Stephanie's Adoption

Welcome. We have completed a successful adoption of a baby girl from China. These pages are dedicated to the fantastic experience we had. It was truly an exciting, wonderful, and yes, scary experience that forever changed our lives. The story in this site is not in the least, comprehensive. For several reasons, I did not include all the details and not nearly all the photographs. I hope that what I did include however, will give you a true feeling of our experience.

We viewed our experience twofold. The first was to finally have a family which felt more complete. The second was to somehow give a baby girl the fighting chances that she would not otherwise have... the chance to live with loving parents in a good, Christian home and the chance to follow her dreams, whatever they may be.

The Beginning

December 29, 1999
We finally completed our homestudy and associated paperwork and Holt International Children's Services, our adoption agency, immediately sent it off to China.  Then began the long, hard process of waiting.  It really didn't feel real yet, so we didn't feel much like preparing the baby's room or buying baby clothes. 

September 27, 2000
Finally, after 10 months of waiting and talking with other "waiting" parents on the internet, I received "the call" at work informing me that we have been matched up with a healthy baby girl.  Our wait and two year's worth of paperwork was nearly over!  We would receive a packet by FedEx in a couple of days.  I couldn't wait to see her picture.

September 29, 2000
We received a FedEx package with the first glimpse of our new daughter-to-be along with a brief medical history, a few words from the orphanage, and an acceptance form.  We were told that Li Ao Lin was born on August 28, 1999 and was abandoned the next day at a post office in the city of Hanchuan of the Hubei province of China.  She was taken to the orphanage and later teamed up with a foster home where she had been living for the past year.  

October 9, 2000
After consulting with a pediatrician who specializes in international adoptions, we quickly signed the acceptance papers and FedEx'd  them to Holt.  The papers were off to Beijing on October 10. We now had six to eight weeks to wait for the Chinese government to grant us permission to travel so that we could pick up Li Ao.  At this point, after much debate, we decided to name our daughter Stephanie Li Ao.  

November 10, 2000
Finally, we received permission to travel to China and were told we had to meet the rest of the "expecting" parents (8 families in total) in Hong Kong for an orientation meeting on December 3rd.  Then, we would travel as a group to the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China to pick up our babies.  There we would stay about a week to process paperwork.  Afterwards, we would travel to Guangzhou to get her American visa.Now we have less than two weeks to secure plane tickets to Hong Kong, buy travel necessities, fix the baby's room, etc.  We also need to find a sitter for our other baby, Joshua the cat.

November 29, 2000
We're finally on our way to Hong Kong!  From Chicago, we had a 90  minute flight to Minneapolis, where we switched planes and then had a 15 hour trip to Tokyo.  Once in Tokyo, we switched planes once again and endured 5 more hours of flight time to Hong Kong.  Even though we are not looking forward to the long plane ride, we were looking forward to the adventure ahead.

Hong Kong

November 30, 2000
We arrived in Hong Kong around 9:00pm with great excitement and many expectations.  We took a taxi from the beautiful new Hong Kong airport to our hotel in Kowloon.  Our hotel turned out to be the YMCA Salisbury.  Because it is a YMCA, we were expecting the showers to be down the hall, but instead found it to be an exquisite hotel; comparable to a Hilton or Marriott.   It was right off the harbor with a wonderful view.  We were to meet the rest of our travel group (named Hubei-4) here on Saturday, December 2 and have an orientation meeting with Les, our Holt representative.  The first night  after a bit of exploring around town, we soundly slept.

December 1, 2000
We took a GreyLine tour and visited many sections of Hong Kong, including a temple with a "wishing tree".   People are supposed to tie oranges to a paper fortune and toss it into the tree.  If it sticks in one of the limbs, you will have good luck (You're still out the $10HK for the orange though).We found that Hong Kong is a city that doesn't sleep.  After the tour, we bounced around until 1:00am or so that evening and still were able to shop at a GAP and other stores.  The number of knockoffs and pirated goods were incredible too.  Bargains can be had everywhere... especially with electronics and movies.

December 2, 2000
Finally we got to meet some other families at the Holt orientation meeting in the hotel.  Our travel group consisted of 8 families from all over America.  For the next couple of weeks, our group would be a family away from home and we would have to rely on each other for support.The orientation process went very smoothly, although most of us were still very anxious about what lay ahead.  All but one of the families would be first time parents and I could feel the excitement and anticipation fill the room as we talked about logistics.After the 2 hour orientation with Les, we each took off to do more shopping and sightseeing and to prepare for the next day's trip to Wuhan, China.  We visited more stores, took a walk around the Harbor, and took a trip up Victoria Peak.  

Wuhan

December 3, 2000
We boarded a plane at the Hong Kong airport and flew to Wuhan.  Despite its population (more than 7 million), Wuhan's airport seemed quite small and unfrequented.  

When we landed in Wuhan we were greeted by Tracy, another Holt representative.  Tracy would be our guide for the next week and would help us deal with the Civil Affairs office.  After loading our bags, we all boarded a bus which Tracy chartered for the week, to take us to the Shangri-La hotel.  On the 45 minute trip there, she prepped us on what would take place during our week's stay in Wuhan.

