Monday, April 14, 2014

Last Day in China

The last of my China posts!  I was beginning to think I'd never get these finished!

My lost post ended with our boat cruise on the Pearl River and how much we loved it.  That was all true...until the stomach issues hit Matt a few hours later.  We are not adventurous eaters, we tried to be careful with what we ate/drank while in China, we both had Hepatitis A vaccines prior to travel in case we had contaminated food, but alas both of us fell victim to food poisoning that last week.  And let me tell you food poisoning in a hotel room in a foreign country with your new toddler that barely even knows you is no fun for anyone!

We had planned to go to the Guangzhou safari that morning.  We'd heard from multiple people that it is much better than the zoo that we missed earlier in the week.  Apparently seeing pandas in China was just not meant to be for us because Matt could hardly crawl out of bed to get to the bathroom that morning.

Abby and I spent most of the day just the 2 of us, just like Matt did on that Monday.  I hated that Matt felt so terrible, but honestly it was really good for me and my girl.  I would definitely say that she bonded and attached easily to both of us while in China (a HUGE blessing because that certainly doesn't happen for most adoptive families), but from the beginning she seemed to be a bit more attached to Matt.  It is absolutely normal for a newly adopted child to bond more with one parent and we both found it absolutely precious and I had ZERO resentment over it.  However, it was also good for my relationship with her to have a day to be the primary parent caring for her needs.  I could definitely tell by the end of the day that she felt closer to me than she had for the previous 11 days.

Thankfully Matt did not get quite as sick as I was on Monday, although he still had fever and felt awful.  We were all able to get out of the hotel at one point that afternoon to pick up a pizza across the street and also buy a small suitcase to bring home our souvenirs. We spent a good portion of the day packing and resting up in our hotel room for our big travel day ahead.

Late that afternoon, I convinced a still sick daddy to come with me to take pictures of Abby in one of her Chinese silks on the grounds of our hotel.  Our impromptu photo shoot was more difficult than I imagined because Abby was so distracted by everything there was to look at.  Also, Chinese children are not "trained" to smile for cameras like American children are...almost all of her smiling pictures in China were from mom or dad acting like total fools behind the camera.  There was no grass to be found in the area she lived in Nanfeng and we think she might have stepped in grass for the first time while we took her pics.  She was definitely not happy to feel that weird stuff on her bare feet!  :)

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These pictures from Abby's last night in her birth country will always be an absolute treasure to me.  We hope to visit China many times in the future and we want Abby to always feel proud of her Chinese heritage.  We saw so much kindness and beauty from our time in China, but we also saw much heartbreak as well.  The immense poverty, the disregard for the disabled and the beggars (possibly former orphans themselves), the looks of sadness/longing we  received from many Chinese faces that we passed (could our adopted daughter have been a reminder of a child they abandoned in the past?), the fact that close to 95% of the Chinese population have no relationship with their Creator and their Savior.  It is hard to even describe the hopelessness that we saw and felt while in China.

My heart will forever be with the people, and especially the orphans, of China.  I don't get on my adoption soapbox all too often, but I'm going to have to for a moment.  The reality is that there are thousands upon thousands of unwanted children in China and these children DESERVE families.  Although the 1 child per family law is not as strict as it once was, it is still enforced for much of the population there.  Those of you reading this with more than 1 child...stop for a moment and just imagine which one of your precious children you would abandon if our government made you choose.  I. Cannot. Fathom. 

This article was posted by many of my adoption friends last month and the photos of these parents will stick with me for the rest of my life.  Around 25 baby hatches were set up throughout China in recent months so that parents could abandon their babies in a safe location, rather than leaving them to survive the elements before they are found.  262 children were left in Guangzhou's baby hatch in less than 2 months, almost all of which were disabled or ill.  So many special-need children were left there that the hatch had to be closed down less than 2 months after it was opened. 

Sadly, sick, disfigured, or disabled children are very rarely kept by birth families for a variety of reasons...desire for their 1 child to be a healthy one, the social stigma of having a disabled child, and also the huge cost of caring for a child with special medical needs.  Only the "lucky" orphans have files prepared so that they might be adopted and those children only have until the age of 14 to be chosen by a domestic or international family.  After that, their future is so bleak...a life of struggling, begging, stealing, prostitution, etc.  There is a reason that orphans are the single demographic that has the highest suicide rate in the world.

I know I'm guilty of tossing around the word "heartbreaking" too carelessly, but the reality of the lives of the fatherless all throughout this world is rip-your-heart-out agony.

At some point that evening, all of this hit me once again like a ton of bricks.  We have been called heroes or saviors by some well-meaning folks during this process, but the truth is that we simply took one (sometimes shaky) step of faith after another, knowing that we had a child on the other side of the world that needed us.  We are just parents who were willing to make a lot of sacrifices and do a lot of paperwork to bring our daughter home...what other loving parents wouldn't do the same for one of their children?  But sometimes (like that particular night) when I hold my baby in my arms and stare into her dark almond-shaped eyes, I wonder what her future would have been if we had let fear or selfishness keep us from saying YES to God's will for our lives. 

