Over the summer, Holt held our first adoptee essay contest. We asked adoptees to respond to the question, “How has adoption shaped or how does adoption currently shape your identity?” Below, adoptee Abby Lindner — a finalist in our contest — shares how adoption has shaped her identity, and empowered her to become “a daughter of faith and hope who most definitely belongs.”
Abby with her family. Abby (second from left) stands alongside her mom Cheryl, sister Emma, dad Rick and little brother Matthew.
In 1948, the first recorded transracial adoption in the U.S. instigated a debate among social workers, parents and others on whether adoption across racial borders helped or harmed. Again and again, opponents cited the identity crisis that transracially adopted children would experience as a result of their mixed circumstances.
Eventually, everyone faces the same question: Who am I? During the teenage years especially — the bridge between childhood and adulthood — the question demands an answer. At 16 years old and ending sophomore year, the inquiry of “Who am I?” often passes through my mind. Contrary to what transracial adoption opponents predict, however, I always have an answer.
As was and is typical with Chinese adoptions, my parents know little about my origins. I entered the world around December 28, 1999, a healthy girl in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province. The orphanage found me not long after birth and named me Guo Yu Fu. Yu Fu means Jade Blessing.
At nine months, I entered the world of white, middle-class America as Abigail, which means “Father’s joy” or “gives joy.” Opponents of transracial adoption would indicate that the dearth of information on my past in addition to exposure to a primarily white community complicated and even threatened my identity development. This, however, was not so. Why?
First and foremost, I knew early who I was in Christ. In the early 1990s, God called my parents to adopt from China. Policy at the time, however, barred them from adoption. After years of prayer, China’s policies changed, and my parents began the long adoption process that led them to me. The reason for my abandonment is a mystery. Did poverty drive my biological parents? Medical complication? The one-child policy? Whatever it may be, God had a plan for me in the events that unfolded. He carried and delivered me to the home He intended.
At 2 ½, God demonstrated even more His extraordinary love and care for me. Though listed as healthy, symptoms of asthma long plagued me. Omniscient, God orchestrated that my parents meet with the right doctor, who discovered what others hadn’t: a hole in my heart. Left unrepaired, I wouldn’t live past 3. With God’s direction, my family found the right surgeon at the right hospital at the right time, and I left surgery with a repaired heart and a scar on my chest that reminds me of how great a Father I have.
Never have I doubted that God always stands beside me. My adoption — the right time, the right place, the right family — especially confirms this truth.
This “right family” that adoption gave me is the second reason for the confidence in my identity. In addition to me, my parents had my older brother and sister, their biological children and my 6-week-older sister, adopted from eastern China. Though the differences between me and my parents and older siblings were obvious — skin, hair, eyes, nose — the contrasts didn’t disconcert me. In fact, as far as I was concerned, there were no differences!
When I imagine the “quintessential family gathering,” I hear comments from grandparents and aunts about “my, how tall she’s grown, just like her mother” and “oh, how much he looks like his father.” Those are blood ties. Remarks like those affirm belonging in a family based on similar physical characteristics. Blood ties don’t tie me to my family. Rather, ties stronger than blood bind me. I don’t belong to my family because my DNA fits with theirs, but because my heart fits with theirs.
Out of love, I was adopted. By love, I belong. Once again, rather than dividing me from my identity, adoption draws me closer.
Third — last but not least — adoption has granted me a unique lens through which to see the world. Mine is a story of God’s love, a family’s love and my love, divinely woven together. I was an orphan with a hole in my heart, an orphan to whom the devil would love to tell of hopelessness and unwantedness. Shepherded from that fate, I became a daughter with a patch to cover and love to fill my heart, a daughter of faith and hope who most definitely belongs.
With such a story, how can I not acknowledge the beauty through the world’s mire, discover the hope beneath desperation, or see the light of truth through the darkness of falsehood? I love to learn more about that beauty, hope and light, whether through books or through my own experience. Words within me demand release, to show others my view, through my lens. And maybe, through my writing and my actions, the mire, desperation and darkness will ebb, if only a little.
So it is that my adoption has far from confused me about my identity. Rather, my adoption has helped build it.
“Who are you?” the world asks. “Certainly, you don’t know.”
Oh, but I do.
I am Yu Fu. I am Abigail. One language says I am a blessing; the other, a joy. I pray to fulfill those meanings.
I am a daughter to amazing parents and a child of God.
I am a young woman striving to be the best possible version of me.
I am a reader of literature, a writer of stories, a learner of everything and an observer of beauty.
I am all of this through the adoption of a 9-month-old girl from southern China years ago.
Abby Lindner | Attleboro, MA
WUHAN, China — A woman in her mid-40s cradled a scrap of blue cloth checkered with red. “Have you seen this before?” she asked. “Do you recognize this pattern?”
