Reuniting with My Birth Family: A Story of International Search and Reunion
It is common for transracially adopted children to be curious about their birth heritage and where they came. In my case, this curiosity did not appear until decades later. I was adopted in Taipei, Taiwan by a white couple on December 16, 1966. From as far back as I can remember, my adoptive parents told me that they adopted me at the age of four months and that I was of Vietnamese and Japanese descent. I never questioned them and, surprisingly, had no interest in learning about my birth culture while growing up. My parents did not particularly nurture a cultural awareness, as was common in transracial adoptions at that time, not that there was much opportunity for cultural exploration in Shreveport, Louisiana.
In March 2008, after the death of my adoptive mom, I made a shocking discovery. I found my original adoption papers. From my adoption contract, I learned something quite baffling: I was neither Vietnamese nor Japanese. I learned that my birth parents were originally from China and moved to Taipei, Taiwan where I was born. Was I Taiwanese? I tried to make sense of what I was learning as a vortex of unknowns swirled uncontrollably through my mind. Why had my adoptive parents withheld this information? Were there any living members of my biological family? Who was I? I wanted to find answers. At the age of 41, for the first time in my life, I wanted to learn about my cultural roots. What was Taiwan like? I wondered if anyone else in my birth family was musical like me, if I resembled any of my siblings or birth parents. A longing to find my birth family took root, and I felt compelled to search for them.
In the fall of 2009, I used the information on my adoption contract to begin my search, not knowing what the outcome would be. I started by searching the Internet for the orphanage where I was adopted, The Family Planning Association of China. I was disappointed by the lack of information and learned that the orphanage or agency no longer existed. I began rummaging through my adoptive mom’s old diaries to look for clues, but also ran into dead ends. The next phase involved making a lot of inquiries via email to people I hoped could help me, or might know someone else who could, hoping to find anyone with knowledge of The Family Planning Association of China. It all came to nothing.
In December 2009, I finally got a new lead from an adoptive mom who was a member of AZ Families of Children from China (FCC). She referred me to a social worker named Tien at Journeys from the Heart Adoption Services in Seattle, WA. Tien agreed to help me find my birth family. Luckily, the address of my birth family in Taipei was listed on my adoption contract; this was the one clue we had to support our search. Still, things moved very slowly over the next several months. In May 2010, after Tien returned from vacationing in Taiwan, we took our first step: to establish power of attorney. This would give her guide in Taiwan the authority to investigate and hopefully retrieve information from the Taipei Registration Office in my place. After several weeks of completing forms and sending emails, we learned that the Registration Office in Taipei would deny access to any information about my birth family, even to someone with P.O.A, due to confidentiality. The Registration officials told us that they would try to contact my birth family and let them know that I was searching for them. Tien and I were both disappointed.
An uneventful three months passed. Towards the end of August 2010, Tien suggested that we try getting the media involved in our search. She contacted a Taipei newspaper about my story and waited to see if any reporters showed interest in reporting it. She also encouraged me at this time to consider going to Taiwan in person, and invited me to travel with her on her next trip.
I waited and waited. Nearly a year went by without any word from Tien. I was desperate for information, and wondered if Tien had decided to give up. Then, on July 27, 2011, I received an unexpected email from Tien. She had just returned from another trip to Taiwan, and had received confirmation that my birth family still lived in Taipei. The Registration Office, however, would not release their identities or addresses. Sadly, she also told me that both of my birth parents had passed away. I silently mourned the loss, knowing that I’d never meet them. Tien also informed me that I had two older sisters and one older brother.
Tien referred me to an agency in Taipei, The Child and Juvenile Adoption Information Center, an organization that helps reunite adoptees with their birth families. For the next five months, I exchanged emails with one of the caseworkers as she assisted me in locating my birth family. On November 1, 2011, I took a leap of faith and decided to book a ticket to Taiwan, whether we found my sisters or not. Tien had already planned a trip to Taipei during the Chinese Lunar New Year, so I booked the same flight, as well as a hotel in Taipei. Two weeks later, on November 11th, the caseworker in Taipei informed me that she had actually gone to the address of one of my sisters, but no one was home. She would not release my sister’s name or address until direct contact was made and permission granted by my sister. I tried to be patient.
Tien decided that we needed to write to the Taipei Registration Office directly, telling them of my search and desire to reunite with my birth family. She would pen the letter in Mandarin. We mailed it, along with a copy of my adoption contract, on December 13, 2011. On Christmas Eve, I received an email from Tien, who had finally heard from my eldest sister. I was ecstatic. Apparently the Registration Office had forwarded our letter to my sister. I read my sister’s email to Tien, elated that she remembered me and also wanted to reunite. I immediately contacted my sister and waited for her response. We continued to write to each other right up until my trip to Taiwan. She told me a little about our family, but I wanted to know so much more.
On January 15, 2012, Tien and I flew to Taipei to meet my birth family. My sisters met Tien and I at Taoyuan International Airport. I spotted them immediately holding a large sign that said, “Welcome, Marijane.” We embraced and I looked at their beautiful, smiling faces. Was there any resemblance at all? They presented me with gifts and pictures of our parents, the first time I’d ever seen my birth parents. I marveled at this moment – after 45 years apart, we were reunited.
My sisters expressed their happiness that I was adopted by a loving family and was spared some of the difficulties our family experienced. My eldest sister planned a reunion of the entire family on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. I will always remember that evening, especially the toast my uncle gave in my honor, with tears in his eyes, to welcome me home. The ten days I spent with my sisters and birth family were not nearly enough. I hope to return to Taiwan to visit again in a couple of years with my husband and daughter.
I’ve been asked if I feel a sense of closure now that I’ve found my birth family. Yes and no. It feels more like a beginning. Meeting my birth family has been empowering; the inner conflict I struggled with regarding my identity has quieted. I no longer reject my cultural roots, but fully embrace that part of my identity. There will probably always be a small part of me that feels a sense of loss. And I still have lingering questions about my past that no one will be able to answer, but I don’t dwell on these things. I marvel that my sisters and I found each other after all these years. I remember their joy and generosity and celebrate being a part of their lives.