One question that I've been asked so many times leading up our trip to China is, "Why do you go back to the orphanage after you have Jenna?" I've been told by our agency all the "good" that can come from trips to orphanages, and I've also been told how very difficult these trips can be. Well today, I got to experience all of this firsthand.
I have to confess that I was quite apprehensive about today's orphanage visit. When we left at 7:15 AM to ride 3 hours north in a van with our guide, my heart was torn because I didn't know how this would affect Jenna. She has been bonding so well with Shelby and I, and although she is a little nervous around Jason, I know in time that will change, so I was concerned that by seeing all of her former nannies and friends, she would regress. I also knew it would be hard emotionally going to the place where my new daughter spent the first 2+ years of her life, a place where no child should have to live. But I also knew that this was a "one moment in time" opportunity for me to experience a significant part of Jenna's story so that one day I could share it with her.
About 2 hours into our trip, through the huge city of Guangzhou and small, rural towns in the mountains of southeast China, the van came to a screeching halt (which, by the way, is all too common...the driving here is INSANE!) There was a traffic jam and people were lining the streets since there was no end in sight. Needless to say, we hopped out of the van to stretch our legs and get some fresh air (the word "fresh" isn't very accurate since there were so many people around us smoking). Finally, about 15 minutes later, we loaded back into the van, ready to finish our drive to Heyuan Ciy, the birthplace of Jenna and site of the orphanage.
The closer we got, the more nervous I got and the more tears I started to cry. There is just so much loss and grief and heartache and mourning with adoption and all of these emotions were very real to me this morning as we approached Jenna's orphanage, Yuancheng Social Welfare Institute of Heyuan City.
We were greeted by the director and his assistant, the same to nice people that brought Jenna to us on "Gotcha Day." Then we were quickly greeted by several nannies that care for the children in the orphanage, as they were so excited to see He Tong. We learned that there are approximately 30 children in this orphanage, so it is VERY small compared to many Chinese orphanages (for example, two other couples in our travel group went to their children's orphanages today and there were over 900 orphans there). We also learned that Jenna is the 4th child to be adopted out of this orphanage since it is relatively new to international adoption.
We were allowed to take pictures of the outside play area, as well as the therapy/play room. We were not allowed to take pictures of other children except for this one little girl because she was Jenna's favorite friend.
We donated several packages of diapers since we were told that was a need at the orphanage. We were also excited to deliver all of the bubbles, lollipops and balloons that were given to us by several of Shelby and Andrew's friends last month at their birthday parties. You should have seen the children's faces light up when Shelby handed them a lollipop...so precious!
Once we left the therapy/play room where Jenna and her friends spent 2 1/2 hours each morning, we toured around the area where children sleep and eat. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures in these areas, but I will forever remember the look of the room where Jenna spent the first 2 1/2 years of her life. My first thought when seeing it was that it resembled a small prison cell. It was clean but very stark and cold, containing only a small metal bed. There was a monitor on the wall for videocameras to watch her sleep, but it simply BROKE MY HEART to think of her sleeping alone in that room night after night. Praise God NO MORE!!!
Finally, we went to the playground area which is where Jenna was playing in the first and only video that was given to us soon after we decided we wanted to adopt He Tong. It was very interesting to me that Jenna was happy and playing a lot on the van ride, but as soon as we got to the orphanage, she was very quiet and remained that way the entire time, even at the playground. She didn't want to go down the slide or play on anything else with anyone but me.
Throughout the tour, several nannies reached out to hold Jenna and take her from my arms. I was hesitant to let them do this since she needs to learn to attach/bond to me, but I could tell they genuinely loved her and I knew it would mean a lot for them. But I was thankful that after each time another one held Jenna, she would still reach out to me, her momma!
The most amazing, special, and priceless moment of our time at the orphanage came when I gave a Shutterfly memory book to the nannies. This book was from the mother of the first adopted child from this orphanage back in 2010. She was 7 years old at the time and it was too traumatic for her to go visit the orphanage. So through the power of social media, this mother and I got connected and she asked me if I would be willing to take pictures of the orphanage so they could show their daughter as well as deliver this memory book for the staff to keep. Of course I said "yes."
You should have seen the looks on these precious nannies faces when I gave them this book...it was like they'd won the lottery--even better! They were so excited to see pictures of this little girl over the past three years, so healthy and happy with her forever family. I will never forget this moment and am so happy to share this great news with the family of this little girl.
I was moved to tears once again from what I'd just witnessed, but I was also reminded of the verse about how God turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). All of my prayers had truly been answered with regards to Jenna being loved and cared for as much as possible until we could get to her. To see the love these nannies had for the little girl in the Shutterfly book was like "icing on the cake" for me, letting my heart and mind know that they truly loved and cared for my daughter, too. Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness!
Before leaving the orphanage, I got a few more questions answered about He Tong. We then said "good-bye" and with tears in my eyes, we left...tears of joy to have Jenna in my arms, tears of sorrow for the children we had to leave behind, and tears of thanksgiving to know that the children there are loved by their nannies and the One who created them!
The next stop on this journey was to go to Jenna's "finding spot," the place she was found a newborn before being taken to the orphanage. Although we don't know the exact spot, we were told it was somewhere along this VERY busy road beside a large river. I cannot begin to imagine what He Tong's parents must have been going through to leave their precious daughter beside a busy road. It breaks my heart to think of the heartache THEY must experience every day wondering about what happened to her.
A quick stop at KFC for lunch was nothing special except for two things: everyone told us the chicken in spicier in China and this was TRUE! Second, Jenna didn't want to play on the playground at the orphanage, but I couldn't get her off this one inside the restaurant!
Finally, before heading back to Guangzhou, we stopped at a park by a HUGE lake that this area of China is best known for and it was gorgeous!
My heart and mind are still trying to process all that happened today, and I think it will take some time to do this. But I am so thankful we were able to do this for our sake but mostly for Jenna's, to have these memories and pictures and stories to share with her one day.
Thank you, Lord, for your promise to turn our mourning into dancing!
Oh...Jenna fell asleep tonight for the first time WITHOUT her little shoes on!