Dispatch 7

Date: June 18, 2001. Tuesday.

Location: Nanchang, Jiangxi Province

Greetings from Nanchang. We’ve got her!

This photo was taken just after we completed the official adoption paperwork for the Chinese government. We (really Robert–the official, a woman, pretty much ignored Susannah) were interviewed by the orphanage director who asked us the standard questions:

* “Age and occupation of each parent?”
* “Why do you want to adopt from China?”
* “Do you promise not to abandon this child and to raise her as your own?”
* “Are you satisfied with this child?”

Are we satisfied? Are you kidding?! Absolutely, positively, without any doubt, we are S A T I S F I E D with the merchandise. Eleanor sings. She plays Elle versions of mah jong and cards. She carefully unscrews the cap from a bottle of water, puts it aside for later use, drinks, and then re-screws the top back onto the bottle. She points to things and remarks on them in what sound like multi-word phrases in Chinese (“mah jong” and “Buddha” are the only words we’ve been able to recognize). She is working hard at eating with chopsticks (not completely successful). She has a shining set of teeth–Susannah counts seventeen–and is willing to try almost any kind of food. But more on her virtues later. First, a recap of the events since our last dispatch.

All of the families in our group from Children’s Hope International (CHI) were assigned rooms on the 14th floor near the “Children’s Paradise,” a playroom across the atrium that was to be the site of introduction. We were told to wait in our rooms until we were called–horrible! The children were to arrive at about 5:00 but needed to be photographed before we were to receive them.

Several of us milled about anxiously in the hallway outside our rooms, watching the flashes of light from behind the curtains across the atrium, listening to the bursts of crying as doors opened and quickly closed.

A group of women with Chinese babies appeared on the walkway across the atrium. Susannah immediately identified Eleanor from 50 yards’ distance (correctly, as we later learned), but we didn’t dare at that point approach any closer. In this photo, you can see the blue curtains of the playroom on the left and the view across the atrium where we saw the women and children

View from across the hotel atrium.

Moments later, we were called to the playroom, where Susannah immediately crouched before a sad looking Elle, certain that this was our girl.

Elle wanted nothing to do with us. Her world was turning upside down, and she was heartbroken by the loss. In a room full of crying babies, Elle wept with a terrible intensity–and wept and wept. The aunties were embarrassed by her misery, remonstrated with her, saying, “This is your mama, your baba,” tried to distract her with toys, with crackers, all to no avail. We don’t yet know how long it had been since she’d been separated from her foster mother, but at the very least she’d been through the long bus ride from Leping alone. She was bereft and there was really nothing we could do to cancel that pain. Thankfully, soon we were able to move to our quiet, darkened room to continue the process in private.

After taking her first cues from the aunties, Susannah soon followed her own instincts, stopped trying to stanch the flow of tears, and simply sat on the floor, holding our new daughter in her lap, gently rocking and singing, honoring Elle’s grief. After a while, Eleanor started to lean into Susannah’s body, though the wailing, which seemed to ebb and flow as fresh memories wracked her, didn’t stop completely for almost three hours. We can’t be sure that our perceptions were correct, but both of us felt that over that period we heard her moving through different kinds of tears: from fear and pain to anger, from anger to rage, from rage gradually to profound sadness and loneliness

Susannah holds and rocks Eleanor.

That’s how these things often go. The child is grieving; our task is to provide a safe, calm, non-demanding environment in which she can metabolize what she can. By 9:00 pm. or so, she was ready to accept us as caretakers and companions if not parents.

Shortly after that, Eleanor met up with her crib and a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep

Getting to know each other.

We all were awake by 5:00 the next morning, ready to begin fashioning our new routines together. Elle had her first bath with us–no problems there, obviously old hat. She likes water (thank Heaven that her adopted mother is an otter!). We went to breakfast for the first time and started to learn what she likes and doesn’t like (yes to miso soup–hooray!–no to tomatoes–hmmm), what she can and can’t do.

More on this in the days to come — we’re still mesmerized by this little creature and it’s too early to conclude a whole lot. Susannah has been able to confirm, however, that, when not tortured by grief, Elle seems to be a totally normal toddler, deeply curious about her world, and eager to explore and master it. The two of them consumed that morning’s waiting room time in cruising up and down the central hallway, peering into every office, rattling every iron gate, looking into the face of each official, Elle hoisted to Susannah’s thigh to look out the single window at that end of each tour.

And we three had lots of waiting room time and paperwork ahead of us, the first instalment that morning at 8:00 am at the Nanchang Provincial Civil Affairs office, where we had the interview mentioned at the beginning of this dispatch.

This culminated in our signing our names on the official paperwork, then placing our right thumbs in a pot of red ink and pressing our thumbprints on top of our signatures. It seems that no piece of paper in China is ever adequate for any purpose unless and until someone has pulled out the red ink and placed a stamp of some sort on it. We have seen this over and over, in most every context you can think of. They are very big on stamping papers with red ink over here. In the past, probably, everybody who was anybody had a “chop”–one of those carved soapstone signature blocks. Nowadays, it’s the plebian thumb.

The end product is a quite lovely certificate folded into a protective red book cover, which they presented to us with a complimentary porcelain plate of the sort Jianxi Province is famous for (you wondered why it was called “china”?). The certificate includes a photo of the three of us as well as a red stamp to certify that we have in fact adopted Le Ye as our daughter, now known as Eleanor Jean Jacobi Hill. We’ll include a reproduction of it soon as we get it back from our CHI Coordinator. The photo below is of Susannah and Elle just after we finished the thumbwork. By the way, our CHI Coordinator had come by our room the night before to take Elle’s footprint in red ink for this same official document.

At the provincial office the next morning.

But we weren’t quite finished. It doesn’t REALLY count until you go to another office and get a Notary official to ask you the same questions, get you to sign another document, and bring out the red ink once more to make the paper REALLY official. This was a relatively benign process, however, and it meant we got another glimpse into Chinese bureaurocracy at the local level.

All of this was very tiring for a little girl, so it was now time for a nap. More photos of our adventures in Nanchang in the next dispatch.

A tired girl after the adoption is done.


Robert & Susannah / http://eleanorjean.com