Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Time in Hohhot

The first week of Stella's adoption trip was spent in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia which is the capital of the province.  All adoptions for Inner Mongolia take place here.  We woke up on Tuesday, April 1st, ready to make Stella an official member of our family.  Only Stella didn't really want to wake up.... She would wake up, look around, then close her eyes again and go back to sleep.  She repeated this several times.  Wake, look, sleep again.  I could only watch her and think to myself that she must want to wake up somewhere else.  She must be saying to herself "Maybe if I close my eyes one more time, I will wake up from this dream, right?".  "I'll wake up in my own bed that I've known for the past year and a half with the people who know me and speak my language".  "These strangers standing over me will disappear!".  "Please tell me this is an April Fools joke?!".

No foolin' on this day! We were told to be downstairs at 8:45am and "don't be late!". We managed a super quick breakfast snack (sleepy girl didn't leave us much time to eat and wasn't very happy with me about that...ahem) then we met up with our guide and the other family traveling with us to adopt their precious daughter.  Present in the conference room was the orphanage official from the day before, a notary, our guide, the governor and all of us adopting.  Still emotional from being so far away from the rest of my family and husband - especially on this important day - I found myself fighting back tears.  Stella glued herself to my lap.  What a nervous mess we both were.  They brought me more paperwork to fill out and Stella sealed a paper with her red handprint.  The governor asked me "Are you satisfied with her?".  "ABSOLUTELY!", "Absolutely, yes", I answered.  And with that China lost an orphan and she became our beloved daughter.

We spent the rest of the day with our sweet girl, just playing and getting to know her.  A visit to the grocery store and our first non-solicited hug ((((group hug)))) from Stella down the snack aisle.  Love! She played and was happy all day long.  As evening approached we braved a taxi ride to visit a special American family working to bring more love to orphans with their New Day North project.  We were thrilled to be able to bring some supplies to them and enjoyed our time with them immensely.  Stella stayed glued to my lap for the evening, finally relaxing with a huge sigh on the taxi ride back to the hotel as she knew Mama and Jie Jie were not leaving her.  Night time brought tears once again, but for not as long and she slept all night in her crib after taking her nighttime bottle.

Glued to Mama's lap.

Sealing the adoption paperwork with her little red handprint.

 The official red book holding our adoption decree.

Wednesday was our only day to sleep in a little so we sure made good use of it! Stella was able to sleep until she woke on her own and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hotel buffet.  She relaxed and trusted us a little more as we were able to do her hair (quickly!) but the shoes couldn't be changed.  Trust takes time. 

We received her passport after visiting the notary office and very official passport office which concluded our paperwork for Stella's province.  The rest of the week we could sight see and learn more about where she is from.  Our guide took us to the Inner Mongolian Museum where we learned about the land (dinosaur exhibits, the grasslands) and the people (space exploration, ancient nomads and the famous Genghis Kahn).  The last exhibit we went through was titled "God's people" which of course perked my interest.  Wondering what exactly we would see here... It was an exhibit on Genghis Kahn and our guide told us that the people looked to him as a God and worshipped him.  

The Inner Mongolia symbol which could be seen on many buildings. Very pretty.

Genghis Kahn exhibit.

The Inner Mongolia symbol again.

 Stella let me carry her in our carrier for the first time - as long as she had a snack.  Baby steps! 

Leaving the museum we saw kites in the sky everywhere.  In Springtime, it's something the people like to do and they were everywhere.  The highlight of the day was our dinner at a local "hole in the wall" dumpling restaurant.  Melissa wanted some authentic food so we asked our guide to take us somewhere.  What we will remember most about this dinner was the man who owned the restaurant and his hospitality.  The food was delicious and the vinegar (he brought out his special bottle just for us  - "the good stuff") was incredibly yummy.  As we were leaving and thanking him, he gave me a bottle to take home.  We will also remember the driver, who took us to all our appointments, museum visit and joined us for dinner.   How he snapped a selfie on his phone with all of us in it (many people wanted to take pictures with us on the trip) and how he played the same song over and over - finally serenading us on the way back to the hotel! Such a fun evening.  The sights, sounds and smells on that street in Hohhot... that is what I will always think of when I think of China.  

