Adoption Trip #3 – The Hardest Day aka Anna’s orphanage

Anna running in to hug the relative of her foster family

Playing with her brothers on the playground at the orphanage – this is actually their entire outdoor space

She’s so cute.

We couldn’t take pictures that would show any of the other children’s faces, but they let us take this one of Anna next to the crib she was in when she lived here.

The bigger kid room.

Their bathroom. The kids were bathed in the sinks, and this explains why she thinks the shower at the hotel is the most fun thing she’s ever seen in her life – she’s never seen anything like it!

Their potty.

Coloring while waiting for her foster mom.

Our family with Anna’s foster mom.

Wednesday morning we got up early and met our guide, Helen, to go to Anna’s orphanage. Anna is from Guangzhou in a newer district just south of where we were staying. The plan was to tour the orphanage and then go to her finding spot. Then this afternoon we need to apply for the kids’ passports and then we’re going to the bookstore to try to get more books in Chinese for Noah and the new kiddos.

Frankly, this day was very traumatic for all of us. We have enough experience and knowledge from the training we’ve done and our adoption of Noah to know that all kids who are being adopted are going to have some serious grief and tough feelings to work through. You just don’t really know when it’s going to happen or what form it will take. Going to the orphanage, Anna was very happy. She wanted to show it to us. We weren’t sure if she was happy to be going back and thinking she was staying or happy to show it to her new family and then leave.

When we arrived, there was a man out front that she clearly recognized and ran to. He looked absolutely delighted to see her and picked her up and hugged her. Our translator told us that he was a relative of her foster family. She happily turned back to us and gestured for all of us to play on the playground outside the building. We’d seen many pictures of her in this space, but it was so much smaller than I thought it would be from the pictures. She ran around and showed it to us, chattering the whole time, and then they asked us to come inside.

We walked through a small lobby and could see the kitchen and the laundry room off two of the sides along with a staircase. We went around a corner to the meeting room, and with the eight of us, two orphanage staff, and our translator, it was full. They told us a little about the orphanage and asked if we had questions for them about Anna. We asked our questions about her background, medical care, etc, and then they took us to see some of the orphanage.

Much of it was off limits to us, but we went upstairs and saw the baby room where Anna lived. I had been taking pictures, and they told me no pictures in the baby room because there were children in there who might be adopted and they needed to protect their privacy.

The baby room was kind of a punch in the gut. We saw Noah’s baby room, and it was emotional, but the babies were not there – they were in the playroom at the time. And I’ve been in a lot of orphanages, actually, so it’s not new to me, but still, I think I was just not expecting what I saw. There were 25 or 30 cribs in the room, and probably 20 children in them. Some were asleep or lying down staring at us, but most were standing in their cribs and all eyes were trained on us. They were not making any sound, just staring at us. And these were not really babies – they looked to be anywhere from 1-4 years old. The room was clean and had two staff in it. But what really hit me for some reason was that there were no mattresses. The children were sleeping and standing in all these metal cribs on plywood. They looked like boxes or crates. I don’t know why, but the fact that they didn’t have mattresses in their cribs really bothered me. It bothered me a lot. And the staff were all looking at me and obviously did care and were doing the best they could with what they had, but I was looking at 20 silent, staring children in plywood and metal boxes. And this is where Anna lived for the first few years of her life.

The translator was telling me that 150 children live in this building, and about 25 of them get placed “outside” in foster care, because it’s “better for the children to have more attention if they can.” And she’s telling me that most of these children will never have paperwork done to even give them a chance at adoption because they have “very big problems” and no one would take them. And that the older children live on the upper floors, but we aren’t going up there today. And basically she’s saying that the majority of these 20 silent, staring children who are looking right at me in this moment will never leave here. They won’t even have a chance. And I’m looking at Anna who doesn’t see anything weird here at all because this is what she knows, and she’s smiling and bouncing and wants to show us where she slept in the bigger kids room when they took her from foster care while she was waiting for us.

