Gotcha Day….Part 1


For many of you, the term “Gotcha Day” may be unfamiliar.  It was to me a few years ago.  But now, that term means a lot to me and reminds me of the joy that entered into my life on that day.  For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, I mostly write about gardening subjects but occasionally I do share a bit about my personal life, especially when it concerns my kids. 

I would like to share with you a special story of an event that happened in my life 7 years ago.  I promise that I will include pictures of beautiful landscapes and gardens as they have a part in the story.

Gotcha Day

On a Friday morning, just over 7 years ago – my husband and I had just woken up and were looking forward to leaving for our trip to Ireland and the United Kingdom that evening.   But, there was another reason that we woke up filled with anticipation….we were due to receive a phone call that would change our lives.  

We were waiting for a call from our adoption agency telling us about our new daughter.  Fifteen months earlier, we had made the decision, along with our two biological daughters, to adopt a little girl from China.  And so we dove into the paperwork and necessary preparations in order to adopt a little girl.  This phone call would put a face on the child that we had envisioned in our hearts for over a year.

I knew that she would have almond shaped eyes, light brown skin and dark hair, but I could hardly wait to hear about the little girl that China had matched us with.  That morning, found us in our pajamas, nervously waiting for the phone to ring.  It seemed like it would never ring, but then it did!  It turns out it was a salesman….talk about a let down 😉  Thankfully, it soon rang again and we were hearing the wonderful details about our new daughter.

Her name, Chen Xia, meant ‘rosy clouds’. She was found in front of a government building when she was just 3 days old, with a bottle, a spare diaper and a note indicating when she had been born. 

Each additional tidbit of information we received helped to make her seem more real to us.  The adoption agency then told us that they were going to email us her photo.  My husband and I hovered over the computer, waiting for our inbox to tell us that we had a new email.  A couple of minutes later, “we got mail” and we clicked on the photo and waited impatiently as her photo slowly downloaded (7 years ago, we had dial-up internet connection so photos downloaded slowly).

Our first view of Gracie

Our first view of Gracie

I can hardly describe the feeling when you first see your child for the first time, but it felt the same as when the nurse placed my newly born babies in my arms.  It is a life-changing experience.  This felt exactly the same way.  You know how you love your kids no matter whether they are handsome or pretty, but you are still hopeful that they will be?  That is what we felt and were happy to see that she was pretty.  Her name was going to be Grace ChenXia Johnson (Grace is both my mother and sister’s name). 

After seeing her photo, I wanted to jump on a plane to China that day instead of traveling to Europe.  But, there was paperwork to be completed – mostly us agreeing to accept her as our child and then China issuing travel documents….a process that would take a few weeks.  We emailed our friends and family with her picture and information and then finished packing our suitcases, printed out pictures of our new daughter to take with us and left for the airport to board a plane to Europe.  I must admit that I hardly slept on the plane and kept looking at her photo 🙂

Once we returned home, we set to work on getting everything ready for her.  We painted her room, started packing and of course, went shopping for little girl clothes.

The photo we had of Gracie was taken when she was 16 months old and we were pleasantly surprised to receive an updated photo of her, a few weeks before we were due to leave for China.  She was obviously wearing a dress that was too large for her, but we found out later that they saved this dress to put on the different girls whenever they had their picture taken.

Gotcha Day

You may notice that one of her feet is turned in.  Gracie was born with a club foot.  We knew about this and had indicated to China that we were open to adopt a child with certain special needs, including a club foot.  *You can see that she is leaning against the wall because she could not stand up on her own without falling down.

After months of waiting to travel to China….actually it was only a few weeks, but it seemed like it took forever, we were ready to go.  My husband and I flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles and spent the night with my parents who lived there at the time.  The next day my dad drove us to the airport and we boarded a plane to San Francisco.  There, we met up with 4 other families who we would be traveling with who were also adopting from the same area in China.  

We went through a marathon series of flights.  I used to think the 11 hours it took to fly to Europe was long, but not anymore.  We flew from San Francisco to Seoul, Korea where we had a 4 hour layover.

Dawn in Seoul Korea as viewed from inside the airport

Dawn in Seoul Korea as viewed from inside the airport.

We landed in Shanghai and met our Chinese guide who would guide us through the adoption process.  We were all so happy to have finally landed and I was thrilled to see that our luggage made it too.  We got ready to board the private bus waiting for us and I immediately noticed how humid and warm it was outside.  It felt very ‘tropical’ for this desert dweller.

