Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We have a match

Five years ago today the adoption agency called Natalie's Daddy at work to tell him we had a daughter. Matt paged me, and I called him back from a payphone at the mall, where I was having lunch with a coworker. My heart beat so hard I was sure my shirt was fluttering.

He was elated; I didn’t know what to think. I said nothing to my coworker when I hung up, and didn’t hear a word he said as we walked back to the office.

By the time I returned to my desk, an email from Matt was waiting for me. He had researched her town and the meaning of the baby’s Chinese name.

So here's everything I know,” he wrote.
“Her name is Ling Wan Hui. Ling is the equivalent of a surname, usually given to the babies by the orphanage. Wan Hui is her first name. Wan means gentle/gracious, Hui means bright/intelligent. I think it's pronounced sort of like "won hway".
Her birthday, or the estimate at least, is May 17. She's from the city of Shangrao, in Jiangxi Province. Basically southeastern China. I believe that's just a little inland from Guangzhao, which is where we'll go to get everything finalized at the US Consulate. I looked online and saw there's an orphanage in Shangrao; that's probably what they mean when they say that's where she's from.

We will receive all the info and the photo on Saturday; they are sending it without requiring a signature, so we'll get it even if we step out for a while.
They hope to get our travel dates confirmed in two or three weeks; right now they're estimating we'll go by the middle of May (if so, it would be just in time for a birthday party).

I know you were hoping she'd be a little younger, but the lady at Holt said she is "very beautiful." My guess is that's why that's why they matched her to you. Combine that with gentle, gracious, bright and intelligent... it sure sounds like your daughter to me!"
Two days later her photos came by Federal Express, along with her medical records, which we scrutinized for an afternoon on the couch, the dog asleep at our feet.

She was healthy, happy, and developing normally, it said. (We later found that not much of that was true.) She responded to her name being called, played with toys and laughed. And she was in foster care, which meant she was with a family, receiving much more contact and stimulation -- and most importantly, bonding -- than she would in an orphanage.

The photos clearly were months old. She had to be younger than six months. She was bundled up, in the Chinese way of layering on children’s clothes to ward off the cold – even in warm weather. She looked like a tiny Michelin Man, immobilized by the layers that made her arms stick out straight. She had big, brown eyes and a little rosebud mouth, rosy cheeks and a delicate nose.

Matt was in love. I was still waiting. I’d read that this was supposed to be The Moment, when the love for your new child just washes over you. At least that’s what it said on the adoption message boards that I checked every day. “I’m head over heels!” these soon-to-be parents would gush.

But to me, it was just a picture. I kept thinking she’s just some kid. Some other woman’s child on the other side of the planet, who some faceless bureaucrat decided, for God knows what reason, would be my daughter. It seemed so random. And I was just supposed to go along with it.

This whole process, begun a year before, had been a long lesson is relinquishing control. Inviting strangers into our personal lives, our finances, our medical records, allowing ourselves to be judged, and ultimately, approved for parenthood.

I stared at the pictures. One, and then the other, and then back to the first.

“She’s just some kid,” I said to Matt. “How do you feel?”

He smiled. “I feel great. She’s beautiful. I love her.”

I slid lower on the couch. “It’s ok, Lizzie” he said, gently taking the pictures from me. “There’s no script we have to follow.”

Two months later, we were in China, and Natalie was finally in my arms, her sweaty little head on my chest. She'd stare into my eyes as I gave her a bottle, wrapping her fingers around my thumb. And she watched my every move from her crib.

And then, like Matt, I was in love, too.

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