It's funny how the majority of Taevy's story was leading up to having her in our arms, while here it is "only" Part II of Samren's story and we're already in Vietnam!
I wish I would have kept as detailed a journal for Samren as I did for Taevy, but I didn't. By that time I had two full time jobs and a toddler. His process was also so quick I barely had time to "miss" him before he was being placed in my arms! With Taevy I had months to worry over her and cause myself to fall deeply in love with her. Not so with Samren. I just had that little picture that somehow spoke to my soul.
Unfortunately, I have lost some of the details of our travel over the years, thanks to my vice of anxiety. I let my worry as the "adoption specialist" cloud over my own personal memories in Vietnam--and my anxiety probably also "flavored" how I saw the entire country. I'm going to share this story as *I* remember it, even if my travel group may have had a totally different experience.
We landed in Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) for the first half of our 3.5 week trip. It was VERY humid, but not too hot. I remember that folks there were dressed in long sleeves and jackets. Our Hotel was supposed to be "very nice" according to the facilitator, so we weren't too thrilled when it was "not so nice" by our US standards. [Remember, we were in a luxury hotel in Cambodia!]. Looking back on it, I can say that the hotel was quite nice for Vietnam and I was just a spoiled America! One of the other families was REALLY upset about our accommodations, so I was stressing! Our facilitator did not arrive on the first day to meet us as promised, but sent an assistant to get us settled in.
We hung around Hanoi for a few days with the facilitator's assistant before our facilitator finally showed up. The next day we were able to go and visit our children for the first time! We drove several hours across amazingly beautiful rice paddies and uniquely Vietnam architecture until we arrived in Hung Yen. We turned onto a dirt road and before I realized that we were there, we were there!
We (the 3 adoptive families) were ushered into a very formal room to wait. And wait some more. We were peering out the windows for glimpses of children. Finally we see a group of 3 children coming in our direction that seem like they could be our kids. After a few more minutes the 2 babies and 1 toddler girl were escorted into the room.
The word "surreal" really doesn't come close to describing the scene. Something really weird was going on inside of me. They handed me this pasty white baby boy with a smattering of light brown hair, and a super round face. THIS is my baby? I looked over at my friend Linda with her new caramel skinned baby girl with dainty features. I remember holding Samren and thinking secretly that I liked Linda's baby better. Isn't that horrible? I know now this was some form of self-protection mode for me--not thinking my own baby was cute. For some reason I just really thought he was ugly and didn't feel that intense INSTANT connection I had felt with Taevy. I remember me passing him off to Eric to hold with the excuse that I wanted to get pictures of Eric with his first son. To this day my first reaction to Samren baffles me.
Samren had a very worried-looking nanny always right be hind us. She even asked for him back a few times and then "others" in the room would tell her to give the baby back to us. It was an odd dynamic, but I was pretty oblivious to it at the time. Before our visit ended I had gotten over my shock a bit and felt a bit of a connection to Samren (but still didn't think he was cute). We went back to Hanoi with hopes that we might be able to bring the children into our care in a few days.
On March 27th we make the trek back to Hung Yen armed with official letters that would allow us to take custody of the children even though the Giving and Receiving Ceremony would not take place for two more days. By this time I was excited!
We got to the orphanage and waited for a long time again. Finally the children were brought out to us. Eric and I were so happy to have Samren in our arms FOR GOOD! It was a short visit and we all hopped back into the van with "our" new children. The nannies of the other two children were crying (as I remember) but Samren's nanny was bawling. She was really losing it. As we drove away I saw her lose the strength from her legs and fall to her knees, before she was pulled back up and comforted by the other nannies. At the time I thought about how very much she must love this little white pasty baby with the super round face, hairy eyebrows, and light brown hair.
We took the kids for medicals at the SOS clinic the next day. Fun--not! But it was fine. Did the bloodwork to make sure that everything we were told before was true (and it was). It appeared that we had a perfectly healthy 4.5 month old baby boy on our hands. He weighed 13.5 pounds, which is positively FAT for an orphanage baby in Hung Yen, and was 24 inches long.
It became obvious pretty quickly that Samren was not used to drinking from a bottle AT ALL. In fact, he rooted into me constantly for my breast (which was not exactly ready to produce what he needed). My friend and travel group partner Linda (midwife/nurse) could tell right away that he was a breastfed baby from his dirty diapers. The nurse at the clinic confirmed that the next day when Samren pooed during the visit. I was really glad that Samren had been breastfed, but this left us with the problem that he could not suck from a bottle to save his life!
On March 29, 2002--exactly 2 months from the day that we decided to adopt Samren--we were in Vietnam being formally charged as Samren's parents with a Giving and Recieving Ceremony. It was very formal, and very sweet. As Samren had been "abandoned" at the local hospital, there was no birth family present for his adoption.
I remember the nannies and women at the government building reprimanding us for not having our babies dressed warmly. It had to be mid-80s with high humidity, but they wanted those babies in layers! As soon as we all got in that van after the G&R we stripped those babies down to a normal amount of clothing (as they were sweating profusely)!
So...Samren was ours. Really ours. And by golly...the kid was growing on me! I thought he might be just a little bit cute after all.
After the G&R we went to the orphanage one more time to say our goodbyes. This time we were allowed to go back to the small house where the orphans were cared for. It was very chaotic. Before I knew it Samren's nanny was pulling me quickly (and with obvious secrecy) into the back room. I assumed it was to show me where she had slept and cared for Samren. But in addition to that she had a boy of about 3 years at her side. She had NO English but used body language.
She communicated that the 3 year old son was in some way connected to Samren. Wow--we were never told about a brother. And if he were abandoned at the hospital, how would they know? Then she made body language to say that the 3 year old was her son. Oh--I must have misunderstood before. They aren't brothers...they are just LIKE brothers because she cares for her son and Samren. Then she shook her head NO and very clearly made motions to show that the baby I was holding (Samren) came out of her--was her son. Shock. Awe.
When she saw that I understood it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off of her. She began sobbing and hugged me for what seemed like an eternity. It was the most precious and humbling hug of my life. It was very clear that she wanted me to take Samren. She just wanted me to know that she wasn't just some overly-attached nanny. She was his mother and she had done her best for him.
I never got her name. I have no way to reach her. When I told the facilitator what happened she became very angry and insisted that the woman was just trying to get money from us (I know in my heart this was NOT the case). We were told before all of this happened that "Samren's nanny" was the orphanage director's daughter. Maybe he forced her to give him up for adoption? Samren may very well be multi-ethic (part Russian is what we were told) so it could be that this mix was totally unacceptable to the young woman's father or in the culture itself? We will never know. But I know that Samren has another mommy and a brother in Vietnam that love him. That I know.
P.S. I used our traditional camera for all of the pics of Samren, and only used our digital for pics of Vietnam. Bummer, since I'd like to show you how horrible ugly Samren was back then! [Not--he was totally cute!!!]