Thursday, May 25, 2017

VISITING VIVIEN'S PAST

So at about the time that you feel like there is no end in sight for the amount of money that just keeps getting spent on your Chinese adoption, you find out how much it is going to cost to visit your child's orphanage. The amount took me a bit off guard because I wasn't expecting it to cost anything. Our adoption agency told me that about 50% of families she talks to are glad they went and the other half wish they had put the money to a better cause. It wasn't until we found out for sure that Vivi lived most of her life in the orphanage (from three months old to January of 2017) that I knew we owed it to her to visit no matter the outcome. However, while we were there I said to Brent that if I had known how amazing it was going to be, I would have paid whatever they asked. To get the glimpse into her life before us was priceless.

We left pretty early Thursday morning and I couldn't eat breakfast because my tummy was in knots. Vivi ate fine though and drank up her yogurt like a champ.






I don't know why I was so seriously nervous to visit. I think overall I didn't know what to expect and I also didn't know how Vivi would react to the visit. We were lucky that it was working out to be the last thing we did, so she had already been with us a good amount of time. I knew she was feeling comfortable and happy with us. However, I didn't want her to think we were taking her back there, or have her not want to leave with us.

Before we get to the visit I want to share the pictures that I was given on Gotcha Day from the orphanage. They were obviously all taken on the same day, and they gave me some idea of what the orphanage was like, but not enough not to go ourselves of course. She looks so serious in these, such a contrast from the girl I knew after having her for a week.










Vivi was born in Shenzhen, which is right next to Hong Kong. It is usually about a two hour drive from Guangzhou. I really had no idea how long we were driving but we made it there in record time. We were early for the orphanage so we went a little further into town to find the Songgang People's Hospital where Vivien was found. Abandoning a child is against the law in China so to leave her somewhere that is full of cameras would have been a great risk. However, her mother or whoever left her chose to deliberately leave her somewhere safe and where she knew she would be found.

The hospital was rather chaotic. We followed our guide Judy in who stopped at the front desk and showed them a copy of Vivi's finding ad. A finding ad is required to be run for two months in local papers. It gives basic information about the child and where he or she was found along with information on where to find the child if you choose to claim them. Once the ad has run and no one has claimed the child, they are then officially considered abandoned. I was able to get a copy of Vivi's finding ad when we got home from a guy in Lehi that collects the papers and then sells copies of them to families. Here is Vivi's finding ad:







The ad says:

Ad #173
Bao Song Jia Female
2015 May 15 8 AM was found at chair (or bench) by the gate of the baby pediatrics department of the Songgang People's Hospital. Bao'an District, Shenzhen City. About one day old with congenital heart disease. Claim unit: Shenzhen City Bao'an District Social Welfare Center.


At the hospital the first nurses sent us to the wrong place so we walked around lost for quite a bit. It was very interesting to see so much of the hospital. Some of it was very nice and some of it was not. There were so many different lines of people waiting to be seen by doctors. While we were in China, I was never really aware of how many people looked at me, but I was hyper aware while at the hospital. I wasn't sure how welcome we were and if someone was going to find out what we were up to and tell us to leave.

We finally found the area that is described in the ad. She was discovered at 8 AM, which is when the pediatrics department opens so it is not known how long she was there before 8 AM. Their best guess was that she was one day old. She could have been a little older though--she had low birth weight so her birthday being on May 14th is really just a best guess. I always pictured her actual mom being the one to place her there, but it really could have been anyone close to the birth mom like a grandmother, mother, boyfriend, or husband. Who knows really, but while I was there I kept picturing Vivi's mom in my mind.

Judy tried to find someone that might have been working there when she was left so we could find out exactly what bench she was found on, but of course no one we talked to had been working there at that time. She even asked some security people who were sorry to say they did not have any extra information for us, but they still really wanted a picture with Stella. You know, priorities. :)

We just picked a bench and chose it as the one to represent where she was left. We took a few pictures and some video and then it was time to move on and leave. At this point in our trip I hadn't cried once. All these huge emotions and change while we were in China, and I never broke down and cried. But I sure cried here. It was a strange overwhelming sensation that hit me very fast. We were just walking away and I thought about that sweet mother who, feeling like she had no other choice, brought this precious baby to this place, set her down on a bench, and then had to walk away. I assume this woman is still alive, but I felt like her spirit was inside of me as we walked down the hall, took the elevator, and walked out the door. In that moment I knew what it felt like to leave a baby there and then just walk away, feeling the pull she must have felt to turn around and change her mind. She had to leave her and never know for sure if her baby was ever going to be safe and loved. That moment changed me in a way I can't really explain, even though I am trying to. I felt this heartbreak that didn't feel like mine, it belonged to a stranger that I'll never meet in this life. But she and I are connected in such a powerfully spiritual way and that moment sealed that connection for me. I never looked at Vivien the same after that. At only a few days old she had this tragic and ultimately loving moment with her birth mom. The person that is supposed to love her and care for her abandoned her on a bench. That is more tragedy in one or two days of life than I've ever experienced. I know as a tiny infant she had no choice, but she survived and overcame that to ultimately came home with us.

