You know, the international adoption gig can be so strange as time passes, your kids grow up a little and you end up with two very normal little kids who beg to take gymnastics classes, ride bicycles in the cul-de-sac, and learn to float in swim lessons. Just like everyone else.
But then there are days that throw you a little. These are days that bring a flood of memories filled with hot dark civil affairs government buildings in Chinese capital cities, scared screaming babies, and Chinese officials speaking a mile a minute in a sea of chaos.
The fact that we could never get a straight answer on exactly where Ava spent her first 8 months of life in Yueyang County, Hunan has admittedly always bothered me. I've told myself it shouldn't since I got the gift of Ava, isn't a happy healthy beautiful child enough? I've told myself it isn't my story, it's hers, why should this continue to nag at my consciousness? Time has softened the "need to know more, need to know the whole truth". Although I have tried, I simply cannot let it completely go. In the back of my mind there is still something about her first 8 months of life that is locked up in a director's need to hold tight information he deemed possibly unnecessary or embarrassing for the orphanage.
The official paperwork stated she spent approximately 6 months in the orphanage. But, I have pictures showing the baby room empty with captions that read "babies in foster care due to construction". When I questioned our agency several months after we came home about any foster care, our agency reported that the orphanage stated that no records were kept on how long construction took and which babies were sent to be fostered. Due to the fact that this orphanage has always been relatively small and fully embroiled in the international adoption program with the CCAA, I found that hard to believe. Strict paperwork is required by the CCAA.
I had a sense that the director wasn't giving families full information when I met him the day after we met Ava. I thanked him for taking such good care of the 5 babies that came to us that day. He wouldn't look me in the eye. I told him I would send pictures of Ava as she grew. He bowed slightly and looked at his cell phone. I asked him for a business card to keep in touch, he told me through an interpreter that he had forgotten them that day, and that they weren't needed.
Over the years since 2002 a few families have been able to visit the orphanage, to my knowledge, more recently in 2007 and forward. I read these listserve posts when they return home over and over looking for bits of information that may piece the whole truth together. I print the photos of the orphanage and surrounding areas off to place in Ava's big box of all things adoption. Were the children fostered? What does fostering mean at Yueyang County? I suspect that when a child goes home with an orphanage employee at night, that might constitute fostering vs. living full time at a family residence.
Somewhere in about mid 2004 Yueyang County officials began telling families that their children were fostered. As Ava grew a few families posted that they were able to visit the orphanage. Some were allowed to take a few photos of the inside, some were not. Some were treated very kindly and were taken to lunch by the orphanage officials. Recently, a family traveled to Yueyang and was granted permission to visit the facility. When they inquired about their daughter's orphanage file, they were shown information they didn't know existed. A time and exact date of birth. The family shared an email address for the director. There is even a photo of the director, it is not the same man we met in Changsha in 2002.
I emailed the mother who visited just a few weeks ago and asked if she thought the director would check a file if a family made a request via email? She said it might be worth a try. I'm working on a draft to ask this director whether he would be kind enough to search for a file created and closed 7 years ago. I have no idea whether he would process such a request. I think that I will include a photo collage of the referral picture and a few photos of Ava growing up.
Just as the dust was settling on this issue yesterday another one boiled up. I was putting Olivia to bed and after her story she asked, "Mama, what it mean I born in China?" This is the first time she has shown any interest or understanding about her adoption. I did my best to explain "born in China" to my sleepy 3 year old. In typical Liv fashion she seemed to take it all in quietly and with great intent to understand. Then she asked to see pictures of China and our trip in 2006 when she woke up. Today we are looking through photos of our trips to China. I am reminded how time passes quickly. On some level, I suppose I am again determined to know all that I can about my babies precious first few months of life. Even if it means I have to keep asking.