A friend of mine who is a new mother asked me to share some family traditions. What a great idea! I decided to go back to our very first tradition: baby quilts. I’m writing about Lily’s quilt because I think it would be special for any baby, whether he or she’s adopted or not. So here goes. And please share any ideas that you have for fun and meaningful traditions.
Clockwise from top left: Andrew’s quilt, made by Great-Grandma Campobasso; Lexie’s, from one of her fairy godmothers, Kristi; Lily’s; and Will’s, made and embroidered by Grammy.
When I was pregnant, my ever-expanding midriff announced to the world that we were expecting a baby. I got to answer all the usual questions people ask pregnant women: When is your baby due? Is it a boy or a girl? Have you picked out a name? Everyone could see that we were to be blessed with a new arrival and their enthusiasm helped prepare a place for each baby. But when we decided to adopt our fourth child, there was no growing belly to announce that Lily was coming. So how could we make sure she was as eagerly anticipated as our other children?
In our family, new babies are welcomed with homemade quilts. As I was figuring out what to do for the fourth quilt, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to include others in our preparations for Lily’s arrival. I could ask our family and friends to send a square of fabric to represent them in the quilt. Not only would this be a great way to celebrate the diversity of the people in Lily’s new world, but it would also give them a chance to play a part in her adoption.
I sent a letter to family and friends asking for a small (6- x 6-inch) square of fabric that would reflect their personalities and interests. I recommended that the fabric be cotton for easier sewing, but didn’t specify colors or styles. I thought it would be more interesting to let people express themselves and see what happened.
And then the fun began. Every day, the kids eagerly checked the mailbox. The first arrival was a beautiful piece of vintage fabric from my aunt. Soon after, we received a square of fabric left over from the bridesmaid’s dress I had worn in a friend’s wedding years ago. Friends living in Africa sent material featuring a guinea fowl to add an exotic twist. Many people included messages expressing their excitement about Lily joining our family, and I tucked the notes away in a special box for her to read some day.
The pile of squares grew while the stack of adoption paperwork gradually shrunk until finally, on the Friday before Mother’s Day, we received our referral for Ning Ai Li, a 10-month-old girl living in an orphanage in China’s Jiangxi province. Our hearts melted at the sight of the tiny girl bundled in sweaters gazing solemnly into the camera.
It was time to bring in the expert, Great-Grandma Campobasso, to piece the quilt together.
“Crazy” quilts are a legitimate art form in the quilting world, but I worried that Lily’s might look a little too crazy. We had everything from baseballs to shamrocks on our squares, in every possible color. But as Grandma and I laid the pieces out on her kitchen table, patterns began to form and colors blended together. A large pink heart from a quilt started, but never finished, by Tim’s aunt in Cape Cod became the perfect centerpiece for ours. As we gazed at the squares spread out across the table, I saw that the quilt truly represented how individuals come together in all sorts of ways, like the haphazard pieces before us, to make a family. And I knew that Lily would fit right in.
We brought the quilt with us to China and presented it to Lily in our hotel room in Guangzhou. We laid it across her tiny legs and watched as she poked and prodded the squares. The moment we had been waiting for happened when she looked up at us and smiled.
Sometimes when I tuck her into bed, Lily and I take a minute to look over the quilt. Some of the squares make us laugh, like the one with Yoda on it that big brother Andrew picked out, or the piece cut from a friend’s favorite swim trunks. Others bring tears, like the square that my mom’s best friend made shortly before she died of cancer, on which she drew the Chinese symbol for “family.” The doula who helped deliver our older three children quilted a lovely square featuring an angel to watch over Lily. Each fragment of fabric holds a story, and it’s an honor to share them with Lily as she grows up.
Lily spent the first year of her life half a world away from us, and it wasn’t always easy hoping that she was being lovingly cared for. But this quilt gave me something tangible to hold onto while we counted the days until she joined us. During that long year of waiting, I pictured her tucked snug and warm under the quilt full of squares from her new tribe. I imagined the quilt bringing comfort on those inevitable days in the future when she felt that she didn’t belong or mourned the loss of her birth family. I even pictured her bringing the quilt to college as a reminder of all the people who love and support her. Each piece reflects the wonderful circle of family and friends that accepted our little girl with open arms.