I first met Jennifer through the very infamous Timi! She is a fellow photographer and creative. Via facebook (of course!) we have gotten to know one another a little bit better, and has helped answer MANY a crazy question..in fact now that I think about it, she really has put up with a lot of my rambling crazies!! hahaha! She is wife to Philip and mommy to Natalie a sweet 7.5 year old. Jennifer and Philip adopted Natalie at the age of 10 months in 2004 from China.
I'm just as clueless as my readers for once!! I don't know you very well so let's start from the beginning.. what led you to adoption, how old were you, how long had you been married..you know all the good stuff!
First off, thank you Amber for thinking of us. I love to talk about our adoption story. It has been the greatest blessing of our lives!
Phil and I were married in 1998. He was 27 and I was 30 at the time. We knew we had a few years to enjoy being married but didn’t want to wait too long before starting our family. From our earliest discussions about children, we were clear on the fact that we wanted them. I had always known I wanted to adopt at some point and Phil was open to it as well. I have always felt that there are too many unwanted children in the world and questioned if I really needed to bring any more children into the world when there were already so many who needed love.
After about a year and a half of trying to conceive, and no result, we began to talk about adoption. I wanted to adopt internationally because I felt that those children were ones that needed the most help. I started off looking into adopting from Estonia and/or Japan because both Phil and I have lived abroad in those countries and understand their cultures and speak the languages. It became clear pretty quickly that those countries probably wouldn’t work out because not many foreigners adopt from there. Unfortunately, there is much corruption in both the international and domestic adoption realm—human/child trafficking, corrupt people, etc.—so I wanted to find a program that was stable and had a system of checks and balances. I prayed quite a bit during this time for guidance. I knew that God had a plan for us and would lead us to where we were needed.
I was at the Northwest Women’s Show and came across an organization called American’s Adopting Orphans. We met with the owners of AAO several times to talk about the process, our concerns, their credentials, etc. and it all just felt right. After much prayers, talking to others who had adopted from China and through AAO etc., we decided to take a leap of faith and signed up with their organization in June of 2003.
Once you had decided you were going to move forward with that decision how long did it take?
Once I decide something, I am on it! It is quite the process, let me tell you. We always joked throughout it, that if all parents had to go through that same process, there would be far less children in the world. We had to get many letters of recommendation, go through police and FBI checks, have several home-studies completed, fill out volumes of application paperwork for both the US and China, attend parenting classes and classes on adoption, get medically cleared, and so forth.
We sent our final document off to the Chinese consulate in September of 2003. Interestingly, we did this on our way for a two-week driving trip to California. We stopped in Olympia for a few notary items and then put everything into an envelope for the consulate and headed off on our trip. All the while on the trip, I kept telling Phil that I felt our child and knew that he or she was somewhere in the world now. I hadn’t any feelings about this prior to that and I was feeling it pretty strongly. So much so, that I had to buy a souvenir for the baby on that trip (a little stuffed frog - and Natalie’s nickname by her grandpa is coincidentally now frog.) Phil thought I was feeling this way just because it had seemed more real then since things were progressing forward with our paperwork. I just knew it was more than that. Call it mother’s intuition... Natalie was born during that time we were on our trip!
Our official dossier was logged-in to the China Center for Adoption Affairs in November of 2003. At the time, there was a predictability to the process. We were able to keep track, via lots of waiting family groups and blogs, about the process and when to expect our referral. Each month, China would send out a note about the dates of logged-in dossiers they had processed and who had received referrals. We knew that, barring another SARS outbreak, we would move through the process in about 9 months to a year.
So tell me about when you found out about Natalie.
In June 2004, we knew that we would be receiving our referral soon. The referral is when you receive a picture and information about the child selected for you. You fill out an entire profile about yourself and the Chinese government somehow matches a child up with you that they think best matches your family.
Ladybugs are symbolic in the Chinese adoption community as a sign of good luck. The night before we received our referral, Phil was reading outside and a ladybug landed on his book. He called me out to look at it and I told him it was a sign that we were going to get our referral soon. The very next day (I’m not joking!), I was at work and got a call from our adoption agency. Cindy, one of the owners, asked “are you sitting down?” My heart started racing and I started to cry. She said “I’m looking at the picture of your new baby daughter.” I started screaming and all of my co-workers were jumping up and down. This child and that adoption process was an event for our family and all those who knew us. She has to have been THE most anticipated and THE most wanted child ever! There were congratulations around, a call to Phil at work and lots of tears.
We somehow made it through the rest of the day. I don’t think either of us did any work. We also somehow drove to the agency, though neither of us could tell you how we got there. I do remember walking through the door and thinking “my life will be forever changed from this moment on...” Cindy was smiling and asked “are you ready?” Then we opened the folder and saw this smiling, adorable, sweet little baby girl staring back at us. She was 9 months old at the time and had these long sideburns of hair and not so much on top. I remember saying she looked like a little old Chinese man. Ha! She was adorable and we couldn’t have been more proud.
