Emily's Adoption Journal Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau, Vietnam

By Jennifer Baldwin

The following are excerpts from Jennifer's letters back home during her adoption journey to Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau, Vietnam. The Baldwin's adopted their baby girl, Emily, from Vung Tau, Vietnam.

We Made It! (Saturday)

Ho Chi Minh City is really neat - we are about to go explore a little. This is all so amazing.

Emily Baldwin - 6 months oldWe found out when we got here that they plan to take us to the orphanage tomorrow to see the babies! We weren't expecting to see Emily for a few days- so this was a very nice suprise. Our group of six families has been a riot so far - we are all having a great time together. We left San Francisco sometime after midnight on Thursday, slept for six or seven hours and have not slept since. We got here at HCMC at noon their time and plan to stay up until it is nighttime here (it is Saturday 3/17/01 over here right now). Then we have to be up at six tomorrow to get ready to go to the orphanage. WHOA! Feeling a little light headed from lack of sleep but in GREAT spirits!

So we are here and are very pleased with how everything is going - no luggage lost, pleasant travel companions and smooth sailing so far. And BONUS, we just exchanged $100 U.S. for $1.4 million in Vietnamese Dong - see all we had to do was travel internationally to become millionaires!

Emily & Vung Tau (Monday)

We are in Vung Tau now, this is our second day in this province. Vung Tau is truly beautiful with ocean views all around.

Emily smiling -  6 months oldWe saw Emily yesterday! They brought her in to see us and we just melted, she is so perfectly beautiful. Her eyes are a lot bigger than what they looked like in the referral, I can't get over how big they are. And she has grown quite a bit since her picture ­ boy do they feed these babies! She has the cutest chubs on her legs and belly. Her hair is growing in since they had to shave it in January, and it is so cute ­ sticking straight up and feels like stubble! We were able to hold her for about 20 ­ 30 minutes before they took all the babies back into the nursery. She is incredibly alert and active, already pulling herself up and very very strong. From what we could see during the brief time we had her, she is at all of the milestones a four month old should be at plus more and some of the five month old milestones (What to Expect The First Year ­ that book is GREAT!). She was not interested in being laid down, she wanted to sit up and look around. The first time they handed her to me she pulled herself back away so she could look around and then at my face. I just kept rubbing her back and she was soon pretty hooked (at least from what John says) on her new mom. When John took her she held out her arms for me and kept leaning towards me ­ but once he had her for a while she was hooked on him too. She did not cry at all and started gurgling at us after a while. I really did not want to let her go, that was hard.

One of the families in our group has a baby in another orphanage; at that orphanage, they were led to the nursery. Their baby was crying, we could hear it from the hallway. As soon as they picked their baby up she stopped crying and started smiling and laughing with them. It was so sweet we were all in tears.

The food is interesting. They brought out burners and plopped big soup bowls on top of them. The soup was boiling, and they brought out plates of raw seafood for us to cook in the soup ­ that was pretty neat! The seafood is good here, tentacles and all. Someone ordered prawn and they brought out a prawn that had been fried with it's legs and everything ­ including the eyes! Love eating seafood that "looks back atcha." Everything is incredibly inexpensive here ­ we are paying about $5 total for lunch for BOTH of us ­ not each.

The hotel here in Vung Tau is really quite nice ­ we were wondering exactly what it meant when we were told that it would be "rustic". I would be happy staying here the rest of the time if they wanted us to. It does not have all the amenities of the Rex, but it is clean and very nicely put together, and has excellent service. The rooms have tile instead of carpet ­ which actually was good because the carpet at the Rex smelled BAD and turned the feet black when you walked on it. I actually think that this hotel is better than many that we have stayed at in the U.S.

The main method of transportation here is the scooter. The traffic is absolutely crazy. They drive on whatever side of the road they feel like when someone is in their way, and the scooters just move around you. Entire families piled up on one scooter, mothers nursing their babies while Dad drives the scooter. When the women drive the scooters, they wear long silk-like gloves all the way past the elbow. Have not seen a single woman drive a scooter with bare hands, even though it is so hot/humid.

Crossing the streets in HCMC was tricky, as there are no stoplights, but what you do is walk with purpose straight out into traffic and the traffic moves around you (believe it or not). I had seen people on APV talking about how to navigate being a pedestrian in that traffic. You have to kind of wait for a gap if there is one, and then look straight ahead ­ if you don't look at the traffic hopefully it won't hit you - that's the theory.

