I’ve previously shared what I wrote about the day we met our daughter 9 years ago, so thought I’d share the experience of meeting our son. Happy Mother’s Day to all Mums.
More than six years after adopting our Katelin Jiachang we welcomed our Liam Chi Jie into our lives, with our good friends alongside us welcoming siblings for their beautiful daughters…the invisible red thread had finally led us back to China…our family was complete at last. And so I wrote (Excerpt from The End of the Red Thread):
That beaming smile lit up the room (for us anyway) as we welcomed Guan Chi Jie into our lives and he wondered who the hell we were – but grinned at us anyway, because it’s in his nature to smile. He didn’t cry until later, after he’d exhausted his smiles (there were even laughs) and after he’d frowned a little fearfully trying to comprehend who the hell we were. And then he fell asleep.
His calmness, his cheeriness, his smiles were in such stark contrast to the stricken fear of Qichun Jiachang and the distraught tears she shed in becoming our Katelin. It hardly felt like his ‘handover’ to us was the traumatic event it must have been. And so because Guan Chi Jie didn’t cry, he seemed to become our son, our Liam Chi Jie so quickly, almost straight away, as if his smile was his seal of approval for his new situation and there would be no struggle against it. And because our Liam Chi Jie didn’t cry, I got to feel even happier than I ever thought I could be.
Around us there were plenty of tears being cried. It was another small room, with a table for all the document signing and chairs clumped around the walls, crowding out the cramped space. There were only four families – our three Aussie families and an Italian couple, first-time parents, who grappled against the inconsolable grief of the three year old girl who was becoming their daughter, but not without loud and painful protest.
Most likely our babies, Liam at 8.5 months old, and Jade and Ella at just one month older, were too young to understand what was happening. The two baby girls got a little upset, but were relatively calm and content overall. So there was no chorus of crying, just the piercing, penetrating, curdling cries of a three year old whose life was being turned upside down, and so she was going to fight it with all her lung power as she pushed and kicked her new parents away. I smiled sympathetically at the couple, admiring their bravery in dealing with the despair of their daughter, but without the Italian words to wish them well, to offer support. And there was nothing I could really do to help them or the little girl, not when I was focused on Liam, and on Katelin (as a very proud big sister), and on offering congratulations and ogling the new children of our very good friends. So I could only smile my sympathy again, and feel so incredibly happy that little Liam’s beaming grin was going to light up our lives.
Jon handled most of the paperwork and time seemed to pass quickly. Liam easily attached to Katelin, as a child with a Chinese face that looked familiar, and because she was full of love for her little brother. I felt very proud of her. And soon Liam was sleeping peacefully in my arms, a light little baby boy bundle in three layers (including two layers of pink underneath the blue outer clothes). He was helpless against his need to sleep so could only trust in the strange arms that held him, in the love he must have sensed I had to give. He slept as I carried him to the bus and we drove away. Sometimes twenty or thirty minutes can feel so much shorter than 1200 or even 1800 seconds. Life can change so quickly, in an instant really.
In going through the pain of becoming our Katelin, Qichun Jiachang had bequeathed me the precious gift of motherhood. Guan Chi Jie, in the trauma of becoming our Liam, was offering me the special opportunity to be a better mother – to love parenthood anew, to realize more joy in it, to find more purpose in it – starting with appreciating his beautiful beaming smile and his peaceful sleep.
What of the back-story – how I felt the morning of our ‘Forever’ or ‘Together’ Day? What of the fine detail of the day, our journey in the bus to the civil affairs office, the mood in the room in those final few seconds before the children were brought out, the tension, the nerves? I have to say I don’t really remember how I felt, but I know I wasn’t consumed with fear. I was relaxed enough not to fixate on the minutia of each moment, as we travelled on the bus, for what was a fairly long trip in the traffic. The mood was tense, but more nervous excitement than trepidation and then the children were being handed over and it was simply happy, crazy, noisy, chaos. Liam was the last child to enter the room, and Katelin later asked me: “How come Liam and I came out last? I of course had to respond, predictably, with: “don’t you know they always save the best for last”.
On the bus we went straight to the passport office. Our guide Gerry, a short dynamo of a man with a large grin and a quick step, was determined to get all the official requirements out of the way. Each child was dressed in a lucky red jacket for their passport photo and then we waited. Jon couldn’t WAIT– he’d been caught out with a case of the runs and had to make a dash to find a public washroom.
So forgive me if I remember things in a bit of a blur – between the passport forms I was left to handle on my own while trying to get Liam to take some of his bottle and dealing with Katelin’s increasingly bored impatience and my concern as to whether my husband would ever return, it all felt pretty surreal. Jon seemed to be gone for an age and eventually reported back that between his diahorrea and the state of the facilities, it was not a pretty sight. We finally left the passport office and mercifully (for all of us, but particularly Jon) headed back to the hotel. Katelin was besotted with her little brother and wanted to play. But Liam was tired, we all were – a wonderful kind of weariness. We managed to get Liam to take a few spoonfuls of baby food, stripped him of his pink layers, redressed him and cuddled and stroked him to sleep on the bed. And then he slept, the sleep of a baby, only he came to us with a chest infection and I could hardly take my eyes off the rise and fall of his breathing to gaze upon his cherubic little face. I couldn’t help but smile.
Worry would weevil its way in to taint even such a happy day, but as I watched Liam Chi Jie sleep there was mostly relief that things had gone so well. Later he seemed a little sicker, quieter, and things would go downhill over the next few days. At times he would not be consoled. At one point I would shut myself away in our hotel bathroom for several minutes to escape Liam’s piercing screams and to scream myself. There would be ups and downs – sometimes our little man would seem better and would eat a bit, even take a little of his bottle. And we had to carry on with the sightseeing and dinners, although our schedule was relatively free when compared with our adoption trip with Katelin. We were wise to have done two days of sightseeing in Kunming prior to meeting our babies (including a day trip to the monolithic, World Heritage listed Stone Forest), as this spared us from sightseeing with them in tow. We loved what we saw of the city, the colour and energy of Yunan’s ethnic minority groups, the European influences, the parks, architecture, that crazy Chinese juxtaposition of old and new. But with Liam in our lives, our focus was firmly on family.
Liam gave us a few laughs, but he was lethargic from his chest infection much of the time over those first few days. It could have been the antibiotics, or the shock, but he still hadn’t passed a bowel motion by day four and we were worried – we gave him over-the-counter medication for the blockage and on the fifth morning he seemed better. But by later that afternoon he must have been in quite a bit of pain, and then he spiked a high temperature.
So we found ourselves, frightened and fretful in the emergency department of the Kunming Children’s hospital that night, full of fear for the son we already loved, waiting once again. And I knew, as I sat there cradling Liam’s little body, willing him well with what warmth I had to offer in the cold and crowded hospital corridor, comforting him in his deep distress, that I could be a better mother.