Background: Jaclyn, adopted at age 4, begins a campaign immediately to be reunited with the child she cared for in the orphanage who she calls "her baby" and has nicknamed "Xiao Mei Mei". Jaclyn's baby was on my mind constantly, too. I had noticed that all Jaclyn's joy in her new life existed beneath the shadow of longing. There was a certain day in January on which I, too, could not contain my longing for Jaclyn's baby. Unable to communicate with him directly in any way and sure that the feelings inside me would not stop overflowing into tears unless I somehow got them out, I sat down and wrote him a letter:
Dear Xiao Mei Mei, As I write this, I am sitting here with the heavy heart that comes from the realization that today, January 17, is your birthday. When I told Jaclyn today was your birthday, she began to cry. She knows what it is to have a birthday in her new life and that all of it will be denied you. Is there any recognition at all of this momentous day of yours, sweet boy? Jaclyn tells me that there is no such thing as "Happy Birthday" in China, and I know she is a witness to the truth of your life there. I know that there is no cake with candles on it to mark this special day. I know that there are no presents wrapped in shiny gift wrap with your name on them. I know that there are no streamers and balloons. I know that there are no excited friends playing games and singing "Happy Birthday" in your honor.
Next year, I promise you, there will be balloons….You have now lived in the orphanage for exactly thirteen months. Of course, I realize that there is no way to know what day is really the anniversary of your birth. There is only one who holds that knowledge deep in her heart. And, although I like to believe that all births are cause for celebration, there is no way to know if your birth was a day of happiness or of sorrow. Today I will say a prayer for your birth mother and her grief. I know she remembers you on the day of your birth and I suspect every other day, too. And I'll pray, too, that you will someday know a world in which a mother's will prevails over impossible options thrust upon her by others.
If you only knew how knowing you has touched my heart and that of so many others. Even when Jaclyn had no words to communicate with me, her love for you was the first thing she tried to make me understand. When we first adopted her she carefully pointed you out in every photo and called you by her pet name for you. When she awoke, profoundly sad each morning, your pictures were the first things she looked for; she studied them with such a heavy heart.
On her first full day as my daughter, I sorted out the piles of clothes we had brought for the orphanage. Although she could not have understood what I was doing, she quickly culled from the pile all the tiniest outfits and showed them to me and said your name over and over as she put them into a neat pile for you. Jaclyn chattered about you nonstop to our guide so that this woman, who could understand her, would convey to us her pride in her care for you. She told us then that she had given you "all her love" and even before she said it in words, it was obvious. She delighted in telling little anecdotes about cute and amusing things you had done, and she told them with the same pride that a mother has for her darling baby. And once Jaclyn could communicate with us directly, she clarified for us that you were, indeed, "her baby." I'll never forget the first time we me, how Jaclyn ran over to scrutinize your dress and gently fix your pant leg and how she fussed over your tiny shirt. You locked your sad little eyes on hers and desperately held on to her hand. Even when you got pushed aside in the excited throng of children, Jaclyn found you and reclaimed your little hand again. And then when she had to go, your silent tears began as she gently rocked and comforted you. I know how alone and sad you must have felt that day, sweet boy. Her newfound family separated you from the "child mother" she had become to you; her joy became your sorrow. I received a note from another mother of an older child in your orphanage who told me that her daughter also loved you and, like Jaclyn, sneaked you food at night and loved to hold you. She told me this to try to ease my heart by saying, "Just think, if our daughters both loved him so, maybe there is some other special little girl there now who loves him, too, and is watching over him."Maybe there is, but I know there is no one who could love you as fiercely as Jaclyn. Living with her has been like living with a very short mother who has had her baby wrenched from her arms. You are never far from her thoughts; thoughts of you permeate both times of joy and times of sorrow in this house. We never know when memories of you will surface. When we had a special holiday prayer on Christmas, Jaclyn's prayer was for a mama for you. When Jaclyn was so sick with the flu that she could barely speak without chills making her teeth chatter, she still squeaked out a prayer for you. I have come to realize that Jaclyn asks God for nothing for herself, but all her prayers contain pleas for a mama for you. And so, dear child, you have now invaded my heart. You were once just another nameless, faceless, family-less child in a myriad of lost children. Your picture was not in anyone's family album. Now your picture is in mine. It also sits on my dresser and on my mantle and belongs in that place as rightfully as the pictures of my other children. And I know of three other households that display your picture with their family photos, too.Your story, as told by Jaclyn, has touched so many others that funds are now accumulating to pay for your journey home. I already have a box of special gifts, given with great love and hopefulness, awaiting your arrival. I was almost as anxious as Jaclyn to see you again when we visited in November. I had not held you the first time; that privilege belonged only to Jaclyn. But this time she wanted to share you. She is very wise, and I know she held herself back so that my sister and I could feel the sweetness of you for ourselves. Jaclyn was dismayed to see your shoes on the wrong feet, but she wanted me to fix them, for me to be "the mama" this time, not her. Her pain at seeing you sitting in the same spot where she left you was almost too much to bear. And when she sneaked back around the corner after she had bid you good-bye and saw your silent tears, she turned and ran with a look in her eyes that spoke of the deepest grief imaginable. Because of you, she did not want to leave China. This birthday, your third, marks the day in the world of adoption that you go from being a possibly adoptable toddler to a child with suddenly fewer options. After age three, the adoption experts tell me, potential parents are afraid that you will have been too deeply scarred by your past to become whole again. Luckily, there are many others like me that know a different truth. Don't give up hope, little guy; your mama is coming for you. As much as you may believe that Jaclyn abandoned you in the same way that your birth mother did, I am here to tell you that she did not. Not even for a day. She has made so many others love you, pray for you, hope for you and care about you that there is now a powerful wave of love washing you home. And I fervently pray that your homecoming will be to our extended family.I feel like a fool for not understanding that you belonged here sooner. How I regret not starting adoption proceedings myself to bring you home months ago. I foolishly thought that a small child would get over her devotion to you. That was before I knew Jaclyn. That was before I really understood the depth of her love for you. When she had lost everything and everyone that she held dear, and almost at the same time her second adoption fell through, you arrived at the orphanage. You became the one that she transferred all her feelings to. Her love for you kept her heart intact. She needed to love you as much as you needed her love. Thank you for that. Had she not had the responsibility for your care, I am not sure what would have happened to her. If she had not had you to hold on to, to give her life a greater purpose, I am not sure who she would have become. It certainly would have been someone remarkably different from the incredibly loving child that she is. You could not have found a more devoted protector. She has been like a beacon illuminating my understanding of the life that holds you. She will not forget. So, dear child, as you live this day in the never-ending routine of sorrow that surrounds you, hang onto hope. Because next year, I promise you, there will be balloons. Happy Birthday, dear Xiao Mei Mei! I celebrate your life, and those of all you have touched. Love, Cindy (aka. Jaclyn's mom and your second biggest fan)
To order this amazing book, click here ALL THE PROCEEDS of this book are being donated to the Half the Sky foundation, which helps the children left behind in orphanages.
Why it's my favorite season to travel
There is more to that child than the special needs glaring at you from the page
It is important that you find a professional who has specific training, continuing education and experience in the areas of childhood trauma and attachment
In an advocate's words
Lessons learned through a personal journey to grow his family through adoption
Only two US adoption agencies are accredited to provide adoption services in South Africa