The Latest on Emily (Wednesday)

We have had a very busy and emotional last couple of days. Everything is going very well - too well - and it seems so surreal. Yesterday (Tuesday) we had our G&R, which was so incredibly short if you blinked you'd miss it. Sign three signatures in front of an official and you are a new parent. Pretty amazing!

After the G&R we went to see the babies again - did not get to take them back to the hotel but it was such a great visit that made up for it. This time they brought Emily out in a cute little yellow/white striped outfit, she seemed to recognize us and came to me quite willingly. We made her laugh for the first time! Even got a cute little giggle out of her and lots of drool bubbles.. We had about an hour with her, and it was the greatest visit yet. She is so incredibly active and bright - she was reaching for the rattle we brought her and shaking it all around - she has dropping down PAT!

She started to get fussy and was putting evrything in her mouth, so we figured that she was hungry. One of her caretakers went to get a bottle and let me feed her for the first time - a little dicey at first but we got the hang of it! They kept telling me to feed her lying down, but she did NOT want to lie down. She kept eye contact with me the whole time and held my hand while I was feeding her, after about 5 minutes she fell asleep in my arms. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world and I am getting teary just mentioning it.

The orphanage director did not want any of us families to go back into the nursery, but when he saw that Emily had fallen asleep he motioned for me to go back with her caregiver to put her in her bed. That was really neat - getting to see where she sleeps. The room was clean and there were several women taking care of the babies. There were hammocks down one side of the room and rocking cradles down the other side. They laid her down in her hammock an gave it a huge push (kind of scared me seeing my baby flying through the air like that) and that is apparantly how they soothe the children and get them to sleep.

We spent quite a bit of time on this visit with her caregivers. They were so sweet - they kept finding ways that Emily looked like me and John, they would point to my eyes and then her eyes and to John's hair and then her hair, then they laid her arm on top of mine to show that our skin is close to the same color (not that it matters!). Our hearts felt so full after this visit - we really wanted to take her home.

Everyone else's birthmom had very little to say, some were 100% silent. Emily's mom spent FORTY MINUTES talking to us and telling us every question we could think of. She gave us things that she had bought for Emily so that we could give them to her when she gets older, and she gave us a gold necklace for Emily which we will save for her. She cried most of the time.

Back in HCMC (Wednesday)

We brought Emily "home" from the orphanage last Thursday, what a wonderful day for all of us! There are no words to explain the emotions we felt at that moment. We were able to get a little information on her feeding habits, and we took some pictures with the orphanage director, then signed his souvenier book.

Emily with her new parents at the Rex in HCMC, VietnamWe brought Emily back to the hotel and THAT's when the fun began. She is a beautiful baby - very well tempered and happy, but was very sick for the first few days. Will not elaborate here - just that it got to the point where she absolutely refused to eat anything for almost two days, not even Pedialyte OR the pacifier (which has been her favorite thing we brought). Anytime we would try to feed her she would shut her lips as tight as she could and scream without opening her mouth (quite a talent I think).

We were quite worried and finally were able to take her to a pediatrician in Vung Tau on Sunday night.By the time we saw the doctor Emmy's fever was gone but she still would not eat. The doctor gave us a French prescription that she said would make Emily want to eat and sleep better. Hmmmm. So we tried it - 10 drops in the mouth and 20 minutes later she was asking for food and we were taking a big sigh of relief. Funny - the doctor instructed us to give Emily two "deep" baths twice a day. Not just twice a day - she even went so far as to say 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. I am thinking that the purpose of this was to establish a routine so Emmy would feel more comfortable with us. The last two - three days we have really seen a huge change in our cutie, she is smiling and giggling a lot more and wants to stand on our laps constantly.

We did get the 'immense pleasure' of starting out parenthood with a teething baby. Fortunately we were prepared with the Orajel and Tylenol. Oh, and last night her rotten daddy taught her how to stick her tongue out so GUESS WHAT is her new favorite thing! Now I have a little lizard baby who greets people by spitting out her tongue and giggling.THANKS DAD!

