Williston family adopts second Chinese daughter

By Ted Kenney
Special to the Observer

Editor’s note: Attorney and Williston Selectboard member Ted Kenney, his wife and his daughter, Ella, traveled to China recently to adopt their second Chinese baby girl. He sent in these posts, describing his experiences there.

We are hours away from meeting our second daughter, Julia Mei Faith Kenney, in the industrial city of Wuhan, China. My wife, Lucy Miller, our daughter, Ella, and Lucy's sister, Amy, and I, are a bit nervous. We've been through this before when we adopted Ella, and we try to affect the demeanor of grizzled veterans with the 20 other Americans who are in our group waiting for their daughters. I'm now a bit worried that I'm so calm; a number of more experienced parents have told me that they thought they knew how to parent until their second child came along and taught them all over again!

The prospective parents are a bit older in this group than in our first. At ages 38 and 40, Lucy and I are among the youngest couples this time. This might explain why the babies being adopted out are a little older. Julia will turn 1 on Nov. 15; Ella was 9 months old when we received her.

Many of us met each other on the flight from Newark International to Hong Kong. Ella had her third birthday in the Newark airport, with a goody from one of the restaurants and presents that her mother had wrapped and packed in our carry on luggage. After that, it was on to our 8,062 mile, 15 hour, non-stop flight to Hong Kong. As expected, the flight was even more trying with Ella. She couldn't settle down at night and I carried her around the plane for about an hour or so.  There was a significant "in flight emergency" when we could not find her new baby doll; we stood in the back galley area with the flight attendants and an exhausted, frustrated Ella cried for about a half hour. Other than that, and a super-sized meltdown in a Hong Kong traffic jam that was responsible for Ella missing her nap, our 3-year-old has been so well behaved that I fear we're giving a false sense of what parenting is to our travel companions.

The Wuhan streets are clean and crowded, but the air is dirty and you can smell a faint odor of unidentifiable pollution in the hazy air.  It was quite a decision whether to open the window of our hotel room and clear out the odor of cigarette smoke.  There are construction cranes and half-completed building everywhere, and it’s a bit of a fight to walk on the street. Lucy and I went to a store that was a combination of a Wal-Mart, a mall and a grocery store. There was only one cash register – on the third floor, not the ground floor – and we were yelled at in Chinese by a security guard when we tried to go out the wrong way to find the register. We didn't understand him, so he repeated himself, except this time very, very slowly. 

I made a note to myself never to do this (again) to a lost French Canadian tourist.

Julia is one of the thousands and thousands of abandoned Chinese girls this country generates each year.  China still has a "One Child Policy," where each family can only have one baby.  This policy combines with a strong cultural preference for sons, a need for boys for the non-mechanized peasant farming that sustains much of the population, creating a big incentive to abandon a daughter in the hopes that someone will take her to an orphanage. How vigorously it is enforced varies from province to province, with some areas not really enforcing it and some actually engaging in forced abortions. According to one book I read, there are approximately one million missing Chinese women of all ages due to a combination of infanticide, abandonment, and decisions to feed the boys instead of the girls during the famines of the 1950's.

Julia, like Ella, was found in a public place when she was three days old. 

She had a note on her (Ella did not) and we are going to try to get a copy of that note. She was transferred out of the local orphanage three days after being placed there and has been with the same foster family ever since.

The foster placement is extremely rare in China, and we are very grateful that she has been cared for in a more intimate setting. We have been told that we will not be allowed to meet the foster parents. My experience in Vermont Family Court when I had a juvenile defender contract tells me that this is probably for the best for all involved; I've seen some pretty ugly emergency custody transfers where children go into state custody. We wanted to give a gift to the foster parents and will try to do so through the orphanage director.

We received a final update about Julia yesterday. It says that she has formula three times a day, and is already eating some foods like mashed boiled egg, rice porridge, fish and tofu. She is said to get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 9 p.m. The Chinese start toilet training very early, and the report says that she is partially trained already! (I'll believe it when I see it.)

I am filled with anticipation. Like in a pregnancy, Lucy and I feel bonded to this daughter already, and we are anxious to begin loving her in our arms instead of from afar.

Dateline Wuhan, China:

On Wednesday morning, our group assembled in a bar at the White Rose Hotel called the "Wonderland Nightclub." The babies would be brought to us in an hour.

The babies were brought to the bar's dance floor by orphanage personnel. The second baby in line had started crying when handed to her new parents; all of the other babies immediately joined her. We received Julia about 2/3 of the way through the role call of adoptive families, crying and scared and a little wild-eyed in the chaos of camera flashes, happy parents and crying babies.

She cried for about 45 minutes while we tried to comfort her. She simply would not go to others, including Lucy, or let me even put her down. Other than when Julia was asleep, or when Lucy took her so I could use the bathroom, I was in physical contact/carrying Julia for a day and a half.

Some said she acted this way because I was the first one to hold Julia. Our interpreter thought it was because I looked Chinese. While I've always thought people with a combined French Canadian and Irish heritage have interesting looks, I had never considered us to look particularly Asian. Maybe to an 11-month-old girl from Wuhan, we do.

At Ella's naptime, I took Julia for a walk. The street lights are broken in front of our hotel and it’s a six lane city street with traffic swooping off a rotary. (If people think the rotary at Maple Tree Place is bad, they should see this!) With no traffic controls, the Chinese literally just walk out into screaming-fast traffic and make the cars stop. I cannot express how terrifying it is to cross this street. Wuhan is a city of 8.4 million people, and it felt like ALL of them were driving and walking through that intersection with no rules. Crossing it was like playing a videogame – with human beings.

That night, Lucy and I tried to relax and regroup. We noticed that, after sleeping, and if I was not in view, Julia was fine with Lucy. We decided that I would leave the room the next morning before Julia woke up.

It worked. Julia spent the day with Lucy, and by late afternoon we were all together with no frantic lurching by Julia toward me. It turns out that we have a very happy, curious little girl. She can pull herself to a stand and can walk/"coast" by holding on to your hand or furniture. She smiles a lot and makes great eye contact. It’s obvious that she has been well cared for.

The next day, we went to a Chinese department store. We looked for baby clothes. To buy something, you have to take it to a clerk – there's one every four clothing racks or so – and have her write out a receipt. You then take the receipt to a cashier and pay for the item. The cashier stamps the receipt, indicating that you have paid, and gives you an empty shopping bag. You take the "Paid" receipt to the clerk again – she gives you your new baby socks and you put them in your bag, fighting the headache the process has given you.

While on the tour bus to the store, our interpreter apologized for an "incident" that had occurred. It turns out that two couples in our group were tracked down by the foster mothers of their children. In separate incidents, these women had approached the adoptive parents carrying pictures of the babies and attempted to hold or possibly take the children. I felt a great mix of emotions about this. I can only imagine taking care of a baby and then letting her go. On the other hand, I would not want Julia to have any emotional disturbances after the first two days.

Today we are going on a tour of a park on the Yangtze River. The Yangtze is a HUGE river – I saw ocean-going container ships on it – that is more important to the Chinese than the Mississippi River is to the United States.

As interesting as all of this is, I am anxious to get home with my family.