the “life book” of an adoptee

Last month at a training I attended for foster and adoptive parents, the subject of life books was discussed. The facilitators explained that for a child being fostered, a life book provides an important connection to the child’s birth family until he or she is reunified with them. Pictures of the biological family and special events are typically included in the book. The idea is that as the child continues to grow, the foster family continues to add things to the life book. It is a link to the child’s roots and a history of his/her past and present.

During the training, a sample life book was passed around the room. I watched as prospective adoptive and foster parents thumbed through the pages. I then began to think of the overwhelming number of internationally adopted children who may never be privy to any information regarding their biological families. No pictures of their birth parents or siblings, no physical link to their cultural roots. A  hollow feeling, one that I can now identify as loss, expanded right in the middle of my chest as I was reminded that I will never have the opportunity to meet my own birth parents. Yes, it is a tremendous loss even though my adoptive parents are who I consider to be my parents. I am grateful that my biological sisters gave me pictures of our parents when I was in Taiwan. Just to have a few pictures of my birth parents is something significant, and that I now have a connection with my birth family is beyond words. I am truly grateful that my adoptive mom kept my adoption contract and many other things pertaining to my adoption, although they remained hidden for many years. I have lost, but also gained.

Before I left on my trip to Taiwan, I started my own “life book” mainly to share with  my sisters. I included my adoption contract, some of the documents I found with it, and pictures of my adoptive family, school pictures, holiday photos, and pics of my husband and daughter. I remember that first evening in Taiwan and showing my sisters the photo album after dinner. They saw just a small glimpse of what my life was like with my adoptive family. The years my sisters and I spent apart and the disconnect between my cultural and Western roots suddenly became so very real. How can I express the significance of finding my birth family and establishing a connection with my birth heritage? To say that it was a pivotal turning point is an understatement.

My life as an adoptee began with loss. Though I don’t spend everyday thinking about or feeling such loss, every once in awhile I allow myself to go there. It doesn’t overwhelm me or send me into a huge state of depression. It’s more of a time of self-reflection. It’s an important part of who I am, and I accept that. Yet, it’s not something that can be easily captured in a life book.

18 thoughts on “the “life book” of an adoptee

  1. Dana Cleary

    Marijane,

    I just read your blog from beginning to end (bottom to top)

    I will read that novel you suggested in your most recent post, but I your blog has a very strong, compelling narrative feel itself when read all at one sitting. Even though I knew it had a successful resolution, I still worried for you as I went through it!

    My husband and I adopted our daughter from mainland China when she was a year and a half (now twelve years old), and I have suggested that she read your blog the way I did – like a novel, bottom to top.

    I want nothing less than a full reunion for her with her parents/siblings, although I know our chances of achieving that are slim.

    We have done the 23andme genetic test on my daughter. As I see more remote DNA relatives show up in her Relative List in that database each month, I have hope that there will be some closer ones showing up eventually.

    I have learned interesting things from those who correspond with me, and I know that this database will grow over the years.

    We will search on the ground in China as well, going back to the police station and finding place, etc. but DNA testing is a helpful adjunct tool to that.

    I want to mention here that Rose (who posted a comment a week or so, above) and I are volunteer board members for and supporters of DNAConnect.org.

    This group is identifying birth parents in China who know their children were adopted internationally (many do know this) and who want to know how the children are doing or have contact with them, if the adoptive parents are willing. We are getting these birth parents DNA tests. The first tests are underway now.

    I anticipate that we will end up facilitating quite a few family reunions this way in the next few years.

    Even if some adoptive parents are reluctant to have a reunion while their children are young, the birthparent DNA will reside in a prominent DNA database here until the adoptive parents are ready or until their child becomes adult enough to pursue a reunion herself/himself.

    DNAConnect will keep up with the address/phone numbers/ QQ text numbers of the birth parents over the years until the time is right.

    If anyone wants to learn more about this, they can check the website or email me directly at cleahoff @ gmail. com (remove spaces).

    Dana

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  2. Pingback: The Velveteen Equation (Part 1) | My Blog, aka, Sorry My Mind Must Have Wandered

    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Dear Dana, I want to thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. That must have taken some time! I always enjoy hearing from adoptive parents and am glad that you commented. I’m hearing more and more about the genetic testing now available to both birth parents and adoptees. I’ll definitely check out the link you provided above to DNAConnect and am interested in learning more about the testing. Wow, what a development. I hope that the testing will be a positive and helpful resource for adoptees and now birth parents and way to one day reconnect. It’s wonderful that you are so supportive of finding your daughter’s birth parents/siblings. I hope that you are able to locate them one day. No matter what, your daughter will know that you helped her. Thanks so much for visiting!

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  3. poetinjena

    Some thoughts here Marijane which I can definitely relate to.
    Your last words ring so true.
    In fact, words themselves may never necessarily be more than just fly-by snap shots of feelings and experiences too immense to be so easily contained.

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  4. Jean

    Marianne, methinks this blog is part of that life book chapter or several chapters.

