Note: This was originally written in late June of 2004.
Before everything becomes a distant memory, I am going to try to note down the details of our trip. Mostly so that I can tell Livia about it when she is older, but also so other readers might be able to know what it's like. Anyone who is considering adopting from China please feel free to email me and I will elaborate on any of the experiences I present here or any other questions you might have. Please note that I am writing this from the summit of Mauna Kea and as such it might not be the most coherent piece of writing you have ever read.
My wife and I decided we would adopt a child before we got married. We were both in grad school at the time and besides a little online research we didn't pursue the matter early in our marriage because we wanted to graduate and get stable jobs before starting a family. I am not sure exactly when we decided on adopting from China, but we started attending open houses at adoption agencies in January of 2003. We chose China Adoption With Love, Inc. as our agency because they focus on adoption from China, they are small enough that you can get to know the whole staff, and they have a good relationship with the orphanages and Center for Adoption Affairs in China. We also knew a couple people who had used the agency for one or more adoption and they were very satisfied. We are also very satisfied with the agency and I would recommend it, especially for people who live in Massachusetts, though they can place children with couples in all 50 states.
We began the paperwork in late January of 2003. We had to get some extra birth certificates, but the paperwork was not overwealming. CAWLI is very helpful with the paperwork and they notarize many of the documents with the exception of agreements that are between you and the agency. We had 3 meetings with a social worker, who was a very nice person. We had to complete autobiographies for her explaining a bit about our background and why we were choosing to adopt. We went a bit overboard and made some very long biographies, but our social worker managed to condense it to relevant information for the home study.
After the home study was complete we completed the INS fingerprinting and our dossier went to China in late July. We took some extra time to complete the INS portion in order to slow the process because Kim was pregnant and we wanted to be sure she would be born and old enough to travel before we got a referral. The waiting was not bad for us as we were also expecting a biological child, Kaia, and were both working very hard. In March of 2004, when referrals came for the group immediately proceeding us I was suddenly hit with the realization that we would soon get a referral. We were very excited and very nervous as Kaia was only 3 months old. We received our referral in April and our travel was set for June. We met the families we would be traveling with, several of which were returning to adopt a second or third child. We also met the doctor who would travel with us. This is another good reason to choose CAWLI, they provide a pediatrician to accompany you which made us much more comfortable. Everyone seemed very nice, and we were looking forward to traveling with them.
We asked Kim's sister Kelley to accompany us on the trip and help out. She prooved to be invaluable during the trip. Kaia had started teething just before we left and she had a couple of bad nights, but was very well behaved however with two infants it's important to have an extra set of hands. The flight over was long, but broken up into small bits. We flew Boston to San Frasisco, San Fransisco to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Beijing. I think I prefer that to say Chicago to Beijing. It gives you some time to walk around. I recognized a couple of people from the meeting on the plane, but I must admit I had forgotten some of their faces. Finally in Beijing we all went through customs and gathered near the luggage carousel to help each other get our bags. We then proceeded out to where our national guide, Rose, was waiting for us.
Each group is assigned a national guide, who is with you for the duration of your trip through China. There are also local guides in each city. Rose was our national guide as well as our local guide for Beijing. She is an amazing, energetic, encouraging, and endlessly helpful woman. I cannot say enough positive things about her. She juggled everyone's needs and managed to get us through all the paperwork we needed to do in China quite painlessly. There were a total of 15 families on the trip, so we ended up taking up a fairly large bus. We all piled in and headed to our hotel. We had our first experience with traffic and driving in China, which is very scary. People tend to drive cars like they drive bicycles and are constantly merging into traffic or pushing their way into traffic in regions where there is no space. I was amazed there were not more traffic accidents.
My wife had spent several weeks in China before this trip, but it was my first to China. I found it a very friendly and interesting place. Beijing was quite a bustling place. I did not feel there were an inordinantly huge number of people, however I did notice that even at 4am there were still bicycles, pedestrians, and the occasional car passing by the hotel. I spent much of my time in Beijing worried about the $5000 in cash I was carrying around. For those of you who have not adopted from China before, I should note that you are required to bring a fairly large sum of cash with you in, "clean, crisp, machine readable $100 bills." I had never seen this much money before, much less traveled with it, so I wore it in a security pack in my pants. I also carried our passports and one document for which the original was required to complete the adoption. Anyway, this made it difficult for me to relax for the first few days.
Our first excursion in Beijing was to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is quite crowded with tourists as well as street merchants. There were several interesting items for sale by the merchants, including "rolex" watches (3 for $5, guaranteed to last 2 years), Mao watches, which feature Chairman Mao waving his hand back and forth each second, Mao's red book in English, hats, umbrellas, postcards, stamps, pretty much anything a tourist could hope for. Around the square is a very large and busy road, though fortunately there are pedestrian underpasses. We walked on to the Forbidden City, which was quite impressive in size as well as in the various sculptural details. Rose provided the group with quite an array of details regarding the city, but I spent much of my time trying to rock Kaia to sleep. I guess we'll have to go back when the girls can appreciate it so I can learn all the details. The first portion of the city is quite austere, but the gardens and living areas that surround the giant courtyards are more homey and comfortable. That afternoon we went on a rickshaw tour of an old part of Beijing, down narrow alleyways. We visited a home around a courtyard that several families shared, we visited a boarding kindergarten, and we participated in a Chinese tea ceremony, where of course we could buy tea sets.
