Seventeen summers ago, we were making plans.
We knew that at some point in the next few months, we would get the call that would change our lives. Eventually on Oct. 2, 2002, we got that call. After three years of filling out forms, getting papers notarized, meeting with social workers, getting our home inspected and waiting — we had been matched with a baby girl in China.
We started making our travel plans to head that way. The adoption agency sent us the progress reports Chinese social workers had meticulously kept during her time in their care. Fortunately for us, she had been in foster care for the majority of her life.
Once we got the copies of the Chinese reports, I found a friend to translate. The first detail we learned about our daughter-to-be was that she loved watermelon. The report went on to say that she did not like being hot and listed many other details about her daily life and included photos of her foster family.
In November of 2002, along with her beloved godparents, we went to China. After climbing the Great Wall, bargaining in the Pearl Market and visiting temples in Beijing, we went to Nanchang, which is considered “a small Chinese city of five million people.” An hour after we arrived, a hotel bellman handed me a baby bundled in eight layers of homemade clothing in a lobby full of other babies and their new parents. We named her Piper. Life with this child has been a thing of wonder ever since.
We’ve been considering taking her back to visit her hometown and country since she turned 13. Ideally, I had hoped we could go during the Christmas holidays because the summer weather is so hot in her hometown. However, she will be a senior in high school come August. Nothing inspires like a deadline.
A few months ago, I realized now was the time to take this big trip to see what we could of her roots. She and I will leave in less than 10 days on what has the makings of being an epic and emotional adventure for us both.
The good news is that rather than just going to China, we will first visit friends in Singapore. There we will be able to adjust to the culture and recover from our jet lag — plus visit with our friends. Then, we’ll fly to China. We’ve arranged an adoption guide in her hometown. We will also be able to visit the orphanage where she stayed for a few weeks before living with her foster family. Thankfully, our guide has been able to locate her foster family and has arranged a planned visit with them in their home, as well. We will also visit and explore the place where she was found “in watercolor clothing,” when she was six days old.
Piper and I are doing our best to prepare emotionally for this trip, but there is no set of proven guidelines or 12-step programs to help one return to the place and people who cared for and yet also abandoned you — or the child you adore. It’s a complicated set of feelings for both of us.
Imagining loving a child so much that you would never leave it comes easy. However, abandoning a newborn child is something else entirely. Perhaps her biological parents loved her enough to know that she could have a better life than they could provide. Perhaps the story is something else entirely. There is no doubt that they have wondered about her every day since.
Thanks to the internet and genetic research, some Chinese adoptees are now reconnecting with their birthparents and getting those questions answered. We do not expect to be able to do that on this trip. Even so, there is still much to consider.
Piper and I have the full range of emotions about the prospects the trip inspires. Our emotions aren’t either/or. They are not one way or the other. We are both happy to take this adventure together. On the other hand, we fully acknowledge its bittersweetness. We are grateful for our lives and the chance to take this trip. We want to see the places and meet the people associated with Piper’s roots, but we are also wary of what we’ll find. We are curious and comfortable in the lives we’ve built together. We are going with open hearts and minds.
As the Chinese proverb says, “The longest journey begins with a single step.”