Usually I write fiction. This story in nonfiction.
This month Hannah, whose Chinese name is Xu Xiao Yan, turns six-years old at almost the same time that my sister Mary and her husband Tom adopted her five years ago. Xiao proved unpronounceable to us, although Mary comes close. My best Xiao sounds like Sh-eow, rhyming with meow.
(Above is Hannah’s baby picture, taken by the XuZhou Social Welfare Institute when she was a newborn, restored or more aptly redrawn as best I could via Photoshop.)
I’ve written about the adoption before, but because the trip remains among the most significant and memorable journeys I’ve had the privilege to take, I’ll attempt to retell it here. How Hannah’s blessed us and opened our lives and continues to fill us with joy far surpasses anything I can write, of course, but I never stop trying.
Following protracted adoption preliminaries, the agencies gave Mary and Tom unusually short notice, partly because the 2002 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in Guangdong province had been contained, and so any pending business was rushed ahead. My unexpected invitation to accompany them came on the heels of that. Tom and Mary brought me along as a mother. I knew something about babies, if practically nothing about China. And with no time to study, I didn’t try.
We flew to Beijing and then Nanjing where we met Janice, a representative from the US adoption agency. Under Janice’s guidance, Mary and Tom and I stayed at Nanjing’s Howard Johnson’s Hotel along with approximately ten other US or Canadian couples ready to adopt baby girls. On the third afternoon, a buzz of excitement zipped through the hallways. As I remember it, those minutes hovering after years of expectation filled the rooms and hallways with great flutters of emotion and hushed, hushed voices. “The babies are here,” whispered a guide. “Come, it’s this way.”
My sister and I grabbed hands and pinched each other’s forearms, too overwhelmed for words. As we got closer, Mary and Tom may have lagged; for soon I was moving fast toward a half-way open door. An older woman wearing a hairnet was holding a baby girl with a tiny green bow tied to a thatch of long dark hair on top,shaved in back and along the sides. I knew instantly. Everyone else dropped from view. A rush of affection and unmistakable recognition—I knew that baby belonged to Mary. “Is this Mary’s daughter?”
The woman was nodding and now Mary was beside me. “That’s her,” I whispered. “That’s your little girl.” As I recall, Mary caught Janice’s eye to be sure. This bright-eyed, tiny, startled baby was Mary’s daughter. Never have I felt surer of anyone’s identity than I did upon first glimpsing Xu Xiao Yan: She belonged to Mary, to us. A few heartbeats later, Mary was cradling Xiao and Tom was lowering his face close to the baby and calling himself Daddy.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Posted by Kathleen Maher
Blue Ribbon Blogger Tags Kathleen