A Little Bird Told Me - A Vietnam Adoption Story
I had always seen myself as the mother of two little girls, and when I was thirty-five I experienced an evening that was powerful enough to shake up my entire life. I can't explain it exactly, whatever it was that charged me that night, the television, or a book I was reading, whatever, but it hit me like lightening. I knew the time had come, the time I was to become a mother, but there was no significant man in my life to help me become one. Having been adopted myself, adoption was always a comfortable and viable option for me.
My dossier left for Beijing on the 1st of May with a promise that the referral could be expected in six weeks. And six weeks later, on June 17, I walked to my mailbox with bated breath, with the anticipation that something might be there, and I opened the door to find a Fed Ex envelope that obviously contained a video tape and that carried the WACAP return address. I shook. I cried. My baby was in Yiwu Social Welfare Institute in Zhejiang Province, PRC. She was born on April 9, 1995, which made her two months and eight days old. She was fierce,and alive, and healthy. And I was so happy, so pleased that she was going to be my daughter.
I arrived in Hangzhou with my mother and our travel group on July 23, 1995, and within forty-five minutes of checking into our hotel I was picking her up off the bed in our national guide's room. Ni, Xi looked into my eyes and smiled--something I hadn't seen in any of the referral photographs or the video. My heart grew whole with that smile. She was not only healthy, she was lovely. I'd never experienced anything so profound and comfortable and right as when I held her close to me for the first time.
During the first year that Chloe was home we made three trips to Denver to visit our family, and I began to think seriously about the importance of having our family nearby for support of me and of attachment for Chloe. I knew by the time Chloe was fourteen months old that we'd be moving to Denver, after nearly twenty years away for me, so that Chloe could know her grandparents and uncles. It was one day months before we moved, however, that I was praying while on my way to work. I'd received answered prayers throughout Chloe's adoption process, and so I spoke out loud asking that a sign be given to me if I was to be the mother of a second daughter, a sister for Chloe. As I looked to the side of the road, on a lawn still brown with winter, a beautiful robin pecked the sod and my heart leaped into my throat. It was not that the robin was extraordinary in any way, it was that I could not remember the last time I'd seen one, anywhere, at any time, but never in the chill of an early Seattle spring . This moment may not seem stupendous, but it confirmed for me that a little sister was meant for us. Don't ask why, I didn't. All I knew was that something amazing had taken place in my heart.
We moved to a suburb of Denver that summer, August, 1996, when Chloe was sixteen months old. I began to inquire about the process at that time and learned about the reorganization of the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs, and the new special-needs rule for families with healthy children who wanted to adopt another child, and the incredibly long process times. It wasn't going to work for me to adopt from China again. I finally figured that out and went on to grieve the loss of a culture and people I had grown to love. That little robin appeared in my thoughts often, and when I began to contemplate other nations with international adoption programs I began to play with names; Guatemala and "Mercedes", the Marshall Islands and "Correl," but every time I sought out a new place, and name, the adoption process came to a grinding halt.
Then one afternoon I went to visit my friend Chris who has two little girls adopted from China. While our daughters played together, Chris turned to me and asked me point blank, "Why do you just keep bypassing Viet Nam?" I didn't know why. I supposed it was because of our history with the war. I had experienced some difficult moments as a teenager with a couple of Vietnamese high school boys, brand new "boat people" who stirred in me self-conscious feelings I didn't understand. But as with everything else in my life, when I am curious I look into it, and into Viet Nam I looked. What I thought about were the many Vietnamese students I had taught at the college level; the lovely young woman Lan whose kindness and dedication made her a memorable student; the young man called David who just could not grasp the English language, who was so very lonely for his homeland and who was desperate for connection and love and affection, but who would only consider the arranged bride who awaited him back in DaNang; and the middle-aged man who, like me, had taught many years of middle-school aged children, but who now pushed a broom to earn just a little while trying to educate himself for a skilled labor job. These students taught me long before I realized it that the Vietnamese were a people whom I could love. And once that comfort came to me, I laid WACAP's application aside and filled out the one for Adoption Alliance's Viet Nam adoption program.
I figured several months would pass before I'd hear anything, so on October 15th, not quite three weeks later, I was very surprised to receive a message at my office that the International Adoptions coordinator from Adoption Alliance had an urgent message. When I phoned Linda she informed me that a referral had come through from Hanoi. It briefly said, "I am sending papers today for the Daniel family, Nguyen Lan Phuong born on August 1." My baby had been born in the summer...she had arrived at the orphanage the day my dossier had been received at the IMH office! Thus an additional red thread began to weave itself into the fabric of our life.
