by Lisa DeNike Ercolano
[Part 1 was published here yesterday, July 25, 2012. Lisa had just learned that her new daughter was waiting for her at the ChangShu Social Welfare Home in China. This article was originally published in the November 1996 issue of Maryland Family Magazine.]
I screamed and hollered, whooped and cried. Olivia jumped up and down. The agency representative told us that Yu Fen’s photo would arrive by Federal Express the next day. I phoned my husband at work and told him. He was ecstatic. We called grandparents and aunts, uncles and friends.
Less than month later, on December 3, 1994, I set off for China and second-time motherhood from Baltimore-Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport. I was joined by my father, a hearty fellow who loved adventure and who volunteered to accompany me so Patrick could stay home with Olivia and make things ready. (My father had served in the Army in the Philippines during WWII, and loved the idea of returning to the Far East to meet his newest granddaughter.)
Along with us came a suitcase full of paraphernalia – diapers, bottles, snowsuits, onesies, film, video camera, chocolate, gifts for officials, and a sense of anticipation the size of the Forbidden City.
We emerged from the international flight on December 4 into a warm, silky, black Hong Kong evening. There, we met up with our group – six families traveling to pick up babies. They came from all over the U.S. – Arizona, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Missouri and Georgia.
Zonked by travel, many of us hit the sack. I later learned that some of the others had brought sleeping pills and sedatives, anticipating the nerves that we would undoubtedly experience. Not me: I lay in my room, staring at the ceiling most of the night. Tomorrow, I was finally going to meet our younger daughter!
The next morning, the group gathered for breakfast, then boarded Dragon Air for Nanjing, a beautiful city located on the South China Sea on the central southern coast. Nanjing is famous for its broad avenues and lush, ancient trees. In late afternoon, the streets teemed with bicycle riders making their ways home from work under a canopy of trees so large I could imagine them forming an umbrella of shade during the notoriously hot summers.
I can still hear the tinkling of bicycle bells – a sound that will forever say “China” to me. Everywhere I looked, there were the beautiful people I had imagined as a child.
We barely had time to unpack in the hotel before the word came: the babies were here! They would be coming from two different orphanages, my daughter’s in ChangShu, and from another in nearby, and larger, Suzhou. Our videotape shows us pacing the halls like expectant fathers in a 1950s sitcom. No one knew what to do. Chat? Laugh? Cry? One of the biggest moments of our lives was about to happen, and there was no way to prepare. I found myself, ridiculously, putting on lipstick!
At last, we were beckoned into a hotel room filled with babies and Chinese women, who were all talking at the same time. Excited and uncertain, we stood there, our stomachs in knots. What now?
Just then, a small, short-haired Chinese woman stood up and said “Yu Fen,” holding out a bundle. My baby! Jumping forward, I took her in my arms. Packed in five layers of machine-knitted acrylic sweaters and pants with the traditional Chinese split-crotch, my daughter had bright red apple cheeks, a Mohawk of damp black hair, a rosebud mouth that did not look pleased, and shiny black almond-shaped eyes that looked solemnly straight into mine.
What happened next was a blur. The others got their babies. But I was transfixed – under a kind of a spell. Unlike the other new parents, I didn’t ask the “aunties” – the babies’ caretakers – any questions about my new daughter’s feeding or sleeping habits. In a videotape someone took, I watch myself in slow motion, walking across the room, sitting in a chair, stroking the cheek of my new daughter: Juliet Meiying.
My husband and I chose “Juliet” because we both love Shakespeare and as Romeo said in that famous, eponymous play “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.” We picked “Meiying” as the middle name, because it means “beautiful flower:” almost the same as her orphanage name, but decidedly easier on the Western ear. It would also be simpler to spell, should she later decide to use it instead of “Juliet.”
I began to rock her, peeling off one layer at a time, noting that the clothing was soft with wear and washing. Asking permission of our coordinator, I took the baby back to my room, where I did what every new mother does: I peeled her down to her naked body. I counted fingers and toes. I cleaned her bottom and powdered her. I kissed her belly button. I changed her into a new Pamper and snapped her into a fresh onesie and clean sleeper.
Then I grabbed up Yu Fen (it would be days before I felt comfortable calling her by her new name) and went back down the hall to see how everyone else was doing. Some babies were sleeping; some were cuddling; some were crying. The aunties were laughing, giving jolly and brisk advice in Chinese, telling us “If she wakes at night, don’t feed her! Just change her.” They showed us what the babies had been fed on: one scoop of formula, one scoop of ground white rice, one scoop of sugar per 12-ounce bottle.
I only half listened. I took Yu Fen (who had fallen into a very deep sleep) back to my room, and made a nest of blankets and comforters for us on the floor. I didn’t think a five-month-old could roll off the twin bed next to mine, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I curved around her like a spoon. She was warm and smelled of Johnson’s baby powder. Her long lashes curled cunningly against her red cheeks. I nestled closer and her little head with its bristle of hair fit perfectly into the crook of my neck. She was mine.
The rest of the trip was irrelevant. I had our new baby. We traveled from one province to another, seeing notaries and officials, going before tribunal where we had to answer questions.
How had my family prepared for the baby’s arrival? Why hadn’t my husband come along? Why did we want to adopt a baby girl from China when we already had one daughter at home?
But how to account for a matter of the heart? How to describe that single moment in which fate grasped me by the gut and led my family in a direction we’d never dreamed of going? How to explain the inexplicable – how, like a cord, my very soul drew me halfway across the world to a tiny girl lying alone and abandoned in a crib somewhere in China?
Chinese is a wonderful language, full of expressions and words that often go far beyond our own in describing matters of emotion, fate and destiny. Maybe there is a Mandarin word that would have made it all made sense, but I didn’t know it.
So as I spoke to the officials in that small, unheated room, I simply held Yu Fen tightly against my chest. Our hearts beating together provided the answer.