Tag Archives: Adoption Stories

what I’ve learned about writing a book

Letters and fountain penI have always loved the written word. From sounding out those very first simple sentences in elementary school – remember, “see jane run?” – to finishing the complete Nancy Drew mystery series as a kid, I have loved to read and always will. Thank God for bifocals and 60 watt light bulbs (if you’re over 45, you’ll get what I mean). I never dreamed of writing a book, but it’s an accomplishment that I’m now proud of, and I’m happy to pass along my experience of writing a first book – from the creative process to self-publishing. I’m going to start by sharing 7 tips on writing a book. As the saying goes, live and learn! I would certainly approach the whole process very differently, so here goes…

  1. Determine what your intent is in writing your book. If your primary goal is to make money, you may be sadly disappointed (unless you’re like E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey – no I haven’t read any of her books). I knew that writing a memoir about my adoption journey would likely not appeal to the general public – it’s an extremely narrow category; however, I felt strongly that I had a story to share and a passion for telling it. So if you have a burning desire to share a personal story or journey that changed your life or the lives of others, then do it! I think that many adoptees want to tell their stories, and it’s important to do so. International adoption is complex, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, and we need to share our stories and provide greater education to the public regarding the untruths and misperceptions. My book will not be a bestseller, and I’m okay with that. It’s tough marketing and selling a book that is targeted at such a small audience, but I’m still glad I wrote it. What I’m saying is be realistic about the outcomes in so writing your book.
  2. Figure out your target audience. This is extremely important. For example, is your book a self-help book? Who do you want to read and buy your book? How will it appeal to that particular audience? How can you broaden your target audience? I hoped that other adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals would want to read and buy my book, and of course, friends. I had also hoped that a wider audience would show interest in my book because of its universal message of searching for identity and for one’s roots. Alas, it has been very difficult to garner greater interest in my book, I believe primarily because the scope of it is considered narrow and doesn’t quite have the appeal retailers are seeking. That being said, it also takes time and creativity to sell your work, so patience and hard work are necessary. I’ll get to that later.
  3. Get a good team of editors. It’s imperative, especially if you’ve never written a book, to hire a team of professional editors. There are different types of editors: content editors, copy/line editors, proofreaders. So let’s start with the content editor. I’m a social worker, so I’ll use the analogy of macro to micro. A content editor will take a look at your work from a macro-level or “big picture” point of view. He/she will evaluate the pulse of your story and make sure the manuscript is well-written. Is the theme/plot of the story well-developed and organized? Is the story-telling paced appropriately and are the characters and plot believable? Are there any contradictions, factual errors, inconsistencies or discrepancies? Is the story attention-grabbing? You get the idea. The content editor will make suggestions to re-write, move, delete, or add sections to your story. His/her work is more subjective than the other forms of editing and involves a lot of thought and decision-making. A copy or line editor will look at your work at a micro-level. She/he will get down to the nitty-gritty and evaluate grammar, syntax, sentence structure, accurate word choices, verb tense, capitalization, spelling, spacing, missed and repeated words, paragraph and sentence length. He may suggest reorganizing chapter titles, subheadings, etc. As a side note, use Microsoft word when writing your manuscript so that editors can track changes, and you can review comments and make changes in the document. You can also hire a proofreader. Proofreading is a really good idea because sometimes even editors miss things. Proofreading occurs right before your manuscript goes to print. A proofreader will go through your formatted manuscript and focus on finding any overlooked misspellings, typographic errors, accuracy of page numbers, table of contents, and any formatting issues. Like I said, it’s easy to overlook errors. Bottom line – Get yourself a team of editors. The editor I hired was fantastic – she was/is a content editor. She was supportive, made loads of suggestions and had that big picture mentality as she evaluated my work. If I were to write my book all over again, I would have spent the extra money to hire a copy editor and maybe even a proofreader, but we were trying to save money.  It takes a lot of time and effort to scour through an entire manuscript looking for errors and proofing it. Both a professional copy editor and proofreader give you added assurance that your manuscript is ready for print free of errors. Do not skip out on this important step!
