Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Am Her Real Mother

"Is she your daughter?" a girl asked me at church. She wrinkled her forehead and studied Princess' crooked nose and jagged scar on her lip.

"Yes." I told her, offering no explanation.

"But," the girl continued still scanning Princess' face, "she doesn't look like you."

"What's different?" I pressed.

She was silent for a moment, then said, "I don't know, but something is different."

There's no denying it. She is different. But different doesn't have to be bad. Or scary. Or wrong. From the day we met her, we loved her because of her differences.

A lot of people have opinions about adoption. I've been asked how much we paid for our daughter. If you're truly interested in adoption, I'll tell you the fees you pay for services--not for the child. Most people won't adopt, so I politely ask them how much they paid for their car or house. I've been ask if the government paid us to take in an orphan. People ask why her "real" mom didn't want her. Some wonder why we didn't adopt domestically or foster. After all there are needy children in the United States. I'd never argue with that. My answer is simple: A kid is a kid. They all need homes. So why not the United States, Russia, or Ethiopia. My daughter happened to be in China.

These questions aren't new and they won't ever go away. People in China were just as curious. Our guide told us that most Chinese citizens don't know adoption is an option. The government doesn't tell them there are hundreds of thousands of children waiting for families. We carried around a card that said in Chinese: We are from USA. We are adopting Ling Chen. We love her and Chinese culture.

Most people either hugged us or gave us a thumb's up. We heard "lucky baby" over and over again. Luck had nothing to do with it.

I believe God meant for her to be part of our family from the beginning of time. It is his perfect plan for an imperfect world.

So, yes, I am her real mother. And if you saw us together, there's no denying it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

August 18: Passports

Once Princess started smiling, she never stopped. In just a few hours, she went from newborn to toddler. She cruised around our hotel room and even started babbling. We taught her sign-language, which she picked up in a matter of hours.

Part of the reason the adoption trip to China is two weeks is to complete paperwork and to allow enough time to process the child's passport. Most provinces can process a passport in a week--except Beijing. They usually take 10 days to process a passport, making the trip three weeks. I was already so homesick for my boys, I was physically ill. I absolutely couldn't imagine waiting another week for a passport.

Susan took us to the passport facility where we met five other American families adopting children. All of the children were from the same orphanage, although Princess didn't seem to recognize any of them. We all applied for passports at the same time and were all given receipts to pick up our passport in 10 days.

Susan shook her head, went back to the counter, and came back with an emergency passport receipt. Princess could receive her passport in five days. The others, expect one other family, did not receive emergency passports.

When I prayed for mercy for Princess, I was simply praying about shots and blood draws. But God, in all of his awesomeness, extended that mercy to emergency passports and smiles.

Princess--who probably hadn't ever laughed--now had a loud belly laugh that was absolutely contagious.

August 17: Mercy

Princess was a little girl who desperately needed mercy.

I wondered if she'd ever smiled. Her glassy eyes stared past us, when her thumbs weren't stuck in her mouth, her arms dangled lifelessly at her side. She screamed whenever we put her down, so we weren't sure if she could walk. She was more like a newborn than a two year old.

Susan, our guide, had managed to talk the orphanage into giving us the report from Evie's surgeon that noted the extra vessels in her lungs. We went back to the Beijing clinic early the next morning. Susan handed the radiologist the report. This time, the radiologist smiled and signed the TB certificate. In doing so, she gave us the freedom to bring Princess home.

According to the US consulate, all orphans must have a medical exam before they immigrate into the United States. This includes getting all immunizations even if it means getting six or more at a time. Thankfully, Princess was mostly up to date. But she needed blood tests and the clinic didn't have any pediatric needles. So we had to lay her on a gurney, Jonathan held her head and arms, I held her legs, Susan had her hand on her stomach. Then a nurse jammed a large needle into her teeny tiny vein. Evie's glazed over eyes were suddenly filled with fear, terror, and anger.

Still sweaty and screaming from the blood draw, we took her to the next station to get her immunizations. Since her birth certificate said she was two years old, she was scheduled to receive her two year old shots. But at 16 pounds, Princess looked more like a 12 month baby. As the nurse lined up the needles, I prayed, "Lord have mercy on this child."

The nurse who was supposed to give her the shots, took one look at Princess and shook her head. "Not two," she said in broken English. "Won't do it." She took the needles, tossed them in the trash, signed the forms, and sent us on our way.

We took Princess back to the hotel and she fell asleep in Jonathan's arms.

Two hours later she woke up and smiled at us. It was the picture of mercy, beautiful, beautiful mercy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

August 16: Chest X-Rays

Princess wouldn't lay down to sleep. The only thing we could compare her to was a dog who was too afraid to roll over and expose its chest. She slept sitting up on Jonathan's chest. Her body was tense and in the morning she ramped up the crying again. The only thing we could do was hold her tight. The note we got from the orphanage said she took one bottle of formula. When we took her to breakfast and she saw all the food, she threw her bottle and opened her little mouth like a bird. At 16 pounds, she was tiny, but ate more than we did combined.

