Sunday, May 31, 2009

24 Pounds

Today was the physical exam for the U.S. consulate, contracted out to a local Chinese clinic. Phoebe weighed in at an official 24 pounds! That is one pound shy of her big sister Miranda's weight. While I'm pretty darn efficient at buzzing around the house with Miranda on one hip while I do random tasks with my free hand, I am not nearly so effective with Phoebe. She doesn't help at all with her legs. I'm not sure why that is-- was she always in a sling? Rarely carried? I don't know, but she doesn't hold on with her thighs at all, which leaves my arms absolutely aching. I hope she learns to walk quickly, because without the Ergo I can't make it more than two minutes with Phoebe in my arms.

I spent two hours doing paperwork for the U.S. government today, trying carefully to following instructions like "first name last" and "Last name first," and "Chinese name here" verses "American name here." My mother had a question last week that I didn't know the answer to: When does Phoebe become a U.S. citizen? I have the answer today: When she touches down on U.S. soil, in Chicago, on our lay-over home. For now, she has a Chinese passport and we are waiting for her visa to enter the U.S. In fact, we were told to stay in our rooms and by the phones tomorrow from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., just in case there are questions from the U.S. consultate.

Mark went to the playroom today while I did the paperwork. There were two Chinese mothers there who were fussing affectionately over Phoebe. When they tried to reach out and hold her, Phoebe was quite deliberate in her refusal, turning and clinging to Mark. We like that a lot!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Exploring Guangzhou

Well, first we should say, Phoebe had a meltdown last night. When we arrived from the airport to our hotel room she was sound asleep in our arms, so we gently laid her in the crib and turned out the lights. She awoke an hour later and screamed real screams of terror. For an hour. We tried to comfort her and walk her, but it seemed like we were suddenly part of the reason she was terrified. We finally opted to stop touching her-- to just lay her down on the bed between the two of us. At some point she found her fingers and nursed herself to sleep. Poor little one, so much change. I can't wait to have her home, with a schedule and a routine.

Today we did some touring to an old house of the Chan family, full of art-- embroidery so fine that they look like a photograph from afar, carved balls of ivory that somehow have carved ball after carved ball inside them, ornate furniture designs to house the tablets that follow the ancestors after their death.

The White Swan Hotel is just beautiful. It is located on an island on the edge of the city, with quiet streets, big sidewalks, rare cars, and old trees. There are views of the river and rose gardens. Life-size bronze sculptures dot the place, and the Chinese tourists love to insert themselves into the frozen scene and take pictures of themselves: next to a bronze tourist with a video camera, an old man with a bird cage, an obese woman walking a duck, or a Chinese teen in short shorts on a cellphone. There are lots of little shops selling fans and fake silk pajamas, but few other adoptive families these days other than ourselves.

The babies have totally come to life. The ones who were quiet and reserved have mostly woken up into more appropriate smiles and play. The little ones who are underweight clearly look healthier a week later. I can't wait to see after six months of love, food, and stimulation.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Arrived in Guangzhou

First, to catch you up on yesterday, since I feel asleep as soon as Phoebe went down. . .We spent the day playing tourist, which was much more interesting than the smokey playroom in the hotel. First we visited Ayi, a 1200 year old Chinese village in the rice fields that has opened itself up to tourists while still pretty much maintaining their traditional way of life. I'm not sure how exactly they have pulled this off, but there are no vendors hawking their wares, no one shouting "Hal-lo, where you go?", no children clambering for free candy and pictures. People sit on their stoops and smile kindly as the tourists amble by with Chinese babies on their hips and cameras around there necks. There were tiny walkways (all paved, thanks to the income of tourists), women cooking just inside the windows, motor bikes parked in the path, clothes lined out to dry, red banners lining the doorways. A nice little glimpse into lives that are children were likely born into.

Then we visited a huge Tengwang Pavilion, a beautiful pagoda that towers six stories above the city of Nanchang, built as a place for artists and poets to gather and work. On the top floor was a music and dance performance, with bells, drums, stringed instruments, and woodwinds, all performed in elaborate and colorful Chinese costume. The place was full of art-- copper sculpture (including the happiest Buddha I have ever seen), paintings, and calligraphy. We wandered through the Chinese garden, too, on the way home.

As beautiful as that was, we were all quite ready to end the time in the province and get on to Guangzhou. We have Phoebe's Chinese passport now, and that was the last step. We packed up our bags and introduced Phoebe to flying. It was late and she was sound asleep when we arrived in Guangzhou to the White Swan Hotel. There is a waterfall in the lobby and banyan trees outside, with a beautiful view of the river from the window. We'll start exploring in the morning.

