A year ago, Gwinnett Magazine introduced the Mitchells, a family waiting for just one more.
by Dana Urrutia
For all children, there”s a world of difference in their lives between their first and second birthdays. New steps, new words, new foods. For Katherine Mae Mitchell, the change is even more literal.
On Jan. 8, 2007, Katherine spent her first birthday in Guangzhou, China. This year, she”ll celebrate her second birthday a world away, at her new home now in Buford. In between was a journey across the world to begin life with an eager adoptive family – parents Keith and Ejna; siblings Jake, 14, and AnnaBeth, 11.
There”s no doubt that Katherine is an all-American girl now. Her best bud is that big, purple dinosaur, in medium-sized stuffed form, and she also keeps close company with the ever-bouncy Tigger. For real life companions, she favors the brother and sister who waited almost two years to welcome her.
Katherine is now one of thousands of Chinese children, overwhelmingly girls, adopted each year. In 2006, the number topped 6,400, daughters of China who”ve found homes and families in U.S. communities from coast to coast.
Waiting out the “Paper Chase”
Katherine”s journey home actually began the year before her birth, in January 2005 when the Mitchells filed their adoption application with Bethany Christian Services, the largest national adoption and family services agency in the U.S. The decision to adopt was the realization of a lifelong dream for Ejna and a commitment by the couple to aid children in need.
During much of 2005 and into 2006, the Mitchells were involved in the "paper chase" for Katherine – filing the application, gaining approval and completing their dossier for Chinese officials. Their referral call – bringing the name, age and picture of then nine-month-old Katherine – came on Nov. 30, 2006.
The final leg of the adoption process began on Jan. 24, 2007, when all four Mitchells boarded the plane for the 30-hour trip to Beijing. The Mitchells took the advice of the adoption agency to spend a few days at the beginning of the trip touring the country. Knowing this was a once-in-a lifetime trip, Keith and Ejna wanted the family to learn about their new daughter”s birthplace and culture. "And it gave us some time to get adjusted," Ejna adds.
Six other adopting families chose a similar itinerary, and they all connected immediately, logistically and emotionally. In those early days, says Ejna, sightseeing was tops on the agenda and "there was remarkably little baby talk. We all knew why we were there."
While in China, Ejna kept anxious family and friends up to date by blogging on the site she created about Katherine”s homecoming – a task made more difficult because the instructions now appeared in Mandarin.
AnnaBeth also kept a journal during the trip, with perspectives and observations differing from her mother”s. "She saw things I never even thought about," Ejna says. Jake also blogged, but the teenager is a man of few words. "Today we played golf. It was fun."
Finally… “Gotcha Day”
On the night of Jan. 28, the eve of "Gotcha Day," when the babies would be brought to their families, the atmosphere completely changed. "Baby talk was all that was being said," Ejna recalls.
The families flew to Guangzhou on the morning of Jan. 29; the Mitchells were scheduled to receive Katherine about 4:30 that afternoon. "We opened the door to our hotel room, and there was the baby bed," remembers Ejna. "That”s when it began to set in.