what every adoptee wants to know

When I was growing up in Louisiana, one of the questions I was most often asked by others upon learning that I was adopted was, “so who are your ‘real’ parents?” It was fairly obvious that I was adopted, as I looked nothing like my white parents. I had straight black hair, almond shaped eyes and skin the color of my dad’s morning cup of coffee. I was usually annoyed by the question each and every time it was asked. My typical response was, “well my parents are my real parents.” My adoptive parents were the only parents I knew. The only parents I would ever know. I have no doubt that other adoptees encounter the same question and perhaps feel the same annoyance.

What baffles me is that I was never curious about my birthparents until about two years ago after finding my adoption papers, 40 years after my adoption. This ambivalence was perpetuated by the secrecy surrounding adoption at the time. My adoptive parents never ever talked about my birth heritage, including the family I was born into. When I was placed for adoption, it was the beginning of the end of any connection to my birth country, to my birthfamily. After my adoption, all cultural ties were severed. I would never know that my birthparents were from China, but forced to leave the country and build a new life in Taiwan, that I had two older sisters and an older brother. I believe that my adoptive parents did everything possible to keep my past hidden from me, and for years, it would remain so. Then one day, the truth came out, or at least part of it. And when it did, it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

This afternoon, I went with some friends who are visiting from California to see a movie, “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. It was a heart wrenching experience, although there was some humor between the characters. It is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who, as a teenager, had a romantic fling with a boy at a carnival and became pregnant. Rejected by her own family, she is sent to a convent where she gives birth to a son, Anthony, and is forced to work with other young girls in order to work off the penance of their “sins.” The girls are allowed to see their children for only one hour a day. What is even more tragic is one day, Philomena watches helplessly as her three-year-old boy is taken away by a rich American couple without as much as a goodbye. The convent was in the business of selling babies to wealthy Americans and having the young mother’s sign contracts that they could never find out the whereabouts of their children. This abominable practice is historical, unfortunately. Fifty years later, Philomena is still tormented by the loss of her son and the desire to find him. She unwittingly connects with dejected political journalist, Martin Sixsmith, portrayed by Steve Coogan, who agrees to help her find her son, primarily for the tabloid possibilities of a human interest story. What follows is a tender story of loss, reconciliation, forgiveness and ultimately acceptance.

I know some adoptees hated this film, but it really resonated with me, despite the creative license that was taken to make it more dramatic. The story of grief and loss was what struck me. The depiction of such a tremendous loss experienced by a woman whose child was taken away from her was so real. I felt the loss as if it were my own. So often adoption is portrayed as a happy event, yet rarely do we see the other side of adoption from the perspective of the birth mother who is forced to relinquish her child. One of the most memorable lines comes when Philomena decides to go to America with Martin Sixsmith in hopes of finding her son. Philomena says, “I’d like to know if Anthony ever thought of me…I’ve thought of him everyday.”

Since learning about my birthparents in Taiwan, I’ve often wondered if my birth mother ever thought of me. How can it not be so? Philomena answered this question for me. The separation between a mother who is forced to give up her child and the child who is relinquished causes a wound that is easily re-opened again and again. I will never know my birth mother . She and my biological father died before I had the chance to meet them. I have often wondered about her, like what her favorite color was, what kind of music she liked, what kind of personality she had, was she happy, did we bond at all while I was still with her? I was told by my sisters in Taiwan that she was a teacher, she enjoyed learning and classical music. Unbeknownst to her,  my biological father, placed me for adoption without her consent. I often wonder how it all happened, if my biological father felt anything at all when he took me to the orphanage and left me there to languish. My sisters tell me that our mother never talked about what happened, but it deeply affected her, emotionally and psychologically. When we met for the first time since my adoption, they gave me photos of our mother and father. I felt that there was such sadness behind my birth mother’s eyes and wondered what she was thinking when the photo was taken.

Philomena eventually learns that the life her son attains after his adoption is much more affluent than anything she could have ever provided for him. She recognizes this fact and is happy that he grew up having opportunities that he would not have had otherwise. This is the reason why many adoptees are placed for adoption, including me. It’s quite the phenomenon when you are given everything you could possibly need and want, yet still feel a hole somewhere deep inside you, like there is a part of you that’s missing. It’s still there to this day. I’ve learned to accept it, or perhaps even ignore it so I can deal with life.

I think that many adoptees wonder why they were given up or abandoned. Questions like, “was it because I was unwanted, was it forced, was I ever thought of afterwards?” are not uncommon. Unfortunately, many adoptees will never know the answers because of a lack of documentation, abandonment or falsification of documents. Finding my birthfamily brought me one step closer to the truth and to answering some of those questions. Yet, the whole truth is still so elusive. I will always have questions about my birthparents and my birthfamily. Answers are not so easy to come by.

