God Chose a Baby Girl

By Carmen (Crinion) Wong, B.A. 1998
Wong family

It’s mid-afternoon on a warm spring day in 2009 and my husband, Andrew, and I are pacing back and forth in our hotel room in China. The anticipation mounts as we take turns peering out the door — today we will see our soon-to-be daughter in person for the first time.

The phone rings. It is our guide. She says there has been a traffic delay on a one-lane road in the countryside, so the orphanage director coming to the city with our baby will be running late.

Another hour passes. Again the phone rings. Our daughter is not here yet, but the guide says it shouldn’t be much longer. She asks us to call room service and order some congee (rice porridge) and to prepare a bottle for our 13-month-old girl. Furthermore, she warns us that our daughter will likely be very hungry and fussy upon arrival. What is typically a two-hour car ride from the orphanage has turned into more than a three-hour journey for our baby.

The phone rings again. Our guide says the orphanage director just arrived and is getting out of the car with our daughter. They’ll be heading upstairs now and we will get to meet our baby girl in a few minutes!

For us, this moment is the culmination of two and a half years of paperwork, prayer and patience in the hopes of adopting a child. And what a journey it has been!

Carmen and Andrew

Adoption is one of those things I remember thinking as a child that I wanted to do someday. But the idea also seemed complicated and a little far-fetched, so it wasn’t much more than a fleeting thought at the time. In fact, I’d actually nearly forgotten about it until Andrew and I were dating and he asked me if I desired to have children. He mentioned he was open to building a family by having biological children or adopting. We decided to pursue both options, and adopting from China was an obvious choice for our family since Andrew is of Chinese descent.

Prior to adopting, we had one biological son, who was 3 ½ when his sister arrived from China. The way we’ve explained adoption to our son is that it is one way that families can grow bigger. We’ve explained that we are all special because we are all God’s children. And in the same way that God picked our son for our family and us for him, God chose a baby girl from China for our family and us for her.

The adoption process was filled with essays, photos, interviews, personal records, medical exams and fingerprints. Some items on the checklist were required not only of my husband and me, but also of our son, and of my in-laws, who live with us. And some items needed to be submitted multiple times to keep our file current during the long wait. One of the many vivid memories I have of the paperwork process involves herding the whole family, in-laws included, into the minivan to go to the police station for fingerprinting.

Carmen with Lia

The process was at times tedious, intrusive, overwhelming, expensive and unpredictable; yet it was also insightful. I couldn’t help but think that the process should be required of everyone wanting to become a parent. It made us consider and reconsider why we wanted to have a child, why we were pursuing adoption, and how we were going to provide and care for a child placed in our care.

We were overjoyed to get “the call” late one evening from our adoption agency announcing that a little girl had been referred to us. The trials of the adoption process quickly faded into distant memories the moment I laid eyes on a photo of the child God had chosen for us to adopt. Our hearts melted as we read her file. It seemed as though we simply couldn’t get to China fast enough to bring her home.

The five weeks that followed were filled with packing and other travel preparations. We packed for ourselves for a two-week trip, we blindly packed for a baby girl we knew only through three photos and information from a documented medical exam, and we also assembled a suitcase for our son, who would stay at my parents’ house while we went to China.

Andrew with Lia

It was during that busy time that I first had to put pen to paper giving our daughter an American name. My husband let me pick the name. I knew all along that for her middle name I wanted to use the middle name of my late grandmother on my dad’s side of the family — Pearl. It seemed so fitting for our adoptive daughter, as the word “pearl” can be defined as “one that is very choice or precious.”

As for the first name, a seemingly random choice came to me during the adoption wait. No matter how many times I skimmed through the hundreds of names in the thick baby-name book or on baby-name Web sites, I kept coming back to the same name — Lia. So, she would be Lia Pearl Wong.

It wasn’t until the day we received Lia in China that I would discover why that particular choice for her first name was just meant to be.

The Wong family at a park

Andrew and I have such precious memories of the first few minutes and hours we spent with Lia after she was handed to us in our hotel room in China. Yes, she was crying for a while, but eventually she calmed down. How traumatic it must have been for her to transition from familiar faces and surroundings to being cared for by total strangers. And how silly might Lia think it someday to hear she was once fearful of us.

After Lia fell asleep that first night, I opened a little booklet that the orphanage director had handed to us earlier. How amazing! It was a baby book of sorts that chronicled time she spent in an infant-nurturing program at the orphanage. The program was funded by a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that collects quarterly reports about each orphan under its care. Lia’s caretaker had apparently put the report information along with some other things into a memory booklet to give to the family who would adopt her.

Halfway through the booklet was a photo of Lia’s caretaker and a name underneath the photo. While most of the writing was in Chinese, there were some dates and names that were also written in English letters. My eyes teared up and I grinned in astonishment as I read the name of the woman who cared for our daughter in her first year of life — Li Yao (pronounced lee-yow) — about as close as Chinese gets to the name of Lia.

Due to the economic recession and other factors, the first adoption agency the Wongs applied to had to close its doors. The economic climate remains especially tough for nonprofit organizations, says Carmen, who, until leaving her job last year to stay at home with her children, was a senior program manager for the Association of Small Foundations, based in Washington, D.C. Grateful for the care Lia received through the U.S.-funded program at the Chinese orphanage, Carmen hopes for the sake of the children that similar programs and international adoptions will continue.