Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking Back: The Trip Home and Our Amazing Homecoming

One year ago today, after about 24 hours of travel, we made it home from China!  I originally had several homecoming posts covering it all, but I've combined it all here. What a crazy, amazing journey it was:

 We packed as much as we could the night before we left China.  Friday, Nov 22 we got up around 5am, as we had to be ready to go by 5:45.  We boiled one last bottle of water for Maggie's bottle and off we went. We said goodbye to our wonderful guide Jason and he put us in a van with a driver who would take us to Hong Kong. We thought the trip would take about 2.5 hours from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, but it took about 3.  It's so strange to be alone in a van with a stranger who doesn't speak your language!  We were really on our own without our guide and it was a little nerve wracking. But I knew our agency would only put us in the best of hands and our driver seemed to be very nice.  The van we were in was a newer Toyota, with the steering wheel on the right-hand side since they drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong (in China they drive on the same side we do).

We had to go over the border into Hong Kong. This was a little crazy, as we had to wait in long lines and then show our documents and have our van and luggage inspected. I kept making sure we had our passports in hand and not lose them on the last day!  At one point at the border someone came over and pointed a little gun-like laser thing at us... we're thinking they took our temperature to make sure we were okay to cross over into Hong Kong!  Maggie did well in the van, but didn't sleep a wink despite being woken up so early.

We finally got to the Hong Kong airport, which was massive. We got all checked in and on our way to our gate.  It took FOREVER to get to our gate, it was such a huge airport.  The crowds there are just so crazy, people everywhere!  They wouldn't let us bring our thermos of extra hot water for future bottles for Maggie. We had to dump it and then go get more from a restaurant once we were past security.  Finally it was time to board the long flight home... only to discover they made just about everyone step aside before boarding the plane and search our carry-ons!  We had to throw out our liquids again... ugh!  More security steps there than in our other flights for some reason.  We were on the same flight as 3 other adoptive families.  We had no idea what to expect flying for nearly 15 hours with our new little ones!  Once on the plane, we realized the other families were in the back but we lucked out. Although we paid for economy seats (and chose not to get a seat for Maggie since she's so little-we only had to get her a lap ticket), we requested an infant crib. I guess that automatically bumped us up to economy plus seating where there was space for a crib, which was so much nicer.  We were right behind the bulkhead, so we had lots more leg room.  There were some drawbacks, though, to sitting there.  All our carry-ons had to be stashed up above since there were no seats in front of us to put them under.  We were one of the last ones on the plane so there weren't any places up above for our stuff, so our bags ended up being scattered about the plane, which was frustrating. We had lots of baby supplies in there that we couldn't get to initially.

At this point Maggie was losing patience since we had already been awake for so many hours. We desperately had to track down a flight attendant before take off for hot water (she'll only take her formula hot, typical for Chinese babies).

So we were a little rattled at first. We were in the middle group of seats, with a very nice but larger man in our group of 3 with us. Of course the crib attached to the bulkhead in front of him, so after we got settled into the flight, we switched seats so the crib could be in front of us.  I was able to get Maggie to sleep in my arms a couple of times, only to have her wake soon after very upset. The flight attendants were so sweet and tried to help. They attached the crib but Maggie was NOT going to lay in there for anything.  Being in the front of the entire economy and economy plus sections put us pretty much on display, so we did everything we could just to keep her quiet. But having the crib there was pretty nice anyway, we used it to stash her toys, feeding equipment, blanket, etc.

We quickly realized that getting her to sleep on the long flight home was going to be no easy task. I spent a good amount of time standing up and bouncing with her.  We gave her some Benadryl (don't judge!) and that didn't really seem to help either... we did finally get her to sleep in a couple small stretches, I think she slept a total of 5 hours on an almost 15 hour flight. The rest of the time we had to just pass her back and forth and try to keep her happy.  We took turns getting some rest, but we didn't sleep much.  I did watch one of my favorite movies, Crazy Stupid Love.  I was probably a little slap happy at that point, but I was literally laughing out loud on the dark plane while people were sleeping.  I so needed a comedy break at that point!

So the flight wasn't easy but it wasn't terrible either.  She didn't sleep much, but she really didn't fuss that much either.  I'm just so thankful she didn't scream the entire time!!   I tell you, I have never been so happy for a plane to land in all my life as I felt when we finally landed in Chicago.  Maggie officially became an American citizen when that plane touched down.  I wanted to hoot and holler a bit, but everyone else was subdued so I held it in.  :)

In the van on the way to Hong Kong.
Sights of Hong Kong.
One of her few cat naps on the plane.
We spent many hours doing this... just her standing in my lap wiggling....
And being silly.....
And oh so tired!

