I had read all our agency’s material, devoured everything I could find on NHBO that may prepare us, had my parents retell their stories of China over the course of adopting five times. I even dug deep in the recesses of my memory to relive every detail of my time in Beijing, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hong Kong in 2007 as a volunteer at a foster home.
Armed with all of that – and it was a lot – my husband and I flew to China March 2018 with absolutely zero expectations. This turned out to be the key to our most perfect experience.
Things to keep in mind while in China:
1. More than anything, try to be flexible.
Schedules change. Constantly. Then, the minute you think you have the tiniest grasp on who your new child is, he or she changes the game on you. Weather doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes you really connect with your guides and other guides leave much to be desired. I am a very a-type personality but for three weeks I let that all go and, as a result, everybody was a lot happier and things seemed to go smoothly, even when moments weren’t ideal.
2. Exhaustion is part of the game.
We did a tour in Beijing before meeting our son in Xi’an, mostly to try and get ahead of the jetlag. Jetlag won. I felt like we were running on adrenaline most of the trip, especially because our very easy-going son mourned at night, making for very little sleep amongst the three of us. He also had just been weaned off of naps by his nannies, but desperately needed them. It was like having a newborn all over again, a newborn that weighed thirty-two pounds.
3. Prices in China have gone up (even though the exchange rate in China is still in the favor of U.S. currency).
In 2007, a McDonalds value meal cost $2.00USD, in 2018 we were paying almost $8.00USD. If I wasn’t thinking straight (remember, the massive lack of sleep happening) I would often think I was getting a good deal and then go back to the hotel and realize, I was paying just as much, if not more, in China for the same thing we get here in the U.S.
4. If you are able, have a travel companion.
It is the key to sanity, as sometimes you just need to be alone. All of a sudden there is a child who has no idea what you are saying or why you have taken over his or her life and that becomes its own kind of exhausting. Plus having the extra set of arms for bath time, bedtime, outings, appointments, doing laundry in the hotel sink . . . it was just something that I was grateful for every moment. We were handed a very chill child compared to some stories I have heard/read and even then, there were moments I told my husband, “I need five. I’m going to go down the street, grab us a treat, and I’ll be back.” He did the same thing and I totally understood – it was necessary to making it during those three weeks!
5. Family Day will be a beautiful blur.
It felt like it lasted five seconds and three days all at once. I had imagined it for so long and then it was over. The minute we saw our son, before I could go say hello and hand him the little car we brought him, the foster director pulled me aside and gave me an information overload. I understand we are in the minority – not everybody gets a detailed rundown of their child – but I also was overwhelmed because I feared I wouldn’t remember everything I was told. All the precious details of who he was before he was ours. Things he liked and disliked. How they were doing daily care of his medical need. I immediately went back to the hotel and filmed myself on my phone recalling every detail in a ten-minute video we still have today. I recommend this to any parent! I look haggard and sound kind of like a nerd, but I’m so grateful we have all those details that a year later would be lost.
6. There are days you are go, go, go and then days when you don’t (as in, you might spend all day in your hotel room, if necessary.)
I had been prepared for a child who possibly would be ill, or scared to go anywhere with us. Then we met our son and he was so excited every time we went toward the hotel door – an adventure awaited! So we embraced his excitement and we did as much as we could while in China. We bought a stroller and just did all the things. We also embraced his love of water and in Guangzhou when we finally had a bathtub, we would grab take-out and let him bathe for hours. It was fun to watch him explore the world around him – everything was new and fun!
7. Your agency travel group will be your in-country village.
The families we traveled with from our agency were like family. We had a small group that met in Beijing and then we all scattered to our separate provinces and met back up in Guangzhou. It was comforting to know we weren’t alone in our journey and we still keep in touch today. They become your biggest cheerleaders and are part of your tribe who also said, “We can do hard things!” I love them.
8. Sooner or later, your time in China will come to an end.
You eventually will pack up to go home and your heart will ache because you will have fallen in love with your child’s first country. You will find yourself torn between never wanting to leave, never wanting to end this little moment of your story, but also being so ready to go home, even while knowing there will be some really hard days and weeks and months ahead. You may also fear the flight home a little bit. I think this is wise. We really had a perfect experience, except the flight home when our son refused to sleep for the first twelve-hour stretch. And he was not gracious about his annoyance of having to sit in one spot.
I recognize everybody has, or will have, completely different experiences while in China. Those memories from your time in China will be sacred to your family.
They are your beginning of forever.
But they are also just a short chapter of your story. Expect to feel all the feelings. Expect to be changed in ways you didn’t know were possible. But otherwise, go over with zero expectations.