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.