I’m a planner. I plan ahead. I troubleshoot before there is trouble to even shoot. Clearly, setting out on the journey of adoption is like shock therapy, am I right?
If this is true, you would think I’d be cured by now.
Before we went to China to bring home our daughter Grace, I had dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s, completed the paperwork, read the blogs/books/travel info at nauseam. I packed medicine for all sorts of possible scenarios. We traveled with: medicine to make you poop, halt diarrhea, decongestants, inhalers, cough suppressants and expectorants, allergy medicine, sleeping pills, pain relievers, and pepto bismal. I had altitude sickness medicine, antibiotics, masks to protect our american lungs from Beijing pollution, SARS, and the bird flu, and a first aid kit with neosporin and bandiaids. That was just for us mostly grown healthy folks. I had separate meds for our new peep who actually had health . I researched what to expect until I couldn’t anymore and off we went – me, my husband, and our two children ages 12 and 14.
At the time we departed for China, our new daughter waited for us in China in a hospital recovering from pneumonia. She has a congenital heart defect which was not repaired at the time; and since it left her cyanotic she occasionally required supplemental oxygen. Therefore, we also traveled with portable oxygen concentrator (POC) and (drumroll) 16 large lithium batteries. We had submitted the required paperwork and had all of the approvals required ahead of time, and specifically chose the oxygen machine company that “Delta Airlines” required so we would avoid unpleasant airport scrutiny and delays.
We experienced unpleasant airport scrutiny from the get-go at our home airport. Then again a the airport in Beijing, the airport in XinJiang, the airport in Guangzhou, and again at the Beijing airport when we departed for home. We were 5 for 5 airport drama.
In province, our guide advocated on our behalf to the airport officials and they assured us that if we visited the Children’s hospital in that province and got proof and validation that our child needed the oxygen in flight we would be allowed to board with our POC. Of course we complied. We spent most of the day getting a knock out drug for our new daughter, an “ultrasound of her heart”, and a brief exam which resulted in a piece of paper validating that we should be allowed to travel with the POC because she had a congenital heart defect and poor oxygen saturation.
Upon arrival to said airport, which required us to spend the previous day at the Children’s hospital, we learned the paper we received from said hospital got us nothing but a head shake. Nothing but a “No you cannot take that…”. So we packaged it up and checked it with the rest of our checked luggage. After a near altercation between a Mama-bear on steroids, who shall remain nameless, and an airport official, we boarded the flight to Guangzhou. We were re-routed because of rain and had an unscheduled landing in Nanning. We didn’t have our POC and nothing but our carryon luggage left the plane. After a few hours in yet another airport, we finally landed in Guangzhou and I was most relieved to be there because I knew that our hotel had a clinic for emergencies and Grace was unpredictable, her breathing still noisy, and she had barely recovered from pneumonia. What a relief to know there was a clinic with an english speaking doctor in our hotel. You know, for Grace…
Two days after arriving in Guangzhou I decided to begin taking an antibiotic that I brought along because I was struggling with chest congestion and it was getting worse. I didn’t want a full blown infection by the time we were to head home. After my husband and our older children left for a walk to the grocery store a few blocks away, I took the antibiotic, and snuggled up to Grace and started the Eebee show on netflix. Moments later I started itching. A strange, warm sensation flooded my body and my skin tingled and itched and it was getting worse by the minute. I got up to go wash my face with cold water and I didn’t recognize myself! My face was swelling, my fingers were swelling. Hives covered my body and I was on a full out full body itch. My brain caught up to my body and I realized I was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.
This would be the one and only allergic reaction I’ve had my entire life. I facebook messaged a nurse friend of mine for advice, and proceeded to take 4 benedryl. I messaged my husband, no answer. I messaged our older kids, also no answer. I called all of the phones, no answer. I was becoming concerned I would pass out from the benedryl or the allergic reaction before they returned and cyanotic Grace would be alone. Finally they called as they were sprinting back to the hotel and we quickly went to the hotel clinic. Upon examination, my blood pressure was 50/30 and I was having heart arrhythmia – this was new for me.
