On the last day of February, I was at work waiting for my surprise baby shower to start when the room began to shake. I froze. My husband, Andy, and I were leaving in two days to adopt our second daughter from China, and I still needed to pack my desk and say some goodbyes. This was no time for an earthquake. But my co-workers had ducked for cover, so I scrambled under a nearby table. When the shaking stopped, we climbed out of our temporary shelters and hurried to the parking lot.
We picked our way through chunks of asphalt and surveyed the wreckage. Several water lines had broken, and portions of the lot were flooded. Those of us who didn’t have cell phones gathered around a car radio, shivering in the chilly air, and listened to disc jockeys relay damage reports in unsteady voices. Some roads and bridges were closed, and power was out in many areas. Grocery store aisles were strewn with broken bottles. The airport was shut down because the windows in the control tower had shattered.
My first thought was: “Why me?”
Now, I knew that fate hadn’t chosen that moment just to spoil my party and threaten my travel plans. But I was unnerved that the quake so eerily mirrored my own shaky state of mind. I was eager to meet our new baby, An Ming, for whom we had chosen the name Lily. At the same time, I feared that we were about to turn our lives upside down. I worried about the extra work another child would bring to our already busy lives. Our five-year-old daughter, Tessa, was going with us, and I worried about how she would handle losing her position at the center of our attention. Most of all, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make room in my heart for another child. I didn’t know what made me more anxious: the possibility that we would not make the trip or the likelihood that we would.
I made my way home on the traffic-clogged freeway, joined Andy in inspecting the cracks in our drywall, and finished packing. The airport had set up a temporary air traffic control facility, so Andy, Tessa, and I were able to leave on schedule. On the way to the airport, we could see that crews were at work rebuilding the damaged roads and bridges, strengthening them in preparation for the next shakeup.
We were soon caught up in the excitement of the trip, and by the time we arrived in China, the earthquake seemed a world away. The other couples in our group proved to be ideal traveling companions, tolerant and good-humored. A few of them sheepishly admitted that they, too, had a “Why me?” moment when the earthquake hit. We laughed at ourselves while we marveled at the sights and waited to meet our children.
At last we gathered in the hotel conference room to receive our babies. A woman was standing in the corner holding a baby in a puffy yellow snowsuit. Tears spilled from the baby’s eyes and her lower lip trembled, but her face was familiar. “An Ming?” I asked, and the caregiver placed her in my arms. The misery in her delicate features made my heart ache, and I realized that I wasn’t the one whose life was being turned upside down. We volunteered for this trip; our daughter had not. And her entire world was about to change.
I looked down at Lily and smiled, and she returned my gaze, sniffling and clutching a rattle we gave her. Tessa, a veteran of this journey, stroked Lily’s tiny hand and murmured, “It’s okay, Honey.” Andy hovered protectively nearby. With full hearts, we huddled together in our corner of the room, laughing and crying, and began to build our new family.
Two weeks, four cities, and seven plane flights later, we returned home. Spring had come during our absence. The air was fresh and mild, and crocuses peeked through moist earth. Our house was wreathed in pink clouds of cherry and plum blossoms, as lovely as a castle in the sky—cracked drywall and all. It was good to be on familiar ground.