Gotcha Day

My husband and I along with our weary travel group, ready to board the bus.

Now, our journey was not over yet….we still had to travel 3 hours by bus to the city of Hangzhou.  I really didn’t mind the upcoming ride because I was extremely curious about China and wanted to see more of the countryside and cities.

Gotcha Day

The countryside was very green and small farms and tall homes dotted the roadside.  The homes were usually 3 stories tall as up to three generations of a single family would occupy one home.

The city of Hangzhou

Our guide told us many interesting things about China along the way but she also had additional information about our children and when we would get them.  All of us were supposed to get our children the following day, but there had been a change in plans….two of the families were to receive their new daughters that evening – after traveling for over 24 hours!  As excited as I was to get Gracie, I was relieved that I would be able to get a good night’s sleep first.

The city of Hangzhou

The city of Hangzhou

We arrived in Hangzhou late in the afternoon.  As we drove through the city streets, I had so much fun seeing the things that were the same as back home….

Gotcha Day
Gotcha Day
Pizza Hut

 Pizza Hut


 Seriously, KFC is hugely popular in China.

Along with those that were a little different….

"Fire Fighter Bicycles"

“Fire Fighter Bicycles”

Gotcha Day

Dangerous position for a workman leaning up against wires in the middle of an intersection….OSHA would be literally speechless.

There were many stores that I was anxious to explore later….

Gotcha Day

Our hotel was located by a beautiful lake (West Lake) which was quite famous in China and a tourist destination.

Gotcha Day
Gotcha Day

Part of the lake was covered in lotus.

Gotcha Day

Well, we got to our hotel and checked in.  As we opened the door to our room, the reality that we would have a new daughter in less than 24 hours really hit me….there was a crib already set up for us.  I spent some time unpacking and as I put away the little dresses, diapers and socks, I could hardly wait to meet Gracie the next day.  After unpacking, we went to take pictures of the two families as they greeted their daughters for the first time.  I was so excited for them and I had a hard time taking pictures because I kept crying.  Their daughters were 3 & 4 years old and just darling.

The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast in the hotel with the other families and were eager to see the new little girls who were somewhat shy and withdrawn, which was normal.  Since the rest of us were not to receive our children until 4:00 in the afternoon, we decided to walk to the local grocery store and stock up on some baby supplies and snacks.

Okay, at this point I have an admission to make….I thought I would have no problem with the summer heat – I mean I live in the Arizona desert, right?  Wrong!  I am absolutely a wimp when it comes to humidity and you know what?  It makes the heat so much hotter and uncomfortable.  As our group walked to the grocery store (we all got lost for a while so it took longer), it was in the 90’s, which when it is dry, is not that hot.  But when you couple that with humidity of at least 80%…..well, I thought I would die.  I have never felt so hot in my life….my husband and I got very light-headed and had to stop inside a jewelry store that had air-conditioning for a few minutes.  I think the sales clerks were hoping that we would buy something since I kept looking at the jewelry so they wouldn’t think we were only taking advantage of their air-conditioning 😉  The other families in our group were from Ohio and Texas and did so much better with the heat & humidity then we did.  It was kind of embarrassing 😉

Gotcha Day

*I must say that this about warm, humid climates….they are absolutely beautiful with all of the greenery.  If I must be honest with myself, I would probably acclimate to the humidity if I lived in that type of climate and love it as much as I do living in the desert 🙂

Okay, back to my story… 4:00 got closer, I began to get nervous butterflies in my stomach.  The clock seemed to move so slowly.  Finally at about 3:45, we went to a meeting area at the hotel by the elevators with the other families and waited for the orphanage officials to bring us our children.  

Just when I thought I would die of impatience (it was only 3:55), our guide received a call from the orphanage officials bringing Gracie to us stating that they would be late due to traffic.  I was disappointed, but it meant that we could help take pictures of the two other families who were receiving their children at 4:00 (their children were from different orphanages).  

It is such a privilege to be present at the birth of a child and it is the same when you are there when a family meets their new adopted child.  I was so honored to be present when the other families in our group met their new children.  I was busy taking pictures for the other families when I saw the elevator open and then I saw Gracie…..

I realize that this is an extremely long post and I will write the conclusion in my next post.  *I do appreciate you taking the time to read about our adoption adventure.  I will never get tired of sharing it with others 🙂

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
25 replies
  1. Grace
    Grace says:

    That was such an exciting time for all of us! We had so much fun back home 7 years ago anxiously awaiting your blog posts to give us updates on your adventure to get Gracie. And we were so happy to help her celebrate "gotcha" day last night – she is such a wonderful part of our family.

