What did we do before Raimi?
Well, we did this.............
It was June 22nd,2000 at 3am, 3 hours before we were to leave for the airport and board our plane to Chicago and then to Tokyo and then to Beijing and then to Changsha where our daughter Raimi awaited. My husband Glenn and I were totally wired. Mr. Glenn - in a rare display of timing and priorities - asked me if I would trim the yucca plants in the front yard. So I did. Somehow the yucca leaves cut deep grooves in my left forearm, and soon those grooves were joined by very angry spreading arm yecch. I was still feeling the effects of oral surgery the day before. And we had decided not to try to sleep that night. How silly it seems now - our delusion that we were capable of making rational decisions!
So I was feeling pretty off (my rocker) - yet still very happy and excited. I swore to myself that I would savor every minute of going to get Raimi - that I wouldn't miss any of it because this would only happen once. I swore that I would do this even if I had emergency brain surgery on the plane and I developed a bad case of leprosy overnight in Osaka. Nothing was going to stop this from being what it was - the most exciting, important and wonderful thing Glenn and I have ever done.
When we got to Chicago, I was achy, unsightly and tired. Glenn was just tired. We spied some couples that looked like FTIA (Families Thru International Adoption) couples, but I was too grossed out by myself to approach anyone and we just skulked around by ourselves.
On the way to the gate, I saw Jon Stout and his daughter Caroline, next President of the United States, outside of the lady's room. I was intrigued by Ms. Caroline who, although only eleven years old, is obviously a complex thinker. We both spied a woman emerging from the ladies room, unknowingly sporting a long piece of toilet paper on one shoe. Every woman's nightmare!! Yet Caroline was transfixed - caught between wanting to laugh and wanting to warn the woman and being too embarrassed to do either. I thought "Hmmmmmm, this girl is someone special". Little did I know (cue the prophetic music, please!) how special she would be. Caroline became our surrogate little sister; our friend; our torturer and the person who ending up taking the video of an incredible event - the delivery of our daughter.
We made our way to the gate and I began searching for someone who would be Jan Giles, one of my egroup buddies. We met in line and was I reassured by her sunny face. This is a woman who is scared of flying?
The flight to Tokyo took forever; the seats were tiny; the stewerdi were wonderful and the food was good. I dialed in to my tiny monitor and watched semi-simultaneously, "The Insider", "Hanging Up", "The Straight Story" and "Cookies Fortune".
We got to Japan. Glenn and I went into town (Chiba?) where we discovered a treasure trove of Hello Kitty chachkas. Glenn, in another moment of sheer adorableness ( he has many) was almost apoplectic with joy when he found a special section devoted to Hello Kitty with a SEA MOTIF just perfect for the baby's room.
We flew to Beijing the next morning and I could not believe I was in China. I had expected the stereotypical Communist country -varying shades of grey. Beijing looked more like Mexico or the Caribbean - but more vibrant and on-the-go. The language was beautiful to listen to and the people were very handsome. And there was a certain surreal quality to everything too - as if we were sharing an incredible and deeply personal dream with a group of people we hardly knew. It was a wonderful feeling.
The traffic was truly frightening; worse than New York, Mexico City, Rome and the Long Island Expressway all rolled together. We had no fear of crime in China - only of being flattened by a bus.
At the Taiwan Hotel, we met Sophie, the facilitator from our agency (FTIA) who was to be our guiding angel for the next 17 days.She reminded me alot of Tina, who is in charge of the China program for FTIA. Tina is very sweet; very kind and yet has an attention to detail and a strength about her that is awesome.
Sophie was to be in charge of an unprecedented number of "families in the making". Our group consisted of 30 referrals, which meant at least 60 grownups - with two families who decided to bring parties of four and five. Then add in 30 babies that would join this nervous mob in a few days. How did she keep track of such a mass of humanity and how did she stand all our whining and mewling? She did - Sophie did it all - with a smile and beautiful beautiful English. I was ashamed of how little Chinese we knew. I was ashamed to even speak the Chinese I knew......especially after Sophie asked everyone on the bus "How do you say 'I love you' in Chinese" and I brilliantly offered in my best modulated tones "Nee oo ma?" which means ' Are you hungry?'. Everyone laughed - ha ha - and I planned to short sheet all their beds in revenge.
