Our eldest daughter Maggie Rose was born on September 2, 1996.
Maybe not. When we first received paperwork for her that wasn’t the date. Along with her medical information and a picture of a chubby four month old bundled in several layers of sweaters was the information that her birthday was October 2.
We were excited to know that we would be with her for her first birthday. Not that it mattered, but it was one of those little details that are nice when you are preparing to meet your new daughter.
We flew from Cleveland to Minneapolis, to Tokyo to Hong Kong. A day later we took a train to Shenzhen, and then flew to Maggie’s home town of Hefei in the Anhui province.
On September 15th Maggie’s care giver placed her in my arms for the first time. She was dressed in a blue sailor suit and was cute as can be. All we really could find out from the woman who had come from the orphanage was that Maggie loved to eat anything they gave her. That’s so hard to picture as we look at her now, so tall and thin and eating a diet consisting mainly of salami.
September 15th is our “gotcha day”. We celebrate that each year with Maggie. While we were in China, we received paperwork that indicated her birthday was really September 2. We asked about the discrepancy – we didn’t care what her true birthday was, we just wanted to know if there was a way to resolve the difference. It quickly became clear that it was not polite to point out the difference in dates. Somewhere a mistake had been made. So we just dropped it.
Many parents who adopt internationally celebrate the gotcha day and the day the child first came into their home along with the birthday. Different people may have different reasons. For us, it’s because we know these latter two days for sure, and because these are the dates that have significance for us in our relationship with our daughter. We weren’t there for her birth. We do know parents who were in the delivery room for the birth of the child they would adopt. I’ve never asked what days they celebrate. I’ve always assumed they celebrate every day.
Clarissa’s late husband Mel used to call his mother on his birthday. Clarissa said it was because he couldn’t remember his mother’s birthday but Mel insisted it was because his birthday was a special day to his mother. He figured that in many ways his birthday was more significant to his mother than it was to him. I’m guessing they were both right.
We have Maggie’s birthday officially listed as September 2 but she knows that at one point it was October 2. The dates we know for sure are her gotcha date and her coming home date. She came home to our house on my birthday, September 29. It was the best present I’ve ever gotten.
Just before Elena was born, Kim and I discussed what we wanted to celebrate for her. In addition to the character (Xue) she shares with Maggie, we decided we would celebrate her birthday, her gotcha day, and her coming home day.
Kim went in for a checkup with her Ob-gyn on March 2, 1999. No, that isn’t a day we celebrate. He told her she was ready and that she should go home and come back at midnight. That’s how much insurance companies influence our lives. They count days from midnight to midnight and not twenty-four hour periods from whenever you get there.
At eleven that night we brought Maggie and Tara, our black lab, to Kim’s parents house and headed to the hospital. We were allowed to fill in the paperwork when we got there and so Kim was admitted just after midnight on March 3.
Some time that evening the doctor ordered some blood work and decided that he was going to have to deliver a C-section because of a risk of hemorrhaging. The same condition meant that Kim would need to be under a general anaesthetic and not a local. She would be out for the delivery. I told Kim she owed me for the six weeks of LaMaze classes we’d gone to and got into a set of scrubs. As squeamish as I am about medical things, there’s no way I wasn’t going to be in the delivery room while my wife was cut open and my daughter was taking her first breaths.
Dr. Rao ran back to his office for a small cassette recorder. He felt badly that Kim would not hear the first sounds her baby made. He returned with the device and told me they would bring me into the delivery room once Kim was intubated. They brought me in a bit early and so I saw them sticking a tube into Kim’s mouth – that was probably the most disturbing part of the process.
Because Kim was under general anaesthesia, they had to operate quickly. It meant that the doctor cut a larger incision so as to deliver the baby before the anaesthesia could make it’s way to her. Everything went well and Elena was cleaned up and placed into my arms. So tiny. So perfect.
It was very unusual. I had gotten to hold both of my daughters first. Elena was born at 10:16 pm. I tried to get the doctor to log it as 10:10 or 10:20 (which would have been 20:20) so that her birth would be recorded as ten ten three three nine nine (10:10 3/3/99) or twenty twenty three three nine nine. It was this latter time when I first held Elena. I headed to the nursery to watch them with Elena while the doctor put Kim back together.
I called family members and waited for Kim to wake back up. Just before midnight they wheeled her out. She wanted to hold her baby. The nurse didn’t want her to and told her she could wait until the morning. I insisted and they brought Elena to Kim. What a moment. The two of us with our baby girl. A year and a half earlier we had sat together and had had the same feeling in our chests as we held Maggie between us. It’s that feeling of being so happy that you can’t imagine how perfect life is.
We celebrated March 3 as Elena’s birthday and her gotcha day. It was both. Today, March 7, is the anniversary of her coming home day. More days to celebrate. More days to remember.