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Teacher and family look back on adoption of daughter

Courtesy of Stephen Baker

Tatum Metcalf, Staff Writer

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Several years ago, Stephen Baker, an 8th grade science teacher, and his wife Michelle adopted a child from China.

“People say we did a good thing when we adopted Emma, but I think the good thing was what happened to us as a couple and family when Emma came home to us, and she did a good thing by being our child,” Michelle Baker said.

They were unable to have their own biological children, so Stephen suggested adoption.

“He used to have a motorcycle, and we had sold it a few years before,” Michelle Baker said. “He once again wanted a motorcycle, but also wanted to adopt. He came to me one evening with one set of paperwork in each hand; one for a motorcycle and one for adoption. He told me that he was submitting one set of papers the next day, and I needed to decide which one we were submitting.”

They filed adoption paperwork the next day.

Once they had decided to adopt, they had to find an adoption agency, and decide if they wanted to adopt from the United States or another country.

“Stephen had watched a show several years ago on Dan Marino, who had adopted from China, and he had a conviction that if we adopted, that would be the place,” Michelle Baker said. “After some research, I agreed to adopt from China because it was a shorter time frame at the time to adopt from there than other international locations, and also came with less long-term concerns than other international locations, such as health issues.”

After they selected an agency and country, the paperwork began.

The Bakers began to work with a social worker, who completed a home study. They also had to complete multiple types of paperwork, obtain signatures from state and federal governments and were fingerprinted for a background check. All of this information was put in a dossier that was sent to China on August 8, 2015.

Next, they received a log-in date on September 3, 2015. The log-in date was used to hold their spot in line for when they could be matched with a child.

“After the dossier was logged in, it went through several ‘departments’ in the China Center for Adoption Affairs before we were placed in what is called the Matching Room,” Michelle said. “When we reached the Matching Room, we were matched with a child in China who was up for adoption.”

On January 3, 2007, the Baker family received a call that they had been matched with a child who was 6 months old. She was waiting in the Guangdong province in China.

“Stephen and I had agreed that when we received the call, I would leave work and drive to school so we could view the picture together, so I immediately left work, and drove like a mad woman to Sevier, where we opened up Emma’s picture for the first time in the 6th grade lab,” Michelle Baker said.

Stephen Baker remembers that day well.

“My wife came to Sevier; Mrs. Keller and Ms. Shoun took my last period class,” he said. “Michelle and I saw Emma for the very first time in Mrs. King’s classroom, which was my classroom at the time. If I had a list of my five most favorite moments in my life, that moment would be one of them.”

They were required to complete some paperwork that night and tell the adoption agency whether they accepted this child or rejected her. Of course, they accepted the match.

All of the information, fingerprints and adoption forms, as well as adopting the actual child, came with a rather large fee.

“It was a very expensive process,” Michelle said. “We did have to take out a loan in order to be able to afford it, but the amount of money we spent was more than worth it to end up with Emma. I would pay so much more than what we did in order to have her as my daughter.”

Once all the paperwork was finalized, it was time to go pick up their new daughter.

The Bakers went to China in mid-February of 2007 and had to travel 25 hours to get there. They flew from the Tri-Cities to Detroit, then on to Japan, and from there to Beijing.

“Stephen had anxiety about flying, so his doctor gave him some medicine to calm him down, and he slept almost the entire flight from Detroit to Japan and from Japan to Beijing,” Michelle said. “When we landed, we went straight to the hotel, and he went right to sleep and slept all night. I was so jealous.”

After they arrived, they did some traditional sightseeing, because they had to “kill time” before their adoption could be finalized. They saw the “Nest,” where the Olympics would be held the next year. That night, they went to the Hard Rock Hotel and listened to a Chinese band cover 80s music, an experience Michelle Baker calls “surreal”.

The next day, they visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. When they had dinner at a dumpling restaurant, Michelle Baker experienced her first “squatty potty”, a toilet built completely into the ground.