The Shangri-La hotel was incredible!  The rooms were spacious and clean and probably nicer than most of us have ever experienced in the states.  They had an all-you-can-eat buffet which was absolutely humongous and contained an array of wonderful foods.  The biggest shocker was opening our door and seeing a crib in our room.  That's when it actually hit home that this would be the last night we would be a family of two.

Later we all met in Tracy's room to prepare our paperwork for the Civil Affairs office (they handled the adoption).  The amount and intricacy of the paperwork was daunting, but Tracy made very sure that we did everything completely, correctly and to the letter.  None of us could afford a mistake now.

Afterwards, we all hopped out to a local grocery store to stock up on Chinese baby formula, Chinese baby bottles, Coca Cola, and snacks. Many of us craved  a Diet Coke, but it was nowhere to be found.

It turns out the traffic lights in Wuhan are just a suggestion and nobody really follows them. The streets are wide and it's a bit like playing the "Frogger" video game when you try to cross.

Most of us got back to our rooms early, because we needed to prepare for the big day tomorrow.  We had to lay out Stephanie's clothes, wrap the gifts for the orphanage and for the foster family, and make sure we had all our paperwork in order.  We also wanted to enjoy what would probably be our last decent night of sleep.

The Big Day

December 4, 2000
This is the day we have waited for - the day we would meet our daughter face to face for the first time.  We were unsure of what to expect and also were extremely nervous.  We once again checked our paperwork, then boarded the bus with the other families to take us to the Civil Affairs office.

As we entered the 20-foot, square office we could see the caregivers from the various orphanages holding the babies on the right and left sides of the room.  The babies were brought in from 4 different orphanages. Stephanie had to take a 90 minute ride from her orphanage in Hanchuan to the Wuhan Civil Affairs office.  

We were instructed to sit in the middle - which we obediently did while, at the same time, scanning the room to find which baby looked most like our Stephanie.  We found her sitting on her caregiver's lap clutching rice crackers and dressed in several layers of heavy red clothing.  That's when it hit me that this is for real and that our lives, and hers, will forever be changed.

Each family was called up one at a time to be processed.  The processing consisted of a series of questions, paper signings, fingerprinting, and a ceremonial gift from the orphanage.  As we waited our turn, we were able to walk over to Stephanie, talk to her and hold her.  Stephanie was incessantly crying in spite of our best efforts.  I felt sorry for this poor baby who was abandoned when she was born, then taken away from her foster mother a year later.  We knew it would take some time for Stephanie to feel comfortable with us, but we still felt her pain.

It took about two hours to process all the babies.  The room was very warm with all the people in it and it was obvious Stephanie was getting very hot.  I didn’t want to change her there so as not to insult the caregivers.  I did however, put a diaper on her after she "baptized" me on my leg through her split pants.  This was only the second time in my life I handled a diaper and the first time I got pee'd on.

Finally, we piled back into the bus with our new daughter and immediately took off her jacket. When we made it back to the hotel, we rushed to undress her.  It turns out that she had on seven layers of clothing beneath a heavy outer coat.  No wonder she was hot. Some of the babies had notes from the foster parents sewn into their clothes, but unfortunately, Stephanie didn't.

Stephanie was obviously grieving over the change in her life.  Each time I put her down or even carried her below eye level, she would bawl.  For the first few days, she would let only me hold her - not even Grace.  My arms have never gotten so sore in all my life!  In order to put her to sleep, we had to rock her for about a half an hour then gently put her into the crib; hoping she didn't wake up.  She did however, wake up several times during the night.

Stephanie went through the grieving process almost for a full week.  She was one of the last ones to adjust.  It showed me that she was well loved by her foster mother and that Stephanie missed her very much.  It had us a bit on edge to see her so heartbroken, but after she finished her grieving, she was the most lovable, fun-loving child you could ever imagine. 

She was obviously taught well by her foster mother.  Stephanie already knew how to eat with a fork (and hold it properly), wipe her hands and mouth with a napkin, clean the table, drink from a sippy cup, use a straw, drink from a regular cup, etc.  She had no problem eating anything we put in front of her and eating large quantities of it.   

Sightseeing in Wuhan

December 5, 2000
Today we visited the Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan's most famous site.  A legend (which I don't remember) goes along with this tower but the architecture and artwork are enough to make it a landmark.  From the top you can see most of this vast city. It was quite a spectacular view.

December 6, 2000
This day we visited Wuhan's Provincial Museum.  Its prized possession is a set of chimes discovered in a burial site.  These chimes are a complete set, fully functional, and made entirely of bronze.  An exact replica of the chimes was created by the Chinese and the museum was kind enough to give us a short concert with the replicas.  The concert was wonderful.

We also were able to visit Wuhan's East Lake park.  We were informed that the lake in this park was famous.  For what, we don't know but it was very nice.