Our next stop was the Beijing medical center. It was recently approved by the US consulate to give medical exams to orphans immigrating into the United States. Princess was one of the first patients. Since her skin test was positive for TB, she needed a chest X-ray. Once the x-ray was taken, we were shuffled into a little room and the radiologist showed us the film.

I immediately saw cloudy crisscross veins on her x-ray. We stood around the x-ray as our guide Susan, talked to the radiologist. Every once in a while, Susan would break out of Mandarin to tell us what was happening.

"The radiologist says she 95% sure she does not have TB," Susan told us. "But she won't sign the form."

They argued for another hour, pointing at each other, pointing at us, pointing at the baby who stared blankly into space. Still talking at breakneck speed, Susan called the orphanage. The radiologist talked to whoever was on the other line. They hung up and argued some more.
Nearly two hours went by. Then, suddenly, Susan led us out of the room and into a cab.

On the ride to the notary office, where we would sign papers that would legally complete the adoption, Susan explained that the orphanage knew her x-ray would be cloudy. In fact, the surgeon who performed her open heart surgery, noted in a report that she had extra blood vessels, not TB. If we could find that report, the radiologist would sign the form.

We met four other families at the notary office. We all signed the papers together. What should have been an absolutely joyful day, we clouded in confusion and sadness. We once again got into the cab and went to the orphanage to pick up the report. We were not allowed inside, but we were met by an administrator outside the gates. Susan and the administrator started arguing.

Even though I couldn't understand what they were saying, I knew she didn't have the report. I stared at the orphanage. It was massive. We'd heard there were 600 children living there. But I'd double or triple that number.

In China's eyes, Princess had American parents. But according to the United States, if she didn't have a negative TB certificate, she could not enter the country. She was in fact, a child without a country.

I knew if she had to pass through the gates and go back into the orphanage, she would without a doubt, die.

Friday, September 4, 2009

August 15: Meeting Our Daughter

Some babies come from the hospital. Some babies come through revolving doors in hotel lobbies.

By 9:30 the next morning, we were waiting in the lobby to meet our girl. We weren't allowed to go to the orphanage because of fear of spreading Swine Flu. We also weren't allowed to meet her nanny because in the past nannies have contacted families for money. China is very careful about what may or may not be a bribe.

So we sat for an hour in a smoke-filled, bustling lobby waiting for our daughter. We watched business men, a wedding party, and countless bellboys pass through the revolving door. Each slowed down just a bit to have their temperature taken by the automatic scanners.

She was an hour late.

"We're not thinking about TB today," Jonathan reminded me.

I gulped. It was all I thought about. I was about to be handed a baby that I may have to hand back. But if I was truly meant to be her mom, I knew there had to be a miracle in store for this child.

Suddenly, a young woman can through the revolving door holding a baby. I knew in an instant it was my daughter.

We jumped up, and the woman told her, "Mama," and pointed to me. She handed Princess to me. I'd never seen such fear in a child's eyes. She screamed, like she'd been kidnapped. I held her for the next 45 minutes and her heart broke into a million pieces. Everything this child had known was gone. Everything, whether is was good or bad, had changed.

Hours later, Princess stopped crying. Her face was blank, she stared at nothing, and her limbs were limp.

She had shutdown.

August 14: Taking Flight

On August 14 we boarded a direct flight to Beijing China. It was 14 hours and neither of us slept. In less than 24 hours we'd meet our daughter for the first time. I had two major concerns. First, that we'd get quarantined once we got off the flight because we'd have an elevated temperature or someone near us would have a temperature. China had in the past quarantined entire flights because they were afraid of Swine Flu. And secondly, that Evie would be TB positive.

TB had been on my mind a lot. On July 1, the US passed a law that states no immigrant may enter the United States with TB. Unfortunately, adopted children were included under the law because they are not granted citizenship until they step foot on US soil, even though the adoption is completed in China. It also doesn't matter that children can rarely spread the disease. For the past few weeks, I'd been following a family's blog whose daughter did test positive for TB. They could either stay with her during the treatment, which lasts 6 to 9 months or they could leave her. They had to go home because of jobs and other children. It was heartbreaking. And it was my nightmare.

As the plane touched down in Beijing, I prayed that we wouldn't get quarantined and Princess would have a TB negative test.

We got off the plane and had our temperatures taken by security wearing surgical masks and were allowed to go. Our guide, Susan, meet us at baggage claim.

"I just found out your daughter tested positive for TB," she told us.

I dropped my bag. I hadn't even left the airport and I was already questioning God. Would you really bring us all this way to make us leave her behind? Or do you really intend for me to stay in China for six months or more?

I knew the answer to both questions was yes.