We were beyond exhausted, but we had one last leg of our journey.  We had to deplane, get her stroller and carry-ons and then get our checked luggage, despite having a connecting flight! Such a pain. We had to grab that and then wait in line for a while to go through customs.  Then onto another wait at immigration. It took a while but went smoothly for the most part.  We did have one glitch-we were supposed to go thru a security check after immigrations and Jeremy lost a little form we were supposed to turn in. We thought we had to get out of line and go find it, but the security guards there kindly waved us through. My dear husband has a habit of misplacing things, and we had been awake for a very long time at that point and I started to panic. I was SO happy they let us go through anyway, I wanted to hug that guards!!  Then we had to re-check our bags and go thru the main security again.  C.R.A.Z.Y.  But we did it.

Then we had a couple hours of down time to regroup before our last flight. We said goodbye to the other families we had been with the entire trip, as we all went off to different final flights.  We had avoided salads in China, so I was craving a salad and a big iced tea with ice!!  I had that, Maggie and I changed our clothes and before we knew it it was time to board our sixth plane out of 6 flights.  They changed our gate at the last minute and for a moment we were afraid we were going to miss the flight, but thankfully we got there in time.

I have to say I handled nearly everything about this trip with unusual ease.  I don't love traveling for long amounts of time and I really don't like flying. I'm a homebody. But I feel like I was filled with extra strength during those 17 days, and I felt next to no anxiety for the entire trip. Those of you who know me well know how amazing that is!   It was awesome to not fret about things that I normally would have fretted about. We kept our cool on the long flight home and I thought that last flight would be cake.

But when we got on that last plane, Maggie started to panic and so did I.  She just hit an absolute wall from all the traveling and lack of sleep and boy did she scream. Loud.  It was a TINY plane, which I hate.  We were in the 2nd to last row and I could just feel everyone's annoyance at our screaming baby!!  The more she screamed the more I lost my cool... then when the plane took off I was just an emotional mess. I wanted her to stop crying and I wanted off that tiny bus in the sky.  I don't know why it freaked me out so much, I think I just had nothing left to give at that point. Plus I just kept imagining seeing my kids again after 17 days and I couldn't stop the tears from streaming. I think the women behind us thought I was crazy!  Thankfully it was only about an hour's flight and I was PRAISING the LORD when we landed.

We had done it.  We made it through 17 days of uncertainty, the trip of a lifetime, got our girl and made it back home.  I was much calmer by the time we got off the flight from Chicago, but tears just kept leaking out.  We made a quick pit stop in the bathroom (Maybe that iced tea in Chicago wasn't such a good idea!) and started to head toward baggage.  After spending so many days in overcrowded China, the Cincinnati airport was a ghost town. We had this long, straight, quiet, eery walk. I wasn't sure where we would find our family.  All of sudden I realized they were all straight ahead at the end of a very long walkway.  I swear it was the longest walk of my life! We could see each other but it just seemed like we weren't getting to them!  My parents were there, my sister and her kids, my grandma (who said she wouldn't have missed that moment if she had to crawl!),  and Jeremy's brother. Our friends Leigh and Brian and their daughter Evie was also there, Leigh taking pictures of our homecoming for us.  There are no words to describe the emotions of those moments. I was just sobbing the whole walk and my babies were jumping up and down waving madly to us.  Of course after all our efforts to get Maggie to sleep on the flights, she chose that walk to fall asleep in her carrier on me!

Finally, finally, we made it.  It was hysteria by all, lots of tears.  There were several video cameras and cameras going and such high emotions.  I wanted to just pick up each of my children and squeeze them for dear life. But I had our new child strapped to me , so we did lots of side hugs.  :)

Relief.  Such huge amounts of relief to be safely back to my babies and back home. Thanks to my dear friend Leigh, we have beautiful pictures to document these moments.  I love looking through each one, relieving those moments second by second. It brings back a flood of emotions every time I look at them. Leigh, I'll never be able to thank you enough for these pictures!
We came to know Leigh and her family when we were in the process to adopt Allie, and our girls came home together from Korea.  Thank you Leigh for such beautiful memories and for what I know will be a lifelong friendship. In fact, these pictures and Leigh's article was published in our local paper!
 Here's the link to the article! 

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

These final few we took ourselves.

Home at last.

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