Read an Excerpt
No language can express the power and beauty and heroism and majesty of a mother's love.
Edwin Hubbell Chapin
The war was far from Saigon when I agreed to escort six babies from Vietnam to their adoptive homes in the U.S.
Still, the decision to leave my husband and two little girls had not been easy. When the war escalated, I had begged God for a sign that I could back out of my commitment, but he only filled me with a courage and confidence I could explain to no one. Somehow I knew this was all a part of his plan. By the time I landed in Saigon, bombs were falling outside the city limits, Vietnam was falling to the communists,
and President Ford had okayed Operation Babylift.
Scores of the estimated 50,000 Amerasian babies and toddlers were herded into our headquarters of Friends of Children of Vietnam in preparation for the airlift.
On my third day there, over breakfast of bread and bottled Coke, Cherie, the director, said, "LeAnn, you’ve probably figured this out . . ."
"You and Mark applied for adoption of a son through us,
and we told you to expect him in two years." She spoke above the din of dozens of bawling babies. "Obviously,
everything has changed. You’ll be assigned one of the babies gathered here—or," she paused to touch my hand,
"or you can go into the nursery and choose a son."
I was stunned, speechless.
I felt myself flush with excitement—then with fear.
"Really?" I finally croaked. Surely, I had heard her wrong.
Cherie’s tired eyes danced. "Really."
"So I can just go in there and pick out a son?"
Cherie nodded again.
Dazed, I turned to my friend and traveling companion,
Carol. "Come with me." She jumped up immediately, and we approached the door to the nursery together.
I paused and took a deep breath. "This is like a fantasy. A dream come true."
I opened the door, and we entered a room filled with babies. Babies on blankets and mats. Babies in boxes and baskets and bassinets and cribs.
"Carol, how will I ever choose? There are 110 babies here now."
One baby in a white T-shirt and diaper looked at me with bright eyes. I sat cross-legged on the floor with him on my lap. He seemed to be about nine months old and responded to my words with cute facial expressions and animation. He giggled and clapped his hands.
"We should name you Personality," I said. Then I noticed he was wearing a name bracelet on his ankle. He had already been assigned to a family in Denver. Well, I thought, feeling disappointment rising in my throat, that family is mighty lucky.
Another child caught my eye as he pulled himself to his feet beside a wooden crib. We watched with amusement as he tugged the toes of the baby sleeping inside. Then he dropped to his hands and knees and began crawling to me. I met him halfway across the room and picked him up.
He wore only a diaper, and his soft, round tummy bulged over its rim. He looked at me and smiled brightly, revealing chubby cheeks and deep dimples. As I hugged him, he nestled his head into my shoulder.
"Maybe you’ll be our son," I whispered. He pulled back,
staring into my eyes, still smiling. For the next hour, I carried him around the room, looking at each infant, touching them, talking to them. All the while, the baby in my arms babbled, smiled and continued to cuddle. I couldn’t bring myself to put him down as we went upstairs where the floor was carpeted with even more babies. The hallway was like a megaphone, blasting the sounds of chattering workers and crying babies.
"Let me hold him," Carol coaxed, "while you look at the others."
The couch against the wall held a half-dozen fussy infants side by side. I picked up each of them. Most seemed stiff and unresponsive. How sad that cuddling could be unfamiliar to them. I weaved my way to the blanket of babies at the end of the room and sat caressing each
of them. As I cradled one in my arms, I could feel the bones of his spine press against my skin. Another’s eyes looked glazed and motionless. Sorrow gripped me.
I felt the little boy Carol was carrying for me pat my arm. As I turned to look, he reached out his chubby arms for me. Taking him from her, I snuggled him close, and he snuggled back. Someone had loved him very much.
Downstairs, we meandered from mat to crib, looking at all the infants again. I wished I could adopt them all. But I knew there were long waiting lists at the Denver headquarters of hundreds of families who had completed the tedious, time-consuming application process. Each of these precious orphans would have immediate homes carefully selected for them.
"How do I choose?" I asked myself as much as Carol.
The baby boy in my arms answered by patting my face. I had never missed my husband more. "I wish Mark was here."
I turned my full attention to the child I held, waving my hands in front of his face to check his eyes. He blinked and flashed his dimples.
I snapped my fingers by his ears in a foolish attempt to test his hearing. He turned his head, giggled and grabbed at my hands.
Then I sat on the floor, slowly rocking him back and forth in my arms. I whispered a prayer for the decision I was about to make, a decision that would affect many lives forever. The baby nestled into the hollow of my neck,
reassuring me that the choice I was about to make was the right one. I could feel his shallow breath and tender skin as he embraced me.
I recalled all the data we had collected for adoption; all the letters of references from friends, bankers, employers;
all the interviews with the social workers.
It had all been worth it for this moment.
We rocked in silence and cuddled. Then, with immense joy, I walked back through the nursery door to the office.
"Meet our son, Mitchell Thieman!" I announced, hardly believing my own words. Everyone gathered around and embraced us. I looked at Mitchell’s puzzled face and held him closer. Cherie brought a nametag, and I eagerly scrawled on it, "Reserve for Mark Thieman," and placed it on his ankle.
Joyful tears streamed down my cheeks. For a moment,
all my fears were gone. I no longer wondered why I had been driven to make this journey. "This is why God sent me to Vietnam," I whispered.
I had been sent to choose a son.
Or had he chosen me?