The China-Port bond

Elaina and Joy didn’t know each other when they were orphans in China. Now they are best friends in Port Washington.

Joy Holzman (left) and Elaina Wichmann became friends after reconnecting in Port Washington 12 years after meeting in China as babies while being adopted. Both have Chinese and American passports. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Ruth and Bryan Wichmann bumped into a new couple in 2014 they had vaguely recognized at church in Port Washington.
Jack and Diane Holzman also thought the Wichmanns looked familiar.
The four got to talking and realized they indeed had met before, about 7,000 miles away. Both were adopting children from China 12 years before and hadn’t seen each other since.
They went home and were thrilled to tell their daughters about their refound connection and that they were in the same Confraternity of Christian Doctrine class.
The teens didn’t quite share their parents’ enthusiasm.
“I was like, ‘Grand. I don’t know her,’” Joy Holzman said.
Elaina Wichmann said, “‘OK, great.’”
The two had no memory of seeing each other in their native land when Joy was 2 and Elaina was 10 months.
Their second chance to make a first impression came on a car ride to a pre-mission trip. They exchanged awkward introductions.
The pair spent some time together on that mission trip to St. Louis and really reconnected in Project Lead the Way’s biomedical science class back at Port High.
Elaina was the only freshman and was sitting by herself. Joy, a sophomore, approached her “because she looked alone.”
The two hit it off and became lab partners and friends.
“It just happened to be that we were Chinese,” Elaina said.
“It’s what introduced us,” Joy said. “We don’t sit and talk about China. It’s a regular friendship.”
The pair enjoys Wednesday sushi runs to Meijer — Elaina taught Joy how to use chopsticks — and meet at the dog park in Belgium with Joy’s golden doodle and Elaina’s Brittany spaniel.
They enjoy shopping, but “not clothes shopping,” Elaina said. “She’ll call me, ‘Can you do my errands with me?’” which can involve all the excitement of car washes and other trivial tasks.
They admit having an Asian friend can be helpful when it comes to attire.
“It’s good to bounce fashion ideas off her because she’s Asian,” Elaina said, and then referenced wearing beige.
“Beige,” Joy said, “is for other people.”
While they have no memory of their first meeting, their parents remember the adoption like it was yesterday, with boxes of paperwork to show for it. Ruth made a scrapbook of the trip.
Ruth and Bryan had talked about adopting before they married. They had a son before adopting Elaina, and later had a daughter.
Diane had three children before she married Jack, who didn’t have any.
They decided to adopt a toddler because they were too old for a baby of their own.
After nearly two years, the families went to China to pick up their children. Upon arriving, they were told that if they broke certain rules they wouldn’t be going home with a child. Among them were criticizing the government.
“Everybody just looked at each other — we’re in a communist country,” Jack said.
At the orphanage, the caretakers cried as they handed over the children.
“That made us feel so good they had people who loved them, which is huge,” Ruth said.
Families got to spend one night with their children at their hotel and could still back out of the adoption the following morning.
The four parents quickly learned what they were initially told about their children wasn’t necessarily true.
“She stands, she sits,” Ruth said they were told of Elaina. “She couldn’t move.”
Joy had rickets from malnutrition. She took to Jack instantly because he had dark hair and eyes. She rocked herself to sleep in her crib that first night in the hotel.
Elaina cried when Bryan took off his shirt to go to sleep, evidently never seeing someone so white.
The children didn’t bring along any toys or stuffed animals.
“It’s kind of sad. The kids come with what’s on their back and that’s it,” Jack said.
They wore as many as six layers of clothing. Upon having them all peeled off, Joy began scratching her belly from a seemingly long-term itch.
Despite warm weather, clothing was to be put back on and cover the babies’ entire bodies. Chinese women walked by and counted the layers, giving a thumbs up when they were satisfied, Ruth said.
The American parents had to take ads out in the local newspaper to announce the adoption and give parents the chance to reclaim their children. But they would face punishment since it was against the law to abandon children.
The Wichmanns and Holzmans were told Joy and Elaina came from rural areas where parents wouldn’t have the means to take care of children. All the families were told the children were left at a police station or the orphanage.
Babies’ diets at the orphanage consisted of conjee, a bone soup. At breakfast, Jack gave Joy some of his oatmeal and she quickly pushed away her conjee in favor of her newfound dish.
Food may have been in short supply. Ruth said Elaina power slammed her bottles.
Old habits die hard when today Joy and Elaina eat their favorite food, pasta.
“We power slam those carbs, too,” Joy said.
A Chinese physician examined the children before they left. The hearing test consisted of squeezing a squeaky duck near their ears.
“The medical exam is a joke,” Jack said.
The families took the children to European doctors for better care.
Both Joy and Elaina plan to enter the medical field. Joy is majoring in pre-veterinary studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and entering the Air National Guard. Elaina wants to study pathology after graduating next year.
Neither speaks Mandarin, but both want to return to China. Joy said she would like to see the orphanage she came from.
Both would also consider adoption down the line.
“I got adopted and it would be cool to do the same for someone else,” Joy said.
For those considering adopting from a foreign country, the Holzmans and Wichmanns advise doing research and talking to other adoptive families.
“It just has to come from your heart,” Diane said. “You can’t save the world, but you can save a life.”
Bryan and Ruth said there are no guarantees of health in either adopting or having a biological child.
“Sometimes, you just have to take that leap of faith, whether you birth a child or adopt,” Ruth said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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