Identity, Parenting, Perspectives

Questions without Answers: My Story

For a long time (as long as I can remember) I’ve had these swirling, conflicted thoughts and feelings about being adopted. I never shared them with anyone, not my friends, my parents, my sister until I began to open up to other adopted or close friends in my college years. I wrote about the thoughts and feelings occasionally and pondered them before I fell asleep at night. Often I felt too overwhelmed and uncollected to articulate them. Sometimes I worried that they made me too different, weak, vulnerable, anxious, etc. And I certainly did not want to upset my adoptive parents with my wondering (though now I know how open, tender, and gracious they would have been had I been brave enough to try.)

Mostly, I thought about my birth mother. Desperately, I wanted to know her. Maybe as the result of parental influence; they taught me to pray for my birth mother daily. Or maybe due to some psychological early attachment theory. I thought of her.

Here’s the story I was told:

The beginning: My adoptive parents were married in 1981. After struggling to have children of their own, they learned that my mother had cancer. She battled for 5 years and once her cancer was in remission, they knew that they wanted to adopt. One day, an article in the newspaper announced that China had opened its doors to adoption. My mom excitedly cut out the article and called my father to tell him the news.

For months, all they really knew of me was my face from the black and white photo they were sent. Later, once they came to China, they learned more of the story. We’re not completely everything but what we think we know is this; in Wuhan, China, during January 1994, a woman has to abandon her 3 month old female child for reasons unknown. In a bundle of baby and blanket she leaves a small piece of paper that reads,

Name: 郑盼 Zheng Pan 

Birthday: Oct. 16, 1993

Note: “Please take care of me”

The name she gave me was Zheng Pan, “Zheng” a family name, “Pan” meaning “to hope for”. My caretakers at the orphanage where I was cared for told my parents that it meant, “hope for a better life”.

I’ve clung to this narrative all of my life, praying that it’s the truth and longing to find out for myself.

In my adolescence, I began to worry. Maybe the result of a more developed capacity for empathy combined with the continued thoughts and feelings and my first trip to China as a tourist. By my college years, worry progressed to anxiety. Was she happy? Safe? Alive even? 

Well, here I am, in China. The questions are equally, “Is it logistically possible to find her?” and “Do I have the emotional strength to search?”


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