That was the subject line in the email that we sent to family and friends after we received our daughter, Gracie.  I wrote about our adoption journey up the point of seeing Gracie for the first time in person and you can read Part One if you like.

Well, I believe I left the story at the point of the elevator opening and seeing the orphanage officials walking out with Gracie in their arms.  Although I recognized her instantly, there was something different in her appearance….she had no hair.  Well to be honest, she had very little hair…..it was obvious that her head had recently been shaved.  It really didn’t matter, I was just so happy to see her finally in person.

The nanny from the orphanage walked over and handed Gracie to me….

adoption journey

Gracie was wearing the outfit that we had sent her a month ago.   She was obviously not sure what was going on.  She had spent over 3 hours in a car in order to get to the hotel we were staying at and it very well may have been the first time she had ever been in a car.  

adoption journey

We each spent a little time checking each other out.  Gracie had never seen anyone who wasn’t Asian before.  She did not try to get away from me and she did not cry.  She was just taking it all in.

adoption journey

Her dad and I were just so thrilled to finally have her in our arms.  But, Gracie probably thought I was the strangest person she had ever seen….blond hair, blue eyes, white skin and a big nose (more about that later in the story).

We spent some time there with the orphanage director and her nanny asking questions through a translator.  It was obvious that they were happy she was being adopted.  Her nanny was eager to show us how Gracie could walk a couple of steps, which she did, but she fell down after taking 3 steps….her club foot made it difficult for her to walk normally.  

I was eager to take Gracie back with us to our hotel room and as we said our goodbyes to the orphanage officials, her nanny shed a few tears.  Back in our room, I took off her clothes which were much too hot for the month of August.  She was in good condition and only had a little heat rash behind her neck.  Up until this point, I had been the one to hold her, but now it was her new dad’s turn.

adoption journey

As happy as we were, I could only imagine the turmoil of feelings that Gracie must have been experiencing.  She had just been dropped off by the only caretakers she had ever known and left in the care of complete strangers who looked so different from anyone she had ever seen.

adoption journey

As I held her that first night and fed her a bottle, Gracie reached up and grabbed my nose and held onto it for a few minutes.  I was surprised at first…I had never thought of my nose as abnormally big. But then when I thought about it, she had probably never seen a nose that sticks out – most Asian noses are somewhat flat.  Soon after she let go of my nose she went right to sleep.  

adoption journey

After waiting 15 months of waiting, we just wanted to keep holding her that night, but we finally put her in the crib.  Guess what?  She slept for 11 hours ๐Ÿ™‚

We had to spend a few days in Hangzhou, which is the provincial capital, in order to finalize the adoption in China and get her Chinese passport so that she could travel to the US.

The next morning, Gracie woke up a little disoriented, but was otherwise happy to get her bottle of rice cereal.  We were rather shocked to discover that at 20 months of age, she had only eaten milk and rice cereal. 

We gave her a bath and I finally got to put on one of the dresses that I had bought for her.  We spent the morning filling out paperwork and finalizing her adoption.  Then a trip to get her passport photo as well as our first family photo was the extent of what we did this day.  It was important to spend a lot of one on one time with her to help with the bonding process.  At this stage, she was more likely to want to be with an Asian person because they looked more familiar and so our guide took care to stay in the background for all of us in the group.  She spent much of the day working on our paperwork.  

The next morning, something special happened.  The kids were on the floor playing while us mothers were talking as a group nearby.  Gracie’s almost bald head was popular with the other newly adopted kids in our group because they liked rubbing her head.

adoption journey

Well, Gracie stood up on her own and walked a few steps towards me and then crawled the rest of the way over and stretched out her arms to me so that I could hold her.  It was the first sign that she was beginning to bond with me…it made me want to cry with happiness.

Our remaining days in Hangzhou were spent applying for an expedited passport and then sight-seeing while waiting for the passport to be ready.

adoption journey

We were very fortunate to be staying in Hangzhou as the area is so beautiful.  We toured West Lake.

West Lake

Yes, that is a golden water buffalo in the lake.

