Tuesday, February 07, 2006

An Orphanage Visit

I'm waking up at 4a.m. or thereabouts now several nights a week. I won't blame it on my notorious night waker, no she's been sleeping like a champ after the "tv is conditional upon staying in your bed all night" new house rule.

Perhaps my nightwaking is all part of my new "let's get this adoption show on the road" attitude. It is different than my "we are going to have another child someday but it is so far out there I'll postpone the official wig out", and it is different than the "it's coming up soon and thus I must purchase cute baby clothes", and it is certainly nothing like the "yeah I'm cool, it will all happen when it is supposed to, so why bother rushing to paint the bathroom".

Yup, it's a new one. Let's just get this show on the road is the only way I can describe my mental state these days. Momma is tired...of waiting....of anticipating...of explaining to well meaning friends and neighbors...of not being able to pick a name for sure.

Perhaps this is why I keep seeing her standing in a crib at the orphanage looking at me in my dreams at 4 a.m. Sometimes she even waves and motions to me not to worry, she's fine. The weird thing is that the orphanage doesn't look like the one we saw on our last trip. It is a shorter building without as many floors. It is open and clean without color on the walls.

On our trip in 2002 we were able to tour an orphanage that we were told was a primo showcase orphanage in Hunan. All of the familes loaded the babies up into the rock star bus and we headed down skinny streets of Changsha until we came to a building that looked similar to the others in the neighborhood. It was 9 stories tall with laundry hanging from thin balconies. Windows were propped open for ventilation. The rock star bus pulled up in the back alley looking very out of place. American adopters filed off one by one holding little Chinese babies in expensive slings on their chests.

Our guide explained that this orphanage was very nice and great pride is taken its care and maintenance. Any emotion that might be felt during the tour should be kept silent. We should understand that we are priviledged to take this tour and should act accordingly. Stiff upper lip, got it.

We filed into a sparse courtyard and rounded a corner to a large stainless steel elevator that reminded me of the elevator at the hospital Brian and were lucky enough to have visited a few days prior. We take the elevator in groups of 5-7. I can tell our guide thinks this is ridiculous since she is always telling us to squeeze together in tight spots, as most Chinese do. But, we are now tired travelers who have been awakened by scared babies with new surroundings at all hours of the night. We are as a group losing tolerance for the small inconveniences like cattlehearding in elevators. But chipper and smiley on the outside.

The doors creak open and the elevator jumps a bit. My daughter is strapped to my husband's chest resting comfortably. She has a Western nuk-nuk popped in her mouth. She reminds me of the baby on the Simpson's as she sucks hard and it moves in and out. The one floor we are permitted to see is dark as we unload off the elevator. We shift around a corner and see a medium sized room that has a television. A few toddlers play at our feet. An official looking woman in a business suit takes over the tour. Her English is thickly peppered with Hunan dialect making it hard for me to understand what she is saying. The air is stagnant despite the open windows and I start to feel lightheaded. Parents stand and nod as the official lady talks on and on. At this point I must sway and move my feet a little bit to breathe air. I take a few steps back from the group. Suddenly the group starts to shift away from television room and down a sunnier looking hallway. I hang back a bit to get my bearings. I know I am not allowed to show any emotion but it starts to settle in that 4 days ago my daughter was one of these children I see before me. The enormity of how our lives have changed in the last precious hours fills my eyes despite my concious effort to quell any visable signs of emotion. I do not want to offend my guides or the ladies in white coats who obviously take their jobs seriously.

To take a minute to compose myself I step backwards. My shoulder accidently pushes a swinging door open. I step inside the room alone. The room is filled with tiny babies in large hospital beds. Not one of these infants can be over 4 months old. Some have IVs inserted into their foreheads. Some have rags stuck into their little mouths. I am stunned. I know immediately that this room is not on the official tour. I know that I should immediately walk out and find my group, but I can't. My legs are lead as I fixate on the rags in the babies mouths. My first reaction is to pull the rags out fearing one might choke. But I am too scared to reach out to a child I have no right to touch.

I am scolded by a fast talking nanny who enters the room. She tells me in broken English that these babies are new to the ward and I am not permitted in here. She tells me I might contaminate them. She motions for me to leave immediately. I quickly get the lead out of my legs and walk in a daze to the sunny playroom where the group is congregating. The lady in the business suit is commenting on the new wood laminate floor we are standing on. She seems very proud, and Brian jokes that it is nicer than our kitchen floor at home. This room is nicer than all the rest. It has lots of brightly colored toys lining the walls. The tightness in my chest eases a bit as we see one final room with babies in cribs and nannies playing with children 4 at a time. Babies and nannies are smiling. I still have the feeling that I must hold my breath to keep myself from spinning out of emotional control. I take my fingernail and press it into the side of my leg to keep present.

We exit to the elevator and this time I maneuver to be one of the first. The mood in that elevator is remarkably changed, quiet. No one makes eye contact and everyone heads directly to the rock star bus.

As I step on the bus I know that I will never be the same. I look up and see those rags hanging to dry from the slim balconies from the window on the bus. I fight back a tear and focus on my baby instead. She will need a bottle soon and I'm in charge of that. That's something I can fix.


Johnny said...

Yeaaaahhhh.....we didn't want the orphange tour on the first trip. And now, I know we won't go on the second trip.

To some, it's important to the history of their child. And that's cool.

But, you will neer forget those images, as you have related back to us.

Stephanie V said...

I'm speechless. I can't imagine how that doesn't change you forever. I don't know if I could do it, if I could see that and not shatter into a million pieces.

Traci said...

Wow Perrin!

There has been a part of me that quietly and discreetly shakes my head in scorn at those parents who refuse to take the tour. They say, "I don't think I could handle it." I've always thought that was crap. Their baby just lived it - surely they can take looking at it for 20 minutes! That's what I thought all right....until this story. Thank you for showing me how judgemental and wrong that I have been.


Perrin said...

You know what Traci, I don't think you are judgemental at all. It was not an easy day for me but I do think that all parents should take the opportunity when presented with the choice. People act and take the experience in differently. Some of the people on the tour later commented on how nice the orphanage was, better than what they were expecting. No one said it was a super fun experience or anything but an important part of understanding what little we can about our kids lives before they come home.

Lee-Anne said...

The orphanage tour and locating the finding spot, is another decision I really struggle with. I cry now, just thinking about where she might be found, let alone standing in it and taking a photo. I'm in NO WAY bagging people that want to do all that, as you said we all react differently. For me, what you saw in that room, is a part of why we're adopting. Anyone can give money to a foundation or orphanage, but at the end of the day, the kids need someone to love them - forever. Still don't know whether we'll go to the orphanage, but I guess we'll just let CCAA decide - there are so many you can't go to anyway. Thanks so much for sharing.