Tuesday, March 26, 1996 - The evening plane to Guangzhou was absolutely packed, and there wasn't a single square inch of space to spare. But the flight only lasted a few minutes. We spent much more time waiting around in the Hong Kong airport. Somehow, we ended up being the last people off the plane, and spent a very long time standing in line to get through immigration. Only after we finally reached the main terminal did Mama realize she had dropped her video camera battery on the plane. Although our agency facilitator tried to get it back for her, Chinese air personnel turned out to be very unhelpful and wouldn't allow her to go back for it.

Two adorable girls we met on the street in Guangzhou
After clearing customs, our two agency reps took us to the White Swan Hotel. Our first view of it was along a long driveway lined with strings of lights. It was very impressive, and I was so excited to actually be in China. I thought about the last time I saw China, from a hilltop in the Hong Kong New Territories in 1980. I always knew I wanted to visit China, but I never ever would have imagined I'd be coming in a group to adopt a daughter.

The White Swan has two lobbies. We entered through the lower lobby (for groups) and were met by some members of CCAI's group 22 with their babies. They had traveled to China only one week earlier to adopt their babies from Sichuan Province and were now finalizing their paperwork with the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.

They were all so happy and excited and in love with their children. The contrast between them with their babies, and us still waiting for ours was marked. I know I felt the stress of the uncertainty ahead and I could see the same look in the faces of the other families in our group. But at the same time, seeing all these happy families lifted my spirits and made me feel a little more optimistic that in a week we'd be as pleased and fulfilled as these new parents clearly were.

Our room was on the 10th floor, facing the old colonial buildings of Shamian island. The first thing I saw upon entering was a beautiful wooden crib by the window. I was very touched that it was already set up in our room. Somehow, that was the moment when it began to seem very real that I'd have a baby daughter very soon.

At a Guangzhou School
Wednesday, March 27, 1996 - The next morning we ate a buffet breakfast, then went for a walk off Shamian island. Our first stop was the local department store, which we toured from bottom to top. It was not a tourist store, and we found many things of interest to look at. Luckily, Mama was able to purchase a replacement battery for her video camera.

Guangzhou is a lively city, and we had great fun looking at everything. Along the way, we saw so many adorable children. I kept wondering if Lara would look like any of them. At one point, my mother started taking some video of the beautiful little children. The response was immediate. All of the mamas wanted us to take videos of their child. Some of the children were outgoing and loved being filmed, but one little boy was very shy. He was as determined to not be taped as his mother was to have him in our movie. But the greatest thrill was when my mother rewound her video camera, opened up the little TV screen on its side and played back the video for the crowd. Such pleasure! Such fun!

One Mother-to-be off for her Notary Interview
In the afternoon, each family met with the Provincial Notary. Our agency rep had arranged for him to come to the hotel for our interviews, so all the families waited out in the hall with our doors open.

We wondered and worried while waiting for the phone call telling each of us to come downstairs for our interview. We talked about gifts and interview questions and generally kept our adrenalin pumping. And of course, we grilled each returning family for information about the interview. We were all very excited, worried about not being able to answer a question, looking forward to seeing the first baby arrive later on for the family adopting from Guangzhou City.

Finally, my turn came. My mother came along to videotape and for moral support. We took the elevator down to the fourth floor where the Notary was waiting for us in our reps' room. I was happily surprised to discover that the Notary was a very pleasant and unintimidating young man who spoke beautiful English. Somehow, I had been expecting somebody a lot older and scarier.

The Notary
While my mother videotaped and our agency reps talked on the phone, the Notary quietly asked me all the required questions for the adoption. There were no surprises, no unpleasantness. The forms were filled out in a beautiful script, and finally, each of a number of papers, all in Chinese, were passed to me for my signature. In a bit of a daze, and completely out of my normal character, I signed each and every one without a question.

Lara's ceremonial adoption certificate
Then the Notary handed me a lovely little ceremonial adoption certificate in a vinyl album cover, we shook hands, posed for photos, I gave him his fee and a gift, and we were out the door and feeling great. I don't know how long the process took. It could have been minutes or hours, it had that sort of timeless quality about it. All I know is that I felt I'd cleared a big hurdle.

My mother and I returned to our room in excellent spirits, and left our door open, so that we'd hear when the new baby arrived for the one family. We were very surprised to see that family pass our door a little while later, clearly upset and with no child. They definitely weren't in any sort of mood to chat, but we found out a short while later that they had only just been told that their baby's health had been found to be so poor, that she no longer qualified to be adopted.

We had known that this baby was a special needs baby, but none of us had any idea that her problems were so serious. We were told that the agency reps would try to find another baby for the family. Although the news devastated the one family, it upset all of us. We felt horrible for the family that was now mourning the loss of a child they had never met, but we were equally worried and scared for our own unmet babies. We wondered what decision the family would make, and we wondered if we might have to make a similar decision.

We went to bed not knowing what the next day would bring.

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