Our Vietnam Adoption Journey to Maggie
Part 1 of 3
By Erin Henderson
Our journey to adopt our daughter Maggie from Vietnam was a journey in many ways. It involved two long journeys over the Pacific Ocean for me, and a giant journey of faith for our entire family.
"We're not ready," were my husband Josh's first words when I broached the topic of an international adoption. He explained that he very much wanted to adopt a baby "one day", but considering our circumstances he did not think that this was the best time. And he was right! It certainly wasn't a logical decision. At the time, our three young biological sons were 4 ½ years old, 3 years old and 1½ years old and we were a young couple of 24 and 26, living paycheck to paycheck on a tight budget. So my husband's plan to give it five years or so was more than realistic and understandable.
But even though I agreed with him, I just could not get the idea out of my head. I spent lots of time on the Internet learning as much as I could about international adoptions and the choices in countries and programs and agencies. At times it certainly was overwhelming! But more and more I was feeling that the daughter that we so much wanted to add to our family needed us to start the process much sooner than we were planning, and although he was slow to admit it, Josh was feeling it too.
ADOPTT sent us an information packet and I showed it to Josh without saying anything, so see what his impressions were, and he looked up from reading it and said, "Vietnam, huh?.. Let's do it." We both liked the idea that the children from Vietnam were usually very healthy. The women in Vietnam generally do not smoke or drink so that was a major plus for the babies, plus the nannies in the orphanages gave the babies as much attention as they could and had a reputation of being very loving to the children. We felt that that too, would be a benefit for our daughter's health and future.
We had no money to pay for any of it, but we both felt very strongly that it was meant to be, so we knew we would find a way. We prayed a lot and always felt comforted in our decision. We managed to qualify for a small loan and we used that to get the ball rolling. We sent our I600A into the INS and had our fingerprints done at the end of April of 2001. It was so exciting to be officially "in the process"!
Our families were very much freaking out! Both of our families are very loving and usually very supportive of us, but this was certainly not something they thought we should be doing. They thought that we were jumping into it, and they knew that we did not have the money in hand to pay for it. They worried about all sorts of things and asked us to reconsider. My Dad told me that deep down he knew that if we had our hearts and minds made up, then we were going to make it happen. We asked them all to pray about it and see if they got them same feeling of peace that we did.
We planned a rummage and bake sale for the first week of August. All of the people in our small town (under 2000 people) knew what we were raising money for and so many people donated items to sell and then came back to buy things and donate some money. It was absolutely amazing. At the end of the day Josh and I sat down and counted over $4,000, and we knew again that there certainly was a child that belonged in our family. We sat down and cried over the miracle we had seen!
Our dossier was complete and on it's way to the Embassy and then to Vietnam, where it arrived on August 13. It was so neat to know that we were officially "waiting"!
The wait was hard! Harder than I thought. Josh was prepared for it, but I for some reason thought that it would be easy. Ha!
When the tragedy occurred on September 11, we were affected in many ways. I was born and raised in NY and knew many people in the area, so we were concerned about family and friends. And the horror of the day was compounded with this fear that international travel would be shut down, or there would be more attacks, or World War 3 would start or something else horrible that would keep us from getting our daughter.
On October 15 we got word that three baby girls had been brought into the orphanage from the maternity hospital and that the first one to have their police investigation and medical completed would be our daughter! It was so exciting! And then on October 25 we got a short email saying we had a baby girl! They could not give us any info about her until it was approved by the People's Committee, but it was a wonderful feeling just to know that there was a baby out there with our name on her!
Finally, on November 12, at 5am in the morning, Veronica called to tell us she was looking at our daughter! I got off the phone and raced Josh to the computer where we waited the longest minute of our lives while we waited for that picture to download!
Our daughter's birth name was Vo Thi Kim Phuong and she had been born on September 30, 2001 weighing 2.6 kg. Kim Phuong means "Golden Phoenix". We got two beautiful pictures of her! She had thick, dark hair that stood straight up and the sweetest little face we had EVER seen! We decided to name her Margaret Kim Claire Henderson, and we were calling her Maggie in a matter of hours. We knew just looking at her that she was the child meant to be with us. After we thought about it for a minute we realized that we could not have gotten our referral for her back in the last week of September because she had not even been born yet!
When we got her picture we also got a travel date, November 23, the day after Thanksgiving. I would be traveling alone. Partially because of financial reasons and partially because with all that was going on in the world we felt that one of us should be home with our boys. I was sad at the thought of leaving my boys and Josh for 5 days, but so excited at the thought of getting to meet our Maggie. I was not too scared about flying, although lots of people thought that I should be! Mom drove me to the Salt Lake City Airport and I left on an 8pm flight. From there I landed in LA, and then finally was on my way over the Pacific Ocean on a 15-hour flight from LA to Hong Kong.
