From DailyExpertNews, I’m Anna Martin. This is modern love.
On today’s show, we have two stories of adoption – one from a mother’s perspective and the other from a daughter’s perspective. The first story begins more than 60 years ago with a baby and a note. It’s called ‘Left to be found’.
I’m Yvonne Liu, and this is my Tiny Love Story:
“She left me on a crowded Hong Kong stairwell, not to die but to be found. It would be decades before I would receive her single message. Until then I knew her as ‘a prostitute, uneducated, indifferent’.
At least that’s what my American adoptive mother said, embarrassed and angry about her infertility. To know the truth, it seemed, I would have to die. The night before my breast cancer surgery at age 30, my adoptive mother finally showed me my birth mother’s words, notable for their elegant, intelligent Chinese writing:
‘Never forget me. I will never forget you.'”
Yvonne, thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you so much for having me today, Anna.
What was the story you were told about your adoption growing up?
I knew from a young age that I was adopted, but I never knew any details, no backstory. I only knew I was born in Hong Kong. In my photo album there are three black and white photos on the first page. And my mother said, look, because of these pictures I chose you.
What did your adoptive mother say that drew her to those pictures of you?
She never explained exactly why she chose me in those photos. There was a lot of traditional cultural shame that she and my father believed in, and that adoption is something that should be kept a secret. It’s embarrassing. And it is because Confucius and his followers said that a woman’s role in life is to bear sons, to bear children. And the fact that she couldn’t, she felt humiliation and shame.
So your adoptive parents were also Chinese?
Yes, they are Chinese American.
Tell me a little bit more about what you knew about why they chose to adopt.
Well, I think they believed that the American dream was to have a nice family life, to have two kids – hopefully a boy and a girl – and show on the outside that you were a normal, happy family. You also need to remember culturally – and very few male children of Chinese descent are available for adoption, because in China it’s not unheard of that if there was an illegitimate boy, someone else in the family would claim it as their property .
And what year were you adopted, Yvonne?
I arrived on June 16, 1961.
Have you asked your adoptive parents many questions about your biological mother?
Unfortunately, my mother was diagnosed as a paranoid borderline narcissist. For that type of person, your loyalty has to be 100 percent to her. Everyone, every other woman, becomes a rival. I just had to love her. It was very clear.
And then when she was angry, she said, oh, I think you’re going to be a prostitute like your mother. And when my parents argued, my father called her a prostitute, so apparently that was the worst thing you could be in the world. And I felt such inner shame and rejection.
How did this story of your adoption and of your birth mother shape your understanding of yourself?
Well, because someone’s identity is so related – when you grow up, you look into a mother’s face, and you want to see someone who loves you. Ever since I lost that first person I believe loved me – and then unfortunately because of my mother, her mental illness, number 1. And then 2, this very traditional Chinese, kind of Asian-American thinking, I think, prevented her or she couldn’t be a good mother.
So I should calm her down and comfort her, and tell her things like, oh, mom, you’re a good writer, you’ll have success, don’t give up, things like that. She was very much a narcissist. I mean, my whole process is basically I’m going to do my best to get out of this house because it was dysfunctional. There was fighting. There was domestic violence.
And during the pandemic, my brother was doing a deep clean. And he found a file labeled Yvonne’s adoption. And so he gave it to me. And I just paused before I could even open it, not knowing what I would find, what I would read, what I would finally know about the truth of my beginnings.
So your parents had kept this file for you all your life until then?
They withheld it from me, just as they withheld a lot of things. And it was so interesting to read the documents. One said she is a beautiful girl, very delicate. She needs a good home. It is questionable whether that was a good home, but I am very grateful that I was adopted by them, because otherwise my life would have been very different.
When you saw that note your birth mother wrote, what was that like for you?
It was like, oh my god, she really loved me. She really loved me. And she gave me love. And I also think she said she’ll never forget me, so maybe she’s listening to this and she knows I’m here. I’ve never forgotten her.
Have you tried to find your birth mother?
Right now, because it’s been such a journey of discovering, finding this file, talking to other adoptees, which I’ve never done before – I started doing my own research – part of me would of course like her see face, hug her. The other part of me thinks I have a right to interfere in her present life?
It was clear that she had to give up on me in some way for a reason. She was either just like this, so poor, or society was like that if she had an illegitimate baby or if I was the second daughter, the third daughter, she would give me up. But I’m comforted that she left me in a crowded place. She didn’t put me in the way. She didn’t put me in a dump.
