As it usually is on a journey, things happen fast, and only in retrospect do you begin to see their true meaning and feel their impact.
This was true on our family’s trip to China last month, when we took our 13-year-old daughter back to the place where her life began. When we stopped in a Chinese village market to buy diapers and baby formula for the orphanage we were scheduled to visit, surrounded by the friendly village crowd, I became caught up in watching my daughter interact with the villagers and their curiosity over her baby picture.
In that spontaneous moment, we saw a crying woman in the crowd and learned that she had given up a daughter several years after we brought home our daughter. Through our interpreter, we told the woman that her daughter is probably happy and healthy and living in a family now, just like our daughter. There were smiles, and the moment was gone in the close of a van door.
Looking at our travel itinerary, I saw that we were going to visit our daughter’s “finding place.” We had been told it’s illegal to give up a child for adoption in China, so if a parent is unable to care for their child, they leave the child at the front step of the orphanage, or a public space where they will be quickly found. I dug out my daughter’s adoption papers and saw that she had been left at the Civil Affairs office. The official adoption papers are called the “notice of abandonment,” and they say that my daughter was “abandoned indefinitely.” My daughter pointed at “abandoned” and said, “I hate that word.” Just two days old, my daughter was bundled in a blanket, placed in a box with a bottle and formula, and left at the government gate in the wintertime.
We pulled up Google maps and tried to find the Civil Affairs building in Jinxiang, to no avail. This gate had become a larger than life landmark in my mind, so much that just thinking about it brought me to tears. I didn’t want my daughter to focus on the word “abandoned,” so I thought to myself, let’s focus on being found. With tears in my eyes, I penned a sign that read “FOUND, LOVED, CHERISHED.”
Arriving at the finding place, we were surprised to see it was a busy city street corner. The setting and emotions weren’t the Hallmark moment I had anticipated. To my daughter’s surprise, I brought out the homemade sign, which she begrudgingly held for a photo op. She rolled her eyes at me as we took the picture, but seeing her standing on that street corner brought me back to the Chinese mother. With tears on her face, she was remembering the child she had lost. Across oceans and years and a language barrier that mother’s tears and mine were two sides of an adoption story. I watched my daughter tuck her sign into my backpack: “Found, Loved, Cherished.”