In the movie, Martin Sixsmith quotes T.S. Eliot toward the end of Philomena’s journey, 

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” 

I thought how very apt this quote was. Philemona started her journey at the convent and, in the end, returns to it. My journey began in an orphanage in Taiwan. Two years ago, I returned to the city of my birth to be reunited with my birth/first family. I arrived at the place where it all started, yet only just began to know the place for the first time. Though I will never be able to meet my birth mother, I believe that she thought about me. There is no longer any doubt in my mind.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

27 thoughts on “what every adoptee wants to know

  1. kelly

    I enjoyed your post. I’m amazed you were able to find your birth family. I’ve been struggling to do that myself, with DNA testing, but it is impossible to connect a common ancestor when I know nothing about my own family tree without my original birth certificate

    I started a petition on the White House site, if you’d like to sign and spread the word. More signatures are needed. http://t.co/zrAuu2CNRT Deadline to sign: 1/17/14

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Hi Kelly, thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I will definitely stop by the petition you mentioned and sign it. Thanks for the link. I’ve always thought that birth records should be open for adoptees who wish to find their birth family. In our state, there’s a confidential intermediary program for those searching, but I think every state is different and only a few have open records now. I found this website for those involved in adoption, and it has some info on adoptees’ rights, etc. http://www.adoptionbirthmothers.com/adoptee-rights/. I wish you every success in your search. I understand how challenging it is – it took me approximately 3 years to find my birthfamily in Taiwan and required a lot of patience, perseverance and mostly hope. I had my original adoption contract which listed my birthparents names and their address in Taiwan. That was the key that eventually led us to them. Let me know if I can help in any way. Marijane

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  2. brunymc

    How dis you dind your birth family? I was adopted in new orleans and have my birth parents’ names and ecerything. Its hard living in a different state and tring to find things out…I’m srill trying…if nothing more than wanting to know medical history and such…I’m so glad you found your birth family although too late for your birth mother…how was the experience in getting real info that panned out? I have seen the trailer and want to see that movie….I tend to think most asoptees feel connected in some way. Good luck and happiness to you in the new year…and the many years to follow. 🙂

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Hello! Thanks so much for visiting my blog. That’s so wild that you were adopted in New Orleans, as I grew up in Louisiana- Bossier City/Shreveport area. Small world. I was able to locate my birthfamily from my adoption contract. Their address in Taiwan was on the document. I learned from a neighbor, who translated the document, that most Chinese families stay in the same home and never move. This was the case in my situation. My biological sisters in Taiwan were somehow still connected to our first home in Taiwan. Taiwan has a registry system requiring families to update their address yearly, and so that address was the key to finding my birthfamily in Taipei. I had the assistance of a social worker who helped me find my family there pro bono. She was a tremendous help. When I first began the search, I started with googling the name of the orphanage where I was adopted. Unfortunately, nothing came of that because the orphanage no longer exists. I thought that I’d never get anywhere. I then contacted Families with Children from China in Phoenix, and an adoptive mom referred me to the social worker who eventually helped me. The SW’s name is Tien, and she lives out of state, but we communicated via email and phone the entire time of my search. If you have your birthparents’ names, that is a very good start. If you could try to find the agency/organization involved in your adoption, they might have records that would give you some info. Some states have closed records, as I’m sure you already know, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from searching. I’m not sure what Louisiana’s laws are regarding open records. I hope that helps a little. I’d be happy to help further if I can. I would also love to keep in touch as you make progress and wish you the very best in your search. Happy New Year to you! My email is mjnguyen7@cox.net.

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  3. brunymc

    How were you able to find your birth family? I’m only 30 and was adopted in new orleans…have my birth parents’ names and everything. I have been looking even though I live in another state…..I have seen the trailer for the movie and want to see it….I think a lot of asoptees feel xonnectes in some way. I’m so glad to hear that you found your bio family and saddened it was too late for your birth mother…good luck and happiness for you in the coming year.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Luanne, the movie is actually not overly sentimental. It’s not a tearjerker. There’s a lot of humor in it. Normally I cry at the saddest commercials, but this movie has a nice balance of humor and moments that are poignant. I hate crying in public, too, and try to avoid it! I saw Les Miserables on stage and just about bawled through most of the show. I was so embarrassed that my eyes were all red and puffy afterwards. Happy New Year to you and Marisha!

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      1. Don't We Look Alike?

        Thanks so much, Marijane! I will pass on your wishes to Marisha! She will be back this spring to stay with us for awhile because she’ll be doing another show at the theatre, and I’m looking forward to having her back :)! I hope I get to meet you sometime! I know what you mean–I can’t stand having someone seeing me cry, especially at a movie or a play. I’m glad to hear that this moving isn’t a tearjerker. I hope I get to see it soon! Have a wonderful 2014!

