The Fourteen Month Journey Home
The caregiver handed us our baby daughter and she cried. She cried almost constantly for two days. My wife and I took turns trying to soothe her. Nothing really worked. She would stop for a bit, then some unknown word, sound, or sight would set her off and she would cry again. There was nothing we could do. She wasn’t sick. She didn’t need to be changed. She wasn’t hungry. She was extremely sad—sad because all of the sudden everything in her life was entirely different.
You see, she wasn’t at a caregiver’s house while we went to a movie or out to dinner; she was there for 14 months. This woman wasn’t her babysitter, she was her foster mother. The little girl we were handed was our brand new daughter, Ariana Xian, born Xian Cheng on June 24th, 2004 in Xiagon City in the Wuhan Province of the People’s Republic of China. We didn’t know her foster mother’s name and we weren’t allowed to meet her. The woman who handed her off to us days earlier was only a worker from the Xiagon City Social Welfare Institute where her foster Mom had dropped her off that morning.
So, here she was with strange new people who didn’t look, sound, or even smell like her foster parent. She hadn’t even ever seen people who looked like us. The entire scene was chaos. There were fifteen other families just like us receiving babies in the hot, crowded, and now emotionally charged room. Fifteen other baby girls as confused and unhappy as she was, all crying and looking around for their foster mothers and getting more and more upset as they realized they weren’t anywhere to be found.
Nighttime those first few days was the worst. During the day we could distract her and play with her and feed her to keep her occupied but at night when it was time to go to bed she would miss her “mama” the most. It was scary to go to bed in the strange hotel room and wake up in the same unfamiliar place. The word Mama means the same thing in this Chinese province of China as it does in English. When she was tired, upset, or hurt she would cry for her mama—her foster mama. We couldn’t even utter the word in reference to my wife Tiana lest we run the risk of upsetting her. We called my wife “mommy” instead. This word was different enough that she wouldn’t go into a mournful fit of crying when she heard it.
As the days passed the mourning subsided and she became more comfortable with us. She still was reserved and only occasionally showed us a genuine smile or laugh. Her true affections were reserved for the mother she would never see again. Chinese adoptions are closed and there is no way for children and foster mothers to reunite once the adoptions with the new families are complete. Most provinces have strict rules regarding this.
Sometimes the foster moms break the rules, though, as we found out. Several families, like us, sent disposable cameras to the orphanages months before our journey to have them passed on to the foster moms. We did this in the hope that we could get some pictures of our daughters in their foster setting. When we picked up our daughters, these cameras were given back to us. Most of us found pictures of our daughters outside the orphanage or in staged settings sitting or playing with toys. One camera had the golden picture—a brave foster mother had lined up all the other foster mothers from our orphanage and they took a group picture with their respective children in their arms. Our girls were matched up with their foster moms. A part of the puzzle that made up our daughter’s former lives was now in place.
Staring at the face of the woman who cared for our daughter for over a year stirred up many emotions. Would our daughter ever love us as much as she loved this woman? How does this mother feel after having given up her foster daughter only days ago? How difficult this whole situation must be for her. These little girls who we fell in love with after only a few days must have been so loved by the women who cared for them for the entire first year of their lives. Sadly, we would never be able to repay the foster mothers for their love, care, kindness, and for the wonderful daughters they had nurtured for us.
After some consideration, we decided that there was one way we could repay these women. We made a vow to raise Ariana to the best of our ability and to give her every opportunity to succeed in life by loving and nurturing her every day of her life. To help us in our cause we gave her a fantastic big brother to play with, a nice home to live in, and an extended family that adores her. We’ve pledged to make a new life for her in America while helping her to also honor the part of her that is and will always be Chinese by keeping Chinese culture and traditions a part of her life. We plan to send pictures of her and updates on her progress to her orphanage in Xiagon City and we hope that these packages will make their way to her foster Mom. Maybe in this small way we can help to alleviate her pain over the loss of her foster daughter. Possibly we can make her feel good about the jumpstart to a new life she gave to a little girl left by a mother who couldn’t care for her at the age of only two days old. What a fantastic personal sacrifice she has made and will probably continue to make with other foster daughters. How often I’ve wondered if I could make the same sacrifice.
We’ve been back in the states for over a week now and Ariana is finally adjusting to the 12 hour time difference along with the rest of us. When she cries for her mama now she actually means my wife, Tiana. We are learning to respond to her Chinese words and she is in turn learning some English. Ari is gaining weight, learning to walk better each day, and exploring her new world here in Manistee with great enthusiasm. She laughs and smiles and has bonded with us fully already. We thank God for her every day and pray for her foster mother and all the other foster mothers and yet unclaimed daughters still living in China. It’s been a long 14th month journey from the day we turned in our first batch of adoption paperwork to today when we at last have our new baby girl in our arms. The whole process was physically and emotionally exhausting but we wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world; Ariana is finally home.