We left there and went to a Bartell’s to make photos and then drove all over the place to show all the aunties, grandmas and grandpas, friends, and pass out photos. I couldn’t stop looking at her and reading about her. Apparently, she was quiet (how quickly that chaged...)liked music and nature. How they could tell this at that age, I do not know? Then began the worry. I think it is a worry that all parents identify with. I don’t know if it will ever end? It was awful! I now had a picture and a little face to worry about every day. Was she ok? Was she being taken care of? Was she getting enough to eat? Was she being comforted. Oh, it was agony! At least I had lots to keep my mind occupied as we had to then start getting things ready for her. I had known that we would most likely be referred a daughter, but I didn’t know her age or what else to expect so didn’t really do much to shopping or anything prior to getting her referral. From that moment on, it was baby planning central.
We had to wait for all of the other families in our travel group to return their dossiers and accept their referral. Once all of those were received, there were sent off to China and we had to wait again for travel dates. We finally got word at the beginning of July that we would travel in about two weeks time so then went into travel planning mode. It was crazy!
I can't even imagine the anticipation of it!! So much goes into making everything happen, you were both just out of your mind?
Yes, we were out of our minds! Like I said, I was filled with excitement but also, worried everyday about her and for her safety. Thankfully, there was much to do to prepare for her and for our travel to China. I had no idea what to pack or plan for. At least when you are pregnant and give birth, you know how to plan. You know that you will have a newborn, what they can eat, what they will wear, etc. I really had no idea so had to pack a wide variety of things. We had 3 suitcases full of different sized clothing, different formulas and foods, toys, diapers, etc. It was a bit overwhelming. It was also very joyous and just an exciting time in our lives.
After everything..tell me about your first real meeting...
We went to China a few days ahead of our scheduled adoption day so that we could get rested and acclimated to the time change. It was hard to be there and know I was so much closer to her but still couldn’t see her. We traveled with 5 other families who were adopting from the same orphanage. The night before we got to meet the kids, we all had dinner together and toasted each other, our daughters, and our new lives together. There was much laughter, joy and anticipation! I hardly slept because I was too excited. As a kid growing up, I never was able to sleep before Christmas, my birthday or any event I was excited about and I almost always made myself sick with the anticipation of it. Well, it is no different now that I’m an adult. I hardly slept and felt sick that morning because I was so overwhelmed with anticipation. I packed and repacked the bag to bring to the meeting and triple and quadruple checked that I had everything. Finally, it was time to get on that darn bus and go to the city building to meet our daughter.
From then on, it was so surreal. We entered a room and had to fill out more paperwork. I just kept thinking about all we had gone through to get to that point. I was filling out more paperwork and then we heard cries as the babies entered the building. My heart stopped as I saw the babies go by and enter another room. I caught a glimpse of Natalie and breathed a sigh of relief. About 5-10 more minutes go by as everyone is getting prepared and then one by one, they start bringing in the babies. The orphanage director asked “who is the parent of this child” and each family took turns going up to meet their daughter. Natalie was the 4th to come in. They brought her in and Phil and I jumped up. They asked who her parents were, we replied with our names and they placed her in my arms. I remember looking at her and she looked back at me. She touched my hair and I started to cry. This made her cry so I had to stop. I kept reminding myself that while this was a happy and joyous event, especially from our perspective, this was an overwhelming and potentially terrifying event for the girls. I just held her and patted her back and spoke softly to her. She kept looking at Phil and I with her big, brown eyes. I got out a little toy bee rattler that I had brought and she loved that. We visited with her nanny and got more information about her likes, what she liked to eat, what her abilities were, etc. Natalie went back to her nanny but kept looking at Phil and I to see what we were doing. We were playing a game with her and her little bee. Then she reached out for me and I knew we were going to be ok. She fell asleep in my arms and we went back to the hotel. It was so strange to have woken up that morning and left the hotel as a couple and then come home a few hours later as a family.
So after all the waiting, everything that had led up to those moments..then bam you are back on a plane home as parents..what were your first thoughts??
We were in China for another week or week and a half going through doctor visits, touring, a swearing-in ceremony at the embassy, etc. We had a funny visit to the zoo with the girls where they were more interested in the trees and grass than the animals and our group of Caucasian parents with Asian daughters was quite the attraction for the local Chinese people. Everywhere we went, people followed us around and told us “Thank you.” It was strange. I was the one who wanted to thank them. In as much as I wanted to help children via adoption, I still wanted to have the experience of raising a child and the only way that was possible was through adoption.