“Do they get out of the cribs?” I couldn’t help it – the question was out before I realized I’d said it. “Oh, of course, every day they go to the playroom. But today it looked like it would rain.” Oh, okay. It’s going to rain today, so they will all stay in their own little boxes. My eyes were filling with tears, I couldn’t help it, even though the workers were all looking at me, and I didn’t want to hurt them when they were so obviously trying to do the best they could. And we turned and left those children there, and in that moment I thought, “O, God! If your people could see this, really SEE it, it wouldn’t have to be this way! The world is so broken, and I am trying, trying to fix just the tiniest corner, but Lord have mercy, it’s too much!” Those children will haunt me.

We went downstairs and were told that Anna’s foster mother was coming to meet us. We had asked about this. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to happen or not, frankly. I really wanted to meet the woman who had been raising her for the last four years, and we’d been messaging since our WeChat call, and it’s clear that she truly loves Anna. I wanted to meet her and thank her. But I also had no idea how Anna would take it.

One note about foster care here. So many people have asked me, “Well, why don’t their foster parents just adopt them?!” Foster care in China is not like it is here. You aren’t allowed to adopt if you have biological children (all of our kids’ foster parents have their own children) and it’s more of a job where they are paid to care for the kids until they are placed for adoption. That doesn’t mean they don’t love the kids – we don’t know much about Ethan’s foster family yet, but clearly both Anna and Noah’s foster parents loved them dearly. But adoption was never a possibility. This is a temporary situation that can never be permanent by law here. So while the parents miss them terribly, they are usually very happy for them to get a permanent family.

So, Anna’s foster mom came and it was pretty awful, actually. She walked in and we hugged, and that was wonderful, and she was so pleased and happy for Anna and to meet us, but Anna wouldn’t even look at her for a minute. And then when she did, it was like a dam broke. She cried out, “Mama!” and jumped on her and started sobbing. Her foster mom also started crying but just kept telling her it was okay and pointing at us and saying what a wonderful family she had and look at her big brothers! And look at her big sisters! And look at her mom and dad! And how happy she would be in the United States with her new family!

Eventually Anna calmed down enough that we were able to go outside, and she even got down and ran to the playground again with the kids. But when she realized we were getting ready to leave, she ran back to her foster mom and she picked her up and Anna wouldn’t let go. We were all crying, and they were telling me we had to leave, and Anna started screaming “Mama, mama!” and sobbing, and her foster mom looked at me and gestured for me to take her and she turned away crying into the orphanage and I had to carry Anna away. It was one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of my life.

I held Anna in the van and she sobbed and sobbed and then finally went limp. I asked my girls who were sitting behind us if she had fallen asleep but they said no, she was just staring. She sat like that for a while, and then all at once she gathered herself up and slid off my lap into the seat next to me and turned her face to the window. I tried to hold her hand and she slid hers out of mine and folded her hands together and took a deep breath and looked out the window, just utterly dismissing me. I gave her space, but also wanted her to know I was there. The guide was saying that they didn’t usually let families meet the foster parents, but we had asked, etc, etc. Really, we had just asked if we were going to meet them because we had heard others had, but perhaps it was misunderstood, I don’t know. And I know sometimes it can be very helpful in the long run for the children to know that they’ve gone with their new family with their foster family’s blessing, but seeing what we’d just put our new daughter through for no reason, I was just devastated.

We stopped again at Anna’s finding spot. That is a terribly painful thing to do without the scene before it. We took pictures for her and video taped the area, but there really wasn’t much else to do. We were only there a few minutes, and there wasn’t any way to ask questions of anyone there or get more information so we just left.

