“An invisible red thread connects all those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break”.
This Chinese proverb has become a heartfelt expression of the bond that exists between a child and their adoptive parents even before they meet.
From last week's episode…after suffering a miscarriage and not being able to get pregnant again, my husband suggests adoption but I’m not ready to go there. If you haven’t read the first episode in this blog series, please check it out Episode 1: A Roadblock.
A couple of side notes, before moving on to this week’s episode:
1. I have my daughter’s blessing to share her adoption story with you. After all, it is “her” story. I am just telling it from a mother’s perspective; and
2. Once I started writing, I realized the telling of her adoption story is going to take much longer than one blog post so this episode will unfold in 3 parts – Before Maddi-Fu (or BM as my husband likes to call it); Meeting Maddi-Fu; and Maddi-Fu Comes Home.
That means Our “This Is Us” Story is going to extend to a season of 6 episodes. Can you hang in there for that long? Here we go...
I could not even think about adoption until I had gone through all the stages of grief for the loss of our baby and the loss of a body able to carry a fetus to term. When I felt ready, I started to research the adoption process. Bam…again not ready…having an adoption practitioner come into our home, put us under a microscope and examine how we live our life, and whether or not we were fit to be parents was too much to bear. Then gradually over time, I got over that. Our desire to have a family was stronger. We started looking into it more and more, researching adoption agencies, exploring domestic vs. international adoption, going to information seminars, talking to other adoptive parents, reading articles and books. There is so much to consider.
Eventually, we decided to adopt from China for a few reasons. China had a stable and predictable adoption process. It had stood the test of time. At the end of the long, drawn out journey, we were pretty much guaranteed to have a baby in our arms and the timeline was as reliable as you can get in the adoption world. With other countries, that was not always the case.
Adopting from an Asian country meant our child would look like me…not exactly…but most people would see a resemblance. I remember going to an Adopt Talk seminar to hear Dee Paddock, a well-known speaker and psychotherapist in the adoption world, speak about her experience as a mother of three adopted children. She is white and American, and her children are Korean. She relayed a story about how a well-meaning colleague looked at a photo of her daughter and said, “Oh Dee, she looks just like you”. Of course, her daughter doesn’t look anything like her. It seems silly but she explained it this way...people just want to make that connection for you. When you think about it, how often do we say or hear, “Oh, you look just like your mother, or father, or sister?" It’s comforting, like yes, you belong.
China had the one-child policy. To slow down their population growth, families were only allowed to have one child, sometimes two, and if they broke this rule, they faced serious punishment. Traditionally, a son takes care of his parents until they die. Daughters get married and move away to live with their husbands and help take care of their husbands’ parents, not their own. So families were put in the desperate situation of needing at least one son and having to give up their daughters in order to ensure their survival later in life. My husband and I wanted to bring home one of these Chinese daughters to be our daughter.
Our decision made, we attended adoptive parenting classes with our adoption agency, a requirement in the adoption process. There was so much information, so much to learn, it made our heads swim. We met many other families who have become friends, our adoptive extended family.
Once you start telling people you are adopting, then everyone seems to have a connection, a story – they have adopted themselves or know someone who has, or they themselves have been adopted. My former boss was adopted when he was 18 months old; my doctor had adopted a son from South Korea 16 years earlier; a former colleague was adopted from South Korea when he was 5 years old. My husband’s great aunt adopted 3 children from Sweden (Oops, I just found out they were adopted domestically in Montreal. My husband doesn't know where Sweden came from. It's in our Home Study report though, lol); my husband’s former boss adopted a little boy from Vietnam; and a former colleague had adopted two girls from China and was in the process of adopting a third.
I wanted to name our daughter “Maddison” with two d’s before she was even a twinkle in our adoption file. Little did I know at the time, what a popular name it would become. My husband wasn't crazy about Maddison. But, I just started calling her Maddi. I would say things like, “When Maddi arrives” or “We’ll do this with Maddi” or “This will be Maddi’s room” and before you know it, everyone including my husband was calling her Maddi. There was no changing it now.
We had to choose an adoption practitioner, the person we would meet with over a period of several months and tell all to…from our own childhood experiences and family histories, to our values and religious beliefs, to how we would bring up our child. Of course, you want to pick the right person for the job, someone you feel comfortable with and trust. We interviewed a few practitioners before we settled on the right one for us. And she would be invaluable to us in more ways than one. As serendipity would have it, our paths would cross again 5 years down the road when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition to her adoption work, she ran a breast cancer support group and wrote a guide for parents living with breast cancer. This was a huge source of comfort for us as she knew our family intimately and once again provided great insight and support for us.