    I would like to remind some people here with adopted Chinese babies, that in China the one-child policy is not followed many times/rules are broken because girls are valued…for many Chinese nationals. I come from a family with relatives who wanted and kept their 2nd, 3rd….and even 5th baby in China. Regardless of gender. These are working class people, not much money with the one-child program in place ever since the Communists came into power (late 1940’s).

    And my family is dominated naturally by a preponderance of females..more girls than boys by birth.

    It’s important that adopted children not get overly skewed idea of their birth culture.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Thank you, Jean, for your comments. I watched a special on China’s One Child Policy, maybe it was on CNN or PBS, which focused on just what you mentioned- that parents don’t want to give up a 2nd, 3rd, 4th child, etc, yet the monetary penalties are ridiculously high in order to “keep” their child and many families cannot afford it. They find ways to “get around” paying the fees somehow for the love of the child(ren). Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Rose

      Jean you are so right! I have searched for my daughter’s Chinese birth family and what I have since learned is that there was no abandonments in her county for 5 years, then suddenly within an 18 month span, 44 babies, almost all newborn girls were abandoned. Once those 18 months passed, there have been no more abandonments since….and it’s been 6 years. SO….obviously family planning was in high gear AND probably orphanage incentives….after all, we adoptive parents are required to give the orphanage a $3000-5000 “donation” for their care. So there is some shennigans going on. No, I have told my daughter that girls are cherished in China but the Family Planning policies and enforcement has more to do with abandonments than her sex.

      There are many birth parents in China who are searching for their babies. Many know that their children were possibly adopted by foreigners, and they know they can never get their children back. But they would like to see a photograph and know what happened to their child. I think that is a small thing to ask, but a monumental task. But there is an organization that is raising funds to do DNA testing on these birth parents, to give them peace of mind.

      So even if I never find my daughter’s birth parents, I am trying to help those Chinese birth parents find their child. If anyone is interested in contributing toward the DNA testing of Chinese birth parents please email me

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  5. Rose

    I have 2 adopted kids from China, age 9 and 10. This summer we finally met my son’s Chinese foster family. He remembers them well and he had such a nice reception back to his country of origin. I am actively searching for their birth parents as I feel it is their right to know their history. I too keep a life book and now have to add the pictures of his foster family and I hope someday, the pictures of his biological family. I have done 23andme DNA testing (the price was lowered to $99 so it was affordable) and have found distant cousins which is thrilling for my kids. I believe someday, I will be able to find their birth parents, if not through searching, then through DNA. Someday there will be DNA collected from birth parents in China who relinquished their kids, often by family planning coercion
    .

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Rose, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your comments. I know of an adult adoptee from Taiwan who also had DNA testing done in order to find members of his birth family. I believe that he was able to find cousins as well. We never had the opportunity to connect, but I would be so interested to hear his story. I think it’s really great that you were able to meet your son’s foster family! I appreciate that you are trying to locate his birth parents and want your children to have that connection to them and to their culture of origin. What a day that will be when birth parents in China have access to DNA testing. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be coerced into relinquishing a child. Thanks again for visiting!!

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  6. Kelly

    As an adoptive mom of two little girls who were born in China, we have no information about our girls’ biological families. It can be very intimidating to attempt writing a lifebook for them when you cannot honestly give them any information at all about their first families. However, it can be done. I recently finished my older daughter’s 2nd lifebook (the first was a toddler version, with age appropriate information for her so she could begin to process her story). This new book is much more in depth as it contains information about the historical preference for boys in China and delves into the One Child Policy as well. I have also written a lifebook for my younger daughter (kind of a cross between a toddler book and the one I recently completed for my older daughter). It took me months to write her book, hours of research into a variety of things such as the weather in the city where the girls were born on the days of their births, information about the industries/crops/cultural sites etc. in the areas in which they were born. My girls are so thrilled with their books and read them often. These books are a tangible reminder that their stories did not begin when the joined our family and their stories involve another set of parents, a country, culture and language.

    I’m so glad you wrote your own, but really wish your adoptive parents had done it for you.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Kelly, thank you for visiting! I would love to see your kids’ life books. I think it’s great that you created life books (and at different stages of their lives) and included so much information about their countries of origin! I can only imagine how much your girls enjoy looking through them. You are so right in that the “books are a tangible reminder that their stories did not begin when they joined our family and their stories involve another set of parents, a country, culture and language.” I think that my adoptive parents adopted me at such a different period in the trajectory of international adoption, which has become much more open. I imagine that things would have been very different had there been more open communication and honesty between us. I’m really happy to hear from adoptive parents who recognize the importance of keeping their child(ren) connected to their birth culture. Thanks again for stopping by! I appreciate your comments.

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      1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

        Thanks, Ma-Li. I can’t tell you how great it is to connect with another adoptee from Taiwan, and from the same orphanage, even if it is halfway across the world! I hope that one day we can meet in person. I keep talking to my husband about a trip to Europe! Maybe in the future. Thinking of you.

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