Okay, so I had my referral, but it would be months before travel. Right? A week later I received another call from Adoption Alliance saying that the referral had arrived and that my baby was, "pretty cute!" After explaining to my college students that my baby's picture was waiting for me and that I had to get to the office by four o'clock, they sent me on my way with their blessings. I raced to the agency and Linda came out with a picture. I wasn't sure if she was cute or not, but I could tell that she was healthy, and strong, like her sister. I was scared, and thrilled, and saddened by the obvious state of poverty in which she was living at the orphanage. I just wanted to get there. But then there was Tet. Would I get there before Tet, or would my daughter, to be named Robin in honor of the little bird who had confirmed my prayer, have to wait for me from the middle of October until March?
The Thursday before Thanksgiving, again at work, I received the Urgent Message memo, "Call Linda at Adoption Alliance". I did. I shook. Did the baby die? Had I misfiled a paper, what could it be? Cherie Clark of IMH had notified Linda that 90% of Nguyen Lan Phuong's paperwork was complete and that she wanted me in Hanoi on December 1st, which meant leaving the US on the 29th of November. From September 26 to November 29--two months and three days from submission of dossier to travel. Not bad, actually it was unbelievable!
Nine days after notice, my cousin Felicia and I boarded the plane for Los Angeles, then Seoul, then Bangkok, and finally Hanoi. And fifteen minutes after we checked into the Claudia Hotel, Mrs. Thuy's brother, plus our interpreter, and the two of us loaded up into the Honda Accord and traveled the half hour to Tu Liem Feeding Center for Orphans and Malnourished Children. We entered the round, white building asking for Nguyen Lan Phuong, but it wasn't until I showed them the baby's referral picture that they knew for whom I had come. We stepped into Dr. Vinh's office and very shortly thereafter they brought her to me. It was like a dream, into the past, a deja vu, when my second child, my new daughter looked into my eyes, and like her sister, smiled at me. It was as though they both had said, "Mom, I'm so happy to see you. Take me home."
Robin was not only "pretty cute," she was strikingly beautiful. I fell in love, and then I looked on the top of her head. There on the crown of her head was a large, blood-red, raised spot about the size of a half-dollar. I had no previous knowledge of the thing, and it scared me half-to-death. I couldn't believe it. I'd rejected China because of the special needs requirement, and here I was being asked to take a special needs baby? I knew immediately that that baby was not going to remain in Tu Liem. I changed her clothes keeping one embroidered blouse as a keepsake, I choked back tears, I bravely toured the orphanage scared to death, but taking pictures of her lying in her crib for one last moment, noting the toys that she had been near. And I finally got her back to the Claudia and went quietly into my room. I was so afraid. I looked up the disorder in my "What to Expect..." volumn, I asked one of the four pediatric nurses who made up part of the group of families adopting at the time about this thing called an "hemangioma". Was it growing into her brain? Would it disfigure her? Would it debilitate her? Would she die? I called my father, and he promised to check into it. And he did, and I got the answers I needed from Cherie, and from Ginny the nurse, and from my father, and from the Swedish doctor at the international clinic. I knew that my daughter was going to be okay and that the spot on her head would clear up eventually; perhaps by the time she was four or five.
I adopted Robin on December 4, my mother's birthday. We finished our lovely stay in Hanoi and then Bangkok and arrived home on December 16th. Chloe kissed her baby sister upon their meeting, and Robin smiled at her "sissy". Today they poke and tickle and tease and love each other as sisters will do. Robin is a lovely toddler learning to speak and demand and give love to those around her. She has inserted herself into our lives, and she is most welcome here. I am most thankful to our Lord for blessing me with these two beautiful young children. They are my joy, my fulfillment, my whole heart. And by the way, Robin's hemangioma, at eighteen months of age, has flattened completely, has left no residual effects, and is now nearly clear.
© Carrie Daniel
We are the Daniel family; Carrie, Chloe, and Robin. I, Carrie, am the single-mother of Chloe and Robin who are now 3.5 and 1.5 respectively. In my "spare" time I teach writing at our local community college, I write for a new international adoption magazine called Chosen Child, and I am the editor of Double Happiness, the Colorado Families with Children from China newsletter. If you enjoyed this excerpt, you may wish to read the entire article on the Families with Children from Vietnam website.
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