Our last day in Hohhot, Thursday, we spent visiting the orphanage and Stella's finding spot.  
Two very special places - deserving their own post.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Letters to Stella - Gotcha Day

As an adult adoptee, I know how important having answers to questions about "where I came from" and "how did I get here" help mold a child's life and provide security for their growth. So in these next few posts (mingled with our travel memories from China of course), I'm writing letters to Stella from Mama. One day she will read them. When she is ready. And the questions come. I pray these bring her some answers.
March 31, 2014

Dear Precious Stella Claire,

Today is the day they brought you to us - the day we finally came together. Many families call this "Gotcha Day" or "Forever Family Day" and it brings us great joy to say "We gotcha Stella Claire"! For months we've been waiting for this moment to arrive. We've watched as other families came together and tried to prepare ourselves for what our moment with you would look like. We knew their could be tears, that you could be terrified of us and shut down, but we also knew that you could be happy on this day. What we didn't know is how you would actually be. 

The morning of March 31st came early, as we still struggled to sleep any later than 5am due to the time change from the US to China (13 hours). Melissa managed to sleep a little bit later but not I, so I showered and dressed early. We had facetimed back home the night before and knew that everyone was waiting to hear from us on this very big day! We could feel all the prayers from back home. We were all so excited! Your Daddy/Baba sent me a video of Brett saying "it's a Happy Day" (his cute phrase we often hear when it's a sunny day outside). That had me in tears as I was missing everyone back home so much and my emotions overflowed.  It was indeed a very Happy Day! We headed down to our first breakfast buffet early as our guide had told us to be down in the lobby and ready for you at 8:40am. By 7:45am we were back upstairs watching intently out our 8th floor hotel room window for anyone who might be bringing a child toward the hotel. You had taken an overnight train with a nanny from New Day, Shirley, and would be arriving in Hohhot with her in the morning. We didn't know what time the train would come in, but knew you would walk together from the train station. 

My devotion for the day (From Jesus Calling), so fitting for our day - "it was peace that was their deepest need: to calm their fears and clear their minds".  I prayed for the Peace of Jesus to come over us all, especially you.

8:05am - We can't sit still any longer and pack up the snacks, lollipop, drink cup and toy we had ready for you and head down to the Sheraton lobby where we will meet you. Not knowing where we might be meeting in the very open lobby, we start looking around and there you were! Early!
Standing next to the nanny, who was sitting in a chair in the hotel business center, was you - our precious Stella Claire. Quickly, we got out our cameras, unprepared for this scenario, and said "Hi", "Ni Hao", introducing ourselves and sat down.  You took us in, while I said over and over how beautiful you were, then tried to communicate with your nanny, who was obviously telling me that you had called for Nai Nai and Yeh Yeh over and over on the way there. They were very special to you and I know they loved you very much, as you did them.  So they are special to me too - sweet foster grandparents.  You came closer and I told you that your shoes were so cute and had little kitties on them.  Even closer, I gave you a new cup of water, thinking you might be thirsty from the trip, and then I whispered to you "nee shir baow bay" (you are so precious) which you then whispered right back to me.  I couldn't help but wear a big smile - there were no tears, just peace! You smiled too. We played games around the table with you, pushing hotel pamphlets to each other, and peek a boo or "mer".  We let you come to us and it worked wonderfully!

Our guide, Aggie, finally arrived, also shocked that you were already here, and then the orphanage official, Mrs. Xue arrived (bearing snacks, yogurt drinks and lollipops). They moved us to another location in the lobby with a little more room to complete the paperwork we needed to do for the day.  Today would be our taking custody of you, tomorrow would be our official adoption day.  All my signatures were sealed with a red thumb print. The orphanage official recounted to us about your days in the orphanage and how they loved you so much there.  We were told that they would remember you when we visited later in the week as you were so beautiful. 

The photographer arrived to take your passport photo and our family photo.  My stomach dropped, knowing that your Daddy/Baba wouldn't be in our picture.  He really wanted to be there - meeting you and spending time in your birth country.  One day, we've decided - we will all go back together.  

You stayed busy during the paperwork, taking in the hotel, snacking on yogurt drinks and lollipops.  By the time we were finished, you were ready to move as your exploring grew bigger, just as your world was now growing much bigger.  Qingyundian, the township where New Day is located, and where you lived for the past year and a half, is a small town with mostly farmers and people who live simply.  Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, the province you are from, is much larger with a population of about 3 million.  This place is nothing like you have ever seen before and I can only imagine what you must have been thinking as newly turned two year old.  You remained happy and playful or quiet and observing the whole time.  Your silly side also started to come out!