West Lake
West Lake

Guess what we found next to the lake….


Gracie sleeping in my arms at Starbucks.


We were having a wonderful time touring around West Lake, but Gracie evidently wasn’t too interested as she promptly fell asleep…


Our adoption agency organized a tour of a local orphanage (not Gracie’s) that they ran.  I had been looking forward to visiting an orphanage since Gracie’s was too far away for us to visit.  This orphanage was the role model of what China wanted other orphanages to follow and so they often sent employees there to be trained.  My husband stayed back at the hotel with Gracie because we were afraid that she would be alarmed at finding herself in another orphanage.

our hotel room

Fun with dad playing on the computer in our hotel room.

This was a very special visit and I saw many precious children.  You can click on the photos below to enlarge if you like.


This little albino boy was adopted 2 years later.

albino boy

The babies in cribs were lying on bamboo mats to help keep them cool.

 lying on bamboo mats

Precious little girl.

little girl
little girl

 Have you ever seen so much hair?

little girl

 The orphanage doctor showing our guide a little girl who was failing to thrive.


 Playroom (we had to wear booties over our shoes to keep the floor clean.

**Unbeknown to me, my future son is in the yellow/green/red jumper. 

Chen Bo

 I met a little friend…Chen Bo who wanted me to stop taking pictures so that he could crawl into my lap.

Chen Bo

Saying goodbye….

I had a wonderful time visiting the orphanage and my heart ached for all of the children who had no parents.  But, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and be with Gracie again.


Gracie quickly began to bond with us and became more extroverted.  She began walking more and was able to stay on her feet longer.  She loved it when her dad would ‘chase’ her down the hotel hallway.  *You can see that she walked on the ankle of her right foot.  It was amazing to me that she could walk at all.

We were enjoying our time in China very much.  We did seem to attract attention wherever we went because foreign tourists did not travel to this area often, so we encountered stares almost everywhere we went.  The Chinese people were not being rude….it is not considered rude to stare in China.  Also, the culture is more of a inter-dependent culture, where our western culture focuses more on individualism.  As a result, it was normal for Chinese women to come up and make sure that our children were dressed appropriately for the weather (they are affectionately known as the ‘clothing police’ in the adoptive community).  

great time shopping

 I had a great time shopping.

I tried to ignore the stares though.

The Chinese people we met were extremely curious about why we had Chinese children with us.  The fact that Europeans and Americans adopt from China was not well know inside of China.  They were courteous and wished us well when we explained that we were adopting Gracie.  Because of their inter-dependent culture, sometimes strangers would come up to Gracie and hold her club foot in their hands in order to figure out what was wrong with it.  Now, in America, I would have politely told them not to touch my daughter.  But, it is different in China where they were genuinely concerned and it was not considered rude to take matters into their own hands to find out what was wrong with her.

One older woman scolded me when we were walking with a sleeping Gracie in her stroller.  You see, Gracie’s head had rolled forward and the stroller did not adjust back, so there was nothing that I could do.  Well, while this well-intentioned woman was scolding me, I just picked up Gracie’s head and put it back up and then it promptly rolled forward again and I just shrugged my shoulders and walked on ๐Ÿ˜‰

enjoyed in China

I must admit at this point, that I am not an adventurous eater.  But, I did find many foods that I enjoyed in China.   Not this one though….my husband is the adventurous eater in our family and enjoyed eating a little bit of everything.

wonderful dinner

Our group ate a wonderful dinner at restaurant and we were so excited to have Gracie try some of the different food (she had been limited to rice cereal up to this point).  She seemed to love the peas and kept eating them.  We were so happy to see her eating other foods.  Later that night as my husband was leaning over to put her into the crib, a pea dropped out of her mouth.  Further exploration found over 17 peas stuck inside of her cheeks.  

Because Gracie had spent her life in an orphanage to this point, she was delayed in many areas which we had expected.  One of the problems we discovered was that she did not know how to swallow solid foods.  

Hangzhou airport

Our travel group ready to leave from the Hangzhou airport.