  4. Research publishers. I chose to self-publish my book for many reasons. There are loads of articles out there on self publishing vs. traditional publishing. Self-publishing has become increasingly popular because it’s so much more accessible than traditional publishing, and royalties are supposedly higher, but the jury is still out on that. Some of the reasons why I chose self-publishing include, 1) I had complete creative control over the content and design of my book, plus the copyright. 2) Timeline – there were no deadlines, and self-publishing is much quicker to market than traditional publishing. 3) I had no intention of getting and paying for a literary agent. I recommend doing your research on self-publishers; there are many out there, and they all offer and do relatively the same thing. Look at the fine print and make sure you’re getting exactly what they tell you you’re supposed to get with the package you purchase. And, look for a self-publishing company that allows you to hold all rights (copyright) to your book. I selected AuthorHouse based on my editor’s recommendation; however, I ran into several problems with this publisher, which I won’t get into in this post. You could have a completely different experience with them. A self-publishing company will offer multiple services depending on the package you purchase, e.g. editing, copy editing, cover design, print, marketing/promo materials, multiple editions of your book (e-book, softcover/hardcover), etc. Self-publishing companies will likely pressure you into buying more stuff on top of what you’ve already bought once your book is off to print, e.g., exclusive book tours, exclusive marketing – features in prestigious magazines, promises of turning your book into a movie, exclusive this and that. These extras all sound amazing, and you will be made to feel as though you’re something special – these extras are available for thousands of dollars more, however, and there is no guarantee that any of those platforms will sell more of your books, so be careful.
  5. You need a budget. It’s very exciting to write a book and get it published, and as I mentioned previously, self-publishing allows you to do that within your own timeframe, and you can get it to market quicker than traditional publishing. However, be prepared to put down thousands of dollars if you decide to use a self-publishing company. I purchased a mid-range package from AuthorHouse, and with the cost of a consulting editor (not from AuthorHouse) and purchasing books to sell from AuthorHouse, I spent well over $5K, which is pretty good for self-publishing. I bought 100 copies (softcover) of my book from AuthorHouse because the profit margin in sales on Amazon and B&N online is laughably low compared to selling my book at retail price ($13.99/ softcover) myself. There is no guarantee that you will recover the money you spend on your self-published book. Marketing and promoting your book yourself is crucial. I’ll get to that momentarily.
  6. Don’t rush the creative process. When you have a story to tell, or an event in your life occurs that’s exciting, you want to share it quickly with those around you. In writing, the creative process takes time. My mistake was rushing this process, primarily because I was so excited to get it out. Writing has always come very naturally to me, so the process of writing did not take long. In fact, when I finally decided to write a book, the words came very organically. There were many revisions and additions along the way, thanks to the help of my editor; however, I wish that I had taken more care and time to write my story. I was not working when I first started writing. I had a lot of time to play around with thoughts and words. Then the process was interrupted – we moved from Arizona to California, the holidays arrived, I began searching for a job, I got a full-time job. My hope was to complete the first draft before we moved – that was very unrealistic. I was still working on the manuscript when we moved during the holidays. I also signed on with AuthorHouse before year’s end because they had a special running. Unfortunately, once I signed on with AuthorHouse they pressured me into completing the manuscript, even though there were really no deadlines. At that point, I had several more chapters to write. They called me incessantly at first until I finally told them my manuscript would take “x” amount of weeks to complete. They again began calling asking about the manuscript once that period was up. By that time, both my editor and I were feeling pressured to get the manuscript ready for print – the end result was, unfortunately, not the desired outcome I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, it’s been a learning experience all around, and next time I write a book, I’ll have that much more knowledge. I suggest not signing onto a publisher until your manuscript is completed, even if they’re offering some reduced price packages that appear advantageous. Take your time in writing your story.
  7. Marketing your book. It is up to you to sell your book should you self-publish (either by way of a self-publishing company like AuthorHouse or other online format). Another option is to hire suitable professionals to assist you with marketing and selling your book, but that will cost more money. It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores and libraries when you self-publish. This is where traditional publishing has an edge, as that is essentially their model of business and what they do. Be prepared to work hard at marketing your book should you self-publish, and don’t get discouraged if you’re turned down by bookstores. There are other ways to get your book out there: word of mouth, personal website, author events/book release parties at venues other than bookstores, and network, network, network. It’s extremely helpful to get as many reviews as you can about your book (positive ones, of course) and display those in your book if possible and on your website. You can always add reviews to your website once your book has been published. Finally, be patient. I’ve been told it can take up to 2 years or longer to recover the costs of self-publishing and building an audience for your book. And in the end, you will feel more empowered by having written your book!

