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Meeting Liu Mei

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When asked to name one of the happiest days of your life, sometimes you pick a day that went wonderfully and you forget that in the end it led to a lot of pain.  Sometimes the events of the day are not pleasant at all, like childbirth for a mother who still cherishes that day.  Some of the best days went fine for you, but your loved one suffered and doesn’t even remember the day.  That was the day we met Liu Mei and she became Anne Mei.

We arrived at the airport in Changsha, Hunan Province, China in the early afternoon of Sunday, May 18, 1997.  Our local guide, Mr. Ma, met us in the terminal.  He was somewhat of a wit and knew exactly the effect he was trying to achieve when he asked if anyone needed to use the facilities "to change their diapers."  That was when we encountered Chinese "facilities," i.e., holes in the concrete floor, for the first time.  

From the airport, we were driven in a van to the hotel, where we quickly unloaded our bags and headed straight over to the orphanage, Changsha Social Welfare Institute No. 1.  We couldn’t wait to meet our new baby.  

They brought us into an institutional waiting room.  Unlike the sterile, bland walls of an American institution, the walls in this room were covered with an ornate tapestry on one side and with heavy, dark curtains on the others.  The room seemed rather dark, even with the lights on.  The tapestry showed a line of travelers dressed in traditional Chinese clothes.  Some were carrying bags over their shoulders.  There was a black and white stork flying over their heads.

We have a picture of Liu Mei being handed to Laura by one of the caregivers. (“Liu” like other Asian surnames came first.  It was the surname of the director of the orphanage, given to all the children.)  The caregiver has both arms around Mei’s chest. She is looking very fondly at Mei. There are two caregivers also watching carefully.  One has her hand up to her chin, a nervous gesture to cover her mouth.  They all seemed as nervous as we were. Mei does not look happy.  Her head is turned to one side and she is frowning.  Since the picture is taken from over Laura’s shoulder, we can’t see Laura’s face.

We asked the caregivers many questions about Mei.  They told us that she was not a cranky baby, and that she liked her formula mixed half and half with rice cereal and with sugar.  She slept in a crib with other babies, and that her name means Rose.  We didn’t know what sleeping in a crib with other babies meant until the next day when they let us visit the ward where she had been living.  I started crying when I saw.

There was a mark on the back of her neck.  At first I thought it was a birthmark and then a burn.  The caregivers said it was an infection.  Her hands had a rash on them, and there was a large sore on the top of her head.  We wanted to take her with us right away to care for her. Mei was uncomfortable as well as nervous.  In fact, we found out when we returned the next day that she had been burned on the back of her neck and the burn had become infected.  They gave us the medicine that was being used to treat her.  It was an anti-fungal medicine.  The sores on her hands and head were impetigo, and she was itching from scabies.

Laura held Anne Mei closely.  Then she let me hold her.  Laura took her back for a picture of the three of us together for the first time.  Laura and I are beaming.  Anne Mei is frowning with her lower lip stuck out.  She was quite frightened.  Who are these strange people, strange looks, strange smells, strange sounds?  By the time her face became a bit more relaxed, it was time for us to leave … without her.  

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