“If there’s a cause worth fighting for, it’s this: Children belong in families.”
-Nicole Skellenger

We raced to bring Eisley home. We knew her condition was serious and that she needed medical help as soon as possible. We hurried through the remaining parts of the adoption and medically expedited her case. We locked in her file in mid-June and got travel approval on Sept. 2. Those familiar with China adoptions would call that warp speed! Speed was essential since we were crunched on time: Two major events coming up in China—the Autumn Moon Festival and the Business Trade Fair—would cause travel for adoptive families to shut down for several weeks. We realized there was a chance that Eisley might not have an extra month to wait on us, so we miraculously found a flight for the three of us and flew to Beijing on Sept 9.

We met Eisley on Sept. 14 in Taiyuan, the capital city of her province Shanxi. Our guide escorted us to the civil affairs office and asked us to take a seat on the couch and wait for Eisley’s arrival. Another family whom we had met previously was there, and they had just met their adopted daughter. I remember my own heart pounding fast and furiously, and I may have held my breath until Eisley entered the room shortly thereafter, carried by two women from her orphanage. After I gathered Eisley in my arms, the rest of the time in the office was spent signing papers, taking official photos, and trying to get information from the orphanage representatives about Eisley’s medications and schedule.IMG_3064

She was so tiny and beautiful … and a sweaty mess! At 18 months old, she weighed a whopping 13 pounds. Those big eyes took it all in. We recorded a video from that first meeting in which you can literally see her heart beating through her shirt. She was so scared and yet so brave. (Ha! Who am I kidding? I was the one who was scared! I had officially become mama to a heart warrior without a clue as to what I was doing!) Eisley didn’t shed a single tear in those first few minutes. They told us she was sick and to not make her mad because, as they said, it would be “bad for heart.” Seriously? You hand an 18 month old to complete strangers and tell us not to make her mad? I wondered later: Did they really know this feisty child??

Our time in China was difficult as the realization sank in of how sick and malnourished our IMG_3113baby girl was. You could see every rib in her ribcage. When I undressed her for the first time to change her diaper, the site of her frail body caused me to gasp. She couldn’t roll over, crawl, or walk. We were so concerned about her condition, we took her to a Chinese hospital two days after we met her. In some ways, I’m thankful they dismissed us, as I didn’t want to spend another moment in that dirty, dingy facility. Even though I was with a guide, I felt so alone—I couldn’t understand a single word spoken to me, and they didn’t appear to understand the seriousness of my daughter’s condition. I resolved to get our baby girl home as soon as possible.

We didn’t get to see much of Taiyuan because we spent most of our time in the room pacing and walking, taking turns holding her, or letting her sleep on one of us. She didn’t want us to put her down, and she didn’t want us to stop moving. She preferred Shawn to me because he carried her facing out. We figured out that it was a trust issue: When he carried her, she didn’t have to continually face a virtual stranger.

IMG_3183We began to see glimpses of Eisley’s personality emerge, despite how bad she must have felt at the time. She loved bubbles, music, escalators, and birds. She studied everything carefully before offering up a smile or laugh. When we did get a hard-earned laugh, it was sweet music to my soul.

Another tricky layer in unraveling the mystery of our daughter was figuring out what she liked to eat. Whereas our first daughter would eat anything and everything we offered to her, it was a challenge to find something Eisley liked. While I feared that we had a picky eater on our hands, I later realized eating was one of the few things she could control. Eisley wasn’t picky; she just chose to be selective in what she ate until she trusted us more.

After a week in Taiyuan, we flew to Guangzhou in the southernmost part of China. All U.S. families seeking to adopt from China are required to spend the last five days of their trip in Guangzhou for medical and consulate appointments before the child’s visa is finally issued. I was anxious to see how Eisley would do on the short airplane ride with the altitude, her illness, and her heart condition. I think I prayed the entire flight and thankfully Eisley slept through it all!

When we arrived, we were happy to see some sites that were familiar to us from our first IMG_3413trip to China. We also connected with several other families and shared many meals with them. We particularly enjoyed a visit to Safari Park, which Eisley loved. She would try to “call” the animals to come closer by motioning her hands at them. In the midst of a long and arduous journey, this was a bright spot in the trip. We also had some fun times playing with a beach ball, blowing bubbles, and “walking” around the room, which entailed Eisley holding onto our hands and “ordering” us to walk laps.

We were so grateful that my brother was able to fly to Guangzhou to help us navigate the city, manage the children, and assist us with all the luggage through train stations, buses, and taxis as we made our way home. While we created some good memories in Guangzhou, we were ready to come home, especially since Eisley ended up sharing her para-influenza with big sister and me. At the end of the week, we took a train to Hong Kong and flew out the next morning. Again, I was worried how Eisley would handle the 15-hour plane ride home, and prayed fervently for an easy trip. Overall, she and big sister did great—even with the important layover in Chicago where Eisley became a U.S. Citizen! After a nap and a meal in the airport, we expectantly boarded the plane for home.

Here are a more pictures from our trip.

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