Friday, February 08, 2019

The Back Stories of Happy Reunions: Digging Out from the Darkness of Searching

The following essay was written by Lan relating her experiences with searching and a recent twin match that was widely publicized.  

“Can you give me a picture of your child that is on the poster? I am searching for it right now.” Recently, an adoptive mom got in touch with me on WeChat, and was hoping I could help a birth mother who came forward and contacted her Chinese guide during her daughter’s search in China. The birth mother is illiterate, and was thus unable to read or write message. As a result, all communication needed to be by voice. I left her a voice message through WeChat, convinced the birth mom to do a DNA test. The adoptive mom invited me into a WeChat search group chat that the adoptive mother had created and with over a hundred adoptive families (a poster group). She was nice and offered her help if I had a poster for my daughter’s birth family search I wanted to broadcast inside China.

“I have been helping my other two daughters’ BF search for decades,” I replied to the adoptive mom, “I know posters won’t help at all with their search.”  I wrote her back thanking her for the offer to help, and continued sending her messages.

I wrote further, “I think after we started to search, we all learned and realized that it’s not that simple as we may have thought in the beginning”. “Yes!” she messaged me back, agreeing.

Back in 2000, my husband was able to interview the finder of our oldest daughter in China with the orphanage director’s assistance. He was able to learn all the details about our daughter’s abandonment at the Civil Affairs Bureau, as he was told by the finder.

In 2003, Brian printed out thousands of posters and packed them in his luggage for his trip to China. We planned to return to our daughter’s orphanage town, and we believed if we put up those posters all over her town, especially at her finding spot, those posters could guide us to her birth family.

We also told the orphanage director about this idea for our daughter’s birth family search, and asked for his advice. He laughed and answered me that the poster was not going to help our daughter’s search.

We found out years later why he may have felt that way. We learned that our daughter’s finding location was false, and her “finders” had not even really found her: Their names were just put into the finding document to keep things simple for our daughter’s adoption paperwork. In other words, literally everything we knew about our daughter’s finding was false. Thus, any poster that we could create would have nothing in it that a birth parent could recognize. This is the situation in most cases.

I have often received posters sent from many adoptive families or adult adoptees in their search. I can imagine how much hope and excitement they have at those posters for their search, because I was one of them when we started our daughter’s search. I really wish the birth family search was as simple as I thought 16 years ago when Brian and I started searching.

Lan, I have a child with anxiety and depression, and a likely missing twin. Should I pay someone to go to the area and plaster the place with posters?  When I went with Xixi, we gave them out in person but we didn’t cover a lot of territory. I believe that finding her sister, if she exists, will help her to heal. I want to find her birth mother and let her know that [Lily] is alive, but honestly, her sister is much more important to [Lily]. I’m just stuck now, and getting up every night at 3 or 4 am with her doesn’t help. This is the reality of having a child who has lived a life of trauma and neglect.”

I have received messages from adoptive parents like the adoptive mother above that messaged me at 2 am in the morning, very frustrated, asking for advice about how to use posters to continue her daughter’s search. I had met this adoptive mother, who I will call “Mary”, online through a search project about two years ago. Days and days I have been working with Mary for the search project, I have often found myself near tears every time I heard her daughter’s story.

“Lily’s” sleep disorder really got Mary’s concerned and she started travelling back to Lily’s orphanage to searching for Lily’s history and birth family years ago to try to find answers for her daughter. She wanted to understand what happened to Lily and why. Then she found there are many kids like Lily. The abuse and neglect in Lily’s orphanage had done a lot of damage. “That makes me feel better--in a weird way. At least I know I’m not crazy for thinking it’s possible.” My friend was honest and told me how she felt during our search together and discovered that her daughter was likely a twin.

I believe many adoptive families might have heard or learned the story of “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite on “GMA” in January 2017.
“...... adoptive mother found a photo of the two girls as babies together, leading her to hire a researcher to look for more information about her daughter's past.” This is what was written in the “breaking news” story of this twin sisters’ reunion. It was just a simple sentence as you read the story, but the fact is the “photo of the two girls as babies together” wasn’t easy to find.

In late 2012, some Tonggu adoptive families contacted Brian and requested to put a search project together to try to find out some answers for their Tonggu children. We spent months working and gathering all the paperwork together for the Tonggu search project.

In March 2013, I finally arrived in Tonggu County in Jiangxi province. After a week, I was able to locate many foster mothers who had foster cared kids for the Tonggu orphanage for many years. Many of those kids had been sent for international adoption, and the foster families had never heard any news from the kids any more. One afternoon, one of those foster mothers, was very sweet and nice, arranged dinner at a private local restaurant gathering of over ten foster mothers to meet me. Everyone was so happy and excited to show me the pictures of the babies that they had foster cared, and eager to find out if any of their kids were on my list to find out any news or information about the kids. It appeared that I was the first person to come to Tonggu to look for them all these years.

That was a very exciting and memorable night for me, to have dinner together with all the foster moms who came, and chat with them. Some of the foster mom had tons of questions and didn’t want to believe I came all the way to Tonggu from the USA. One of the foster moms started to cry, and told me that she had been living in the fear for years because she heard that kids adopted outside China were used to selling for organs.