I hope as Vivien gets older and learns about her life before us that she can come to a peace and understanding that this was all God's plan for her. That she will feel in her heart as I do that she was not abandoned because she was not wanted, but she was put in a place to be found because she was treasured and loved first by the woman that gave her life.










We got in the van and I tampered down my feelings as we headed to the orphanage. We took some pictures of us in the front and then Vivi's foster mom came out and excitedly welcomed Vivi. I didn't know who she was at the time, but one look at her and Vivi was all screams. She came right for me for comfort and I thought: oh man, this is going to be messy.

As we walked in the door though she was fine, and she was pretty much happy for the rest of our visit. We saw the girls that brought her on Gotcha Day and they had a drinkable yogurt for her and she went right to them. We were then officially introduced to the foster mom. She kept trying to hold Vivi, but she NEVER wanted to go to her. It made sense to me though. She was taken from the orphanage in January after Chinese New Year and put in the foster home. She lived there until the day she came to us. I think it was just traumatizing for her to have lived somewhere for such a short time. The foster mom seemed like a nice lady, and the fact that she made a special trip to the orphanage to see Vivi must have meant she loved her. But still Vivi never warmed up to her and so the only pictures I have of her are with her in the background. If you want to spot her, she has on a  red cross-body purse.

She gave me the most information about Vivi though because we were with her the longest. She told me that Vivi (or Jia-Jia as they called her) was the child that started speaking the earliest of all of the children she had ever cared for, including her own biological children. She also said her speech was very clear. Of course this was confirming my earlier suspicions that Vivi  knew a lot of Mandarin. When I asked what words she knew so I could learn them, her foster mother told me she knew so many that she couldn't tell me. I was kind of annoyed, but what was I going to do? She told us that when Vivi would smell dinner, she would get up and get all of her foster brothers and sisters and tell them it was time for dinner. She told me her bedtime was 11pm! And that she would go to bed easily for naps and she was always hard to wake up. When I told her foster mother that I had had a hard time getting her to drink water and that I had tried to give it to her warm and that it didn't help, she told me very plainly (obviously I didn't understand, but her tone was very final): "She does not like water." Instead she likes soup or sweet drinks. Huh, so I guess Vivi was surviving on soup for all of her water needs. Brent asked her if she would sing, and told her that she likes to sing her name, and her foster mother said very plainly, no...that she did not sing. She also mentioned to me (and I didn't need this translated) that she liked Vivi's soft face and cheeks and mimed how she would touch them. I agreed with her with a smile. And now I think of her often when I stroke Vivi's cheeks in the same way her foster mother did.

At some point around now, all of the ladies in the room agreed that Jia-Jia did not have enough clothes on! And they were very insistent that I know this. She was wearing pants, and a jacket over a shirt and it was like 85 degrees, but those Chinese sure love to keep their babies dressed like hot potatoes. Vivi was going to town enjoying her drinkable yogurt and just hanging around, but when her ayi (aunt) came in she was so happy to see her. Man, I liked this woman right away. I could tell she loved Vivi and had taken such good care of her. I could tell that they were close. She looked like an angel to me honestly. They just hugged each other and I watched Vivi totally relax into her. I couldn't believe I was finally seeing the woman I had been praying for all of this time.

She had more of the information about Vivi's milestones. She said she started crawling at 8 months. She started walking at 16 months. She started talking at 12 months. She knew that the first pictures we got of Vivi where she had the giant bow things on her head were taken when she was 9 or 10 months. And the first video we saw of her where she is walking in her walker was taken around April 2016. When I asked if Vivi had any special friends, I was told she didn't because she would play with anyone, that she was "the easy one".


















Soon her ayi had to get back upstairs to the other children so we started off on our tour of the orphanage. We took a picture with the orphanage director first. She gave us this HUGE bag of gifts and had gifts for me and Stella. Judy our guide was very surprised by the amount of gifts and she said to the director: "Did you bring all the gifts in China?" I guess this was very unusual and I have a couple of guesses as to why we got so many. First off, they loved Jia-Jia. Every single person that saw her was happy to see her again. And the director LOVED Stella. Like obsessive love. I had sent a picture of us on our second day with Vivi to Judy and she forwarded it to the director so she had already seen a picture of Stella. Most of the gifts have two of each thing, because one is for Vivi and one is for Stella. The director took probably at least 50 selfies with Stella during our visit. She kept having Stella go to different spots for different backgrounds. Stella was a huge sport as usual.


