We had just checked into our hotel room in Jinan, the capital of Shandong, the province where Vera was found. At 2:02pm our guide sent me a message on WeChat, “The good news is that the children can come to the hotel at about four o’clock, so you can see the kid early.”
We’d been dreaming about this moment for exactly five years. And now we get to “see the kid early.” 😉 !!!! As if our hearts weren’t already racing.
I changed my clothes and futzed with my hair for about 20 minutes. Up. Down. Braid. It didn’t matter, but it gave my anxiety an outlet. Jesse futzed with the camera and GoPro. Tilting, rearranging, moving to a new spot and then back to the last one. While we paced and fidgeted, our girl slept, unknowingly, on a bullet train from Qingdao to Jinan.
We’d only found out the day before that we’d be meeting Vera at our hotel, not a civil affairs office. They gave us the option to meet her in our room or the lobby. Jesse and I were already an emotional mess. Adults, knowing exactly what was about to happen. We couldn’t imagine how she’d be feeling. We couldn’t expect or even hope for anything but to meet her wherever she was at that moment.
We chose our room. It’d be quieter. More private.
At 2:50pm our guide sent me another message, “They arrive at Jinan railway station at 3:27pm and it takes 30 or 40 minutes to get to the hotel.”
In a little more than an hour, we expected Vera’s orphanage caretakers and our guide to knock on our door.
But that’s not what happened.
At 4:25pm, our guide messaged us saying Vera was at the hotel and asked if we could come down to the lobby because they didn’t have a hotel key card to work the elevator. We panicked for a second but then rushed to scoop up a few of things we had laid out in our room to comfort our girl. Suckers. A pink fox stuffed animal. We’d sent the same one to her at the orphanage. We thought the familiarity might be good. Same with a photo book we made for her. We grabbed that second copy and practically ran to the door. Jesse grabbed the GoPro
, I think.
We hopped in the elevator and looked at each other with “here we go” faces. Down we go. Down. Down. Down from the 23rd floor. We weren’t expecting it, but at the ding and opening of the doors, after quickly looking right and left, there they were. Our guide and three women we’d never seen before. One of them was holding a bundle of blankets, the way you’d rock a babe to sleep. Inside was our girl.
I only saw her sweet face for a second as Jesse and I got back in the elevator, this time with four women and our daughter.
Back up we went. Up. Up. Up to the 23rd floor. No one said much. Jesse and I kept looking at each other. Stealing glances at her. Nervously smirking.
The seven of us made it to our door and Jesse tried the key card.
It didn’t work.
He tried again. A third time. Crap. The freaking key doesn’t work. He bolted back to the elevator. Back to the lobby to get a new key.
The women didn’t waste any time. In the few minutes Jesse was gone, they filled my hands with medical papers, Vera’s most recent blood work and photos and a disc of images and videos documenting Vera’s 18 months at the orphanage. Our sweet girl was waking up. They hurriedly told me the most important things. Facts and numbers and special feeding instructions. We hadn’t even made it into our room. I’d barely seen her face. I quickly paged through the photos, seeing some of the same pictures already framed on our walls. Some I’d never seen. Vera as a baby. Vera looking at the photo book we’d sent her. Vera smiling in her crib next to other babies in their cribs. Vera before she was ever our Vera.
Jesse came running down the hall with the new key. He swiped and the light on the door turned green.
Inside, the rundown continued, while the woman who rocked our babe to sleep now held Vera upright as she skeptically took inventory of this place. These strange people. I felt surprisingly calm. Heavy but calm. Knowing the weight of the circumstance but also knowing the peace of our God who’d orchestrated it all.
The women wanted to hand her over. They wanted her to go to her mama. They tried to coax her. They comforted her. I’m certain they prepared her as much as you can prepare a 20-month-old baby that her life is about to get flipped upside down and turned right side up again and filled with a new language, a new home, new caregivers, new sounds, new smells, new love.