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I held it up to the light and noticed the cotton edges had frayed and tattered over the years. “We already had three girls,” she explained. “We needed a boy. We were too poor. I saved up money for the cloth, and I spent a month hand-sewing you a little baby suit and matching hat. After 50 days, I abandoned you by a bridge.” But she used the Chinese word for “lost” instead of “abandoned.”
“I dressed you in the new clothes for good luck. I kept this scrap for 20 years to remember you. My little baby, you must have seen this cloth before! You must have the matching clothes?” No, I shook my head. I had never seen it. Her face fell and she began to sob.
This was the summer of 2012, in the oppressively humid, industrial city of Wuhan, China. I grew up in Massachusetts and had returned to Wuhan with my adoptive mother in search of my birth parents. I felt I owed it to my birth family to try to locate them; but most of all, I owed it to myself. I never expected that the search would attract an outpouring of media attention; bring forward dozens of families, all claiming that I was their lost daughter; and uncover a nationwide pain, forged over decades, with which the country is still reckoning.
I was 20 years old then, a rising junior at Yale, and had returned on a grant from my university’s fellowship office. My proposal stated that I would “document the process of searching so that it could serve as a useful guide for the other 80,000-plus Chinese international adoptees living in the U.S.” I had planned to visit three Chinese government offices to look for my adoption records and then hand out missing-person fliers (pictured above) on Wuhan’s busy sidewalks. I wanted to search because I felt that going through the process — regardless of the result — would be a release. As planned, shortly after arriving in China, my adoptive mother and I visited government offices and handed out fliers. It all changed about a week into our trip, when a friend of a friend of another friend who worked as a journalist at a local newspaper, the Chutian Metropolis Daily, offered to write a short article about the search.
The first article appeared on May 25, 2012, on Page 5. The headline: “Dad, Mom: I really hope that I can give you a hug. Thank you for bringing me into this world.” Within weeks, the story of my search had gone viral. There were print articles in major Chinese outlets like Southern Weekly, Southern Metropolis Daily, and Beijing Youth Daily. State broadcaster CCTV made short documentary films for its programs, including Nightline, Insight, and Waiting for Me. Regional television programs from Hubei, Hunan, and Chongqing covered it, as did video sites like Tudou and Internet portals like Tencent QQ. My following on the microblog platform Weibo quickly reached hundreds of thousands. Telephones at the Chutian Metropolis Daily rang nonstop.
Then there were the emails I received from Chinese people in every province, including the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as overseas Chinese living in Canada, Australia, the Philippines, Germany, and the U.K. Some wrote to wish me good luck or to encourage me to “never give up,” while others wrote that I should be thankful to my American mother and stop wasting my time.
Some messages hinted at the deep pain surrounding the relinquishment of children. A college student wrote to tell me about finding an abandoned infant on a street, but his parents wouldn’t let him take her home. A woman in her 30s wrote that she remembered her parents abandoning a sister in the 1990s but was afraid to ask them about it. One person composed a song called “Dandelion in the Wind” and sent me an MP3 recording, lyrics, and sheet music.
The Chinese press sensationalized my story to attract readers. I was quickly labeled an “abandoned female infant” who “went to a developed country” and “became a Yale student.” One Chinese reporter marveled in passing, “How is it that you could go from being so unlucky to so lucky? In one moment your fate changed.” This fixation with “luck” and Ivy League schools obscured the fact that Chinese adoptees, as a population, are also quite unlucky. Although we gained new families, we lost our original culture, language, and citizenship rights. Many of us confronted racism in home communities where there were few other people of color. Every year there are cases of suicide that shake our community.
The May 25, 2012 article from Chutian Metropolis Daily that started it all. Image credit: Jenna Cook
I believe my story resonated with the Chinese public because so many have relinquished children. During my search, I met with over 50 birth families – each of which had left a baby on one single street in Wuhan in March 1992. The implications of this are quite vast. What about other streets in the same month? What about other months? What about other years? What about the families who chose not to come forward?
They have done so for varied and tangled reasons, from the one-child policy to the desire to have a son; from poverty to teen pregnancy; or from a child’s or family member’s disability. Although it is impossible to pin down the number of relinquished children, it is safe to assume that it is considerable. From 1992 to 2013, according to one estimate, 139,696 Chinese children were sent abroad for international adoption. The Chinese government reports 494,616 total registered domestic adoptions within China from 2000 to 2013 alone, excluding informal domestic adoptions.
In 2012, when I visited a long-distance bus station close to the street where I had been abandoned, I asked one of the older workers if she remembered finding a baby nearby in March 1992. She sighed and recalled that, “back in the day,” she and her coworkers found abandoned babies in the station all the time. A retired policeman from the nearby police station agreed, saying abandonment was so common in that era that authorities would not even bother recording them.