With each introduction, the room becomes a little warmer and a lot louder. Surprisingly, though, only one baby cries. The others, like Ya Qun, seem too shocked to speak. Somehow, in the chaos, everyone missed the exit of the men and women who had delivered the babies from the orphanage. “Okay, let’s go!” Shirley calls out once everyone has been united. The group arrived at 3:50. It departs at 4:30. In the elevator, through the lobby, and into the bus, voices soften and drain into simple cooing and baby talk, if anything at all. “They fed the babies before we came,” Shirley announces as the bus rolls past the gate. “So the next meal should be around 5:30.”
Laurel holds Ya Qun to her breast and watches out the window. She is smiling, even through the occasional tears. Paul leans over and smiles at his daughter, and though Laurel has yet to let him hold her, he doesn’t seem to mind. Ya Qun’s big eyes stare at everything and nothing; she hardly moves except to open her hands and gaze at them.
Outside, in an adjacent lane, the passengers on a Changsha bus demand that their driver keep pace with the bus full of foreigners holding the Chinese babies. A cabdriver notices the same strange cargo and nearly swerves into the bus as he gawks. “That was close,” Laurel comments.
Paul loosens his crossed arms and offers his left pinkie to Ya Qun’s open hands. Without looking, she wraps her palm around it.
The Stuebers’ first ten minutes alone as a family are devoted to Ya Qun’s diaper and outfit. “She was completely drenched in sweat when I changed her,” Laurel says as she lies across the bed in room 1111, her head perched upon her palm, watching Ya Qun in white cotton pajamas covered in pink hearts. Paul emerges from the bathroom with a baby bottle. Laurel stands and takes it. “I think it might be too hot,” she says confidently. As she taps the nipple on her wrist, the formula squirts across the room. There is a knock at the door and Shirley arrives with the paperwork.
“How is everything?” she asks. “The baby is happy?” Paul and Laurel nod affirmatively and Shirley sits at a small desk lodged between the window and television. The first document is an “attachment agreement” providing the Stuebers with one night to decide whether or not they
want to keep Ya Qun. Paul takes Shirley’s place at the desk and signs.
“Usually you sign this on the second day,” Shirley explains as she sets the formal adoption agreement in front of Paul. “But to save time tomorrow, we’ll sign it today.” Paul signs without hesitation, and so does Laurel.
Shirley then places a single sheet of paper covered in numbered Chinese sentences on the desk. “These are the answers to the questions you sent to the orphanage,” she explains. Laurel watches over Paul’s left shoulder as he takes notes on Shirley’s translation. “There was no birth note, so her age is a doctor’s guess,” Shirley begins. “The orphanage named her Luo Ya Qun. The name ‘Luo’ was given to all of the babies at the orphanage. In ancient times all the people in the area had that name.”
Laurel repeats it, and so does Paul.
“It says that she gets on very well with other people,” Shirley continues. “Her personality is quiet and she’s afraid of strangers.”
Paul and Laurel look at each other. “Well … ”
“So far, so good,” Laurel laughs.
“She likes to stand by the bed and play. If you put her in a walker she runs very fast. She likes to smile. She likes soft music. She can sleep through the night.” Shirley pauses. “She’s very healthy and never had a problem. The orphanage says it would like to know everything about her in the future. They would like you to send pictures every year.” Shirley writes down the orphanage’s address in English and then places a sheet containing care instructions on the desk. “At six-forty please feed her formula mixed with rice cereal,” she says, then waits for Paul to write the translation, repeating the process through multiple feeding times. “At eight-thirty she needs to go to sleep. She should have two naps, at nine and one.”
When she is finished Shirley gathers up the documents and moves toward the door. “Today is a big day for the baby,” she concludes. “And sometimes they refuse the bottle. I had one baby refuse for five days, so you’ll need to be patient for her to accept you.”
Laurel begins to tear up at this news.
“Don’t worry,” Shirley assures her. “She’s already started to accept you. I can see it.”