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  4. Angela

    This is the first post I’ve read on your blog, but I wanted to ask – Do you have connections with other Taiwanese adoptees? Our Colombian adult adoptee network is huge! I’m curious because I’m wondering if you are one of the first to reconnect with family in Taiwan. My Colombian brothers and sisters in adoption and I are the first generation of adoptees to find our birthfamilies. We’re writing the script of how to search and deal with reunion ourselves. Please feel free to stop by my blog and ask me any questions!

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Hi Angela, thank you for stopping by my blog! I do have connections with a handful of other Taiwanese adoptees and have actually connected with 2 via Skype and telephone. My hope is to meet them in person one day – that would just be the coolest thing. The 2 adoptees I’m referring to were also adopted from the same orphanage in Taiwan, and I am so happy that we connected. I don’t know if other adoptees from Taiwan have reunited with their birthfamilies, but I know there must be other adult adoptees around the same age that I am. During the 60’s, there was a big military presence in Okinawa, and I think many families adopted from Taiwan. That’s great that there is such a large Columbian network of adult adoptees! I have tried to start something similar with Taiwanese adoptees on facebook, but it’s been difficult to find other adult adoptees and to start such a network. I will definitely stop by your blog. Could you send me the link or name of your blog? So glad to connect with you and hope we can stay in touch.

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      1. Angela

        Okay if this friendship is going to work, I gotta stop you first – it’s ColOmbia, not ColUmbia 😉

        I’m really glad you know a couple other adoptees from Taiwan, and even your orphanage! I think we can all connect in some way, but there’s something very special about coming from exactly the same place as someone else! I’ve been fortunate to become friends with other adoptees who were actually my nursery mates! Keep plugging away at it. It’s so rewarding to find that one person who hasn’t ever met another adoptee from your country or orphanage and bring them into the fold.

        My blog is called Passports and Preguntas. I think I need to revamp it a little, and I really need to write more. But I will look forward to your comments or suggestions!

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  5. Pingback: what every adoptee wants to know | One Woman's Choice

  6. Paige Adams Strickland

    Sofia, Trust me, That’s not such a strange question. I got it too. People don’t always know better, and especially back in my day (60s and 70s). Judith, that does sound like an interesting movie. I’ll hafta check it out. Marijane, Agreed…Philomena was a beautiful movie! I will be buying it when the time comes. My birth-mother is also passed away, but I know my sisters. They are wonderful people, and based on their characters, I know I was remembered and wanted, but circumstances dictated otherwise. I am so thankful for the Philomena book / movie. She’s a B-mother who speaks for many birth / natural / bio parents.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Paige, thank you for your visit! It’s so nice to connect with others who have had similar experiences. I think we may be very close in age – I was adopted in 1966 at 4 months. I’m also going to buy Philomena when it comes out and would like to read the book. Philomena was such a beautiful movie, and it seems that the real Philomena was a woman with great strength and compassion. WIshing you a happy New Year and all the best for 2014! I also look forward to reading your website in the new year.

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    2. Sofia

      Thanks for clarifying Paige! Personally until I know someone very well I don’t ask certain questions incase I invade their privacy but many people just ask some things outright. I’ll have to watch the movie Philomena. Happy New Year!

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Jeff, thanks for your visit and for referring me to transracial eyes. I have heard of the blog and have read many of the articles posted there. Thanks for the suggestion and will have to catch up on what’s been going on there. Have a Happy New Year! I really enjoy reading your blog.

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  7. Sofia

    I thought the question posed at the beginning of your post was strange, as I’m sure many adoptees may wonder about their origins, but many will never find out. It must have been very brave of you to go all the way over to Taiwan and see where it all began.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Sofia, thank you for visiting. I’m not sure which question you were referring to at the beginning of the post, but appreciate that you took the time to read and comment. It was definitely a life changing visit to Taiwan! I hope to return next year with my family if all works out. Take care.

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      1. Sofia

        Oh yes I meant the question of who are your “real” parents. I wish you all the best for your trip this year, and will be reading more from you xx

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  8. Judith Land

    Behind every story of adoption there is a novel or memoir waiting to be written. There is considerable public interest in adoption stories in every culture for men and women of all ages. The topic is appealing because 60 percent of Americans have a direct relationship with an adoption. Your life’s trajectory took some interesting and mysterious turns and sounds very interesting…I hope you keep writing.
    “5-steps for writing your own adoption story” http://judithland.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/adoption/

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Judith, thank you for stopping by and for the link to writing your own adoption story. I would like to read your book in the near future. I’ve considered writing something, but just haven’t quite found it possible at this time. Writing a book is very different than writing for a blog. I’m sure you know that! I will also check out your video on 5 steps for writing your adoption story. Thanks again for visiting. I appreciate your comments.

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