The process of writing a book and getting it published is all part of a very steep learning curve. The tips I’ve included here just scratch the surface, but I think are basics for anyone who wishes to write a book. I do have hopes of writing more books, but still have much to do in selling the one just published! I hope these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to reach out, and I’d be happy to share more. In my next post, I’ll be discussing my own creative process in writing Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Stay tuned!

To read an excerpt from Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity, click here.

To purchase, click here.

reunion in vietnam

Last September, I was contacted by a very thoughtful 17-year old adoptee from Vietnam. Her email stated that she’d found my blog and that it struck a deep chord with her. I was delighted to hear from her, so I reached out. She told me she was adopted at the age of 2 months from Vietnam and that she believed she’d found her birth mother via Facebook after years of searching. She explained that she’d been attempting to contact her birth mom through other bio relatives on Facebook, but was unsure if her mom wanted any contact with her. Naturally, she experienced a roller coaster of emotions and asked if I could share more of my own journey since I’d reunited with my birthfamily. She expressed she felt it hard for other non-adoptees to fully understand everything she was going through and was seeking support and “words of wisdom.” I understood, as I have also experienced very similar emotions. The tug of war when searching for one’s birthfamily is not easy to articulate and perhaps even more difficult for others to comprehend. There are multiple obstacles, and yet the desire for connection is so strong.

She continued to write to me and one day wrote that she’d finally connected with her birth mom via WhatsApp with the help of her relatives! Her parents were supportive yet urged her to be cautious. Of course they were concerned. I was ecstatic for her and hoped that the reunion would be a positive experience. This young adoptee then traveled a world away to Vietnam to meet her birth mom. The pictures she took of their reunion were some of the sweetest and most telling photographs I’ve ever seen. She captured a bond that erased years of separation and a love that was clearly undeniable. I’m certain the experience was just as profound for her birth mom.

When she returned she experienced a tumult of emotions and felt very torn between both worlds, the one here and the one in Vietnam. I offered support – it takes time to process such a momentous event. She wrote that finding her birth mom really filled a deep hole in her heart and, she felt lucky that it all went as well as possible. Her school newspaper caught wind of her story and asked if she’d write an article describing her journey. I asked her if I could share it with you in the hopes that it would help other adoptees who are searching and adoptive parents to understand why reunion is so important, no matter what age. Furthermore, adoptees need support from their families and friends, and in some cases, professional support to sort through all of the emotions – loss, grief, joy, disappointment, sadness – the whole gamut. This young woman’s story resonated deeply with me. No doubt, her journey is not over. But then again, I don’t think an adoptee’s journey is ever truly over. Here is the article she wrote:

This December, my life changed forever. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would one day find my Vietnamese birth mother—let alone meet her in person. It is a miracle. It all started this summer. Through Facebook.

I was adopted at two months. For the longest time I denied my adoption, but during my freshman year I tentatively came to terms with it, and began to explore my past. I discovered that my parents had a brief letter about my birth mother— name, age, city, and a line about her family—but probably fake. I scoured the internet numerous times, but to no avail.

That summer I returned to Vietnam for the first time, with my parents, eager to search for my mother. It was strange, to say the least. I visited my orphanage, only to leave with a torrent of tumultuous emotions. It was excruciating to be so close—yet so far. What if we walked past each other? I frantically scanned each woman I saw, but it was hopeless. I left discouraged and abandoned my search.

This July, we returned to Vietnam, and my thoughts flew to my mother. The same questions. What would my life have been had I stayed with her? Was she still alive? Out there somewhere? Did she remember me? Would I ever find her? It was agony.

Late one evening, I decided to search her name on Facebook. Nothing. I sat back in frustration. Then, it occurred to me to remove her middle name. One profile popped up. Ho Chi Minh City. My heart raced. I followed the link and almost had a heart attack. I had never seen anyone who looked so much like me. Those eyes. My eyes. The cheeks. Forehead. Smile. Could it be?

I went into a frenzy. I immediately asked a friend to translate a message and sent it to her. I checked all of my photos against hers. I grew more convinced by the second she was my mother. Friends cautioned me to slow down, be careful—we knew nothing about her. I might never hear back. She could be the wrong person. She might hate me. What would I do then?

