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A new country and new parents

Maya Rose was abandoned in China. A local couple have adopted her.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002


LAND O'LAKES -- The 2-day-old girl lay abandoned on the doorstep of a government building in Qing Yuan, China.

The infant with the almost hairless head rested in a cardboard box. An old blanket cradled the tiny body; a bottle of formula sat beside her. A handwritten note pinned to her blanket listed her birthday.

The Chinese orphanage named her Yan Jing, which means swift sparrow. It was a name full of wishful thinking: The women who cared for the orphan hoped she'd soar like a bird to reach her destiny.

The name proved apt. Yan Jing, renamed Maya Rose by her adoptive American parents, flew into Tampa International Airport on Wednesday night after a 9,000-mile trip from Beijing and 11/2 years of bureaucratic haggling.

Her new parents, Cheryl and Duane Waterbury, Pasco County school district employees with two teenage sons, welcomed the 20-month-old toddler into her pink-painted bedroom in the Twin Lakes neighborhood in Land O'Lakes.

Stuffed toy pandas near her bed represent her homeland. The bedroom window is framed by stencils of rose blooms, a reflection of her new middle name. A paper cutout of a ladybug adorns her door, a good luck symbol for adoptive parents.

"I just wanted to make a difference," Cheryl Waterbury said Friday, Maya sitting silent and wide-eyed on her lap. "There are millions of kids in China who are familyless."

It began when Cheryl Waterbury was investigating baby options for her sister, who had struggled to become pregnant.

When her sister hesitated to travel to China, Waterbury told her jokingly that "we'll both go together and we'll both get one."

Her sister eventually gave birth. Waterbury was left with the lingering sense that she should still adopt a girl from China.

She and her husband had only boys -- Ryan, 17 and Dylan, 13 -- and couldn't have more children.

The rest of her family first looked at her cockeyed. "Ryan was thinking it was a pretty stupid idea," Mrs. Waterbury said.

Once persuaded the family could handle another child, Duane Waterbury agreed it was better to adopt from abroad than from the United States.

"It would have really crushed me if some birth parent would come along five years later and say "I'm all cleaned up and ready to take my kid back,' " Duane Waterbury said.

An agency from Austin, Texas, called Great Wall of China Adoption starting making arrangements in early 2001. On July 1 this year, the agency called to say it had a baby.

China has many abandoned female children. The Communist country strictly enforces its one-child per family policy, and the population's preference for boys means that millions of female babies are abandoned.

Many rural families fear a daughter guarantees a life of poverty. A son can take over the family farm and provide for his elderly parents. A daughter becomes part of her husband's household.

Maya, who after her abandonment landed in a well-tended state orphanage in Qing Yuan, almost certainly came from a poor farming family in southern China's Cantonese region, Cheryl Waterbury said.

Before Waterbury flew to Beijing, Chinese authorities mailed her photos of Maya, showing the girl's transition from fuzzy-haired infant to mop-topped toddler.

The pictures show a clean environment that is nevertheless institutional. Maya stands in a communal nursery, one of several toddlers staring from a row of matching cribs. In another she's soaped and rinsed in one of several sinks towered over by orphanage matrons.

On Aug. 6, Cheryl Waterbury and her son, Ryan, made the trek from Tampa to China, with stopovers in Denver, Seattle and Tokyo.

After a cursory physical exam by a Chinese physician -- determining she could breathe, hear and see -- Waterbury adopted her new daughter. The whole process, airfare to China included, cost the family $17,000.

"When I first got her she completely shut down, went limp, no expression," Cheryl Waterbury said.

But 10 days later, on the day of their return flight to the United States, Maya made a breakthrough. As Waterbury stacked toys with her daughter in the hotel, the toddler finally laughed.

Waterbury is taking eight weeks of leave from her job as a teacher of deaf children at Denham Oaks Elementary in Land O'Lakes. Her husband works in the school district's maintenance department in Moon Lake.

In her first couple of days in Florida, Maya is dealing with jet lag, new faces and strange foods. Not used to fruit -- her staple in China was rice porridge -- she spits out apple juice and bananas.

On her bedroom shelf in Land O'Lakes, a Barbie doll, straight from a Mattel factory in China, symbolizes her new life. Specially made for adoptive white parents, it shows the blond Barbie holding a dark-haired Chinese infant.

Sitting in her Twin Lakes living room Friday, Cheryl Waterbury said the whole process was an exercise in faith. Maya, black-haired and blank-faced, reclines on her father's lap.

"We had no control over when or what child they'd pick for us," Waterbury said. "You'd say, "This is out of my control, and I have to have faith God is smarter than I am.' "

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