It was time to leave now, and go up to our room.  Shirley, the New Day nanny, quickly hid behind a plant in the lobby, but not before I could catch her eye and mouth "thank you".  She nodded and we walked away.  You started to cry.  It was all so much to take in for you.  You cried for "Nai Nai" over and over as we headed for the elevator.  Once in the elevator and in our room, you became playful - playing "mer" non stop or being silly.  We played like that for hours.  You were so busy and happy.  

Facetiming back home was the first thing we did back in the room.  Everyone, Daddy/Baba, sisters and big brother, were waiting to meet you! Talking to them, you played on the desk with the phone (unplugged shortly thereafter...) as everyone called to you from the screen. This is such a special picture! We gotcha sweet girl! 

We ordered room service later, not wanting to go out again so soon and not wanting to upset you by leaving the hotel.  We were so surprised when you knew just what to do with french fries and ketchup! (Jie Jie - big sister - was craving some American food). Bonding over the sharing of French fries - so sweet!  

The window would be a source of comfort for you over the next few days.  A place to play with toys, a place to sit and snack, a place to be comforted and go to sleep.  

We had to go out later in the day and since you didn't want to stop playing (or take a nap), we headed out to try and find the grocery store as we needed some formula and snacks you liked.  Taking a left out of the hotel, we found it in the basement of the Victory center just down the street.  The fresh air felt great and it must have helped tire you out.  As soon as we started shopping, you fell asleep in my arms.  Your head was so sweaty and your body heavy as you finally relaxed enough to rest.  I loved every minute of it.  

You quickly woke again when the cool, fresh air hit us as we walked back down the street to the hotel. We knew we should try a bath as you were sweaty and your clothes were dirty.  In China, they don't bathe children very often, especially in the winter.  You were also wearing two layers of clothing. You had been fine with me changing your diaper so we were hopeful that bath time would be okay too.  Wrong.  With bathroom lights dimmed softly, quiet lullabies playing (I downloaded the Hidden in Your Heart hymn lullabies on my phone before we left - and they proved to be so comforting to you), we put some bubbles and a little water in the tub.  You were curious about the water, wanting to touch it, but adamant about not taking off any clothing. With gentleness, and a big sister willing to change into her bathing suit to show you it was okay, we got you into the tub and clean.  I was sure you would be staying in the same clothes for five days and we were okay with that if that was what you needed.  Learning to trust takes time. Getting to know you takes time.  But by the time it was time to get out and dressed for bed - you were enjoying the bath so much we couldn't get you out! Waiting snacks finally did the trick and we dressed you for bed.  The sweet braids we had known you in were now out, and you weren't happy with my touching your hair to do anything but quickly brush it out. Dressing you was different as you didn't want to help - it went much like dressing a newborn baby.  With your hair down, you looked like a different girl.  It somehow felt freeing to me.

As nighttime came, you refused dinner (just oatmeal in our room as we were all too tired to go out) and you refused the bottle I was told you took before bed.  Your calling for Nai Nai increased and I tried to soothe you the best I could.  The window was a place of comfort as we could both look out at the city lights.  With lullabies playing, the special mama made blankie tucked around you, I prayed over you as you cried.  Such sad, sad sobbing cries.  It broke my heart.  Rocking, standing, swaying - repeat. Tonight I tucked you into bed with me, as you finally fell asleep on my chest.  Holding you close, I replayed the day in my head and tried to commit to memory everything to tell you one day.  With tears on my cheek, I thanked God for bringing you to us and cherished you in my arms as you slept. Tomorrow you will be ours forever. 

The day we got you.  
A special day. 
A happy day. 
A sad day.
A day to give thanks.
A day to cherish.
To always remember.
You are so precious. Nee shir baow bay.

Loving you sweet girl,

Friday, April 25, 2014

Well that didn't go as planned...

Okay - the plan was to blog from China, update everyone with our days and pictures and that obviously did NOT happen.  Honestly, we fell into bed exhausted each night and woke early each morning.  A very busy toddler kept us moving, moving, moving and the traveling, sightseeing and just keeping up with our group left us with very little time.  Stella only napped when we were on the go (in a car, bus or plane!). What time we did have, we used to FaceTime back home with my husband and children whom I missed so much!  See -

This is who I left in charge of my children... :-) He is undoubtedly the best man for the job. 

Meeting Stella Claire for the first time! 

Chatting with Daddy/Baba back home. 

Exhausted - jet lagged.  Who takes pictures of their sleeping Mom anyway??? My daughter and travel companion!

More to come.... our China days and our first days with Stella Claire!