Love Knows No Borders

The next morning at 9:05, a group of French parents and their newly adopted Chinese daughters gather in the lobby. The staff pays them little attention, but several Chinese businessmen are shocked at white parents with Chinese babies, and so remain at a distance, watching the group until it leaves for the airport. At 9:30, Shirley strides alone out of one elevator just as two others disgorge her families. Unlike the other families, the Stuebers appear well rested. “I don’t know,” Paul says with a shrug. “She slept pretty good. Better than us.” Ya Qun wears a red hoodie over red plaid pajamas and wraps her arms around Laurel’s left shoulder. “She even has a little cold,” Laurel says as she adjusts a pink blanket around her daughter.

Shirley encourages the group to board the waiting bus. “Before we go, I want to make sure that everyone has passports, the letter of final approval, and the three thousand dollars.” There is no response.

Twenty minutes later, the group is on the third floor of Civil Affairs where yet another French adoption group is completing its paperwork. The Americans nod at the French, and the French smile at the Americans, but there is no mingling. Shirley strides down the hallway carrying gift bags stuffed with Oil of Olay, Twins caps, and Care Bear hand towels, in addition to a plastic bag jammed with adoption paperwork. Over the next two hours she will coordinate the legal adoption of the six orphans. “This will be crazy,” she concedes as she enters the airy office where Ms. Zhang sits at a desk positioned below a wall-sized watercolor landscape. “How are the babies?” Zhang asks.

Shirley sets the files on the desk and the gifts beside Zhang’s chair. “Everyone is happy.”

Zhang pointedly ignores the gifts and shuffles through the documents. “We can start with the interviews.” Shirley fetches the Stuebers and guides them into the office. They enter cautiously, even though they’ve been told in advance that the interview is perfunctory. Zhang greets them: “Come in, come in!”

They sit, and Paul hands over their passports and documents. Ya Qun settles into Laurel’s arms and stares at Zhang. “Your baby’s name is Ya Qun,” Zhang says and then leans across the desk with a big smile and speaks directly to her. “Ya Qun! Ya Qun, hello!” Ya Qun smiles for the first time that morning. “She is very beautiful,” Zhang adds. “Are you happy with her?”

“Yes, very,” Laurel answers over Paul’s answer of “absolutely.”

“Then if you have no problem with this baby, please, your thumbprints next to the signatures.” Zhang spreads out the adoption documents signed the evening before. Paul and Laurel dab their thumbs into a red ink pad and then press them, elbows raised high, into the space beside their signatures.

“Now, your baby’s footprint.”

Laurel removes Ya Qun’s left sock and holds her while Zhang gently presses her foot against the inkpad and adoption agreement. When she is done, Zhang wipes the foot clean with a tissue and Ya Qun settles back into Laurel’s lap with a blank stare. “Ya Qun! Ya Qun!” Zhang says loudly until the little girl looks at her. “Ya Qun! Bye-bye! Bye-bye, Ya Qun!”

The Stuebers return to the main room and quietly play with Ya Qun in a corner away from the other families, but the intimacy is interrupted by the chaotic entrance of orphanage workers carrying nine crying children soon to be adopted by another American adoption group. Shirley returns nonplussed and calls out, “I need one person from each family to come with me to pay the three thousand dollars.” Paul volunteers and accompanies five other parents down the hallway to a blue door hung with two signs: Revenue Dept.; Donation Room. Inside, a woman in her early twenties places her right thumb in a rubber thumb-stick and gestures for Paul to hand over the money. She counts it—thirty one-hundred-dollar bills—by hand, then runs it through a counting machine and gives Paul a “Donation Certificate.”

After the money is collected, Shirley rushes back to the stifling main room, grabs a family, and escorts them to a small white room where a photographer has arranged lights and a bench. The Stuebers are second to last, and though Paul and Laurel smile, Ya Qun doesn’t. When the photos are done, Shirley presents the families with typed adoption decrees for proofreading. “Wait!” Paul exclaims. “This isn’t ours!” Shirley taps her forehead and exchanges the Stuebers’ decree with another family’s. At the top, without explanation, is the number 1832. “That means Ya Qun was the one thousand eight hundred and thirty-second baby adopted by foreigners in Hunan Province this year,” Shirley explains. After being approved, the decrees are notarized, embossed, and complete under Chinese law. The Stuebers are parents.

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