Phoebe, in the meantime, has turned into quite a happy baby! She loves to flop her head backwards from her perch in the Ergo carrier on my chest to beg for kisses from her daddy-- then does it another ten times in a row. She laughs easily and sometimes cracks herself up all by herself playing with a book. She's a good stander now, but always breaks the stand by collapsing in my arms for a hug. We know that everyone says that real bonding happens once you get home, but we think we are off to a pretty good start.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Touring in Jiangxi

Pictures now, words coming in an hour or two. . .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the Playroom

We spent 2 1/2 hours in the playroom today, and for every minute of that time Phoebe was walking around the room with our fingers in her hands. I learned from her foster care documents that she was a champ in the wheeled walker, and you can tell. She stands with perfect balance, and then thrusts her body forward to walk with complete lack of control and disregard for balance. She also jumps up and down in place, sometimes on her tip-toes, and stomps her feet one at a time in rapid succession. Amazingly, in our time in the playroom she really progressed, right there in front of our eyes. She learned to stand! As long as she is distracted by something engaging, and therefore not wanting to collapse in her mama's arms for a hug, she can stand for a good 15 or 20 seconds. She even took two steps into my arms! Our backs are aching from leaning down with our fingers to walk with her, but it is worth it, so worth it.

Not everyone is having as easy of a time of things. Most people are facing the usual adjustments: a baby who goes only to one parent and screams if the other approaches, hunger strikes, emotional detachment, fevers, ear infections, lower extremity muscle wasting, severe motor delays. For those families, it is so encouraging that there are several families traveling with us whose older children were adopted from China as well. One family has the most charming and bright five year old, who has really captured my heart. Their story of her first two weeks with them in China is one of the most concerning I've heard. It's a nice reminder that happy endings are the most common outcome for these kids who come to their "forever families" with so many strikes against them.

Phoebe still cries "jie-jie" when she gets sleepy or sad-- and woke up shrieking just now, an hour after I put her to bed. Those moments are reminders to us that she had a life before we came into it. In spite of her apparent ease at joining us, she is still undergoing a tremendous transition. She's been through so many transitions: from her birth mother, to the orphanage, to foster care, and now to us. When she wakes of shrieking, I tell her, "Phoebe, we are here. We are with you forever. We will never leave you, Phoebe. You are safe."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hanging in the Province

Now that the paperwork is done, all we have left to do in the province of Jiangxi is wait for Phoebe's Chinese passport to arrive. That leaves lots of time sitting around the hotel. Today we had a big group outing to-- of all places-- Walmart, which even Mark and I preferred to staring at the four walls of our room.

Phoebe is coming out of her shell beautifully, and is full of giggles and games. I think we underestimated her physical abilities; she can sit up on her own, and today stood by herself for about 15 seconds. I think she'll be walking in no time. She has also started to protest appropriately, like when I took away the watermelon that she has gnawed down to the (?unwashed) rind. And she wailed at the doctor's visit yesterday, a nice sign that she can react and express fear.

We are very fortunate (and quite unique) to have documents from Phoebe's time in foster care, with an update every month since two months old. We have measurements, developmental milestones, and eating habits. I just brought the papers down to our guide for translation of the "comments" section and learned all sorts of things, including the key information that "When you put her down to sleep, she will cry, so you have to hold her until she falls asleep." Great! Now we know.

She weighs 11 kg! That puts her at the >97th% by the Chinese growth chart, with height and head circumference around the 75th%. We have a very big girl, with chunky thighs and big cheeks. She eats everything we give her.

We had a surprise Skype date with my parents this morning, our first without Miranda there. Phoebe did a wonderful job of entertaining her grandparents, bending backwards for kisses from daddy, peering at the screen, and turning the pages of her book. Really, I can't believe how lucky we are. I was so prepared for attachment issues, medical problems, crying, the infant grieving process. Phoebe does call out for her "big sister" whenever she gets sad, but those moments are short-lived. She is just a joy, and we are so, so happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Getting to Know Each Other

Could it be possible that we have a second child as easy and laid back as Miranda?

Phoebe woke this morning at 5:35 a.m. with a shriek, but calmed easily when we reminded her of where she is. Other than those 20 seconds, we haven't really heard her cry. She makes a little click at the back of her throat when she feels uncertain, but really no crying. She seemed so serious until late this morning when she started to get silly. Mark taught her to stick out her tongue, which she considers a great game, and she learned to blow raspberries at us. She likes to be tickled, and arches her back to bend over backwards and giggle. We lugged her to no fewer than three government office filled with crying babies this morning, with bus rides in between each one, and she simply went with the flow. She got a bath last night-- no problem. And boy can this kiddo eat. This morning she ate fruit, rice soup, tofu, and eggs. When a noodle lands with half in her mouth and the other half hanging down her chin, she slurps it up like a cartoon. Mark was carelessly danging his empty chopsticks in front of her, and she opened her little mouth like a bird, lurching for them. She sucks her thumb when she is tired, and pulls up her shirt to cuddle with. Luckily for us, she goes to both Mark and me, and takes her bottle at room temperature without regard to the type of nipple or cup. In short, I can't imagine this going better.