Two nights in Beijing and its on to Rrrrrrrrrrrrraimi ................
The day we were to fly to Changsha miraculously arrived. Our group of about 40 was to gather in the hotel lobby, check out and wait to be "baby-stepped" thru the day. As Glenn and I were checking out, I noticed a nice looking older woman who had a very cool water holding fanny pack type thing-a-ma-jig. I said to her: "I love your cool water holding fanny pack type thing-a-ma-jig" and she said in a very happy voice, "Thanks. I love it but it's something my daughter would say 'Oh Mom that is so lame' about". Of course I laughed and asked "Gee, is that what we have to look forward to?" apropos of nothing as far as this woman knew. But she humored me and very kindly said "Oh, children are wonderful. My daughter is wonderful!".
We went in to stuff some breakfast in our faces with a few other families and I was stuffing my face with something when that same woman came up to our table and asked " Are you with this group that's going to get babies?" I nodded yes and her eyes filled up and she said, "Oh my dear - my daughter is adopted. You're going to be so happy. God bless you." Let the flood gates open and the crying begin (again)!!!! Thank you, Adorable Woman - wherever you are. Could I have asked for a more auspicious way to start Gotcha Day?
Somehow the families that were going to Changsha managed to get on a small airplane. Actually the way we managed was the way we managed to do everything - with Sophie holding our collective sweaty hands.
Emotions were running up and down the aisle like crazed weasels. The Muzak was Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and even hard-bitten, world-weary Glenn Woodruff was moved to tears. When we saw Changsha from the plane, I just about lost a tear duct. This is my daughter's home - she is here and this is where she was born. After so many months of waiting.....after so many years of waiting....and all that had happened to bring us here - we were HERE. Well, we were almost there, I reasoned. Not wanting to introduce an untruth to our first day that we would spend breathing the same air, I whispered to Raimi, "Hang on baby. We're ALMOST there".
Changsha Airport looked like an airport in any small Latin American town that was expecting a coup. We deplaned and milled about and nattered to each other about absolutely nothing. The Wonderful Sophie gathered us all on a bus with gaudy bright blue curtains and she announced that at 1PM we will get "the bebes". It was then about noon. Then she passed out keys and for a minute there I thought I had passed out. She double checked some of our documents, made sure the whole group was still breathing and soon we were at the Dolton Hotel.
The Dolton Hotel in Changsha is a lot like home - if your home happens to be Buckingham Palace. It is very white and gold; enormous; light and airy and packed with elegant people. We emerge, most of us sweaty, tear stained and one half hour away from becoming parents.
Sophie had said to be down in the lobby at 1pm. So we go to our room, see that the room is beautiful and that the little crib is beautiful. Yes - as everyone says - the crib does bring on more tears. We see that it is just 12:30 and we both know there is no way we're going to wait til 1PM to go downstairs. So after debating what to bring with us (Doll? Plastic keys? Drivers license?) we settle on the keys and take a loooooooooong ride in the elevator to the lobby.
There are people with babies there. I mean, like, our kind of people. Like official looking people and nanny looking people and each one has a baby on their lap. I scan the little faces for Raimi's and just as I am deciding she is not there, the Wonderful Sophie says "These are not Changsha 1st Institute bebes. They will be here in about fifteen minutes". But those were somebody's bebes, because sure enough Sophie calls the name of Lonna and George and hands over the beautiful Lily.
Lonna and George were one of two couples who had gotten royally hosed by the airlines and missed the flight to Beijing. They endured a bunch of airline screw ups and finally joined the group in Beijing the day before we left. And for them to get the first bebe - well, it was so perfect! All the other families there reacted; flash bulbs were going off and people were cheering.
Most of the couples were downstairs at that point: Jan and Rob; Melinda and Phil; Jeannie and Ron; Kathy and Jim and John and his daughter, the Fabulous Caroline; Deb and Mike; Steve and Kristi and her Mom Karin.
The problem for me at that point was that I was crying so hard it was getting embarrassing. I mean I was loud - very, VERY loud. It dawned on me that years from now, when friends and family of this group watched these incredibly moving events, they would ask , "What is that horrible sound in the background when you were receiving the bebe?". I started making efforts to stifle myself but was not too successful.