I ignored them. I knew the risks, but there was nothing I wanted more than to find her. I waited a month, but no response came. I was not surprised; the account seemed outdated. After investigating the profiles of her six friends, I surmised that they were her aunt and cousins. Dare I ask them? I settled on the Aunt.

I added my Vietnamese name to my profile and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted it. I sent a quick message asking to contact her niece. The challenge was that I could not explain why; if she did not know about me it could ruin my mother’s life. I had to be persistent enough to catch her attention, but not enough to scare her, and I had to pretend I spoke Vietnamese, in case she got suspicious.

She wrote the next day. I waited with baited breath for the translation—polite, curious, but wary. We had the same last name, but who was I? Why did I ask for her niece? Maybe it was a mistake? I immediately sent the profile, but no response. For two weeks I hesitated, then messaged her again. She agreed to talk to her niece. Then nothing. I tentatively prompted her, terrified to lose touch. She said they did not recognize my photo. It continued in that manner all through August and into September; then she ignored me.

What next? I puzzled through eight weeks, tip-toeing on eggshells, and keeping a low profile. Finally, at the end of October, I plucked up the courage to try my mom’s cousin, who spoke English. I had to try twice before she replied. To my shock, she instantly agreed to help, without an explanation. She would meet her cousin the next day, to help us message each other.

Saturday, October 29th, 11pm. A message from the cousin; she was ready. I panicked. I had no one to help me type in Vietnamese. What if I lost my mother? Thankfully a Vietnamese friend was online to translate. I sent my mother the message from the summer. She read it and went offline. I paced anxiously. Ten minutes later she reappeared, How did you get this information? Could you let me know? It was late and she would talk to me later. Wait! I frantically told her, from the orphanage, when I was adopted!

Pause. Eight minutes later, I am [name]. When I was young I was afraid my family know so I ask to  orphan my child. After giving birth to her I had never see her again. The nanny had already took her…After read those information you gave me above, I believe that you are the child I gave birth to that year. I was stunned. Time stopped.

We talked for three hours. I am so glad to hear your life is good. I think of you always, but couldn’t find you after such a long time apart. Thank God blessed you to find me. I want to meet you again in the near future. I was in a daze. My mother sent me a photo on the beach, and all the tears spilled out. I am crying now! Tears of sorrow, and joy at finding you, I told her. I could picture her smile: I wish I were there to hold you in my hands, I am crying too. Thank God we found each other after all. Goodnight my lovely daughter.

All week we talked. I cried so much, she said. Thinking about leaving you forever felt like someone stabbed my heart into pieces…I’m so happy. You’re my little princess. I am so happy to see your message everyday after coming home from work. I’m so thankful to God and can’t ask more. Now I have you, my daughter. You’re the joy of my life. I love you so much.

On the third day, my mom asked about a video call the coming weekend. My aunts sent a flurry of messages. I was nervous, but desperately wanted to meet her, so I agreed. I will never forget the mix of astonishment, wonder, and bliss on her face when she first saw me, the raw love swimming in her eyes. We were speechless. We could only gaze at each other. Mesmerized. I met my aunts and grandmother, and they all cried and laughed. It felt like a dream.

I begged my parents let me to visit over winter break, and they agreed. We set off, on what was about to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride. The day we met, I was petrified. What if she was a horrible person? Or we could not communicate? Or disappointed each other? What if she was the wrong person? I wanted to hide in the car, but it was far too late to turn back.

My mother and aunt met us on the street. I tentatively stepped out of the car, and instantly found myself wrapped in her arms. I could not think, only smile. We walked to the house. I was met by a barrage of hugs and kisses, watery smiles. It was surreal. To gaze into my birthmother’s eyes. To feel the warmth of her embrace, her fingers stroking my hair. To listen to her soothing voice. To kiss her cheek. To claim each other as our own. After 17 years.

We spent nine days together, with the rest of the family. Leaving her was one of the most painful things I have ever done. Every adoption is different; there is no guarantee how it will turn out. But I am incredibly lucky. I found her, and everything turned out as perfectly as possible. Someone once told me that if you wish for something with all of your heart, somehow it will happen. Perhaps, but tenacity can go a long way.

a Korean adoptee’s search

Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.

Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.

When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.

Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.

I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.

It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.

I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.

I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.