This isn't the path that we would have chosen for this child, for her to be separated from her birth family and for them to never know how utterly amazing she is.  And yet at the same time we thank China's adoption program and most of all GOD for this opportunity to know her and to raise her.  What a blessing to call this angel our daughter forever and ever!

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And if you feel a quiet voice (or a loud scream!) within you, calling you to help a child in need in some way, please don't ignore that stirring.  And if you are fearful, know you are not alone!  Call, email, or text me anytime and Matt and I will do our best to help or advise in any way we can.  There are so many ways to improve the life of a child in need and I promise that you will be blessed more than you could ever possibly imagine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Consulate Appointment & Pearl River Cruise

Wednesday, March 19th, was the day our entire trip was scheduled around.  It was the day of our Consulate Appointment, where we submitted all our paperwork for Abby's visa to travel to the United States.  Although this day didn't mean nearly as much to us as Abby's Gotcha Day or her Adoption Day, this appointment at the U.S. Embassy was a really big honking deal and a requirement to leave the country with our daughter.

So backtracking a bit...

Since we started the adoption process in November of 2012 I have been the one to handle all the paperwork and I've been more than happy to pat myself on the back with how well I've done.  It is all organized to perfection and I always make sure to have forms/applications/essays turned in as quickly as possible.  If I do say so myself, I have done a stellar job throughout this entire paper chase.

So on the night before our big appointment, it was obviously my responsibility to gather all our documents and go over the checklist one last time (because Matt had no earthly clue about all that stuff).  I did all of this and felt good about everything, but in my completely exhausted state (this was the day I probably overdid it after my horrible stomach illness), I apparently put the wrong folder in our backpack.

We had a nice breakfast Wednesday morning.  Abby looked darling in her red, white, and blue dress.  We met up with our group in the lobby and at the very last second I realized my mistake.  I took off running through the lobby and raced to our room to grab the right folder.  Who cares if I nearly knocked down a Chinese grandma in my frantic way was I going to make our entire group late to our big important appointment!

So I found the correct folder and quickly double checked the contents one last time.  I looked over the list that our guide gave us and wondered once again why it explicitly said to not bring our child's passport.  Surely it couldn't hurt to throw it in, right?  But we've been told multiple times that we cannot take any purses or bags inside, only those very specific documents listed.  We are supposed to follow the list precisely!  It didn't make sense to me, but if there's one thing I am it's a rule follower (except when it comes to speed limits...hello 3 tickets in a 6 week time span, anyone?) so I raced back downstairs and hopped on the van with all our crew.

We got to the Consulate and it was crazy.  Hundreds and hundreds of people were there to apply for a visa to come to the United States.  It is sobering sight and for the millionth time this trip made us thankful to be American citizens.

Adoptive families were able to bypass the line, but we paused to take an iPhone pic outside the building.  When I took my phone away from Abby (she was holding it on our walk), she lost her ever-loving mind.  Cue the funniest picture we got in girl looks horrified to be coming to the good ol U S of A.

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Let's get a close up, shall we?

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Sometimes all you can do is laugh.  :)

Our group was the first ones to arrive for this appointment time slot.  We visited and played in the waiting area as more and more families trickled in.  And then they announced that we were about to begin and everyone needed to get their papers in order, with the child's passport on top.  You know...the passport sitting in our hotel room because our instructions said to not bring it.  That would be the one.

Enter hysterical hyperventilating mama at this point.  I frantically whispered to Matt that we didn't have it.  He didn't understand why not.  I kept saying, but THE SHEET OF PAPER!  The sheet said not to!  The 2 other families we were with had the same instructions, but also had their passports...because they used common sense and also didn't read the instructions.  Darn that blasted sheet and my rule-following ways!

We were in a total panic that we'd be in serious trouble, that we'd have to reschedule an appointment for a different day, that we'd miss our flight home and be stuck in China for who knows how long.  I was about to vomit I was so stressed, but the consulate employee could not have been sweeter to us about it.  {Although our guide was apparently chewed out about it on the phone for having an irresponsible family...they didn't even know about THE SHEET.} We gave them all out other visa paperwork, said our oath, and then went back to the hotel to get the passport for our guide to take back to the Embassy.  {Don't you know I showed Matt that instruction sheet with faulty instructions tout suite!}  Our guide was unsure if we'd still be able to get Abby's visa that week, but all we could do was hope and pray.

Mama may have needed to change her drawers afterwards, but home girl was not stressed in the least.

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And obviously it all worked out in the end and we received Abby's visa the next afternoon at the originally scheduled time, thank goodness!  Crisis averted.  Now onto more fun things!

My favorite meal the entire week in Guangzhou was that Wednesday afternoon.  OGGI's Trattoria was super delizioso!  Perhaps the best lasagna I've had in my life.