Our time in Hangzhou was coming to a close and the next part of our trip was upcoming.  I was a little nervous about how Gracie would do on an airplane, but she did very well.  We said goodbye to our guide and flew with the rest of our group to Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) in Southern China.

Some of you may remember me mentioning that I am a wimp about hot weather when it is coupled with high humidity.  Well, when we landed in Guangzhou, it was even more hot and humid then where we had come from.  But, it was so beautiful!  * It smelled like the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland.

Shamian Island

We stayed on a small island in Guangzhou known as Shamian Island.  Filled with European Colonial architecture and beautiful, formal gardens, I couldn’t wait to explore more.

Shamian Island

The United States Consulate was located on the island at the time and this portion of the trip was focused on completing our immigration paperwork and securing a visa for Gracie so that we could travel to the States.

Our hotel

Our hotel was a 5-star hotel and the primary place that adoptive parents stayed while waiting for their child’s visa.  It was beautiful inside….

Our hotel

I remember walking into our hotel room and telling my husband that we had better enjoy this stay because we were highly unlikely to ever stay in another place as nice.  *The foreign exchange rate at the time made it very affordable to stay there ($1 = 8 yuan).


In our new hotel, Gracie played for hours with the plastic spoon and cover of my airplane lunch – she was absolutely fascinated.  We were coming to see what her delays where.  She would spend time in front of the mirror and would tap it with her fingers.  It was obvious that she had never seen herself in a mirror before.   She also liked to eat Cheerios, but she could not pick them up with her thumb and forefinger. **A few years later a visit to her orphanage showed us how deprived she had been of sensory input.  I will write more about that at a later time.

We enjoyed our time on Shamian Island with walks, shopping and hanging out with the wonderful people in our group.

One afternoon when we returned to our room in the hotel, we saw that Gracie had received a surprise gift….

Barbie doll

Yes, that is a Barbie doll.  Notice she has a Chinese baby she is adopting.  All adoptive families receive a complimentary “Going Home Barbie” and each year there is a new version.


Our hotel had new hallways for Gracie to explore with her dad.


And to be chased again….

All to soon, our time in China was coming to an end.  Our group gathered in the lobby to take a picture of all of our adopted girls.


Gracie is on the left.

Two of the girls had been adopted a few years before.

It is amazing how strongly you bond with other families when you share an experience like this.  Most of us are still in contact with each other 7 years later.

I was so excited to be going home to my other daughters and couldn’t wait to introduce the entire family to Gracie.  The flight was a long one and Gracie did well for the most part.  We landed in Los Angeles and went through immigration in the airport.  Once we handed them her visa – she was an American citizen.

Just outside of immigration was a bunch of people just waiting to see Gracie for the first time and welcome her to our family.  

All of a sudden this little girl who had been abandoned as a baby, not only had a mom and dad, but two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles waiting outside the gates to welcome her to the family.


If you would like to read more of what happened after we adopted Gracie, you can read Part 3 if you like. This post is already so long and although many of you mentioned that you didn’t mind the length of my previous post, you probably would like a little break from reading ๐Ÿ™‚

I would like to thank you all for your kind comments.  Gracie has enjoyed having me read your comments to her.   She has been such a miracle in our lives and I enjoy sharing her story whenever I can. 

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."
28 replies
  1. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    Wow, what an amazing journey! Your pictures of your visit to China are absolutely beautiful ๐Ÿ˜€ I love hearing stories like this. You look like you have such a loving family life ๐Ÿ™‚

    And btw, your husband is really good looking! I don't think I've ever seen a picture of him before. Congrats on that too *wink wink* ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    Noelle ~ This is a beautiful love story of a little abandoned girl being adopted by you and your DH and given a life of love. I look forward to reading the rest of Gracie's story.


  3. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    Your beautiful journey of love is a story that just tugs at my heart strings. What a wonderful little girl…what a wonderful family.

    *Hugs to all of you*

  4. islandgal246
    islandgal246 says:

    My eyes are moist after reading this. I was feeling a bit down in the dumps today and this has brightened my day. I have fallen in love with Gracie. I can't wait to read more.

