I am grateful to my friend Angela for her willingness to share a personal story about her international adoption as an infant and the challenges faced by adult adoptees. I hope her story can help adoptive parents understand the powerful need of many adoptees to seek out information about their birth families.~ Tana
For as long as I can remember, I have wondered where I came from. My olive skin, almond eyes and black hair never quite fit in — whether at home with my Caucasian adoptive family, or at my rural (white) elementary school. That sense of not belonging followed me into my teenage years. I will never forget the man who told me, as I rang up his groceries, “Your people are such hard workers.” It was a harsh reminder that, despite my American citizenship, some people would never see me as one of “theirs.” The irony, of course, is that neither he nor I actually knew who “my people” were.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to sate my appetite for answers through primarily academic methods. I took a History of China course in college. On my own, I’ve read books about the history of Taiwan. I subscribe to a monthly electronic newsletter from the Taiwanese government, and to another from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. I’ve followed twin studies that examine the forces of nature and nurture. I’ve purchased adoption-related memoirs and watched documentaries about the subject. A trained journalist, I’ve interviewed and told the stories of other adoptees.
But the more knowledge I gained — about adoption, about my country of origin, about the political and economic forces that likely contributed to my being sent to a foreign country at a mere 3 months of age — the more questions I had.
If my life is a 10,000-piece puzzle, my adoption accounts for less than a handful of pieces. Most of the time, those missing pieces reside around the border of my being, unnoticeable. But at certain times in my life, I feel their absence strongly, in my center, and I hunger to complete the picture.
In 2010, I gave birth to a daughter. She filled a void I couldn’t articulate prior to that day. For 30 years, I lived with an absence of a history, of roots, of a biological connection to any other human being. Realizing my daughter has my hands, for example, was a profound experience. Her palms, her knuckles, her fingernails … they’re just like mine. She scrunches her eyebrows like me. She is goofy and opinionated like me.
I know my daughter is different from me in at least as many ways as she is similar, and yet it amazes me to see myself in her — traits I now realize I inherited, not learned.
And so, in January 2012, I resumed my quest for information, one I had primarily ceased (except for academic reading) after the stereotypical college phase of trying to “find myself.”
Without elaborating on all of the bureaucratic barriers, suffice to say I encountered more closed doors than open ones. For years, I assumed my search was complicated by a lack of records in Taiwan, when in fact, Taiwan has a comprehensive government database of families dating back to its Japanese occupation. The problem was that most of my adoption paperwork (what little bits I could finally get my hands on) was in English with pinyin names (phonetic equivalents of the Chinese characters). Finally, I was able to get a faded photocopy of my infant passport, which included the Chinese characters of my given name at birth. With that, the door cracked open.
Yesterday, after many months and miles (and therapy bills), I woke up, hit snooze on my iPhone and opened my email. A subject line, “News from Taiwan,” startled me.
In the email, I learned the intermediary had made contact with my older half-brother, that my daughter has a Taiwanese cousin only one year older than her, that my younger half-brother (whose existence I learned of only three months ago) was also placed for adoption, that my birthmother has been married for 23 years and has a stable life with her husband, and that my older brother fears that telling her about me may affect her health.
Upon showing him the baby picture on my certificate of naturalization, he reportedly said I was, “just like my family.”
And with those words, I feel whole. The entire time I’ve been searching for information, I’ve never exactly known what I was looking for. I thought I wanted answers, I wanted medical history, I wanted cultural context. I wanted to know why and how and who.
Maybe I only wanted to feel connected to something, some place, someone.
I don’t know if or how this reunion will progress. I know that reunions are rarely happily ever after. I’ve seen my sister (adopted into the same family as me) experience it first-hand.
But today, I feel content. I feel happy. I feel like I might just belong.