The clinic doctor diagnosed this as an anaphylaxic reaction and gave me a shot of something in my hip (read:butt). I remember laying on the exam table foggy and sleepy and seeing my husband and three children spin Grace around to keep her happy. I remember the doctor asking if I always had irregular heartbeats or if this was new. I remember wondering, “If I die here will they let Grace go home or will she have to go back to being an orphan…”
I slept well that night and woke up less swollen but still not right. It was Mother’s Day 2013. We had planned to go to the Zoo, and after eating breakfast and drinking a lot of water I was good enough to go. By nighttime I was looking and feeling like myself again and was excited to begin our last drama free days in China.
We had Grace’s medical exam the following morning and nothing unexpected came of it. Feeling that the worst was over and it would be smooth sailing from here, we returned to the hotel to take a nap and make plans to visit Shamian island. Before we could leave for the island, however, we got a call from our guide telling us that there had been a suspicious white powder discovered at the US Consulate in Guangzhou and it was indefinitely closed for further investigation.
No I am not kidding.
Some people heard it could be closed for days or weeks and our appointment was in two days and we had tickets to depart for home two days later. There actually was a facebook group for families like us called: “Stuck in GZ”. Tuesday came and went with no word of the consulate reopening. Somewhere in there I threw caution to the wind and tried pigeon in a restaurant and I hear the kids started brushing their teeth with tap water – it got all kinds of crazy. Wednesday, our appointment day came and went.
Thursday came and went. Friday we schlepped back to our hotel room after breakfast and the phone rang – we had a half hour to get to the consulate because it was opening for the 40 families who were “Stuck in GZ”. Off we went. We swore the oath, we did a dance, we were done with the delays and the travel and all the things. All that we needed to do in China had been done and we could go home.
Ultimately we were delayed 2 days, and we had further airport snafus (such as disappearing tickets and extra charges for changing our tickets – which were reversed); but we made it home to many open arms of loved ones and never had I been so happy to lay in my own bed.
It all hit the fan despite all of the plans; and if I knew then what I know now it would have freaked me out for real. If I knew then what I know now – it would still be worth it. I would pack the same way, I would take the same things – because you can only prepare for so much and it still might become a crazy hair-brained story like ours is – but we survived.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about our trip. I looked like some kind of freak from planet of the apes, mind you – but even that is a funny memory now. Looking back, what I remember amidst the mayhem is the strength of my people. I remember my husband negotiating with airlines for a daughter he hadn’t met – and then again for her who instantly had him wrapped around her little blue clubby finger. I remember my oldest daughter’s calm resolve in crisis knowing just how to make her baby sister stop crying and feel safe those first few minutes. I remember my son finding me in the Nanning airport when we had been rerouted without our oxygen machine. I had walked away from the group because I didn’t want anyone to see me breakdown and bawl my eyes out in near despair. I remember being surprised to to see him sit next to me, eyes filled with tears – and scared because he didn’t want anything bad to happen to this new sister he already so loved. I remember the three of them spinning and twirling Grace in that hotel clinic and being silly to keep her calm and safe while I laid there and knowing that all my plans had not accounted for this moment. I remember that they were so strong even when I wasn’t.
China time is about survival and making whatever progress you can toward attachment so that your new child begins to know who their family is. It’s about soaking up culture when you can, making memories of your first days as a family, and for some – the time in China is complicated because your new child has a precarious health condition and that dictates what you do and how you spend your time.
My best advice? Pack everything you think your family might need to survive that will fit in the suitcases you are able to carry. I guarantee there will be things you realize quickly you didn’t need and other things you might wish you had thought of… that’s normal; and who knows if another family you connect with will need something you’ve packed.
But, if it all hits the fan despite your plan know this:
1. The same God who called you to China is the one who goes before you and is with you there.
2. He is not surprised by the events of your trip even though you are.
3. Someday you will look back and give thanks that when you needed strength and resolve and grace and peace to keep going – He had more than enough even though it doesn’t look like how you imagined.
– photos by K&R Photography