We then were able to walk around and take a tour of the orphanage. It was very quiet as it was nap time. Vivi proudly held her daddy's hand and walked around the place with complete confidence. It was obvious to me that she loved this place. She really was happy here and was happy to be back.

We ran into her teachers while we were out. She was so happy to see them. She went to class with them Monday through Friday twice a day. They would play sports, learn songs, do puzzles, and read stories. It sounded like basic preschool. It had never occurred to me that she would be doing stuff like that. I guess I just pictured her being in her crib, then playing in a room all day, and then having meal times. No wonder she liked it here and no wonder it seemed like she missed it when she lived in the foster home.

Her teachers also told us that Vivi would love to sing and dance. Aside from her singing her name, we hadn't really seen this side of her yet, but now that we have been home and she is comfortable around us this doesn't surprise me. It was interesting that at the orphanage she sang and danced, but her foster mother said she didn't sing. It just shows again that I don't think she was comfortable there.










After we went upstairs we found her main playroom that she had played in most of the time. Right away, I recognized it from the first videos we had seen of her. It made my heart skip a little beat to see this room. I wanted Vivi to come and stand in it properly, but she wasn't that interested. She did walk over to the baby walkers and tried to crawl in one. After watching the video of her in her walker hundreds of times it was surreal to see them. And it was funny how fast she recognized them too.



Here are pictures of the videos that I screenshot from my phone. Since I watched them so many times you can see why I was so excited to see this room in real life. You can easily notice little details, like the walkers of course, but also notice that in the videos of her sitting the exact same toys are sitting along the same wall.










When we left that room we found her ayi again. I was glad to see her because she answered a few more questions and Vivi was just plain happy to see her. And before I realized what was happening we were in Vivien's room. They pointed out her crib and I started taking pictures. I wanted to stay in there much longer. In fact, if I could have I would have stayed in there for an hour and just sat. We were already kind of late for lunch with the orphanage directors, and so they were trying to hurry us out. I was the last one to leave and as I started to walk out I realized I wanted some video. So I put my camera on video mode and took shots of the crib. Her ayi stood next to it and we looked at each other and I started to cry again. I wished so much at that moment that I could speak Chinese. I wished that I could express to this woman how much she means to me. How I had prayed for her each day. How much I admired all of the love she freely gave my daughter even though she was never going to see her grow up. How I was in awe that she and all of these other women take the best care they can of these children. I don't know how you say all those things at the level I was feeling even if you do speak the same language. I knew she loved Vivi, but this wasn't the first time she had seen a child she had cared for leave and go to a new family. For me however, it was new and it shocked me how strongly I was reacting to walking away from her.

At that moment, I wished I could have sat down alone in some closet somewhere and just sobbed. At this point I was just constantly burying my feelings and I was reaching my limit. But it was time for lunch so I followed everyone there.











I didn't take any pictures at lunch. But it was outstanding. I was worried that the food would be terrible and we would look like jerks for not eating it, but it was all really delicious. I still have fantasies about this cake they made. It was barely sweet and had this fluffy soft texture that I've never had in a cake in my life. Yum...I could have some now, thank you. Vivi liked it enough for it to be her food of choice to keep in her hand the rest of our stay. They told me how it was normal for the children to keep a little food for later, even if it is just grains of rice. It didn't seem odd or weird to them. They even asked me if Stella did that. And I just smiled and said I didn't remember. But what I was thinking was: No, she didn't because she wasn't hungry all the time and worried about when she would get food again.

At lunch they asked us if we eat rice. I told them: "Yes! All the time!" Even though we don't really. I told them that Vivi would be learning Chinese in a dual immersion school. We talked about how they are having to make room for 90 new kids that are coming from other specialized institutions because Guangdong just made a law that all orphans must be in their home province. There was also a lot of them chatting to each other in Chinese.

After lunch, we then went back to the playground so I could take some pictures of Vivi on the playground. After that they had us wait in the reception room some more. Judy was getting info on other kiddos and I went to the office hoping to find more information about Vivien's life. Especially pictures. Unfortunately they only had two additional pictures of her that I had never seen. I kept asking if there were more, but I never really got a straight answer. They claimed that they don't let anyone take pictures of the kids for privacy, but I don't really believe that at all. I wish I had thought to ask her foster mother before she left if she had any pictures of her in her foster home, but I didn't.

While we were in there I really wanted to sneak back up and look at Vivi's room a bit more, but I felt like that might be a bit rude, so I stayed put. The ladies kept doing Stella's hair, and the director took another 20 pictures with her while we just hung out until Judy was ready to go.

Overall the visit was really seriously amazing. Totally priceless. The only thing it lacked was I wish I had more time there and I wish they had taken more pictures of Vivi, but I had no control over either of those things so I was more than happy with it.