I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search. Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.

meeting carmen

faulkenburgs

The Faulkenbergs on L, my sister, & mom holding me

2016 is quickly coming to a close, and what a year it has been! We arrived in southern California late Friday afternoon where we’ll take up residence indefinitely 🙂 It’s rainy and cool in Seal Beach, not so typical So Cal weather, but the rain is much needed considering the drought. Our daughter was born in Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, but was raised primarily in Chandler, AZ where we lived for just over thirteen years. As we departed Phoenix, I thought about what we were leaving behind- so many positive and significant milestones were achieved while we lived in Arizona. I’ll miss Chandler very much, our friends and my old stomping grounds- Tumbleweed Recreation Center where I worked out with a very friendly and lovely group of women and fitness instructors, Pomogranate Cafe, my favorite vegan restaurant, Peixoto Coffee where I enjoyed many a seasonal coffee special, Chandler Whole Foods because the employees were so darn friendly, and our church, Redemption Gilbert, which has the best worship team and ministry leaders we’ve ever encountered. I’ll miss the less jammed freeways for sure. Change is scary, too. Moving to a new city and finding the right job and home is certainly anxiety provoking. We’re looking at homes in a region of So Cal that we’ve never lived in before, but have close friends in nearby Los Alamitos. Home prices are outrageous. Nevertheless, the best part of our move is being closer to our daughter, who’s attending college here. As I’m writing this post, we’re eating cookie dough in bed and watching old episodes of Modern Family, one of our favorites!

mecarmenThe last few weeks prior to leaving AZ were hugely chaotic. I was writing quite a bit and trying to organize our house for the moving crew. I’ve hardly had time to process our departure. I spent a weekend in Louisville/Middletown Kentucky where I visited with Carmen Faulkenberg Seitz, another adoptee from Taiwan. Carmen and her husband, Courtney, were beyond hospitable, and Kentucky was absolutely beautiful! The fall weather was gorgeous and a welcome change from Arizona’s warmer temps. Carmen and I had so much to share. There’s a connection between adoptees, and maybe even more so adoptees from the same country, that’s undeniable. I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, in Taipei, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the same nun who signed her adoption contract and helped facilitate her adoption. She was able to take a tour through the old orphanage, currently headquarters to the monastery. We were adopted from different orphanages in Taipei, but in one of my mom’s diaries, she wrote about visiting St. Benedict’s. I wondered if she had hoped to adopt a baby there. My parents adopted me from The Family Planning Association of China. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie “Mickey” Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father before he passed away that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement making my adoptive parents Carmen’s godparents. Both our fathers served in World War II and at Kadena AFB in Okinawa where my parents lived when I was adopted.

It was heartbreaking to learn about the difficulties Carmen experienced as a young girl. Her adoptive mother was physically and emotionally abusive often leaving her and her younger brother, a biological son, alone for long periods of time while her father was serving overseas in Korea. She and her brother grew up in Indiana and would leave the house frequently unaccompanied wandering off into the city and asking strangers to take them back home. Today, that would be incredibly dangerous for kids, placing them at great risk for kidnapping, child prostitution/human sex trafficking, or who knows what. Carmen said she protected her brother as best she could and assumed care and responsibility for him. It’s what we call “parentified” behavior. Such behaviors lead to a burden far too heavy for children. Carmen’s brother was never abused, and Carmen felt unwanted by her adoptive mother. She said she believed it was her father who wanted to adopt her. It’s remarkable that Carmen was able to cope with the abuse and eventually forgive her mother. Although she has overcome much of the trauma she experienced, the emotional scars still exist and continue to manifest in different ways. Despite her painful past, Carmen is one of the most uplifting and energetic people I’ve ever met.

fullsizerCarmen and I both have many questions about our adoptions and how our adoptive families crossed paths. We wondered how our dads originally met and what their relationship was like. Did they work together, were they drinking buddies, why didn’t they keep in touch? My dad never mentioned Carmen’s father or any other friends he may have had during his service in the Air Force. Neither of our parents are living, so our questions will probably never be answered. In any case, I’m thrilled to have connected with Carmen and Courtney. We talked about how cool it would be to form a gathering for Taiwanese adoptees one day to connect and share stories. That would really be something.

