boarding passes, straight
through to our final destination of Madison, WI.  Due to weather, our flight did not take off until Noon.
     Marissa handled the flight very well.  She only fussed for about a total of 40 minutes all the way to Minneapolis.  She took little cat naps which added up to about 3 hours of sleep, and the rest of the time we tried to keep her entertained.  We had about a dozen babies on our flight.  The stewardess told us that the record number babies they had had on the Hong Kong - Minneapolis flight was 26!   Thanks to the great advice by Holt and our travel agent, we breezed through Immigration and customs.  Our flight to Madison was without incident, except that by this time Marissa was way over tired!  She didn't cry or fuss, she was just really squirmy and obviously unhappy about more sitting!
     The feeling we had when our plane was landing in Madison really can't be described...I think it was a combination of nervousness (we knew a crowd was waiting), excitement, exhaustion, and RELIEF!  Someone had a video camera at the airport, and I still can't watch it without crying my eyes out.  We knew when we started the adoption process that there was a child in China that was in our hearts, and now she was in our arms.  At the airport, we saw just how many other people held her in their hearts...and couldn't wait to hold
her in their arms!

And that is the beginning of our story...