The Journey to Kailee
by Stephen Voss

This is a love story. A story of abandonment and loss. And also of commitment and hope. It begins with a declaration of love: a promise made from thousands of miles away from an American couple to a Chinese mother who is only a few months pregnant. A mother who may not have yet decided that one day, after giving birth to her child, she will leave the baby forever. Though she does not know it yet, her baby will be a girl - the ones given up always are. On that day she will tightly bundle her infant daughter, just a few weeks old, take her to a well-traveled place where babies are abandoned and where babies are found. She will gently put her daughter down and walk away.

She will wait nearby, just out of sight, until her daughter is found.

There is no typical adoptive family. Some have had their own children before deciding to add an adoptive child to their family. For others, adoption is a last resort. Karen and Bob live in Orange County, just miles from the Pacific Ocean, on a block with palm trees and neatly mowed lawns. They have been married for 13 years and Karen was pregnant six times but never carried to term. On June 3, 2005, they began their journey to family, to a new daughter, to Kailee.

Like other couples who began at this time, Karen and Bob expected to be traveling to China to pick up their adopted daughter by June of 2006. Why it took an additional year is complicated and involves multiple levels of Chinese bureaucracy, a baby trafficking scandal that made international news and, in the long-term, a growing Chinese economy that made parents less likely to abandon children.

For an American couple beginning the adoption process today, it is estimated that at the current level of delay, the entire process will take more than four years.

Blogs and mailing lists have sprung up online as expectant couples share their experiences, discuss the intricacies of the paperwork and agonize as 12-month waits stretch into 18 months and longer.  The entire process typically costs about $20,000 with about 1/3 of that money going to the Chinese government and orphanages.

The day a couple is handed their adoptive child is referred to as Gotcha Day. And for Karen and Bob, that day was March 18, 2007 - the day they became parents. They had flown in to Hong Kong from their home in California a few days earlier, carrying suitcases full of baby formula, antibiotics, diapers and the paperwork needed for this final step in their almost two year journey.

On the morning of their Gotcha Day, they flew from Hong Kong to Nanchang, the capitol city of Jiangxi Province in southeastern China. In the afternoon, they attended one last meeting in the hotel’s conference room with thirteen other adoptive families as the adoption agency went over the details of caring for their baby and traveling in China. Then they went back to their hotel rooms and readied themselves for their new family member. Bob mixed warm water with baby formula in a plastic bottle, while Karen readied a video camera to record the moment. Next to their bed was a metal crib with a pink blanket and Hello Kitty pillow.

Soon they were nervously waiting outside a hotel meeting room with the other American families, peering through the cracked glass windows to try and spot their daughter. The doors opened and inside stood fourteen women from the orphanage each holding infant girls, each in the same puffy yellow jackets with green butterflies. Karen and Bob stood near the room’s entrance, anxiously scanning the babies as names were called, trying to match up one of these small yellow bundles with the photos that had been sent from the orphanage a few months before. By virtue of their last name, they were the second couple called to claim their daughter. A smiling orphanage worker walked towards them with the infant and they both reached out to this small, crying 13-month old named Gan Xin Tian who would now be called Kailee.

View images