So, here we are in California. Who knows what the future will bring. We continue to house hunt, praying to find a home we like (and can afford!). I continue to send out new apps and resumes. We’ll be spending the holidays in temporary housing, but at least we’re here. I’ll finish writing my book, Beyond Two Worlds, by the end of the year. It’ll be submitted for publication by the end of January 2017 with a release date of Summer 2017. Lots of change on the horizon. It doesn’t feel quite real yet, that we’ve moved to California. It kinda feels like we’re vacationing as we’ve done so many times before in California. I’m sure in time, everything will fall into place as it should be. Until then, I’m gonna do my best to enjoy the ride.

memoir

Happy November! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. With the holidays fast approaching, things are amping up. Since my last post, we sold our house and are now in escrow. My husband and I will be moving to California on November 18th where our daughter is attending college. We’ll be renting for a while until we can buy a home somewhere in the Long Beach area.

Instead of packing and organizing for the move, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing. I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on a book, a memoir. I’m thrilled to announce that the title of my book is Beyond Two Worlds, so named after my website. My editor, Allyson, and I have explored a number of different titles for some weeks now, but decided on Beyond Two Worlds because of the special meaning behind the title. The title is symbolic of the difficulties and joys I’ve experienced in accepting who I am as a Taiwanese American adoptee and highlights the complexities of navigating through two cultures and identities, one of which I tried very hard to forget for many years. The story is of my adoption and search and reunion with my birthfamily in Taiwan, by far one of the most meaningful events of my life. Ironically, the reunion with my birthfamily occurred just around the Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) in 2012, and we’re shooting for submitting my manuscript to the publisher around the Lunar New Year next year (end of January 2017). The timing has great significance in more than one way. If everything goes as planned, we hope the book will be out by Summer 2017.

Writing this story has been very special. It began one morning when I was sitting at home, praying. Interestingly, I was feeling like a loser that morning- I had no job, I wasn’t doing anything of much importance,  our daughter was off to college, it seemed as though our house would never sell- and I asked God, “what should I be doing?” I was suddenly overtaken with an urgency to start writing, and I haven’t stopped since. The words sprang to life. I believe strongly that this book is inspired by God and by the ties I have with my two sisters in Taiwan. I feel a connection to them that goes deeper than DNA. My sisters have inspired me beyond words. I began writing about five months ago, and I’m currently working on the final chapters.

There is much to do between now and the end of the year. Packing, organizing, moving, and finishing my book. I’ll be posting updates along the way and cannot wait to share my book with you!

roots

kyle-ellefson-196125It’s been almost two months since I began my new job as a child therapist. Man, has it been an adjustment. I can’t say that it’s what I expected…much more stressful than I anticipated. I’m often unsure of myself and how to help the client sitting in front of me. That being said, I guess all new therapists feel that to some degree.

Since I began my blog on international adoption, I’ve received emails from other adoptees, primarily adult adoptees from Taiwan, who are contemplating or in the process of searching for their birthfamilies. I’m thrilled to offer my own experiences, support, encouragement, and to connect with other adoptees. Some have found members of their birthfamilies in Taiwan with the help of the Child & Juvenile Adoption Information Center in Taipei. I received an email from an adoptee recently who found her biological brother, but also learned that she has a sister who was adopted to U.S. parents. She now wants to find her sister. I wish that I could make the process easier. It is difficult to conduct a search when there are very few leads. If only we had the information that we long for.

It is truly a journey to begin a search for your birthfamily. It is one that I do not regret. I talk to adoptees often about what it’s like for them to be adopted. Some do not have a desire to search for their birthfamilies. I didn’t for many, many years. A specific event in my life changed all of that, and I never went back. There is something deep inside many of us that longs to know, understand, connect to our roots. It may come much later in life, or it may start at a very young age (or as I mentioned before, it’s not as important to others). Call them spiritual roots, biological roots, whatever you want – we desire a connection to where it all began for us. The kids I work with in foster care no matter how much they suffered at the hand of their parents still want to be with their mother and/or father. Even if it’s explained to them why they are in foster care, in many cases, they still long to be with their biological families. There’s a story that I read to kids, “The Invisible String,” to help them understand that no matter who they are separated from, there’s an invisible string that connects them to those they love. It seems like such a very, very small thing to offer in comparison to the huge hole that’s been created in their hearts, but it is a way to help them feel connected in spirit. I understand that desire to search for your roots or to stay connected. I’ve said it before – I cannot imagine having never found my biological family. I wish that I could travel more often to see them in Taipei. And I wish that I had the time to learn Mandarin.

