By Liz Gugel
Our one and only birth daughter died of cancer in 1998. She was only 21 and a half months old. We were devastated was an understatement. Life without her was so meaningless and the future looked bleak. Perhaps, it is true that children are their parents’ hope. Parents tend to give their children a better life than what they had ever had. But without their children, is there hope?
Up until then, we did not know that our next door neighbor of four years also lost a child she did not even get to hold. Up until then, we did not know that another neighbor’s two children were adopted, and that a very dear friend’s father was adopted. Up until then, we wouldn’t know that it is possible for neighbors and friends to really care, and that we would meet strangers who would hold our hands as we journey through the search for hope the next several years. One of these strangers would become my angel.
After the death of Sabrina, Bob went back to work to recoup and live some semblance of normalcy. I stayed home wilting away. As with most couples who had lost a child, our marriage of eight years was challenged. The nightmare of watching our daughter suffer through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy wouldn’t go away. Yet we attempted the series of infertility treatment. The daily injections Bob had to give me reminded us of the many injections we had to give little Sabrina after her various treatments. After several months of doing this, we put a stop to the torture and considered adoption.
The decision to adopt did not come as easy to me as it did to Bob. I was not convinced that I could ever love another child as much as I did Sabrina. I shared this with my angel and friend. She said that the love would not be identical, but would be equally as great.
Thus began our adoption journey. The first step was to go through a list of agencies that could help us. Through phone conversations, we had ruled out domestic adoption. On April of 1999, we visited the Edna Gladney Foundation in Forth Worth, Texas. We interviewed with them and discussed their China adoption program. We felt good about the program, but were not sure yet if we should pursue this. Then as fate would have its way, Bob pulled me kicking out of our old comfort zone to start anew.
By July of the same year, we had uprooted ourselves from our home and friends of 14 years, the familiarity of a big city, and moved to Longmont, Colorado. It was a good thing that my angel was still with us through all these. Two months later, through the referral of friends, we visited the AAC adoption agency. We talked to Kim Matsunaga, the agency director, and discussed our situation with her. We had asked about the health of babies getting adopted. Kim had told us that there is no guarantee, but that they try their best to keep us informed. In this first meeting, we knew this is the agency we would want to work with.
AAC hosts a monthly social gathering of families who had adopted and families waiting to adopt or considering adoption. We attended several of these gatherings to get acquainted with other adoptive parents and adopted kids. It was also an excuse for us to be able to hold some of these kids. It was a transition we needed as we bid good bye to ever having children with our genes.
By December of 1999, our home study was completed. It included a letter of petition to the Chinese government. We’ve asked for twin babies or a sibling set if possible. Even though this was in our petition, we prepared ourselves to expect but just one baby. We did however, request for a baby as young as possible.
By January of 2000, we had completed the education requirements for adoptive parents as newly mandated by the state of Colorado. By March of 2000, our Dossier was sent to China. Thereafter, we waited patiently for China to respond. We had hoped to get a referral by Thanksgiving, and then by Christmas, and then by the New Year. The agony of waiting was just too much that I went back to full time work. By this time, we had completed the pre-travel meeting on what to expect. As with expectant parents, we had picked the baby’s name. Bob liked Alice for the baby’s first name. It must be from Alice in Wonderland. I picked Sophia for the middle name. Sophia from the Book of Wisdom, and taken after the Women’s retreat I attended the last weekend of January. We both decided to include the baby’s Chinese name.
On February 6, 2001, Kim called at 9:30 PM and wanted to speak to me. I had fear in my heart and asked if she had good news. Just about a week before, I had reminded her about our China adoption application letter. Kim was not encouraged at all.
Kim’s phone call was brief, as is usually her way. She is a no nonsense lady and is to the point. Kim said that there was this set of twins in China. She said that we could have the twins if we will accept over the phone. She said they are older than what we would like. She said that China would not give the official referral unless we agree to accept before hand.
With tears flowing down my face, Bob wondered what was going on. I told Bob what Kim just said. The only question we had was “Are they healthy?” Kim said they are very healthy. We told Kim we would take the toddlers.