“There is definitely a cultural difference in China,” she said. “I remember seeing babies, just a few months old, without diapers and they wore split pants so they could go whenever they wanted, wherever they wanted.”

Next, the Bakers boarded a plane to meet their daughter Emma for the first time. While they were on the plane with a group of ten other families ready to adopt, they were told that the original plan had changed. Instead of meeting their child the next day, they would meet her that day.

“They gave us information on how to get to a store to buy formula and other stuff we would need, and told us to meet in the lobby of the hotel at a certain time,” Michelle said. “We were placed in a room with the other families in our travel group. We reviewed paperwork to make sure our names, and our children’s names, were correct, and then, one at a time, the children were brought in to meet their parents.”

Although she does not remember it, Emma Baker still has a strong connection to that day.

“I had 7 other babies who were adopted with me,” Emma Baker said. “We call them my Chinese sisters and have reunions every two years with them.”

Emma was the third child brought in, because they did it by orphanage and by the last name of the parents.

“When they placed her in my arms, I remember she wouldn’t look at me, she just looked down the entire time, and she never cried that day,” Michelle Baker said. “For two days, Emma didn’t cry, and we thought she was perfect. But on the third day, she started to cry and her mouth has not closed since then.”

When the brand new parents were making their way back home, they got many reactions from the Chinese locals.

“I remember people wanting to take my picture, because fair skin is a desired trait in China,” she said. “I also remember people wanting to take Stephen’s picture when he was carrying Emma because that is unheard of in China, the father being a caregiver.”

Once the Baker family, now three instead of two, arrived back at the Tri-Cities airport, they were welcomed by students, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends, all holding signs and welcoming Emma home.

“When we landed, Stephen had me go first with Emma, and when she and I got off the plane, I heard this loud cheer from the outdoor viewing section,” she said. “I looked up and there were so many people there and so many signs welcoming our little girl home. She was so loved.”

The Bakers were always open with Emma about the fact that she was adopted.

“She looks different from us, and being adopted is part of who she is, so we never made a conscious decision to ‘tell’ her or not tell her; it was something we talked about with her from the day she was placed in our arms,” Michelle said.

They never met or heard anything about their daughter’s biological parents.

“We do not know anything about Emma’s biological parents, and do not have any hope that we will ever learn anything about them,” Michelle said. “In China, at the time of Emma’s abandonment, it was a crime punishable by death to abandon a child. We may someday do a DNA test so she will have an understanding of her DNA makeup and potential health concerns.”

Emma has never been all that curious about her biological parent, but still would have some questions for them.

“I think I’d ask them some stuff about them and other people in my family in China,” she said.

Even though Emma may not look like her mom and dad, she acts a lot like them.

“I never really thought about the argument of nature vs. nurture, but now that Emma has been with us for 10 years, I firmly believe in nurture,” Michelle said. “You can ask any number of teachers at Sevier who have met Emma and they will tell you that she may not look like me, but that child is me made over. She has many of the same mannerisms that I do, and I love knowing that by simply raising her, she is hopefully the best parts of both of us.”

Emma’s friends know that she is adopted, but that doesn’t matter to them.

“They know and they do not treat me any differently,” she said. “I have a good friend who was also adopted from China and that’s not something we talk about and she and I don’t act like we are adopted.”

In the end, family it was matters most to the Bakers.

“Family is whoever God has placed in our lives to love,” Michelle Baker said. “I have never really thought about it, but I think of my friends as family and my family as friends, so I just think it’s the people who mean the most to me in my life.”

Stephen Baker agrees.

“It’s about my wife, my daughter, and myself making memories together, making decisions together, supporting each other in good times and bad times, giving me a sense of belonging on the planet, giving me an enormous job of being a father and husband”.

Emma, for her part, has her own definition of family.

“Family means people that you know will always be there for you and they love you very much”, she said.

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Teacher and family look back on adoption of daughter