Spirit Connects Us All

Adopting Lily from China didn't feel like a choice—it was something I was always meant to do.

Sonia Billadeau March 27, 2014
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Lily was fated to join me in this life as my daughter. I knew in my heart and soul that she was waiting for me in China. I always planned to adopt a child if I wasn’t married and having biological children by the age of 35. After doing some research, praying, and meditating, I decided on international adoption.

My world changed when I learned that the Chinese government had instituted a “one-couple, one-child” policy in an attempt to control the soaring population (1.2 billion people—1/4 of the world’s population). In addition, China has a historical and cultural preference for male children. This preference is rooted in centuries of Chinese culture—boys helped maintain farms in an agrarian society and were the ones charged with the care of aging parents. Chinese girls joined their husbands’ family and took care of their husbands’ parents.

As a result, there are an estimated 1 million girls in orphanages throughout China. Societal and family pressure, government rules, and poverty collide to create a seemingly impossible situation. Babies, almost always girls, are often abandoned at the gates of government buildings or in public marketplaces. I prefer to think of it as we do in the United States—making the choice to give your child a chance for a better life. Many times, the mothers feel they have no other choice. It is considered a crime in China to abandon a child, so they are left in secrecy, often under the cover of darkness, and are later placed in government orphanages or foster care. Many remain in institutionalized care for their entire childhood. Single parents or couples from foreign countries adopt a small minority of these beautiful children.

Once I learned of this situation, I made my decision. Adopting Lily didn’t feel like a choice, but something that I had to do. I knew in my heart that she was waiting for me. When I began this process, Lily had not been born yet, but her spirit and soul existed, and we were connected. I feel that Lily and I made some sort of deal before we were born. I was to find her and make her my daughter. I prayed and asked my angels to please go to her and keep her in their arms until I could have her in my own.

Life is full of irony and circumstances sometimes referred to as coincidences. I don’t believe in coincidence—I believe in fate. My dossier was shipped to China in February of 1999. A few weeks before it was sent, a friend introduced me to a man named Bruce, with whom she worked.

I was not seeking out a major relationship at this time in my life. I was concentrating on preparing to be a mother and meeting a new man was low on my priority list. I had purchased my own home, concentrated on my career, and was going to become a mommy on my own terms. Well, one date turned into two and then three, and within a few weeks, we were in love. I knew by about our third date that he was the man I would marry. At 35, I knew what I wanted and he was it. I was as sure about Bruce as I had been about Lily. By June, we were engaged. Bruce had a daughter from a previous marriage, so Lily would now be coming home to a mother, father, and a big sister.

Bruce’s involvement in my life is a testament to fate in another more practical way. Adoption is a costly proposition; however, when you feel that you must do something, you will find a way. By February, I had invested about half of the total money needed to adopt Lily. In the fall, I needed to come up with the other half after receiving her referral and making plans to travel to China. I was strangely not worried and knew the money would come, even if I had to take out a second mortgage. One night, Bruce mentioned that he would feel a little strange coming in as Lily’s father after I had done the background work and financed the effort. I jokingly mentioned that he could pay the rest of the expenses. Since we were not yet married, this was quite a request. He sincerely said yes, that he would like to. From that point on, we waited for our referral from China. In addition to preparing for the baby, I had a new love to distract me.

In May, I was handed a new distraction in the form of a major health problem. My menstrual periods had become increasingly heavy and painful. My annual gynecological exam showed a mass in my cervix. After several biopsies and an MRI, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Because of the position and size of the tumor, and the fact that it was growing, we had to take action. The doctor’s initial recommendation was a hysterectomy, but I wanted to consider my options. In addition to retaining fertility if possible, I wanted to keep my uterus intact. The doctors searched for alternatives. The irony of the situation was amazing. Many couples deal with infertility before deciding to adopt. I had decided to adopt as a choice, not an option, and had no idea that I might be infertile. I also had a new fiancé. We decided on a new procedure called a uterine artery immobilization. This procedure would block the blood supply to the tumor, in effect, starving it to death. The doctor described it as giving my uterus a heart attack. We had no guarantee that it would work or that I would retain fertility.

It took months for the insurance company to approve the procedure. We received approval in the fall, which was the same time we received our referral for Lily. Since we were going to China in November, we scheduled the procedure for the following January. I had Bruce to help me through the illness, and the knowledge that Lily was on the way made dealing with potential infertility much easier. I shed a few tears over the fact that I might not be able to bear a child. My strong connection to Lily helped me get through the difficult time. I hadn’t even met her yet, but in my heart, she was my daughter.