The flight was VERY long, but I did manage to sleep some. I flew on Cathay and the food and the service was wonderful. I don't think I missed a single hour looking at my watch. It was hard to be away from Josh and the boys and to still be so far away from Maggie!
My spirits improved quite a bit when I landed in Hong Kong and then less than an hour later was on my way to landing in Saigon. Landing in Saigon was a very emotional experience. I realized how close I was to my daughter and how far I was from home. I was a bit nervous about getting through the airport and finding my escort, but it all went very well.
The Saigon airport was much better than I had anticipated. My bags were waiting for me as soon as I got there and I got through Customs and Immigrations very quickly and easily. As I emerged from the airport I stood looking at a sea of Vietnamese faces, many of them holding signs for different passengers. I still don't know how so many people could have nothing better to do than stand around in that heat and watch people walk out of the airport!
The heat was bad, but not as bad as I was thinking it would be. It was late November and somewhat overcast, so even though it was quite humid and warm, it was not unbearable. (Although it was quite the change from the Wyoming winter weather I had left behind!) The cab took me to my hotel, the Bong Sen. The hotel reminded me very much of a Marriott or Raddison type hotel back home. Duong checked me in and took me up to my room, and promised he would be back in two hours to take me to the orphanage to meet Maggie!!
I quickly ran back downstairs to the computer room and figured out the email. I had set up a Yahoo account so that I could email everyone back at home and let them know how thing were going. To use the internet at the Bong Sen was only a penny or two a minute so it was very handy. I wrote everyone to let them know I had made it safely to Vietnam and was in my hotel and very excited to go see Maggie.
I changed some money at the front desk and just hoped that they were giving me the right amount because I was not very sure at that point, and then went upstairs and took the most needed shower of my life! I drank a Pepsi from the minibar and watched some HBO to take a rest and try to make that last hour go by faster. I also got my things settled in the room and put my valuables in the safe in my room, which was also very convenient.
When Duong finally got there to pick me up to go to the orphanage I thought I was going to scream with excitement. We got into a cab and I watched in amazement at the scenes out my window. I tried to suck in as much as I could and remember as much as I could. I could not believe that the motorcycles did not crash, with all the weaving in and out that they did.
Although it felt like an eternity, it was probably only 15 minutes or so before we got to Go Vap, the orphanage that Maggie was waiting for me in. The orphanage was a strange building, with lots of areas that were open to the outside, or sheltered on three sides. It made it fairly cool and airy. We walked passed some benches with several school-aged children on them and a small swingset that was empty and went up an outdoor staircase. At the top of the stairs we took off our shoes and went into the nursery. I was so overwhelmed I could hardly breathe, and before I knew it one of the nannies ran off and bent into a crib and came to me holding the tiniest little baby I had ever seen!
Her features were the same as the baby in our pictures, (and there was NO mistaking that hair!), but she was so much smaller than we had imagined. She almost did not look real. The nanny handed her to me and tears spilled down my face. She was very much asleep and unaware of her new, emotional mother! The nannies gave me a small plastic chair to sit in that I was not quite sure my bottom was going to fit into, and then after a minute or two they moved us into a room just for visiting adoptive parents. I sat with Maggie on my lap and unwrapped her. When they first handed her to me she was so swaddled that all I could see was a tiny little face and whole lot of hair. It was wonderful to count fingers and toes and touch her all over. She looked very healthy, albeit tiny. At 8 weeks I guessed her to be about 7-8lbs.
As hard as I tried to wake her up, she tried harder to stay asleep! She would stick her bottom lip out when I stroked her face, until she finally decided she was hungry enough to wake up. One of the nannies brought us a bottle that was VERY warm. She seemed to have some trouble drinking it, she wanted it enough, but she was choking on it a bit and it seemed to me that it was too warm for her. But I got it into her slowly and she snuggled into me and went right back to sleep.
Each baby had their own crib, and there were about 20 cribs. It was so hard to look at all of the sweet little babies! I wished I could bring them all home with me! But it was a comfort to know that some of them had parents coming to adopt them.
The next morning we had to go to the confirmer's office to have a photocopy of my dossier confirmed to the original. Then I had some free time before Duong came back to take me to the Justice Department to submit my dossier and then back to the orphanage for another visit.
It was nerve-racking being at the Justice Department! We waited for awhile outside the busy building and it was a very hot afternoon. When they called my name, we went in and stood for quite awhile and watched a woman read every page of my dossier and my daughter's paperwork. She found one spot that I needed to date and sign, and then she stood up and walked away. She returned and handed me a receipt with the date for our Giving and Receiving on it!
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