Back at the hotel later that night, I saw that there was one foster mother on my list that I had not located yet. The next morning, after I had packed and checked out of the hotel, just as my driver turned at the intersection to leave Tonggu , I asked my driver to stop. I wanted to give a last try to locate my missing foster mother. Hours later, after speaking to many local people in the town, I was finally able to find out where this foster mom’s living apartment building was. But no one was at home when we knocked on the door. I waited, and after a few hours finally the foster mom returned home from morning shopping. After my explanation as to why I was there, the foster mom invited me into her apartment and excitedly show me the baby pictures of the kids that she had foster cared from the Tonggu orphanage. My driver was waiting for me in the car, parked near the apartment building. “You have to leave Tonggu! Hurry!”  Suddenly, I got a call from one of the other foster mothers that we met the day before. “….The orphanage people just found out you are meeting with us. They are looking for you all over Tonggu! You really need go, right now!!! It’s not safe for you in Tonggu!” the foster mom cried out on the phone with fear.

I finished taking all the pictures of the baby pictures that the foster mother got out from her little treasure box, writing down all the names of the babies in a list in my research note book. I then rushed out the foster mom’s apartment after hugging the foster mom and warned the foster mom not to mentioned anyone about our visit. I jumped into the taxi, and straightly headed out of Tonggu.

That night, I never thought that this foster mom that I had located and met before I got chased out of Tonggu by the Tonggu orphanage people, would lead to the story of “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite” on YAHOO and Good Housekeeping in December 2016, and on GMA and ABC News in January 2017.

On this Tonggu trip, I also learned that some of the Tonggu adoptees were born in Hunan Province, then sent to Tonggu by arrangement of people in contact with the Tonggu orphanage. I also learned that some of the Tonggu kids were originally from the Tonggu area and foster cared by the foster moms in Tonggu, but then transferred to other orphanages for international adoption. I also learned that some of the Tonggu kids actually had been picked up at the hospital by a Tonggu orphanage employee, and taken straight to the foster mom’s house for foster care soon they were new born, etc.

As soon as I returned home to the States, Brian sent out an email to all the Tonggu adoptive families that he had been in touch with about finding ads, including the adoptive mom who adopted the sister of the twin, and told those Tonggu adoptive families we had foster mom information and baby pictures of their Tonggu daughters if they were interested. But he only got responses from a few Tonggu adoptive families.

Around December 2016, Brian got a finding ad order request from Audrey's mother, and we finally we got a chance to provide this photo of the two girls as babies together being held in the arms of their foster mom, and the orphanage record indicating the two girls were identical twins. Brian had attempted to reach out to the other adoptive family already, since they had also contacted us in the past, but had gotten no response. This time he sent a more targeted email. Again no response (When contact was finally made, it was from a different email, so the early messages may have never been received). Audrey's mother, through some social media sleuthing, was able to track them down and share the news with them. This created this happy reunion with tears and hugs everywhere online later.

After I read the story “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite on “GMA” on line, I often thought, “What if the foster mom didn’t keep the record of the kids that she foster cared? What if she had not spent her own money to take this picture of her with the twin sisters at the photo store for her memories? What if the adoptive mom had written Brian for the foster mom information back in 2013, or what about if Audrey's mother had never contacted Brian for her daughter’s finding ad? Would this twins sisters' reunion story ever happened?

Less then 10 days after we provided the photos and the foster family information to Audrey's mom, the reunion story was publicized on YAHOO. We had no idea that this story would come out! This story was picked up in China by the Jiangxi Province news in China, and the foster mom got called into a serious meeting and questioned by the orphanage director. The director of the orphanage was getting a lot of pressure from the Civil Affair Department people, questioning him as to how it was possible that the foster mom has let this kind of information out about the twin sisters’ story. “This is serious! What should we do?.....” the foster sister kept messaging me and calling me online at 2 or 3 am for the first two days after the news in China. She begged for my help and advice as to what her mom should to do?

I told the sister her mom had done nothing wrong, and didn’t need to be afraid of the orphanage people. Finally I calmed her down and told her to tell her mom how to answer the orphanage people. About a week later, I got a message back from the foster sister who told me that her mom was fine, besides getting a serious warning from the orphanage.

Mary was exasperated. “Most adoptive parents don’t care and live in a world of blissful ignorance until their hand gets forced,” she messaged me, “I am completely fine with adoptees who make the informed choice not to search. I am not ok with parents preventing the flow of information to their kids due to their own fears, or biases. I see it daily on FB.”
I can feel the pain of my friend, who is struggling everyday with how to find her daughter’s possible twin sister, adopted by another family outside of China. Mary knows that her daughter is too ill to travel back to China in the future to continue the search. But finding the “possible twin sister” probably is her only chance to try to get answers and help her daughter.

I was contacted by one of the Tonggu adoptive families in that search project, and sent a picture that she had received from another adoptive mom who took this picture on her adoption trip. This Tonggu mom was shocked that in the picture a baby girl was being held in the foster mom’s arm, and the baby looked just like her daughter! She assumed it was her daughter!

It was so confusing to her. I later found out this foster mom was from a totally different city and she fostered kids for a different orphanage, far away from Tonggu. The picture wasn’t even from the same year when her daughter was in the orphanage. It was simply impossible for the girl in the photo to be her daughter.

"23andMe has a match!!!! Sisters!" On January 18, 2018, I received an email from this Tonggu adoptive family excitedly telling me that she just found her daughter’s biological sister through DNA testing with 23andMe, as I had suggested her to do before. Well, she was very happy with the results and found out the answer of the mystery of her daughter’s “possible twin sister”: The girl in the photo was indeed her daughter’s biological sister.


We have compiled a listing of children that may be related, but who were probably adopted separately. We are continuously adding to this list as we produce our orphanage data books. If your child appears on this list, please contact us so that we can put you in touch with the other child.

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