Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The First Time I Ever Saw That Face

The other day someone said to me, "We bet you cannot wait until that moment when you meet your new baby for the first time, how precious."

Precious, hmmm. I have been thinking about that moment when we first met Ava and precious is not the first word that comes to my mind.

I am not proud to admit this but the first word that comes to mind is terror. Not hers, MINE. When it actually happened and they handed me the most beautiful child I had ever seen, I was almost paralyzed with terror. I could not speak, I thought that I would drop her for sure and they would take her back. I wanted to run from the crowd that lingered in the conference room and hallway. But there was no where to run. I was begging her silently not to scream for fear that I would be unable to calm her enough to eventually stop. I was not so silently begging my husband to stop the camcorder for fear that it would scare the baby and forever remind me of my inadequacies. The moment in which we had waited over 19 months for was for me filled with fear and panic.

Here is what the inside of the conference room looked like. This is where families stood and waited looking out into a hotel elevator lobby area.

The tension was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. I know, stupid cliche but really it was. See the lady wringing her hands? She did this over and over waiting for her baby. I could not stop myself from fixating on her hands. I had to grab the camera and take pictures just to break the energy. I was sure that if I didn't I might start crying and not be able to stop.

Here is what we were looking at.

It was a hallway of mass confusion. Ten families waiting for babies. Five guides communicating with at least a dozen orphanage employees from two separate orphanages. One from far northern Hunan. One from southern Hunan. The northern group traveled 6 hours by bus. The southern group had also spent several hours on an unairconditioned bus, that had experienced engine trouble. Each bus load had 5 precious little ones who had not eaten or taken naps. It was about 3pm China time and we had been in Changsha no more than 2 hours.

The other group of orphanage babies arrived first. We were able to witness 5 families receiving babies without the stress of thinking we were next at each second. Some babies seemed like they might have been shot with a stun gun, still and haunted their eyes frozen wide open. One baby cried so hard she couldn't catch her breath. Her mother was calm though. Her 7 year old son clutched his game boy, white knuckled. Her husband started to pass around pink candy cigars. They were old pro's, you could tell.

Then it was our turn. Five chubby cheeked dirty but healthy, looking babies were escorted off the elevator. I think we were in the middle when the five families were called. But honestly I am not sure. A tiny orphanage nanny handed Ava to me telling her "mama mama mama". I hesitated, scared that I would upset the baby. Her skin was so tan that I immediately thought she could not have been in an orphanage 23 hours a day, as the paperwork suggested. The nanny thrust the baby into my arms. I heard cries of congratulation from our new travel mate friends. Quickly, I realized that I was physically in the way of the next baby presentation. I whisked Ava to the back of the conference room. The lady I stood next to held a screaming infant. Ava was calm until she saw the new baby named Faith. Her face twisted and she started to shake. She took a deep breath and howled a scream of fear. It was more than I could take. I held her wet sweaty head, and ran for the open doorway. Brian followed filming every blood curdling yell. I snapped at him, "turn that thing off, it will scare her even more." I slowly bounced and paced up and down the hotel hallway. Miraculously she looked up at Brian and stopped screaming. I think that they reached for each other. I had to remember to tell myself to breathe in--and--breathe out so I would not pass out.

(For some odd reason at that moment I remembered a story that my mother told me about passing out in her kitchen with me in her arms as an infant. My father was not home and she was scared that I would be hurt when she fell. She plopped me in the kitchen sink for safety and proceeded to faint. My father arrived shortly after and my mother was revived. I had cold cucumber peels stuck to my legs but was otherwise unharmed.)

A guide started yelling for families to line up for individual photos with the orphanage director. He did not smile. I pulled a guide to translate. I semi-bowed and thanked him for our gift. He looked at his cell phone. I asked him if he knew anything special about Jing Tang, her likes or dislikes. He snorted that nannies care for the children, he had no contact with babies. The guide gave me a nonverbal que to shut up and pose for the photo. We looked over and smiled, someone had our camera.

This was the picture that appeared in my camera. Sort of normal looking, baby is not screaming in fear and I managed to slap on a smile. Main Muffin Man remained remarkably cool and collected. (Could this be the same man who once threw a temper tantrum in an airport because he received the wrong kind of sandwich at Burger King?)

I think that we ran for the egress quickly heading for our hotel room after this picture was taken. We fed Ava and watched in disbelief as she slurped down an entire 8 oz. bottle in under 30 seconds. We plopped her down on the bed to look at her. My God, she was the most beautiful child we had ever seen. Perfect chubby legs, 3 rolls before the knee to be exact. She even had little fat rolls under her chin. Her ears were perfectly symmetrical and would easily squish when touched. Her face was darling, perfect little almond shaped eyes and an almost non existent nose. She had long dexterous fingers. Her eyes were luxuriously brown, although one eye tilted in a bit. I later came to understand this happens when she is overly tired and stressed.

I quickly knew even as a completely neurotic first time mother that someone out there had tended to this child with care. She proceeded to howl again....huge healthy lungs. Letting us know that setting her on the bed to gaze at her was not going to fly. She stopped screaming when we opened the door and started to pace the hotel hallways. She was alert to to point of being unable to relax. And so this was the routine for the next several days. Hotel room, bad. Sightseeing tours filled with people and exotic sights and smells, good. Strap her in the baby bjorn, but only facing outward. Stroller, even better. Rolling through streets of Changsha and Guangzhou finally coaxed her to relax a bit.

As for me...it took a few more weeks to relax. My type A'ness sort of got the better of me those early weeks and months. For the next "precious first time ever I saw your face" moment, I am going to try to roll with it a little more. Not be so freakish. Aahhh, I suppose easier said than done. I am counting on a little experience under my belt to take the edge off.

I'll report back in a few months with "it was precious", or Muffin Man had to pull me down off the ceiling.


Johnny said...

Great recounting! How can anyone possibly describe and prepare for such a moment? And yet, we are "doing it again"!

Julie said...

Wow you have amazing ability to convey detail! I feel like I was right there.

Honestly, I seem a lot like your type and think I may react the same way.

Ed and Lisa said...

Perrin, what an awesome insight! I am going to link this post through my blog today because I would like for our friends and family outside this blogging community to have a clear picture of plethra of emotions that will be running rampid on Gotcha Day. You should keep this post for Ava's baby book... how precious, it really choked me up. You really caught the excitement and thrill of it all alongside the raw emotion! LOL.. I mean that in the best way... but lets face it.. this is going to be quite an adventure and I am already nervous my self.

Thanks again and Happy New Year!

M3 (Mary-Mia) said...

It sounds amazing, wonderful, terrifying, and so stressful that I should probably start taking Immodium right now. I don't know if there is such a thing as type AA, but if there is, well, I'm it. Thanks for sharing, because I'm scared to death of this moment that everyone says is perfect. I know I'll be a wreck. It sounds like you, Muffin Man, and Ava all got through it with flying colors in the end, so there's hope for all of us, right? :-)

Lee-Anne said...

Hi Perrin! I ventured over to your blog after Lisa said it was a good read! And how right she was! Fantastic re-count of your "Ava-day"! The moment terrifies me too - (and I already have 2 kids!) but it's more my uncontrollable emotions I'm worried about. I've got the Nat.Geographics DVD of China's Lost Girls - and I have to leave the room when the families get their babies - coz I burst into tears! Sad but true!