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That evening we went on the Pearl River dinner cruise through downtown Guangzhou.  We've heard mixed reviews on the cruise (mainly about the food...Matt learned his lesson on that one after he ate some mystery meat), but it was probably our favorite night in China.  The sights were beautiful, the weather was perfect, all the kids in our group were so sweet and happy.  It was a great ending to a totally stressful morning.

I just adore these kids!

Haven, Ruby, and Abby

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Aaron and Jethro

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I've seriously never met a child in my entire life with a personality as big as little Haven's. Everywhere we went people were drawn to her like magnets and she could get a smile and a laugh out of everyone. I totally fell in love with this girl.  {Aaron and Haven's mama has an amazing blog here if you want to keep up with those cuties.}

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Matt was a little overzealous on the cruise and took about a hundred photos, but I weeded it down to just a handful.  Guangzhou is truly a beautiful city.

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The dinner was less than stellar, but the entertainment was pretty fun. Cheesy, but fun.

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It was great to have a night out with good friends and lots of laughs.  The morning sure started out rough, but it ended up being a day we will remember fondly. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

From Bad to Worse to Better & Our Day at Shamian Island

I'm back!  {At least for a short while.}  Part of me is ready to just close shop on my public blog again, but I want to at least finish recapping our time in China and give one last Abby update before I go private.

So backtracking 2 and a half weeks and going back to our time in Guangzhou...

Mexican food in China?  Doesn't even remotely sound like a good idea, huh?  And yet this particular restaurant's food was sooo good at the time.  And to be fair, I can't say 100% that it was something from the restaurant that made me sick, but a few hours after going to bed that night, I was a very, very sick mama with an extremely bad case of food poisoning from something.  I got very little sleep and spent most of Sunday night in the bathroom.  As bad as you might be imagining right now, it was probably even worse.  Ugh to the max.

That Monday of our 2nd week in China, we were supposed to go to the Guangzhou Zoo with our travel group.  I was so excited to see all the pandas!  Unfortunately I was puking my guts out about the time the group was leaving and Matt didn't feel good about being so far away when I was in such bad shape, so he and Abby decided to stay close by that day.

The 2 of them went to the breakfast buffet on their own and also got a few groceries at a nearby store.  They explored a little more of the city near our hotel that afternoon while I stayed in bed all day trying to recover.  Later that afternoon my digestive issues were mostly over, but I started running a fever and felt just as terrible.  We later learned this is common with food poisoning, but didn't know it at the time.  I was the sickest I have been in about 15 years and I contemplated going to the clinic inside our hotel around 11:00 pm that night, but honestly wasn't sure if I could even walk that far so I decided to try to sleep and see how I felt in the morning.

And amazingly I woke up feeling like a brand new person.  I was weak, sore, and tired that entire day, but I was able to function and I was so ready to get out of that hotel room!

After breakfast (only a few bites of a banana for me) we went sight-seeing with our group.  Our first stop was the Five-Ram Statue, which is considered the landmark of Guangzhou.  The people there believe that several thousand years ago the area that is now Guangzhou was barren and the people were starving from famine.  Legend has it that 5 immortals descended on the area, each one riding a ram with sheaves of rice in their mouths.  The immortals left the rice, the rams turned to stone, and the people prospered.

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At the bottom of the hill there were many groups of retired people playing with shuttlecocks. We were amazed at their flexibility and coordination. Even with hours of practice, I can guarantee I would have been schooled by 70 year old women.

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Our next stop was Shamian Island.  The island is a big tourist attraction for adoptive families.  The U.S. Consulate used to be on Shamian Island and almost all adoptive families from back in the day stayed at the White Swan hotel there.  The island is now an historical area and is a reminder of the colonial European era.  A lot of people say it is reminiscent of Charlotte, NC.  It's a very quaint and peaceful area in the very big and busy city of Guangzhou...definitely a place unlike anything else we saw while in China.

One of the first things we saw after getting out of the van was a painting outside a building that looked just like our Abby.  Uncanny!

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We did most of our souvenir shopping that morning. We bought some Chinese gifts to give Abby on future birthdays, as well as a few traditional silk dresses and some fun things for the boys.

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Apparently Shamian Island is a very popular place for bridal photos. We saw 3 different couples in a span of just a few minutes.

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 Even before we officially began the adoption process I've been excited to eventually have my child next to the "famous" bronze statues here. This was a surreal moment realizing we were actually there with our daughter.

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Our gorgeous girl taking it all in.

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We had lunch with our friends at Lucy's, another place frequented by adoptive families.

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We actually ran into our new California friends that were in Nanchang with us. Finally got a picture of Abby with cute little Ellie.

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 One last pic of a fat woman and a pug and we were ready to call it a day.

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The 2 other families we were with for the day decided to stay through the afternoon, but I had no gas left in the tank. Nap time was calling our names! 

I have no recollection what we did the rest of that evening, other than lounge around in our hotel room watching Ice Age and playing with Abby Lu.  Can't beat it!