  2. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Hi Noelle, i knew about this already, but your telling it step by step is so touching. I have also seen their photos before, as well as your difficult experiences with your boy's health, and i am so touched i am crying before finishing the post. Maybe because i know a bit about China, as i've also been to Hangzhou, in fact that West lake is very familiar. I even took a photo of those weeping willows, which we dont have in this country, and i enlarged and mounted it on the wall. I also thought of the one-child policy of China, that maybe because ChenXia's family already have one child they don't have any option but to give their child for better conditions. And that is true in her case, she is now with you. You are an Angel, God bless and take care of you Noelle and your family.

  3. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    Dear Noelle ~ This is wonderful. I love hearing this story and can hardly wait for the next installment. The pictures are wonderful too, and I find myself holding my breath with excitement.

    I think her name is just beautiful, Grace Rosey Clouds.

    Love and hugs to you and your DH for taking your new children into your hearts and home.


  4. Diana (Di)
    Diana (Di) says:

    Noelle, such a wonderful story! and cannot wait to hear the rest. I cannot imagine abandoning a baby. Gracie truly is a beautiful child and so blessed that she found you and your family.

  5. leavesnbloom
    leavesnbloom says:

    Dear Noelle

    This is so beautiful, what an exciting time it must have been for you both and ever so emotional aswell as that wait got longer and longer. Dear little Gracie was truly blessed by being placed into your family.

    🙂 Rosie
    (I'm an auntie to 2 little ones that were adopted in June this year).

  6. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    This so touching and so filled with love that tears keep threatnening. What a beautiful story. I can't wait to read the rest.

    Have a wonderful day, Noelle!

  7. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, A story of dreams which do come true. How wonderful to have given the gift of a loving home to an abandoned child. I am sure that all your lives have been enriched as a result.

  8. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    My daughter just returned from a trip to China. I found this so interesting. Can't wait for the next chapter and more pictures…Balisha

  9. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Noelle. We have friends that have adopted girls from China over the years, but I've never really thought about the entire experience, travelling to meet them in their own country. I bet that even though the time crawled along at 3:45 that day, that the last 7 years have flown by since then! By the way, if it makes you feel any better, I'm an absolute wimp in humidity too. A 'dry' 110 is fine, 85% with soaring humidity, and I feel like somebody unplugged by batteries…it just zaps the life right out of me. Looking forward to the conclusion of your story!

  10. rohrerbot
    rohrerbot says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I had to laugh about the humidity and the desert……I am also a wimp when it comes to high humidity…my body does not like it at all!

  11. Ami
    Ami says:

    Noelle: Even I have known the story about your daughter a little bit, but reading it in this detail still make me almost cry. Grace is very lucky to find you and your husband as her parents! Can not wait to see the next part of the story!

  12. One
    One says:

    Hi Noelle, This is my first time here and I am truly touched by your story. Will be back to hear the rest of the story.

    Btw, noticed that you have an adorable dog and you too take photos of chickens that do not belong to you. 🙂

  13. islandgal246
    islandgal246 says:

    Noelle I am enthralled with this story and am very disappointed that this story came to an end. Please I am eagerly waiting to read more. What an adventure and how brave you and your husband are. Your hearts are huge and I can see that you and your hubby are very loving people, to adopt special needs children and love them as your own. This story is incredible.

  14. Stone Art
    Stone Art says:

    Lovely post, very much enjoyed reading about yer adoption adventure, and great photos too, the fire-fighter bicycles, too funny! Look forward to part two!

  15. Rose
    Rose says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story, Noelle. I could feel your excitement and nervousness throughout this trip–I can't wait to read the rest.

    The son of a friend and his wife are going through the process of adopting their third child from Ethiopia. I admire you and your husband and everyone else who goes through this arduous process. Gracie is so lucky to have found such a wonderful home, but I'm sure you and your family feel just as blessed to have her in your lives.

  16. dollsaga
    dollsaga says:

    I was born in Hongzhou city. I spent the first 7 years of my life in DongYang, where your daughter came from. Your pictures in this post brought back old memories. all the sceneries looked so familar. Best wishes to your daughter, I am sure she is one of the luckiest girls who has found love & a forever family.

  17. Sammons
    Sammons says:

    I love the way you've told this story! I tooary am blessed to have adopted a SN daughter from China just 1 year ago. She is the rainbow the sun and the moon in our home! I live in Gilbert Az so really close too!

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