Lately, I’ve felt so disconnected to my own birth roots. Work, life, busyness complicates everything, and I miss being involved to a greater capacity in international adoption. I was happy to receive that email from the adoptee searching for her sister. It helps me to feel connected to my own roots, to appreciate the invisible string that connects me to my birthfamily in Taiwan and to other adoptees I wish my fellow adoptee all the best in her continued search.

Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash

we are family

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Amy, Me, Christina at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei

 I’ve been in Taipei just shy of one week now. So much has happened in the past 5 days. As much as I’ve wanted to keep a daily journal, I’ve just been too tired and busy to keep up. It’s a good kind of tired and busy though. Below is a recap of my first day in Taiwan.

The journey to Taiwan begins on Saturday, January 15th. I feel amped up and nervous about leaving my family behind, but once I get to the Seattle airport, I feel a bit more calm. I Skype my husband and daughter, and they seem fine. Around 10:30 pm, I notice a woman who looks like Tien arrive at the gate and immediately go to introduce myself. She’s the miracle worker (with the most effervescent personality) who has been instrumental in helping me find my birth family in Taiwan. We arrange to have seats near each other and get acquainted while waiting to board the plane. At last, boarding begins, and we make our way up to the top deck. I’m glad that Tien is here and that we’re traveling together. It’s around 1:00 am. Once airborne, the flight attendants start a meal service, not a snack, but a full on meal. Really, at 1:30  am? I’m not really hungry, but I eat anyway. It doesn’t take long for everyone to start snoozing. I sleep for most of the flight. Although it’s a 13-hour trip, time seems to pass quickly to my amazement. Another meal is served about 2-hours before we are to land. What bizarre times to eat! The Taiwanese woman sitting next to me strikes up a conversation and from then on doesn’t stop! She is giving me all kinds of advice about Taiwan after I explain to her why I’m visiting. She is leaning in towards me as close as she possibly can without bumping my head and continues to poke my sore left arm where I recently got a tetanus shot. I try to lean away the other way. She and her husband are very nice, but I’m glad when the flight attendants announce that we’re preparing for landing, a welcome distraction. The air turbulence doesn’t even bother me as we begin our bumpy descent toward Taipei. I can’t help but grin as we get closer to our destination; the anticipation of meeting my sisters growing. I gaze out the airplane window at Taipei City below. A thousand tiny specks of light illuminate the curvy highways below.

Finally, we touch ground; it’s around 6:30 am Taiwan time. I want to shout a really loud yahoo, but decide to keep it to myself. We wait impatiently for the plane to come to a complete stop at the gate. Once the signal is given, I gather my stuff and make my way into the crowded aisle. I feel like I’ve been stuffed into a can for the past 24 hours, and it’s nice to stand up. Tien tells me to go ahead of her, as she has to wait to get her carry on. We trudge off the plane and head straight to the money exchange window, fill out arrival cards and wait in the queue for the next available representative. Everything goes quickly and smoothly, and to my surprise, I don’t feel a bit tired. Next, downstairs to baggage claim and to meet my sisters! As we near the airport lobby, I immediately recognize my older sister. She and my 2nd sister are holding a white banner with big blue letters saying, “Welcome, Marijane.” I hurry over as fast as I can despite being weighed down by a set of heavy luggage and give each one a big hug. Our smiles are big enough to light up the entire city of Taipei. Tien and my sisters introduce themselves and exchange conversation, and I get caught up in the chatter of Mandarin and laughter. My older sister shows me pictures of our mother and pa-they’re mine to keep. She has also made a CD of pictures of our pa in his later years and gives this to me. I study my sisters’ faces. They both look so much alike, but do I look like either of them? My second sister tells the other something in Mandarin, and my older sister says to me, “she thinks you resemble our mother.” But after seeing both of our parents’ pictures, I think I look more like our pa in his younger days; same eyes and nose. Wow. Now I finally know what my biological parents look like. Soon, my older sister begins to take photos. I can’t seem to find my camera, but she reassures me that she’ll send me all of her pictures. I’m told that our brother is not physically well and will not join us until the dinner with the whole family on lunar Chinese New Year, January 22nd. I immediately notice the affection between my two sisters; they’re only one year apart in age. Now they have extended their affection toward me, little sister by 10 years. I’m amazed at how warm and welcoming they are, as though we’ve known each other our whole lives.

