China adoption diary: "Officially ours," Madeleine Bao Yi becomes a Belsie

Part 5 – China adoption diary: After questions from Chinese functionaries such as "Why did you choose to adopt?" the Belsie family officially becomes four, with new sister and daughter Madeleine Bao Yi.

Courtesy of the Belsie family
Madeleine Bao Yi enjoys swimming in the hotel pool. Any excuse to wear that dotted swimsuit is a cause for celebration, says Mom Gretchen.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Part 5 of Gretchen Belsie’s account of her trip with husband Laurent and their first adopted Chinese daughter – 10-year-old Grace – as they head to meet and bring home 7-year-old Madeleine Bao Yi.

Today we made it official: Bao Yi legally became our daughter after a second brief interview this morning back at the Civil Adoption Bureau of Guangdong Province.

We returned to the same large room with the red couches and graphic pillows, but this time, the children, for the most part, seemed settled already into their new families. There was a slight whimper here and there, but it was nothing compared to yesterday’s cacophony.

We came with gift bags in hand. Our first stop was at the room with the photographer. We had our picture taken with Bao Yi for legal records. Next we proceeded to an interview room where a nice woman asked us questions like, “Are you happy with this child?” and “Do you guarantee to keep her?”

The questions seemed cold and bureaucratic, given what we had gone through to make this decision and get to this point.

Bao Yi exchanged a few pleasantries with the woman, handed over the gift bag, and went on the second interview. A young functionary settled down with authority and asked us more questions: “How long have you been married?”  “Why did you choose to adopt?”

It is hard to formulate an answer for that last one. How do you put into words a kind of calling of the heart? For us, this was the way that we chose to have a family.

I have thought a lot about the innocence and trust that these adopted Chinese children show. Imagine what it must feel like to be 7 years old and leave your home (even if it is an institution), and leave with people you have only ever seen in a small photo album that arrived in the mail a month before. You just trust and move forward, hoping that the people will be good to you – and we will be, just like we told that young man at the civil bureau.

I’ve noticed in Bao Yi this thing that I can only describe as “self-containment.” It is more than self-sufficiency; at times it can take on the sense of functioning in your own world or keeping going despite others around you. I wonder if this is how children cope with being on their own emotionally. She certainly received excellent care where she was, but it is not the same as having a nuclear family surrounding her.

We have held back from kissing her right away as that seemed too much, too fast, after the first afternoon of knowing her. But tonight when this little face peered out from the puffy duvet and there were unshed tears in her eyes, I just had to kiss her cheek and squeeze her hand. Day by day, she’ll understand more of who we are and why we love her so.

Bao Yi certainly knows what she likes. At the breakfast bar this morning, she and Laurent ventured over to the beverage area and were looking at the pitchers of fruit juice. She scanned the options and immediately pointed to the soy milk. (Cue in menacing chords on the organ.) She downed the glass at the table and I realized with some trepidation that when we get home, I’m going to have to pony up and start buying that stuff. I didn’t get close enough to smell it, but the look of it – sort of a dull taupe color – reminded me of the runny sauce that is left over after a papier-mâché project.

This afternoon, Laurent took the girls down to the hotel pool while I dozed in the room. The humidity was intense today and I felt drugged after the morning’s trip to the adoption bureau. Both Grace and Bao Yi were having such fun in the pool. Any excuse to wear that dotted swimsuit is a cause for celebration. 

Our dinner tonight was at “The Italian Restaurant” down the street. Bao Yi’s table manners with knife and fork are improving thanks to Laurent’s patient instruction. We made sure she got plenty of meat.

The high note of the day was verifying the English translation of Bao Yi’s name. She was able to write out the characters for us yesterday, and we consulted the Chinese dictionary last night to see if we could decode it ourselves. Laurent checked with Simon this morning and confirmed that Madeleine is indeed our “joyful treasure.” 

Tomorrow, after another check of our documents, we are taking a road trip to Maoming (cue the Doobie Brothers soundtrack) to visit Grace’s home city and the orphanage where she lived for a year and a half.

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