Yesterday when we returned from Vung Tau we went to a French cafe across from the Rex. OH MY how nice it was to be served things without eyeballs or tentacles! I had a ham sandwich and just about cried - John had a hamburger (let's hope it was indeed cow and not water buffalo). And there is a Baskin Robbins here also. So much for keeping off the weight we lost in Vung Tau! We also have found a pizza place, it is amazing how much we missed while we were in Vung Tau. Don't get me wrong - the hotel was nice and the staff was wonderful (kudos to the housekeeper that helped me through Emmy's first squishy diaper). But eating at the same restaurant three meals a day for eleven days was wearing us out. Our last day at the hotel everyone was talking about what they would eat when returning home - already planning out our first meal back. They were so nice at the hotel - they gave us all wrapped gifts when we checked out! Then the waiter that had served us the whole time said, "If I don't see you again in Vietnam I will see you in heaven". So sweet.

Tall Tales (Monday)

As promised, we are writing back to share some of the funny/quirky things we have encountered.

Some of the cultural differences here are so interesting. When someone wants to get my attention, they will say "Excuse me, Madame" in front of whatever it is they are saying. The markets are full of people chattering "Madame, you like to buy?." John does not like to carry the baby while we are shopping because so many people come up to him asking about the "Vietnam baby?" and saying how beautiful she is. Normally a very nice compliment, but when you can't make it through a market without every person you see wanting to play with your baby and asking questions it tends to wear on you.

The up side of this is that Vietnam is a very baby friendly place to be ­ they absolutely love babies and are very protective of them. We have had women on the street come up and adjust her hat, or tell us she needs a hat, or that she has sleep in her eyes or to get her out of the sun. One very kind woman saw that we were stuck in the rain yesterday and ran over to hold her hat over Emily's face while we ran to the hotel. Our waiter would take our order and then take our baby while we ate! Can you imagine going to the finest steakhouse in Phoenix and saying you would like the Filet Mignon and someone to hold the baby? HA! So we became very used to seeing our baby carted around by the kitchen staff at the restaurant, or the housekeepers, or the receptionists. Even the security guards had to take their turn at holding our baby! In the US, I would be very nervous about allowing someone to cart my baby off where I couldn't see her, but here in Vietnam for some reason we are ok with it.

The Vinafood Hotel did not have any shower curtains, just a drain in the corner of the bathroom and a tub to stand in. This was very interesting. Try taking a shower with no shower curtains and trying to keep everything dry. HA, once again, HA!!!! If I had known this in advance, I could have brought a shower curtain, string and suction cups to rig something up. We just did the best we could. The laundry service was hilarious -­we tried it the first day there and that afternoon found ALL of our laundry hanging out on the railing to dry (this would be the railing that runs in front of all the families rooms on the second floor). John and I were a whole lot less than pleased to see our undies flapping in the breeze for all the world to see. Yes, everyone knows we wear them, but it really is something that you don't wish to share with the group. Sigh. Also, they would write our room number in blue ballpoint pen on our clothes! Even better, the second day the hotel staff started mixing up whose underwear went with what room.After doing the undie switcharooney, we decided that we would do our OWN laundry thank you very much. Fortunately I had brought a clothesline with suction cups so this worked out very well.

I had a brush with death yesterday with a scooter, the jerk nearly knocked me over in the street WHILE I WAS HOLDING EMILY! The scooter/him actually touched me as he was whizzing by without a care in the world (that's what almost knocked me over). He was going very fast, I have never seen a scooter drive that fast here.BUT I LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT! :)

Coming Home! (Wednesday)

We are so happy to have final approval today from the American Consulate, Emily's visa will be ready tomorrow at 4:00 p.m., that was our final piece of papework to accomplish - we are so thrilled to be DONE.

Emily at homeEven though our paperwork was done, EVA Airlines did not have a flight available on the class we booked until the end of April, so we had to pay a few hundred to upgrade to business class. I understand that this is pretty standard with EVA, they overbook the flights and then tell you when you are ready to come home that they don't have anything available. Our group waited about 3-4 hours in the EVA office to try and get a flight home when we needed it. Worth it to be able to come home one week early and with a bassinet for the 14 hour leg from Taipei to L.A.

John, Jennifer, and Emily Baldwin live in Goodyear, Arizona. The Baldwins adopted Emily from Vung Tau, Vietnam when she was four months old in March 2001, working with Children's Hope International. Jennifer is happy to answer questions about their journey, and can be reached at estrellamtn@earthlink.net.