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Dear Daughter

Still jet-lagged from a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, then another to Shanghai and another to your province, I awoke at dawn knowing that this was the day that I would finally meet you--my baby girl.

by Jeri Okamoto Floyd

Still jet-lagged from a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, then another to Shanghai and another to your province, I awoke at dawn knowing that this was the day that I would finally meet you--my baby girl. For months, I had fantasized about holding you for the first time, imagining us in a bamboo garden dappled with sunlight or an ornate hotel lobby with lyrical Chinese music playing in the background. Never once did I picture us becoming a family in a disco lounge.

The mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling reflected the neon-lit dance floor. Each time I fidgeted, the red leather couch where Daddy and I sat squeaked. In this stagnant, windowless room the odors of stale cigarette smoke and sweet jasmine tea mixed with our freshly showered scent and added to my queasiness.

I was inches and minutes away from motherhood--the closest I'd ever been. Would the fates allow me this wish, or would they snatch motherhood from me once again? You and another baby were hours late. That November morning, we had walked from our hotel to this one through a dense fog, barely able to navigate the cobblestone pathways. "They may be having trouble crossing the Yangtze," advised our interpreter. I pictured a vehicle careening off the road into the river and disappearing into the mist, and then an official saying, "We're so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd," echoing what had been said when I miscarried.

Daddy and I started the adoption process a year before, completing piles of paperwork, being on our best behavior for homestudy visits from a social worker, and standing in long lines to have our documents stamped with official government seals, so that the China Center of Adoption Affairs would approve us as future parents. We received your one-inch-square photo and a paper with your name on it in August, but had to wait months for our turn to travel. Now we waited again as the final minutes ticked by.

The babies from another orphanage, who had arrived earlier, left with their new parents, emptying the room of coos and cries, leaving us in silence. Daddy paced the dance floor and then sat, bouncing his leg restlessly. Then, as I lowered my face into my hands and began to cry, a nanny holding a baby burst in, shouting your Chinese name: "Ma Hai-Yi! Ma Hai-Yi!"

I rose. I extended my arms. Then I felt the luscious weight of your rounded body pressing against mine. Your milky breath warmed my neck.

I cradled you, nestling your face in the soft red sweater I'd worn for good luck. We returned to the couch, where I studied your sweetheart lips and tiny, raggedy fingernails in disbelief. Your skin was ghostly pale but your full cheeks blushed pink. You smelled like baby in your scratchy, hand-knit sweater and pants.

As I kissed your forehead, our brown eyes locked. Mine glistened while yours were fixed wide. You did not cry. You simply stared at me.

Who are you? Where did you come from? Is everything going to be OK now? Are you afraid? I am. Were those your thoughts or mine? In that moment, we merged. I am your mother; you are my daughter. I am your daughter; you are my mother.

What a long passage for both of us. You traveled by ferry across the Yangtze River and by car across rugged countryside. Daddy and I trekked halfway around the world to be with you. You were cared for in the orphanage for nine months, but the journey in your birthmother's womb and then to that refuge is a mystery. Perhaps one day we will know more but, for now, little one, I promise you will never be alone again. I am your mother; you are my daughter. We are a family.

 

JERI OKAMOTO FLOYD lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters, 17 and 13, adopted from China. Floyd is the coordinator for the China Care Bruins Buddy Program at UCLA, which connects adoptees with college student mentors.

PHOTO: Dan and Jeri meeting their daughter, Rachel (9 months, China), in Hefei, China.

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