At the adoption office this morning, we signed the papers to make Phoebe our daughter, officially. Now there is nothing left to do in Nanchang other than bond and play, and we'll be here straight through Friday.

This morning we had a Skype date with Miranda (and her grandparents). Mark got this nervous voice as he said hello to her, saying, "Sweetheart, we want to show you something, and we don't want it to upset you." When Phoebe came into the picture, she smiled and leaned towards the screen, saying, "Phoebe!" I'm sure jealousy will come, but right now, even when we haven't seen her for a week and then show up holding a strange baby, she seems to be taking it well. We miss Miranda like crazy.

Off to the doctor appointment, next. . .

Officially Family

More coming later today, but here are pictures for you. We completed the adoption this morning-- As far as the Chinese government goes, we are family now.

In Our Arms!

Phoebe's with us!

We got word on the bus on the way home from the airport that the babies had arrived before us at the hotel.

She didn't cry when I took her into my arms. Mark cooed the baby talk and I held her head under my chin, at last, and cried.

She stayed with her foster family straight up until this morning, so the nannies from the orphanage couldn't answer our questions: Does she have a nickname? Does she talk? What's the bedtime routine? How does she like her milk? So, we took her back to the room to figure it out. We undressed her-- just like her Grammy Kate undresses her newborn grandbabies-- and found a little dirt, a fair bit of eczema, and a generally healthy little girl. She took a bottle and started to play.

She's big! Her 18 month pajamas didn't fit her tonight, and I'm afraid she and Miranda are going to both be in 2T. At 15 months, she sits with help and doesn't stand-- much more floppy and less active than a typical kiddo at her age. But she babbles (or is it Chinese?), giggles, points, plays peekaboo with a blanket, makes great eye contact, snuggles, and looks for lost toys. I think she's going to be just fine.

Picture coming tomorrow-- Everyone's asleep but me, and I must get there, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Jet lagged in Beijing

You can't imagine the itinerary yesterday! There we were, two buses full of jet lagged American families following their guides instructions to the T, as in "You have 10 minutes here, then meet me back here," and "It is time to use the bathroom."

We started in Tian'an men Square, a huge expanse of concrete that holds 500,000 people, where people line up for hours for the chance to file quickly by the embalmed body of Chairman Mao. Then on to the forbidden city, with enormous gates and plazas, full of thousands and thousands of people, finally getting to a lovely courtyard where the concubines' bedroom was the most elegant and tasteful place of all. We walked three miles on that tour in 90+ degree heat and sun. Then a stop for lunch before getting to the Great Wall, where we climbed up up up remarkably steep steps. How is it that the astronauts can see it from space when it is just six feet wide at places? Back on the bus, with a stop for a photo shoot from the distance of Bird's Nest Olympic stadium. Then a one hour break to grab dinner and shower before heading to a Chinese acrobat show, where the ten-women-on-a-bike routine and the tap-dancing juggler where particularly impressive. You can imagine the silence on the bus, 9:00 p.m., upon return. That was one tired crowd.

The schedule says that today the group splits up and heads to all the different provinces where the babies are. Surprise news yesterday: The babies are coming TODAY! By tonight, Phoebe will be in our care. I wonder where she is this morning, and if she has any sense for the change she is about to go through.

Time to pack the diaper bag!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day two

[ this is Mark, but I'm actually sure you'll be able to tell ]

Beijing sightseeing today and not much else. We walked through the upscale shopping district (uh, fabulous). The Summer Palace and its 200-acre lake. Also, quite an impressive bell we saw. We'll spare you the obligatory picture of us in a rickshaw. More sightseeing tomorrow, then down to Jiangxi Province to meet Phoebe. All well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arrived in China

Oddly enough, our plane flew North from Dulles, straight over the North Pole, then crossed down over Russia to land in Beijing.

Upon arriving, a few officials from the Department of Public Health boarded the airplane wearing masks and took the temperature of every single person on the airplane. But we all passed, and are now safely at the hotel, not in quarantine. Swine flu will not spoil this trip!

We are getting settled at the hotel, and will venture out for dinner before returning for a Skype date with Miranda (who fed her daddy a virtual beer last night), and then crashing for the night.

Thanks for all the good wishes! So far, so good!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last minute

11:24 pm, and I'm still up. Almost done. Leaving for the airport at 5:30 a.m. Almost done.