As we left on the plane, which was full of families who had been on an adoption trip of their own, I remember crying. I was sad for what it meant for all of the birth families that, for whatever reason, had relinquished their children and what that would mean for both them and for our daughters as time went on. I cried for Natalie and her birth culture that she would never fully understand being raised a world away. I cried for Natalie’s birth mother and said a word of thanks to her for caring enough to make sure she would have a better life. I think there is much misunderstanding about Chinese people and giving up their children. It is illegal for many to have more than one child unless they can pay very high, unaffordable taxes to have more than one. It is also illegal for them to place their children for adoption. Due to this, quite often, it used to be that—because of the cultural preference for boys (this is due to the fact that girls grow up and leave their birth families when they get married. The boys stay and take care of their aging parents)—girl babies were aborted or left to die because there were no other choices for families. I still hear things like “Chinese people hate their girls,” which just isn’t true. Families have gone to great risks to give birth to their girls and then place them in a public place where they can quickly and safely be found and brought to an orphanage. Fortunately, policies are changing in Chinese culture and they realize now that they went about their population control the wrong way. Changes are being made and great strides are being taken in working to keep children with their families. Obviously, there is still room for much improvement, but it is a start.
As I left on the plane I also cried tears of joy as well for what lie ahed of us and for our family. I knew that there were very many anxious and excited cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and grandparents ready and waiting at home to surround this child with love.
Talk to me about some of the hard parts...
The whole process we had to go through to be able to adopt was daunting. Since then, the bonding issues have been hard, but they have come full circle and we have a very strong and close relationship thankfully today. It was hard in the middle of it wondering if my daughter would ever trust me. I read lots of books, we saw an attachment professional, etc. I knew that it would just take time and consistency in being there for her and giving her what she needed to be able to trust us.
Now, the hard parts are dealing with the questions about her adoption. She is reaching the age of reason and each new developmental milestone raises new questions about her adoption and why she adopted, etc. I can see her working through things and the questions she has. I know she needs to process it all, and I help her through it, but it is difficult to watch someone you love go through that type of pain. When she says things like “I wish I came out of your tummy” it makes my heart break. I tell her I wish that too. Not because that would change anything about how I feel about her, but for her sake and her feelings about her worthiness as person. I hate that I don’t have her birth story to tell her. I do have her adoption story though and she LOVES hearing it and how very much we all were excited and how very much she was wanted in this family.
Talk to me about some of the amazing parts..
If you don’t believe in God, you will after completing an adoption. I have always believed, but this process just brought it to 100% certainty that there is a God and he has a plan for all of us. I know, without a shadow of doubt, that we were meant to go through the adoption process, that this child was meant to be in my life and I was meant to raise her. The joy she has brought to our family is beyond measure. She is truly a gift from above and I’m am reminded how blessed I am every day to hear “I love you mommy” from this dear, sweet child.
We have an incredible support network of friends who have adopted from China. The local resources for international adoption are amazing and we have made lifelong friendships from having gone through this process. That was really an unexpected part of the whole thing. Natalie has a core group of girls that she can turn to at anytime that understand exactly what she is feeling and thinking and going through as it relates to being a Chinese-American girl adopted from China.
Another amazing part is the whole nature vs. nurture aspect. It is so interesting to see how she identifies so strongly with different parts of Phil’s and my personality. Everything from her interests, to her skills and abilities, to how she reacts to something exactly as we do is truly fascinating. Someone just commented the other day how much she looks and acts like us. She really does look like my husband at least.
Beyond that is just being a mother. Nothing in life really prepares you for it. It is a great blessing as well as one of the most trying and best learning experiences of my life. It certainly has created a deeper respect for my parents and what they went through to raise my sister and I. I think becoming a parent is when you really learn what the term unconditional love means. (AMEN!!!)
Ok fun question time..if you could invite ANY 3 peeps over to dinner who would it be..(dead or alive)
Hmm... good question! I don’t think I can narrow it to 3 though. I would love to meet Oprah. I think she is an amazing woman and has great insight into life. It would be really interesting to meet her and fun to have her over for dinner. Walt Disney would be another person I would love to meet. He was a true creative visionary and I think it would be fascinating to hear what he thinks about the where his vision has gone and what he thinks about the state of affairs in the world today. So many other great visionary and creative people to invite over!
I do have to bring it to 4 peeps for dinner though because I would love to have both my grandma and grandpa over to meet my family. They passed away when I was in high-school. They were married for over 50 years and were the most loving, wonderful people in the world you could ever meet. Together, they had 16 children and numerous nieces, nephews and grandchildren. I think my generation of the grandchildren totals around 49. You never would have known it. They had the ability to make each one of us feel as though we were their only grandchild and extremely special. They were at all of our important events, always had kind words and big hugs for us and were so very special. I would love for them to be able to meet my husband and daughter. I know they would have loved the whole adoption process and finally meeting Natalie.