On day two in Beijing we went to a jade factory and to a section of The Great Wall. The jade factory involved a 15 minute look at jade and how it is carved, followed by about an hour in the gift shop. We all did a lot of shopping, though it was at this juncture in our trip that the disparities in the incomes of the families became apparent. I would say we were probably making less than the average income of the families in our group. At this point also, I still wanted to make sure we had the cash resources we would need for the rest of the trip, though we did buy pendants for Kaia and Livia, and Kim got a nice double happiness necklace which Kaia likes to put in her mouth. Maybe jade would make a good teething ring. We proceeded on to The Great Wall, which was crawling with tourists. I did not appreciate the statement, "we are going to climb the great wall" until we arrived. The section we visited was on the side of a mountain and we we formed a long line of ascender on the right and descenders on the left. There were approximately three towers to the summit. Kim, with Kaia strapped into the baby bjorn made a heroic climb to the first tower... I also, though less heroically, stopped at the first tower. Still the view was amazing. Most of our group only went up to the first tower, but those who continued on said the crowds lessened significantly. We also saw another group of westerners, I believe from Europe, who had just recently adopted their babies at the wall.
The next day we were off to Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province. I felt very excited and nervous about meeting Livia. The feeling was as intense as how I felt when Kim was in t was the morning of our first full day in Nanning that we went to pick up the children. We would have the children for a 24 hour "harmonious period" before going to government offices and completing the adoption. We all filed into a conference room, where a Spanish group had just recently received their children, and a government official gave a small speech. I was so excited I can not even remember what she said, then they began calling out the children's names. Rose would then call the corresponding parents if they did not recognize the child's Chinese name. They went orphanage by orphanage, Livia was in the second orphanage group and I jumped up as soon as I heard her name. I carried Kaia and Kim were still in Nanning, so we could mostly tour in Guangzhou. We met our local guide, Connie, who took us to the White Swan Hotel. I first heard about the White Swan on our first orientation meeting at CAWLI. This is a famous hotel amongst Americans who adopt in China. It is located adjacent to the American consulate and is a very nice hotel. It was an amazing three story lobby area, and the food is pretty good. At any given time there are hundreds of Americans newly adopted babies in the hotel. The hotel is located on Shamian Island which now caters to adoptive parents. On our first day we got passport photos for Livia's visa and had her entry physical. The physical was very short and done in a special examination area specifically for adoptive children having visa physicals. Livia was very upset by the physical.
Kim and Kelley managed to borrow two strollers, bought a couple of gifts and were given some freebies by the local merchants. Popular items to buy on Shamian island include squeaky shoes (they squeak with every step your toddler takes), portraits etched in slate, name chops, rattles, jade pendants, any manner of silk item, traditional baby clothes, modern baby clothes, etc... It is actually possible to have clothing made in one day on Shamian Island. At this point I knew we only needed another couple hundred dollars for the visa fee, so Kim was able to buy souvenirs, including the squeaky shoes. We prepared the dossier for our consulate appointment. Rose and Connie would take all of our dossiers and money to the consulate and conduct each meeting. One thing which I had heard, but had not seen written down, was that the dossiers should be in a clear plastic envelope. This is true, so remember to bring one! All the appointments were fine.
We went on one excursion into Guangzhou, to the temple of the six banyan trees where we had the children blessed. Both Livia and Kaia were blessed in a short ceremony conducted by two monks. We then went to a porcelain factory. At this point both Kim and I had come down with a nasty cold which Livia arrived from the orphanage with. I was very thirsty, and was counting what seemed like an endless amount of time in the porcelain store when finally we went to lunch. We ate at a dim sum restaurant, though we had a set of dishes served at the table and very few dumplings or what I consider typical dim sum fare. It was a large, but not very good restaurant in my opinion. Kim was disappointed in the quality of the food throughout the trip, she had such great food her previous time in China, and missed it very much.
We had a swearing in ceremony at the consulate the next day, followed by a dinner cruise to celebrate. The food on the cruise was also very bad, and served in "hello kitty" cups and styrofoam plates. The scenery was nice, but Livia was very fussy and tired, so I couldn't wait to get off that boat. Finally we received the children's passports with IR-3 visas, had a pizza party at the hotel, and left the next day for Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong we flew to Chicago, spend endless hours in the airport (our flight to Boston was delayed 4 hours) and arrived home well after midnight. We got Kaia and Livia to bed around 2am and went to bed ourselves around 4am. The time zone change, coupled with our colds, made the first few days incredible tough. Kaia was staying up until about 3am, when Livia would wake up and remain awake until 5 or 6am. I wanted to keep her awake during the day to held her adjust, but I also wanted to sleep. Unfortunately I had a business trip coming up. We decided Kim should spend the time I am away with her parents. Livia was asleep when I left for Hawaii, but I am sure she is missing me or angry at me for leaving her. I wish I did not have to go. Plus Livia is still not in her home and not settled in a routine as a result of my leaving. The logistics are still overwhelming, and Kim is having a tough time juggling the babies even with the help of her parents. I am not sure how we will handle it when I am at work, but I know we'll make it work. Hopefully as Livia becomes more comfortable with her surroundings she will become more independent, and as she learns to walk more she can be carried less. Sometimes I think about it and wonder if we're crazy for adopting while we have an infant, but I just imagine how hards twins or triplets must be.
So that is a mostly factual account of how we came to adopt Livia. Our experience suggests China really caters to adoptive parents. Traveling in the urban areas of China is similar to traveling in Europe or the United States. Merchants are masters of high pressure sales tactics in China, so stick to your guns and remember to bargain. The people we met generally seemed very supportive of our decision to adopt from China, though as the ratio of men to women increases I am not sure how they will react. I look forward to returning to China when the girls are older under less stressful circumstances. Who knows though, maybe we'll adopt again? Though definitely not until our children are older!