But one thing is, after this pandemic, I’m going to that place in Hong Kong, to that street, because the orphanage named me after that street. So I guess how many kids in the world are named after the place, the location, where they were left behind? My first name is Yeung Choi Sai. It is the name of a street.
And that’s the street your birth mother left you on?
Wow. How did revealing this note from your birth mother change your relationship with your adoptive parents?
As for the relationship with my mother, my parents, it hasn’t changed, because we never talked about it again. It was never talked about again, never brought up again.
To this day you still have not talked about it?
My adoptive mother passed away 10 years ago. And in fact, this April will be her 10th anniversary of her death. She would have turned 100 in May.
I’m going to visit her grave and I’m going to thank her. Thank you for giving me this glimmer of hope of love for my birth mother, and thank you for choosing me. She wasn’t perfect. No mother. But I am still grateful and grateful.
Yvonne, thank you so much for sharing your story with me today.
You’re welcome, Anna. It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
After the break another adoption story, this time told by a mother.
Hi. I’m Lynn Domina, and I’m coming to you from Marquette, Michigan. Here’s my little love story:
“Amy was a feisty 8-year-old. She lived with our elderly friends, but was soon to move to another foster home because our friends were too old to care for her.
I wasn’t anyone’s idea of motherhood, and I never thought about raising kids, but Amy wanted a family.
I said to my wife, “I want to adopt Amy.” We filled out paperwork, prepared a bedroom and waited. After a judge agreed, we loaded Amy’s clothes, crayons and copies of “Harry Potter” into our SUV.
It’s been 17 years.
I’m still nobody’s idea of motherhood, but I’m lucky to be Amy’s mother.”
When I say I’m nobody’s idea of mother, I mean what really drives me, what’s driven me for much of my life, is really my professional identity. I get great satisfaction from being a writer, a professor, a teacher, and that would have been enough. I have many friends whose lives would have been really reduced if they couldn’t have become parents, and I’ve never felt that.
I had cousins. I was happy to have kids in my life, but I was also happy to be able to travel whenever I wanted. I could have popcorn and brownies for dinner if I wanted to. I didn’t have to get up in the morning to get an eight-year-old to brush her teeth and get on the school bus, you know?
So I had a lot of freedom that I appreciated. And it really took me to meet this particular kid to be absolutely willing to give up all that freedom for the good of someone else. She wanted a family so badly. She wanted a mother. And my heart just broke. I couldn’t bear the thought of her not having a family.
And so I said to my wife, I want to adopt Amy. And she was shocked. All my friends were shocked. But I knew I wanted it. It was one of those things. I just knew. It was like a calling. I knew this was what I had to do.
When I met her, Amy was energetic. She had many interests. She was obsessed with ‘Harry Potter’. And she was absolutely convinced that when she turned 11, she would have that letter delivered by an owl. She would do things like crawl up the stairs and say, “I’m going to run up the stairs.” And she was just a really interesting kid.
When I was in the process of adopting Amy, I often went to visit her. And one day, when I was essentially babysitting her, she sat down next to me on the couch. And she said, I think you’d be a good mother. And I said, do you think I should have a baby? And she said, no, you know what I mean.
And so I couldn’t lie to her, but I wanted to be careful. And I said, well, I’ll tell you something. I’ve asked to adopt you, but I don’t know yet if the judge is going to say yes. And I think at least she felt more relaxed that there was a possibility that something good was going to happen to her.
It’s actually Amy’s birthday tomorrow, and she’s turning 28. It’s great. I still consider her eight. And when I think about it now, the process of adopting her still seems so immediate. And when I think it’s been 20 years, it’s amazing.
We usually have lunch together a few times a month, so I can still see her. And my heart skips a beat to see her. And I expect that I will always feel this way. I hope I will always feel this way.
Amy just graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in anthropology. Lynn says she and her wife are incredibly proud of their daughter.
Next week on Modern Love, I’ll introduce you to someone who might be the very best nanny in New York City.
Our show is produced by Julia Botero and Hans Buetow. It was edited by Sara Sarasohn. This episode was mixed by Dan Powell. The theme music to Modern Love and the original music in this episode are also by Dan Powell.
Digital production by Mahima Chablani. The Modern Love column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of Modern Love Projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.