December 7, 2000
This was a busy day for us.  We visited the White Cloud Tower, a Buddhist monastery, and ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It was at KFC where we found out that Stephanie can eat by herself.  She simply grabbed the spoon and mashed potatoes from my hand and began feeding herself.  It nearly floored me, but it was my first taste of being a proud parent!

Later in the day, we traveled back to the Civil Affairs office to pick up Stephanie's Chinese passport.  Now, according to the Chinese government, we can legally leave the country with Stephanie.  

This day was also the first day we heard Stephanie laugh and talk. (Now she won't stop).  It was a monumental occasion because it took 3 days for her to even crack a smile.  Perhaps she is starting to come out of the grieving process.

Guangzhou

December 8, 2000
We arrived in Guangzhou after an hour long airplane ride from Wuhan.  We were delayed in Wuhan for about 90 minutes, so we didn't arrive in Guangzhou until 9:00pm or so.  There we were greeted by another Holt representative and transported via bus to the White Swan hotel.  It was immediately evident that Guangzhou was by far much more modern than Wuhan.

The White Swan hotel was a magnificent place filled with beautiful art and containing seven different restaurants.  A beautiful view of the Pearl River is the backdrop to one of the restaurants.

December 9, 2000
Today we had to bring our babies to the local medical clinic to have a rudimentary medical exam performed. The clinic was just a short walk from the hotel.  Afterwards, many of us went shopping in Guangzhou because it would be one of our last chances to shop in China.  When we got there, we couldn't believe the hoards of people in the plaza!  Some of the families in our group were mobbed by people because they were clearly Americans with Chinese babies.  The locals wanted to speak to the American parents and wish the babies good luck in America.  Luckily, we weren't mobbed because we looked Chinese (although we got tired of saying "English please" when everybody spoke to us in Chinese).

It was really hard for us to find "traditional" Chinese clothes for Stephanie.  The Chinese people don't wear the traditional garb any more, but instead wear American and European styles.  Eventually though, we found some clothes tucked away in a department store.

December 10, 2000
We gathered all our paperwork together in order to bring it to the American Consulate. There we were to get visas for our babies to enter the United States.  Unfortunately, due to security, we were not allowed to take pictures inside or out of the consulate.  Once inside the consulate, things went very smoothly, although this was probably the most nervous time for us.  Many of us have heard horror stories of having a visa requests rejected due to improper paperwork.  Once we had our paperwork approved, we were home free and much more at ease.

December 11, 2000
We all gathered in the hotel lobby to do the obligatory group photos.  We then went out to do more shopping.

December 12, 2000
Today, we visited the Chen Clan Academy, which used to be a school for the Chen family, but now is a museum.  It was full of fine art and beautiful carvings and many of us bought souvenirs from its gift shops.  We also visited the Pearl and Jade market where you can supposedly get great deals on pearl and jade if you know what you are buying.  In the middle of the market we ran into a school and just had to take a picture of the schoolchildren.

That night we decided as a group to have a final dinner together as we all will be heading back to our respective homes the next day.  After dinner we quickly made it back to our rooms to prepare ourselves for the long flight home.

December 13, 2000
As a last ditch binge, we bought some nice artwork at one of the many shops in the White Swan hotel.  Even though we probably paid more than we should have, the large painting we brought home is a nice reminder of the time we spent in China.

Because of our airplane schedule, we flew into Hong Kong and stayed overnight at the Regal Airport Hotel.   The hotel was a bit like living in a George Jetson cartoon because everything was so modernistic... to the point of being funny.

December 14, 2000
After 3 airplane rides and 19 hours later, we arrive back home in Chicago... Fortunately, they showed 3 movies which I haven't seen before.  Grace and I literally had to run to catch our flight connection from Minneapolis to Chicago because customs took so long.  We, along with some other adoptive parents, had to go to a separate room to process our children's visas.

We finally arrived in Chicago just in time to dig our house out of 10 inches of snow.  Even though we had a wonderful trip and came back to the aftermath of a snowstorm, it was great to be back home.

Aftermath

Stephanie got acquainted with her new home very quickly.  For the first week however, because of the jetlag, she was up promptly at 3:00am every day.   We were severely sleep deprived because we would go down to her room and comfort her when she woke up.  She was also scared of her crib.  When we would set her down in it, she would just wail.  We would have to rock her to sleep before we could set her down in the crib.

After a week of torture, we decided we would try the "tough love" approach and let her cry.  It was one of the hardest things to do, not to run to her each time she cried.  However, after 2 days, Stephanie was fine.  She now asks to go to bed and has slept through the night ever since.

We can't imagine any other baby being with us and we can't imagine Stephanie being with any other family.  We truly believe it was a match made in Heaven.  I am sure that all the other adopting parents feel the same way about their bundles of joy.

Stephanie continues to amaze, amuse, and yes, sometimes annoy us.  However, the entire experience we have been through to bring home Stephanie was just wonderful and the best part is that it isn't over yet.  We have a lifetime to spend with her.  

It doesn't get better than that.