Two weeks ago, Ronald Byrd was in a Chinese orphanage waiting to see his 2 1/2 -year-old twin daughters for the first time.
On Feb. 25, after an exhausting and emotional trip from China, Mr. Byrd stepped off a plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with two very tired little girls.
The twins, who were abandoned at 1 month, are settling in with their adoptive parents, Mr. Byrd and his wife, Lissa, who live in Finksburg.
After a few days of motherhood, Mrs. Byrd says she has learned quite a bit about the girls' likes and dislikes.
They love macaroni and cheese, watermelon and oatmeal. But they're not crazy about peanut butter, apples or Alice, the family cat.
"It'll be a whole different way of living for us," said Mrs. Byrd, 40, a nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. "We've been spoiled, doing whatever we want. But I think it's going to be hardest on the cat. She's been our baby."
Mr. Byrd and Kathleen Irion, Mrs. Byrd's mother, flew to China on Feb. 12 to bring the toddlers to Finksburg. After two weeks of paperwork, they returned to Baltimore with the twins.
Waiting for them at the airport were about 20 family members and friends, including other families who had recently adopted children from Chinese orphanages.
When she caught a glimpse of her husband and new daughters, a tearful Mrs. Byrd ran down the ramp to greet them.
The girls, named Sydney and Shelby by the Byrds, were wearing blue denim jumpers trimmed in plaid. They seemed bewildered amid the flashbulbs and video cameras.
The twins had been at an orphanage in southern China after being abandoned at a hospital. Mr. Byrd said the orphanage was simple and that the children were clean and well tended. He described the sleeping room for toddlers as "wall-to-wall" cribs.
After arriving at the orphanage, Mr. Byrd went to the director's office and waited to meet his daughters.
"I was struck by how much prettier they were than their pictures," said Mr. Byrd, 41, an environmental lawyer for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. "It was instant fatherhood."
When the twins were leaving for the United States, the orphanage staff gathered in the courtyard to say goodbye. Mr. Byrd said the girls were "expressionless" as he took them away.
He brought them toys, clothes and bracelets engraved with their new names so that he could distinguish one from the other. He also brought a picture of their mother-to-be.
"Several times a day, we showed them the picture and said, 'Mama,' " he said.
While her husband was in China, Mrs. Byrd child-proofed their home and painted the girls' bedroom pink. "I went to Toys R Us dTC about three times last week, and I'd never been before in my life," she said.
By early last week, Shelby and Sydney were playing with stuffed toy dinosaurs and eating cookies and milk at their small kitchen table.
"They've been doing 2-year-old stuff -- throwing temper tantrums and fighting," Mrs. Byrd said.
The twins also speak to each other in Mandarin Chinese and sing songs at certain times -- when they're looking out of a window or getting dressed, Mr. Byrd said.
The girls have picked up a couple of English words -- "Mama" and "good" -- and they're proficient mimics.
"They can mimic an English phrase, but they can't remember it," Mr. Byrd said.
The Byrds began the adoption process last summer after two years of unsuccessful fertility treatments. They worked with Adoptions Together, a private, nonprofit adoption agency in Pikesville.
In their adoption application, the Byrds indicated that they wanted to adopt an infant. But when they learned in September that 2-year-old Chinese twin girls were available for adoption, the couple changed their plans.
"I was totally excited. I had always wanted twins," Mrs. Byrd said. "And my husband was wonderful enough to give it a try."
Most of the orphans in China are girls, which reflects the country's preference for male children and a national population control policy -- in effect since the 1970s -- that limits each family to one child, said Xiumin Overall, Adoptions Together's coordinator for Chinese adoptions.
"Chinese people are still influenced by the idea that they have to have a son to carry on the name and to support them when they get old," Ms. Overall said.
Many Chinese baby girls are abandoned by their mothers at birth or left at hospitals, police stations or bus stops, she said.
The infants are taken to orphanages, where they are declared legally abandoned and made available for international adoption no one claims them after four months.
"It's a very sad situation," Ms. Overall said. "All these beautiful baby girls are sitting in these orphanages."
Chinese twins available for adoption traditionally have gone to .. separate families, said Janice Pearse, Adoptions Together's international program director.
That practice slowly is beginning to change. In the case of the Byrd twins, Adoptions Together staff members persuaded Chinese officials to keep the girls together.
Ms. Pearse said the Byrd girls are the third set of Chinese twins to be adopted by American families since China reorganized its international adoption process last year.
"We're hoping that a precedent has been set and in the future it will be easier," she said.