Lily’s referral photo was beautiful. She looked healthy and happy. We would leave for China on November 5 and Lily would be 8 1/2 months old when we finally met her. Her birthday was officially listed as February 16, 1999, which is the day she was found at the gates of a government building in Sichuan County in the Jiangxi Province of southern China.

Bruce was able to accompany me and my sister, Lynne, to China. There were six families traveling together from our adoption agency, and we flew to Los Angeles and then into Guangzhou, China. The total airtime was around 23 hours. We then spent several hours sightseeing and took a 3 p.m. flight to Nanchang, which is the Jiangzi Province capital. By nightfall we were exhausted. We had not slept in a bed or had a shower since we left Atlanta over 36 hours before. Because we crossed the dateline, we actually gained a day, but it sure did not feel like it.

As we rode in the shuttle from the airport to our hotel, our Chinese guide told us to get ready because the babies were coming at 8 o’clock. Of course, we assumed she meant 8 o’clock in the morning, but she meant that evening. After we arrived, Bruce, Lynne, and I rushed to take showers and prepare for Lily’s arrival. At first, the group planned to meet the babies, one-on-one, with just the immediate families in our hotel rooms. Baby after baby began arriving and the excitement was too much. We congregated in the hallway and waited for the last three children—Lily and two other babies from her orphanage. I recognized her the minute I saw her. With tears in her eyes, Lily’s caretaker handed her to me and said, “Your Mama,” to Lily. I quickly learned that diapers are not widely used in China—the paper towel wrapped around her bottom was not quite adequate. She stared at me, perplexed, when I held her for the first time. We went to our room and she began to cry. She cried for about ten minutes and then fell asleep. The next morning, she woke quietly and we began to unwrap her five layers of clothing. We dressed her in new clothes and put on her very first diaper.

She only cried when she was hungry for the remainder of our time in China. We spent two weeks in China processing paperwork and sightseeing. We brought a Snugli baby carrier and she rode face out so she could see everything. She would laugh and smile and kick her feet. Our Chinese guide called her a “happy Buddha baby.” The people in China were amazingly friendly and kind. Strangers would follow us on the street and comment on Lily’s beauty. Everyone wanted to touch her and children attempted to speak with us to practice their English.

Lily’s name in the orphanage was Long Feng, which means “phoenix” and “dragon.” In Chinese, they represent the Emperor and Empress. We named her Lily Grace. As her Chinese name implies, Lily is a beautiful baby with a strong, spirited personality.

After two weeks, we began the long flight home. Lily was perfectly well-behaved from China to Los Angeles and never cried. She was fussy on the airplane ride from LA to Atlanta, but frankly, with 20 plus hours in the air, we all were. We arrived home on November 18, 1999. Bruce’s family and a group from our adoption agency were waiting to meet us.

December of 1999 brought additional changes to our lives when Bruce and I were married on December 11 in a “surprise wedding.” We invited family and friends to a combination Christmas/welcome party for Lily at the home of our good friends. I changed into my wedding dress, and Bruce’s 11-year-old daughter, Danielle, served as “best man.” We surprised the crowd with a minister and a wedding. While overseas, we had purchased traditional red Chinese dresses for Danielle and Lily, and they wore them at the wedding.

On January 5, I underwent the uterine artery immobilization procedure. It was a painful and scary experience, and I had some complications that required additional time in the hospital and another surgery. I had my wonderful new husband with me every step of the way. He kept his sense of humor, saying he figured that when he had to change my catheter bags we would be 80 years old, not 36. Our families pitched in to help with Lily. The good news was that the procedure worked and my uterus was saved. Whether or not I am fertile remains to be seen, but I will always be a mother because I have Lily.

It has been a year and a half since we adopted Lily. At two years old, Lily is smart, determined, strong-willed, independent, and incredibly beautiful. Strangely enough, adapting to motherhood has not been too difficult. Being with her is so natural that I feel like I have been doing it all my life. What has surprised me the most is Lily’s depth of feeling and love for me. I knew that I would love her completely, but I didn’t really know what to expect in return. She loves me and needs me in a way that is so primal and intense and breathtaking. It is truly the most incredible feeling that I have ever experienced.

I think often of Lily’s birth mother. How hard it must have been to let Lily go. I wish there were some way to reach her to tell her of Lily’s progress. Perhaps our spirits are connected as well. She, a complete stranger, has certainly given me the most incredible gift. I hope that somehow my prayers and thoughts reach her.

As Lily grows and we deal with life’s challenges, I know she will have to cope with the fact that she was adopted. I hope that I can help her understand our soul connection. We were meant to be together and to learn from and teach one another. Blood may be thicker than water, but the soul is deeper and spirit connects us all.

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Sonia Billadeau


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