We began actively pursuing Juliana's adoption in April of 2005. We had recently moved to Ohio and were in the process of selling our home and looking for a new home in Ohio. Our daughters were four and almost two at that time. We brought Juliana home in December of 2008, three and a half years later. Here is a brief overview of the process.
Completing the paperwork varies in time. Since we were in the midst of a move, many of our necessary documents were still in our old home awaiting the sale of our home and final move to Ohio. We also found out that I was expecting. Morning sickness kept me from the paperwork more than I would have liked. Our paperwork was finished and sent to China in December of 2005. All paperwork takes time. All documents have to be notarized, then certified by the County Clerk, then certified again by the Secretary of State, then finally they have to be authenticated at an Embassy. Our documents came from many different states so we had to send documents several different directions. It was confusing as well as time consuming.
Once the paperwork is sent to China, you begin the dreaded waiting period. First, you wait for your dossier (all the adoption documents China requires) to be logged in at the CCAA (the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs, the government agency that handles all adoptions). When the dossier is logged, you are given a date. This date is essentially your place in line to be matched with an orphan, those familiar with Chinese adoptions call this a LID (log-in date), our LID was February 19, 2006. At the time we began this adoption LID to match wait was approximately 10 months, our wait turned out to be much longer.
There is much speculation about why the adoption process slowed down in China. There were many anxious adoptive couples having a difficult time as the wait dragged on. What was thought would take months, suddenly turned into a year... then two years... During this time, we welcomed our third biological daughter. We were anxious for a match, and prayed for our daughter and her family in China, but we were at peace knowing we had no control over the situation so it could all be left in God's hands.
On November 6, 2008, I received a very special phone call. Our adoption agency was calling to tell us of our new daughter Qian Xiu Lian. She was nine months old, from the province of Chongqing, she was described as quiet (which I find funny since I would consider her my loudest child now), loved music, and was ready to smile. It was love at first sight for me. I had wondered how it would feel to see a picture of our daughter before seeing her in person, but I knew from the moment I saw her picture on my computer screen, she was meant to be in our family. I loved her instantly. I had already loved her. I finally had a face to put with the countless prayers I had offered for her.
A few days later we received her packet in the mail. This packet gave all the information China had about our daughter. Qian Xiu Lian was given her name when she entered the orphanage. In Chinese naming, the first name is more like our last name. It is a family name. Qian is the name given to all the children in that orphanage. In the orphanage the middle name often signifies when the child entered the orphanage. All the girls around Juliana's age were given the name Xiu which means beautiful or delicate. Lian, the last name given to Juliana is more like our first name. It is the unique name given to the orphans. Lian means the flower lotus.
The packet of information also told us when, where, and in what circumstances Juliana was found. She was found the day she was born. They know this because of the way she looked when they found her, her skin, her umbilical cord, etc. She was abandoned at a street corner with nothing. No clothes, no notes, nothing. She weighed four pounds. Through Internet searching, we were able to find a picture of that street corner. It appears to us from that searching that she is not the only baby abandoned at that location. From the picture and the maps it looked to be a rather rural area. When she was found she was taken to the police, and then to the orphanage where she would remain until our trip.
In China, once a child is found, the local authorities place a "Finding Ad" in the local papers. They put a picture of the child, a brief description, tell where they are found, and ask for any information about the child or their family. In China, it is a crime to abandon a child. After a set time, if no one responds, the child's paperwork to make them adoptable can be processed by the orphanage. We were given a copy of Juliana's finding ad when in China. After reviewing Juliana's information, we sent a brief letter to China through our adoption agency that stated we wanted to adopt her. A very poignant moment during our trip to China was when we found a newspaper page of finding ads wrapped around a piece of ceramic ware at a street side art booth. It made a profound impact on us to see a whole page of little girls in such a matter-of-fact display in the newspaper.
After receiving Juliana's packet and sending our letter, travel preparations began in earnest. Our travel arrangements were primarily made by our adoption agency. They arranged for all our hotels, travel within China by bus and airplane, and provided Chines guides who spoke English and were able to help us find anything we needed as well as walk us through the necessary paperwork in China. In my opinion, the help in China truly defines the agency you chose. Our agency was top notch. The guides were invaluable in providing all kinds of help, from finding good local restaurants to properly filling out forms. The trip to China took almost 23 hours. Our longest individual flight was over 13 hours.
Most China adoption trips have three stops. The first stop is in a port city where you become acclimated to the time change while doing a little site-seeing. This stop was Beijing for us. We made the decision to fly in a few days early since we weren't sure we would ever get the opportunity to go back to China. We spent a few days visiting Tienenman Square, The Great Wall, Olympic Village, and a few other sites. It was also good to get used to the time. China was exactly opposite of our time. At 4:00 A.M. it was 4:00 P.M. there. We were incredibly tired and it would have been hard to try to care for a little baby at that time.
From Beijing we flew to Chongqing where Juliana was born. We flew into town on a Sunday morning and got settled in our hotel. We were on the 27th floor and I had never stayed in such a large building. That afternoon we received a call to meet in a lobby on the 30th floor of our hotel. We anxiously went at the appointed time, but there was no one else there. Within a few minutes, three orphanage workers came in carrying four little girls, dressed in matching brand new outfits. They were all very quiet. The girls were set on a few chairs and they began the process of putting each girl with their new parents. We were first. Juliana was very quiet as I held her. She seemed to like the little butterfly toy we brought, but she never made a sound. I know now she was very scared.
The next day, Juliana slept in my arms as we walked next door to the Registrar of Chongqing. She slept all the way through the ceremony where we became her parents. In China, a thumbprint seals official documents. After placing our thumbprints on her adoption certificate, we had to wake her up to put her thumbprint on it. We spent another week in Chongqing as documents were notarized and such. Most of that time, our agency arranged for small, optional, tourist trips we could take. It gave us an opportunity to get out, but still bond with Juliana.
While in Chongqing, we saw no other Westerners besides other adoptive families. We were sometimes even treated like celebrities. If we went out for a walk around our hotel, we would be surrounded by people asking many questions in Chinese. We had little tags that explained who we were and why we were in China. After reading our tags, we often got a thumbs up from the locals. We also were often told to put more clothing on our little ones. It is customary in China to put many layers on children, especially babies. We did, however, learn to walk a little faster at times to try to avoid being surrounded. I learned then that I would not like being a celebrity.
After leaving Chongqing, we went to Guangzhou which is in the southern part of China. Guangzhou is the site of the American Embassy that handles all visas to the U.S. Any adoptive family from the U.S. has to stay in Guangzhou to finalize the visa that allows their child to enter the U.S.A. As a result, there are almost always quite a few Americans in this area. We stayed at a hotel known to have hosted thousands of adoptive families. Almost anyone who has adopted from China will recognize the White Swan hotel. They are known for their red couches and new families often have a "red couch photo" taken. Before leaving Guangzhou, Juliana was given a visa that made her an American citizen once she set foot on American soil.
How I wish I could write so much more about our trip, and our adoption journey! You can find some posts with some pictures on my blog:
The Wait Ends
Some Travel Posts