Some things were lost in translation, but I really, truly only wanted two things out of those precious minutes while the seven were in our Jinan hotel room: One, I wanted these women who’d taken care of and assumingly loved our girl to know that we were going to continue to take care of her and love her. I didn’t know most of what they were saying, but through lots of pointing and the urgency in their delivery, I understood what they wanted us to know. Specifics for taking care of our girl. I opened my suitcase and showed them we already had something Vera needed. They relaxed and smiled and shook their heads yes, relieved.
The second thing, the most important thing, I wanted was for Vera to feel safe. I wanted to respect her barriers. Acknowledge her fears. I wanted to give her all the time in the world to see the kindness and longing in my eyes. But, if they wouldn’t have quickly put her in my arms and rushed out the door, it would have never happened. But she didn’t want to go to her new mama.
“Go to mama. That’s your mama.” Pointing over and over again at me, “Mama. Mama.” I showed her the pink fox we brought from San Diego. One of the women took Vera’s pink fox, the same one we’d sent to the orphanage, out of the backpack they gave us with her belongings. Vera shook her head no. Over and over again. To everything we held up to her. To everything they said to her. No. No. Please don’t. I’m begging you. No.
Finally, knowing it had to be done, I reached out to Vera and a terrified little girl flung her body in the opposite direction, screaming. Gasping. Panicking. The three women from the orphanage darted out the door and all of a sudden I was holding my baby for the very first time.
Jesse sobbed, broken-hearted for his little girl. He and our guide hovered over a pile of paperwork, including the answers to questions we’d asked the orphanage about Vera.
“Do you know why she was abandoned?”
“What can you tell us about her personality?”
“Does she have any nicknames?”
“Do you have any memories of her you’d like to share about her time here?”
Our guide worked her hardest to give Jesse the answers in English to these and forty-some other questions. My husband’s heart split open and spilled onto the floor as he tried to focus on these important facts while weeping for his daughter. As he wiped his eyes and wrote down any and every piece of information he could understand, I clung to our girl.
“Méi shi. Méi shi,” I said.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.”
“Méi shi. Méi shi.”
Over and over again.
I don’t remember much of the next five hours. I couldn’t have told you that’s how long it was. For most of it, our frightened baby screamed out in grief. She wailed and begged for familiarity. She begged for someone else to be holding her. She flailed her body. I held her as tightly as I could. I sang the same songs over and over again. I prayed over her badly bruised heart. I pressed her head of silky dark hair into my face and spoke the same words, my heart, over and over again.
“You are so brave.”
“You are so strong.”
“You will be okay.”
“You are okay.”
“We are here.”
“You are safe.”
“Mama and baba love you.”
“We are here.”
“We will always be here.”
I remember her beautiful but sad eyes looking up at me. “Who are you?” “Where am I?” “Why?”
I remember her sticky hand covered in snot, tears and slobber from a sucker.
I remember her chubby little fingers playing with my necklace.
I remember my husband transforming right before my eyes.
I remember the first moment we felt hope when another adoptive family stopped by our room and Vera stopped crying and even smiled the tiniest smile at their little boy.
I remember holding her and hugging Jesse at the same time. Comforting them both.
I remember her finally giving up out of pure exhaustion.
I remember laying her down in a crib at the foot of our bed.
I remember laying down myself, my hips and back and arms and heart aching.
With swollen eyes and heavy but grateful hearts, Jesse and I finally gave up out of pure exhaustion, too.
The long-awaited day had come and gone. The one we didn’t have expectations for but could have never prepared for. The one we’d daydreamed about, talked about, prayed about.
We cried and sighed deep heavy sighs as we climbed into bed, that first night in Jinan. That first night with Vera. We needed calming and reassurance almost as much as she did. We needed rest for what was ahead. We needed patience and physical and emotional strength. And our God, our father, provided it all right there in that space I’ll never forget.
As we closed our eyes, I felt his presence. His peace washing over us in a beautiful lullaby. The same words I had just repeated hundreds of times to our daughter.
“Méi shi. Méi shi.”
“It’s okay. It’s okay.”
You’re all going to be okay.