There were so many questions to answer and pages to write to complete our Home Study, the main document accompanying our application to the Chinese government. We had to have criminal record checks done and our fingerprints taken. I remember it was difficult for the Commssionaires to get clear fingerprints from me. They had to do it several times and even then, they weren’t sure if they would be accepted. Apparently, women particularly Asian women don’t have well defined fingerprint lines. Who knew? They also said women typically moisturize their hands a lot more than men do. So, we have soft hands but no fingerprints!
We had to have medicals done and signed off by our doctors. We had to have our Wills in place and appoint a legal guardian. We had to provide copies of our marriage certificate, birth certificates, tax returns, and prepare a financial statement. We had to have reference letters written by our employers, our family, our guardians, our friends. All of these documents had to be completed within a specified timeframe, and they were only valid for a certain period of time. If something happened to delay the adoption process through no fault of our own, then our documents could become stale-dated and we would have to start all over. This happened to many families. We had to state we would never use corporal punishment and never abandon our child. In the end, our report was like a book, there were so many pages. And then it all had to be translated into Mandarin.
Our adoption practitioner had to visit our home. We had to have the baby’s room all prepared, crib in place, diapers bought. There was a checklist: working fire extinguishers – check; escape routes, in case of fire, planned, documented, and rehearsed - check. There was concern about our two-story family room with a small balcony overlooking it. Was the railing on the balcony high enough, sturdy enough? We had to put a sticker on the sliding glass doors to our back deck so a little one would see it and not walk through the glass. We had to have those plastic plugs in all our outlets. So many details to think about and take care of.
We went out and bought all the usual baby stuff – car seat, stroller, crib, change table, high chair, baby carrier, and lots of stuffies. Of course, we weren’t exactly sure how old or how big she would be. There was some guess work involved.
My sister-in-law and aunt gave us a surprise baby shower. And it truly was a surprise, a wonderful surprise. I remember being teary-eyed after realizing what the family gathering was for. My colleagues at work also had a party for me complete with a diaper cake and baby gifts. Many adoptive parents don’t get to enjoy a baby shower. It is often not on people's radar when the baby is not growing in your tummy.
Our diaper cake
Timing is everything. It just so happened we were at the peak of the Chinese adoption phenomenon. It was the shortest timeline ever for adopting from China. The whole process from start to finish was about 18 months. A very short timeline in the adoption world but in the birth world, a very long gestation period. By the time you answer all the questions, make all the decisions, complete all the paperwork, attend all the parenting classes, you know without a doubt that you want to be parents. And you are ready…well…as ready as you can be to travel more than 10,000 km half way around the world to meet your baby for the first time and bring her home.
Finally, the day comes, the day all adoptive parents wait for, your referral arrives. This is when you are matched to a baby. You find out her name, where she is from, which orphanage she is in waiting for you to come and get her, her physical characteristics, medical information, a description of her personality (more to come on that later), and the coveted first photos. I feel this must be like getting that first ultrasound picture of your baby, the one posted up on the expectant parents’ fridge, except you can actually see a fully formed, and clothed, human being. I remember holding her picture in my hands, looking into her eyes with tears in my eyes, and saying, “Wow, you’re our baby!" I slept with her photos under my pillow until we left for China.
Maddi's Chinese name was He Fu Zhen. Her last name, He, is the first character of her birth city, Hechuan. Fu could have several meanings - abundant, rich, jade or simply a short form for Fu Li Yuan (welfare institute or orphanage). Zhen means precious or rare. We like to think of her Chinese name, Fu Zhen, which we kept as her middle name, as "precious jade".
Our referral pictures
From that point, we had about 5 weeks to get ready to make the biggest, most important trip of our lives. So much to do in so little time. How do you pack to travel half way around the world to become first time parents? What do you bring for a not-so-new newborn? I think we ended up with 3 suitcases, and a couple of backpacks. When we landed in Beijing and our bags were coming off the carousel (no way to travel with only carry-ons on this trip), it seems to me we had a fairly light load compared to some of the other families. Did we forget something....
Next week...Part 2: Meeting Maddi-Fu
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna Designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made wellness wear for women. Five percent of online sales are donated to the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre in support of their Head Start Program for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.