I watch the video of our trip to China all the time, mostly, I think, because I can’t believe I actually finished putting it together. It was my first time using a video camera and it shows. Some of the zooms were a little too fast, some of my subjects weren’t centered, some of the lighting was too dark. I managed to pare down almost three hours of video into a more endurable half an hour, complete with music and fades and text. Those videos are probably the most valuable archives we have. Not only do they include shots of Beijing, the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and other places in China but they also capture the first moments with our daughter.
At 6:00 PM on March 1, 2004, in Nanchang, China, we were waiting in our hotel room at the Hotel Gloria. At 6:30 we, as a group, were to go downstairs to one of the large conference rooms to meet our children for the first time. I decided to film my wife and our room as a reminder of what it was like, for posterity’s sake. Off camera, I asked Lauren what time it was.
“Six o’clock.” she said, looking at her watch.
“Six o’clock? Oh my.”
It was a nervous “Oh my”, too, because I realized in 30 minutes our liv
es would change forever. The long flight from the States, sightseeing in Beijing, the flight that day to Nanchang, painting the nursery, the mountains of paperwork; all were a distant memory. All that mattered was the present.
And the future. But we didn’t want to think about that just yet.
Six-thirty came around before we knew it, almost like time was compressed. We took the elevator downstairs along with another family in our group, exchanging anxious chitchat on the way down. When the doors opened, we arrived at a room that was by now full of activity. Children had already been placed with their new parents. As the bonding was taking place, some of the babies were crying, along with some of the moms and dads. It seemed like chaos.
We found our agency’s coordinator and the orphanage director, Mr. Wu. We told her our names and the name of our child. She checked her sheet and spoke to the orphanage director.
“Shi Shi?” he asked?
“Yes.” All of the babies had double names. Shang Guan Shi was called “Shi Shi”.
He called over another orphanage worker who seemed to already have Shang Guan Shi in her arms. She handed Shi Shi to my wife. We agreed beforehand that Lauren would hold her first while I filmed the moment. We sent ahead a Pooh bear holding a picture of us, so that she would know what we looked like. I don’t know if it worked or not, but the bear, with the picture, was handed back to us as well.
We also sent ahead some clothes, but like all the other girls (they were all girls), Shi Shi was wrapped four or five layers deep, which I understand is common in China. They keep their children warm. This was reinforced in us when we went shopping in Nanchang a couple of days later and some of the older women would check our daughter’s pants to make sure her legs were covered. That strangers would do this tells me that the Chinese care about their children. Sometimes it felt like we were being judged and we were relieved when the women smiled at us, as if we’d passed some sort of test.
She didn’t cry, at least not right away. She clutched a tag with her name and picture on it. We gave her a toy that she held in her other hand and was equally reluctant to release. She seemed bothered by the woman who had handed her to us; when the woman tried to touch her face, Shi Shi moved her head away, almost annoyed. It was as if she was making her own transition. “Quit it, I’m bonding here”, she seemed to say.
Once the exchange was made, the newly expanded families started going back to their rooms to bond with their new daughters. I had this “Now what do I do?” feeling. When do we feed her? Change her diaper? Give her a bath? Now it was as real as it gets. Shi Shi had spent her last night as an orphan and was now in the care of two people who never had such a responsibility in their lives. For a moment it was overwhelming.
Then she decided to cry, seemingly for no apparent reason. Maybe she was overwhelmed, too. Maybe she realized how clueless we were. But she made it easy on us. She slept through her first night in the hotel room, unlike her new dad, who didn’t get a wink.
We missed out on the first year of Ally’s life. We know very few facts about her from that time. She only spent about a month at the orphanage in Shanggao. For about eleven months she was with a foster family, who obviously took splendid care of her. I doubt we could have done any better. I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet them; some families wish to remain anonymous. It must have been hard to let her go but I’m sure they know it comes with the territory. I hope that another lucky child was placed with them.
In the China adoption community, the day you receive your child is called the “Gotcha Day”. That’s when one story ends and another begins. Our story began two years ago today. As expected, our lives haven’t been the same. And we wouldn’t trade it for anything.