by Kerri McCourt
Late at night, I am up devouring various adoption blogs. A woman posts a video of herself as she receives the first peek of her soon-to-be daughter. I watch, voyeuristically, as the woman views the photo on her computer screen, and simultaneously talks with her social worker via speaker phone.
Seeing the photo, the woman’s eyes light up. She places a hand over her heart, staring at the photograph. She narrows her eyes, tilts forward. She peers closer, and suddenly gasps.
“Are those penguins?”
Around the photograph is a decorative border of distinctive black and white birds.
“Yes, I think so,” comes the voice of the social worker.
“You don’t know what this means! Oh my goodness!” She turns, gesturing to a shelf behind her that holds numerous ornaments. “I’ve gathered penguins my whole life.”
Earlier in her blog entry, this woman had pondered: upon seeing this child chosen for her, would she know, feel it in her heart that the baby was hers? Penguins confirmed the verdict with a resounding yes.
I close the lap top and pick up my latest cross stitching project. Stitching centers me, passes time in a meditative way. Over the years, I stitched many designs: birds, flowers, landscapes. Many Christmases ago, I finished a stocking for my baby-to-be. It sits, unused, on a shelf in a closet filled with never worn clothes, waiting. Now I work on a ballerina, the most intricate of the pieces I’ve done. The kit contains many colors and hues, including metallic threads that catch the light, sparkle in the sunlight when it pours in the windows. In the stillness of the night, I thread the needle.
The only sound in the room is the quiet little pop of needle puncturing fabric. With a satisfying tug, I pull the thread up and through, again and again. Next, I pick up maroon. I think about the Chinese belief: An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.
The red stitch, bright like blood, stands out in fabric surrounded by subdued, peaceful blues, greens, and golds. It marks the fabric like an open wound.
People have commented on the patience it must take, to sit and stitch row by row; it takes so long for the finished result.
How much longer? Friends ask. Are you still waiting? Though many who began the wait now pull their files, it never occurs to us to withdraw our application, despite the even more unpredictable, substantially longer process of international adoption. She is already a part of our family.
Before my eyes, the red stitches transform. Together, they become a rose, delicate and graceful in the ballerina’s hair. I pick up a new thread, eager to see the picture emerging, as I trust it will, piece by piece.
On the third day of October, 2005, we filled out and signed the application to adopt internationally. Exactly six years later, on October third, 2011 we receive the official referral for our daughter in China. The fact the dates form a perfect circle makes me smile. It’s an ingredient in a recipe turning out exactly the way it’s supposed to. It simmers with the sweet flavor of synchronicity.
The social worker has our daughter’s file, thick as layer cake, but at first she can offer only a morsel. One photograph, sent by email. I set up my lap top. I call my husband at work. Though in different places, we will view the photo together. One picture is sent. Suddenly, there she is on my screen. What a rich and decadent taste it is. My baby. Unequivocally. Ours. Lots of dark hair, a round little face, dressed in layers, puffy like a pillow. I stare. I laugh, I cry. I long to hold her in my arms.
She becomes ineffaceable, at home in my heart.
Wiping tears from my eyes, I say to my husband, “Oh, Brian. I love her.”
I swear I can hear his smile. “I do too.”
With joy as my dance partner, I whirl around the house. I sway to the symphony of my soul. I look out the window at the radiant Autumn day, trees ablaze with color. In the light breeze, even the leaves are dancing.
Once the burst of excitement stills, I stand in the quiet, utterly content. Silent. Thankful.
We travel across the world to meet our daughter. After another flight, we’re in a van with four other adoptive couples, a driver, and our guide, driving toward the Galactic Peace Hotel in Nanchang. Our guide lifts a hand held radio. Through the device comes the newest update: “Brian and Kerri’s baby has arrived. She is in the city.” We are traveling toward each other, my baby and me. Goosebumps prickle my skin, my heart beats wildly. It is all I can do to not jump out of my seat. The other couples look at us with wide smiles, ready.
As we approach the hotel, an announcement is made. Our babies are here. Now. At the hotel. Trying not to trip over our things, we gather our belongings and exit the van. As we push through the glass doors to the hotel lobby, we see caregivers and babies. Our babies.
I drop my bags and rush over, scanning the group. From across the room, I see her.
There’s a buzz of energy. Squeals of delight, comforting coos as parents ease babies into a momentous transition. Cameras flash. Tears flow. Happy tears from parents, scared, grieving tears from some of the babies. My girl doesn’t make a peep. She cautiously and attentively takes it all in. She rests her head against my shoulder and presses her little body into my chest; the fabric of my shirt she holds firmly in her fist as she snuggles close. She knows where she belongs.
At a year of age, she still isn’t sitting on her own. Her legs hang from her body, loose, floppy. When I stand her on my lap, her legs crumple beneath her. Over the next two weeks, with loving attention and the opportunity to use her muscles, she makes amazing strides. She sits on her own, then crawls, dragging her legs behind her. After gaining a bit of weight and strength, in mere days she is crawling expertly, then pulling herself to standing position. The improvements are unbelievable, astounding. She blossoms emotionally and physically, attaching with ease and achieving milestones.
Smells from the street waft up to our hotel room; smoke, exhaust, fish from markets, meat cooking over open fires. Shopkeepers crouch on crowded sidewalks, slurping noodles from bowls cupped in their hands. Shirts and pants, drying on clotheslines strung across balconies, flap in the wind.
We spend many precious moments in our room getting to know our new daughter. The king bed is a playground, littered with books, toys, Cheerios.
We also go to tourist locations. Pearl and jade factories, porcelain shops, silk markets. The Forbidden City, the Beijing zoo. One sight seeing outing with our adoption group takes us to The Great Wall. The steps, uneven and steep, are not unlike the steps taken to make our adoption dream a reality. Among stairways and walkways are tunnels and surprise turns. The landscape stretches out, expansive. I marvel at its artistry, beauty.
We spend time in the hotel swimming pool, introducing our daughter, for the first time, to the water. In keeping with the galaxy theme of the hotel, the ceiling of the indoor pool is decorated with hundreds of tiny lights in a pitch black background. I swim in the pool holding my daughter, watching her splash and kick her newly strong legs. Then my husband takes her and twirls her through the water. I hear her bubbly laughter. I watch her smile, her four teeth like perfect pearls.
I glide on my back, looking up at the twinkling lights, like stars, above me. I float, suspended, weightless. I am surrounded by the illusion of infinite space above me. All the universe appears close, so near, and all of it’s splendor and offerings within reach, right here, right now.