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China: Day 5 – THE Big Day that Went Over in a Wonderful Way

Her smile says it all. And the pure joy (and relief) on our faces is the exclamation point. If a picture says a thousand words, then the photo gallery below perfectly and accurately tells the story about the biggest and best day of our lives, and how that magical script exceeded even our wildest expectations.

Monday began with a whole lot of nerves, and a 10:00am group meeting with our adoption agency’s China staff and the five other families adopting in Nanjing this week. They gave us the order of business for the day, and with each word spoken our hearts began to beat faster and faster. After a short break for lunch, Sarah profoundly reminded me in the hotel room at 1:28pm that these were our final minutes ever as just two. We shared a long embrace, 10 kisses to commemorate our 10th anniversary this upcoming Thursday, and then a prayer to Julia (who at that point, we envisioned was being pulled from her orphanage crib for the very last time, on the way to the Civil Affairs office herself).

With our driver somehow cutting through frantic local traffic in record time, we walked into the governmental office building a few minutes ahead of schedule, and two of the families’ babies were already in the room with their orphanage nannies. After being previously instructed that our “meeting” would be first due to alphabet (yay Browns!), this change of schedule left us and our group-mates scrambling to hand each other cameras for the respective big moments, that were now out of order. Once the first two families had their moments, there was a brief pause in the crowed room before someone noticed that a car pulled up out front with three children inside. We knew right away that meant one was her. Her! Our daughter. Now just FEET from us, outside the window, being walked in by a long-time orphanage nanny.

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Then the most excruciating thing imaginable occurred. They turned the corner, and we finally laid eyes on our sweet girl as she entered the room… the most amazing skin and bones our eyes had ever seen. The orphanage nanny carried her in, which indicated to us that she wasn’t yet walking. And she had on the most precious little oh-so-Chinese bucket hat, which just made it even more painful that we weren’t yet allowed to go to her. We had to wait a few more minutes until the government official arrived (upon strict guidance from our agency), and hold back until we were told it was “our turn”. Our turn, our schmurn! That’s our girl, we thought. So while we stood patiently for what seemed like a lifetime, staring intently across the room at our angel (separated only by tile floor and thick Chinese air), the nanny whispered something to our love that made her look our way, and instantly grin ear to ear. “Did you see that?!? Did you see her?!?”, I believe we whimpered, voices shaking. We simultaneously melted, and clinched fists with painful anticipation.

And then, at last, it was indeed “our turn”. Just like that, without any further warning, the officials motioned for us to approach the nanny and Julia, and like an old pro who had been preparing our girl for weeks… the nanny passed her into Sarah’s arms before we could blink. Julia Lián Brown was ours. Finally ours. Physically ours. What happened over the course of the subsequent minutes and hours can only be understood in the photos that we so gratefully will have forever. No words do it justice, no matter how lengthy I write. Our mantra coming into this trip was “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” (knowing that some little buddies, including a few in our group this week, face such great fear and trauma in these initial interactions). But when we had hoped for the best, it never crossed our minds that it could (would!) be THIS good. It was pure perfection. Absolute bliss. Immediate peace and joy. And then some.

We feel blessed that, no matter what happens in the coming days and weeks, on the first big day… Julia came to and experienced love from both of us, Mom and Dad, not just clinging to one or the other. There will likely be some tough days ahead. But we've been blown away by her grace, ease, and humor from the get go. And quite frankly, we were absolutely stunned that she not only smiled at us within seconds, but open-mouthed grinned in my outstretched arms before we left the building, and then just 20 minutes after we were home, she busted into an all-out giggle with Sarah. This child, we tell you, this amazing little 22-month-old child handled herself with such strength, poise, resolve, and sense of purpose… there really just aren’t words that can explain how this match came to be. By the look in Julia’s eyes in these moments and the physical, tangible, undeniable connection we felt with her the second she reached our arms… it is a supernatural feeling to know this child was meant to be ours, and we were meant to be hers. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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In our remaining time at the Civil Affairs office, while the various staff members were shuffling around paperwork and requesting signatures for various documents, something was given to us that immediately became what I’d consider our forever prized possession (other than our little lotus herself, of course!). The orphanage staff handed us a paper envelope with Chinese characters on the outside, and inside was a small necklace of thin red thread and dangling from it: a white, intricate, jade stone Buddha pendant. This was the necklace Julia was wearing when she was found outside the orphanage gate that September afternoon in 2012. Being given this charm nearly brought us to our knees, not only for what it symbolizes in the Chinese culture about good fortune and blessings… but more importantly, because it further validates our steadfast belief that this child was loved greatly those first three months, and not let go of easily and without necessity. We will cherish this jewel forever. And while they will never been known by us or anyone else, we also view this pendant as our loving connection to those two souls responsible for bringing this precious child into the world, and ultimately giving us the incredible opportunity to bring her into our home forever.

