Childbirth is usually an intimate event, shared among few in the delivery room. For four Massachusetts families — the Montagues of Wayland, the Dugans of Waltham, the Hudsons of South Easton, and the Awtrys of Hingham — the “delivery room” was filled with hundreds of people, and their children “arrived” at more than a year old. Yet the non-traditional conditions in no way lessened the miracle of becoming a parent. A family. In fact, in gaining a child these four families formed a whole new one in each other’s company.

The four couples all went through the process of adopting children through the Brookline-based China Adoption with Love agency and traveled overseas together to meet their children for the first time and bring them home. The families were so bonded by the experience that in April — eight years after their initial trip — they returned to their daughters’ native country to relive the experience.

“We always say we couldn’t have picked better friends,” Karen Montague says. “Part of it was that it was as if we were all in the delivery room together. There’s an intimacy and a bond we share through this adoption process and emotional time.”

“I think at the time we all had this idea that this was a lifelong experience,” Anne Dugan adds. “It wasn’t just going to be an adoption trip and we’d be all set; it was more than that.”

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The road to China — and a portion thereafter — was filled with challenges and rewards for the families, from adjustments to a new life to triumphs in celebrating a new culture. Each family brought with them a unique situation; the Montagues and Dugans shared their stories with baystateparent.

The tale of AiLi

Karen, 48, and her husband Ira, 50, married later in life, deciding 10 years after marriage that they wanted to start a family via adoption.

After exhaustive research, the couple found that China was the country with which they were most comfortable. Though initially the wait seemed short, they completed their approval process at the same time a slowdown began in Chinese adoptions, and ended up waiting more than two years for their child. The wait, of course, was worth it.

AiLi (pronounced “Eye Lee”), whose name loosely translates from the Chinese words for “loving” and “beautiful,” was adopted from the Huainan Social Welfare Institute at 17 months old. The Montagues actually picked her up at the Civil Affairs office in Hefei, a three-hour ride from the orphanage, as the city surrounding Huainan was less-than-desirable.

In preparation for the trip, the couple learned a lot about what to expect, and in their particular situation, they found most of it turned out to be untrue. “They say oftentimes it’s hard for the girls to bond with their fathers because they’re not used to seeing men,” Montague says. “They say they hate water because they never had a bath. They say to blow bubbles at the child when you see them to play with them.”

However, AiLi took to Ira right away, falling asleep in his arms not long after Karen was holding the wailing child. She also loved the first bath the couple gave her, and as for blowing bubbles? She laughs over the fact that she thought it might help.

“It’s an overwhelming situation for everyone. The nanny comes into this room with these children that have never been in any kind of mode of transportation and just rode three hours on a route that’s deplorable,” Montague says. “We drove through the city the day before and it was a third-world country at the time in terms of transportation and structure. Then they walk into this room with all these Caucasians, who must look like aliens, and they’re so frightened. And I’m standing there blowing bubbles, and it’s just scaring her more.”

The Montagues got lucky, however, because in an acclimation process they were told takes days, AiLi settled in nicely within 24 hours.

A tale of two babies

Anne Dugan and her husband had no success in conceiving a child but wanted a family and knew adoption was the way to go. Like the Montagues, the couple ran into the China adoption slowdown and waited 16 months to adopt their first daughter, Lea, who was then 14 months old. Wanting another child, the Dugans switched to special needs adoption (the wait time for which is much less), and later brought home Laila, then 23 months old and born with a cleft lip and palette.

For the Dugans, everything the Montagues had been told proved to be true. Lea, adopted from an orphanage in Chaohu, was late, the last child to enter the room after being delayed in traffic. Dugan recalls constantly scanning a crowded, family-filled room for her, having only three little pictures to use for recognition. After 20 minutes, Lea arrived.

“I always say that those 20 minutes were longer than the 16 months,” she says. “I started crying, and then she started crying because here she is seeing all these foreigners. When I see the video now of the moment I met her and the way she cries, it breaks my heart. She just lost everything she knew, and though we hoped we were providing her with a better life so she can live to the fullest, she doesn’t know that. She was only 14 months old and just handed over to these strangers.”

The acclimation period was a long one for Lea, who would shut down and display what her parents called “stone face” — one devoid of emotion. Though she eventually became well-adjusted, it was this rocky start the Dugans had in mind when arriving to meet Laila at an orphanage in Nanning City. Knowing she was older than Lea and also a child with special needs, they were prepared for hardship — and were completely taken aback.

“She came to us with big, open arms, lots of smiles, giving us high fives right away,” Dugan remembers with a laugh. “It was the last thing we expected.”

The girls have displayed pretty much the same personalities over the years; Lea a bit more reserved, Laila throwing herself full-tilt at life, a perfect balance for the family.

A new journey

Knowing the bond that had formed among them, the families immediately decided after the initial China trip that they would return when the girls were older. This April, with the children all aged around 10 years old, the families found their way back. Not only did the girls see their birth culture, but their families also had a chance to help the orphanages that cared for them in their first year of life.

The Montagues and Dugans raised money for the orphanages through Dreamfund, an online crowd-funding platform. The Montagues set her goal at $350 and ended up raising $500 in less than a week; The Dugans shot for $300 for each child and exceeded that at $400 apiece.

Upon their visit, the Montagues brought toys, treats, and school supplies. When they discovered the orphanage truly needed a washing machine, they bought that, as well. With money still left over, they donated to Love Without Boundaries, a nonprofit that provides preschool services for the orphans.

The Dugans found themselves in a similar situation, also purchasing a washing machine for the Chaohu Social Welfare Institute, in addition to treats and supplies for the children.

Though the visits to the orphanages elicited strong emotions, it was the trip through China that was truly an experience to behold. The families had an ambitious itinerary planned for the two-week journey, which included Beijing, Xi-an, Chengdu, Hefei, Yellow Mountain, and Shanghai, among other stops.

It was at the Great Wall when Dugan recalled a moment reflective not only of Laila’s personality, but also perhaps of the families’ lifelong journey – one filled with joy and relief at having arrived at a moment in life so great.

“She, some of the other girls, and one of the fathers climbed up very high on the wall,” Dugan recalls. “She told me when she got up to the top she threw her arms in the air and yelled, ‘Yes!’”