After months of waiting for a referral and then weeks or months of more waiting before travel, the day you meet your child for the first time is something you’ve been dreaming of since the very beginning of your adoption process. Everyone’s experience is different, but I can guarantee that you will never forget the first day you meet your internationally-adopted child.

We received our daughter’s referral picture in early July and I left for Vietnam in November – four long months of staring at a photo. My husband stayed home with our two older daughters, so my mom was my travel companion. The flights were a surreal experience, the trip to the hotel through Vietnamese traffic was overwhelming, and my nerves were at a fever pitch when we finally boarded the bus for the four hour trip to the orphanage.

Managing Expectations When Meeting Your Adopted Child for the First Time

I traveled to the orphanage with a member of our agency’s staff and two other families who were adopting from the same orphanage. Although we were all joking and laughing at first, as we got closer to our final destination the bus became quiet. We were all so nervous, unsure what to expect. Many families had traveled before us and their experiences ranged from the wonderful to the nerve-wracking to the don’t-write-home-about-it tale. The key, we had been told, was to have low expectations. If we arrived at the orphanage expecting our children to embrace us, call us mama, and grin from ear-to-ear, we were bound to be disappointed with our first meeting with our internationally-adopted children.

Although this was a day we had been dreaming of for months, our arrival signalled a massive change for our children – one that they had NOT been looking forward to. We were taking them away from everything familiar – smells, sounds, faces. We had been told of babies who reclined happily in their adoptive mothers’ arms. We had been warned of children who screamed bloody murder at the sight of a strange face. I was hoping for a few minutes of holding my new daughter in my arms, and after that I would try to be content to watch her interact with her nannies. After all, I would have years with my daughter, while the nannies would be saying goodbye in just a few hours.

Emotional Overload at First Sight of my Adopted Child

The bus pulled to a stop in front of the administrative office, but the orphanage building that we had seen in pictures was right in front of us. I was so nervous that I could barely focus. We walked down the path to the buliding, taking our shoes off outside of its gate. On the first floor, the older children met us and one of the families, there to adopt their 4 year old son, knelt down to give him a hug. The other family and I were led up the stairs to the second floor – to the infant room.

As I walked into the room, the first child I saw was my daughter, kneeling in her crib. She had been dressed in an embroidered pink dress for our first meeting and her huge black eyes stared up at me as I asked the nannies for permission to pick her up. As I held her tiny body for the first time, I could barely breathe. The entire situation was unreal. I was a thousand miles from home, holding a child I had only seen in pictures, and loving her more with every beat of my heart. I wished my husband was with me. I couldn’t wait for her older sisters to meet her. I was afraid to move – afraid that she would cry, afraid that she would realize someone new was holding her.

The next two hours flew by. I held her, I gave her part of a bottle, and I watched the nannies feed her some cereal. I played with her on the spotless floor of the orphanage and watched her interact with the other children. I saw her personality, after months of wondering if she was active or passive, outgoing or introverted, daring or shy. The entire visit was very overwhelming – not necessarily for her, but for ME!

I’ll be honest and tell you that I was happy to leave the orphanage that day for the trip back to our hotel. The next morning, her nannies would hand my daughter to me and she would be mine forever. But the emotional overload – the anticipation of seeing her for the first time, the reality of holding her in my arms – had pushed me to my limits. We all got back on that bus, happy but exhausted. Almost all of us fell asleep shortly after we pulled away from the orphanage. The next morning, we would officially be the parents of these beautiful children and then the real adjustment period would begin.

Dianna is the mother of three girls, one of whom was adopted from Vietnam in 2007. She blogs about adoption, life, and kids at