  5. Carol
    Carol says:

    Congratulations Noelle and Family! I am all watery eyed… you are so dear and inspiring with your generous heart. All those dear children yours and the ones in the orphanage… it is so heart warming to see the warmth and love now surrounding Gracie. The world is lucky for having you in it. ;>)

  6. Ginny
    Ginny says:

    What a wonderful heartwarming story. I love the pictures, especially those of you and your husband holding Gracie. Looking foward to reading more!

  7. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    What an amazing story Noelle. I have enjoyed following along as you tell it.It is amazing that on your first visit you captured a picture of Kai too. Meant to be wasn't it.
    The Barbie doll is a wonderful gift idea.
    The children must suffer for the needed attention there in the orphanages but it also must be a hard job.
    I think you and your family have the dearest hearts to adopt the way you have.
    It is such a touching story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and I will be waiting for the next chapter.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  8. Ami
    Ami says:

    Noelle: What a beautiful story! The fact that Gracie seemed bonded to you and your husband so quickly really meant you belong to each other!

  9. One
    One says:

    Very touching. Tears welling up. Yet, can't help smiling wrt 17 green peas hidden in Gracie's cheeks. ๐Ÿ™‚ She's adorable.

  10. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    What wonderful days those must have been. I am sure your daughter loves hearing about how much you anticipated her arrival. You have to visit this link


    It is a wonderful song called Grace. My son and his wife just named their daughter Grace also. My daughter in law's maiden name is Grace. She was born this July 2nd and is pure joy too. she spent two weeks in the NICU but is now home and healthy, thank goodness. We all call her Gracie Girl. This song will grab you for sure, you may have already heard it. I never had though. I am glad the world holds people with hearts as big as yours. Your daughter is a lucky girl and you are so blessed to have her.

  11. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, this is truly an amazing story, the stuff of novels if it were not real life. So much of your account is so very foreign but then your love for Gracie and hers for you both is so universal. As you say, it is difficult knowing that many other children are without parents and are not so fortunate but then I do believe that if we all do our best in our own small corners of the world, this does make the whole world a better place. I am sure that you are doing more than your share!!

  12. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Beautiful, Noelle! Gracie's story is fantastic, and I look forward to reading more. You and your entire family are so loving and amazing! Great photos, too!!!

  13. noel
    noel says:

    aloha noelle,

    what a fantastic story, thanks for taking us with you to china and get a glimpse of this whole process and your experience, it was amazing

  14. Muddy Boot Dreams
    Muddy Boot Dreams says:

    Oh this was completely mesmerizing. What a wonderful journey you and this little girl have gone through to be together.

    I enjoyed every word, and am on my way to go back and read the older ones.


  15. Martha Z
    Martha Z says:

    What a wonderful story, Noelle. I admire you in being able to except the Chinese culture and what would have seemed intrusive behavior in the US.
    My heart aches for the children still left in the orphanage, especially the disabled. You hinted that the staff is not able to give these children the attention they need.

  16. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Hi Noelle, i am crying again. Your stories certainly are very good for a book! You also write very well. I always look forward to your landscaping things, but now we are looking forward for the wonderful stories. I am sure Gracie and your other son are both very happy now with very loving family like yours. I also appreciate your husbands kindness as a person and for humanity. How lovely your souls are, God bless you more.

    I think you already have posted the photos of your kids in older posts, maybe after this i will look them out to see Gracie's face now. She is a beautiful child. Whew! (I had too much emotion already for today)

  17. Rose
    Rose says:

    I finally had time to sit down and read the rest of your story, which I didn't want to miss, Noelle. What an amazing experience for all of you! I had a lump in my throat when I read about Gracie stretching her arms out to you; your heart must have done flip-flops at that point. Thanks so much for sharing this special time with us.

  18. Candy "Sweetstuff"
    Candy "Sweetstuff" says:

    What an amazing story and beautiful country. Gracie is such a lucky little girl. And how wonderful of you both and the other families to adopt these wonderful children and giving them a new life. Can't wait to hear more!

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