I looked to see what Glenn was up to and I saw he was alternately taking video and looking pretty nuts. Steve went up to him and asked him some sort of real easy question like - what the time was - and Glenn answered, "Hebbada geebeda gleebada gleb". Steve threw his arms around him; hugged him and walked away laughing.
Someone in our group later told us that Glenn was "bouncing off the wall and looked like you were in the delivery room delivering triplets".
I was still crying when I saw Deb and Mike get Mckayla and Jan and Rob got Amy. Then I really don't remember much til a few minutes later there was a hub bub at the huge lobby doors . Into the enormous hotel lobby swept a line of people holding babies and for a minute I caught a glimpse of very very pale skin and a thick hunk of hair.
The entire cavernous lobby went silent for me. I stopped crying. I heard myself think "this is for the rest of our lives" and then I think my heart stopped. I was so scared and my legs felt rubbery. I had no idea where Glenn was and then I heard Sophie's voice saying, "Judy, Judy........" And someone handed me my daughter.
Glenn of course immediately went into gaga mode and whispered "I love you" to Raimi before I even let him hold her (for a minute). Tons of people were congratulating us and saying what a beautiful baby she is and how much hair she has and how much hair I have and so on. But I swear all I could think was - "this baby is sick. She's on total overload. I need to get her away from all this NOW".
I was prepared for a screaming child. I was prepared for a smiling child. I wasn't prepared for a child with THAT FACE (exactly from the photos but so different) who stared at me with almost closed eyes and her tongue lolling out of her mouth. "This little baby is sick and we need to take care of her" I said to Glenn and off we went to the elevator to do something parental.
For some reason - perhaps because they all loved our little girl - a gaggle of nannies followed us into the elevator . Most of them were clucking Raimi and loving her and tsking, "Qiu-QUI!! (Pronounced roughly "Shoo-shoo" - this was Raimi's pet name in the orphanage. ) Most of them were smiling and laughing but one woman just stared at us grimly. I wonder if she was doubting whether we were equipped to take care of such precious cargo or maybe she was too sad to see Raimi go. And maybe she was just thinking, "Boy, are these people idiots. Poor bebe!".
We got Raimi to our room and there we were. We put her on the bed and her eyes were still ¾ closed and her tongue lolled out of her mouth. I lay down next to her and Glenn hovered. I looked up at Glenn and said "Get me a doctor". I'd like to say I said 'please' or that I even thought 'how is he going to find a doctor?" but I didn't think of either. I just watched Glenn go and lay on the bed next to Raimi, holding her hand. Well, I got up once and tested her Babinski's response. I wasn't even sure how Babinski thought she should respond, but I seemed to recall that Raimi's response (her foot arched slightly) was a good sign. Of something.
Then I lay back down.
Glenn returned with (Dr.) Jon Stout who was really doing nothing important at the time but waiting with daughter Caroline FOR HIS NEW DAUGHTER. Despite this little intrusion, he very graciously came in, looked at Raimi, looked at me and then asked "Are you a first time Mother?". I said "yes". He then made the grand pronouncement regarding the state of Raimi's health:
I knew he wanted to add "you dork" - at least I would have.
A cold!! She has a cold!! Oh . My. God. She DOES have a cold now that I look a little closer. A cold! What beautiful words 'a cold' can be when said at certain moments. A cold! Now I know that Raimi is really okay and she's not going anywhere. We're not going to lose her . She's here. To stay. A cold!
Jon explained to me what to look for if this her "condition" worsened (it didn't) and then informed me that she might actually sleep for a few hours SINCE BABIES DO THAT.
I jotted that down in my "Things to Remember" notebook and I began to relax. Raimi opened her eyes a little bit, reached out her hand and latched on to my lower lip. I began to fall madly in love with my daughter.
PS: Update as of August 4th, 2000:The formerly quiet, shy Qiu Qiu has evolved into a whirly dervish of blabbing, crawling at the speed of sound and trying to stand up using anything and everything in sight (dogs are favorites) activity girl. Raimi is now spending a rare moment in repose, sitting in her playpen right next to me, patting her Teletubby doll in the stomach with a plastic ring and saying "Da da da…..hey da……." very loudly. She is truly the most amazing person I have ever known.