Here are the only pictures taken of Vivi that I'm aware of from before she met us. (When Brent saw that really chubby picture of her, he insisted it wasn't Vivi, but Judy said that is exactly how she looked when she first saw her on the playground.)

 







As we left the orphanage the ladies followed us out and said bye-bye. Vivi kept saying bye-bye in her sweet voice and we got in the van to head back to Guangzhou.

Vivien was exhausted. I had brought a pillow so I laid her down for a nap. She goes to bed easily in her crib, but she screamed super loud for a good minute in the van. Soon she found her thumb and fell right asleep. She looked so sweet.




When we got off of the highway, she woke up, took one look at me, and started to scream just like she had on Gotcha Day. Her eyes had the same terrified look in them that I hadn't seen since that afternoon that we met her. I know she was tired, she'd had to get up early, and hadn't gotten a good nap, but I could tell she DID NOT want me. And she was not happy that she wasn't back at the orphanage. I think a lot of kids get scared that their new family is going to take them back, but I think Vivi might have been thinking that was what we were doing while we were there and she was happy about it. She hadn't been back since they took her to the foster home and I know she missed it. Still though, I could easily be projecting my own ideas of how she was feeling. She easily could have just been overwhelmed and scared and tired. Either way, I refused to go to our old tricks of giving her treats to calm down so it took a while for her to relax. In fact she screamed until we got back into the hotel room.

Judy came up with us to get some paperwork. She was kind enough to translate the finding ad for us and then she told me that she wasn't going to be the one bringing Vivi her visa the next morning and she needed to say goodbye to the kids. And that was it. I was going to have a meltdown. I hadn't tipped her extra money yet and she refused to take as much as I was offering. Telling me to please not over-tip. She hugged the girls and said goodbye and just like that she was gone. And I officially lost it.

See, Judy has been doing this thing for a long time, she told me 14 years. She's seen a lot of families. So many that I even knew who she was when I met her because I recognized her from other family blogs and videos from years past. She is incredibly good at what she does, but what was the most meaningful to me was that she was the direct link of Vivi to us. When I talked to my adoption agent all the way back in August of 2015, I just knew she was going to be the one to find my baby. But as the months went by, I had my doubts. She went to China about six months after we were ready for a match, and I was hoping she would come home with some options for us. When she came home she didn't have any leads to kids and I was discouraged. What I didn't know was that she was with Judy and she told Judy that she had this family that was looking for a milder needs girl. Judy then started putting the wheels in motion to encourage the orphanage to give Vivi's file to my agency instead of her being a domestic Chinese adoption. That might sound a bit shady, but in reality that is how it works. That is how any child gets assigned to any agency. I asked her on our drive home from the orphanage: "Did you tell them to give the file to Kathy?" And she said: "Not tell. More like please, please, please." And then she smiled at me. So you see, Judy was a big deal to me and our family.  I knew I would never see her again and it made me so sad.

I went into the bedroom, fell onto the bed, curled up into the fetal position, and just sobbed. All of the feelings I had from that day I was finally able to just release and it felt good and horrible at the same time. I cried for a birth mother, I cried for that infant left on the bench, I cried for the person that found that baby, I cried for the person that must have fed her in the night, I cried for her ayi, I cried for her teachers, and I cried because I had to say goodbye to Judy. And I probably cried a little bit because my life was never going to be the same and I wanted to go home.

Later we went to the mall for dinner. Vivi sat on my lap and tried to eat with my chopsticks and gobbled up my soup. We also had one last fruit smoothy. They were the only food from China that I was going to miss. They were barely sweet, they tasted like the real fruit, and they were amazing. It wasn't until we got home to the US that I realized we probably shouldn't have eaten them because you are supposed to avoid ice. Oops, oh well. They were delicious.

We then went over to Vanguard one more time to buy treats to bring home for friends and family, and then we packed and got ready to leave the next afternoon. I couldn't believe it was the end of our stay in our beautiful hotel room in Guangzhou. And also the end of one of the most emotional days of my life.





3 comments:

valerie sallay said...

im sobbing just reading this... Live you vivien! and maybe its selfish of me, but I am sure glad she is a part of your family..

Raf Mal said...

Hi! Your daughter is adorable! Congrats! We are heading to Social Welfare Center of Bao’an District in Shenzhen City in 3 ish weeks. I'm wonding if you might be able to share tips (do's and don't). It seems like the orphanage was open to you visiting. Did you happen to see any other babies?

Chris Mabe said...

I finally sat myself down to read this whole thing, Michelle - so beautifully written, and so personal. I felt like I was with you all, thank you for being so open and sharing this beautiful story! Hope to be in SLC soon to greet Vivi in person! Love you all! ❤️ - - Auntie Chris