I was born almost 20 years ago in a country literally on the other side of the world. I lived there, in Zhejiang Province, China, for nine months until my parents adopted me on October 27, 1998 and brought me to the United States. It was an unusual way to start my life, to say the least. New sights. New smells. New language. New family.
When I was younger I had millions of questions about my beginnings, and many opportunities to learn about China, Chinese culture, the one-child policy, and adoption. I attended Chinese school, Chinese New Year parties, Moon Cake festivals, and other cultural events with other adoptees and their families. I went to conventions and listened to fellow adoptees speak about their experiences. In 2012, my mom and I took a trip back to China, where I visited my finding spot and my orphanage. I’m grateful for all these opportunities, and being with other girls who shared my experience was very important to me.
Those of us who are a part of the Chinese adoptee community have had to deal with a unique emotional pain from a young age. We have faced sexism since birth, because we were likely given up because we were born female. We have all struggled around our identities. We have all dealt with racism and stereotypes.
Coming to terms with these special circumstances has been heartbreaking at times. And we continue to have many questions about that mysterious part of ourselves we know nothing about.
Searching for Answers
Luckily, or unluckily, recent advances in technology have granted us access to information about our DNA—revealing geographic family history and genetic characteristics—and building genetic databases in the hopes of future connections. These connections can range from distant cousins all the way to birth parents. This has led to a surge of interest in older adoptees, like myself, in searching—not necessarily for people, but for answers. Like many other adoptees I know, I rushed to get the 23andMe test. I learned I was partially Mongolian and the slightest bit Japanese in addition to majority Han Chinese. My closest genetic relative was a distant fifth cousin and we shared only 0.2% of our DNA. But my search for other answers ended there, at least for now.
While it’s truly amazing that technology has started to provide us with new information, we’ve also been given a bit of false hope. These technological advances have led to a handful of “success” stories of adoptees finding and meeting their birth parents or siblings. In rare cases, even twins who were separated have been reunited. And, of course, these stories have been plastered all over the media. Watching and reading about these reunions for people outside of the adoption community is very emotional—so imagine what it’s like for us. These reunions are everything some of us have been dreaming of our entire lives. Not that all adoptees have an interest in meeting or searching for their birth families—some simply have an interest in finding out more about their own personal story. Each adoptee is different in what she wants to learn about herself, whether it’s who she looks like or where she gets her talents or missing medical information.
True success stories are possible, but the chances are still one in a million. As these genetic databases increase and other advances in technology emerge, perhaps we will eventually get the answers we deserve.
We Still Want to Know
While getting older brings different perspectives, it doesn’t mean forgetting about past pain and questions. I recently joined a closed Facebook group for Chinese adoptees (a branch of the China’s Children International main group). When I scroll through the feed, I mainly see a younger demographic. When I see the posts from these younger girls, I clearly remember asking my parents the same questions, and having those same thoughts. But I’ve noticed a lack of outward interest, questioning, or discussion among older adoptees. I haven’t read anything that I or any other older adoptee could relate to at this point in our lives. Sometimes I still feel a little lost when I think about everything surrounding my adoption, and had hoped that joining this group would lead to some meaningful adoptee-to-adoptee exchanges.
I got to thinking, maybe this lack of discussion comes from simply giving up due to all the previous heartache—from years of wanting to know more, but rarely getting any information. Maybe once we reach a certain age (college and onward), many of us come to terms with the fact that we will never know, and abandon the questions so we can move on with our lives. Or maybe we just get too caught up with our lives as young adults—trying to navigate college and anticipating careers, while simultaneously dealing with the same problems every other young adult has.
Yet, I can’t shake the feeling of not knowing, and I don’t believe there’s shame in that. I go through periods of putting the topic in the back of my mind. Other times I re-examine every detail I was provided within my adoption papers.
Our Common, Unknown History
Within a span of 36 years, more than 100,000 individuals joined our Chinese adoptee community. In the last decade, however, the growth of our community has slowed down, and in 2015, China replaced the 1979 One Child Policy with the Two Child Policy. We hold a special place in history. While we all have individual stories, each of us lost our beginning as a direct impact of strict and cruel government policies; each of us left our county of birth with very little information. How many other groups of people started from similarly foggy beginnings? We moved across oceans, lived in interracial families, and are now navigating our lives as young adults—some with kids of our own.
Although Chinese adoptees didn’t come from the most secure beginnings, we are bonded together around this common history. And while I continue to have questions, I can still find some peace in all of this. I know that, without my past, I wouldn’t have my loving parents, the life I know today, or this amazing community. I hope that, moving forward, older adoptees like me will reconnect. We still have a lot of support to offer each other as we march onward toward adulthood.