They took us back to the hotel for a bit and we had lunch and rested and then we had to leave again for the passport office. Anna very clearly wanted nothing to do with me. This is the same little girl who told everyone I was her new mama two days ago. She was happy to be with Nathan, but she was not going with me again. She will know that I love her at some point, and frankly, Noah didn’t like me either at first and loves me now, but this is tough. I do not want to be associated with that terrible moment in her memory forever. And I’m wondering why, when there were 3 other orphanage workers, a driver, and a translator, why was I the one who had to carry her away? I regret this deeply. You can only move forward from where you are, but I would do it over in an instant if I could. I would tell the foster mom not to come. I would ask someone else to carry her to the car. We are going to Ethan’s orphanage later in the trip, and I have no idea what we’ll do if they say we can meet the foster family. Will he be upset that she got to see her family and he didn’t get to see his? So many unknowns.

After the passport office, she seemed to be rallying a bit. We had brought Noah with us too so we could stop at the bookstore and try to get all our Chinese kiddos books in Mandarin. They are so inexpensive here and so much harder to find in the US! We have scrimped in every way to bring our other kids with us on this trip, and we are spending nothing on food or souvenirs, but one expense we had planned on was books!

This bookstore was 6 floors! The entire fourth floor was children’s. It was chaos – kids everywhere throwing books around (this would not fly in any US store!) and general mayhem. Anna and Ethan were both overwhelmed at all the sensory stimulation, and we were having a hard time just keeping track of them. Anna handed us pretty much every Barbie book in the store. And Ethan apparently loves Thomas the Train books. We finally got out of that section and found the older youth books for Noah – he’s been counting the days for this trip for months! We found several things he was dying to have, and in the end, we probably have 30 or more pounds of books. But at $2 each, we cannot pass up the opportunity. Our issue is going to be getting them all home!

We headed back and took the family out for dim sum. We’ve been eating in the room a lot, but with a mini-fridge, we just can’t keep enough for 8 on hand with no transportation. Fortunately, food is really inexpensive here. We got into our booth in this new, huge dim sum place, and Noah was acting really weird. He’d been grouchy and touchy all day, and Nathan told him not to run in the street while we were walking to the restaurant and he was just livid. I almost brought him back to the room and let everyone else go, but in the end he came with us.

Well, as soon as we sat down, he put his head on the table and started to cry. Then he started hitting his head on the table – I have never in the 16 months we’ve had him seen his act like that. And I couldn’t get him to talk to us or tell us what was up, he was just sobbing with his head on the table. And I was already emotionally just exhausted from the morning we’d had with the baby room and with Anna.

I just sat next to him and let him cry and rubbed his back and handed him Kleenex. And finally he was a little calmer and I said, “are you mad?” And he shook his head no. “Are you sad?” And he shook his head yes. “Do you know why?” He shook his head yes. “Can you tell me?”

So first he told me it was because Dad said he could have his ramen noodles in the room but he’d had to wait 2 days because we kept taking him out to dinner. Okaaay. I asked if that was really why he was so sad he was sobbing in a restaurant? And he said that Dad had also told him he couldn’t run in the street. And I told him Dad didn’t want him to get hit by a car.

And then he said, “And Anna’s mom came to see her when we went to her orphanage and my foster parents didn’t even bother to show up!!” Ahh. Okay.

So I immediately told him that his parents weren’t allowed to come – his orphanage did not allow parents to meet foster parents. And that they loved him and would have come if they could. And that they cried when they heard his heart surgery was successful because they love him. And that it was just the rules of his orphanage, but they love him. They love him.

He calmed down after that. And then got a little bitter about his orphanage. He’s also mad that Anna and Ethan’s orphanages got them a cake when they were told they had a family and let us WeChat with them when his didn’t do those things. And I just said, “hey bud, but your baby room had mattresses, and the people there loved you. There are good and bad things everywhere.” And he seemed to hear that and he caught up to me and held my hand on the way home even though he’s 10 years old and that’s usually just too embarrassing.

Wow, what a day. I’m just exhausted. The world is a hard, hard place for our little people. I’m praying that we can help, but more than that, I’m praying that we can point them to the only One who can truly heal all these hurts. And I’m praying that He will comfort my heart tonight too, just like He always has and always will.

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