When does it begin? How does it start?
I did not, as some people describe, fall in love with our daughter the instant she was placed in my arms. It all happened so quickly. It's such an unnatural process, international adoption, with all its uncertainty and red tape. How can you be prepared?
We had arrived at the adoption office on time, to the minute. QiuQiu and her escorts, making the grueling five-hour drive from Xuzhou in the summer heat, were late. We were a bit nervous, but not paralyzed with nerves as I had expected we might be. We had just spent five blissful and gorgeous days in Beijing, seeing things we had never dreamed we'd see.
And then the doors swung open, just inches from our heads...and there they were.
We barely had time to crane our necks and register the face of the orphanage director, with whom we had corresponded, a nanny, and the sleeping form of our daughter.
It literally happened in a matter of seconds...they didn't speak, not even to our guide and translator. They just walked around and deposited her in my arms.
I repeat, how can you be prepared? One moment your arms are empty, the next they are full.
One moment you are a free agent, a childless woman, and the next you are the mother of a tiny, solid, limp, flushed stranger. A stranger who has not lived within you. A stranger who does not recognize your scent or your face or your touch, who has come to trust people other than you...or not trust, as the case may be.
My husband and I have talked about it recently...when did it happen? At what point did each of us know we were in love with this child who had become our daughter?
Neither of us could put a finger on it.
Neither of us remembered an exact moment when things changed.
M. says that the moment he knew that I had made the transition was the moment that the nurse handed her back to me in the recovery room after her surgery, and I burst into tears.
It's funny because that moment was an echo of the first moment I laid eyes on her in the adoption office. Once again she was limp and flushed and unconscious. Once again she was about to awaken into a painful and unsettling reality she had no means by which to understand. Once again, I would have to try to ease that transition for her, though I had no idea how.
I can't pinpoint an exact moment, nor is it important that I should. The revelations come on a daily basis - on an hourly basis. Each one sends a shockwave through every cell of my body. Each time, I'm amazed. Just when I think that I'm so full of love that my body can't expand anymore, another tidal wave hits me and I am beached, buried, helpless in the sand.
She is so tiny, so fragile, and yet filled to bursting with an energy and a strength so powerful that I am nearly intimidated. Each of her bones is light as a bird's skeleton. The tiny nubs of her backbone are each the size of the tip of my pinky finger. How can she be so strong? Where does her strength come from?
She is both fragile and bold, needy and fiercely independent, tiny and strong as steel. They told us that her cleft surgery would stunt her growth, and yet she has grown just in the days since surgery. In spite of the pain, she rallied and ate fiercely from day one. She is nothing if not a survivor. Her cheeks, like a chipmunk storing up for winter, seem to grow by the day. But undressed, she doesn't have an ounce of extra flesh on the rest of her body.
I feed her and feed her, packing every vegetable, fruit, grain and protein I can get into her bottle, and she eats everything I present her with, her head tipped back, tiny fingers clutching the bottle, eyes at half mast and nearly asleep, limp in my arms. Then her eyes open, black as coal, and turn to meet mine, and another shockwave of pure love hits me and buries me in the sand.
She wants us. She makes it clear. She has not yet tried to speak...she is still very much a baby, and yet her silent communication is shockingly mature. She claims us, demands our attention, presses her affection on us time and again. She makes herself known, unabashedly and eloquently. Her sense of humor, her affection, her confidence, her fierce sense of self...every bit of it amazes and stuns me. This tiny miracle. This miniature human being, full-blown and determined.
In China, we visited the silk factory, and they showed us the cocoons of the silk worm: lighter than a feather, smooth and translucent, pure as the driven snow, and still somehow stronger than steel. Tenacious and unbreakable. That's our QiuQiu in a nutshell.