Next posting from China!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Skype Practice

What we learned tonight, practicing Skype from my parents' house with Daddy at home: It doesn't work very well to ask a 2 year old things like "What did you do today?" or "How was your birthday party?" But it works wonders to have the kiddo feed her daddy a toy sandwich from her play kitchen and have him lean forward into the camera to bite it, or puff up his cheeks and have her use her hands to virtually pop them. She laughed and laughed!

Miranda was a champ in the car, laughing and squealing at who knows what in the backseat, as long as I kept the Laurie Berkner CD going. (Ah, how wonderful, I will have TWO WEEKS of not hearing a single Laurie Berkner song!) She made it the whole 7 hours without a single complaint. At every rest stop she asked hopefully, "Opa?" which means to me that she is really comprehending quite a bit these days. This week she started talking in two word combinations with quite an abrupt start. Now I hear all day long: two binkies, big truck, stay out, No Mama, more please, my shoe. What will happen in 17 days without us? Will we come home to full sentences?

We asked her the other day at the dinner table, "Where will Phoebe sit?" She thought for a second, then moved herself all the way over to the edge of the massive medical textbook she sits on for meals. She patted the seat next to her and said, "Phoebe!" Very good, Miranda.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Loose Ends

So many last minute things! Yesterday my To-Do List was 35 items long, and I accomplished 30 of the tasks before bedtime. Today I finished planting my 4 x 4 foot vegetable garden and got my hair cut. Just sent Mark for the final errand run. The list: diapers so we are stocked upon return, sunglasses for M, plastic folders to hold our official adoption documents, and batteries for the boom box since the CD player is broken and Miranda and I have a very long drive in the car tomorrow. Heading to my parents' house in the morning-- a long 7 hours with a toddler in the backseat! Thank goodness for Raffi and Laurie Berkner. I sing those silly songs at work, but they make Miranda very happy.

Let the journey begin!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Some of you know this story: The week before Miranda was born, the women in my life gathered with me for a Mother Blessing. We opened envelope after envelope sent from friends and family all over the world, each one containing a bead. The beads came with stories and wishes and prayers. We string them on a necklace, and I kept in with me when I gave birth to Miranda. She keeps it now in her room, and I tell her those beads came from all the people who welcomed her into the world and celebrated her arrival into our family.

For Phoebe, I'd like to gather ribbons. I invite you to send a 12-inch ribbon to the house with your welcoming wishes for Phoebe as she enters into our lives. My plan was to open them on the long flight over, but I think we'll have to make it a welcome-home activity. Somehow the end of this long journey came very quickly! Thank you, in advance; I hope it will be something she'll hold on to for the rest of her life. I can't wait to see what collection comes our way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flights Confirmed

We leave 9:35 a.m. on next Wednesday. First to Dulles (Washington, D.C.), then a direct 14 hour flight to Beijing, arriving early afternoon the next day. On the way home we fly through Chicago, arriving at 11:15 p.m. on June 3rd.

It's feeling real!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Travel Confirmation!

This morning the message from our agency was essentially this: Stop worrying and get excited! It's real! We have tickets! We are GOING!

We leave May 20th-- yes, that is soon enough that can tell me that Beijing will be 91 degrees and partly sunny.

Phoebe, we are coming soon, little one. Can't wait to have you home.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Uncertainty, the New Norm

I ripped off half my gown and one glove to return Mark's call, and there, still half dressed in scrub clothes in the OR, I heard that we have travel approval. I had the whole OR staff crying and laughing with me, ready to go get my baby girl. They said probable date of travel is April 20-- just 12 days away.

And then, later in the afternoon, I heard that Jiangxi Province-- yes, that is where Phoebe is waiting for us-- is the one province in China that is not granting approval for adoptions right now, due to swine flu. It seems that SOME families are getting their appointments at the provincial level in Jiangxi, but most are not. No one knows WHY some families can get through. And we have no idea if our agency-- now closed for the weekend-- has these appointments or not.

So, my celebration lasted about three hours. Maybe leaving in 12 days. Maybe 6 months. Still don't know.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting Closer

All our information is still from the rumor mill, with no real facts and certainly no plane tickets. But. The rumors of swine flu have dwindled, and people from other agencies are reporting that their "travel approvals" from China-- that is, permission to travel-- have arrived. That should mean that our travel approval is coming soon. Our agency is still hoping, hoping, hoping for travel on May 20th. If not, then May 27th. Can we really be two weeks from lift-off and still not know if we are really going or not? I'm hopeful but not believing. Not until I have that travel approval and get the official word.

I made a decision this week and told my bosses: I'm off starting May 18th. Whether it is maternity leave, vacation, or something else, I'm not coming in. That will be my own time-- to recover from the things that have been making me sad (the things I'm not blogging about here), and to move into celebrating this baby in our lives.