Excerpt from ‘The End of the Read Thread’
Her shock, her anguish was unbearable to watch, how must it have been to feel? She was inconsolable. She was thrust into my arms, helpless to do anything about it. So she clung to a strange, ugly-looking rubber kangaroo, no doubt given to her in the orphanage to foster some connection to the country she would call home, and gripped it so tightly her little fingers started going purple. It was the only familiar, tangible thing she could rely upon, and she held onto it, for dear life.
She clung to me, her new Mama, in a desperate, terrified stranglehold, but she was torn. At first she thrashed about, flinging her head back and screaming, trying frantically to escape my clutches, looking for a familiar face to rescue her from this funny-looking, strange-smelling woman. But still she held on to me, this foreigner, this stranger, because she was too frightened to let go.
Qichun Jiachang was tiny, much smaller than we’d imagined from the photos (and certainly not the ‘chunkster’ we’d christened her), yet it seemed like she carried a lifetime of worries on her little heaving shoulders. Her dark, almond eyes were glazed over with tears, and her upper lip, which would later reflect her wonder and awe at the world like an exclamation mark on her face, quivered with the effort of crying. She was dressed in warm clothes in the stifling summer heat – a white long sleeve top with embroidered collar, pink pants and cute little leather shoes. They were the only clothes she came with. Despite her small size, there seemed to be an inner strength in her struggle, a sort of sad resolve, until she collapsed into me, a limp rag doll with no energy left to fight. Still she cried.
I felt sure Qichun Jiachang’s cries were the loudest in the room, the most tortured, but the other babies were distraught too, and the echoing anguish served to amplify the sound of her sobs.
At first Qichun Jiachang was hysterical, then slowly, as the screaming gave way to sobbing, she was just plain miserable, then finally, as the sobs turned to sad sighs, she was simply exhausted. And so she burrowed into me like a scared little koala, and as she nestled her head under my chin, her fingers like little claws attached to my arm, she started to become our daughter, our Katelin Jiachang. Although she was still Qichun Jiachang.
It was a shared experience, yet so intensely personal that I could only feel her distress and confusion as an extension of my own, like pins and needles in my fingers and toes, at the extremities of my own emotions. I didn’t cry, because Qichun Jiachang was shedding tears enough, but mostly because I was so unbelievably happy. Pinch myself, I was so happy.
I would have pinched myself, expect my hands were holding Qichun Jiachang, hugging her gushing grief. I’d steeled myself not to cry, to be strong enough not to get upset by the flood surge of her sorrow, so as not to heighten its raging torrent. I could have felt proud of how I swallowed my tears, but pride was for later when I had the capacity to feel it. I could have felt guilty for being so joyful when Qichun Jiachang was so distraught, but I was exhausted by other emotions and there was no energy left for guilt. At last. So I tried to feel nothing. Not even my happiness, which was its own suffusion. I simply tried to let her pain, which ran in a liquid rush down her cheeks flow into me, so I could absorb its emotional stream into the river of my own emotions until the waters became one. And I hoped the loved that poured out of me would wash away some of her despair.
I glanced again at the message in gold letters on the wall of the room – Thank you for all the love pouring on the children. I in turn I thanked China, fate, karma, providence, destiny, serendipity and God for our child. Mostly I thanked Qichun Jiachang for going through the pain of becoming our Katelin Jiachang. How can I ever thank her enough?
As for Jon and his emotional state, I could only see his anxiety as a shadow of my own angst, his happiness as a paler shade of my joy. He remained at the periphery of this intense emotional entanglement between Qichun Jiachang and I, between mother and daughter, even though he is every bit as much a parent as I. It didn’t help that he was unable to hold her properly because of the crutches, not to mention because she was soldered to my shoulder. Jon captured those first moments on video, and later, when I replay it (as I will often), my heart will lurch to watch the distress on the little face that is now our Katelin’s, whilst my own radiated.
Forever Day’s memories will always replay in my mind, even without the benefit of video playback, and I will have to remind myself that it was only twenty minutes, perhaps a little longer. Give or take 1,200 seconds. And then her storm subsided, her sobbing stopped, her eyes dried and her fear faded. Or as Jon says, she was an upset, crying baby, but only for a while.
And then slowly (but much quicker than I had ever thought possible) she became our Katelin Jiachang, and we became the parents of her reality, not just of our dreams.