The story of babies coming home to us is wide and varied. And that is a blessing and a challenge. The blessing is that nowadays there are many more ways of completing a family circle. The challenge can be that when a child comes to us through infertility treatments or adoption, the road can be long and arduous. For Carolee and Edward, they traveled in many directions till they found their Liana and brought her home.
When I speak to Carolee, I admire her certainty about it all. Yes, it was hard. Yes, she would do it all over again. Five years after the birth of her biological child, Kirsten, she and her husband Edward felt it was time to expand their family once again. The route to this child would not be the same, however.
Carolee and her family after multiple miscarriages, Carolee entered the intense world of infertility exams and treatments. With it came doctor appointments and shots, hormones, and physical upheaval. She and Edward endured the rollercoaster of emotions each month. It soon became apparent that this was not the path that to be taken for this family to grow. Together Carolee and Edward reached a crossroad, made a directional turn, and landed on the road to adoption.
The new road began with a weekend conference sponsored by the APC, or Adoption Parents Committee, in NYC. Through workshops and presentations, they considered all avenues of adoption; domestic versus international, closed versus open, special needs, babies, and older children. Carolee and Edward turned towards an international adoption and the country of China.
Adoption from China seemed like the perfect fit. With adoptions from China, there is a certain logic and order followed for every single adoption. This was important, especially because of Kirsten, who was eight years old at the time. There is little variation in the procedure, and because every international adoption from China is processed through one central governmental agency, prospective parents are treated equally. Everyone gets their paperwork together, their home study completed, and all of the certifications and notarizations to create the necessary dossier. When the dossier of papers is ready, it is made as an application to the Chinese governmental agency …and then you wait.
But let’s not skip the process so quickly. When many of us become parents, we get pregnant and then ask ourselves, “How will I do this?” “What type of parent will I be?” It is a private or intimately shared dialogue with our spouses, our immediate family and us. When adopting a child, strangers and professionals from multiple disciplines fire questions and expect standard and safe practice answers. Carolee and Edward answered questions about how a child would change their lives, what were their views on discipline, did they agree on the idea of adoption and how would they plan for this child’s future.
Carolee, Edward and Kirsten dealt with the intrusion of their home and their lives by these strangers, here and in China, who would ultimately hold the fate of this family in their hands. Yet, in many ways, the process truly solidified their commitment to having another child and prompted the exploration of beliefs and discussions that are so vital to bringing a child into their lives.
Carolee is a strong woman and her heart is the size of a mountain. She seems to absorb all these challenges and grow them into a character that is as courageous as a lion. When I met her to tell the story of her daughter Liana, Carolee brought with her a book, called a Lifebook that she had made. This book tells the story of Liana’s life before she became part of her new family.
LifebookThe book of Liana coming home as written by Carolee is exquisite. It is a journey narrative that tells of Liana’s beginnings in a small city in Southeastern China. It is a retelling of the facts of her life, or what is known of those facts. And the story Carolee tells is wide in scope. She takes very seriously the commitment that she made to the Chinese governmental agency to honor Liana’s culture and traditions in raising her. Her book is filled with beautiful stories of China – the geography, the culture, traditions, art, history and education. It also tells of the places and the people who were part of her life as she waited for her forever family. It attempts to give her a view into a life she would not remember, if not for pictures and narrative.
There is an ancient Chinese belief which states that when a child is born an invisible red threads connect that child’s soul to all those people – present and in the future – who will play a part in that child’s life. As each birthday passes, those threads shorten and tighten, bringing closer those people who are fated to be together. It was originally a story about marriage, but the Chinese adoption community has taken it to symbolize the relationship of all the people in the life of a child.
The Lifebook also tells of the 13 month wait between the time that the dossier arrived in China until the day when two small pictures and some basic information came onto their computer screen in November of 2000.It tells of the songs Carolee, Edward and Kirsten would sing, to a child they had not met, half a world away.
It gives Liana an understanding of the family that longed for her to be with them, of a sister who was intent on choosing the right American name for her. After the moment that Liana’s picture entered their world, it would be another month and a half before they could hold their baby girl in their arms. I cannot imagine seeing a picture of my baby and then wondering every night where she is, what she is eating, who is putting her to sleep and drying her tears.
Luckily, during this time, Liana was in good foster care. But the bond she made during the foster care became the next road of challenge in the first few days in China, and when they returned to the U.S. Liana was almost one year old at the time of her adoption and was well aware of the change, even though she had no way of communicating it. She was no longer in the safety of the foster mom she had known for nine of her eleven months. The bond that she had made in China, while healthy emotionally, made it difficult for her to transition to a new life. It took some time for her to adjust and the process was challenging.
When Carolee, Edward, and Kirsten decided to grow their family, they put on their travel gear for a wonderful journey – the journey of the heart. The family of three became a family of four and the time that it took to feel their way through that change had its own bumps. Today, the book of Liana that Carolee shares with me is the telling of that love and trust and sense of family that developed in their family of four. The love story of Carolee, Edward, Kirsten, and Liana is one of longing, hard work, persistence, and well-earned victory. It is a lesson of love that teaches the patience of the journey, that the road teaches us much and if we arrive at the end, we have persevered and love is at hand. It is the story of bringing Liana home.