That same evening, with a crack in my voice and a lump in my throat, I called my angel in Texas. When she heard the news, she said. “I know we’ve been praying for twins but we did not expect God to answer our prayers.” That same night, I also talked to our social worker who had helped us with the home study. At the time, we did not have many friends to share our good news with. In our twin’s baby book, we would refer to this event as the first “sonogram”, where we first saw their heart beat.
The next few weeks were still filled with uncertainly. Kim would not consider this official until the referral is received. On February 26, 2001, our much-anticipated referral came in. AAC called us first thing, and I told them to not bother to send the pictures. Bob and I drove over to see our babies’ pictures for the first time. The twins turned out to be identical. We received more pictures than we thought we would. There was one where they were probably 6 months old, one at 9 months old, and one at 12 months. It was not easy to tell them apart from the pictures. If not for the fact that their socks were different, one would think that we got a lot of pictures of one kid. I made several copies of these pictures and sent them to Bob’s mother and to my angel. In our baby book, this event would be referred to as the second “sonogram”, where we get to see their head and hands and toes.
With the twins, Bob and I decided to split the name we’ve picked; Alice for the elder twin, and Sophia for the younger one. We also found out that all the kids from our orphanage have the same surname Mei, and their Chinese names would be Mei Xiao xxx. The Chinese names of Alice and Sophia are Mei Xiao Fu and Mei Xiao Gui. Fu and Gui, literally mean “Rich” and “Noble” in English. Xiao means little in Chinese.
The referral documents included their abandonment story. They were found on December 28th, 1999 and brought to the orphanage. They were very tiny and estimated as newly born. The orphanage had feared that they would not make it. They were sent to foster care for 4 months, and then back to the orphanage.
We signed the papers of acceptance right away. Then we had to wait for the invitation to travel. Our travel date would be scheduled around our exit interview with the U.S. embassy in China. AAC worked it out so that we only had to stay in China the minimum amount of time. We were told to be prepared to leave with very short notice. By this time, I had quit my job, and Bob had given notice at work to take off for a couple of weeks.
We left for China on March 21, 2001. We packed the twins’ comfort blankets, some toys, books, clothes, diapers, medicines, and food. We traveled as light as possible. The plane trip to China was long and uneventful. Perhaps I should refer to this as our labor?
We arrived China on the mid morning of March 23rd. We had a little delay due to the weather condition. By the time we reached the Victory Hotel in Guang Zhou, the babies were already waiting for us. They had traveled seven hours the night before and stayed in the hotel with their nannies. We had fifteen minutes to freshen up in our rooms and then we will be united with our forever babies. Yes, finally, the babies were delivered!
The hand over ceremony was brief. The nannies told us what the twins would eat, and pointed us to Alice’s two cowlicks on her head and a very distinguished birthmark on her left hand. Both twins have their Mongolian spots. The nannies also handed us a few days’ supplies of baby formula and cereal.
We had a few minutes to bond with our babies in our room before we had to finalize their China adoption papers. It was a full day event and the nannies accompanied us to the various agencies. Although the nannies tend to be very protective and possessive of these babies, their being with us was a good thing as we had a lot of paperwork to complete. The babies were probably in shock and needed a little familiar face with them. Our AAC coordinator was very efficient. His main goal was to get the business on hand done as quickly as possible.
Alice and Sophie were very cautious. They gave no smile the whole day we were attending to business. They did not even show any sign of curiosity. We learned that they could walk but there were no incentives for them to do so. They liked to be held all the time. They would walk a couple of steps and then sit down. Their legs were a little curled in and a little behind developmentally. They were very attached to each other. We can’t take one of them out of sight without the other crying.
By about 5:00 PM of the same day we had arrived in China, we had officially adopted our twins. Finally, we had the evening to ourselves!
Within the hour that we had them for ourselves, Alice and Sophie started playing with each other. Then, the smiles broke out. They have their own language and they both decided that I am “Ah Ee”, meaning auntie in Chinese. This is what they call their nannies in the orphanage.
We gave them a bath and ordered room service mian pao. By 7:30 PM, we had put them in their cribs. We had moved their cribs so that they were next to each other. Alice slept and was content. Sophie had to make sure that she could see me. Finally, she also settled down. Bob and I held each other that night, still in disbelief of the whole experience. We had our babies at last!
