A Mom Is Born
By Rebecca Coates Nee
My long, unpredictable road to motherhood at the age of 41
ended with a scene that fittingly matched the 18 months of
drama, anxiety and emotion it took to get there.
After two days on crowded, dark planes, my husband and I
arrived in Guangzhou, China, a large city where we would spend
the next two weeks with a 1 year old we were about to meet.
checked into the White Swan Hotel, a swanky complex located
so close to the U.S. Consulate that it's overrun by American
couples wheeling, coddling and awaiting visas for their newly
adopted Asian infants. The popularity of Asian adoptions by
Americans speaks volumes about the turbulent, risky state
of adoptions in the United States - but that's another column.
A few hours after our arrival, we gathered with eight other
couples for a briefing from our adoption agency. We were told
that our future babies, who all hailed from the same orphanage,
were traveling seven hours by bus and train with their nannies
and foster mothers to join us for dinner that evening.
The mystery that surrounded the past year and a half heightened
as we later walked to the restaurant two blocks away. When,
exactly, would these children become ours? During dinner?
After tea? We took our seats at three tables, nervously looking
for signs of the small packages we had traveled so far and
waited so long to receive.
Seeing none, we skipped the unidentifiable appetizers and
began to discuss adult things like world affairs and terrorism.
Little did we know that by breakfast the next morning, we'd
be comparing the quantity and quality of our baby's poop.
Finally, half an hour later, a parade of babies identically
dressed in pink suits entered the restaurant in the arms of
nine Chinese women. We parents-in-waiting dropped our forks
and chopsticks and grabbed an array of still and video cameras.
The nannies and babies made their way to a table across from
us. My husband and I had no trouble recognizing our child
from the pictures that had been sent. While the other babies
had dark toupees covering their heads, little Pan Xiao Shi
sported light brown peach fuzz, protruding round cheeks and
Gerber lips. She also wore an intense stare, rivaled only
by her new dad.
For the next hour, we remained segregated from our future
offspring, observing and photographing their every move at
a respectful distance. The infants ate rice and congee from
their nannies' ladles, totally unaware that the crazy Caucasians
waving and crying nearby were about to become their new role
The woman holding our child was clearly her foster mother
because she kept wiping tears away from her own eyes. Her
emotions made me feel sad and terribly guilty. Were we doing
the right thing?
Finally, after what seemed like a painfully endless string
of Chinese courses, we marched behind the babies and nannies
to a playroom donated by Mattel in the White Swan Hotel. One
by one, the caretakers handed over the girls to their new
parents, with only a few mistaken identities.
Our baby's foster mom put on a brave smile as she gave Nikki
to me, saying "Mama, Mama." Nikki, unconvinced,
glared at me until she discovered my jangling earrings.
And so our instant mother-daughter relationship began. During
our long stay in the hotel room, Nikki did show some signs
of grief, but she also displayed enough laughter and happiness
to ease our concerns. She continues to thrive well in her
new American surroundings.
As I rocked and sang her to sleep our first night together,
I knew I finally had the answer to all those questions about
why we adopted a baby from China: That's where my daughter
happened to be.