My eldest sister, me, and 2nd sister

After a half hour or so of talking together, we decide it’s time to head for my hotel, about an hour’s drive away. My oldest sister first gives me a hand phone in a cute little red case and a diamond studded handle complete with charger for me to keep during my visit. She puts it inside another little case for safe keeping. They have thought everything through and are so organized! Older sister explains how to use it and makes sure that I know which number is hers and my other sister’s. She takes charge and both sisters wheel my luggage outside toward a long line of other people waiting for taxis. They banter back and forth in Mandarin. Once a taxi becomes available, we climb in and my sisters encourage me to close my eyes and rest. I’m too caught up in the moment to go to sleep though. So we talk most of the ride to the hotel. Once we arrive, my sisters help me check in, and we head upstairs to my room. They shower me with gifts, pineapple cakes packaged beautifully, a thermos, an umbrella, and a small knife for cutting up fruit. They insist on making sure I get some rest and leave shortly thereafter only to return to hand me some cash. They don’t take no for an answer either!

At 6 pm, they come by to take me to dinner, a nice Chinese restaurant not far from the hotel. They come bearing more gifts, fruit and specialty cookies famous in Taiwan, which the bell person offers to take to my room. We get into another taxi and head to the restaurant. After a quick drive through the crowded downtown streets, which continually abound with taxis, cars, and motorcycles, we arrive at the restaurant and are ushered upstairs to dine. My 2nd sister orders for us, and we talk about how my search for them first began. The food arrives quickly, one course after another, and is very delicious. Suddenly I feel like I’m 10-years old again as my sisters see to it to keep adding more food to my plate once it appears near empty. I’m stuffed by the time dinner is over. After dinner, we go back to the hotel room, and I show them the photo album that I put together of my adoptive family.They ooh and ah over my baby pictures, and my oldest sister comments on how alike both my adoptive father and our pa look. I totally agree!

It’s been an amazing day, and again I don’t feel the least bit tired. Maybe it’ll hit later on. It’s very surreal to be here in Taiwan, to have finally met the 2 sisters who looked after me at the babysitters after school. They were only 10 and 9 years old when I was born. Both tell me that they used to hold me when visiting the babysitters’. Interestingly, while we are looking at the photo album, my oldest sister recognizes a woman holding me in some of the pictures; it is the babysitter! How very amazing – another piece of the puzzle fits into place. My sisters do not overstay so that I can get some rest. Tomorrow there will be 2 interviews with 2 different newspaper reporters who are interested in our reunion story. My sisters decide not to be in the interview in order to protect their privacy. Before I even arrive, both have been contacted by the news reporters and are quite shocked. I respect their wishes. Tien will be there to translate. Oh, what a day it’s been, a joyous reunion to remember! My sister’s have made a schedule for our time together. It will be like trying to cram in a lifetime’s worth of being apart into 2 short weeks. It’s all an adventure!

searching for my birthfamily

Tien made a new suggestion to try and find my birthfamily in Taiwan. She suggests that I place an article in a local newspaper stating that I’m in search of my birthfamily. The best solution by far would be to travel to Taiwan in person and search for records. Tien has even invited me to accompany her on her next expedition there in the near future. I would be very interested in doing so, although it seems like pursuing this is such a distant dream. Now that I’ve started a new full-time job, it would be difficult to get the time off from work. Honestly, I’ve been so wrapped up in my new job, I’ve given my adoption search less thought. But tonight, I wonder a little if this search will ever lead me to someone from my birth amily. Will placing such an article in a newspaper draw any attention? It’s worth a chance.

I’m hoping to hear back from Tien soon to find out what information is needed to write such an article. What will I say? Woman in search of birth family who was adopted by Americans over 40 years ago? Who knows if anyone from my birth family is still living. I was the youngest, and I’m 44 years old. My birth parents may not be living – in fact, most likely are not. I know of other adoptees who have found their birth parents, or siblings, not all Asian American adoptees, but some white, who were adopted domestically. It seems that because my adoption took place so long ago, and both of my adoptive parents are no longer living, the little information that I’ve discovered is not enough to find out anything significant. It seems impossible. The obsession to find someone from my birthfamily has minimized a little. I think it has to do with working and having other distractions. In any case, I’ll have to continue to wait and see what unfolds. Who knows, maybe a trip to Taiwan will come to fruition in the not too distant future.