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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 4, 201709:45 AM EST

A ray of hope in the midst of Irma

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While Jacksonville residents were hunkering down for the storm, the Baggetts were picking up their newest family member in China.

By Elizabeth Ferguson

The JBA treasurer

The first week of September, many of us were watching the news and worrying. What was this little storm going to do?

As the days went by, worry grew and we began to prepare. Water was purchased, generators were fueled, there was a run on bread and many prayers were said as people evacuated their homes.

At that time, no one could have imagined just how much devastation Hurricane Irma would cause here in Jacksonville, across Florida and throughout the Caribbean. The true extent will likely take years to uncover and rebuild.

During that time, one family in our legal community was doing a different kind of worrying. But unbeknownst to them, they were providing a bright distraction for all of us back home as they left on a great adventure and took us along via Facebook.

In April 2015, Matt and Amanda Baggett, attorneys here in Jacksonville, already had their hands full with three rambunctious (and very cute) kids. Twins John and Susannah were3 ½ years old, and Bo was just 2 years old at the time.

But, even with their busy careers and lives, they felt something was missing. A year later, in April 2016, they decided to grow their family through the slow and arduous process of adoption. Two years after they started, in April 2017, they finally saw a photo of who was to become their little girl, Mary Elle, and were immediately taken by what Amanda saw as her “bright eyes.”  

From there, events moved quickly and the Baggetts were set to leave Jacksonville for Beijing on Sept. 13.

They started a Facebook page titled “Meeting Mary Elle” so their friends and family could follow along on their adventure, began packing, and counting down the days. They would have to be in China for three weeks, so there were many arrangements to be made.

The twins would stay home with family so they would not miss any school but Bo was going to China. Of course, getting not one but two law practices covered for three weeks is also no easy feat, but they were getting it done.

And then came Irma.

With five days left before they were to fly out of Jacksonville, they had to completely change their plans and fly out of Atlanta as Jacksonville woke up to the worst of the storm. 

As all of us were “hunkered down” in our homes for the next several days, many without power and many dealing with even worse circumstances, the text messages on my phone kept coming: “Have you seen the latest post from Amanda?” “When are they going to get to meet Mary Elle?” “I can’t wait to see the next post!”

As people were tired and hot and nervous about the storm, Mary Elle became a bright spot for those following her story and a source of encouragement. Amanda provided daily updates of their adventures leading up to meeting Mary Elle, including touring the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China.   

Taking it all in was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it all felt like biding time.

Finally, it was time for the big day.

There were anxiety and tears, but that was just the Baggetts. Mary Elle (or “mei mei,” Chinese for little sister) on the other hand, never cried. She seemed to recognize them from the photos they had sent. Plus, they were able to spend a few hours at her foster home learning her routine, personality and favorite foods before it was time to leave.

Her main nanny (or “Avi” in Chinese) spoke to Mary Elle in Chinese and told her that she was going to America where she would live and be loved forever.

The Baggetts have many more legal hoops to jump through in China to make things official, but all of us following them on Facebook back home know the big work is already done.

Of course, it won’t always be easy. There will be many struggles along the way.

Mary Elle, at 20 months old, weighs only 16 pounds, having spent nearly three months in a hospital earlier this year, recovering from open heart surgery.

She’s had many new firsts these days: first time swimming, first time feeding herself, first time brushing her teeth and of course, her first Oreo. But she’s also headed home to Jacksonville a city as strong as she is. Mary Elle will fit right in here.  

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