With our ear-to-ear grins matching Julia’s in the warm, spring sun… the bus ride back to the hotel was beautiful, with us singing to her softly as she actively gazed out the windows at the city streets we traversed. Based on our educated guesses and knowledge of her last hospital visit some time ago, it could have been more than a year since she had left the orphanage grounds. That’s a lot of site seeing to catch up on in her hometown!

Once we arrived back at the hotel, the ease and joy continued, and the first signs of bonding escalated into the evening. We spent the rest of the afternoon and night quite literally in the floor… Sarah and I trying to mirror and interact as much as she was comfortable with, and us being reminded that to a child from her background… EVERYTHING is new. She’s such a curious and observant little one, and she loves touching surfaces to determine their texture. She loves making noises on different surfaces, and those chubby little fingers are always moving. A simple empty water bottle provided fuel for countless laughs, including the first full chuckle (seen below). After a few unsuccessful attempts at other food choices, we quickly learned that bananas are a hit, as we’re unsure she had ever tasted that sweet goodness before. So our girl decided that rice was more fun to play with than eat, and we more than encouraged her instincts to make a colossal mess. And then she kept us laughing all night with her myriad facial expressions and silly maneuvers. Man she’s irresistible.

Then, like a good dream that ends all too soon, it was time to put her to bed. We wanted nothing more than to play with her for hours on end, but we knew it had been a long, emotional, entirely new day for her (regardless of how well she coped), so sticking to her routine was best. Since we were told she had likely never been in a traditional tub, we gave her a quick sponge bath and decided to save the full-on bathtime fun for night two, prioritizing sleep over cleaning up her sweaty little body. Including a little skin time to start the maternal bonding process, we were thrilled with the amount of eye contact we had established in just a few short hours.

The way the night ended was a double-edged sword, and I’m just going to be honest about this. It was both heartbreaking on one hand, and further positive affirmation on the other of why we’re grateful to now have this child in our care forever. And the only reason we tell this gut-wrenching side of the story is because it’s the truth. It’s the truth about Julia, the truth about many adopted kids, and it’s important not to gloss over the losses that these poor children experience when they grow up without families and loving homes.

We again were trying to minimize new kinks in the first bedtime routine, and we understood that because of a many-to-one ratio at the orphanage, the children are simply not able to be rocked to sleep. So after lights were out, some more songs were sung, some gentle bouncing was done, and we saw her eyes start to get heavy… we placed her in the crib, not knowing how she would take it. We sat beside it, our head in the slates to provide comfort. She stood, holding onto the rails (which was great to see!), and began rocking side to side. We thought she was being playful, and dancing to our lullabies. But after a few minutes of standing, the rocking continued once she sat down. It shifted to very deliberate, intentional back-and-forth rocking, with a thumb in her mouth for soothing. As her rocks got slower and slower, Sarah and I sat on the floor mortified at what we were witnessing. Before our eyes, a 22-month-old child was rocking herself to sleep. We were so stunned, and were left unsure of what to do. As much as every parental instinct made us want to reach in there and grab her, that would have only disturbed what has become natural to her, and only potentially risked a poor, tired child who needed rest. She rocked slower and slower, eyes closing quickly, and at the point of almost falling over… we guided her to the mat, with our tears flowing like a fountain as she finally found sweat dreams for the night.

I personally felt enraged at the thought of any child, anywhere, in any circumstance having to endure this type of self-soothing. But we also felt great relief in knowing that was the last night ever she would have to do that. And we told her so. Out loud. We are here for her now, and we pray for all the babies out there who don’t yet have that comfort. Sure, it’s painful to mix such sorrow into a happy story like this. But it’s the reality of adoption… and we vowed early on to open our hearts in this blog and share what’s truly happening in this one child’s life. But on the positive side (spoiler alert! because I wrote this a day late), she slept through the night, from 9:30pm until 8:20am without a peep other than occasional cough. Atta girl!

So what’s next, you ask? Other than us rocking her to sleep for the rest of her life? The Chinese adoption adventure is only beginning for this new Brown Party of Three! Tuesday we go back to the same Civil Affairs office for more paperwork. Wednesday, we are lucky and blessed to have been granted an orphanage visit so that we can see where Julia spent her first two years. Thursday is an open day, so we’ll hope to explore this fine city... on our 10th anniversary! Then Friday, we head to Guangzhou for six nights to finalize the United States side of the paperwork, at the U.S. Consulate there.

I envision a lot more hotel room tummy time in the near future. And pictures. And laughter. And love. And maybe a little more infrequent blogging. This girl has us wrapped around her perfect little finger, and there’s no way we’re losing a precious minute of time with her. We have lots of catching up to do with this little nugget!

Until the next China update, enjoy the photo gallery below!

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”