Still jet lagged, I was up by 4 AM the next day. One of the hotel attendants graciously accompanied me to the nearest convenience store. I needed to get some supplies. The baby bottles that the orphanage gave us have nipples with about a quarter inch hole diameter in them. The nipples I brought with us were very different and I figured it is best to get the same nipples they are familiar with, but without such a big hole. Luckily, the convenience store was close by, and they had everything we would need for the rest of our stay.
The next day, the twins woke up right around sunrise. We took them to the hotel buffet, which served plain boiled porridge. This was what they were used to eating. It broke my heart that this must be their staple diet. We introduced them to eggs and other goodies. By the third day, they had outgrown the plain boiled porridge.
We opted to skip the visit to their orphanage as we thought this was for our twins’ best interest. All the babies in our group had some sort of gastric disturbance since day one and the travel must not have been easy for them. Our time would be best spent bonding with them as quickly as possible. We used the hotel hallway to exercise their legs. Bob would stoop on one end of the hallway and I would be on the other end. They would run towards me and say “aye aye” for a big hug. In Chinese, “aye” means love.
When our group came back two days later, they shared their trip experience. We learned that the orphanage where our babies came from was fairly new. It has a lady benefactor. They were shown three spacious floors of the orphanage. One floor houses the newly born. Another floor has the babies four months and up, and then another floor has the babies and toddlers 8 months and up. All the babies in our group came from this last floor. On this floor, my friend counted 41 cribs. The cribs are made of metal and have a finished plank plywood bed. There is neither a mattress nor bedding in the crib. They have four attendants at any one time. This floor also has a big screen TV where a Chinese version of Sesame Street is played for the kids. The kids are well taken care of. Most all the kids get adopted.
Our group was surprised at how much progress the twins had made. Sophie was very social and would “hi” every one she meets. The hotel staff loved to see the twins. The twins must understand some Chinese dialect, as they would listen to the hotel staff intently. The twins enjoyed eating out in the Chinese restaurant as they could see many Chinese faces. Everywhere we went, the twins got a lot of attention. Perhaps it was because they are twins, and perhaps it was because having twins adopted was not common. We heard that sometimes, the birth mother would even split her twins.
Our final days in China included the exit interview at the U.S. embassy. The twins’ visas were issued the very next day after the interview. As soon as we got this, we were on board the next plane home to the U. S. By then, there was no doubt that the twins knew that they were ours. They would no longer let strangers hold them.
We arrived home on March 31st, 2001. The car seat was something new for the twins and they cried all the way home from the airport. The next two weeks would be a transition for them; the new environment, new scent, new sounds, new time zone, and even new altitude. They would cry every night. But during the day, they were fine. This was difficult for Bob and I as we relived the sufferings of Sabrina. The numerous visits to their pediatrician offered little comfort.
The twins were very resilient. They quickly adapted to the change, though it took another three months before they were at ease outside in an open space, and another four months before I became mama rather than “Ah Ee”. Bob was always dada.
We’ve had the twins for almost a year now. They’ve grown so much and developed so beautifully. They speak English and understand a lot more than we realize. They can read and count. They know their adoption story by heart. We even try to keep up with the little Chinese language I know. They have friends they identify with. Some of their friends are adopted and some are not. Some have an adopted parent and some have birth parents. We have received many cards and notes since we brought them home, many more than we did when we had Sabrina. Some very well meaning friends would keep saying the twins are very lucky. As most adoptive parents would counter, WE are the lucky ones. And the question that I’ve had: “Will I ever love another child as I did Sabrina?” The answer is that there is no difference in the love that I have for my birth daughter and for my adopted daughters. I would give my life to my twins, as I would have for Sabrina. They are all my children. One is walking with God in Heaven, while two are walking with us. Bob and I can never forget Sabrina and what she had done to our hearts. We can never stop grieving for her. It does not mean we love our twins less. They are our children and we will always love and worry about them. They are our hope for the future. As for the twins, they will always have us, and they will always have each other.